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Posts published in “Day: February 12, 2009

Playing the banking game

It amazes me how this Madoff fellow got away absconding millions and millions of dollars from people who thought they were getting richer. This is one time I am glad we are not wealthy.

On top of that, Madoff has been walking freely about. It is a wonder somebody hasn’t jerked a knot in his tail for what he did, being free like he is. Do you think rich people do that?

It would be interesting to see a list of who lost and how much. It would be like playing poker, read ’em and weep.

The government was asleep at the wheel on this one, specifically the Securities and Exchange Commission. Having spent 38 years working for six banks in two buildings, one gets to know how bank examiners work or at least some of it.

The examiners would go through our investment accounts like the bonds, stock, etc and etc., then the examiners would send correspondence to account holders requesting verification of the account and amount, etc. The examiners would go through us as if using a flea comb looking for irregularities. Of course, as Madoff has proven; it is sometimes hard to catch a thief.

One time, there was a bank examiner who would go through people’s waste baskets. Of course this one bank examiner had smelled a rat and was digging deep for irregularities.

Then again having been close friends with past examiners, one can say they do party and play at times. They like to play practical jokes on one another as well as cover for their podna’s too.

At one time, a bank would take the examiners out to lunch but that is now history thanks to people like Bert Lance and Jessie James. The examiners loved to go to the boat clubs or country clubs for their luncheon. Many would drink their lunch thus making a day of the lunch.

Mind you lots of people drink their lunches, so it is not all government people. Bankers are not angels by any means. Many have sticky fingers and I’ll share a few tales with you if you are interested.

The story goes that this one banker would make all these restaurant loans to persons and get a five or ten thousand dollar kickback for making the loan.

Then there was this banker who got a kickback on each loan approved for a certain dealer until company management got air of the deal.

Then there was the banker who would make leg loans. Now let me tell you, that is a brave man or fool, one way or the other, some poor fool is going to have to collect it. Been known to collect a few leg loans in my career from bankers who had gone down the road; the customers sure gets perturbed when they have to fork over the cash for their little sweetie’s monthly note.

This one customer would take notes out for persons of his religious sect to sign and he would then return the signed notes to the bank. This person was an outstanding person of the community, big in the church, etc, etc and of course etc. He forged I don’t know how many of the notes thinking he was helping the church and all.

Rotary Chili Feast – A Day of Fun in Highlands

It was a day of fun and socializing with the residents of Highlands last Saturday at the 34th Annual Rotary Chili Feast, held at St. Jude’s Church Social Hall on Main Street.

The annual tradition was well attended, and the attendees enjoyed the usual delicious chili, cooked by the Rotary Cooking Team, headed by Chester Stasney and including Stefe Cochran, Jeremy Rosenkranz, Raymond Gonzalez and Johnny Gaeke. (Editor’s note: the Star-Courier was in error last week attributing the cooking to the Henderson Cooking Team.)

A live auction was held, with Lynn Spell as the auctioneer. A silent auction also had many unique gift items, some themed for the upcoming Valentine’s Holiday.

Chili was served by the Inter-Act Clubs from Chinquapin and Goose Creek Memorial, and desserts by the Rotary wives. Boy Scouts helped set up and clean up the hall.

The main event of the day was the drawing for the new 2009 Chevy Silverado Pickup Truck, from John Keating Chevrolet in Crosby. Only 600 tickets were sold for this raffle, and most of the audience had an interest as each ticket was pulled individually. Prizes were awarded for the first and every 50th ticket thereafter, with the following results:

1st – Digital Camera, Dependable Diesel
50th – $100 Gift Card, Raymond Martin
100th – Home Theater, Melissa Parker
150th – Power Tool Combo, Joe Hausberger III
200th – Camcorder, Rick Nibbe
250th – $200 Gift Card, Mike James
300th – Nintendo Wii Game Station, David Brown
350th – GPS System, Michael Gonzales
400th – $300 Gift Card, Amber Keyes
450th – Rem. 12ga shotgun, Danny Moore
500th – Gas Grill, L. E. Walters
550th – Laptop Computer, Francis Woodall
599th – 32″ LCD TV, Johnny Gaeke
600th – 2009 Chevy Pickup, Derek Geffs

Garcia hears residents’ concerns at town hall

HARRIS COUNTY – Pct. 2 County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia held her version of a Town Hall Meeting last Thursday night at Jeff Davis High School, and it was extremely well attended, with about 300 persons from all the four districts that she represents in Harris County.

