Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sen. Hutchison says she is still thinking about running for governor

Sen. Hutchison wraps up West Texas tour in Parker County


By Lacie Morrison
Lone Star News Group
The Weatherford Democrat
Copyright 2007

MINERAL WELLS — Immigration, energy, tax cuts and Iraq — those topics tripped off the tongue of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, at a town hall meeting Friday afternoon at Clark Gardens Botanical Park, the last stop on her 1,000-mile West Texas Bus Tour.

The biggest issue, Hutchison said, is the War on Terror.

“I am most troubled by the people in Washington ... who think it’s [the war] over there and not going to affect us here. These terrorists want to tear down our way of life. [If the soldiers left the Middle East], the consequences are a serious threat to America.”

Hutchison said the “test of when we can leave Iraq” is when the country is able to withstand terrorists, Iranian influences and sustain their country and people.

Energy was another topic she expounded upon, noting that the country relies heavily on foreign sources.

“Sixty percent of our foreign sources are not necessarily friends,” she said. “We cannot rely on others. We’ve got to explore and drill in our country.”

She explained that America is in a better position to do that now because of the ability to drill deeper and more economically as well as alternative sources such as the procurement of ethanol from corn, grass and mesquite trees. She also touched on the possibility of utilizing wind power.

Ken Johnson asked about the use of wind energy and its impact on energy costs.

“A lot of research is going on. It is going to make a difference in the future,” she replied. “I do think they’ll be more efficient, less costly. The more sources [of energy] would bring the cost down.”

Hutchison noted that nuclear power is one of the most efficient means of power.

“I’d hate to ever say France has done anything right,” she remarked, to widespread chuckles. “They have done nuclear energy right.”

As for the highly discussed immigration issue, Hutchison stated that, “amnesty is not the answer.”

She discussed the need to “secure our borders” and for immigration reform, noting that the reform is the responsibility of the U.S. Congress.

With a late start to the meeting, a handful of questions were asked from the audience with topics ranging from the space program to the “No Child Left Behind Act.” Although Hutchison stated she’d rather hear from the constituents on their concerns, she discussed the importance of U.S. presence in space.

“I’m a strong supporter of NASA. The capability of going into space is even more important now than it was 30 years ago,” she said, discussing the military’s technological advances such as LASAR-guided missiles.

Lyn Ryan, of Weatherford, was concerned about “rumblings of the draft,” to which Hutchison emphatically said, “I do not think it’s in any way a reality. I don’t think we need a draft. Recruitment is going OK. We are meeting our goals and trying to strengthen up our Army.”

The issue of the Trans-Texas Corridor, Hutchison said, “is a state issue” but she had a “fundamental problem” of taking huge amounts of land through eminent domain for that purpose. She was against the portion of highway from Mexico to San Antonio though more positive for the route from San Antonio to Oklahoma.

“I don’t think it’s a good enough reason. We do need alternative routes and means of transport [but] it’d be very important to get local input,” she said. After the meeting, she reiterated, “I don’t think we need a new corridor from Mexico to San Antonio. I don’t think it’s warranted.”

In an interview after the meeting, Hutchison said she is considering running for Texas governor.

“I think the time could be right to do even more for Texas,” she remarked.

The general consensus of those in attendance agreed the town hall meeting went well.

“I’m sure there were issues not brought up [but] I think it went very well,” observed Cathy Johnson.

Judy Anderson added, “I think it was a neat thing. A lot of times, a town this size wouldn’t draw [enough attention] to consider it a stop.”

“I thought that was a wonderful opportunity to speak about issues that are troubling,” remarked Shelley Ramsey. “I think she covered a broad range of topics [and] really varied in subject material.”

Max Clark thought it was well organized.

“She had some good thoughts. I thought it was well attended. She adequately covered the issues that were asked of her. She seemed well informed of the topics,” he said. When asked if there were topics he felt warranted more attention, Clark stated, “Immigration. I’d much rather gotten deeper into the issue of immigration. It affects Texas so much.”

Hutchison’s West Texas Bus Tour began Wednesday in Borger and consisted of 12 stops.

“I came to Palo Pinto County today to meet with Texans to update them on what I’ve been doing in Washington on important energy, agriculture, tax, transportation and immigration issues,” the senator said. “But primarily I wanted to travel across West Texas to hear from my constituents about what’s on their minds and how we can be more responsive to their needs.”

Introducing Hutchison Friday was Mineral Wells City Mayor Clarence Holliman and Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland. The senator visited Abilene and Eastland earlier in the day.

© 2007 The Weatherford Democrat:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Perry has failed Republicans, conservatives and Texans of all political stripes by granting monopoly and governmental powers to private interests."

Meanwhile, let’s impeach the governor

August 18, 2007

Paul Perry
Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

I received a mass e-mail Thursday night from a group called Independent Texans. To my knowledge, they have been an active organization. They informed me of a new site on the Internet that was offering information on how an impeachment in the State of Texas works and how the governor may be deserving of the same.

Texans haven’t impeached a governor since “Pa” Ferguson. I was able to glance at the site briefly; however, as of Friday afternoon, the same site is down. Perhaps the site is crashing from a deluge of visitors. I do not know enough at this point to recommend the site, but it might be interesting to read if it ever becomes available again.

Some may remember that I called for the governor’s impeachment in a Waxahachie Daily Light column during the last session of the legislature. I wasn’t kidding. I think I was the first person to call for that in print. Other newspapers and blogs picked up my article; let’s review.

Last session, Gov. (Tricky) Rick Perry tried to turn the daughters of the great State of Texas into nearly experimental pin cushions. He decreed that our children (grade-school girls) were to be forcibly injected with a brand-new vaccine, newly approved by the FDA: Gardasil, a vaccine only recently brought to market by that paragon of corporate virtue, Merck. The vaccine is designed to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), primarily a venereal disease. The new vaccine might prevent cervical cancer — might — some of the time, anyway.

There was an opt-out provision in the Guv’s edict, but why should a parent have to fill out paperwork in a supposedly free society in order to not have one’s daughter shot full of something that hasn’t even proven itself in the marketplace? Remember Vioxx? It caused many deaths, and it was approved by the FDA as well. That was also a Merck product. While some vaccines have been required during much of our history, none were mandated solely at the whim of the governor.

Many parents had and still have reservations about the scheme. Why mandate something new upon the market from a company that does not have the best track record with some earlier products, why circumvent the normal legislative process and thus avoid the standard public hearings, and why were some of Perry’s buddies so close to the initiative Merck attempted in order to push this product by mandate and legislation in this and other states? The last I checked, venereal disease usually can be avoided by conservative behavior or a visit to the pharmacy for — uh — proper equipment, but call me old-fashioned. Some of us even wondered who was going to pay for it. Currently, the vaccine costs hundreds of dollars.

