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Posts published in “Day: July 9, 2002”

Perry’s transportation vision Texas’ forward thinking will lead nation

By Wendell Cox

Vision looms large in American history. John F. Kennedy’s vision rook us to the moon, Ronald Reagan’s vision led to the end of the Soviet Union, and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vision produced the Interstate highway system, which has done so much to make this nation one and to fuel its unparalleled economic growth.

But in the increasingly politicized environment of America, vision seems to have taken a long holiday.
That is until Governor Rick Perry’s TransTexas Corridor plan, which would build wholly new transportation networks throughout the state. Perry’s vision is the first serious innovative thinking in transportation in a half-century. The TransTexas Corridors would be wide lights-of-ways bypassing the metropolitan areas, providing expedited travel on separated truck and automobile roadways, while providing capacity for freight and passenger rail Most importantly, in a time of severe funding challenges the corridors would largely pay for themselves.

Texas and the rest of the nation are overdue for the Perry vision. The state of Texas, like so many others, is suffering from an inability to handle growing traffic congestion. To some degree this is due to the influence of those who erroneously claim that more highways create more traffic, on the assumption we sit around waiting for new toads to open so we can spend more time behind the wheel, In fact, automobile use has increased in recent decades because groups of people who have had less access to mobility in the past have or are moving Into the mainstream – such as women and minorities. Progress is still required in minority auto ownership, which means that driving will continue to increase at a higher rate than population increases. This is as it should be.

Additional increases will be fueled by NAFTA-driven freight volumes, both by truck and rail. The truck traffic will be diverted to innovative ‘truckways” which are separate lanes designed specifically for heavy-trucks. The truckways will make the passenger vehicle lanes safer, less congested and less stressful for regular traffic.

Freight rail traffic is expected to double or triple in the coming years. Perry’s Corridor plan will prevent additional rail-induced gridlock in communities that are already dissected by slow-moving freight rail lines.

Then there is the matter of money there just isn’t enough gas tax money to build all the roads that are needed. Indeed, it is time to bury the gas tax as a source of additional highway revenues. Virtually all of the highest priority expansion needs are in and around the state’s largest metropolitan areas, and politics simply will not permit spending all of the tax money from around the state in just a few places.

Serious improvement to transportation in Texas requires user-pay mechanisms, as Gov. Perry is proposing. Infrastructure companies will submit proposals to build corridors across the state and around the cities using tolls and rail access fees. Even though large cost estimates are being tossed around, very little of the funding will come from the public treasury.

But there is a risk. Around the world are examples of success and failure in infrastructure development. For example, the Channel Tunnel (connecting England with the European continent) and the new Denmark bridges are self-financing, with little or no government assistance. On the other hand, high- speed rail projects in both Florida and Texas, advertised as self-financing, were abandoned after the firms reneged on their promises and sought significant government support. It will be important for Texans to tell the difference between serious infrastructure players who are prepared to take risks, and the firms that have so often played “bait-and switch” games with taxpayer money, The TransTexas Corridor plan will need strong safeguards to ensure that commitments are kept.

Effective safeguards will prevent the infrastructure industry from dipping into money that is so needed for better metropolitan roadways.
Legitimate concerns have also been raised, about the viability of the passenger rail portions of the plan. But it is well to remember that the Perry plan is self-financing. If a private firm can figure out how to make money and provide passenger rail service, more power to it. The key, again, is to make sure that the public vault is securely locked.

Governor Perry has articulated a vision that can transport Texas and its people to a better future. It is likely that within months other governors will offer similar proposals. But Texas has led the way. More importantly, skilled administration by the governor, the legislature and Texas Department of Transportation will help propel the state to economic preeminence and a better future for all.

Wendell Cox is a senior research fellow for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a visiting fellow of the Heritage Foundation, and a visiting professor at the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers in Paris.

(Wendell Ccx is a senior research fellow for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a visiting fellow of theHeritage Foundation, and a visiting professor at the at the C’cnservatoire des Arts et A’kriers in Paris.)

