- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Waco Tribune-Herald. April 4, 2014.

Whatever the cause of this Fort Hood tragedy, simmering anger is somewhere in the mix

News of another deadly shooting rampage at Fort Hood, 4½ years after a one-man act of jihadist terrorism claimed 13 lives at the same post, can’t help but further demoralize Americans. Even if the shooting had nothing to do with terrorism this time, it suggests a disturbing failure somewhere in our society. It seems we’re powerless to escape this simmering anger that, when it finally explodes, demands victims.

“The scenes coming from Fort Hood today are sadly too familiar and still too fresh in our memories,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement that perhaps best represented public sentiment as news of the tragedy unfolded Wednesday evening. “No community should have to go through this horrific violence once, let alone twice.”

Yet is it coincidental that, as the first reliable reports appeared online via respected news organizations, public commenting below the bulletins immediately launched into virtual fistfights - some crassly worded and grounded in proud ignorance - over President Obama, the Second Amendment and immigration? Too many Americans are quick to blame, quick to simplify, quick to vilify, quick to hate. At times, it seems we really need no foreign enemies; we have one another.

Initial reports described Wednesday’s shooting as a “soldier-on-soldier” incident, indicating it was not terrorist-related - unlike the November 2009 attack by then-Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people and wounded 32 others in a display of solidarity with Islamic radicals. It proved to be the worst mass murder at a military installation in U.S. history. Hasan, found guilty of premeditated murder last year, became a symbol of how homegrown jihadism can evolve in the ranks of the U.S. military.

This time, the cause is harder to figure. By now, readers know the shooter, Army Spc. Ivan Lopez, 34, at least seemed a good and decent sort. A quiet student in Catholic schools, he was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He married a childhood friend, was a father and served briefly in Iraq (though not in combat). Before that, he served in the Puerto Rican National Guard. He is remembered by neighbors as friendly, even as he received treatment for anxiety, depression and sleep problems. No evidence of any connection with extremist groups has surfaced thus far. On the other hand, some family friends say he was upset over the recent deaths of his mother and grandfather.

And now Lopez is dead after a shooting rampage that claimed the lives of three others and wounded 16 more before he reportedly turned his recently purchased .45- caliber Smith & Wesson on himself.

So what lessons should we draw from these shootings, especially without the conventional terrorist tag to pin on it? Will they say something of the traumatic strain of and damage to the psyche of so many military personnel exposed to today’s warfare, even among those not necessarily in combat? Will they reflect badly on how society supports or doesn’t support its troops and their families? Will they reveal something of the stresses placed on an all-volunteer Army?

And whatever the ultimate cause, is it enough for us to do something about it? Are we willing, for instance, to concertedly address the obvious animosity in our society for the good of our troops and their families - and our families as well? Or will we demonstrate we have learned nothing in the gunfire, death and grief of another shooting incident at one of America’s largest military bases? Worse, have we become numb to these events after rampages such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter?

And why are those who suffer mental turmoil, whatever the reason, increasingly disposed in our society to pick up a weapon and take it out on others in blind and vengeful rage when something finally snaps?

These are questions every thoughtful American should ponder, even as the national news media quickly shift focus from Wednesday’s rampage to other topics. Indeed, other than brief teasers referring readers inside, neither The New York Times nor The Wall Street Journal - two very different but well-read newspapers - devoted any coverage to the Fort Hood incident on Page One. For their readers, the Supreme Court decision on campaign finance led the day.

More obvious questions will be asked in the days ahead involving everything from post protocol on weapons to possible inconsistencies in Lopez’s treatment for anxiety (though a diagnosis for post-traumatic stress had not so far been made). But as possible feelings of dread and shock subside, attention should turn not just to our society’s responsibility for the trials and rigors we put our all-volunteer military through but the examples we set as citizens in how we employ the very freedoms that they must protect and defend.


The Dallas Morning News. April 2, 2014.

Bullet-train momentum

There are different categories of momentum for a transportation project - the financial, technical and political - and success typically depends on all three.

It was in the political category that a privately funded Texas bullet-train venture got a major shot of octane last week, to the delight of those of us pulling for the project.

The boost came in the form of a joint endorsement from Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

We can sum up and second their support this way: What’s not to like?

The Texas Central High-Speed Railway company says it can be profitable on farebox alone on North Texas-to-Houston service and would not depend on government handouts or subsidies to prop up its operations. That pledge has brilliant politics written all over it.

The Texas Central bullet trains would make the Dallas-Houston trip in about 90 minutes running at more than 200 mph. The company’s construction cost for that leg of the trip has been pegged in the $10 billion range. It would take billions more to extend the line to stops in Arlington and Fort Worth; a newly named panel of elected and community leaders will be working on ways to finance that construction.

