Friday, July 18, 2008

Barbie's Getting Some Step-Sisters

No, I'm not talking about Cinderella. If I were, then Mattel wouldn't be able to rest from the round of litigation it just won against the makers of Bratz.

I'm talking about the federal jury verdict that determined the fella who came up with Bratz (or, as I call them, "Cosmetology-school dolls") did so while he was working at Mattel (insert standard IP contract terms here).

Wonderful. The Barbie Dreamhouse is going to have to build some additions.

Aside from the millions of dollars Mattel is likely to win in the next round, they'll also probably be able to form the world's first "Doll foster family." The heavily made-up Bratz dolls will descend on Barbie's white-bread utopia of a life, bringing a bit of ghetto with them. They'll teach Barbie the importance of bling. Barbie will stop driving that little corvette and get an Escalade instead. Conspicuous consumption and a steadfast reliance on the toy-cosmetics industry will be Barbie's new rule.

Ahhh. I just hope there aren't any gang members in the Bratz line. Barbie's likely to get shivved.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Trans-Texas Corridor Update

Recently, Terri Hall of TURF (Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom) was invited to speak in Washington D.C. at the Freedom March. For those of you who may not know, TURF is an indispensible organization working tirelessly to fight the unjustice that is the TTC. Ms. Hall is the executive director of the organization.

With her permission, I have chosen to re-print her speech from the Freedom March here, in its entirety:

I think the words of a patriot of the past, Thomas Paine, that were uttered on December 23, 1776, reflect where we find ourselves again today in America.

He said:

"THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."

Is that not so true today? Fellow Patriots, the Trans Texas Corridor and the widespread proliferation of toll roads, particularly the use of public private partnerships to exploit the eminent domain powers of govt and join it with the financial self-interest of private corporations, that is about to befall not only Texas but our country, is nothing more than an all out assault on our freedom: the freedom to travel, the freedom to own private property, the freedom from oppressive taxation and overbearing government. And that, my friends, is tyranny! Though not easily conquered, it can and must be crushed.

The NAFTA Superhighway, known as the Trans Texas Corridor to Texans and called a myth by those trying to silence the truth, is very real and even has some segments already under construction. It’s a 4,000 mile, multi-modal network of toll roads, rail lines, utilities, telecommunications, and pipelines of all sorts. It will be up to 1,200 feet wide (4 football fields wide) and will take a total of 580,000 of private land. Two foreign companies partnering with an American company have been given the rights to develop the TTC, which includes the right to build the most lucrative segments without being subjected to competitive bidding, leaving the taxpayers to subsidize the parts that aren’t toll viable.

The TTC will literally bisect whole cities and towns slicing them in two giving residents, farmers, and schoolchildren no access to the other side of this 1,200 foot wide tollway. In fact, the law states the private operator only has to build overpasses where the corridor intersects state hwys and interstates so on TTC-35 there are only 5 exits in the entire state of Texas!

So make no mistake, this nightmare called the TTC is alive and well. We’ve personally attended most all of the nearly one hundred TTC hearings since 2006. When more than 40,000 Texans have gone on record against it, politicians take notice. But instead of KILL this nightmare, they try to find new ways to put lipstick on their pig.

There was a recent announcement disguised as a victory for angry farmers and ranchers, where TxDOT said it would now expand the existing highway system to build TTC-69 instead of building a massive new corridor through rural Texas. But guess what? There’s always a catch when billions of dollars are to be made, and when multi-national corporations are chomping at the bit to get their cheap Chinese goods into the U.S. exploiting cheaper Mexican ports, Mexican trucks, and Mexican labor.

The private "partners" conducted toll viability studies and found the new corridor route wasn’t a money-maker because it bypassed all the urban areas where beleaguered commuters could be forced to pay tolls to get out of congestion. So they had to go back to the "free" roads that would have been the toll operators’ primary "competition" to their toll revenues.

So now they’re going to toll those existing roads and kill any competition. See how this isn’t free market? Oh they’ll tell you your free lanes will still be there, but they’re fixin’ to do what they’re about to do to a freeway near my home, and that is, toll the existing freeway lanes and make the only free lanes, frontage roads. Calling it highway robbery isn’t hyperbole! So it was really the private operators, not TxDOT or the politicians, that changed the route of the TTC-69 and, believe me, it’s no victory. It can still be a 1,200 wide privatized, foreign-controlled toll road with most of the profits leaving our country.

Within TWO weeks of that announcement, TxDOT signed a public private partnership contract with ACS of Spain and Zachry of San Antonio that gives them 12% guaranteed annual profits, a no bid right to cherry-pick the most lucrative segments to build, and they’re not even bringing their own money to the table since 3/4 of the construction cost will be paid for with YOUR MONEY…that’s right Texas lawmakers are stealing YOUR federal taxpayer backed bonds and loans to build the NAFTA superhighway and give all the profits to Zachry and ACS of Spain!

We’ve been brow beat with a pack of empty talking points by Reason Foundation and many libertarian think tanks, that these public-private toll deals are the silver bullet to funding infrastructure without having to raise taxes, because the private partners bring all the money to the table, not cash-strapped govt, and it’s the private partner, not the taxpayers, who carry the financial risk.