Grantham Academy Orientation set for August 8th

Grantham Academy for Engineering will hold New Student Orientation on Thursday, August 8, 2002 from 6:00 until 7:00 p.m. 7th graders and new 8th grade students and their parents are invited to the presentation that will cover schedules, lockers and basic school procedures and policies.

Students will be able to pick up their schedules that night. Parents must accompany students. Returning 8th grade students can pick up their schedules on Friday, August 9 from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Registration for the 2002-2003 school year will begin Tuesday, July 23 to Friday, August 9 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily. Parents are urged to enroll new students before the first day of school that is Monday, August 12.

Discount Travel Club Scams

Q: I recently joined an organization that promised me I would receive travel agent discounts on my airfare, hotel reservations, car rental and cruise prices. I paid a lot of money for my travel agent card. The company also told me I would get a commission on every trip I booked for my friends and family. So far, not one hotel or airline has accepted my travel agent card, and I haven’t seen a dime of commission. Have I been had?

A: Unfortunately, the answer may be yes. My office, along with several attorneys general from other states, recently filed suit and gained a settlement from one of these discount travel groups. We have heard from many consumers who filed complaints similar to yours. The situation you describe is a common one. Consumers pay a fee, sometimes several thousand dollars, to join a discount travel club and receive “travel agent” credentials. The company promises members that their travel agent card earns them access to travel agent discounts on airfare and hotels that are not available to the public. In addition, members are offered commissions on trips booked for family and friends through this company.

However, when a member tries to book a trip for a friend or family member, he or she soon discovers that the fares offered by the company are higher than those offered directly through the airline or through a travel agent. And when the consumer tries to use the travel agent card to get discounts and upgrades, the airlines and hotels refuse to accept it.

The truth is that each airline, hotel, or rental car company decides which discounts to give and to whom. No travel club can guarantee you travel agent discounts. To be eligible for travel agent discounts, most airlines and major hotels require proof that you actually work as a travel agent for a set number of hours each month.

Another common scam is an offer for a free trip in exchange for listening to a sales pitch – often for a time share company or a travel club. People go with the best of intentions, promising themselves that they will not buy anything or sign any contracts. But the high pressure sales pitches can be too much. Even if consumers don’t succumb to the sales pitch, they can end up with a “free” trip that isn’t what was advertised.

A consumer may get a certificate with instructions for redeeming it. But when the person calls to book a trip, the date may not be available unless an upgrade fee is paid. There may also be fine print about the consumer being responsible for all port taxes and transfer fees, or a clause that may specify that airfare is not included.

My office also receives complaints about travel clubs that claim to provide consumers with exclusive access to special trips. Again, the trips offered may not be what you actually get. We have heard from consumers who arrived at their dream vacation spot only to have the hotel room be a flea-trap. They have to upgrade or change hotels, but can’t get in touch with the travel club to make arrangements. We have also heard complaints about a promised luxury cruise to the Bahamas turning out to be a six-hour ride on a ferry with no private cabins. In any case, the traveler is stuck in a foreign country with no access to someone at the travel club who can fix the arrangements.

When you make travel plans, you should consider working directly with the airline or cruise company or with an established, registered travel agent. Make sure to read the fine print on every contract you sign. Don’t let the high pressure sales tactics get to you. Any offer that is only good for one day is probably a scam. The con artists are pros, and they will say anything to get you to sign on the dotted line.

If you would like to file a complaint against a travel club or company, you can do so through my office. A consumer complaint form is available online through our Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us. You can also request a form by calling (800) 621-0508.

Men in Black are back!

Will Smith is back as Agent Jay, Rosario Dawson is someone in need of help and Tommy Lee Jones is once again Agent Kay in the very funny “Men in Black II.”

Fans of the “Men in Black” movie have had to wait five years for its sequel to hit the big screen. Was it worth the wait? Is the second movie as good as the original? Happily, yes and yes!

The original was irreverent, gross, clever and laugh-out-loud funny, so in a world full of supposed comedies with barely an once of humor, it is too bad we had to wait so long for an update on the actions of the men – dressed in black – saving the world from alien scum.