The venture’s backers include the Central Japan Railway, which is a world leader in high-speed rail technology and operator of service that carries nearly 400,000 daily passengers between Tokyo and Osaka. A successful Texas project would give it a U.S. foothold for its N700-I bullet train system. It would also prove up this state’s reputation as a place where businesses can take risk and prosper.

Government subsidies may not be key, but government cooperation and innovation could be. Still ahead are separate environmental studies with the Texas Department of Transportation as partner, one for the Houston-Dallas leg, a separate one for the Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth segment. Both will study the feasibility of the railway sharing highway right of way, where possible. Picture, for example, elevated bullet-train tracks mounted above the I-30 median between Dallas and Fort Worth.

The key to success also could involve the company selling development rights around rail stations.

The term “high-speed rail” has become synonymous with “boondoggle” in recent years, much of that because of California’s problem-dogged, publicly funded project to connect a string of cities, big and small. The voters there OK’d $10 billion in borrowing for the project in 2008. The latest completion date for that ever-changing project is 2029.

The Texas venture is not a government program, but a business. Its strength is focus and a grasp of Lone Star politics. Best-case scenario has the Texas service starting in 2021.

This is not exactly a competition, but transportation experts are watching the two scenarios play out. We’d place our money on the Texas model any day.


Houston Chronicle. April 4, 2014.

City on a Spindletop: The United States needs to end its isolationism in the global war for energy

The United States is supposed to be a shining city on a hill - a light unto the nations. By exporting energy, we can make that light literal. Too much of the globe relies on tyrants and thugs to keep the lights on. Energy markets have changed since the oil crisis of the 1970s, and regulations should change as well. One thing has not changed: Energy is a weapon, and the world is still engaged in the moral equivalent of war. It is time to end our nation’s energy isolationism.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has opened the door to easing our nation’s 39-year-old ban on crude exports. It isn’t a total change overnight, but the Commerce Department could allow the export of condensate, a natural gas liquid, which currently can only be exported if produced at gas processing plants. This shift would be a small change in policy, but a revolution in our nation’s energy mentality. Texas’ U.S. senators should join her in this nuanced approach.

While crude is stuck at home, some of our energy resources are ready to ship out.

Seven liquefied natural gas export projects have already been approved by the Department of Energy, with dozens more proposed. Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have turned a natural gas shortage into a surplus, and we’re starting to send American-made energy around the world. Democratic nations across the Pacific Ocean, like Japan and India, hunger for U.S. energy. They currently have to rely on gas sellers from the Middle East, where blood for oil isn’t a protest slogan - it is a policy. With petrodollars pouring in, there is no reason for human rights’ abusers to change their ways. But because U.S. natural gas prices aren’t pegged to oil, we can not only offer a cheaper alternative to our geopolitical allies but also undermine a stranglehold on the global energy market.

They’re fighting a similar battle across the Atlantic Ocean, where Lithuania, Estonia and Finland rely entirely on Russia for natural gas. The threat of cutting off heating fuel in the middle of winter lends a literal meaning to notions of a new Cold War. Nations like Germany have already started to wage an energy war on their own terms, relying heavily on renewable sources for everyday electricity. Competition from U.S. exports will loosen Vladimir Putin’s grip on European politics, and take a bite out of his cronies’ coffers. It won’t happen overnight, as the Chronicle has reported. But passing the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union will put immediate pressure on Putin and put the EU on track to importing clean natural gas.

Whether we admit it or not, the world is in the midst of a war for energy resources. We can only fight if D.C. wants to fight. This means more fracking on federal lands, fewer restrictions on exporting natural gas and better international energy cooperation. Some of the most important cooperation is with our neighbors to the north and south. A unified North America, with streamlined exchanges for oil, gas and electricity, could stand as a bulwark against despotic sources of energy. Yet energy ties with Canada are still stymied by President Barack Obama dragging his feet on the Keystone XL pipeline connection.

Mexico has begun to liberalize its national oil and gas industry, which should bring the blessings of fracking south of the border. As we’ve written, the Eagle Ford shale doesn’t end at the Rio Grande, and neither should its development. Wind doesn’t end at the border, either, and we’re excited to see Mexico develop farms of wind turbines that match those in West Texas. We shouldn’t hesitate to look beyond the usual oil and gas energy sources, not only to reduce our reliance on foreign energy, but also to help fight pollution and build that bridge to a cleaner energy future. The global energy market is anything but fair, and the right incentives for wind and solar will keep us in fighting shape.

There is nothing inevitable about liberty and freedom. Obama may claim that the world’s tyrants are on the wrong side of history, but it is his job to make sure that history bends in the right direction. We cannot ignore the battle for energy that wages across the globe. So if we aspire to be a shining city on a hill, we should remember that Spindletop was a hill, too.


