Texas has its own handy website


Order a birth certificate, send money to an inmate, collect lotto winnings, and renew your vehicle registration all from the homepage.

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The predatory, booming industry of property tax lending in Texas

This is a very informative and in-depth article on the business of property tax lending in Texas, where people borrow at high interest rates in order to pay off delinquent property taxes. It’s not at all consumer-friendly. It’s a booming industry where lending companies profit and citizens are often left further in debt or even homeless. An old law dating back to the Depression allows a third party to pay off a homeowner’s taxes. In property tax lending, the home itself is collateral, and the lending company gets a lien on the house. If there’s a failure to pay back the loan, the homes can be foreclosed. Lending companies get their money before mortgage companies in this case because the lien must be paid off first.

“These high-interest loans are part of a multibillion-dollar industry native only to Texas and Nevada. The thriving business involves some of Texas’ most reputable entrepreneurs and large institutional investors. Propel Financial Services, the parent company of Rio Tax, controls about half of the Texas market. Backed by San Antonio billionaire Red McCombs, Propel claims in its financial disclosures to have never lost money on a loan. But there’s growing concern that homeowners take on unnecessary risk with property tax loans. And while demand is apparently high, their usefulness may be limited, especially after a recent change in the law that requires counties to offer payment plans to homeowners with delinquent taxes.”

–Caelainn Barr and Charlotte Keith, The Texas Observer, Published on Wednesday, July 9, 2014

read more…

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The NYTimes on Stanley Marsh

From June 23rd:

Stanley Marsh, Cadillac Rancher, Dies at 76, Shadowed by Charges

JUNE 23, 2014
Stanley Marsh, the proudly eccentric and locally prominent millionaire who was best known for commissioning the public art project known as the Cadillac Ranch outside his hometown, the Texas Panhandle city of Amarillo, but whose reputation was badly tarnished by accusations that he had sexually abused teenage boys, died on June 17 in Amarillo. He was 76.

His wife, Gwendolyn Bush O’Brien Marsh, known as Wendy, said the cause was pneumonia. In recent years Mr. Marsh had a series of strokes.

Scion of a prominent oil and gas family and a successful banker and television executive in his own right, Mr. Marsh was an arts patron and a celebrated personality in Texas generally and in Amarillo particularly. He was the third in a line of Stanley Marshes but called himself Stanley Marsh 3 instead of Stanley Marsh III because he felt that Roman numerals were pretentious.

He often wore loud checkered suits and occasionally dropped water balloons from his 12th-floor downtown office.

Mr. Marsh at a party for the 30th anniversary of the Cadillac Ranch in 2004.
An audacious concocter of public stunts, he kept a pet lion and earned a place on President Richard M. Nixon’s “enemies list” when he wrote to the first lady, Pat Nixon, about including her hats in a museum he was planning dedicated to decadent art.

He once turned a football-field-size swatch of ranch land into the likeness of a pool-table top: he had the prairie painted green and supplied giant billiard balls and a 100-foot cue stick. He had a colossal necktie tied around the chimney of his mother’s home. And he had dozens of fake traffic signs scattered around the city offering cryptic or lighthearted messages like “Road Does Not End,” “You Will Never Be the Same” and “Ostrich X-ing.”

He made his most famous contribution to public art in 1974, when he commissioned a San Francisco collective, the Ant Farm, to bury 10 Cadillacs of older vintage, nose first, their fins in the air, atilt at the same angle (said to match that of sides of the Great Pyramid at Giza), in a wheat field north of Amarillo.

Cadillac Ranch, as it came to be called, was memorialized in the title of a Bruce Springsteen song and became one of the country’s most photographed roadside attractions, an emblem of many things to many beholders: Texas kitsch, consumerism, the American reverence for the road. (One of its nicknames was “the hood ornament of Route 66.”)

Cadillac Ranch, a public art project outside Amarillo, Texas, features 10 Cadillacs buried nose down in a wheat field.
For Mr. Marsh, the Ranch was “a monument to the American dream” of a boy growing up in the 1950s. A car, he once said, “represented money; it was the first valuable thing we ever had.”

“It represented sex; it was where you had dates,” he added. “And it represented getting away from home. And I assure you those were the three things that were on our minds when we were 16.”

In 1997, Cadillac Ranch was moved a bit west along Interstate 40 to set it farther from Amarillo, whose borders had expanded. Over the years, the cars have been painted in different colors, and graffiti artists have had their way with them, a development Mr. Marsh loved, because, he said, it meant that the art kept changing.