It is quite a feat for a sequel to match the original, but the filmmakers have succeeded with “MIIB.” Of course, it has been a while since I’ve seen the original so my memory is a little fuzzy, but I do remember it being wild and wacky and very funny.

Now we have more. Hooray. It’s so much fun to watch a movie that’s this delightfully funny. The humor, though not usually subtle or deep, is the type that sticks with you, too. On the long drive home after the movie I was still laughing. And as I write this, I’m smiling.

I’ll never look at a postal worker in quite the same way. And those worms are such a hoot.
“MIIB” is not just comical, it’s also full of action and it has heart. The returning Will Smith (“Ali”) is Agent Jay. We care about his lonely life fighting bad aliens. From the first movie, we know most aliens are decent enough – and there are many of them amongst us.

Jay’s extremely good at his job, but he goes through partners pretty quickly. He feels the need to neuralyze them – erase their memories – because they are unhappy or not especially good at their job. His best partner was his first partner, Agent Kay played once again with rough gruff perfection by Tommy Lee Jones (“Space Cowboys”).

At the end of the first movie, Agent Kay was neuralyzed because he wanted to go back to a normal life – the kind of life where you can have a relationship and actually talk about your job outside of the work.

Being with the secret government organization is a hard and lonely life. It’s starting to get to Jay so much that he does not erase the memory of a pretty pizza parlor worker after she witnesses her boss get killed by the evil Serleena played by Lara Flynn Boyle (best known from David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”).

Serleena is bad news, so bad that it’s necessary to bring back Kay from his “normal” job at the post office and try to restore his memory so he can save earth. Jones plays befuddled better than I ever thought he could as Jay tries to explain Kay’s previous job. Jones and Smith are a one of the great movie comedy teams; they play off each other so well.

The plot is not rocket science, but it’s so fun I don’t want to spoil anything. I can say one of Jay’s partners is Frank, a talking Pug dog with a love of singing. And Serleena has really gross snake-like appendages that she uses as effective weapons. This might scare some kids, but most everything else is comic book type of violence and frights.

Rip Torn is back as the boss Zed, looking like he’s having a smash up time. Rosario Dawson (“Kids,” “He Got Game”) is the pizza parlor girl who features prominently in the story.

If you liked the original you’ll love the second and if you missed the first one you’ll still love “Men in Black II.”

Rated-PG-13 for science fiction action, violence and some provocative humor.

Church to hold Health Fair

The Nerw Community Baptist Fellowship of Enlightment Nurses Guild will host its “Community Health Fair” with complimentary screenings and health education from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on August 3.

The church is located at 9005 North Wayside Drive. For more information, please call 713-631-8303.

Pantry has new hours and days

The Oak Glen Church of God of Prophecy, 661 Aldine Mail Route, will have new days and hours for its food pantry.

The pantry will be open 2 days a week (Wednesday and Friday) from 3-5 p.m to serve people in zip codes 77037, 77039, 77060, 77093. We will need a recent utility bill (no older than 30 days) to prove eligibility. An application must be filled out and social security cards or birth certificates for each family member must be presented. Each family will be given a 3 to 5 day supply of food.

High Meadows Library July Programs

•Aldine Healthy Community Walking Wellness Program, Thursday, July 11, 6-8 p.m. Walking is great exercise. Join your neighbors and friends.

•Community Exercise Program, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 1:15-2:15 p.m. Come enjoy the benefits of aerobic exercise.

CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS

•Storytime, Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m.

•Suiting Up for Space, Tues., July 9, 2 p.m. Space Center Houston brings an actual space suit and a vacuum chamber model,

•Wednesday at the Movies, Weds., July 10, 2-3 p.m.

•We Have Lift Off, Thurs., July 11, 2 p.m. Space Center Houston is back again and you’ll be building and launching model rockets!

•Kuumba House: African Folk Tales, Fri., July, 12, 2 p.m. Rhymes and Zulu dancing presented by Young Audiences of Houston.