San Antonio Express-News. April 7, 2014.

Abuse has no place in Air Force boot camp

Boot camp, no matter the branch of military service, is not tea and crumpets. Discipline, regimentation, physical hardship and mental rigor are all ingredients in turning individuals into cohesive units in which members look out for one another, the unit and the mission. But there is a right way to teach this.

Annamarie Ellis, an Air Force staff sergeant busted to airman basic and given a bad-conduct discharge and eight months of prison for her abuse of recruits, should be no one’s role model for how to train America’s warriors.

That was her job at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, the Air Force’s only basic training site. She pleaded guilty recently to three charges and 24 specifications of misconduct.

Prosecutors said she threatened to castrate a recruit and withheld food and, possibly, mail. In pleading guilty, she essentially admitted to forcing recruits to do physical training naked at night in the shower, made a recruit bark like a dog, cursed them and threatened to “beat the crap” out of another recruit. Recruits said she put them in a circle and challenged them to fight her. They didn’t.

Of course, they didn’t. Anyone who has been to boot camp knows that what intimidates mostly isn’t how physically imposing the instructors. The stress of boot camp is heightened by fear of failure, being forced to repeat training or getting kicked out of the service altogether. In those weeks of boot camp, the Air Force’s authority and power are invested in that instructor in what can seem outsized proportions to impressionable recruits.

This will be as true for an instructor described as short and petite as one who is physically imposing.

The country needs soldiers, sailors and airmen who follow orders and act as units, but also those who don’t lose their humanity in the process - who can act as individuals to right wrongs when need be. Humiliation and degradation bury that humanity. Being taught that leaders are to be feared more than respected can bury it as well.

Lackland and the military generally have been in the news because of an epidemic of sexual assaults in the ranks. Authority and power misused by training instructors have been a problem on this score locally.

But not all abuse is sexual. The military, not just the Air Force, should be just as committed to rooting this out.


Corpus Christi Caller-Times. April 3, 2014.

Windstorm suit is a fight against discrimination

Discrimination being a terrible thing, we applaud the lawsuit filed Monday in Austin by Ramiro Gamboa of Corpus Christi, a prominent member of the League of United Latin American Citizens, on behalf of the following aggrieved groups:

Low-income coastal property owners, middle-income coastal property owners, high-income coastal property owners, coastal property owners who are members of racial or ethnic minorities, coastal property owners who are not.

Other potential beneficiaries of Gamboa’s action include opponents of lawsuit abuse who - you guessed it - own coastal property. Anti-lawsuit abuse advocates say they aren’t opposed to an aggrieved party’s legitimate right to seek redress through the court system to address a legitimate wrong. It’s a safe bet that this lawsuit meets their standard for being non-frivolous.

Gamboa and his lawyer didn’t act hastily or rashly. They are seeking to right a wrong perpetrated by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, which struck in 2008. Gamboa seeks to force the association to charge $600 million in Ike-related claims to insurance companies rather than policyholders who are windstorm-insured through the association.

The $100,000 Gamboa seeks for himself falls so short of greedy that we’d call it nominal at best.

It’s a sad commentary that the court system appears to be the only alternative for coastal property owners. The discrimination they’ve suffered goes much farther back than Ike’s aftermath - to 1971, when the association first was established under a different name. It was the Legislature’s attempted remedy against the insurance industry’s decision to jettison coastal property owners as a risk group in the aftermath of Hurricane Celia. Houston’s success in throwing its political weight around and avoiding being roped into the risk group proves that it wasn’t an entirely good-faith effort.

The way insurance is supposed to work is by spreading risk widely. It works that way for non-coastal residents whose historic run-ins with tornadoes, hail and other weather-related maladies can be compared equitably to coastal residents’ exposure to hurricanes. Coastal residents’ rates offset tornado and hail losses in West and North Texas.

But when it comes to windstorm damage on the Texas coast, we’re on our own. That’s discrimination. It doesn’t take a Webster’s scholar to define it and it shouldn’t take much lawyerly effort to establish it in court.

This discrimination has had more than 40 years to fester - ample time for the Legislature to have addressed it. The most recent effort last year by coastal lawmakers was upended by distractions such as the abortion bill, which took two special sessions to pass. It’s always something.

Enough of waiting. Gamboa should be commended for putting his good name on the lawsuit. His LULAC affiliation is not mentioned in the petition. He’s identified as an owner of a home near the Gulf of Mexico who is insured by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association - just like most other homeowners along the coast (other than the ones in Houston).

The insurance association, the so-called insurer of last resort, has failed its captive audience of customers. Unfortunately, the court system is their real last resort.

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