Trump’s Texas Tests

In a year that included an election where everyone lost money in the office pool (and Clinton lost far more); a protest that actually accomplished something; and a scandal that rocked not only the DNC, but the collective American political system, there was bound to be some residual damage. Some are happy with the results of the election while others are still threatening to use their passports to escape an evil president-elect who makes them cry. Truth is, there are more than a few red flags on the horizon reminding us that just because it happened in 2016 doesn’t mean it won’t follow us into 2017. You can be sure Trump will be put to the test.

Up first, big oil – also known as the black snake in Sioux territory; fossil fuels in the Rockefeller circles in New York and paychecks in many homes across the country.

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The Drama

This time last year, those who held a stake in the Energy Transfer family watched closely as several events unfolded. At the end of September, the company’s owner, Kelcy Warren, announced a merger between Energy Transfer Equity and Williams Companies ($WMB) that would be worth more than $37 billion. There were many questions, including a few about Warren’s ethics – from both personal and business perspectives. Initially, his efforts in acquiring Williams were unwelcomed. The first offer made to Williams was for more than $53 billion. Two months later, it was worth around $37 billion. Williams accepted the offer, recognizing any kind of recovery in the sector would be slow; it opted to cut its losses.

As 2016 kicked off, there were cracks in Warren’s golden egg. There was little doubt the deal was going south and eventually, a judge allowed Warren to rescind the offer based on some tax loophole. Even as this was unfolding, Warren was taking steps to cover his assets. In a SEC filing, he disclosed the “completion of issuance of convertible units” which would allow a few investors to “receive the Preferred Distribution Amount”. It was legal, even if it was underhanded. By the time this bad deal was put to rest, Energy Transfer’s CFO Jamie Welch had left the company and filed his own lawsuits against his former employer.

#NoDAPL

This summer, setbacks continued. This time, it was the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says the pipeline is too close to its primary sources of drinking water. The Tribe is ~10,000 strong and located mostly in the Dakotas. What’s awe-inspiring is the way they’ve carried out the months-long protests. They’ve drawn thousands of supporters and have a GoFundMe campaign that’s collected more than one million dollars, making it one of the most successful in GoFundMe’s history.

The protesters have been peaceful. Law enforcement, on the other hand, used high-pressured water cannons and “concussion grenades”, against protesters. These crowd control efforts led to many injuries, many serious enough to require medical attention. There’s been at least one injury to the arm of a protester who still may lose it and another protester may lose her eyesight. Dogs from different law enforcement agencies have also attacked protesters.

The Army Corp of Engineers issued a ruling earlier this month that effectively halted the progress of the pipeline. It should be noted the pipeline is nearly complete – less than 1 mile remains unfinished. It’s costing millions every month the protests continue and the project remains unfinished.

Warren has become the villain of the natural gas and oil industry. When the ruling came down earlier this month, he immediately declared it“politically motivated” and that drilling would continue with no reroute to bypass the area that’s being contested. The company lost another battle this past week when a judge refused to allow the drilling to continue and instead said the court would hear arguments at the end of January.

Here’s where it gets interesting. If the pipeline’s not finished by January 1, 2017, the companies involved can opt to renegotiate the contract or they can simply walk away. That’s the likely scenario. The initial contract was signed when oil was closer to $100 a barrel versus the $45 per barrel it is today. There was a justifiable use for the new pipeline three years ago, but these days, the oil fields aren’t at capacity, again, courtesy of the collapse in the energy sector. Whether anyone wants to admit it, there’s really no reason for adding to the intricate freeway of underground gas and oil pipes that crisscross through this continent. Major investments are being made in cleaner energy sources and that is not going to change.

From The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis report:

Because the economic prospects for Bakken oil producers have dimmed dramatically since early 2014, oil shippers…may attempt to renegotiate terms when ETP misses its Jan. 1 deadline, seeking concessions on contracted volumes, prices, or contract duration. Moreover, if oil prices remain low, as projected, Bakken oil production will continue to decline, and existing pipeline and refinery capacity in the Bakken will be more than adequate to handle the region’s oil production. If production continues to fall, DAPL could well become a stranded asset—one that was rushed to completion largely to protect favorable contract terms negotiated in 2014.