Mr. Marsh had his local enemies, but he was long considered a boon to Amarillo, a man who added spice to a conservative city on a drab prairie. That changed in 2012 — after he had been ruled incapacitated by a court and his wife made his legal guardian — when lawsuits were filed on behalf of 10 teenage boys accusing him of having paid them, given them drugs and alcohol and bought them gifts in exchange for sex.

“He’s had a stream of boys coming up to his office to do his sexual bidding for a long, long time,” Tony Buzbee, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told Texas Monthly.

Those cases were settled. But since then Mr. Marsh had also faced criminal sexual-abuse charges and four more civil lawsuits, with a total of 11 plaintiffs, his lawyer, Kelly Utsinger, said in an interview. No trial dates had been set for the civil cases. The criminal charges were being withdrawn because of Mr. Marsh’s death, Mr. Utsinger said. “It is unfortunate Stanley died before he had the opportunity to clear his good name,” Paul Nugent, another lawyer for Mr. Marsh, said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press. “The criminal accusations made by those seeking to become millionaires will now forever remain mere allegations — untested and unproven in a criminal courtroom.”

Mr. Marsh was born in Amarillo on Jan. 31, 1938. He graduated from public high school there and from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied economics as an undergraduate and received a master’s degree in American studies. For many years he owned KVII, a top-rated Amarillo television station. He often expressed the idea that it was the responsibility of the rich to behave unusually and interestingly, and he encouraged art for art’s sake, he once said, to “fight back the ever-rising flood of philistinism.”

In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1967, Mr. Marsh is survived by two brothers, Tom and Michael; five children; and 10 grandchildren.

The accusations against Mr. Marsh have moved some to question whether Cadillac Ranch, whose 40th anniversary is this month, ought to be bulldozed. At the very least, they have caused many of Mr. Marsh’s fans to have painful second thoughts.

“A man who knew Marsh well just called me a few minutes ago and said he hoped I would say some good words about his friend,” Skip Hollandsworth, the executive editor of Texas Monthly, wrote on the magazine’s website after Mr. Marsh’s death. “And the fact is, there are plenty of good things to say about Marsh.” Mr. Hollandsworth had written often about Mr. Marsh, describing many of his harmless antics. More recently, he detailed the accusations of sexual abuse.

“And that, sadly, is going to be his legacy,” he said. “I wish it wasn’t so.”

Correction: July 2, 2014
A picture caption in some editions last Wednesday with an obituary about Stanley Marsh, the Texas millionaire best known for commissioning the public art project known as the Cadillac Ranch, misstated the year the photograph showing Mr. Marsh leaning against a Cadillac was taken. It was 1984, not 1974.


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Is There Archie After Death?

Archie dies. It’s kind of awesome. Postmortem greatness. It’s a spinoff comic. It’s literally cultural post-postmodernism. Is the afterlife? I thought Archie would live forever. Either it’s true that Archie is now cult fodder or it means that we’re all not kids anymore. We’re all, like, old now.image

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Hunter S. Thompson: Huevos Rancheros


Breakfast with Hunter Thompson: He really did know how to live.

Originally posted on Paper and Salt:

Hunter S. Thompson: Huevos Rancheros

Every day begins with breakfast, and every breakfast begins with a profound dilemma: Sweet or savory? For the reliably indecisive (myself included), reading a brunch menu is like watching two heavyweights sweat it out in the ring. Pancakes vs. omelets. French toast vs. hash browns. Doughnuts vs. bacon. Our brains weren’t equipped to handle decisions of this magnitude before noon.

Leave it to Hunter S. Thompson to figure out the two optimal solutions to this problem. One: Never get up before noon. Two: Order everything on the menu.

“Breakfast is a personal ritual that can only be properly observed alone, and in a spirit of genuine excess,” Thompson wrote in The Great Shark Hunt . He goes on to list his preferred meal: “four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crêpes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned-beef hash with diced chilies, a Spanish omelette or eggs…

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An All a You Can Read Buffet

Amazon joins gets on the streaming media bandwagon with its signature product: books. The service, called Kindle Unlimited, will run about $10 a month. Its one way to keep people reading.

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Eat a peach this summer in the Lone Star State

Texas Agriculture Daily News
A festival of peaches

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

This year could be the best peach crop in recent years.

