Tag Archives: Texas Tribune

Air Force messed up on shooter’s record

More than two decades ago, the 1995 Texas Legislature considered a concealed handgun carry bill. I opposed it with great passion.

The Legislature enacted it. Then-Gov. George W. Bush signed it into law. Over the years, I grew to accept the law, although I never have totally endorsed it.

But get a load of this: The Texas concealed handgun carry law did its job as it regards the Sutherland Springs shooter while the U.S. Air Force failed to do its job.

The loon who killed those 26 worshipers in Sutherland Springs was denied a concealed carry permit in Texas because of a criminal record check the state performed on him when he made his application.

Air Force misfires

But the U.S. Air Force, which sent him packing with a bad conduct discharge, didn’t tell the National Criminal Information Center about a court martial conviction in connection with an assault charge against his wife and her child. That failure to report enabled the shooter to purchase legally the rifle he used to massacre those First Baptist parishioners, including several children.

I’m not going to brag about Texas’s concealed carry law. I still am not a huge fan of it. Still, it hasn’t produced the kind of street-corner violence that many of us — including yours truly — feared would occur.

I am a bit heartened, though, that the state law worked. Texas denied this madman a permit to carry a gun under his jacket.

If only the Air Force had done its job, too.

Maybe it could have prevented this tragedy. Just maybe …

Follow the logic if you can

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick “Oops” Perry has made a curious leap between fossil fuel development and consumption and sexual abuse.

I’m trying to connect the dots. I am having a difficult time of it.

Perry said fossil fuel consumption can prevent sexual abuse because the “lights are on.” The Energy boss made his remarks at a forum sponsored by NBC News and Axios.

According to The Texas Tribune, Perry said: “It’s going to take fossil fuels to push power out into those villages in Africa, where a young girl told me to my face, ‘one of the reasons that electricity is so important to me is not only because I’m not going to have to try to read by the light of a fire and have those fumes literally killing people.’”

Oh, boy.

Is he pushing fossil fuels as an energy source or is he speaking about the brutality of sexual abuse suffered by villagers?

I’m going to assume — given the secretary’s former position as the governor of Texas, which produces a goodly amount of oil and natural gas — that he is pitching fossil fuel consumption.

Or is he?

Here seems to be where the Trump administration that Perry serves is missing the boat. This big world of ours is full of alternative energy sources that also can keep the lights on. Wind, solar, hydropower … they all are renewable, clean and safe. I’ll also throw nuclear power into that mix, too, even though nuke plants — which are safer than they used to be — aren’t yet totally safe from cataclysmic accidents.

Perry went on, according to the Tribune: “But also from the standpoint of sexual assault, when the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts,” Perry continued.

The Sierra Club, one of the nation’s foremost environmental interest groups, has called on Perry to quit in light of his remarks. I won’t go that far.

Perry offers confusion

I do question the logic the energy secretary is employing in connecting fossil fuels with sexual predation.

He lost me.

‘Real disaster’ struck Texas … no kidding!

Texas emergency officials have reported that Hurricane Harvey has killed 88 people.

Eight-eight families have lost loved ones. They are grieving to this day. Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast twice, first as a Category 3 hurricane and then as a tropical storm.

Watching the storm’s savagery from afar, I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it constitutes a “major disaster.” The hurricane blasted the Coastal Bend region with killer winds and storm surge. The tropical storm deluged Houston and the Golden Triangle with unprecedented rainfall: 50 inches in one 24-hour span of time, a record for the continental United States of America.

Harvey hit us real hard

I want to mention this because of something that Donald John Trump Sr. told our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. He seemed to chide them because — at the time of his visit — “only” 16 people had been killed by Hurricane Maria, which destroyed the island’s power grid and its potable water supply.

Yet, the president seemed to suggest that Puerto Rico was “fortunate” to have suffered so little loss of life, unlike what happened to New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore.

Well, I guess I ought to remind the president that the Texas coast didn’t suffer the amount of deaths that other storms have brought, but he dare not dismiss the damage from the Coastal Bend to the Golden Triangle as anything short of a major disaster.

