Friday, August 27, 2010


There’s an old joke that defines recession, depression and panic.  According to the joke, recession is a condition where you know someone who has lost their job.  Depression is the situation where your next door neighbor loses his job. Panic, however, is the case where you lose your own job.

It is amazing to me that Texans have not yet caught on to the fact that conservative Republicans’ steadfast and stubborn refusal to take a look at our outmoded method of collecting taxes is rapidly heading Texas in the direction of becoming something like a third-world country.
Although our current governor and several of our leaders continue to vociferously brag about their great management skills in keeping Texas in the “black,” they have done so by cutting short on our most precious commodity--our children and future generations of Texans. 
These leaders and the governor have also managed to balance the budget by smoke, mirrors, tricks and taking advantage of federal stimulus money which they clearly condemned as evil.  Now they are attempting to make draconian cuts in the very things we should be investing in. 

Most politicians make impassioned speeches about investment in our children and future generations of well-educated Texans.  
Unfortunately, too often Texas’ political rhetoric does not match the real commitment. And, in fact, it's the kind of hollow commitment that begins to look like the burned out hull of our once-beautiful Governor's mansion.
You know, while the mansion is under repair, somehow we are able to spend $10,000 per month on the luxurious quarters for our governor’s home, and have built up 9 billion dollars in a so-called rainy-day savings account. 

And yet, Texas ranks dead last in what we spend and what we do for children’s health.

The Legislature finds about $300,000,000 every two years for a slush fund for our governor to give away, mainly to people who generously support his campaign, while we still look to education as the first and largest place to save money to try to balance the budget.

A big brouhaha in Jefferson County has risen due to the Commissioner Court’s stated intention to abolish the positions of nine deputy constables.  This budget-cutting move has sparked large crowds at Commissioners’ Court and even special rallies against abolishing these positions.  

What boggles my mind is the fact that citizens, supposedly so concerned with jobs and good government, seem to be sitting on their hands while the current governor’s administration, in an effort to balance the budget with no change in our tax structure, is gradually dismantling much of our higher education system.

Did you know? The governor has demanded, and for the most part, has obtained a 5% return of last year’s appropriation from the institutions of higher learning.  The 5% cuts demanded by Governor Perry have already cost the University of Texas about 600 jobs; and the governor is calling for an additional 10%.

To bring the situation closer to home we need only to look as far as Lamar State College- Port Arthur.  Even though enrollment has increased by almost 10%, the local college has been required to return 3/4 of a million dollars to the state treasury. Unlike most other parts of the state, Lamar has been adversely impacted in a serious manner by two hurricanes in recent times and is required to find ½ million dollars for windstorm, fire and extended coverage without any help whatsoever from the state.
Far from cutting fat out of the budget, these draconian cuts have resulted in laying off 28 skilled people, closing the Childcare Development Center, imposing a hiring freeze, and eliminating programs in child development, welding, heating and A/C technology, and eliminating training for chemical dependency counselors. Furthermore, even faculty members are unable to continue their own professional developmental training, and summer school has been sharply curtailed.

Unfortunately, these shortsighted cuts in higher education institutions such as UT and Lamar will be felt long after this budget year.  Texas will pay the price in loss of competitiveness, and in having qualified, skilled workers for jobs requiring more and more education and training.  Our institutions of higher learning will suffer nationwide as well as internationally in the loss of high standing to attract scholars, researchers and world renowned professors.

While Texas’ main brag will be, “We balanced our budget with no new taxes,” India and China will be bragging about producing twice the number of computer experts, engineers, scientists and other scholars.

Many economists are predicting that in the coming few years, for the first time, America’s next generation will not be able to do as well as their parents and grandparents.

If they are right, perhaps it's time to take a good look at the panic that is just around the corner for our children.

Voting citizens of this state need to wake up and demand that our elected officials take a realistic view toward providing adequate resources to ensure a decent future for this state and its progeny. Those demigods, who talk the loudest about cutting the size of government and government programs, need to be held to account and explain exactly which cuts they believe to be waste in government.

It will, in all likelihood, surprise the average citizen to know that more tax money at the state level is wasted by giving special interests undeserved tax breaks.

Huge grants are doled out at the whim of the governor in the so-called name of industrial development and wasteful procedures which continue to deal only with symptoms of social and health problems of this state rather than deal with the root cause through prevention. These are the big waste items in Texas government.

And the often talked about welfare mother is pale by comparison.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Thomas Jefferson, more than any of our founding fathers, valued a free press.  Thomas Jefferson equated a free press with liberty itself and as an essential ingredient equal to or superior than most of our Bill of Rights.  Thomas Jefferson, however, once declared, “A declaration that the federal government will never restrain the presses from printing anything they please will not take away the liability of the printers for false facts printed.”  

One of the great myths, if not the greatest myth, propagated by publishers in the United States is the quote, “The people have a right to know.”  No where in our United States Constitution is there a written right to know on behalf of the public.