For the record, I am not opposed to immunizations and I am not opposed to immunizations for this particular disease. I am specifically opposed to mandating new vaccines that haven’t been on the market — and generally opposed to unlawful decrees, which this may have been. Texas State Attorney General Greg Abbott was quoted by State Senator Jane Nelson as stating that Perry’s mandate “did not carry the weight of law.” I guess we could call it the non-mandate mandate or maybe a bluff. Perhaps it was evidence of psychosis.

Perry was the only governor to advance this fiasco by his arguably nonexistent power of executive order, at least in regard to health matters. It also didn’t help that Perry and his handlers gave the appearance of putting a “for sale” sign on the governor or at least one that said “for rent, make a donation.” Of course the manufacturer, Merck, had already made a nice comfy contribution to Gov. Perry’s campaign fund, and everyone who was a fan of governor — fans were getting harder to find daily — assured the public that the contribution or any promises of future campaign aid had nothing to do with the governor’s desire to turn our daughters into cash cows, make that heifers. After vehement opposition from the legislature and many physicians, Tricky Rick withdrew his imperial decree.

Then there is the governor’s favorite foreign-owned monopoly, the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC). The TTC is known as a public/private partnership.

Cintra-Zachery, a Spanish company, will be allowed to control a tollroad that will bisect Texas. It will even have branches. On a map, the other branches make it look like a spider. It will be constructed mostly by taxpayer dollars but operated by the Spaniards at Cintra-Zachery, who will also receive an all-but-guaranteed profit. Cintra-Zachery is being given significant control over choosing the route for the TTC. Therefore, Cintra will direct whose property is taken for the benefit of its private profit through eminent domain.

I think Cintra should have to buy the land for its project at a market price just like other businesses. The company should have to find a willing seller at a mutually agreed price. After all, Cintra wants the right to make a profit off tollroad users for multiple generations. Instead, a power of government is being loaned to foreign-owned corporation through our governor, Tricky Rick.

Texas land owners will be forced to sell their property, most likely, on-the-cheap, to benefit a private company. A monopoly is being granted by the crown — make that the Texas governor and legislature — to a private and foreign entity. It is similar to the power given to the British East India Tea Company before the American Revolution, only this monopoly is being granted to foreigners who have no understanding and arguably no regard for the rights of Texans. But then, neither does our governor.

In fairness, our legislature also bears some responsibility. The Texas Department of Transportation will be directed to use eminent domain actions in order to take your property for use by a foreign entity. Additionally, through an earlier act of our esteemed legislature, eminent domain procedure in regard to the TTC has been “streamlined”; 91 days after the court first officially notifies you of the state’s intention to take your property for a private fee tollway, the State of Texas can have a bulldozer through your kitchen. All officials have to do is file a bond with the court equal to your tax appraisal and they can destroy your homestead before the court has ruled in your eminent domain case. You will eventually receive a court-assessed value; in the meantime, you will be homeless or paying rent.

As far as problems with the TTC goes, this is just the tip of the iceberg. This project is, in grand design, an international project that will eventually stretch from the interior of Mexico to Canada. I am not opposed to highways. I am opposed to taking powers reserved for government and giving or loaning them to foreign companies through sneaky legislation and chicanery in the governor’s office. Is this Venezuela or Texas?

We haven’t even touched upon the enabling legislation buried in the act, that allows for the creation of an international tollroad police agency. If created, to whom will they answer, and what courts will adjudicate their citations and arrests? Like so many things enabled in the legislation, it is not defined. Not that Perry or most legislators read the legislation; they were too busy. They let the lobbyists read it for them. Legislative attempts to reverse the TTC seemed lukewarm and at times even contrived for show. Some headway was made, but Tricky Rick seems to be doing everything he can to ignore or sidestep legislative intent. One wonders how much money Cintra has spread around, much less how many free ties, right County Judge Adams?

Since the recent legislative session, other things have come to light about Tricky Rick. Our governor has the most international travel miles of any Texas governor. Texas media reports no other governor has come close.

News 8 Austin, a TV station, reported the Guv recently attended the Bilderberg meeting, which was held in Turkey. You can watch the news report on YouTube. The meetings are closed to the public. A metroplex newspaper reported a five-figure travel bill for the governor on this one little jaunt. His travel was paid for by his friends through his campaign account. We taxpayers paid for the security detail that accompanies him. The travel bill for that must have been several times that of the governor’s. The Bilderberg meeting is usually reserved for national officials from North America and Europe and international business types. It does make you wonder what Tricky Rick sold there. It was probably something that should belong to all of us.

The Good Book , properly translated, says that the love of money is the root of evil. I believe that. Too many politicians retire wealthy. No one ever seems to know where their money comes from. Not too many years ago, a columnist for a national business magazine was fired after he wrote a column on the Swiss bank accounts of former government officials. Too many politicos retire not just “well-to-do” but stinking rich. I don’t begrudge them comfort. I don’t begrudge a reasonable retirement or a pension. I do wonder where all the extra wealth comes from. I am waiting to see how well Tricky Rick retires. I am certainly willing to bet his friends do well.

For the record, I am a free-market conservative who believes in property rights and parental rights for the poor and the rich, among a number of other things. I vote in the Republican primary. I once held a county office as a Republican. I have served in an official capacity at several state Republican conventions and as a delegate at more. I also have requested an autopsy if I die suddenly. Last names aside, I am not related to Tricky Rick.

This governor has failed Republicans, conservatives and Texans of all political stripes by granting monopoly and governmental powers to private interests. This economic system has been tried before; it was called mercantilism, and at its worst, it contains the elements of fascism. I would like to see our state spending and government reviewed by truly independent auditors from top to bottom, for starters. There is no telling how much money could be found for legitimate needs such as roads and highways. I also think it would be in the best interest of Texas and Texans for this governor to retire now or face impeachment.

Paul D. Perry is a contributing Sunday columnist for the Daily Light. He is a local businessman and mediator.

© 2007 The Waxahachie Daily Light:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Texans do not have the right to recall state office holders. But the Legislature has the right to impeach state officials.”

Group calls for impeachment

August 18, 2007

By JOANN LIVINGSTON, Managing Editor
Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

Gov. Rick Perry has yet another fight on his hands, with Independent Texans formally launching an effort to bring his tenure in public office to an end.

From bumper stickers promoting its Web site -, which can also be accessed via - to a top 10 list of reasons why Perry should be impeached to public presentations, the group says it will push the state Legislature to remove a governor that it says is no longer in touch with his constituency.

“Citizens across the state and from across the political spectrum have been calling their local civic and political organizations ever since the Legislature went home last May, asking what they can do to remove Rick Perry from the governor’s office,” reads a press release from Independent Texans announcing the effort. “The answer they get is this: Texans do not have the right to recall state office holders. But the Legislature has the right to impeach state officials.

Local Daily Light columnist Paul Perry had called for the governor’s impeachment this spring.

In a column in today’s paper, Paul Perry — no relation to the Rick Perry — writes about Independent Texans’ move and says, “This governor has failed Republicans, conservatives and Texans of all political stripes by granting monopoly and governmental powers to private interests. This economic system has been tried before. It was called mercantilism and, at its worst, it contains the elements of fascism.”

