Monday, July 24, 2006

Of government and forms


“We have been hearing from some angry lawmakers,” Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald said after his organization’s report on campaign donor disclosure went public last month.
Laredo-based District 42 state representative Richard Raymond wasn’t one of them, receiving high praise for properly disclosing the names and amounts he received, but Laredo’s District 21 state Senator Judith Zaffirini and District 80 area state rep. Tracy King didn’t fare as well.
Zaffirini and King both argued that their poorer grading by the Austin-based watchdog organization was due to discrepancies in the paper forms used to comply with new regulations on campaign disclosure. Both also said they had no intention of hiding anything in the forms required by the Texas Ethics Commission. Raymond did not return phone and e-mail messages to his office about the report, however.
“Ain’t Nobody’s Business: Lawmakers Flunk Big-Donor Disclosure,” available on the TPJ Web site said, “Three senators and 28 representatives left the occupation and employer fields blank every time they reported a large donation. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, (D-Laredo) raised the largest amount of these all-blank contributions ($226,400),” the report said.
The report said three of Zaffirini’s mystery donors were Beaumont and Houston law firms each contributing $25,000.
“Zaffirini, a champion of tobacco-control legislation, failed to identify the employers or occupations of three trial lawyers who litigated Texas’ $15 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry,” the report said.
The report added that King (D-Batesville), choked on the disclosure of a former Texas governor – a $15,000 donation from Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde.
McDonald noted that the report, handled largely by an intern from the University of Texas, Omair Khan, took all of its information from what the candidates had filed and that the Dallas Morning News, Associated Press and San Antonio Express-News have all written something about it.
“It’s gotten some attention,” McDonald said. “This the first time for this report.”
McDonald added that TPJ constantly analyzes campaign contributions and spending.
Zaffirini and King have put their responses to the report down in writing.
“Under no circumstances would we knowingly violate any reporting requirement,” Zaffirini said to the Texas Ethics Commission in a June 30 letter. “The forms they used and that were approved by the TEC all indicate that including occupational information is optional. Because we used these forms, we thought we were complying fully with reporting requirements.”
King said in an e-mail that he has no problem with the disclosure requirements, but notes three reports have been due since the new law requiring disclosure of the employer and profession of contributors of more than $500.
“The last two reports have that space filled in every time. The first report after the new requirements became law had a few blanks in that spot due to a software issue I had at that time. That was later corrected and that blank has been filled every time it was required since then,” King said. “Apparently, the TPJ did not think the descriptions were adequate in some cases. Obviously, I thought the descriptions were adequate and certainly represented my best efforts.”
Note: All state lawmakers, including Zaffirini, King and Raymond, have Web sites easily found through any good online search engine and there is much to read for those seriously interested in learning about political campaign money. Some of those sites are:;;;;;;;;;; and

Note: This is the blog version of a very similar story published in the July edition of LareDOS in Laredo, Texas.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Caught in the middle

Lebanese Christians appear to be right in the middle of what's going on right now in the Middle East, more so than innocent Israelis under Hezbollah rockets, or Hezbollah fighters and sympathsizers under Israeli attack -- but so far, their losses have been fewer.

They sit in a bad spot, which could worsen if Israel does indeed launch a full-scale ground offensive in southern Lebanon. Following is a message from a Lebanese friend...

Lebanon is under siege: Regardless of what your political beliefs are, Lebanon is being destroyed at the time you read this. And there is one thing you can do to help cease the fire: you can make your voice heard against the disaster that's being forced upon the Lebanese people.

Scream your indignation and call for a cease-fire and for the support of the Lebanese government position.

At a horrible time like this, we ask the international community, our friends, you, to stand together with us and react. Only by showing how united you are, will we be able to achieve massive sensibilization and help Lebanese children have a future.

Take a minute to read the note below: it's a summary of the main points of the Lebanese government legitimate sensible call for a cease-fire. Print it out and send it by post, by fax, by email to your local government office, to international newspapers, to international TV stations, to the UN headquarters and missions around the world...anything will help. It only takes a minute.

Thank you.

Calling for a Cease-Fire
July 18th, 2006

Israel is destroying Lebanon. It has no right to do so.

Children, women, innocent civilians are being killed by the Israeli attacks. Entire families are being chased out of their home villages. Bridges, roads, airports, ports, highways, energy plants and communication networks are being pounded to the ground. The whole country has been cut off from the rest of the world.

We, Lebanese people, are sad, we are suffering, we are angry, we are determined and mobilized to work together towards saving our nation.