Outside Weatherford, the O’Bannon family peach trees are thriving. Jean O’Bannon said, “It is finally a good year and it’s about time,” according to an agency release.

Peach growers have weathered many years of late freezes, hail, extreme heat and drought, resulting in low harvest yields. This year’s rains and mild temperatures have been good for peach trees and the peaches may even be larger than seen in recent years.

For the Parker County Peach Festival, to be held Saturday, there should be an abundant supply of the signature fruit from local growers. In past years, the festival had to import peaches from other parts of Texas.

Approximately a dozen peach farms are in Parker County, but the county has always been known for its peaches. It has good sandy loam soil, the right climate and enough cold days for peaches to set fruit.

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Discussion of GMO foods program set for July 15, Dimmitt

From press release on Texas Ag Daily:

Texas Agriculture Daily News
Discussion of GMO foods program set for July 15, Dimmitt

Monday, July 07, 2014

A program explaining the role of genetically modified organism (GMO) foods in the U.S. food supply is set for July 15 in Dimmitt.

Nancy Andersen, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service (AgriLife) agent, said: “We (consumers) are constantly bombarded with information regarding GMOs to the point that it’s hard to know what to believe.” The purpose of the program is to help the public discern fact from fiction and in turn to make informed decisions in food choices, according to AgriLife Today.

The program includes a meal and begins at noon. It is free and open to the public. Andersen encourages youth to attend as they will play an important part in the future in feeding the world.

For more information, contact Andersen at 806-647-4115 or email nancy.andersen@agnet.tamu.edu.

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“Texas Miracle” economy undermines workforce; citizens are fielding calls from citizens about unsafe working conditions

Texas Work Safety Hotline Upgraded

  • July 9, 2014

Hurting for Work

How disdain for government regulation sparked a “Texas miracle” economy — while tearing down protections for the workers who built it.

More than 20 years after the Texas Legislature passed a law establishing a 24-hour work safety hotline, real people are answering the telephone calls around the clock. 

The decision came after The Texas Tribune, as part of a months-long investigation of the Texas workplace, reported that callers to the state-run hotline were being turned away after normal business hours because of a glitch in the voicemail system.

The Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation, which operates the bilingual hotline so Texans can report unsafe working conditions, quickly fixed the snafu the same day it was revealed late last month. 

A few days later, authorities decided to make a user-friendly upgrade by turning over after-hours calls to an answering service, officials said. Now, people who call the heavily advertised hotline will get a live person on the other end, not recorded greetings and messages. Daytime callers were never affected by the glitch.

“Your stories kind of raised the profile of it, and there was legislative interest, and it seemed like a logical solution,” Division spokesman John Greeley said this week. “It’s fixed. It feels like we’ve got a better answer, a better response.”

After learning of the snafu last month, the chairman of the House Business and Industry Committee, Democratic Rep. René Oliveira of Brownsville, asked the department to explain what happened and provide background about the hotline service.

In its written response to Oliveira, a copy of which was obtained by the Tribune under state transparency laws, the Division of Workers’ Compensation said 225 calls were made to the hotline from May 26 through June 20. Of those, 50 were made after hours, when the hotline wasn’t working. 

Instead of getting the safety violations hotline, callers were being routed to a generic, after-hours electronic message operated by the Texas Department of Insurance, the division’s parent agency.

Officials say they have no way of knowing how long the problem persisted but told Oliveira the last time the division received a voicemail via the hotline was on April 12, 2013.

Oliveira said he was happy that the agency moved so quickly to fix a problem that might have prevented unsafe conditions from being discovered. 

“This had not been functioning at the division. It was thwarting the will of the Legislature, and I’m glad the agency responded quickly,” Oliveira said. “Of course, we’ll never know how many people may have given up without the information they needed in the past, but now it’s working. And we’re quite pleased.”

By law, all Texas employers must post the 24-hour hotline number, 1-800-452-9595, in a conspicuous area in their place of business. Employees can make anonymous complaints on the hotline, and it’s against the law to retaliate against an employee who uses the service in good faith to report a potential violation of occupational safety laws.

The Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation has limited authority to act on tips it receives about unsafe conditions. In cases of workplace emergencies, employees are urged to call 911, contact first responders or call the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration. 

Otherwise, state authorities take down the information and then contact the employer and the workers’ compensation insurance carrier — if there is one — in an effort to remedy the situation. (Texas is the only state in the country that does not require private employers to carry workers’ compensation or a private equivalent.)