Asked if there was comment from the governor’s office about the move for impeachment, a spokesman for Perry responded via e-mail, “Not really,” adding, “Free speech is a wonderful thing!”

In her statement, Independent Texans founder Linda Curtis called for the administration to be “neutered.”

“The only Texas governor to be impeached was James ‘Pa’ Ferguson back in 1917,” Curtis said. “It all started when he vetoed an appropriation for the University of Texas. Then a charge emerged that Ferguson was giving highway contracts to his friends in return for kickbacks.

“Perry’s insistence on ramming his freeway toll and TransTexas Corridor scams down our throats and the continued shell game with billions of transportation dollars, had already brought the call for Perry’s removal to a near boiling point,” Curtis said. “When Rick Perry vetoed a very necessary appropriation for our community colleges, that’s when the call for his impeachment began being taken seriously.

“We intend to take this campaign out across the state, to all political camps, and to neuter this administration,” Curtis said. “Whether or not that leads to Perry’s impeachment will be up to the Legislature. Let’s see if history does indeed repeat itself.”

The Independent Texans Web site refers to the governor’s “universally hated plan” for the Trans-Texas Corridor and freeway-to-tollway privatization. The group is critical of his veto of eminent domain reform, which it says would have prevented the taking of more than 1 million acres of farm and ranchland, described by Independent Texans as “the largest land seizure in U.S. history.”

“It’s the way our democratic system works,” Ellis County Republican chairman Rusty Ballard said. “If people think they can gain enough momentum toward impeachment of any elected official, that’s what freedom is all about.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s going to go terribly far, but they’re definitely willing to try,” Ballard said. “That’s what makes our system work - people who try to do these types of things.”

The Independent Texans Web site describes its work as a grassroots effort by ordinary people - and extends its criticism to include House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, for “his autocratic ways.”

Craddick himself is embroiled in an ongoing fight over whether or not he will retain his speakership and an opinion is pending with State Attorney General Greg Abbott over how he handled the Legislature during the session’s waning days.

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, argued in his brief to Abbott there was never any intent anywhere to create a “divine speakership” that could not be held accountable and removed.

“Gov. Rick Perry - and his gang - though barely holding on to Texas, are still squeezing the life out of us,” the Independent Texans Web site notes, continuing, “And Perry, along with House Speaker Tom Craddick and his autocratic ways, has pushed Texas politics to the brink of a constitutional crisis. Do these guys really have unchecked power over the people of Texas?”

Independent Texans points out Perry returned to office with only 39 percent of the vote and says it intends to unite the plurality of voters against him on the impeachment effort.

“We are turning Perry’s attacks on the people of Texas in to a mobilization of the 42 percent (and growing) plurality of voters who do not identify with a political party and who self-identify as independent with a small ‘i’,” the site reads, noting it is pushing for an impeachment resolution to be filed at the start of the 2009 session.

Columnist Paul Perry notes, “(I) think it would be in the best interest of Texas and Texans for this governor to retire now or face impeachment.”

Recall vs. impeachment

According to Independent Texans, Texas is not one of 18 states where voters have the right to recall state elected officials - although they enjoy that privilege at the municipal level.

Impeachment, the group says, has to be done by a majority vote of the Legislature.
The group quotes the Political Almanac: “Efforts to remove a governor begin in the Texas House of Representatives, which must cast a majority vote in favor of impeachment. Such a vote amounts to bringing formal charges against a governor. The Texas Constitution, however, does not provide any specific grounds for impeachment, leaving such judgments in the hands of the Legislature. … This is similar to the national constitution; impeachment is based on the commission of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ but after more than two hundred years there is still no consensus as to what this phrase means in practice.”

Impeachment would be followed by a trial in the state Senate, according to the Web site, which notes conviction requires a two-thirds vote.

Independent Texans has said it will target allies of Perry in the upcoming election cycle - and names state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, as its No. 1 choice to defeat.

The group says Krusee “could have been a contender” and describes him as “smart, savvy and even good-looking” but says he “just won’t get up off the governor’s toll road and Trans-Texas Corridor obsession.”

The site is calling for nominations to be added to its “target list.”

On the Internet:

E-mail JoAnn at

© 2007 The Waxahachie Daily Light:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"The Trans-Texas Corridor 'is something not being driven by the people of Texas.' "

Perry's push for super highway raises conspiracy buzz

Some say it's part of a plan to create one nation in North America


Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Black helicopters, the Illuminati, Gov. Rick Perry and the Trans-Texas Corridor are all now part of the vernacular of the global domination conspiracy theorists.

Perry's push for the Trans-Texas Corridor super highway is part of a secret plan, the conspiracy theorists say, to create the North American Union — a single nation consisting of Canada, Mexico and the United States with a currency called the Amero.

Government denials of the North American Union and descriptions of it as a myth seem to add fuel to the fire. A Google search for "North American Union" and "Rick Perry" returns about 13,400 Web page results.

"Conspiracy theories abound, and some people have an awful lot of time on their hands to come up with such far-fetched notions," said Perry spokesman Robert Black.

Perry enhanced the conspiracy buzz earlier this summer by traveling to Turkey to attend the secretive Bilderberg conference, which conspiracy theorists believe is a cabal of international monied interests and power brokers pressing for globalization.

And the conspiracy rhetoric is likely to ratchet up this week as President Bush meets with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Quebec in their third summit to discuss North American relations under the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

"There is absolutely a connection with all of it," said Texas Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams. The Trans-Texas Corridor "is something not being driven by the people of Texas."

The first, and most controversial, leg of the Trans-Texas Corridor plan is a proposed 1,200-foot-wide private toll road to run from Laredo to the Oklahoma border parallel to Interstate 35. This TTC-35 would be built by a consortium headed by Spanish owned Cintra S.A. and Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio.

The seed of the North American Union controversy rests in the 1992-93 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Under that treaty, Interstate 35 was designated informally as the NAFTA highway.

'Stealth' attempt

Fast-forward to March 2005 to Crawford, when President Bush, Harper and then-Mexican President Vicente Fox agreed to pursue the Security and Prosperity Partnership, SPP. The idea was to promote cooperation among the countries on economic and security issues.

But conservative author Jerome Corsi — in his new book: The Late Great U.S.A.: The Coming Merger with Mexico and Canada — argues the SPP is a "stealth" attempt to wipe out the nations' borders and form a single economy like the European Union.

With an entire chapter dedicated to Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor plan, Corsi says the first step to integrating the economies is to integrate the transportation infrastructure.

"His (Perry's) actions have been to fight hard to build this toll road and not listen to the objections expressed by the people of Texas," Corsi said.

Corsi became nationally known in 2004 as the co-author of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry. Corsi said extensive research shows the SPP has created working groups on the North American Union that answer to presidential Cabinet secretaries.