Israel's initiative is an unfair disproportionate collective punishment inflicted upon Lebanon for the wrong reasons: what is happening today goes beyond the issue of a prisoners exchange.

Neither the government nor the innocent people of Lebanon had been informed or agreed on the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers.

Lebanon is in despair: it's a humanitarian and economic disaster.

We call for an immediate cease-fire under the auspices of the UN,
We call for the establishment of the government's sovereignty on all Lebanese territory in cooperation with the UN,
We call for your help to pressure Israel to stop its attacks.
Help us achieve it as soon as possible.
So that Lebanon will survive. Lebanon will survive.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

From Lebanon

Word from the Middle East isn't very good right now.

From a Lebanese friend, I hear...

"It's ugly and it's disgusting. The bombings are focused on Hizbollah locations, so it's not like the entire country is being blasted. The problem is that the Israelis have bombed not only Hizbollah whereabouts, but also every major road and port infrastructure that Hizbollah can directly or indirectly use to get in weapons from Syria and Iran. Worst of all is, the number of innocent civilians that are falling is unbelievable. Israel has actually striked on several occassions on pure residential areas with direct hits on residential's total carnage."

From a journalist stationed in Beirut, a warning...

"I just hope there isn't a civil war. I'm convinced that if they send in ANY Western troops as part of an 'international stabilisation force', they will be attacked, and this place will become another Iraq."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Remote assignment

KRRG's Rob Roberts works a remote from a Laredo, Texas location, speaking to the station and its listeners through a telephone.

Big Buck Country, KRRG, 98.1 FM, became a Country radio station earlier this year after the local AM 1490 went the same, but in automation, last year.

Roberts, Starr Murphy and Gil Ray bring in many years between them of on-air experience.

That growing Laredo Country radio market


“Nothing is ever certain in radio, there are always changes being made,” Big Buck Country Program Director Monica Salazar said.
Salazar, 22, has been in radio for almost six years, but knows to keep an eye on the radio, despite it being a sound medium. Salazar also advises to keep an eye on Guerra Communications as it prepares to move to new and larger facilities on Jacaman Road, within sight of the Laredo Entertainment Center. KRRG and sister Tejano station Z-93 move when the building is ready – probably sometime before the end of the year – and regular listeners could raise an eyebrow at the radio and sharpen their hearing for Guerra Communications’ new home.
Salazar says the stations might employ a scrolling marquee, visible to passersby – noting which recording artist and song are on the air and hopes are for more range, too. Big Buck Country’s signal at 98.1 FM is strong in Mexico, extending to the mountains slightly north of Monterrey, but the station would like to turn its antenna around and be heard beyond Pearsall and closer to San Antonio.
Salazar feels the change five months ago from the previous 98 Mix format of contemporary hit radio music is working as intended. She says the main idea from owner Belinda Guerra and previous General Manager Martha Kennedy in going to the country format was to give Laredo a change and is seems to be a positive move with country music veteran regular disc jockeys Gil Ray, Rob Roberts and Starr Murphy leading the charge.
Salazar admits to being primarily a Rock and Roll music fan, but finds country winning her over through the works of singers like Tim McGraw and wife Faith Hill as well as Dierks Bentley.
Salazar sees more appreciation for Country music through the success of television’s “American Idol,” in which several of its singers perform in that genre.
Carrie Underwood, a winner in one recent “Idol” season, is becoming a regular on the Country Top 40 charts. Salazar also believes that crossover stars like Hill, Shania Twain and The Wreckers’ Michelle Branch help introduce more to Country and she sees elements of other genres in some songs. Trace Adkins adds a trace of Hip Hop in his current chart song “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.”
Salazar noted a more emotional “rowdy” response to the switch to Country a few months ago with requests for T-shirts and bumper stickers, but sees the strongest element in local radio success through its personalities. Automation might be the chosen low overhead choice of some radio managers, but not Salazar, or people like new General Manager Jorge Arredondo.
Big Buck Country DJs are frequently out of the office in remote broadcasts from events and businesses, meeting people and turning heads from their portable red-dominated Boom Box and Big Red van. Big Buck Country DJs are not machines.
“People make it more personalized and that’s something we want to stick with,” she said. “Making shows interactive is one of the most important things radio can do. Real persons entertaining persons.”
DJs aren’t machines, but use much more now than did a few decades, or even a few years ago. A DJ can program an entire show in and spend more time preparing for each speaking opportunity.
DJ Gil Ray claims over 30 years in that role. He started in 1974 at the Bonnie and Clyde Club on Arkansas St. and started working in local Country radio in the 1980s at KLAR.
He’s seen those many changes Salazar notes, but knows that not all change is handled correctly, missing potential longtime, loyal listeners.
“When Y95 went Country it was No. 1 overnight, but then they started changing and switched, but I think it’s going to do pretty good. People seem to be listening everywhere,” he said.
Gil Ray believes Laredo is a better Country market now than in past decades because the city has grown rapidly.
“A lot of people have moved in and a lot of people like the Country format,” he said.
Rob Roberts, an Alice native who has worked out of state, sees Laredo as a good Country music market, but primarily for mainstream Country due to its consistent variety in the listener’s ear.
Radio is an uncertain world where many old veterans learn to keep an eye on people entering the building who might appear to be interviewing for their job, and make mental notes of where the haul-it-yourself moving companies are located, but it is beginning to look like Country music might be in Laredo to stay.
The next ratings book is expected by Aug. 3.