Well, all you have to do is dig into any one of the 3 contracts in TX and those in other states (Indiana, Illinois, and Virginia) to know that not one of those things is true. First of all, a toll is a tax! Second, there is no risk to the private operator when 3/4 of the construction cost is being paid by the taxpayers and when the state grants investors a non-compete agreement that prohibits any expansion of or building of free roads surrounding their tollways guaranteeing congestion on free lanes for a half century or more and indebting us for generations. One contract even gives TxDOT a financial incentive to lower the speed limit on the competing "free" interstate, I-35, to drive more traffic to the high speed Trans Texas Corridor.

Our government has become the puppet of private industry and they’ve figured out how to team-up to make billions off the public’s roadways. These highways belong to WE THE PEOPLE, not the government, not the road lobby.

They have NO right to steal our land in the name of "public use" when it’s really about private gain and big government profiteering that will relegate those who cannot afford the tolls to second class citizens. Eminent domain has always been used for roads, but now for the first time, the government can literally steal your land, pay you next to nothing for it, and give it to a private company for private profit. It’s the Kelo vs. New London case applied to roads.

In Texas, they even passed a law, called quick take, that allows the govt to vacate the landowner within 90 days of notice of condemnation whether or not your case is settled. This almost guarantees the landowner will have to take the state’s offer, because who can re-locate hundreds of head of cattle in 90 days without compensation?

There is a massive war going on in this country between the pro-privatization special interest groups and freedom loving Americans. The laws have already been dramatically altered to allow these PPPs, and this Administration and Governors like ours, Rick Perry, and Indiana’s, Mitch Daniels, have orchestrated a shift away from an affordable, gas tax funded freeway system to a new policy of prolific and oppressive toll taxation. They’re planning to toll the living daylights out of urban commuters in order to give their cronies government-sanctioned monopolies over YOUR roads that you depend for daily living.

Today we are in uncharted territory at $4 a gallon for gas, above the inflation adjusted high of 1980. The mentality inside this building is that no matter what they decide to charge us in new toll taxes, that motorists will pay it. They know we have to get to work. We won’t have real alternatives.

This is oppressive taxation on top of skyrocketing fuel costs. There’s only so much money in the family budget that can go to transportation before it takes money away from the necessities. We already see the dramatic decline of the standard of living in America in a very short period of time. It’s only going to get worse, they tell us, in order to condition us into accepting the globalists’ agenda.

So isn’t this what we’re conditioned to accept in government? We’re endlessly being asked to tighten OUR belts, while both our state and federal governments squander our gas taxes on frivolous earmarks that don’t even pertain to roads, like the bridge to nowhere?

How about TxDOT spending $9 million of taxpayer money to wage an ad campaign to advocate tolls roads and the Trans Texas Corridor? TURF filed a complaint with the Travis County District Attorney’s office immediately upon learning of this illegal use of taxpayer money. The DA’s office did nothing. So we filed a lawsuit in civil court to stop TxDOT from spending anymore of our money on taxpayer funded lobbying.

• Through our lawsuit we’ve discovered that indeed TxDOT has been engaging in illegal lobbying. They can’t say they’re not lobbying when invoices show they’ve hired 5 registered lobbyists to the tune of $100,000 a month to lobby elected officials in Washington particularly targeting local elected officials in the path of the Trans Texas Corridor.
• We found documents that show the purpose of the ad campaign is to "neutralize" toll and TTC opponents and to target counties opposed to the TTC in order to turn the tide of opposition.
• PR firm stated this in their proposal: "The political environment needs to be changed to make it less hostile to the TTC." The goal of the campaign is to define the benefits of the TTC to the majority of Texans and help inoculate it from negative attacks."
• They’ve conducted push polls on the taxpayers’ dime to garner support for the TTC.
• TxDOT was told by the Transportation Commission to show the "DOUBLE TAXATION" claim of toll opponents is untrue, which is illegally engaging in a political policy debate when state agency’s are to implement, not shape of make policy. The testimony from someone in the State Auditor’s office found TxDOT is knowingly ginning-up false gas tax numbers and funding figures in order to push toll roads!

I’m afraid this doesn’t stop in Texas. Just weeks ago, a new lobby group called Transportation Transformation or T2 announced that not only TxDOT, but 3 other state DOTs have officially teamed up with the bond investors and private toll road and corridor interests to directly lobby Congress here in Washington for more public private partnerships and toll roads.

This is a recipe for tyranny! We must demand political reform to ensure checks and balances and put the power back in the hands of the PEOPLE as the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a free people.

So I ask you, have we had enough? I cannot help but be inspired by the resolve of another patriot, Patrick Henry, who said in his famous speech that sparked a revolution:

"Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

We need to ask ourselves, will we allow our government to shackle us with oppressive taxation just to get to work and go about daily living? Will we allow this Administration and the state governments aiding it to carve a 1,200 ft wide swath through the heartland of America and sacrifice what vestige of private property rights we have left in the name of foreign trade and commerce? Or will we continue to fight a new revolution, a taxpayer revolt, a political movement to stop the Trans Texas Corridor, the NAFTA superhighways, to stop tolls across Texas and America, preserve private property rights, our way of life and our precious freedoms bought with a price from those who came before us?

They, those who have sold out American freedom in favor of the almighty dollar and the intoxication of power, aren’t counting on you and me and this freedom movement taking our government back. But as for me, and I think all of you here today and the hundreds of thousands who couldn’t be with us, the resounding answer is: give us liberty!

Well said, Ms. Hall. And keep up the good work.