Because the hotline number is so widely advertised at thousands of places of employment around the state, the Texas hotline acts as an initial point of contact for many people who are concerned about dangerous working conditions and want the government to know about it.

“Obviously, it needs to do what it’s supposed to do,” said Greeley, the division spokesman. “The purpose is for them to tell us about something that’s unsafe, that might cause an accident in the future.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/07/09/texas-work-safety-hotline-upgraded/.

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Still more ways to help Fritch, TX

The May fire damage in Fritch was significant, but it wasn’t enough for the town to get federal relief. For a long time, the area’s economy depended on tourism to Lake Meredith, whose water level has hit an all-time low. The town was in debt before the fire. For a community to have a healthy economy, it needs to have local businesses patronized as much as possible. People can help by shopping in Fritch, camping in Fritch, going there to have lunch, just taking a trip through and being sure to visit local businesses.

The City of Fritch has a survey that all residents of the Panhandle can complete in order to help with financial aid efforts.

After Fire, a Small Town’s Future is Uncertain

FRITCH — A month after a fire roared through this Panhandle town, all that remains of Sam Jones’ house is its concrete foundation, a row of charred pine trees and the underground storm shelter where he now lives.

The fire, which is under investigation, destroyed 225 homes and has left the town grappling with questions about its future as it struggles to find the money needed to help hundreds of displaced residents. Fritch, population 2,000, was already reeling from years of drought and a declining population that has strained local resources. City officials now predict that as many as half of the residents who lost homes will not return.

“I’ve watched Fritch shrivel up,” Jones, who showers at his neighbor’s, said during a break from clearing rubble. His property overlooks Lake Meredith, a national recreation area and manmade reservoir that once measured more than 100 feet deep. The lake, which Jones said “looks more like a canyon” these days, hit a record low of 26 feet in August.

As the lake dried up, so did much of the city’s tourism business.

Along the main road, a faded boat storage facility lies empty, its windowpanes shattered. On a nearby lot that local residents call the “Fritch Boat Cemetery,” dozens of vessels are propped upright in the sand. Even neighborhoods that escaped the fire are peppered with abandoned trailers and houses with collapsing roofs.

At the same time, prosecutors are investigating former city officials for possible  theft and misuse of funds, said Mark Snider, the district attorney who has referred the case to the Texas attorney general’s office. A year ago, Fritch was nearly half a million dollars in debt, said the interim city manager, John Horst, who took over after his predecessor resigned.

Government aid has been limited. The Texas Department of Transportation recently approved $15,000 to help residents carpool to work, and a few residents have qualified for low-interest loans from the Texas Small Business Association. Most people are relying on friends and donations. The damage was not considered extensive enough for federal relief.

“We’re in this kind of limbo right now” because charity organizations have been able to provide immediate aid but not long-term assistance, said Calvin Winters, a preacher at the First Southern Baptist Church of Fritch. “The real work is ahead of us.”

About 40 percent of the families affected do not have insurance to cover the damage, city officials said.

“Homeowners don’t know what they’re doing yet,” Winters said. “Frankly, you have to have the funds.”

Madeline Lyckman, a bartender who lost her home and is now living with her parents across town, said she planned to remain in Fritch and hoped to receive a mobile home from a family friend.

Lyckman is helping to organize a “Redneck Olympics” benefit for victims of the fire. Locals will play horseshoes with toilet seats and race lawnmowers in a charity fund-raiser, she said.

“The people in the area are very, very drained,” she said. “We need outside help.”

Fritch is continuing to depend on tourism, Horst said. “If we could attract more people to the trails and camping, I think that would be a big benefit,” he said.

The drought has complicated the efforts.

“We’re definitely seeing more boating activity” than during the most severe years of the drought, said Bob McGuire, superintendent of the Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. “But we still have a ways to go.”

After a recent rain, thousands of yucca tree saplings began to sprout in the charred earth outside of town. Whether the local economy can achieve similar regrowth is still unknown.

Asked about Fritch’s future, Lyckman gestured to the depreciated lake. “We’ll dry up,” she said.

Then she reconsidered. “You know, we’ve made it through before,” she said. “We always have a comeback.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/06/20/after-fire-small-towns-future-uncertain/.

Posted in Amarillo, business, Community, Economy, Fires, News, Panhandle, Texas, West Texas | Leave a comment