Note: A similar print version of this story is available in the July 2006 edition of LareDOS in Laredo, Texas.

Big Boom Box

KRRG disc jockey Rob Roberts steps out from that Laredo radio station's mobile remote unit known as the Boom Box on assignment recently.

The Boom Box is in frequent use by the Guerra Communications stations, which include Tejano station, KJBZ, Z-93.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

In Beirut, Lebanon

In late 2002, a the invitation of good friend Rabih El Khoury, I visited Lebanon, despite all the jitters it might have given others.

Things weren't difficult at that time, but the Syrian occupation was a visible problem and there was turbulence on the horizon with the coming of the U.S.-Iraq war seen. Now, however, Lebanon is in the center of the storm, leaving too many dead and even more terrorized.

Many of these immediate Lebanese victims here in July 2006 have nothing to do with Hezbollah, but are where the bombs, missiles and bullets fall, nevertheless. I certainly hope peace prevails very soon. Most all of this never should have happened, anyway.

I still have very good memories of my trip to Lebanon. It's a beautiful country with many striking scenic sites, great food and really good people. I would like to see it all again, including the sites I missed in that first short trip. Even if I favor a war I dislike war, and this one -- for this American way over here -- seems very much a waste.

I'm sure I would have much stronger words if I was in that region.

Rabih's new blog has some very stunning photos from both peaceful and war moments in Lebanon. His blog is the first listed down on the right of mine.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bobcat alums gathering in Laredo


Laredo alumni of Texas State University, previously known as Southwest Texas State, are growing and seeking members and project support.
Banker colleagues Jim Moore and Robert Treviño are the current chief leaders, aiming toward high school students, hoping to aid those who need some help.
Treviño said the group wants to raise scholarship funds for local high school students; mentor students on Texas State’s pluses and on education in general as well as to mentor parents on the positives of having their children leave home and grow as individuals outside Laredo.
“We realized that Laredo had over 500 Alumni in the area and we decided to get these people together so we could give back to our University and our community,” Treviño said. “We are in no competition with any other organization. In fact we welcome any joint project we can work together on. We all have the same goals Give back to our community and university.”
The University of Texas, St. Mary’s University and Our Lady of The Lake also have active alumni in Laredo.
Treviño feels media attention is important to the Bobcat group, and probably for other alumni groups, to help draw graduates.
“We are in our infancy stage and need all the publicity we can get to grow this organization into a chapter all alumni can be proud,” Treviño said.
Moore frequently updates local alumni on the phenomenal growth at the San Marcos school, noting numerous building changes, land acquisitions and changes in the facilities’ physical appearance.
Moore attended in the 1960s when enrollment was some 2,500. Enrollment has climbed to 27,000 now and TSU has become considerably more selective in its admissions.

Note: A similar print version of this story appears in LareDOS, here in Laredo, Texas.