Meet one of POTUS’s ‘worst nightmares’

The list of Donald J. Trump’s “worst nightmares” seems to keep growing.

You have Robert Mueller, Stephen Bannon, James Comey, Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn and perhaps Don Trump Jr. standing by to give the Big Man a serious case of heartburn.

Walter Shaub is no slouch in the “worst nightmare” department, though. The former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, took part in a Texas Tribune discussion to talk about government ethics, which in Shaub’s mind is no oxymoron.

He quit his job at OGE out of frustration dealing with the Trump administration.

As the Tribune reports: The last straw for Shaub, who is now with an organization called the Campaign Legal Center, was having to fight for a month to get basic ethics records that did not even turn out to be useful.

In general, Shaub said, Trump’s actions represent a “significant departure” from “ethical norms.” He added that it will be on the next president to repair the damage that’s been done.

“I put up as good of a fight as I could,” said Schaub, who resigned in July.

I continue to believe that the president’s lack of understanding of government has contributed to the ethical morass he has helped create. Trump’s business background simply is not well-suited to adapt to the complexities associated with service in the massive federal government.

Another panelist at the Tribune event, Richard Painter, former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, also has been a harsh critic of Trump. According to the Tribune: “People voted for Donald Trump to be a president … not to be a king,” he said. “He’s gotta respect the Constitution or he’s not gonna keep his job.”

There might lie the greatest problem facing Trump as he seeks to shake loose from the crises that are gripping his administration. He doesn’t know — or seemingly want to know — how the Constitution works, how it limits his power and how it sets forth “checks and balances” on presidential overreach.

One such overreach might involve Mueller, the special counsel assigned to investigate the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to the Russian government. As the Tribune reports: “The biggest threat we’re facing is any threat to Bob Mueller being fired,” Shaub said. Should that happen, Shaub said he would take to the streets and that others should too.

Ethics, Mr. President, really do matter. They matter a great deal. Just listen — for once, sir — to these fellows. They know of which they speak.

Stunning profile may emerge on local judicial bench

The Texas Panhandle received excellent federal judicial service for nearly four decades, thanks to the steady hand provided by U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson.

She is stepping aside. A new president has nominated a replacement for Judge Robinson. But some potentially chilling information is coming forth about the new guy.

The Texas Tribune is reporting on statements made by another judicial nominee who is linked to the man Donald Trump has selected for the Northern District of Texas federal bench. Jeff Mateer formerly served as general counsel for a right-wing advocacy group, the First Liberty Institute; Matthew Kaczmaryk — Trump’s choice to succeed Robinson — is deputy general counsel for the same group. Mateer now works in the Texas attorney general’s office. Follow me for a moment.

Mateer is Trump’s pick for another federal judgeship. He reportedly believes transgender children are part of “Satan’s work.”

In a 2015 speech, Mateer said this, according to the Texas Tribune Texas Tribune, about the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage in the United States: “I mean, it’s disgusting,” he said. “I’ve learned words I didn’t know. There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets. It’s just like — you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, ‘Oh, that’s not going on in our community.’ Oh yes it is. We’re going back to that time where debauchery rules.”

There you have it: Same-sex marriage equals “debauchery,” according to Mateer. The nation’s highest court ruled that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that all Americans are entitled to “equal protection under the law,” meaning that gay Americans have a constitutional right to marry people of the same gender.

My question is whether Kaczmaryk is cut from the same mold as Mateer, given that they both work for the same ultra-right wing advocacy group.

Is this the kind of justice we can expect from the federal bench in Amarillo? Please say it won’t be so.

Texans play politics with hurricane relief

Congress managed to cobble together a bipartisan spending relief package that is going to send $15 billion to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.

It wasn’t unanimous, though. Indeed, of the 80 House members who voted against the package, four of them reside — get ready for this one — in Texas! Four members of Congress who live in the very state that suffered the grievous wind and flood damage voted “no” on the package.

