The Dallas Morning News. Dec. 8, 2013.
An issue of destructive distrust
When was the last time you received change from a cashier and simply slipped it into your pocket or purse without counting it? Or the last time you closed an agreement with a handshake instead of a lawyered, signed and notarized document?
We have managed to outsmart, out-hustle and out-inform ourselves into a world where distrust has become the norm. Trust is for suckers.
Congratulations, America. A recently released poll by The Associated Press and GfK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications affirms what many have suspected: We have become a trust-less nation.
Four decades ago, the General Social Survey — an exhaustive look at Americans' attitudes — first asked, "Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?" In 1972, respondents were almost evenly split on that question, and that was during the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal.
A record two-thirds now say "you can't be too careful" in dealing with others.
This issue of fading trust is central to the well-being of our nation. Without trust, compromise is unlikely. Agreements are uncertain. Progress The ability to move forward, whether in personal relationships, corporate boardrooms or legislative chambers, requires trust.
In Washington, that lack of trust has led to inflexibility, which in turn has led to gridlock — and single-digit approval ratings for Congress. To think that level of distrust could be manifesting itself throughout society is alarming, but not surprising, given that we are increasingly segregated by technology, ideology and economy. A Pew Charitable Trust study released last week, conducted by New York University, found American cities are less economically integrated than any time in decades.
Add to that a growing sense of entitlement, the great geographic mobility of our society, which can lead to feelings of rootlessness, and the overflow of information — including the 24-hour news cycle — and you have a witch's brew of mistrust.
Much of distrust is rooted in fear. And there are way too many forces these days fanning the flames of fear. ("Obama wants to destroy America." ''Republicans hate poor people.") On the Internet, with few gatekeepers to save us from ourselves, every suspicion and conspiracy is disseminated for all to consume — and worry about — with minimal restraint or judgment.
This decline of trust is a deeply troubling turn for our society and gives rise to a critical question: Have we moved so far away from trust that we will never be able to recapture it again? If trust is lost, is hope also lost?
We as Americans can't let that happen. Restoring trust is the challenge of the century.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Dec. 5, 2013.
All of a sudden Texas wants to be a regulator
Here's a situation with more irony than we can handle: Texas, land of ruggedly individualistic less government regulation, plans to regulate the regulation-happy federal government more than the federal government regulates itself.
Specifically, the Texas Department of Insurance, whose function as far as we can tell is to let insurance companies do as they please, is going to assert itself for a change. Not against insurance companies. And certainly not on behalf of coastal property owners.
The insurance board proposes to use its under-exercised regulatory muscle on the so-called navigators whose job is to assist people trying to enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. The state board proposes to make these people meet qualifications in excess of what the feds require. The insurance board is doing this in the name of protecting Texans' privacy.
The insurance board cites a letter signed by Attorney General Greg Abbott and 12 other state attorneys general that the federal government's own requirements for navigators didn't go far enough. It's a good thing Abbott doesn't feel that way about fracking regulations, because if he did, we wouldn't have enough oil to lube our bicycle chains.
Abbott, of course, is running for governor. He has aspired to be governor for years and his strategy for years has been to run against Barack Obama. One way to do it is to obstruct the Affordable Care Act.
Abbott has done that successfully already. The reason for federally sponsored navigators in Texas is that Abbott and other red-state attorneys general sued successfully to allow their states to opt out of setting up their own insurance exchanges to implement ACA. Since Texas wouldn't set up an exchange, the federal government has to do it for Texas.
Now, Texas government all of a sudden wants to be a paternalistic federal government-style hyper-regulator in the name of protecting our privacy. And we're supposed to believe that it's not politically motivated deliberate obstruction. Longhorns and Aggies wouldn't accuse each other of being dumb enough to buy that.
Already having been told falsely that if we liked our health insurance plan we could keep it, hasn't there already been enough outright dishonesty? Throwing a monkey wrench and telling us it's a screwdriver only shows us the difference between liars and what Al Franken meant by "lying liars" — and how it's not redundant.
We understand and share the fear that Obamacare won't work and might bankrupt us. But we also had our doubts about the existing health insurance system — and didn't kid ourselves that it was free enterprise. Free enterprise is being able to barter free-range chickens and yard work for health care. What we had instead — and pretty much still have — is patients and doctors subjugated by insurance companies and trial lawyers. It's a baby that needed to be thrown out with the bath water.
Maybe Obamacare would be worse. Its obstructers haven't offered anything better. Nor will they make Texans' privacy any better protected through regulation of ACA navigators. But there's one thing we can predict with certainty: Obama won't be elected governor in 2014.
Houston Chronicle. Dec. 4, 2013.
Steve Stockman's antics: Stockman needs to disclose and clarify his businesses affiliations
A year after the 2012 elections, it's still hard to understand why the most effective campaign slogan for opponents of then-candidate, now Congressman Steve Stockman wasn't some version of caveat emptor — let the buyer (or, in this case, voter) beware. After all, the man who now represents the newly drawn 36th Congressional District east of Houston and who seems to spend most of his time and energy crafting absurd anti-Obama tweets and press releases had a record. He served one term in Congress, from 1995 to 1997.
