Tag Archives: Texas

Divorce sends me back to the UK and waiting for my Peppy Miller

By Calvin Palmer

Regular readers of this blog, the three of you know who you are, will have noticed the change in the header photograph. The cityscape of Jacksonville is gone and has been replaced with a photograph of the Cromarty Firth in Scotland.

I am back in the UK for a while and facing an uncertain future after my wife – aged 56 going on 23 – decided to divorce me after 13 years of marriage. Her timing was impeccable. The announcement came on the eve of our wedding anniversary.

The news was not unexpected but it still came as something of a shock. Given that my income last year amounted to $90.40 from amazon.com advertising on another blog site, I had little option but to head back to the UK and take stock of the situation.

I am staying in the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland, courtesy of a friend from my university days who kindly offered me accommodation while I find my feet and rebuild my self-confidence before heading back to the United States to start my life there all over again . I will forever be in his debt.

After living in the Riverside area of Jacksonville, and on a busy road, the first thing I noticed was the peace and quiet. I have yet to hear a vehicle pass by the house at night; mind you, the house in Scotland is situated 150 yards from the road, which is a dead-end.

So the sound of trains blowing their horns at every level crossing has disappeared from my life – I kind of miss that – but I am certainly glad to be free of those inconsiderate bastards who used to drive through Riverside with their drums and bass tracks pounding from the subwoofers in their cars and shattering the stillness of the early hours.

I don’t know whether it is just me but the older I get I find my tolerance of noise is lower than when I was younger, so being surrounded by the Scottish countryside is perfect for me.

But there are drawbacks. My location is a little remote; the nearest village is a 15-minute drive away. I have had little chance to socialize. I am not sure the people in these parts will respond to conversation from strangers in the same way that Americans do. We shall see.

I made my debut back on British roads yesterday and did all right, given that most of the route was along single-track roads. They appear extremely narrow after driving on roads in America.

I have also rediscovered the noble art of pegging washing out on a washing line. In both Texas and Florida, despite the hot climes, washing was always dried in the tumble drier. I know, it was scandalous behaviour, right up there with driving a car powered by 3.5 litre V6 engine.

The highlight of the week was watching The Artist; my hosts had recorded the film on their Skybox. I knew the film had been well received by the critics and won a raft of awards but, hitherto, I had not been drawn towards it – a great failing on my part.

It turned out to be one of the best films I have seen in a long time. The lack of dialogue hardly seemed to matter, mainly because of the superb acting of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, the masterful direction of Michel Hazanivicius and the wonderful score by Ludovic Bource.

The film got a bit too close for comfort in the final scenes after George Valentin was told to get out of the house by his wife. I readily identified with the character’s slide into reduced circumstances and could feel his growing sense of desperation. Unlike George, I have not sought refuge in a bottle; perhaps that will come later, although I sincerely hope not.

George was eventually saved from the abyss by the charming Peppy Miller, who helped him to bury his pride and resurrect his career.

Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) in a scene from The Artist. Picture courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) in a scene from The Artist. Picture courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

When the film ended, I was left to ponder, where is my Peppy Miller? I hope she turns up soon.

So if any of you delightful women out there can come to the rescue of a writer/sub-editor/proof-reader/photographer and generally nice guy, just get in touch.

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Perry gives the middle finger to international law

By Calvin Palmer

Humberto Leal Garcia Jr had is life brought to an end last night by officials of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. His execution had been authorized by Gov Rick Perry despite pleas from President Obama and President George W. Bush to grant a stay of execution in order to comply with the Vienna Convention.

Leal, a Mexican citizen, had not been informed of his consular rights during his questioning by police, following the 1994 rape and murder of 16-year-old Adria Sauceda in San Antonio. While there is no doubt concerning Leal’s guilt of the crime, his rights were clearly violated.

Perry’s stance on law and order seems only to apply if he agrees with the law in question. His action does little to enhance America’s standing in the international community when he gives the equivalent of the middle finger to the Court of International Justice.

Perry is Pro Life and yet he signs execution orders with alarming regularity. Life is an absolute and not a relative. But there you go, right-wing inconsistency and hypocrisy writ large.

Perry could argue that he was saving Texas the cost of keeping 38-year-old Leal in prison for the rest of his natural life. Seeing as how Perry has presided over a $30 billion state deficit, despite cutting public services to the bone. I suppose every dollar counts just as long as it doesn’t come out of his pocket and his quality of life remains unaffected.

Perry’s tough stance on the death penalty would seem to satisfy the penchant for bloodlust exhibited by a great many Republicans and its tea party acolytes. It is the kind of bloodlust that saw seven people shot and killed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the same day Leal was executed.