Texas Taxes

As if all of that weren’t enough, Energy Transfer is now in the crosshairs of the tax man. Texas, like every other state, offers incentives for companies. One controversial program has been manipulated in such a way that allowed Warren’s companies to claim more than $250 million in tax breaks. In a five-year period between 2011 and current day, there have been at least 15 deals uncovered that link to the Texas Economic Development Act, which is touted as the state’s largest corporate welfare program. This story broke a few days ago and has the potential to snowball.

The Trouble with Trump

So how does the new president fit into all of this? Trump has consistently come out on the side of ETP. He’s vowed to undo the Army’s project halt as well as anything Obama tries to do in his final days in office. By the time Trump takes office in late January, it may be too late since the contracts expire January 1. Trump received campaign donations and up until a few weeks ago, he had investments the ETE family.

Two things happened as I was writing this and there are bound to be huge uproars:

Trump is expected to announce he’s chosen Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, as Secretary of State this morning. The question is: will Exxon be allowed to run with the $500 billion deal with Russia it worked out before the sanctions hit? He’s not the only Texan who will be named part of the Trump team later today. There’s a lot of debate when it comes to Putin’s own motives, but we need Russia as an ally. We must find a way to rebuild those important, though fragile relationships with the countries Obama spent 8 years tearing down.

Trump is also expected to formally announce he’s tapped his one-time political foe and former Texas Governor Rick Perry to oversee the Energy Department. Perry was given a lucrative position on the Energy Transfer Partners board in February 2015. The Houston Chronicle offered, “Life outside the governor’s mansion has proven profitable for Rick Perry”. You may recall this was around the time Perry was facing felony charges in Texas, but that didn’t serve as any kind of speed bump for Warren. When Perry announced he was running for president a few months later, it was Warren who greased the financial wheels. And now, Perry will likely be named as the head of the Energy Department in the Trump Administration.

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Here We Go – #JadeHelm Insanity

For months, we’ve been hearing about the world coming to an end, courtesy of our very own military. Jade Helm training exercises have begun in several states, including Texas and yes, even right here in Mississippi. There have been more than a few times – no, actually, there have been 9,129 times – I’ve rolled my eyes at some of the ridiculous theories behind this “ultra secret” effort – despite the many public hearings the collective military has offered. And let’s not forget the pictures and videos these goobers are using as their proof. People act as though these are all signs of war – by our own country against our own country! Now, though, things have reached an entirely new level.

My fellow Americans – we’ve nothing to worry about. No, really…the Counter Jade Helm Company has arrived. This group of folks is taking a stand, or rather, a place. They’re taking a place right behind all of the various tankers and other vehicles. They’re following them. My God. They are actually following them. They say they’re simply being vigilant. Great.

Here’s why this bothers me to my core:

Every time one of these crackpots opens his mouth, he’s basically disrespecting the best military in the world. That could include one of his own family members. Every single time he tweets that he’s in “hot pursuit”, he’s saying, “I don’t trust our military”. It’s a kick in the teeth for every man and woman who ever stepped up to the plate to do what most of us could never succeed in accomplishing. It’s a kick in the teeth to my best friend, who by the way, is also moving his wife and son back to Mississippi, even as he’s preparing for these exercises. He’s not worried about his fellow troops. It’s called common sense.

Worse (and this is what’s really infuriating) it’s a kick in the teeth to my dad, who fought in Vietnam and then returned home, fell in love with and married a woman who happened to have a bit of baggage. I am that baggage.

And for all of those who say it’s all on Obama and he’s the one directing these “exercises”, let me tell you a quick story:

My dad and I have this ongoing joke between us. I walk into their house and all bets are off – we instantly turn into these crazy people talking politics. I tease him about our current president and how I know he’s really a Democrat. That usually turns the attention to my mom and I say, “Bet you didn’t know you married a Democrat.” And without fail…EVERY SINGLE TIME….Daddy says, “I got something for Barack and Michelle” (that’s what he calls them) and he reaches into his pocket. On cue and like clockwork, Mom follows suit and reaches into her purse. I swear, I fall for it every time. I know exactly what’s about to happen, but yet, I’m waiting. Both of them pull their hands out and with their middle fingers, and only their middle fingers, showing. Better than a George Burns and Gracie Allen skit, those two. They just laugh and laugh and if you’re in the same room, you laugh and laugh too.

