Beaumont Enterprise. Dec. 3, 2012.
Cancer agency needs radical cure
When is tone deafness scarier than cancer? When medical ethicists and respected independent researchers refer to the abysmal failure of the state cancer agency to recognize the need to remove tumorous politics and cronyism from its handling of multi-million-dollar grants.
The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is a veritable Venn diagram of conflicts of interest. Last summer it had to rescind a $20 million grant to a group led by the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center after challenges to the integrity of its review process. Earlier this week, it admitted it approved an $11 million grant in 2010 without review.
A board of politically and commercially connected appointees of Gov. Rick Perry is running roughshod over the agency's scientists, to the usual self-serving rah-rahs of the ex-yell leader in the governor's mansion. The interference has been so blatant that the chief science advisers, two Nobel laureates, and more than 30 of the top-rank out-of-state researchers who served on its review panels have quit in disgust.
This agency, authorized in 2007 by voters to issue and spend up to $3 billion in bonds, has about $2 billion of that to go. It simply cannot be permitted to continue its wanton cupidity and high-handedness under the guise of fighting cancer.
The real cancer here is the agenda of the politically appointed oversight committee. Legislators convening in January should conduct a head-to-toe examination of the agency's actions. They should follow up with a clear set of workable rules that put science and the public trust first and protect the agency's important determinations from reproach.
The Dallas Morning News. Nov. 28, 2012.
Texas' gun laws work; open carry wouldn't
A law generally restricts someone from doing something, and in a state as large and diverse as Texas, opinions will vary on how reasonable that restriction might be. And when it comes to gun laws, don't leave out intense emotion and ideology.
Since 1995, Texas has allowed residents to carry handguns outside their homes, as long as they were effectively kept out of sight: concealed under clothing, in purses, in glove compartments.
The battles to achieve that law were epic, but time has proved the hysterical "blood in the streets" critics wrong. As a group, the half-million Texas concealed-handgun licensees have proved themselves far less likely to break the law than other Texans. Their reasons for carrying handguns are their own, with personal protection most commonly cited.
So why not let them carry in plain view? Rep. George Lavender, a Texarkana Republican, plans another run at an "open carry" law in the next Legislature to allow licensees to carry holstered pistols where anyone can see them. It's not such a crazy notion: Texas is one of only six states that bar any form of open carry, after Oklahoma began allowing it Nov. 1.
Lavender's open-carry bill in 2011 never gained momentum and died in committee, but he claims "very wide and deep" support this time. "This is Texas, and we should be the leader," he says.
First, a question: What's to be gained?
Armed, law-abiding citizens carrying in plain view, supporters say, would only further deter criminals, enhancing everyone's safety. However, proving deterrence, whether from the death penalty or street justice, would require an awful lot of interviews with criminals: Why didn't you rob that store? Let's say it's, at best, debatable.
As it stands, a responsible Texas gun owner with a concealed-handgun license can buy a gun, keep it in his home or car, carry it anywhere the law allows and use it when absolutely necessary. This newspaper generally supports concealed carry, in large part because Texas law makes sure an applicant understands the rights and responsibilities that come with it.
This newspaper's concern with open carry is more about common sense. Two words come to mind, and neither is positive. One is intimidation. The other is provocation.
A gun hidden away intimidates no one, but that was never the point, was it? The point was the ability, within the law, to protect oneself or one's family — not to convince someone else how tough or dangerous one might be because, well, Check out this Glock on my hip!
A gun hidden away also provokes no one. Unseen, it's not a tempting target for someone of criminal intent or unstable mind to grab and use in a way a responsible, law-abiding Texas gun owner would never intend.
Texas' gun laws are effective as they are. The Legislature would be wise to steer clear of open carry.
Longview News-Journal. Nov. 29, 2012.
Keep it open: Legislature should turn back efforts to weaken records law
In its session that opens Jan. 8, the Legislature appears likely to get its hands on the Texas open records law. Every Texan should be concerned.
The law, widely seen as one of the best of its kind in the nation, is in place to ensure the public's business is done in public. Unfortunately, changes being considered could weaken it. That would be a mistake, leaving all of us a bit more in the dark about how our tax dollars are spent, how our laws are made, and other matters of public interest.
The Texas Senate Open Government Committee, acting on a request from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, met Monday to hear testimony about possible changes aimed at reducing the number of "frivolous" open records requests. In part, the request arose from complaints by government contractors who say they have to reveal too much information when bidding on government work. And some public agencies complain they are being bogged down by what they consider to be frivolous requests for records.
To both concerns, we have the same response: Tough.
Any company receiving public money should play by the open records rules. The public has a right to know how its tax dollars are being spent, whether promised results are delivered and deadlines met. Potential bidders' competitive concerns also appear to be groundless. If all private companies have to disclose the same kinds of information, none is getting an advantage. Rather, all bidders know going in what will be expected and can choose not to bid if disclosure discomforts them.