•Happy the Clown, Tues., July 16, 2 p.m. Balloon sculptures, face painting, music and magic. In both English and Spanish.

•Wednesday at the Movies, Weds., July 17, 2-3 p.m.

•Traveling Rainforest Trunk, Thurs., July 8, 2 p.m. Moody Gardens comes to High Meadows.

•Creepy Crawlies for Pre-schoolers, Tues., July 23, 11 a.m. The Nature Discovery Center presents a puppet show and storytime.

•Life Cycle of Reptiles, Weds., July 24, 2 p.m. Reptile Awareness Program brings 20-25 live reptiles which you may actually touch!

•A Case of the Gimmes: What is Money? Thurs., July 25, l p.m. The Consumer Credit Counseling Service joins us to talk about different forms of money, where it comes from and how it is spent. The difference between wants and needs is emphasized.

•Summer Reading Program Ice Cream Party, Fri., July 26, 1 p.m. Come celebrate a great summer of reading and tennis at High Meadows. Drawings for free books and loads of fun for all! Join us!

Endangered Lizards seen at Jones Park

Longtime residents of the area often talk of encountering a small animal scurrying across the ground, resembling a miniature dinosaur, complete with scaly skin and fierce looking horns around its neck, and capable of spitting blood from its eyes. And although it has not been found here for many years, the Texas Horned Lizard, or Horny Toad as it is sometimes called in error, is endeared forever in the hearts and minds of many Texans. To learn more about Texas’ state reptile and other kinds of horned lizards, come to Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center Saturday, July 13 at 10 a.m. for Horned Lizards. Cheryl Franks of the Horned Lizard Conservation Society leads a discussion about the habitat and characteristics of one of the most unusual and threatened reptiles in Texas.

Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, a Harris County Precinct 4 facility, is located at 20634 Kenswick Drive in Humble. All programs are free of charge and open to the public. Harris County Precinct 4 programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, sex, religion, national origin or physical ability. For more information on the park or any of its programs, call (281) 446-8588 or visit the Jones Park web site at www.cp4.hctx.net/jones.

MacArthur enrolling now for fall

Enrollment for the 2002-2003 school year at MacArthur High School will begin Wednesday, July 10th. A parent or legal guardian must be present, with picture ID to enroll the student.

Please provide the following information:
•student’s transcript or last report card (juniors or seniors MUST have an unofficial transcript)
•student’s current immunization records with series dates listed
•proof of address (current light, gas, lease agreement – NO PHONE BILLS WILL BE ACCEPTED)
•student’s social security card
•student’s birth certificate

A Call to Wading the Summer Surf

If you are considering taking the plunge and getting your feet wet to wade the summer surf, listen up. If you have heard and read a lot about it but don’t consider yourself a salty surf plugger, there are a few things you need to consider before wading into Gulf waters.

A trip to the surf can provide a convenient drive-to destination without the need for a boat or guide.

Surf Conditions

The shallow surf warms up this time of year and the spring winds have diminished somewhat (usually). These favorable conditions draw legions of veteran waders as well as beginners to the shoreline. Prime surf conditions are flat, calm, and ‘green to the beach” with only a sweet southeast breeze. These elements of the surf are enough to make an old salt’s eyes glaze over with anticipation as he grabs his gear and heads to the Gulf.

As anybody who has ever watched for “cream puff’ surf conditions knows, it doesn’t happen often. When it does, you had better take advantage of it quickly because it never lasts long. A flat, green surf at dawn can be a rough, foam-filled chocolate surf by afternoon. Fishing is supposed to be fun. Trying to fish in a crashing surf and strong current can be plenty hard on gear, not to mention creaking knees and an aging back. Besides, I have never found trips under these conditions very successful when it comes to catching fish.

Old pros keep a sharp eye and ear on weather and water and then strike quickly when conditions are rights.