Even Einstein sees the humor.

Even Einstein seems the humor.

My point is: don’t underestimate any member of our military. I have great confidence that it would take far more than the word from a president even our military does not trust to cause our brothers, best friends, fathers, sisters and mothers to turn against their own. No one – and I mean no one – could possibly love this country more than those who are willing to die for it.

So do us all a favor – direct your attention to those things that really do matter and that truly are a threat to this country. I promise you – if all hell breaks loose in this country during these Jade Helm exercises, my happy ass is running towards them, not away from them. They’re the ones who are going to protect us – even the jackasses who are trying to catch them doing something wrong.

35 Years and the Original Urban Cowgirl Gets the Last Line

For most of us, and certainly for those of us in the south, there are names that are synonymous with Texas: cowboys, oil, George Bush, Gilley’s and of course, Urban Cowboy. Hard to believe, but it’s been 35 years since the film’s release. Urban Cowboy was ambitious; let’s be honest – what are the odds of a Jersey boy morphing into a believable cowboy out of small town Texas – and one who could actually two-step and waltz? See, that’s the thing about odds: once proven, they matter little. I was always sure it was the influence of the true Texans, especially those we get to know in the film, that really pulled out John Travolta’s inner cowboy – and boy did they!

Debra Winger (l), Jessie La Rive (c), John Travolta (r)

Debra Winger (l), Jessie La Rive (c), John Travolta (r)

One of those influences was Jessie La Rive Mapes, who played Debra Winger’s best friend throughout the film. This Texas girl’s character was a spitfire and as I’ve learned over the past few days, it most certainly comes natural. Jessie was gracious and was willing to spend a little time with me on memory lane, and as I learned (and always suspected), the authenticity of a film often comes down to director’s leap of faith and trusting the talent of his actors.

Jessie had worked at Gilley’s prior to filming. She ran the bull and worked in the kitchen when she wasn’t working at her “regular job”. She said, “I was driving a wrecker at the time we started filming so they thought it would be fun if Sissy was the one driving the wrecker. It all worked out.”

There are people in life who you look at and you just know that each knows all the dirt on the other – and it’s OK because of the deep loyalty between the two, especially when it comes to women. Lord knows I have a couple of

Photo Courtesy: Jessie La Rive Mapes

Jessie’s 21st birthday gift: her first plane ride with John Travolta as her pilot. (Photo Courtesy: Jessie La Rive Mapes)

friends who know where the bodies are hidden. Those friends are rare and when we find them, we just know the treasures that they are. Jessie (Jessie LaRive Mapes) and Sissy (Debra Winger) were so seamless in their interactions with one another that you wonder if maybe they didn’t grow up as school girl friends.

I asked Jessie, “I’ve always noticed how Jessie and Sissy really meshed throughout the film. The two characters really complemented one another. Was it like that with Jessie and Debra offset, that made it believable in your roles onscreen?”

Jessie: “Debra and I hit it off immediately, so we were really good friends on the set and hung out after filming would finish. We had a lot of fun between scenes and would usually go to lunch together when we had time.”

She then goes on to tell me about their “fight”.

Jessie: “…in fact, we had to actually get into a fight to get mad enough to film the scene at Stoney’s when Bud and Wes were fighting in the parking lot.  We couldn’t stop laughing, so we went out back and literally started a cat fight just to pull the scene off.”

Fans of the film saw how Jessie went to bat for her best friend when Bud (Travolta) wouldn’t “allow” Sissy (Winger) to ride the bull. Her “Bud, I think you oughta let her ride it” line is so typical of what we women say; it’s not so much of a suggestion, but more of a, “Get the hell out of her way and let her do her thing.” When I asked her about that and whether it’s something she’d really say to her best friend’s husband, she made it clear how much she values her friends.

Jessie: “I am loyal to a fault and will always stand up for my friends. So yes, when I defended Sissy that is a “me” thing. 