"This is more of a shadow bureaucracy, a shadow government already in effect," Corsi said. "Unless it is stopped, it will turn into a North American Union with an Amero."

The official federal Web site for the SPP has a section dedicated to busting the North American Union as myth.

"The SPP does not attempt to modify our sovereignty or currency or change the American system of government designed by our Founding Fathers," the site says.

But that has not stopped a growing opposition to the North American Union by groups such as the Eagle Forum, The Conservative Caucus and the John Birch Society.

'Wanted' individual

The North American Union also has been fodder for cable television commentators: CNN's Lou Dobbs and Fox's Bill O'Reilly.

Perry fueled his role in the debate in June by attending the Bilderberg annual conference, a secretive closed-door meeting of about 120 business, government and media leaders from Europe and North America.

Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson was asked about the trip on the syndicated talk radio show of Alex Jones in June. Paul said the trip was "a sign that he's involved in the international conspiracy."

Jones' Web site features mug shot-like photos of Perry labeled "Wanted for Treason." Jones in an interview said Perry's trip and the Trans-Texas Corridor show a willingness by the governor to sell out Texas' infrastructure to international bankers.

"Perry is actively waging war, economically in the interests of the elites and neomercantilism," Jones said.

The 2001 book Toward a North American Community: Lessons from the Old World for the New by Robert A. Pastor, an American University professor and director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management, is cited by Corsi as the blueprint for the merger.

"I've never proposed a North American Union," Pastor said. "The only people who talk about a North American Union are those people who are trying to generate fear."

Belief in sovereignty

Pastor said greater cooperation between the three countries makes sense for both economics and internal security.

Pastor said those promoting the conspiracy are doing so because of "historical xenophobia," "a fear of immigrants, mostly from Mexico" and a "traditional isolationism."

Black said there is no way the governor would support merging the U.S. with its neighbors.

"The governor is a firm believer in the sovereignty of the United States. Too many of our brave men and women have died defending it," Black said.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


President Bush 'would like to show he accomplished something in North America.'

Bush needs Three Amigos summit to cement presidential legacy

August 18, 2007

Norma Greenaway
CanWest News Service
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON -- Weighed down by an unpopular war in Iraq and declining political clout at home, U.S. President George W. Bush arrives at the Three Amigos summit in Canada on Monday with a slim agenda and little wind in his sails.

Still, U.S. analysts say, the two-day get-together with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts in the Quebec resort town of Montebello offers Bush a chance to show his presidency has not stalled, and that he is committed to enhancing trade and security in North America.

They also say Bush wants to be constructive, and will try not to do or say anything that could backfire on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his minority government.

"President Bush is trying to demonstrate that he is engaged with allies, and engaged in international affairs and foreign policy outside of the prism of Iraq," said Scotty Greenwood, executive director of the Washington-based Canadian American Business Council. "He's trying to demonstrate that he's committed to getting it right in the neighbourhood."

Bush meets Monday and Tuesday with Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who, unlike Bush, will stay on for an extra day to spend private time with Harper at the prime minister's Harrington Lake retreat in Quebec's Gatineau Hills.

The summit agenda is loose, and holds the prospect of discussion on everything from the war in Afghanistan and upheaval in the Middle East to climate change and controversial new passport requirements for anyone travelling into the United States from Canada and elsewhere.

A major topic will be how to make the continent "safer and more prosperous," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters in Crawford, Texas, where Bush was relaxing before travelling to Canada.

He was referring to the Security and Prosperity Partnership, launched two years ago in 2005 in Waco, Texas. It involves negotiations among officials from the three countries on a package of regulatory reforms designed to improve the North American business climate and minimize border disruptions in the post-9-11 world.

Officials also are working on a continent-wide approach to managing flu pandemics and a co-ordinated emergency planning system, two issues about which the leaders could announce agreements at the summit.

The process, however, has been decried as overly secretive by critics in all three countries. And, after two years, it has little to show in terms of concrete results.

Chris Sands, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Bush, eyeing the history books, wants the three leaders to inject new life into the SPP process.

"For a lot of other people, it is just an acronym," Sands said, "but for him, he's invested time in this. It stands out as potentially the most significant new initiative of Bush's second term and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere."

Bush and Harper, who will have a private session Monday, also will talk about the state of affairs in Afghanistan, where both countries have combat troops on the ground.

Harper has already said the current Canadian mission will not be extended beyond February 2009 without parliamentary consensus.

The view from Washington is that Bush, who would undoubtedly prefer that Canada stay the course beyond 2009, will be extremely careful not to stir up trouble on the subject.

"The president's people are well aware of the difficulties Harper has on this," said David Biette, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Canada Institute in Washington. "I don't think he'd want to weigh in on that."

Sands agreed. "Obviously, Bush is not the most popular salesman in Canada," and he will be careful about anything he says about the wars in either Afghanistan or Iraq, he said.

"You hear this a lot from the Bush people and the White House," he said. "They want to support Harper. They know that he's got an election coming up sometime soon."

Sands said Bush, who leaves office in 17 months, wants to push the SPP forward because he is starting to think about his legacy, and would like something on foreign policy beyond his response to the 9-11 terror attacks and his execution of the war in Iraq.

"He would like to show he accomplished something in North America," Sands said.

Biette said progress hinges on making the SPP process more transparent.

"There is a part of the Canadian population that is suspicious of Harper and, of course, ever suspicious of President Bush, so that anything connected with the two of them must be evil. And Calderon is new."

Ottawa Citizen

© 2007 CanWest News Service:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE


"Three Amigos" or "Three Banditos?"

Controversy follows three-country accord into Canada

August 18, 2007

Kelly Patterson
CanWest News Service
Copyright 2007

To some, it is a "corporate coup d'etat," a conspiracy by big business to turn Canada into the 51st state by stealth. Others see it as a plot to destroy the U.S. by forcing it into a North American union with "socialist Canada" and "corrupt Mexico."

Its defenders hail it as a bold, visionary plan, the only way to give the three neighbours a fighting chance against the twin threats of global terrorism and robust economic rivals such as China.

Skeptics argue it's nothing but an eye-glazing bureaucratic boondoggle, with all the sex appeal of the phone book.

It is the Security and Prosperity Partnership, a sprawling effort to forge closer ties among the three nations in everything from anti-terrorism measures, to energy strategies, to food-safety and pesticide rules.

Launched two years ago by then-prime minister Paul Martin, President George W. Bush and his Mexican counterpart Vicente Fox at the so-called Three Amigos summit in Waco, Texas, the SPP grew out of concerns that security crackdowns would cripple cross-border trade.

With juggernauts such as China and India looming on the horizon, the three countries agreed they had to act fast to stay competitive. Now the SPP has grown into a mind-boggling array of some 300 initiatives, involving 19 teams of bureaucrats from all three countries.

Its stated mission is "to keep our borders closed to terrorism yet open to trade" by fostering "greater co-operation and information-sharing" in security protocols and economic areas such as product safety.