This was actually a combination of a citizen’s Town Hall Meeting, with questions and comments, which followed what might be described as the Commissioner’s “State of the Precinct” presentation.

Garcia explained that her Precinct is a large undertaking, with many people helping her to govern. In fact, she spoke beside a table with 5 deputy commissioners, and about 1/4th of the audience were actually her department heads, staff, and representatives from other non-county government agencies such as METRO and Tx-DOT. Garcia pointed out that her yearly budget is about $60,000,000 and she has 500 employees to deliver the District’s services.

The Commissioner’s opening comments were a list of accomplishments, and services that her administration delivers to constituents. She spoke at length about the damages that Hurricane Ike had brought to the Precinct, and how they had responded to immediate emergencies and longer term rebuilding. Important transportation elements such as the Washburn Tunnel, and the Lynchburg Ferries, were temporarily out of service, but were restored as soon as possible.

Infrastructure plans

Her review of projects focused on Infrastructure such as new water and sewer service for 100 homes in her precinct, but noted that the actuality was that 50,000 homes have been cited in the Precinct as not having adequate safe water and sewers. She said this demonstrated the depth of the problems facing us.

In the Northeast area of her Precinct, she said she is working with agencies such as the East Aldine Management District to bring these infrastructure improvements. Other partnerships, with NFL and the Texans, for instance, have resulted in a Super Bowl Center and YET Center, athletic facilities for neighborhoods, now run by the Boys and Girls Club. She said the County has contributed $310,000 to this effort. Another partnership, with the federal NIH and YMCA national organization, has resulted in a program to improve the environment for everyday life in the area, and this study/action program is entitled ACHIEVE.

Senior Citizen programs

She said that there are over 100,000 Senior Citizens enrolled in her seniors programs and Senior Olympics, and they partake of many programs in all her Community Centers. At the other end of the age spectrum, Pct. 2 has a number of programs for Youth, with 1100 kids signed up from 14 different schools. Programs include a bike give-away event, and Summer Camp for as many as 1400.

Another interesting partnership is with San Jacinto Community College, where together they have set up a program for community citizens to learn how to use a computer, and in a Bi-Lingual environment.

Helping our veterans

Other programs include recognition of support for Veterans. Over 3400 have signed up for special Veterans programs, and the Precinct runs a fleet of buses for Seniors and Veterans that include daily runs to the Veterans Hospital. Another recognition for Veterans is an Annual picnic, now in its third year, for all Veterans in the County in one location for the year.

The Commissioner took time to introduce the “New Sheriff in Town”, Adrian Garcia, who spoke briefly about his department and introduced some of his staff that was present. His message to the crowd was to get involved in volunteering, and that this will help reduce crime. “Law Enforcement is not the only answer to reducing crime”, he extolled.


From the East Aldine area, comments were on Traffic Jams East and West on thoroughfares such as Aldine Mail and Little York, as they pass over the Hardy Toll Road. Sound Buffers and more Landscaping was also requested.

Extreme Flooding from inadequate drainage, even from normal rainfall, was noted along Little York. HC Toll Road representatives, Peter Key and Mike Perez, said that solutions to these problems was under study. Flo Rios and several other East Aldine residents asked for help in cleaning up their neighborhoods of trash, sewage, rats, and stray animals. Commissioner Garcia promised she would organize a CLEAN-UP DAY for the Precinct to help.

METRO questions raised Other public comment included support for light rail, several requests for an underpass at Harrisburg for METRO, instead of an overpass, support for a new soccer stadium downtown, and complaints about the current Home Repair program. Complaints were lodged against so-called mobile restaurants, or Taco Trucks.

Garcia discussed the new Community Center, to be named Leo Castillo CC, with potential for Health Care, and Educational facilities, as well as traditional community functions.

Flooding concerns

A number of citizens complained about flooding that seems to be getting worse over the years, making driving impossible during heavy rains along I-45 frontage roads, and areas along the Hardy Toll Road.