Election wins don't always follow the money


Are enhanced television through cable and satellite, along with more entertainment offerings in a growing city, burying political commercials?
Results of recent local elections might say Laredo voters either miss those numerous, and sometimes expensive television commercials, newspaper ads and radio spots, or see beyond them.
Money and politics are in an older and more secure marriage than anyone who is, or ever was married or dreamed of being rich, but that relationship isn’t always good enough to assure office. The wealthier, or perceived better-monied candidates for Webb County Judge and Mayor, C.Y. Benavides and John Galo, respectively, came up short in their quests for office against Danny Valdez and Raul Salinas.
“It wasn’t about the money,” Salinas said of his volunteer help, a day after winning a runoff against Galo by 1,008 votes.
Texas A&M International political science professor Nasser Momayezi understands where Salinas is coming from.
“Money, they say, is the mother and milk of politics, but it really depends on how you raise the money and spend the money,” Momayezi said. “Mr. Galo spent a lot of money and look what happened.”
Records at City Hall indicate Galo spent $353,210.43 while Salinas’ campaign treasurer Rogelio Rodriguez says they spent $102,350.70.
Momayezi, author of “Texas Politics: Individuals Making a Difference” and numerous magazine articles, notes Laredoan Tony Sanchez’s unsuccessful run for governor in 2002, despite spending some $73 million.
Momayezi says plenty of special interest groups and people give to political campaigns and candidates have to spend money to gain voter attention, but saw Salinas’ edge through his footwork – trekking the grassroots.
“Out everywhere, he was there and Mr. Galo relied on the TV and turnout was very low,” Momayezi said.
Momayezi felt that local water problems and city government’s bickering with the county over bridges and other issues could have hurt Galo, attempting to move from his city council chair to the mayor’s post. Salinas had never held public office, running after a 35-year FBI career.
Momayezi expected a close race for mayor and saw the water issues as a possible deciding issue. Laredo has long sought a second tap water source, other than the Rio Grande, and shortly before the runoff election a city water failure on the northside couldn’t have pleased anyone.
Valdez moved over from a justice of the peace post to county judge. Benavides came from a business background.
The March 24 edition of the Austin-based Texas Observer, noted Valdez, originally from a city barrio, spending some $160,000 and “rich oilman and rancher” spending some $700,000.
That old money and political success relationship, or formula, isn’t seen as a dying marriage elsewhere. At least not yet.
Jason Stanford, campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, and a consultant and researcher occasionally quoted and interviewed by national news media, sees the strong relationship between money and obtaining a desired office.
“Money is time, and time is the most precious commodity in politics,” Stanford said from his Austin office. “Money allows you to do more work in a finite amount of time.
“The basic rule is that you have to have enough money, but you won’t win just because you have more money.”
Some 50 miles north of Austin, Republican Congressional hopeful Wes Riddle appreciates the differences in money and people between local and Washington DC-aimed races. He hopes to eventually replace John Carter, R-Round Rock, who holds the 31st District seat in the nation’s capital. Riddle left a two-decade Army career before running against Carter once, and writes a column for several newspapers.
“What’s great about a city-wide, is that the threshold for media saturation is also more easily reached,” Riddle said from Belton. “You might say the same thing about a U.S. Congressional race, too, except that a candidate can reach 5-20,000 voters directly through the course of a 6-9 month campaign for mayor.”
Salinas will receive $36,000 per year from Laredo in regular salary.

Note: A similar print version of this story is available in LareDOS, in Laredo, Texas.

Claes with a favorite band

Courtesy photo

Writer, photographer Sean Claes poses with Nooner, one of his several favorite Austin-based bands. Claes has cut a visible path in the Austin music scene, covering it for the last 10 years.