It will come as no surprise to find that Perry stands firmly behind the right to bear arms and signed a bill this year allowing concealed weapons to be carried on Texas college campuses.

I bet those victims of yesterday’s Michigan shooting rampage wish there had been tighter control on gun ownership. I doubt the shooter, Rodrick Shonte Dantzler, would have killed those seven people with his bare hands.

Death don’t have no mercy in this land.

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Romney pitches for Republican nomination with idle rhetoric

By Calvin Palmer

Mitt Romney today threw his hat into the ring to become the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential election.

Romney’s declaration opened with typical Republican rhetoric, concentrating on the shortcomings of Democrat President Barack Obama rather than offering any policies that might capture the imagination of the electorate.

Any Republican candidate’s stance is simply President Obama has done everything wrong but I will do everything right, without actually spelling out what that involves.

Romney says: “Barack Obama has failed America.”

Romney further states: “Government under President Obama has grown to consume almost 40 per cent of our economy. We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free-market economy.”

Whoa there Mitt. Aren’t we getting a bit carried away there? I haven’t seen any state-controlled supermarkets while doing my grocery shopping. The malls all seem to be full of stores firmly rooted in the private sector.

I am unaware of the federal government taking vast swathes of the private manufacturing sector into public ownership. Does the government own Exxon? Does the US government own Google, Apple, Johnson & Johnson? Oh and Chrysler has just repaid $7.6 billion of the bail-out money it was given to keep the company afloat.

If that is the measure of your argument, Mitt, I would call it quits now and save yourself a boat-load of money. You frittered $40 million of your own money failing to gain the Republican nomination in 2008. It looks like you are heading for a similar outcome.

But Romney like all candidates of the right promises to balance the budget. It’s a pity such a goal has remained so elusive for states such as Texas, with Republican Governor Rick Perry at the helm for the past eight years.

And we all know how the Republicans will attempt to balance the budget by cut, cut and cutting again on the services that the rich and select few have no use for but which millions of ordinary people value highly, the simple things in life such as public education.

The Daily Telegraph columnist and Obama-hater Nile Gardiner reckons Obama may be heading for election disaster in 2012. I think the piece should be entitled “I hope Obama may be heading for election disaster in 2012.” For all his evidence garnered from right-wing organizations – the Murdoch-owned Fox News and The Wall Street Journal – he fails to grasp the reality of what is going on in the country and the world.

Gardiner states: “There is a great deal of uncertainty, nervousness, even fear over the future of the world’s only superpower.”

How can you be the only superpower when you are in debt to China to the tune of $900 billion? The fact that nearly every manufactured item you pick up in a store in the US these days is made in China, could make you believe that America is not alone in the superpower stakes. Not Gardiner apparently, despite being billed as a foreign affairs analyst and political commentator.

For a political commentator, he also seems to have failed to notice that last month, the staunchly Republican city of Jacksonville elected Democrat Alvin Brown as its new mayor. If people are so tired of the Obama agenda, how did Brown managed to defeat Republican Mike Hogan who looked a shoe-in for the position? Looks like Gardiner is in de Nile.

Could it be that people are more fearful of the Republican agenda, which favors corporate America at the expense of ordinary people? Could it be that the white trash, retired veterans and petty-minded clerks who normally support the GOP are beginning to cotton on that it doesn’t have their interests at heart?

Abolishing Medicare to balance the budget is really going to appeal to ordinary blue collar and white collar voters. But the owners of small businesses, men and women who really know how to run cities, states and the country, will no doubt be dancing in the streets.

And that brings me back to Romney. Does America really want a president who doesn’t know his arse from his elbow?

Obamacare, which Romney pledges to abolish if elected, is based on the state health care plan he introduced while Governor of Massachusetts. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

So stand by for 18 months of Republican candidates full of hypocrisy, demonization of President Obama and empty rhetoric filled with patriotic fervor but not a single positive policy that will enhance the lives of ordinary working folk.

And let’s remind everyone just why America’s economy is in a parlous state, a financial collapse that occurred during the presidency of George W Bush, who bailed out the banks in order to stave off economic meltdown, combined with costly military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By the way, did anyone ever find Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction?

[Based on reports by The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.]

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Texas Republicans to put right-wing agenda above state’s $25bn deficit

By Calvin Palmer

Civil liberties could take a downturn in Texas. Flushed with the success in last week’s elections, the Republicans plan to introduce a series of bills aimed at illegal immigrants.

The provisions include:

Allow law enforcement to question the citizenship of those involved in police matters.

Allow the arrest of those here illegally under a new trespassing law.

Make students at public schools show proof of citizenship, so the state can account for education funding spent on noncitizens.

Mandate that all documents printed at taxpayers’ expense be in English only.