The large crowd, and limited time, meant that many issues of interest to the audience did not get discussed, and many department heads that were present did not get to talk about their areas of responsibility. However, many people stayed after the 8 pm closing, and continued the discussions or set up appointments for later follow through action.

Fire crews battle blaze and conditions

HIGHLANDS – The effective coordination of multiple fire departments helped contain a commercial fire on Main Street last Sunday morning that was spiced with problems.

A Bay Area Construction Company office was a double wide trailer on Main St. near Blue Bell and Riverside, at 1:58 a.m. on Feb. 8 fire departments from Crosby, Highlands, Mont Belvieu, and Channelview were dispatched to combat a growing flame there.

The local volunteer fire departments gathered troops and resources (a task in the wee hours) and within minutes had men on the scene trying to tap into a fire hydrant that was unexpectedly dry. Crosby’s Tanker 85 truck that made the scene first and the Highlands crews assembled to apply manpower.

“We had plenty of water to fight the fire,” said Highlands Captain Daniel Grabill, indicating there were two tankers from departments.

“The water utility here has always informed us of dry hydrant before.” said Chief Harvey Little when asked about why fire crews didn’t know of the dry hydrant. Conditions have been ripe for a disastrous fire given wind drying and lack of rainfall for the year, locally.

By 2:27 a.m., although firemen attacked aggressively, the task was to protect surrounding property as flames jet from every window and the structure was wilting. Explosions could be heard from the rear of the building as tanks on that end of the structure became involved. The trailers behind the office began to blaze then and efforts were concentrated on stopping the flames as a relentless wind coursed from the South.

Crews boldly brought hoses between the fire source and the new target structures spraying directly into the hottest sources and hosing down new starting flames.

Each crew cooperated with one another to keep flames retarded as water sources were switched. Crews fought to hold the line on spreading flames.

The battle proved the necessity of mutual aid policies established in Northeast Harris County. The building was totally consumed and two nearby trailers were damaged to a slightly lesser degree.

Harris County Sheriff’s Deputies controlled and redirected a substantial amount of traffic (given the early morning hour) around the fire located just North of Highlands’ downtown area. There were about twenty pedestrian spectators to the flames.

Harris County Arson Investigators were attending the scene the following day and are said to be launching an investigation into what caused the fire. Apparently no one was injured in the fire.

Speedway upgrade opens in Highlands

HIGHLANDS – Just before Hurricane Ike struck the excavation of Battleground Speedway began, the racing-history making high-banked 3/8 mile dirt track had seen the passage of three years before being bought for rejuvenation, renewal and renovation.

Ike might have blown away the press box but strong effort has replaced that with a new four V.I.P. suite (each with a wet bar and restroom) press box. A renewed 4000 seat grandstand and a new state of the art audio system that adds voice clarity is new.

The track was bought last September by a true racing enthusiast to be a track owned by racers with the racers in mind to entertain ticket buyers. The track now encourages up to four abreast racing, sits on black clay with a unique hydration system and the high bank makes excellent traction and tire bite.

Mike Walling has been racing since he was old enough to walk. At age three Wallings uncle took the training wheels off his tiny motorcross bike and told him to go learn to ride it.

“We are trying to engineer this track as a pilot for the state of the art in dirt racing.” Walling said, “I intend to make Battleground Speedway the premier facility for dirt track racing in Southeast Texas.”

The new owner, nephew of the former Big H Racetrack owner, Red Walling stated, “I’ve raced in a lot of tracks and I’ve accumulated what I thought were better conditions that put up better results and make a better facility. I’m putting them to practice here.”

Last year the new owner won the Limited Modified Championship Series out of Cleveland, Texas; don’t worry, he promises he won’t race on his own track.

General admission is to be $10.00 for regular events, pit passes are to be available, permanent parking spaces will be made available for racers, more pit parking will be available to accommodate more drivers.

The track is intent to be as innovative for its guests as it is for racers and both Red and Mike talk much of making the facility family friendly. Mike said, “I’m all for a family pack. They can come out here for less than it takes to take in a movie and watch racing at its best for three and a half to four hours on a Saturday night. We are going to have activities for the kids. Fans can get here for chances on making a few laps before the flags each night, we will have kids nights just for kids, and various promotions will come about throughout the season.”

