Friday August 26th, 2005
by: Ed Mayberry, August 26, 2005 5:08:00 am
Texas gas prices climbed again this week. The weekly AAA Texas gas price survey shows regular self-serve average at a record $2.55 in Texas. That's almost two cents higher than last week and 66 cents higher than last year's average. But this week's increase was far less than last week's record 22 cent increase. Houston prices are up almost a penny to just over $2.57 a gallon. Dallas again had the state high with $2.62 per gallon--up two cents. San Antonio had the cheapest with an average of $2.48 per gallon--up more than a penny. Beaumont was the only city in the survey to post a decrease this week--and that was just a penny to $2.51 a gallon. The national average showed a two-cent increase to $2.60. That's still a penny less than the record set August 22nd. AAA Texas spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says that speculators' fears over the approach of Hurricane Katrina pushed crude prices above $67 a barrel. That's despite forecasts that the hurricane would miss Gulf of Mexico oil rigs.
A contentious Air Force proposal that would reconfigure the Air National Guard and F-16's at Ellington Field is still to be considered by the federal base closure commission. The F-16 jets belonging to the 147th National Guard unit would not be retired until 2007. President Bush was based at the field south of Houston during the Vietnam War. The Base Closure and Realignment Commission has been voting since Wednesday on Pentagon proposals to streamline the U. S. military with mixed results for Texas. When the commission wraps up, its report will be sent to President Bush, who has said he would accept the BRAC recommendations.
The base closing commission has voted to keep open Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and not move its B-1 bombers to Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene. The Pentagon had recommended that Ellsworth be closed and its bomber fleet consolidated with the Dyess fleet. It also recommended that 30 C-130's be moved from Dyess to three other bases. But the Base Realignment and Closure Committee voted eight-to-one to recommend that the plan be scrapped. The vote to keep the bombers at Ellsworth Air Force Base came amid fears that consolidating the bombers at a single base might pose a national security risk. Ellsworth has 29 B-1-b's.
Other actions by BRAC: move the Standard Air Munitions Package (STAMP)/Standard Tank, Rack, Adaptor, and Pylon Packages (STRAPP) function from Lackland Air Force Base, Medina Annex to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, and transfer the mission to the Air National Guard. Proposal affects 107 jobs; transfer fixed-wing pilot training, introduction to fighter fundamentals training for pilots and introduction to fighter fundamentals training for weapons systems officers from Georgia to Laughlin Air Force Base near Del Rio; also transfer introduction to fighter fundamentals training for weapons systems officers to Sheppard Air Force Base near Wichita Falls; transfer undergraduate navigator training at Randolph Air Frce Base, San Antonio to Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida.
Earlier this year, the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance began providing the poor in about 30 countries with small loans, as well as insurance, savings, education and health accounts. The president of the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for the Southwestern USA is Shabnum Lutafali, who teaches finance at the University of Houston-Downtown.
Dr. Lutafali says the microfinance concept started in the 19th century, but failed to make a significant change in the level of poverty. Now the concept has been expanded to help eliminate the economic exclusion of the poor.
The Aga Khan Institute goes beyond making loans, adding other services that allow borrowers to become self-sufficient.
A Partnership Walk to raise funds for the program is set for September 25th at the University of Houston.
Dr. Lutafali says it's not money that the real issue--it's eliminating the cultural and social exclusion that's important.
A former energy trader with Houston-based El Paso Corporation is in more legal trouble. Forty-four-year-old Donald Burwell of Dallas faces more charges of reporting to industry publications bogus trade data that's used to calculate natural gas index prices. U. S. attorney Chuck Rosenberg in Houston announced a grand jury has returned a revised indictment against Burwell. He's facing additional counts of wire fraud and reporting fake trades during 2000. The defense says Burwell did not defraud anyone and that the government simply misunderstands the index reporting process and its effect on consumers. Burwell faces trial in October.
Texas has sued a company that's accused of trade deception by posing as a state agency. Attorney General Greg Abbott today announced the lawsuit targets a company called Texas Corporate Compliance. The suit filed in El Paso alleges the company sends letters to Texas businesses, warning that they may be violating the law if they haven't filed annual minutes of their official meetings. The letters bears a seal resembling that on official correspondence from the Texas Secretary of State's office. The letter tells the companies that they must send a $125 fee within ten business days to the company to ensure compliance. Investigators say the return address on the correspondence is an Austin mail drop.
Russia Jet Direct began a new weekly service to Russia's Sakhalin Island from George Bush Intercontinental Airport this morning. Houston-based oil company employees and executives regularly visit Sakhalin, which is the site of exploration and refining off Russia's east coast. Russia Jet Direct says the service will reduce by more than half the time established carriers need to take passengers to the region. Flights are still 15 hours long, and 14 hours on the return flight.
American Airlines is raising prices on cargo shipments--beginning September 5th. Fort Worth-based American is upping the rates due to higher costs for jet fuel. American is raising the fuel surcharge on cargo from 18 cents to 20 cents per pound for shipments within the U. S. The fee increases from 45 cents to 50 cents per kilogram on most U. S. shipments for foreign delivery. Government figures show that U. S. jet fuel prices have risen about 60 percent from one year ago. American and other U. S. carriers also cited higher fuel costs in recent fare increases.
The fourth-largest U. S. chemical maker, Woodlands-based Huntsman Corporation, has temporarily shut down its Port Neches plant for unscheduled repairs for about 48 days, according to the Houston Business Journal. The shutdown will reduce third-quarter revenue by about $30 million. The plant produces 260 million gallons of MBTE, a chemical added to gasoline to increase combustion.
The Downtown Entertainment District has launched a validated parking program for Friday and Saturday evenings from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m., utilizing Market Square Parking Garage on Milam and Chase Parking Garage on Travis. Patrons can park their cars for $5 per vehicle at either garage and take their voucher to any of 18 validation venues in the downtown district for a $5 credit.
Drug-maker Merck might consider settling some lawsuits over its painkiller, Vioxx, but there won't be any blanket agreements. A spokesman for the company's legal department says Merck will make "reasonable decisions'' but won't enter into any kind of "global settlement.'' A lawyer for the company tells the New York Times that Merck will consider settling suits brought by people who took Vioxx for long periods of time and had few other risk factors for heart disease. New Jersey-based Merck pulled Vioxx nearly a year ago when a study showed it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for 18 months or longer. A state district court jury in the Southeast Texas city of Angleton last week awarded $253 million in one suit. At a hearing in New Orleans, lawyers handling another case said at least 5,000 lawsuits have been filed.
A consortium of vendors says it has been unfairly penalized by the recent freeze of Dallas schools' computer funds and has called for a federal agency to release the money. Universal Service Administrative Company, which collects and disburses money for the E-Rate Technology-in-Schools Program, froze the funds following newspaper reports of the relationship between a major computer vendor and Dallas public school officials. The vendors also say recent news reports have cast a negative light on the good work they've done wiring Dallas Independent School District campuses to the Internet. Universal Service questioned practices revealed in an investigation by the Dallas Morning News including a school computer official's use of a fishing boat owned by the executives of the vendor.
Baker Hughes in Houston today reports the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U. S. increased by four this week--to reach 1,444. One year ago the rig count was 1,239. Texas gained one rig.