Here’s a really fascinating truth: all of Jessie’s lines were adlibbed. She said, “They would give me an idea of what they wanted and I just played off that.” Unfortunately, the line where she tells Bud to kiss her ass was cut. She said there was careful editing because of some of the language.

What she told me next still has me in awe. I’d asked her about her favorite “behind the scenes” moment. She said it was the scene at Stoney’s when Bud and Wes found themselves in a fight in the parking lot.

Jessie: “I had just given birth to my son the day before and had to come back for the shoot that next night. When we talk about how sore I was (from riding the bull that day) I was being truthful. The Director, Jim Bridges, had a motor home in the back and hired a nanny to watch my son while we shot scenes.  In between each scene I would go out to the motor home and be with him until it was time for the next shot.”

I remember that scene well: The Eagles playing on the jukebox, Bud yelling at the waitress and a hamburger hurled towards Wes (played by Scott Glenn). The next thing we see is Jessie physically restraining Sissy so that she’s out of the line of fire coming from the parking lot brawl. And Jessie had just given birth to her son hours earlier.

And speaking of Wes Hightower (Glenn), he is the epitome of the bad boy that breaks hearts as he goes, each woman more convinced than the one before that she can “fix” him. This brings us to my next question for Jessie. I’d ask her if there was a favorite scene that stood out for her.

Jessie and best friend Betty, the real life Sissy who married the real Bud, Dew Westbrook

Jessie and best friend Betty, the real life Sissy who married the real Bud, Dew Westbrook (Photo Courtesy of Jessie La Rive Mapes)

Jessie: “My favorite scene has to be the shot in the trailer when Wes drinks to worm in the Mescal.  Debra and I sat back and watched him do about ten takes on that scene and for every worm he ate, we drank a shot to cheer him on. That was a long day.  There also was a scene that Debra and I shot just the two of us, playing on the bull with a beer in our hands.  It turned into an all-out beer fight, we were spraying beer everywhere on anyone that got close to us!  I wish they had left that scene in.”

That tiny trailer. A lot went on in that space. From the scene Jessie describes above to Wes owning up to the fact that Sissy was expecting too much, “You can’t expect a man like me to be faithful to any woman,” it was a great contrast to the vast space that defined Gilley’s

I asked Jessie, “Crazy as this sounds, I’ve always wanted to know if there was really a small trailer behind Gilley’s. Real trailer or Hollywood creativity?”

Jessie: “There was never a trailer behind the club. That was something that the director decided would work well with the plot. Also, watch the scenes that were shot at the trailer park. There are no mountains in Deer Park, Texas.  We shot those scenes in California along with the last scenes at the club where Wes robbed the office. Those scenes were shot on a sound stage at Paramount Pictures.”

These days, Jessie is recording a CD and she’s hoping to have it ready in time for the Urban Cowboy reunion in June (be sure to follow her on Twitter @urbancwgirl). She and Debra didn’t keep in touch after the film wrapped, but I get the sense that those amazing souls who made Urban Cowboy the incredible film that it is are as loyal as the day is long. Sometimes, actors can be led into creating believable work. Other times, it just falls into place.

Once you’ve seen it unfold and fall into place, from the opening scenes in Bud’s hometown to the marriage waltz across Gilley’s dance floor to Pam’s view of her Houston proper, it becomes a favorite. I won’t say I’ve kept my copy of Urban Cowboy updated with changing technology. I mean, it’s not like I had the beta tape, the VHS tape, DVD and blu ray. But maybe I did. I also happen to know you can see it on demand on Netflix. Hell, who am I kidding, anyone who knows me knows that’s true. Below is the official Paramount Movies trailer. You can see Jessie in the trailer and also Bud’s (Travolta) amazing hoedown.

I am so grateful Jessie La Rive Mapes was willing to share some of her stories and photos with me. For me, this is far more than just a column for the 35th anniversary of Urban Cowboy.

As for Jessie, the Original Urban Cowgirl, she gets the last line and even then, she’s the true best friend. Sissy’s worried about her car getting home. As Bud and Sissy begin their “happily ever after”, Jessie hollers across the parking lot:

“Don’t worry about it, Sissy!”