And while we feel for those agencies that may have to deal with requests they'd rather not handle, we suggest that's simply a cost of doing business. Government openness can't fall because it's not convenient for bureaucrats.
Another concern being discussed is whether public officials must share emails sent from private accounts regarding government business. Attorney General Greg Abbott has correctly said such communications are open records.
We would support changes recognizing the many forms of communication that have developed since the law was written in the early 1970s. Then, email, text messaging, and social media like Twitter and Facebook didn't exist. Bringing the law up to date would make sense to avoid confusion.
But we agree with the testimony of an assistant attorney general, who, according to an Associated Press report, told the committee Monday: "We look to the content of the communication, not the technology with which it was transmitted. Does it relate to the transaction of public business? If so, it falls under the definition, and you cannot circumvent the Public Information Act by using new technologies."
We believe that is the approach lawmakers should use as they consider any changes to this important law. If it relates to public business, it should be public. Period.
Corpus Christi-Caller-Times. Dec. 2, 2012.
Don't get too serious about talk of secession
The petition, now carrying more than 117,000 signatures, that calls for Texas to secede from the United States might be considered one giant case of sour grapes over the results of the Nov. 6 election. We might easily dismiss the Texas petition, as well as like petitions from citizens in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee, as a safer form of venting than say, kicking dogs or issuing threats that would draw the attention of the Secret Service.
We might easily shrug off the petitions, the first of which showed up on the White House website the day after the election, if they didn't have possible consequences, even remote ones. No, we don't think that the secessionist idea has a chance.
The Civil War settled that issue. Plus, the 117,000 plus Texans who are unhappy that their candidate lost, or more to the point, that President Barack Obama got re-elected, have the thinnest of reasons among all the secessionist movements across the world. Catalonia, which wants to secede from Spain, has its own language.
The Kurds, who want to carve out their own country from portions of Turkey, Syria and Iraq, are ethnically separate from their host populations. Compared to that, losing an election in a democratic process is a pretty weak reason to want out of the Union.
Now, about those remote consequences. Texas is home to many federal military installations. Among them is, for one, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi.
This one base has an economic impact of $3.6 billion on the local economy, or about 21 percent of the entire local economy.
That impact includes 10,000 jobs on the base, including 6,000 jobs at the Army Depot alone. Add to that the value to the regional economy of Naval Air Station Kingsville and it's easy to see why even the slightest threat of loss of those military facilities arouses great concern in the community. And there is heightened concern now.
For all the assurances that the Pentagon doesn't have base closure on its mind, the fact is that the nation's defense budget is under question as the Mideast wars wind down.
Then there is "fiscal cliff" which, if it happens, would be disastrous for every community with a military presence. It is hypocritical to petition for secession while fighting to keep the federal military payroll. Why give some state whose citizens are not busy signing frivolous secessionist petitions one more argument as to why they would value federal facilities more?
We assume that some of the petitioners are serious about secession, but the majority, we'll bet, are expressing nothing more than dissatisfaction with the election outcome.
The 117,000 may think that simply the number of petition signatures demands attention. Yet even though Obama lost in Texas, he drew 3.3 million votes which, in comparison, make the petition signers a tiny sliver.
Houston Chronicle. Nov. 30, 2012.
Gulf drillers that ignore safety deserve real punishment
On Nov. 16, an explosion and fire rocked a Gulf of Mexico oil platform operated by Black Elk Energy. Three workers were killed, and more were injured.
In retrospect, the tragedy seems a long time coming. After the explosion, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement revealed Black Elk's troubled safety history: In the past two years, the safety bureau had cited the company 315 times for rules violations and risky procedures. Twelve times, the agency ordered Black Elk to shut down facilities because those violations were life-threatening.
In one case, an inspection found a gas leak on an oil platform. But Black Elk allowed the gas to continue leaking for 117 days. We repeat: A gas leak. On an oil platform, where explosions and fires spell disaster. For 117 days.
As the Chronicle pointed out this past week, even the federal government's purported post-explosion crackdown amounts to a slap on the corporate wrist. In a Nov. 21 letter, the bureau demanded that Black Elk develop a plan to improve the safety of the 198 platforms it operates in the Gulf.
It took 315 violations, an explosion and multiple deaths before the regulators required the company to improve its safety plan? What, we wonder, would it take to get a bad operator banned from the Gulf?
To date, Black Elk's biggest punishment has been a $307,500 fine related to that gas-leak incident. But by oil company standards, that's puny - less a deterrent than a cost of doing business.
Did our regulators learn nothing from Deepwater Horizon? For the sake of workers' lives, the Gulf of Mexico and the profitability of the rule-abiding oil companies that drill there, bad actors can't be allowed to operate with impunity. We can't tolerate accidents waiting to happen.