Those two ignominious years were more than enough for voters in what was then the 9th Congressional District. They quickly tired of his penchant for outrageous remarks, his flirtation with militia types and his shadowy business dealings. Nick Lampson, a Beaumont Democrat, sent him packing.
Now, nearly two decades later, it's Stockman déjà vu. A recent Chronicle investigation revealed that as both candidate and congressman he didn't bother filing campaign disclosure forms, as required by federal law, until months after he was sworn in.
The forms he did file, the Chronicle noted, were "bare-bones." They listed 2011-12 income of $350,000 from something called "Presidential Trust Marketing" without explaining what Presidential Trust Marketing is or what it does. The business was not listed in any public records.
Kathleen Clark, a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis and a specialist in government ethics, reviewed the forms at the Chronicle's request. "Did anyone review this? Has the House Ethics Committee followed up? It just seems very odd," Clark said.
The Chronicle also found that Stockman has set up at least 17 different business names and corporate identities in four states, plus the British Virgin Islands. Almost all are registered out of a couple of post office boxes.
What do they do? Do Stockman's congressional activities conflict with his business activities? Who knows, since Stockman not only refuses to file sufficient disclosure forms but also refuses to talk to the media. As a member of Congress, Stockman should be required to amend his congressional disclosures to clarify his business affiliations and to more fully identify the entity that supplied him with all $350,000 of his recently reported income. If he refuses to do so, the House Committee on Ethics should open a formal review.
Meanwhile, Stockman has an excuse: Malevolent media types are out to get him, particularly the Chronicle's Tim Fleck.
"Fleck, a left-wing activist who previously wrote for the liberal Houston Press, has been obsessed with me since June 1996. ," Stockman said in a press release.
"Fleck once picked up a coral snake and was surprised when it bit him and he had to go to the hospital, so he's not the kind who learns quickly," he added.
The congressman is right about the coral snake, wrong about most everything else. Fleck, a longtime Chronicle editorial writer, retired two years ago and had nothing to do with the investigation. These days he looks after his two dogs, grows heirloom tomatoes and would just as soon avoid poisonous snakes and slippery politicians.
Some of Stockman's antics would be funny if he occupied a less-significant office, but in a Southeast Texas district that's poorer than most, a district that not only includes NASA's Johnson Space Center but also needs jobs and health care and education opportunities, residents deserve better from the person who purports to represent them in Washington.
The good thing about congressional terms is that voters get a do-over every two years. In 2014, they need to take advantage.
The Monitor of McAllen. Dec. 5, 2013.
Helping immigrants is humanitarian gesture
Some callously might say that providing emergency medical treatment on site for those crossing into our borders illegally is a waste of taxpayer dollars and resources. But we don't see it that way. It's a humanitarian cause and it's the right thing to do.
The Associated Press recently reported that faced with increased numbers of immigrants crossing into South Texas, the Border Patrol now has employed 100 emergency medical technicians in its nine stations in the Rio Grande sector. The EMTs are working three shifts a day, accompanying agents in helicopters via air support and on the ground. And they are saving lives.
Take, for instance, the 11-year-old girl from El Salvador who had become lost in the brush about an hour's drive north of the border. A Customs and Border Protection helicopter spotted the girl on Nov. 24 when temperatures here dipped suddenly into the mid-40s. She was wet and shivering and after the crew landed near her, they administered aid.
They likely saved her life and they did the right thing. They did what America is known for throughout the world.
The Rio Grande Valley has become the busiest sector on the Southwest border. And, as we all know, it is full of dangerous terrain. It's fraught with mesquite, soft, sinking sand pits, and baking 100-degree-plus afternoons.
Having medical assistance ready for those suffering in these types of conditions will likely enable those immigrants to return to their homes healthy.
We aren't advocating for what they are doing. But we all know many who have done it. We're saying that no one should die in our backyards while trying to cross here seeking a better life.
For the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Border Patrol made about 150,000 arrests in this sector, the Associated Press reported. That's an increase of more than
50 percent from the previous year. So far, this fiscal year, the sector's agents have already made a whopping 20,000 arrests — 60 percent more than at this time last year.
Poor conditions and faltering economies drive thousands here to the United States, in search of better prospects.
Last year, agents made more than 700 rescues in this sector, but also found more than 150 dead bodies. We hope this humanitarian assistance offered will drive those numbers down significantly this year.
Beaumont Enterprise. Dec. 10, 2013.
Double-dipping with pension, salary should end
The next time the Legislature meets, it will be under a governor who finally wants to close the infamous loophole that allows an elected official to collect a public pension and a salary at the same time. Both Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Wendy Davis think that's wrong — as do many Texans.
The current governor sees no problem with the loophole, mostly because he's using it to increase his income by $92,000 per year. In a typical display of cluelessness, Gov. Rick Perry has even said he would be "foolish" not to take advantage of the gimmick.
The Legislature needs to use this opportunity to finally approve a bill that would close the loophole. Such bills have been introduced before but went nowhere, possibly because they faced a sure veto from Perry.
He will be gone next year, and so will any lingering excuse for lawmakers to avoid doing the right thing.