Most disappointing of all for yours truly is that one of them is GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Thornberry’s no vote was because the Harvey relief was tied to increasing the debt ceiling — which the House and Senate had to do to avoid the government defaulting on its debt. Thornberry also said the bill would harm the U.S. military by freezing some funds. I mean, it’s not as if there are now plans to decommission aircraft carriers, or ground strategic bombers, or take weapons out of the hands of our fighting men and women.

Of course, as the Texas Tribune reported, none of the Texas House GOP members represent districts in the direct path of Harvey’s onslaught, which I suppose gives them some political cover for the votes they cast.

I used to believe that major disaster relief was a given in Congress. A region of the country gets clobbered, smashed, devastated by Mother Nature and the rest of the country rallied to its side. Americans stepped up to render assistance. That included members of the House and Senate.

No more. Now they attach qualifiers. They equivocate. They seek ways to offset the cost.

As the Tribune reported: “I am not against voting for relief programs to help hurricane victims, but I am against raising the public debt ceiling without a plan to reduce deficits in the short term, and eliminate them in the long term,” (Rep. Joe) Barton said in a statement. “The money we vote to spend today will have to be paid back by our children and grandchildren.”

Thornberry, chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, cited an aversion to short-term funding measures that he said harmed the military.

Barton, with that statement, managed to parse his opposition to some weird level that no one who is trying to rebuild his or her life is going to understand, let alone support.

Nice.

Happy Trails, Part 37

Oh, the best-laid plans can go awry.

For example, we had intended to venture south and east later this year, when the weather cooled, and the Gulf of Mexico hurricane season had subsided.

We have a lot of friends in the Golden Triangle, where we lived from 1984 until 1995. We had plans to haul our RV south to our former hometown to catch up with many of them.

Oh, wait!

Something happened down yonder. Right? Of course!

Hurricane Harvey came through. The storm crashed ashore first in the Corpus Christi-Rockport region along the Coastal Bend. Then the storm waded back into the Gulf, picked up some more steam and returned to the Triangle as Tropical Storm Harvey.

It dumped a lot of rain. It set a continental United States record at more than 50 inches. 

Now I hear that the Texas Department of Transportation is going to embark on a monumental task. It must repair roads and highways damaged by the storm. According to the Texas Tribune:

Prolonged flooding can wash out bridges, knock down traffic signals and signs and cause asphalt to buckle. Last week, the federal government directed $25 million to the Texas Department of Transportation to help the agency begin repairing the region’s vast transportation system.

But that funding won’t last very long, said TxDOT Deputy Executive Director Marc Williams.

“The size and the duration of this storm is beyond anything we’ve ever experienced in this state,” he said.

When do we plan to return to the Golden Triangle? I don’t know. I can’t project when TxDOT will get all the highways fixed. I am not even aware at this moment whether any of the highways over which we might travel are affected.

We do want to get back. We want to see our friends. We intend to hug their necks and express gratitude and thanks that they’re all OK.

I am not one to trifle, though, with Mother Nature. Nor am I going to wish for TxDOT to speed up its infrastructure repair just to suit my wife and me. It’ll take time. We’ll be patient.

Put Confederates in museums, and study what they did

I suppose it’s time to make a decision on what I think we should do with these Confederates statues scattered around many of our states.

Put ’em in museums. Make displays of them and then explain to visitors who these men were, what they did and tell the world about the consequences of their actions.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott weighed in this week on the subject in the wake of the Charlottesville, Va., mayhem that left a young woman and two Virginia state troopers dead. The pro-Nazi/white supremacist/Klan march prompted a counter protest that turned violent.

And for what? Because the hate groups sought to protest the removal of a statue from a public park of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general who led the army that fought against the United States of America.

According to the Texas Tribune  — “Racist and hate-filled violence – in any form — is never acceptable, and as Governor I have acted to quell it,” Abbott said in the statement. “My goal as governor is to eliminate the racist and hate-filled environment we are seeing in our country today.”