Grab Your Stetsons, We’re 2-Steppin’ to Dallas

48 hours and counting….

I was thrilled to be able to preview the 2 hour return of Dallas, which premieres Wednesday on TNT. As excited as I’ve been the past year and a half (I mean seriously….I’ve always been vocal about my crush on JR Ewing…don’t judge me), I was concerned it would suffer an early death much like the efforts of other classic reprises (think Charlie’s Angels on ABC last year). I can tell you it goes far and beyond any high Imageexpectations any of us could have had.

Even at its height in the 1980s, the writers seemed to be creating their magic with the mindset of, “Get out of my way…to hell with political correctness”. Of course, it was the 80s – so pushing the envelope then was a nice, slow waltz compared to what writers create these days. It’s a sure-enough, down-home, giddy-up three step with TNT’s efforts of developing a plot line without compromising the foundation that made Dallas such a guilty pleasure.

I’m always cautious of a premiere that appears to focus too heavily on perfect hair, perfect make-up, perfectly designed wardrobes – give me a little imperfection so that it’s more authentic. Anytime you’re dealing with a fictional TV family that’s loaded to the gills with riches (even if the plot line includes worries about going broke), you’re bound to be hit with unrealistic appearances. Like the first go-round, there exists the right balance with what we’re seeing and the story we’re being told. The women are vain and concerned with appearances, but like any true Texas girl, she wants her man to look as powerful as she’s trying to make him. She knows if she can pull that off, it can only add to her own presentation.

The most important aspect for me, though, was this isn’t a “new” Dallas; the efforts were made – and successfully, I might add – to pick up in many ways where the original story line dropped off. We’re being introduced to the new generation but we’re not losing any of the greed, narcissistic and jealous qualities of the original cast. J.R. Ewing reins supreme: “Ah, you know I hate to hit below the belt – but ya know I will”. Bobby is still trying to save souls while making sure he doesn’t become jaded in the process. The focus is still on oil – after all, “oil” has always been a character in and of itself in Dallas. Now, though, the problems between J.R. and Bobby, and ultimately their sons, is on whether or not the Ewing land will continue to be a drilling field or if it will become a more muted conservatory. Guess which brother wants more oil rigs. The only obstacle even these brilliant writers couldn’t overcome – Barbara Bel Geddes, who played the sweet Miss Ellie in the original series, passed away in 2005.

Their two sons – perfect casting – perfection, I tell you! They manage to capture the qualities of their respective fathers while bringing entirely new dynamics into the game. And by the way, if you’re as hokey as I am and can appreciate a multifaceted man who masters ulterior motives and all the other less than noble human emotions, then J.R. Ewing is definitely your man. Two words: explosive genius.

Don’t miss this one. Seriously – do not miss this one.

Dallas premieres on TNT Wednesday, June 13 at 8 pm central time.

OK…so to get you in the mindset, here are a few tidbits of info you never knew and your life isn’t better because you know them now (or maybe it is). Just random info from the late 70s, early/mid 80s:

Dallas premiered in April 1978 as a mini-series, but was so popular, CBS took a chance – and never looked back. The series ran until 1991, making it the second longest drama series in TV history. Gunsmoke reined supreme, but since then, Law & Order has tied Gunsmoke – both were on the air for two decades.

Did Dallas inspire Urban Cowboy (my all time fave movie) or did Urban Cowboy inspire Dallas? This is one of those questions right up there with “Who shot JR?”

Bee Gees DOMINATED the music charts. Saturday Night Fever was red-hot in 1979.