Little-known in Canada, the accord, if fully implemented, could affect almost every aspect of Canadian life, from what drugs you can access, to whether you can board a plane and even what ingredients go into your morning cornflakes.

While you may not have heard of the SPP, you may have heard about some of the controversies it has sparked: Canada's adoption of a no-fly list; negotiations to lower Canada's pesticide standards to U.S. levels; or fears the deal will lead to bulk-water exports.

Liberal party leader Stephane Dion charged Friday that, "under the veil of secrecy," Harper has let the Americans run roughshod over Canada, covertly using the SPP to impose a U.S. agenda on Canada. That's not what the Liberals intended when they signed the deal, which was meant to give Canada a stronger voice in Washington, not turn it into a pale "imitation" of the U.S., he says.

Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians says it is big business that is calling the shots, pushing aggressively for the harmonization -- and downgrading -- of everything from security norms to food standards, in a move that will lead to the "integration by stealth" of the three nations.

"Canadians would be shocked" if they knew the true scope of the SPP, says Barlow, whose Ottawa-based organization says it represents about 100,000 members.

Fringe groups such as the Canadian Action Party and the Minutemen in the U.S. go further, arguing the SPP is a plot to sweep all three nations into a North American union.

"Where are they getting this stuff?" says Thomas d'Aquino, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, which helped launch the SPP.

"This is a very nitty-gritty, workaday initiative" to make trade safer and more efficient through such steps as expanding border crossings and information-sharing programs on plant and animal safety, he says.

Other SPP projects are no-brainers, such as plans to co-operate in fighting West Nile virus and flu pandemics.

As for fears of a North American union, "anyone who believes that is smoking something," says d'Aquino.

This weekend, the debate hits the headlines across the nation as the three heads of state and their advisers converge on Montebello, Que., 60 kilometres east of Ottawa, for the SPP's third annual summit.

Thousands of protesters are also expected to descend on the area, hoping to confront the "Three Banditos" about a deal they say is a secretive sellout to the cowboy capitalism and militarism of the superpower to Canada's south.

The road toward the SPP began with the shutdown of the Canada-U.S. border after the terrorist attacks on the U.S.

"It was a disaster for trade," recalls d'Aquino. "Suddenly, trucks which could whisk through the border in four to six minutes before 9/11 could take 18 hours."

Even now, security checks can slow border crossings to as long as three hours, he says, and businesses on both sides of the border live in fear of another emergency shutdown.

Cross-border trade is worth more than $1 billion a day and accounts for about 80 per cent of Canada's total exports. Border delays since 2001 have cost at least $14 billion to both economies, according to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Within weeks of the terrorist attacks, d'Aquino's group and the Liberal government of the day were pressing Washington to do something; by December, the two countries had hammered out the so-called Smart Border Declaration, a 30-point program to co-ordinate and streamline border security.

With border security suddenly at the top of the U.S. agenda, business and policy leaders on both sides of the 49th parallel saw a golden opportunity to hash out a host of other trade-related issues, such as energy supplies and regulatory differences that stop some goods at the border.

By 2005, the SPP was up and running. Building on the Smart Border deal, it had a sprawling agenda of roughly 300 projects running the gamut from joint security exercises to the study of migratory species.

"We always hoped from the outset we could broaden it beyond security," says Roland Paris, a University of Ottawa professor who worked as an adviser in the Privy Council Office when the SPP was launched. He adds that the SPP's architects hoped the "regular high-level meetings" would help "overcome bureaucratic inertia."

But they also helped big business and its government allies bypass both the public and Parliament to push through a host of controversial changes without debate or scrutiny, critics charge. They say the accord has enshrined and fast-tracked a longstanding effort to quietly harmonize Canadian programs with those of the U.S. in everything from military policy to food and drug standards.

"The SPP is an unacceptable, closed-door process with enormous implications for Canadians," says NDP trade critic Peter Julian.

Roland Paris scoffs at charges the SPP is a grand design. If anything, he says, it is a timid collection of piddling efforts that has become bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.

"This is not a political vision of the future of the continent. If it were, it would be worth the fuss."

Defenders of the SPP dismiss concerns about regulatory change as fear-mongering, saying the accord aims only to cut out minor, needless variations between the three countries.

The goal is to end the "tyranny of small differences" that can turn the border into a theatre of the absurd, says John Kirton, a University of Toronto professor and expert in the environmental effects of free trade.

For example, Canada's rules on the nutritional content of cornflakes are slightly different from those in the U.S., forcing American cereal exporters to make separate batches for Canada.

"So many Canadians drive across the border every day, and sometimes they eat American cornflakes. None of them have died," Kirton observes. "There's no scientific foundation for that difference in the rules."

If anything, the SPP could dramatically raise standards across North America, proponents say, because it heavily promotes information-sharing among the three countries.

Scientists would swap data on everything from car safety, to new chemicals, to consumer products and food safety, enabling regulators to better evaluate products and react more quickly to public health threats.

The SPP also includes projects with obvious benefits for all three nations, such as reducing sulphur in fuel and air pollution from ships, and co-ordinating efforts to curb plant and animal diseases.

It just makes sense to work closely with our neighbours on health and safety issues that affect the whole continent, says Kirton.

All three governments insist that the three nations remain sovereign under the SPP: If Canada doesn't like the way the U.S. does something, it can go its own way.

But NDP trade critic Julian is not so sure. He worries about the effect regulatory convergence will have in the future. If, for example, Canada wants to pass new rules to deal with greenhouse gases, it could mean "Canada would have to go to Washington and lobby for the kinds of standards and protections they want," he says.

One thing is certain: The fate of North America, and our place in it, has shot into the spotlight with growing public awareness of the SPP, rekindling a wrenching debate about Canada's ties to the superpower to the south.

As with the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1988, and NAFTA six years later, old foes such as Barlow and d'Aquino are once again facing off; charges of lies, secrecy and even treason are flying from fringe groups on both sides of the border.

Ottawa Citizen

© 2007 CanWest News Service:

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Top 10 reasons to impeach Gov. Rick Perry:

Independent Texans: Reasons to impeach

August 18, 2007

By JOANN LIVINGSTON, Managing Editor
The Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

Independent Texans has listed the following on its Web site as 10 reasons to impeach Gov. Rick Perry.

As part of its top 10 listing, Independent Texans notes that Perry vetoed 49 bills passed during the session, doing so after the Legislature went home so he could not be overridden.

“Mr. Veto would probably argue that he restrained himself from the record he set in 2001, when he vetoed 82 bills, more than any governor in any single legislative session in Texas history since reconstruction,” the Web site notes, adding, “According to Paul Burka of Texas Monthly, 17 of this year’s Perry vetoes were simply to get back at legislators who crossed him on his precious mega-special interest driven Trans-Texas Corridor and HPV vaccine mandate.”

Independent Texans’ top 10 list is as follows (for the organization’s extended comments, see the Web sites listed at the end):

1. In 2003, Perry and state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, pushed legislation through allowing for the Trans-Texas Corridor and freeway-to-tollway conversions. A former lobbyist for Cintra, the Spanish toll road consortium, went to work in the governor’s office writing transportation legislation.