On the first weekend in February at the first try outs, 55 drivers and 150 spectators came out to experience the new track, that before about 2/3 of drivers are ready for the season. Walling got a lot of positive feedback from racers and fans that day.

A feature event coming March 20 and 21 is the World of Outlaws Late Model Lone Star 100 with a $100,000 purse, sure to bring the best from throughout the country.

The speed record for dirt track racing 147 m.p.h. was set at Battleground Speedway in the days of yesteryear. Years ago the best of the best raced in Highlands and the stands were packed to capacity. Many locals will remember the days when the track was the prime source of Saturday fun and many that have yet to experience dirt track racing are in for a thrilling spectacle.

Texas Times by Sen. John Cornyn: ‘Texas Uncorked’

You’ve heard it described as medium heavy, sweet and low in sulfates. Its presence pre-dates the arrival of the first Anglo-American settlers to Texas. And today, its industry pumps millions in revenue into the Texas economy each year.

While crude oil may first come to mind, this liquid is Texas wine. More than three centuries ago — long before the first wine grapes arrived in Napa Valley — Franciscan priests brought grapevines from Mexico and planted the first North American vineyard at Ysleta, perhaps the oldest town in Texas, along the Rio Grande near presentday El Paso. These grapes provided the priests and missionaries with sacramental wine for the Eucharist.

Over the next 200 years, the El Paso Valley would be recognized by travelers for its grape-growing capabilities and wine production. The concept of viticulture did not really gain traction in the rest of the state until settlers from European countries like Spain, Italy, and Czechoslovakia brought their interest in wine and the European vinefera vines to Texas. These European vines did not take well to the Texas climate, local pests, and fungus, however, and many of these initial efforts did not survive.

After these setbacks, German immigrants who settled in the 1840s in South and Central Texas — founding Hill Country cities such as Fredericksburg and New Braunfels — learned to adapt their process and incorporate local Mustang grapes, a high-climbing vine native to Texas and well adapted to heat. By adding more sugar during fermentation, they produced commercial wine and are largely recognized as the most successful wine-makers in Texas history.

Meanwhile, back along the Texas-Mexico border, an Italian immigrant, Frank Qualia, found success with the Lenoir grape, a Spanish black grape, in Del Rio, Texas. He started the Val Verde Winery, and today, as the only Texas winery to survive the Prohibition, it remains the oldest continuously running winery in Texas and still uses the Lenoir grape.

One of Texas’ most famous grape breeders was horticulturist Thomas Volney Munson, more simply known as T.V. Munson. A native of Illinois, Munson moved to Denison, Texas in 1876. While he devoted much of his life to the study of native American grapes, his work on rootstock development would earn him international acclaim. In Denison, Munson researched and developed rootstock that was resistant to phylloxera—tiny, yellow insects that feed on roots of grapevines and had severely damaged many native American grapevines. In the late 19th century, a phylloxera epidemic devastated the French wine industry—destroying almost two-thirds of France’s vineyards. Little did they know the solution to their problem would come from an American horticulturist in Denison, Texas. Munson’s phylloxera-resistant rootstock saved the industry in France and in gratitude to his contribution, the French government named him Chevalier du Merite Agricole of the French Legion of Honor, and the city of Cognac, France became a sister city to Denison. Today, Grayson County College’s West Campus houses much of Munson’s research and work.

After the Prohibition, the Texas wine industry was slow to get back on its feet. But as the grape culture began to boom in the U.S. in the 1970s, so did the number of vineyards that began popping up across Texas—beginning with the establishment of the Llano Estacado and Pheasant Ridge wineries near Lubbock. Today, Texas is home to nearly 3,700 acres of family-owned vineyard land, including eight American Viticulture Areas—wine grape-growing regions that have been identified by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Texas is America’s fifth-leading grape and wine producer and the industry contributes more than $1.35 billion to the state’s economy.

In its February issue, Bon Appetit magazine lists Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, Texas as one of seven of its favorite wineries off the beaten path. As our state’s wineries and vintners continue to gain national and international attention, fortunately, we don’t have to travel far to enjoy the unique Texas wine culture. Wine trails through vineyards across the state occur throughout the year. In late February, the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association holds its Annual Conference & Trade Show, which brings together members of the industry from every region of Texas.

