Monday AM December 10th, 2007

Houston Area Urban League stages event to help financially empower African Americans...Texas delegation backs study of wait times at border and impact on business...Toll-free hot line about freezing subprime mortgage interest rate inundated...

The Houston Area Urban League helped stage the Economic Empowerment Tour, which stopped in Houston last week. The National Urban League's Mark Morial says the tour is designed to give minorities the tools they need to improve financially.

"Help them learn about how to buy a home and prepare to buy a home and even now learn how to hold on to the home they have in this subprime mortgage crisis. Learn about jobs and training and opportunities for better jobs. Learn about small business development, and how, if they are a small business owner or an aspiring small business owner, how they can connect to resources here in the Houston community. The National Urban League and its affiliate the Houston Area Urban League have made economic empowerment the civil rights issue of the 21st century, and this summit focuses on that."

The National Urban League has been active since 1910.

"I thinks it's evolved. I think the Urban League's mission has always been focused around economic opportunity. But it's sharpened, because it's more than just jobs. It's also now about home ownership and asset accumulation and financial literacy and savings and investing. It's about business development. It's about insuring that African Americans can participate in every aspect of the Houston economy--the growth that's taking place, whether it's in the energy industry, the financial services industry or the health care industry. How can we push that, encourage that?" Ed: "You've had some success with corporate partnerships." "Yeah, we've got here in Houston the special, special benefit of having our own board chair, John Hofmeister of Shell, call Houston home. We've got Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Geico and Ford Motor Company as our sponsors. And I think it underscores that these major companies understand the importance of the emerging urban communities.

Ford's Pamela Alexander says last week's event fits well with Ford's priority of education.

"From our perspective, we call it the education roadway. And education is a never-ending process. So we're really happy to partner with the National Urban League because in this program we're educating people about home ownership, entrepreneurships—things that you need later in life but that you still sometimes need to have exposure to tools and resources that will help you get to that goal. So something's that's very exciting for us traveling around the country so that we're able to touch a lot of people and a lot of communities."

Carmen Watkins with the Houston Area Urban League says the group's efforts don't end with that one-day gathering.

"We work year-round. This is just an introduction for some. Some people that you will meet have been, have met the Urban League before. But this is the beginning of a partnership from our constituency and our partners."

In its 2007 "State of Black America" report, the National Urban League found that the economic status of African Americans is just 57 percent of that of white Americans.


Some Texans in Washington are backing legislation requiring studies of wait times at border entry sites and their impact on business. The bill requires the Transportation and Commerce Departments, with help from Homeland Security, to study wait times and any negative economic impact. Stepped-up inspections this year on the U.S. and Canada borders have led to lines nearly as long as they were after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The bill is authored by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and San Antonio Congressman Ciro Rodriguez. Co-sponsors are Congressmen Silvestre Reyes of El Paso and Solomon Ortiz of Corpus Christi. Beginning January 31st, U.S. and Canadian citizens must show government-issued photo IDs and proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Oral declarations of citizenship will no longer be accepted.


Be ready to wait if you want to get information from a toll-free hot line about freezing your subprime mortgage interest rate. Right after President Bush outlined a plan to help strapped homeowners, callers were told to have patience until a counselor could answer their questions and "devote as much time to you as necessary.'' Once they do get through, homeowners may not find the answers they sought. One caller to the hot line (1-888-995-HOPE) was told there would be "lots of hoops to jump through'' to obtain the five-year freeze. The rate hold goes to the heart of the relief effort for people with subprime mortgages, which are loans offered to borrowers with tarnished credit or low incomes. President Bush acknowledged the plan is "no perfect solution.'' Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said it was not a "silver bullet.'' Only a fraction of the homeowners who face huge jumps in their mortgage payments appear likely to be helped by the plan, negotiated by the Bush administration, to freeze the low introductory rates on their subprime loans for five years. And after that, they could be in the same position again.


ConocoPhillips expects its 2008 capital spending budget to increase by more than 13 percent over this year. The Houston-based company set a budget of $15.3 billion for the program in 2008. That compares with estimated program expenses of $13.5 billion in 2007. The 2008 budget includes money to fund the company's venture with Canadian oil producer Encana.


Transportation Department information contradicts its own finding that American Airlines recently improved on-time performance of chronically delayed flights. The data was analyzed by the Associated Press. But American spokesman Tim Wagner says the company did not have any flights chronically delayed for the first three quarters of 2007. And neither has dot enforcement office informed the company that it did. AP reports DOT should have fined the nation's largest carrier as much as $50,000 for operating two flights that were chronically delayed throughout the first nine months of this year. That's what the agency said it would do when it began investigating late flights in May. It identified 25 chronically delayed flights through the first six months of 2007, and said carriers that did not improve in the third quarter would face fines of up to $25,000 per violation. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters on Monday said the six airlines operating those 25 flights improved their performance in the third quarter--avoiding fines.


Midwest Air Group said it's agreed to give antitrust regulators until January 31st to finish their review of its proposed sale. The Milwaukee-based operator of Midwest Airlines has agreed to a $450 million offer from a private equity group affiliated with Fort Worth-based TPG Capital. Midwest says it's supplied the Justice Department with information requested for its antitrust review. Chairman and Chief Executive Timothy Hoeksema had said previously that he expected the sale to close this year. Antitrust regulators must approve the sale because it includes rival Northwest Airlines as a passive investor. TPG will own Midwest, but Northwest put up nearly half of the money. Twin cities-based Northwest has said it wouldn't participate in Midwest's management.


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