2. Perry vetoed the first corridor/toll moratorium bill, House Bill 1892, out of the 80th Legislature and forced changes on the second bill, Senate Bill 792, before he would agree to sign it.

3. Perry vetoed eminent domain reform that was designed to protect private property rights. Independent Texans notes the legislation was intended to prevent the taking of more than 1 million acres of farm and ranchland, “the largest land seizure in U.S. history.”

4. Called three special sessions on mid-census redistricting, which Independent Texans says disenfranchised Democratic voters as well as independent voters because of the elimination of swing districts.

5. Independent Texans say Perry’s small business franchise tax has increased taxes for many small businesses by a 10-fold average, citing information from the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

6. Perry vetoed two bills and an appropriation rider relating to funding needs of the Community College System.

7. Independent Texans describes Perry’s veto of a bill banning diesel-fueled school buses from idling as “unbelievable.” Legislators intended the bill to help curb bus emissions that expose children to fine particles that can trigger asthma attacks. “This bill had widespread support, no voiced opposition (including the governor’s office) and was drawn upon an initiative by the president,” Independent Texans notes.

8. Independent Texans say Perry has “sold out” consumer protection by placing appointees from the construction industry on the Texas Residential Construction Commission. The group criticizes Perry for taking $690,000 from homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation to the governor) and appointing Perry Homes’ attorney John Krush to the commission.

9. Perry’s mandate that Texas girls be vaccinated against the HPV virus, before entering the sixth grade, which was overridden by the Legislature. Independent Texans has criticized Perry for receiving campaign money from Merck and notes his former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, is a lobbyist for Merck.

10. A series of Perry vetoes to bipartisan criminal justice reform that Independent Texans says would have slowed “the pace of incarceration and provide for alternative funding mechanisms.”

The organization has invited Texans to submit their own reasons to impeach Perry via its Web sites or

E-mail JoAnn at

© 2007 The Waxahachie Daily Light:

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"We intend to take this campaign out across the state, to all political camps, and to neuter this administration."

Time to say "Adios, Mofo?"

Political activist launches Web site to impeach Perry


R.G. Ratcliffe, Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — A political activist dedicated to independent candidates and third-party tickets has launched a new Internet site dedicated to impeaching Gov. Rick Perry.

Linda Curtis, founder of Independent Texans, launched the site to call on the Legislature to draft articles of impeachment against Perry in 2009.

Curtis noted that Texas does not have the right of recall, so petitioning the Legislature to impeach the governor is the only answer when citizens are unhappy.

When asked about the new Impeach Perry Web site, Perry spokesman Robert Black responded by saying: "Free speech is a wonderful thing."

Curtis said the two main reasons for seeking Perry's impeachment is his continuing push for the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road from Laredo to Oklahoma despite citizen opposition and his veto of $154 million in funds for junior colleges.

Other reasons listed by Curtis include the passage of the new state franchise tax that taxes some business partnerships for the first time; his mandate that sixth-grade girls be vaccinated against HPV (a mandate overturned by the Legislature); and the creation of the Residential Construction Commission, which she sees as protection for builders who do shoddy construction.

The full list can be found online at

Curtis noted the last Texas governor to be impeached was James "Pa" Ferguson in 1917 after he vetoed the budget for the University of Texas.

"We intend to take this campaign out across the state, to all political camps, and to neuter this administration," Curtis said. "Whether or not that leads to Perry's impeachment will be up to the Legislature. Let's see if history does indeed repeat itself."

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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Friday, August 17, 2007

'Pass through toll' agreement gives Weatherford a costly balloon payment

Pass-through toll costs more than double

August 17, 2007

Christina Childs
Christin Coyne
The Weatherford Democrat
Copyright 2007

Weatherford may be spending more than estimated on the pass-through toll projectapproximately $8 million more than the $7 million first proposed in 2005.

According to acting City Manager Jennifer Fadden, the pass-through toll project is a major undertaking and combines a variety of improvement projects where the City will work hand-in-hand with the Texas Department of Transportation to create a better Weatherford.

The City entered into a contract with TxDOT in November 2005 to construct improvements on State-of-Texas highways within the Weatherford city limits,” Fadden said. “It involves numerous roads. It’s not just one kind of project.

“It’s going to create improvements on state highways in Weatherford that would have not been done otherwise.”

In May, the City Council authorized the issuance of certificates of obligation, which allowed the city to borrow approximately $46.5 million toward funding the projects.

According to the proposed 2007-08 city budget, the total repayment of principal plus interest in 15 years on the 2007 certificates of obligation would equal $67.7 million.

However, according to the pass-through toll agreement, TxDOT will only reimburse Weatherford $5.2 million annually for up to a total of approximately $52.4 million.

In 2005, Mayor Joe Tison told the Democrat, “the City’s direct cost contribution to the project will only be $7 million of the total cost.”

The required payment amount per year on the 2007 certificates of obligation also more than doubles in 2013. In 2008, and until 2013, the City is only required to make payments of $2.8 million or less per year. In 2013, the required payment jumps to approximately $6 million for the next nine years and nearly doubles the City’s total annual debt service requirements from 2012.

Terry Hughes, director of community development, said the city has not yet recalculated the total project costs estimate since the original estimate of approximately $42 million.

As of press time, Fadden said Tison was out of state and a clarification of the increased cost to the City could not be attained at that time.

The pass-through toll project will impact the tax rate increase by a total of two-and-a-half cents, according to Fadden.

Christina Childs:

Christin Coyne:

© 2007 The Weatherford Democrat:

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"Local elected officials who set regional transportation policy have been urging the NTTA to adopt a more aggressive toll rate policy."

Tollway rates to increase in Sept.

August 17, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Driving without a toll tag is going to get more expensive for NTTA motorists beginning Sept. 29.

Rates vary across the Dallas area, but beginning next month, customers with a tag will pay a dime more than they do now at main lane plazas, while cash customers will pay a quarter more.

“Now is the time to get one,” said Rick Herrington of the NTTA. “Cash customers will pay 40 percent more than toll tag customers.”

The rate increase, which was approved by the NTTA board in November, comes just as the authority has begun a three-year transition to all-electronic toll collections.

More rate increases are likely, as local elected officials who set regional transportation policy have been urging the NTTA to adopt a more aggressive toll rate policy. The new State Highway 121 toll road, for instance, will open in 2010 with rates set about 14 cents a mile, and will increase every two years. The Regional Transportation Council has encouraged the NTTA to consider adopting that policy for all or most of its toll roads.

Despite the Sept. 29 increase, rates for the Mountain Creek Lake Bridge and the Addision Airport Toll Tunnel will stay at 50 cents.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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"'President Bush, President Calderon, Prime Minister Harper, tear down the wall of silence."