Other bills The Republicans have their hearts set on include thwarting implementation of the new federal health care law, allowing guns to be carried in more places and further restricting abortion.

The Republican gains last week leaves them just short of holding two-thirds of the seats in the state’s House and Senate.

In simple terms, the mathematics favor the Republicans being able to pass anything they wish to pass.

But the most pressing problem Texas faces is a budget deficit of $25 billion. Yes, you read correctly — $25 billion, despite Rick Perry being governor since 2000. Here is a man who is currently peddling his book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington, on talk shows across the nation, and yet he seems incapable of putting his own house in order and running Texas in a fiscally responsible manner.

Indeed, many a GOP candidate in the recent elections campaigned on measures to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. So how come a dyed-in-the-wool Republican state such as Texas has managed to run up a $25 billion deficit and under Perry’s watch and before him George W. Bush.

Perry will probably blame it all on his predecessor.

Perry has stated that two of Bush’s signature presidential achievements – the Medicare drug benefit for seniors and the No Child Left Behind education law – are classic examples of burdensome, unaffordable policy.

Perry also rejects George W. Bush’s idea of “compassionate conservatism” and criticizes the bailouts he initiated two years ago to staunch the economic crisis.

Just imagine what Texas’s budget deficit and economy would have been like had President Bush not taken such action. I assume Perry would have organized soup kitchens. Silly me, the man has not an ounce of compassion. In Perry’s world the poor starve. Actually, they are more likely to turn to crime, hence the Republicans seeking legislation to enable people to carry guns in the street.

You couldn’t make this up, could you?

But a more frightening aspect is that voters in Texas and elsewhere keep electing people to office who hold these crazy views and whose record in office is poor when it comes to addressing the real problems the state faces.

One shudders to think what kind of society the likes of Perry, Sarah Palin and their Tea Party supporters want to preside over.

With ID cards and police given extended powers, it smacks of a sort of totalitarian society, underpinned by state and federal government, which is what these people claim to be against.

Even on the abortion issue, should not that be a matter for a woman to choose? And yet the Tea Party apologists and supporters would use government to deny that choice to a woman. But isn’t that government interfering with ordinary people’s lives, the issue the Tea Party rails against ad nauseum? Go figure.

And the reason why the ultra conservatives focus on these social issues and illegal immigrants is because they have no clue whatsoever how to get out of an economic mess. Their motto may well be “Don’t tread on me!” but Texas looks all set to become a downtrodden state as far as its ordinary citizens are concerned.

[Based on a report in The Dallas Morning News.]

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Cold front brings a touch of ‘winter’ to Florida

By Calvin Palmer

Winter blew into northeast Florida today. A cold front passed over yesterday bringing rain and is now subjecting to us to cold air from those damned Yankee states. As with the carpetbaggers of old, Southerners are being made to suffer.

With a chilly west wind blowing, temperatures have plummeted to a maximum 64 degrees Fahrenheit. The overnight low is expected to be only 40 degrees.

I can already see the fingers of scorn being pointed from Washington state, Oregon, the Midwest and New England, not to mention Canada but the thing about temperature is that it is relative.

In Britain, a temperature of 64 degrees, or 17.7 degrees Celsius as they would call it since they abandoned Fahrenheit many years ago in order to kowtow to the continental Europeans, combined with the sunshine Jacksonville has enjoyed today, would have people out in T-shirts and summer frocks proclaiming that summer had arrived.

I remember during a visit to San Francisco in December 1994, when temperatures were in the mid to upper 60s Fahrenheit, I was dressed in a shirt and short leather jacket, commonly known as a bomber jacket. Wearing one of those in today’s climate of heightened airport security, I would probably be prevented from boarding a plane.

The weather in San Francisco reminded me of Britain in late April or September and I was dressed accordingly. The conditions were perfect for walking around and sightseeing. But the people of San Francisco must have thought I was mad — the jury is still out on that one – because they were dressed in heavy winter coats, winter hats, scarves and gloves.

Given that I have been subjected to the climate of north Texas and northeast Florida for the past 10 years, I have adjusted to the warmer climes of The South and so today was cold and it will get colder as the evening progresses.

I will not go to the lengths of those people I saw in San Francisco to keep warm but I can now fully understand why they would think a temperature in the mid 60s Fahrenheit was cold.

The great advantage of northeast Florida is that usually the cooler temperatures are but a brief interlude. The forecast has the temperature back up to 74 degrees on Tuesday and 76 degrees on Wednesday. And both days will be sunny.

People in the UK consider themselves blessed if they get a temperature of 76 degrees in the middle of July.

I do sometimes wonder whether I could still hack it in a northern climate. After enjoying warm winters for this length of time, I am beginning to have serious doubts. For all its many faults, Jacksonville’s saving grace is its climate.