Also, and this is interesting – keep in mind John Travolta was in three of the biggest films in the U.S. during this time span between ’77 and ’81: Grease, Saturday Night Fever and, of course, Urban Cowboy

The best seasons were between ’84 and ’86. Ronald Reagan was president (what I’d give for those days) and the music – oh the music from those years…

1984

When Doves Cry – Prince

What’s Love Got To Do With It – Tina Turner

Jump – Van Halen

Like A Virgin – Madonna

Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) – Phil Collins

Footloose – Kenny Loggins

1985

Can’t Fight This Feeling – REO Speedwagon

Cherish – Kool and the Gang

I Want To Know What Love Is – Foreigner

Money For Nothing – Dire Straits

Careless Whisper – Wham

1986

You Give Love a Bad Name – Bon Jovi

Stuck With You – Huey Lewis and the News

Addicted to Love – Robert Palmer

Someday – Glass Tiger

This Week’s “A Day Spent With a Redneck Would Do You a World of Good” Inductees

I don’t even know where to start. There were several news stories last week that had my blood boiling. People have just lost their minds – there’s no other way to put it. Then I stop and realize that if I’d behaved the way any of these people below behaved, my mom would’ve had a “come to Jesus” meeting with me in about two seconds flat. You can be sure that little get-together would’ve started with, “Decent people don’t behave that way – what is wrong with you?” So now, here are this week’s folks who need either “a day spent with a redneck” or their own “come to Jesus” meeting – or both!

  • First up is not a single person, but rather a group of people who are a collective waste of oxygen. Last week, a California man was crossing a busy roadway when he was run over not once, but twice, by passing cars. Both drivers fled the scene. A woman who saw these accidents ran out to help the man, who was then lying in the middle of the street. She was then struck by yet another vehicle. This driver not only stopped, but jumped out to help the now two injured people who were lying in the roadway. This third driver was met by a mob of people who ran into the scene and began beating him as he was getting out of his car. They stole his cell before he was able to get back into his vehicle. He remained nearby and once police arrived, he returned to the scene and was able to identify one of those who’d jumped him. This is by far the worse of human nature I’ve seen in awhile. The two fleeing motorists and those who took advantage of someone trying to do the right thing should be dropped off on a thousand acres of land that have a thousand ponds in the middle of a Mississippi summer where the mosquitoes can wreak havoc.
  • Next we have the evil idiot in Idaho who, when he discovered his wife had won $190 million in the lottery, declared “That’s awesome! I won’t have to pay child support!” Not only is Josh Lahti a worthless father, he also is a worthless husband and human being. He’s been arrested in the past for abusing the wife he’s yet to divorce. They’ve been separated for years, though were not legally divorced. It’s likely his wife, Holly Lahti, would have loved nothing more than to divorce this moron, but she was too busy supporting her daughters as a customer service representative for a bank in her hometown. From all accounts, she is quiet, keeps to herself and sticks to her routine of going to work each day and spending the rest of her time with her daughters. Her husband, on the other hand, says he spends “most days” with his daughters. That’s difficult to believe, considering his arrest record goes back for at least ten years. His charges included everything from possession of drug paraphernalia to kidnapping to domestic abuse. Holly Lahti has now gone into hiding with her ten year old and twelve year old daughters. I sincerely hope that there’s not a judge in Idaho that will allow this jerk a single penny of his wife’s good fortune. In fact, I think he should be put in jail until he’s current with every single penny of his child support or until his wife can not only get a divorce, but have his parental rights severed. Come to think of it, maybe they can put him on the same plane that’ll be dropping those California idiots into the Mississippi woods.
  • Will someone please disable Jesse James’s Twitter account before I divert the Mississippi-bound plane through Texas to pick him up? I admit, there was a time, pre-Michelle McGee, that I liked him. I even had a picture on Facebook of him standing next to me at 2004 Steel Pony in New Orleans. Even his divorce due to his betrayal didn’t really cause too much of an eye roll; however, his choices since then have really caused me to wonder what is wrong with this goofball. His new fiance, Kat Von D, has caused the emotionless egghead to take to Twitter to declare he’s “the luckiest MoFo in the world” and he’s “never felt so loved”. Really? He put that out there? He then announces he broke his hiatus from Twitter just so he could “publicly profess” his love for this woman. Oh – and his definition of a perfect woman? One who gets him a sniper rifle for Christmas. Fair warning, Jesse James – when you hear my plane overhead swooping down to bring you on board, you’d better not so much as even look at that damn sniper rifle. Like it or not, you need a trip to Mississippi. What an idiot!

As frustrating as these folks are that we must share the human race with, there are some winners this past week. I’ll be putting those up over the next couple of days. In the meantime, let me know who you think should be on this list.