“But we must remember that our history isn’t perfect,” Abbott added. “If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future. As Governor, I will advance that future through peace, not violence, and I will do all I can to keep our citizens safe.”

Those are noble words and sentiments. I am not going to go the distance on these monuments. I share Gov. Abbott’s view that they shouldn’t be torn down and destroyed. But I also share the view of those who wonder why we “honor” individuals who turned on the Republic, ignited a bloody Civil War and fought to preserve “states’ rights” to enslave human beings.

These traitors to the nation don’t deserve to be honored with parks and structures that carry their names. They don’t deserve to have statues displayed in public places frequented by Americans who are direct descendants of those who had been kept in bondage.

I rather would see these monuments relocated as museum pieces accompanied by narratives that explain who they are and the role they played in that terrible, dark chapter in our otherwise glorious national story.

The governor said removing the statues “won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.”

It shouldn’t erase the past, governor. As for the future, well, we advance it by keeping the egregious errors of our past in full view and presenting it in complete context to ensure we don’t repeat them.

‘Bathroom Bill’ on life support? Pull the plug!

Texas’s so-called “Bathroom Bill” is wallowing in the Texas House of Representatives.

Some lawmakers have said the bill is on “life support.” It’s not likely to get to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature.

To which I offer a hearty “hurrah!”

The Texas Legislature has eight days to go before adjourning its special session. The Senate has sent a bushel bucket of bills to the House. One of them is that damn Bathroom Bill, which requires individuals to use public restrooms commensurate with the gender listed on their birth certificate. The bill discriminates against transgender individuals. It is a patently ridiculous piece of legislation.

Legislative Republicans say it’s intent is to protect women and girls from male sexual predators who enter their restrooms disguised as women. Police chiefs around the state say that rationale is utter hogwash, that they have no reports of that kind of sexual assault.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus opposes it. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick supports it. The bill is one of many such bills that might end up in the trash can when the Legislature gavels the special session to a close.

If the governor intends to bring legislators back to Austin to finish their work, my sincere hope is that he reduces the legislative call by at least one measure: that would be the Bathroom Bill.

As the Texas Tribune reports: “House State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said Tuesday he will not give the ‘bathroom bill’ a hearing in his committee — and the measure’s author, state Rep. Ron Simmons, said it would be difficult to amend the bill as written to any other legislation moving through the chamber.”

Here is the Texas Tribune story.

It looks to me as though it’s time to pull the plug on the Bathroom Bill and concentrate on issues that really matter to all Texans.

Rick Perry at Homeland Security? Interesting idea

Reports are surfacing that Energy Secretary Rick Perry is being considered for a major Cabinet shift within the Trump administration.

The Texas Tribune reports that Perry might move to the Homeland Security Department to become the new secretary there, replacing John Kelly, who’s taken the thankless job of White House chief of staff.

That the former Texas governor is under consideration for the Homeland Security job makes plenty of sense to me. I believe he could be a good fit in that post.

He served for 14 years as governor of Texas, which has the longest border with Mexico of all the states along our southern border. He understands the issue of border security as well as any leading politician.

As the Texas Tribune reports, though, a shift of this importance signals a dramatic — some would say unbelievable — evolution in the relationship between Gov. Perry and Donald J. Trump. Perry once campaigned for the presidency against Trump. Perry then called his fellow Republican a “cancer on conservatism.” Trump ridiculed Perry after the former governor started wearing eyeglasses, suggesting Perry did so only to make himself look smarter.

All that changed, though, after Trump’s election. The two men buried the hatchet — and not in each other’s backs. The Energy Department job was Perry’s reward from the man who beat him for the GOP presidential nomination.

Is the former governor the perfect pick for Homeland Security? No, but in one way — to my way of thinking — he actually could be better than the man he would succeed. Perry’s record as Texas governor suggests a more reasonable immigration outlook than the one John Kelly espoused while he ran DHS. Perry’s understanding of border issues, earned by his years as governor of a large and important state, tells me he well could be a stellar choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Cue the music and let’s see whether this latest report puts Rick Perry into the DHS chair.