It is my firm belief that, where enthusiasm protecting a free press in the United States has gone astray, we should concentrate on the public’s need to know, not necessarily a right to know.  Clearly, the public needs to know everything about a potential officeholder which affects his judgment, honesty, dedication to public safety or any attribute bearing on his ability to fairly represent the public or perform ably in his or her duty.  The public does not necessarily have a right to know whether a gentleman in public office wears briefs or boxers.  

It wasn’t until the late 1700's in the United States that truth was a complete defense to libel and slander.  The Zanger trial created the defense of truth.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, courts have gone too far the other way in the protection of an uninhibited free press.  It has always been my position that if the public has a right to know, the public has a right to know the truth.  It appears to me it does little to preserve a free, American democracy, if we protect a lie.  

The press’s theory is that it cannot be looking over its shoulder and should be able to be uninhibited in reporting--particularly on public figures who choose to thrust themselves into the limelight.  With the case of New York Times v. Sullivan, the courts probably went a step too far.  In order to hold the publisher of an out-and-out lie responsible for slander, it is necessary for a public figure to not only show that a lie was published, but that the lie was done maliciously with an intent to injure the person about whom the lie was published.

As the printed press was a giant leap forward in transmission of information and knowledge to a broader spectrum of readers, recent electronic gadgets and ways to share information have made an equal leap forward in the ability to communicate.  We now have radio and television; but even probably more important, we have the internet, blogs, face books, text messages, and God knows what else.  Not only is it easier to publish information, it is also easier to verify or check the facts of information published.

A frequently published blog in Jefferson County recently outlined in great detail a story claiming a state senator had arrived at a motorcycle rally at the bridge to Pleasure Island in Port Arthur.  The blog went on to claim the state senator was confronted by a policeman demanding to know whether or not the senator had a gun.  According to the story published in this blog, when the senator protested about being asked such a question, the policeman in charge simply told him he could hit the road because Port Arthur did not particularly like people of his kind coming to Port Arthur.  

In view of the fact it seemed to be a black mark against Port Arthur and its finest law enforcement officers, and since I knew the senator personally, I took the time to pick up the phone and call the senator.  It turns out the blog was a complete fabrication; not containing a grain of truth.  A rhetorical question occurred to me: why should such misinformation have the same protection as a legitimate news source? 

I have recently published an opinion piece on why I think our legal system can enforce personal responsibility of peoples’ conduct.  If you run over someone, you attack someone or you spill millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico destroying peoples’ livelihood, why shouldn’t you be held to account for such bad conduct?  The same would be true with regard to slander of an individual, whether a private citizen or a public figure.  Why should publishers have protection from the consequence of shoddy or untruthful reporting?

I submit freedom would be better protected if those publishing alleged facts were held to account as Thomas Jefferson suggessted for publishing untruths.  The best way to hold them accountable is to make them liable for not checking the facts, willfully publishing false facts, or setting out maliciously to hurt someone.  I submit democracy and a believable press would be better served by making those who publish accountable for publishing the truth.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


One of the great principles of a free Democratic society is that citizens can carry their grievances to a court of law and have it settled by a panel of jurors of their peers. In Texas juries generally consist of ordinary citizens who usually vote and volunteer to participate in one of the vital functions of a Democratic society; i.e., a jury trial.

Of late, our Texas Supreme Court more and more has demonstrated its contempt and distrust for the judgment of citizens who hear the firsthand account of facts related to legal disputes. In the last two years the Texas Supreme Court, unlike the courts for many years in the past, has overturned a majority of jury verdicts which have reached them. In the recent case of Bennett v. Reynolds, eight of our esteemed Republican judges have sided with the judgment of their own over that of citizen jurors, all to the benefit of a cattle thief.
This Wild West story began in San Saba County where several of Mr. Reynolds’ cattle wandered over the line onto property belonging to a corporation run by Thomas O. Bennett, Jr.  Mr. Bennett directed employees of the corporation which he ran to gather up Mr. Reynolds’ cattle, take them to auction and sell them. Later on, an employee of Mr. Bennett’s corporation, blew the whistle on the whole deal, even though Mr. Bennett attempted to bribe him with the offer of a very lucrative job to keep him from “spilling the beans” on the stolen cattle. When bribery failed to work, Mr. Bennett had one of his employees threaten the whistle blower with bodily harm. Even that didn’t deter the case from going forward and ultimately reaching a jury of twelve citizens. Even with all of that, Mr. Bennett didn’t give up trying to cover up his evil deeds. He tried tampering with the evidence by altering brands on the cattle and doctoring certain photographs of the stolen cattle at the cattle sale. Bennett even resorted to trying to use the court to intimidate the witnesses against him by filing a slander suit against the ranch hand who had told on him. 