All I can say to those people experiencing more traditional winter weather is, wrap up well and keep warm. Oh, and wish you were here!

Winter draws on, as Spike Milligan used to say.

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Executives in Stanford’s company to face fraud charges, says SEC

By Calvin Palmer

Several executives involved in Texan billionaire Allen Stanford’s alleged $7 billion Ponzi scheme will face fraud charges, the Senate Banking Committee was told today.

“We have notified several former Stanford executives that we intend to recommend fraud charges against them,” Rose Romero, director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Fort Worth office told US lawmakers. “These persons include former high level executives and financial advisors.”

Stanford, a flamboyant Texan billionaire, has already pleaded not guilty to 21 counts of fraud, money laundering and obstruction. A trial date has not yet been set for him.

The Justice Department has also filed a raft of charges against former Stanford employees, including James Davis, the former chief financial officer of Houston-based Stanford Financial Group, who pleaded guilty last month to counts including fraud.

The company’s chief investment officer, Laura Pendergest-Holt, accountants Mark Kuhrt and Gilberto Lopez, and Leroy King, head of Antigua’s financial services regulatory commission, also face charges.

They are accused of helping Stanford run a massive Ponzi scheme involving the sale of $7.2 billion of Certificates of Deposit.

Romero and other senior SEC officials offered apologies today for failing to detect the massive fraud despite multiple warnings.

“We deeply regret that the SEC failed to act more quickly to limit the tragic investor losses suffered by Stanford’s victims,” said Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.

 The SEC inspector general found that the agency knew since 1997 that R. Allen Stanford was likely operating an alleged Ponzi scheme. But it didn’t charge the billionaire until February 2009. The charges came a few months after the massive pyramid scheme of financier Bernard Madoff surfaced.

SEC enforcement officials discouraged cases that couldn’t be resolved quickly, the inspector general found.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., asked SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami why no one at the SEC has been fired or demoted for the excessive delay. Other senators on the panel also wanted an answer during the hearing on the issue.

“We seem to have an instance in which one side of the agency was screaming that there was a fire, and the other side said that the fire was too hard to put out,” Dodd said.

Khuzami told the panel that the disciplinary process is under way.

He told the committee the details of the SEC’s failure in the case only have been known since the inspector general’s report was issued in April.

Khuzami also said the agency has toughened its efforts to shut down financial misconduct since the past failures.

He said the SEC is working to provide “maximum recovery” to investors hurt in Stanford’s alleged $7 billion fraud.

Inspector General David Kotz also found that the former head of enforcement in the SEC’s Fort Worth office, who helped quash investigations of Stanford, later represented the billionaire as a private lawyer.

The official briefly represented Stanford in 2006 before being told by the SEC ethics office that it was improper for him to do so.

Kotz indicated he has referred the matter to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution in connection with statements he made to SEC ethics officers.

He also said the official’s representing Stanford appeared to violate Texas’s rules for lawyers.

Kotz said the reforms in the SEC’s enforcement and inspections operations that Khuzami outlined may not have yet taken hold at the lower levels of the agency.

“I think that the intention is there,” he said. “I think it takes time for a culture to be changed.”

Kotz’s office has also found that the agency bungled five investigations into Madoff’s business between June 1992 and December 2008. Madoff’s fraud, which could be the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, destroyed thousands of people’s life savings, wrecked charities and jolted investor confidence during the worst days of the financial crisis.

[Based on reports by AFP and The Houston Chronicle.]

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Boy, 13, and girl, 12, face murder charge after double shooting in Texas home

By Calvin Palmer

A 13-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl face charges of murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after a double shooting at a house in Garland, Texas.

Darlene Nevil, 46, was killed and her husband, Alan Nevil, 48, was wounded in the attack yesterday in their home on Rilla Drive.

Police arrived at the home about 2:30 p.m. and found Alan Nevil lying in his next-door neighbor’s yard with gunshot wounds in his arm and leg. Officers found his wife dead inside their home.

Acting on information from the wounded man, officers took the boy and girl into custody several blocks from the crime scene.

Police also recovered a handgun they believe was used in the attack.

Nevil is in stable condition at a Dallas hospital after undergoing surgery.

Police have refused to reveal the relationship between the two children and the Nevils.

Garland police spokesman Joe Harn declined to confirm reports that the victims were the girl’s parents.

“We’re not commenting on that simply because we’re not able to identify juveniles,” Harn said.

He said Texas law prevents a police department from identifying juvenile suspects. They can be identified starting at age 15, but only if they are certified as adults.

Do they have to attend community college in order to gain “adult” certification?

The suspects were taken to a Dallas County juvenile jail where they face charges of murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, Harn said.

[Based on reports by The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.]

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