Left, right unite to protest Quebec summit

August 17, 2007

Julie Smyth,
National Post
Copyright 2007

OTTAWA -- The far right and far left will find common ground next week as representatives from both political spectrums protest the summit between Canadian, American and Mexican leaders in Montebello, Que.

An ultra-conservative U.S. group calling itself the Coalition to Block the North American Union, made up of politicians and activists, as well as singer Pat Boone, will hold a news conference in Ottawa on Monday to oppose the two-day Security and Prosperity Partnership meeting of U.S. President George Bush, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Felipe Calderon of Mexico.

Members of the group also plan on going to the meeting to voice their concerns about what they deem secretive talks. They tried, unsuccessfully, to book rooms at the high-end resort hotel where the meeting is being held under intense security. They will go along in an attempt to engage anyone in discussion about their opposition to the leaders, all of whom share conservative values. The group is to the political right of Mr. Bush.

The coalition will make strange bedfellows with others protesting the summit, including the Green party and the People's Global Action Bloc, an activist organization that rejects capitalism and all trade agreements.

Howard Phillips, chairman of the U.S. coalition, said in an interview Friday that he will not engage in any violent protests or street demonstrations but is travelling to Canada to find others interested in his cause. He is upset he will not have access to the meeting or the hotel -- all protesters will be kept away from the building and grounds but the demonstrations will be videotaped and shown inside the summit meeting.

Mr. Phillips' group is opposed to a North American union and was against the North American Free Trade Agreement. It is concerned these meetings and agreements detract from each of the country's ability to achieve national independence and self-determination, he said yesterday. Mr. Phillips, who runs a public policy action group called Conservative Caucus and once worked for government agencies during the Nixon administration, said his other complaint is the "secrecy" of the talks.

He said protesters with opposite political views to his own share his concerns about the loss of independence for countries -- and have for years -- and he welcomes them all to the battle against next week's discussions.

"We share many of the concerns that people on the liberal side have on NAFTA, WTO, etc.," he said in a telephone interview.

In a press release to be released on Monday, he states: "Our message is, 'President Bush, President Calderon, Prime Minister Harper, tear down the wall of silence and let the people see what you are scheming to do.' Behind closed doors, step by step, the leaders of Mexico, Canada, and the United States are setting the stage for, first, a North American Community and, ultimately, a North American Union [NAU], in which new transnational bodies would gain authority over our economy, our judiciary, and our lawmaking institutions ... Our message is similar to the one which Ronald Reagan delivered to Mikhail Gorbachev when he said, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.' "

On Monday and Tuesday, the three leaders will be discussing issues around security and the economy, as well as timely matters such as the mass import of products from China following the recent toy recalls. This is an annual summit that began two years ago in Texas. The impetus was to expand NAFTA but that has become less of a focus following public opposition and protests.

Mr. Phillips' coalition is made up of about 100 U.S. politicians and conservative public policy advocates. Tom DeWeese, president of the American Policy Center and John McManus, president of the John Birch Society, will be at the Ottawa press conference and Congressman Virgil Goode, Jr., the chief sponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 40, which opposes the North American union and "NAFTA Superhighway," will participate through video conference.

Crooner Pat Boone, as well as U.S. Congressmen Ron Paul and Walter Jones will be issuing statements of protest.

© 2007 The National Post:

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Ric Williamson: "All of the bridges on Texas' public roads are safe."

Bridge safety

State releases list of deficient bridges

Thirty-six Central Texas spans make the list.

August 17, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Responding to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's request for a complete inventory of "structurally deficient" bridges, the Texas Department of Transportation on Thursday released a list of 2,024 such Texas bridges, including 36 in the three-county Austin area.

The agency at the same time released a broadside, sending Dewhurst a five-page letter that included several paragraphs outlining how the Legislature has failed to provide it the necessary funds to take on bridge maintenance and other state transportation challenges.

"In each of the recent legislative sessions, TxDOT and its regional partners have been asked to do more with less," the letter from Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson says.

It goes on to outline how the Legislature took more transportation money for other needs and limited the agency's ability to tap the private sector for roads. "(T)he net result of legislative action was to scale back resources," Williamson said in the letter.

Dewhurst had asked for the report in an Aug. 3 letter to the department, two days after an Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

"I read with relief your statement that 'all of the bridges on Texas' public roads are safe,' " Dewhurst said in his letter, "but the Minnesota highway department, I assume, thought that was true for their state, too."

The Transportation Department's county-by-county list includes a federal "sufficiency rating" between one and 100 for each of the 2,024 bridges, as well as a categorization of how soon bridges might be repaired or replaced.

The agency said 282 bridges are currently being repaired or rehabilitated, 1,303 are in its 10-year plan for remedial work and 439 are not on any list for repair or funding.

A bridge is deemed structurally deficient, the agency said Thursday, "if significant elements of the bridge are deteriorating or damaged, (if there is) extreme restriction of load carrying capacity or the adequacy of the waterway opening under the bridge is extremely inadequate. A structurally deficient bridge should not be confused with an unsafe bridge."

The sufficiency rating is calculated using raw data from inspections of bridge structures and decks, taking into account "structural adequacy and safety, serviceability and functional obsolescence and essentiality for public use."

In the Austin area, Travis County has 10 structurally deficient bridges, some of the most prominent being two bridges near Cameron Road and Interstate 35 and the FM 973 crossing of the Colorado River. Repairs to two of the 10 are ongoing.

Williamson County has 23 such bridges, including the U.S. 183 bridge over the South San Gabriel River and the Brushy Creek Road bridge over Brushy Creek. Three bridges are under repair.

And in Hays County, there are three structurally deficient bridges. One, on Old Martindale Road over the Blanco River, is under repair.; 445-3698

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

"The importance of raising the federal gasoline tax is clear to everyone but President Bush, apparently."

Raise gas tax to prop up bridge maintenance

August 16, 2007

Editorial Board
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

The importance of raising the federal gasoline tax is clear to everyone but President Bush, apparently.

Before starting his vacation, Bush lashed out at the growing number of politicians calling for an increase in the gas tax. In doing so, he attempted to turn a public safety issue into a political one.

The gas tax helps fund the construction and maintenance of our nation's highways and bridges. As we've noted before, the tax, 18.4 cents per gallon, has not increased since 1993 and has lost 30 percent of its value to inflation. Rising construction costs have further diminished its value.

In Texas, the need for increased federal funding is particularly acute. The state gas tax, 20 cents per gallon, hasn't been raised since 1991. With gas prices already high, it's unlikely that legislators will raise the gas tax anytime soon.

Inadequate funding has forced transportation authorities to employ patchwork measures to maintain our nation's crumbling infrastructure. Which is why more than 73,000 bridges are structurally deficient in our country, including 2,219 in Texas. "Maintenance needs are quickly outpacing funding," said Randy Cox, the Transportation Department's state bridge engineer. "We have limited resources to address bridge needs."