The jury heard all of Mr. Bennett’s despicable conduct and in view of the fact the old fashioned remedy of hanging cattle thieves was not available to them as an option of punishment, they resorted to punishing Bennett and his corporation to the tune of $1,250,000 in punitive damages. The whole purpose of punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer, but also to send a message to would-be wrongdoers that they will be dealt with very harshly by our Texas judicial system.

Of course, Bennett promptly appealed to the Court of Appeals which dutifully upheld the judgment of the jurors and trial court. Undeterred and unrepentant, Bennett appealed to our Texas Supreme Court. He argued that since his ranch was owned by a corporation, the corporation couldn’t be held liable for punitive damages; and besides that, only stealing a dozen or so cattle amounting to $5,000 was not a serious enough matter to subject him to such punishment. He further argued the threats to the witnesses, jury tampering, altering evidence and other skullduggery he did in connection to his main crime was of no consequence and should not be considered.

Well, the Supreme Court finally showed their true colors. After some mouthing about how Texas really didn’t like cattle rustlers, they proceeded to reverse the jury verdict saying the punitive damages were far in excess of the seriousness of the crime to be justified. In effect, they let the cattle thief off the hook. Who would have thought it? A Texas high court deciding with the cattle rustlers against twelve jurors, tried and true!

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Assuming responsibility for one’s own actions is as American as apple pie.  I dare say 99% of the American population would agree with that particular principle, but where has it gone? 

Attacking government seems to be a growing sport in today’s world.  Almost any time one can find someone on television or radio holding forth about "creeping socialism" taking hold of our government, and that government itself is strangling individuality.

Common complaints are that government is interfering with business, discouraging free enterprise and stifling individualism.  Business lobbyists claim industry is over regulated, that the current administration is anti-business; and all of this together is responsible for the downturn in the entire world economy.  Almost everyone believes themselves to be overtaxed and that our U.S. government is giving away our money faster than they can extract it from us.  

If anything is to be learned from the BP oil spill disaster and recent explosions, it is that there is not enough regulation, at least of the oil industry to make the public, workers, and/or our environment safe.

You can rest assured that BP will spend millions, possibly billions to avoid as much of its responsibility as possible.  In the end BP will argue they adhered to government regulations and that their damages should be capped by an act of Congress so they do not face unlimited damages for what they have wrought on our beaches, marshes, and with our marine life.

It is only necessary to read a daily newspaper on a fairly regular basis or be a close observer of the world news to become aware that special interests and big money in the U.S. is spending millions on thousands of lobbyists to avoid responsibility for harm, damages and cost to others.  The lobbyists like to give their objectives cool names such as Fighting Socialism, Avoiding Over-Regulation or Tort Reform.  Stripped of the nice trappings, in short, these should simply be called Avoidance of Responsibility.

Child psychologists and scholars of penal systems all agree the best way to deter bad conduct is to make bad consequences flow from bad acts and make the assignment of responsibility swift and sure.  Our American tort system has the advantage of doing that.  It is designed to hold people accountable for their wrongdoing and in a way that most big business understands.  If you don’t adhere to proper standards and you injure someone or someone’s property, you are responsible and must pay out of your pocket.  

Thousands of lobbyists in Austin and Washington are busy every day trying to destroy this system.  The public posture of most lobbyists is that their industry welcomes regulations.  Of course they welcome regulation, but not too much. They especially welcome regulation if it deters competition in their field.  

These business lobbyists always argue that government regulation should protect them from law suits or claims.  They argue business adheres to government regulation that should be adequate to avoid responsibility for any bad consequences which ensue.  Unfortunately too often industry writes those regulations and rules.

Ask yourself if you can remember any circumstance where government regulation has adequately protected the public. Government regulations, for example, were adhered to in the manufacture of the Pinto which turned out to be a flaming death trap for more than one family. 

How about medicine?  How many times has FDA approved medicine which resulted in death or disastrous disability for unwary patients after being approved by this government agency?  

How well do you think government regulation has prevented insurance companies from cheating their customers?  Or, lending institutions from unfairly foreclosing families’ homes?

Recently, the federal EPA has found that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has wholly failed in its responsibility to adequately prevent poisonous emissions in Texas.

Unfortunately, in too many instances the government agencies responsible for regulating a particular industry rely too heavily on input from the industry and in some cases all but let industry lobbyists or representatives write the very regulations they are to be governed by.  The federal agency responsible for licensing and approving drilling and procedures for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was one such agency. 

It has now been revealed the oil industry, the drilling industry and their regulators were so cozy they exchanged gifts, socialized together, and generally supped from the same table.  As a result, thousands will be unemployed for the foreseeable future and in all likelihood there will be a shortage of seafood for the average family.  The surviving families of those killed on BP’s rig will continue to suffer without their breadwinners.

So, the next time you see some “talking head” railing that what this country needs is less government restriction, stop allowing lawsuits, stop allowing jurors to hand out justice, this is nothing more than another way to escape personal responsibility for their own wrongdoing.