Rods, Reels, and Lines

In picking out a rod and reel rig to fish the surf, choose the best one you can afford. Keeping in mind that your rig is likely to take numerous dunkings in salt water. During your trip, make sure your rod and especially your reel has a reputation for holding up in a harsh coastal environment. Some of the lesser expensive reels were never intended to hold up well in a salty and sandy surf. I prefer a long tested 6 1/2 or 7 foot graphite rod and a heavy duty Ambassadeur or Shimano open face casting reel with a smooth working drag. Many experienced surf waders prefer a slightly longer casting rod.
Of course, any rod and reel which gets repeatedly dunked in a rolling surf needs to be thoroughly rinsed with fresh water and sprayed down with a quality reel oil as soon as possible after the trip.

Because sow speckled trout and surf-running redfish come in slightly larger sizes, surf waders may want to go with slightly heavier line than the bay wade fisherman does. Instead of 10-12 pound line, many surf fishermen outfit their reels with 14 to 18 or 20 pound line. With frequent encounters with toothy predators such as Spanish mackerel and sharks, a short, flexible plastic coated wire leader is advisable to guard against line-cutting teeth.

This necessary accessory should probably head the list as far as gear for wading the surf. Not to sound grim, but a flotation vest could mean the difference between life and death. Almost every year. especially near a major wade fishing or swimming venue such as San Luis Pass, someone is swallowed up by treacherous currents. Don’t chance it.

Wading vests fit more snuggly and are not as bulky as they once were. As an added advantage, a quality zip-up fishing vest has pouches and pockets for storing lures and small accessories as well as loops and rings for rigging floating bait buckets or fish stringers.

Wading Belt

For the serious surf wader, a wading belt is a must. I’ve owned several types and styles over the years, from plain nylon webbed belts to leather belts with a sheath for long nosed pliers. I found that after a few soakings in salty surf the leather became hard and brittle. The one I use now is the new Wade Aid belt. The Wade Aid is a comfortable, foam-filled belt equipped with 3-rod holders. It is not intended to be a life preserver, but it is buoyant enough to keep you afloat with a little paddling or kicking. The belt has a couple of handy d-rings, a mesh pocket and a zippered pouch for stashing small accessories or lures. A handy rod holder is ideal for carrying a back-up rod into the surf or a place to hold the butt of your rod during a re-rigging drill.

Long-Nosed Pliers and Line Cutters

One of the surf wader’s best friends is a pair of long-nosed pliers to remove hooks from the mouth of a thrashing fish and to keep fingers away from hook barbs and sharp teeth. With his vehicle several hundred yards away, the surf wader must be able to remove hooks, cut lines or leaders, and re-rig hooks and lures on the spot.

I use one of the two-compartment mesh scabbards with a Velcro strap that fits on the belt and secures a pair of long-nosed pliers and a compact pair of wire or line cutters. They are both stainless steel to prevent rusting and sport rubberized handle grips. They are a multi-purpose set in one handy sheath.

Wading Shoes

In recent years, there have been several new developments in footwear with the wade fisherman in mind. One of the most popular is the neoprene zip-up wading ‘bootie.’ They are lightweight and easy to remove. The most recent wading shoe to come out is the nylon mesh ‘reef walker’ slipper. Some models come with a more supportive hard sole.
For many years, I wade fished wearing a pair of well-worn, low quarter lace up type tennis shoes. They served me well until I was forced to slip them out for heavy trash pick up.

Lure Hat or Lure Box

The traditional floating lure hat has its share of faithful followers, but the hat also has its down side. While the wide brim offers protection from the sun, keep in mind it gives you a head full of bristling lures. An absent-minded hand to snug your hat against a Gulf wind can be a painful reminder. An errant back cast hung in your lure hat in a rolling surf can ruin your day. I speak from experience.

An option is a wide brimmed straw hat with a chinstrap. For lures, I use a compact Plano lure box that fits snugly into the pouch of my wading belt. It’s just big enough to store a sampling of lures such as a couple of spoons, soft plastics, and plugs.

When outfitting yourself to venture into a rolling green surf, keep safety and comfort in mind. If you travel light and stay unecumbered as possible, you can concentrate more on fighting that wallowing speckled trout or that surf-running redfish.