The Minnesota bridge collapse brought these issues to the forefront, changing the opinion of some politicians previously opposed to a gas tax increase. Two prominent Republicans, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Alaska Rep. Don Young, say they now support increasing the tax. Young, a former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said, "We have to, as a Congress, grasp this problem. And yes, I would even suggest: Fund this problem with a tax. ... May the sky not fall on me."

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., captured this bipartisan sentiment by proposing legislation that would raise the gas tax by 5 cents for the next three years.

The president argues that raising the gas tax would just fund pet projects, such as the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska. "Before we raise taxes, which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities," he said. "And if bridges are a priority, let's make sure we set that priority first and foremost before we raise taxes."

Though there is some truth in that statement, it's going to be difficult for politicians to get away with pork-barrel politics as usual now that our nation's infrastructure is a high-profile issue.

President Bush shouldn't gamble with the safety of American citizens just because he fears that some of the money raised from a tax increase will fund pork-barrel projects. To avoid a repeat of the Minnesota tragedy, Congress needs to consider raising the federal gas tax soon.

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:

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"I deplore the fact that only business people are present for the meetings when they should have included civil society too."

Duceppe slams "secretive" three amigos meeting

August 16, 2007

Philip Authier
CanWest News Service
Copyright 2007

MONTREAL - Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe Thursday denounced the secretive nature of the Security and Prosperity Partnership summit opening Monday in Montebello, Que.

Duceppe said the Bloc is not opposed in principle to the event but the leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico will make decisions affecting the Canadian public directly and that should not happen behind closed doors.

He insisted that since Prime Minister Stephen Harper never made public his views on issues going into the summit, the PM must provide an account of any decisions taken there before the government follows through on them. At the very least, the government should freeze the application of any measures until MPs can be consulted.

"They are important subjects which have a direct impact on the population," Duceppe told a Montreal news conference. "Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hiding what will be going on at Montebello from the population," he went on. "When I talk of the secretive nature of the talks, I deplore the fact that only business people are present for the meetings when they should have included civil society too."

Duceppe offered several examples of potential direct consequences from the summit including possible changes to workplace norms that could affect workers. The same goes for regulations governing the use of pesticides. He said 90 per cent of pesticide regulations in Canada are stricter than those in the United States. Agreeing to level the playing field in the name of more closely aligning the three countries would mean a decline in Canadian standards.

The summit will discuss increasing oil production levels of the Alberta tar sands. Duceppe said more petroleum may be good news for the oil-starved United States but Canada would be stuck with the increased pollution. One of the summit's sub-committees is proposing a five-fold increase in tar sands oil.

"The problem is we don't really know what they're discussing," Duceppe said. "We have a lot of concern with that."

© 2007 CanWest News Service

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"In 50 short years, we've gone from a Dwight Eisenhower approach to funding freeways to a Tony Soprano approach. Call me nostalgic, but I like Ike."

Toll enthusiasts can hit the road

August 16, 2007

Pall Mulshine
Newark Star Ledger (New Jersey)
Copyright 2007

Last weekend I was vacation ing in the Poconos and I got talking to some of the locals. They were pretty steamed. It seems that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is pushing a scheme to im pose tolls on the Pennsylvania section of Interstate 80.

I'm pretty steamed, too. If Pennsylvanians want to charge tolls on the roads they built with their own money, such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike, that's none of my business.

But I-80 was built with my tax dollars under a program begun by the esteemed Republican president Dwight Eisenhower. Now this Democrat wants to use the road as a cash cow. He isn't even pretending, as politicians usually do, that the purpose of the tolls is to fix up the road. Instead "Fast Eddie," as Pennsylvanians call their governor, wants to make a quick buck off the road to fund mass transit in Philly and Pittsburgh.

You can imagine how well that's going over in rural northern Pennsylvania. Several members of Congress are fighting the plan in the House. Rep. Phil English, a Republican, succeeded in getting a rider inserted in an appropriations bill that would ban the tolls. But the bill needs to win Senate approval and be signed by President Bush.

Here's where the plot thickens. You would expect Bush as a Republican to oppose the efforts of Rendell and our own Democratic governor, Jon Corzine, to balance their budgets through that form of fiscal trickery we have come to know as "asset monetization." Like Rendell, Corzine also flirted with the idea of putting tolls on our sec tions of I-80 and I-78, but Jersey drivers made it plain to Corzine that this was political suicide. So Corzine has to content himself for now with making a buck off our existing toll roads.

But you can't blame Democrats for this fiasco. In fact, it was the prior President Bush who pushed the change in federal law that permits imposing tolls on federally funded freeways. And the current President Bush's transportation secretary, Mary Peters, has been turning up in Pennsylvania to offer support for putting tolls on I-80.

And guess where else Peters has been hanging out? You got it: Texas. There she's been buddying up to Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican and a Bush protégé. Peters and Perry have been plotting with a Spanish firm by the name of Cintra to build a massive 4,000-mile network of toll roads called the Trans-Texas Corridor. One problem: Texas already has an excellent network of freeways. So how do the pols plan to get Texans to use the toll roads instead?

Texas Transportation Secretary Ric Williamson has provided the answer. In a 2004 Houston Chronicle article, he was quoted as telling Texans "in your lifetime most exist ing roads will have tolls." The I-80 effort in Pennsylvania, in other words, looks like just the first step in a national effort to convert the interstate system into a network of toll roads. Private corporations such as Cintra are ready to hand over billions of dollars up front against future toll collections.

The benefits for politicians are immense.

It's a disaster for drivers, however.

If you think those Pennsylvanians are peeved, give Dave Stall a call. He and his wife have founded a citizens' group to fight the Texas toll plans. When I got him on the phone, Stall told me that Texas plans to charge 15 cents a mile on toll roads. If you're driving a car that gets 27 miles per gallon, that's equivalent to approximately a $4-a-gallon gas tax.

"It's really interesting that there is a complete aversion to any increase in the gasoline tax by the governor, yet there is this rush to privatize and toll," he said.

Indeed it is. And it's really interesting that on the national level Bush claims to be firmly opposed to a mere 5-cent-a-gallon increase in the federal gas tax while his transportation secretary supports tolls. Let's say I want to drive from the Delaware Water Gap to the Ohio state line on I-80. That 5-cent gas-tax increase would cost me perhaps 50 cents. The projected toll, meanwhile, would be about $20.

That $19.50 difference explains why politicians of both parties are so hot on tolls. Every cent of a gas tax increase would go to transportation. But tolls provide a vast pool of money for lobbyists, lawyers, patronage jobs -- you name it.

By the way, if you're confused by the term "asset monetization," Stall has a definition that any Jersey driver will understand.

"It's Tony Soprano," Stall said. "He gives you an envelope on top of the table, and then he hands you another envelope under the table."

In 50 short years, we've gone from a Dwight Eisenhower approach to funding freeways to a Tony Soprano approach. Call me nostalgic, but I like Ike.

Paul Mulshine may be reached at To comment on this column, go to NJVoi

© 2007 Star-Ledger:

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