Busy Claes still seeks full-time job


Sean Claes has traded his Spanish for mucha musica in the very musical city of Austin.
The 33-year-old Laredoan has spend a decade cutting his own niche into Austin’s well-known music scene as a freelance writer and photographer when not editing magazines, or promoting any of the several bands there. Add family duties as dad to 2-year-old Marlee with wife Jodie and you have someone hard to track down – unless you type By Sean Claes into almost any Internet search engine – then the trail warms up fast. Claes is in hot pursuit of music news and new sounds and out of his Plum Creek home in Kyle, some 15 miles south of Austin’s music-busy 6th Street. Life has been that way since finishing college in nearby San Marcos 10 years ago; increasing after each review, feature or music news story is published or added to cyberspace.
Claes also serves as publicity chair for his neighborhood newsletter, but daughter Marlee has added more to his rapport with musicians, breaking barriers that a guy with a notepad and a lot of questions can’t.
“We were at a music festival in Gruene. Marlee was with Walt Wilkins’ little boy and she beat Corey Morrow in a foot race,” Claes said from his Kyle home. “It’s nice to see these musicians out of their main element.
“It’s a fun business to be in and things are snowballing for me. It’s a fun ride and I enjoy being able to invite my family into my work circle. It’s nice, so I try to be careful who I’m with.”
Most anyone with Claes is well-known somewhere, or getting there. Some of the bands and musicians he has interviewed include Hootie and the Blowfish, Phil Anselmo, Jet, Los Lonely Boys, Grupo Fantasma, Slayer, Cyril Neville, Jason Mraz, Shadows Fall and Chris Duarte.
Many of Austin’s musicians will never be known beyond the bars and local venues they play in, but a few might be known worldwide and Claes’ scene isn’t about fame. He seeks to soak it in and enjoy the music and inspired words he might not have written, otherwise.
And Claes misses very few opportunities to write, and even fewer to work, despite leaving 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. each night to family priorities regardless of what deadlines might be approaching.
Claes has no shortage of deadlines as editor of Austin’s free monthly entertainment INsite magazine and as music editor for San Antonio’s new quarterly Iungo magazine. Claes estimates spending an hour a day on INsite duties except for two days “solid” on deadline “to make sure it’s done.”
Iungo work takes up some 40 hours every couple of months. The neighborhood newsletter gets some 40 hours a month. It’s bands and music promotion that takes up the rest of his work time, but he is searching for more regular full-time work.
Like any other music writer he would like to write for Rolling Stone, Revolver, or another major magazine, but sees plenty of potential in the promotional side. He is a minority in that field by birth.
“The studios smile if you are not a girlfriend writing press releases,” he said. “There are a lot of bands out there and they are good, but very few get much of a showing when people just walk by the bar and might come in. It’s a business and bands have to approach it with some kind of business sense, or they’re gone tomorrow.
“I’d love to stay here. There are a lot of Americana Country bands I dig.”
Claes says he is talking with several recording studios to become their house
writer, putting together press kit information for bands under their labels.
Claes likes good music regardless of its genre.
“I don’t give negative reviews,” he said. “It’s a waste of space, a disservice to the band and comes off like I’m just stroking my ego.”
Any ego stroking, if needed, could come by training young writers at INsite, which doesn’t pay contributors, but allows entertainment-minded journalists the chance to get a few bylines and enhance their portfolio. Claes points out that a few of his writers have gone on to paying jobs.
Claes wants to improve his life, too, but he likes his neighborhood and the friendly, entertaining ambience the Austin music scene provides.
“Hopefully, I can grow my business, so people outside Austin will call me,” Claes said.
Sean and Jodie together heard the calling of Austin-area music and its important place in their lives the night they were married.
Tying the knot in Oct. 2001 in San Marcos and with the reception in Seguin, they were close enough to Gruene Hall where the Derailers and their bass playing neighbor Ed Adkins were playing. The new couple showed up in tux and wedding dress and left when they heard Derailer number “There Goes the Bride.”
They continue to frequently find themselves at that band’s gigs to the point of being almost too familiar.
“We thought we were going to be arrested as Derailers stalkers,” Claes said, chuckling.
Notes: If you want to attempt to keep up with the very busy Sean Claes look online at:,, and many, many other Internet sites. Claes also has a photo exhibit up at Kyle’s Lucky Cup Coffee Shop.
Bands Claes is working with:
Shawn Fussell Band - (; Jason Allen Band - (; Hellapeño - (

Note: A print version, similar to this blog-posted story appears in the July issue of LareDOS, found in Laredo, Texas.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Country song with accent on this country

Big and Rich's new hit country song "8th of November" about the first major encounter for the 173rd Airborne in Vietnam is a very thought-provoking number and worth a listen for those who usually don't lend an ear to that genre.

Rather than the more common redneck stand up and salute the flag, support the president, etc., this one sounds more like an old Irish song in melody and rhythm as it laments the heavy losses suffered by the greatly outnumbered U.S. unit. The accompanying video on country music channels like Great American Country (GAC), using the photos of those American soldiers lost in the fight in 1965 is haunting., a wealth of good music information, has an online copy of the lyrics, and they are worth a look, too.


"8th Of November"

"Said goodbye to his momma as he left South DakotaTo fight for the red, white and blue
He was 19 and green with a new M-16
Just doing what he had to do
He was dropped in the jungle where the choppers would rumble
With the smell of napalm in the air
And the sergeant said...look up ahead
Like a dark evil cloud, 1,200 came down on him and 29 more
They fought for their lives but most of them died in the 173rd Airborne


On the 8th of November the angels were crying
As they carried his brothers away
With the fire raining down and the hell all around
There were few men left standing that day
Saw the eagle fly through a clear blue sky
1965, the 8th of November
Now he's 58 and his pony tail's gray
But the battle still plays in his head
He limps when he walks but he's strong when he talks
About the Shrapnel they left in his leg
He puts on a gray suit over his Airborne tattoo
And he ties it on one time a year
And remembers the fallen as he orders a tall one
And swallows it down with his tears


Saw the eagle fly through a clear blue sky
1965...On the 8th of November the angels were crying
As they carried his brother away
With the fire raining down and the hell all around
There were few men left standing that day..."

It's been a while since Vietnam and it may take us a while longer to really put it in its correct place in this country's history, but every little lesson gets us a little closer, and should make us question those who make the decisions to send young people off to war. There's nothing easy about any of it.