The Texas wine industry is yet another hallmark in Texas’s long history of ingenuity and achievement. Let’s toast to the men and women who have built up this industry and wish them many more years of success.

Community comes together for nature, wetlands centers

Early last week the Springer family made a visit to the Baytown Wetlands Center and the Nature Center for a fine half-day viewing of local wetlands, the animals and birds that reside there and was educated by the personnel working at both locations.

During our winter visits we try to take in a number of the local offerings and were highly pleased with our trip to these facilities. Our hat is off to the City of Baytown for sponsoring these centers. Elsewhere in this edition/next week’s edition you will find an article I did on our visit to these sites.

From the things we saw the city gets substantial help from a number of areas: Exxon, Chevron Phillips, Lyondell, Lee College, Goose Creek ISD, civic clubs, Friends of the Wetlands Center, a host of volunteer contributors and workers and probably a host of others I am in error in not mentioning. Such an undertaking requires a broad base of support.

We were impressed with Tracey Prothro, Superintendent of Natural Resource Programs; and her staff of Terry Cecil, Exhibits Coordinator; Martha Ortiz Senior Administrative Assistant, Sallie Sherman, Education Coordinator, Mary Alice Trumble, Outreach/Volunteer Coordinator; Epie Tucker, Nature Center employee and perhaps others I did not see or meet.

We would recommend a visit to the Wetlands and Nature Centers to anyone in the area who has an interest in the nature of wildlife and plant life in this region of Texas. The Wetlands Center is an excellent educational tool for local school systems and we hope many students get the opportunity of a visit.

Such are the people, places and things that have touched my life in my home!

Think twice before taking out 401(k) loan

Your car could break down. You might need a new furnace. You have to pay for one last term of college for your child. Whatever the reason, you may someday need a large sum of money in a hurry. And as you look around for a source of funds, your eyes might come to rest on your 401(k) plan. It’s there, it’s yours — why not tap into it?

Actually, there are some pretty good reasons for not dipping into your 401(k). But before we get to those, let’s see how you might access the money in your plan.

Some employers allow 401(k) loans only in cases of financial hardship, although the definition of “hardship” can be flexible. But many employers allow these loans for just about any purpose. To learn the borrowing requirements for your particular plan, you’ll need to contact your plan administrator.

Generally, you can borrow up to $50,000, or one-half of your vested plan benefits, whichever is less. You’ve got up to five years to repay your loan, although the repayment period can be longer if you use the funds to buy a primary residence. So you’ve got some time to repay the loan, you’re paying yourself back with interest, and the repayments are probably just deducted from your paycheck.

Sounds pretty good, right? What could be the problem with taking out a 401(k) loan? Since you asked, here are a few of them:

* You’ll likely reduce your retirement savings. Your 401(k) plan is designed to help you build funds for one purpose: retirement. To encourage you to take advantage of your 401(k), the government defers taxes on your earnings and allows you to make contributions with pretax dollars. But when you take out a loan from your 401(k), you are removing resources earmarked for your retirement.

And even though you’ll repay the loan, you can never get that time back when your money could have potentially grown.

* You’ll be taxed twice on the loan amount. As mentioned, you typically contribute pre-tax dollars to your 401(k). But when you repay the loan, you’re doing so with after-tax dollars. When you withdraw the money at retirement, it will be taxed again.

* You’ll have to quickly repay the loan if you leave your job. If you leave your job, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, you’ll generally be required to repay the loan in full within 60 days. If you don’t repay it by then, the outstanding balance will be taxable — and if you’re under 59-1/2, you’ll also have to pay a 10 percent penalty tax.

To avoid putting yourself in the position of having to someday borrow from your 401(k), try to build an emergency fund containing six to 12 months’ worth of living expenses. Keep the money in a liquid account so that you can tap into it quickly. It can be tempting to borrow from your 401(k) today — but if you can resist this temptation, you’ll almost certainly be glad tomorrow.

Aaron Cole, A.A.M.S.
Edward Jones Representative
6500 FM 2100, Suite 285
Crosby, Tx. 77532