- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Austin American-Statesman. Aug. 28, 2015.

Texas was quick to help thousands displaced by Hurricane Katrina

Even 10 years later, there are two common narratives about Hurricane Katrina. One focuses on the destruction that almost wiped out one of the country’s most beloved cities: New Orleans. The other narrative is about the horrifying conditions endured by New Orleans’ poorest and most vulnerable residents for days as a result of the ineptitude of local, state and federal governments.

Not as often recounted, however, are the ways Louisiana’s neighbor, Texas, rallied to help those displaced by the deadly storm.

Katrina was “the single most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It wreaked havoc in all five coastal states along the Gulf and killed 1,833 people - with 238 and 1,577 deaths in Mississippi and Louisiana, respectively. The majority of Louisiana’s deaths were reported in New Orleans.

It was the magnitude of Katrina - a Category 3 hurricane that made landfall in the Mississippi-Louisiana border - that weakened and overtopped New Orleans’ levee defense system, causing more than 80 percent of the city to flood.

For years before Katrina hit, engineers and emergency planners warned that the city’s fragile levee system would not shield New Orleans in the event of a hurricane the scale of Katrina. The warnings came again in the days leading up to the storm. To be adequately prepared, it would require the city, state and federal agencies to work together. A proper plan would include enough transportation to evacuate residents who had no vehicles, as well as provide temporary shelter - including food, water and basic necessities - and a plan to sustain law and order for those who remained. Any such preparations did not materialize in time for Katrina.

On Aug. 28, then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation and then designated the city’s convention center and the Louisiana Superdome football stadium - which would be severely damaged in the storm - as temporary shelters. However, the city failed to plan for enough food, water and buses to help transport as many as 100,000 people. The next day, the main levee broke and the city began to flood.

Help took days to arrive for those stranded atop their homes, in the streets and in the city’s shelters as federal and state agencies wrestled with legalities and logistics. As a result, desperation and fear led to looting and violence.

The images of the human tragedy caused by the hurricane are unforgettable: weak elderly patients carried to safety on makeshift cots, fatigued families walking in waist-deep water to drier ground, and mothers cradling their children in a sea of chaos and rubble. Tears streaming down the faces of men, women and children.

In a matter of hours, the vibrant city known for its music, food and zest for life resembled a war zone.

Many Texans, including then-Gov. Rick Perry, who watched the aftermath unfold, felt compelled to help.

Perry asked Texas leaders to open facilities, including the Astrodome in Houston and Toney Burger Center in Austin, as shelter for thousands of hurricane victims.

“We are all in this together,” Perry said at the time. “We will continue to do what it takes, from offering assistance to offering prayers, to get through this together, as one American family.” It was one of Perry’s finer moments.

The people of Texas did more than provide the basics; they went the extra mile.

In Austin, under the direction of then-Mayor Will Wynn, thousands of evacuees were provided with clothes, food and bedding at the Austin Convention Center. The Palmer Events Center was hastily converted into a medical facility that also offered victims a place to sleep, shower and begin a process of relocation. Nonprofits jumped in to help provide housing, social and medical services. And thousands of Central Texans donated time and money to help evacuees who fled to this region and to help those who stayed behind in New Orleans.

Texas schools opened their doors to more than 21,000 school-age evacuees from Gulf Coast states ravaged by the hurricane. The day the Austin Convention Center shelter opened, representatives from the Austin school district were on site to help families begin the enrollment process for students. Many students came from poor-performing schools in Louisiana, making it challenging for their teachers in Texas to help them “catch up.”

Embracing victims of Hurricane Katrina was easy for Texans. Generosity and compassion is what we do best in times of tragedy.

New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas damaged by the hurricane continue on their road to rebuild. Redesigned levees and flood walls are more resilient against storms and low-category hurricanes. Better coordinated disaster response plans have been developed. Still, there are no guarantees for the Gulf Coast, part of Hurricane Alley. Though Texans wouldn’t hesitate to step up again, we hope to never face another Katrina again.


Houston Chronicle. Aug. 31, 2015.

Never forget: Darren Goforth was a good man. We honor his service to our community

Words cannot express the anguish that friends and family members of Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth are experiencing. We can only hope that the outpouring of love, support and sympathy from those who knew the veteran lawman, from those who worked with him and from thousands in this community who have been moved to pay their respects will offer a measure of solace to his wife Kathleen and his two young children.

This was a senseless and cowardly act that took the life of a man whose calling was to protect and serve. Even Goforth’s fellow officers were shocked almost beyond words. “In my many years of law enforcement I have never seen such a cold, callous act against an officer,” Chief Deputy Tim Cannon told the Chronicle Sunday.

The alleged killer, Shannon Jaruay Miles, 30, is accused of walking up behind the deputy as he filled his patrol car with gas Friday evening and shooting him repeatedly in the back without any apparent provocation or motive. The killer kept shooting, even after the officer went down. Miles has been charged with capital murder for what Gov. Greg Abbott described as a “deliberate and heinous crime.”

Court records show Miles has a lengthy criminal history dating back to 2005 when he was arrested for allegedly failing to identify and giving false information to police officers. Since then he’s been arrested six times on charges ranging from criminal mischief and resisting arrest to “discharging or displaying” a firearm.

Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman was quick to blame what he considers rhetoric on the part of the group Black Lives Matter for fostering an atmosphere that encourages attacks on law enforcement. It’s easy to understand the sheriff’s anger and bitterness, but the fact is we don’t know what motivated the man charged with shooting the 10-year law-enforcement veteran.

What we do know is that this nation is awash in guns - lethal weapons too easily available to those with no business having them in their possession. Until we choose to take action about the easy acquisition of guns, then senseless killings and maimings will continue to be a part of everyday life in this country.

Darren Goforth was by all accounts a good man. We honor his service to our community, we express our sympathy to the Goforth family and we long for the day when common sense and a decent respect for the sanctity of human life compels us to get serious about the gun peril we continue to face.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Aug. 27, 2015.

Be sad - but not scared

When our newscasts and social media are inundated with reports of violent crime, we become not only fearful but forgetful.

From the round-the-clock news updates and frightening true-crime TV shows, it’s easy to think violent crime is worse than ever.

No. Violent crime in America is half what it was 20 years ago, according to the FBI Crime in the United States report.

Murders are down by half since 1994, from 9 to 4.5 per 100,000 in the U.S. population. The total number of murders is down 9,000.

Rapes are down by one-third. Robberies are down by more than half.

The yearly rate continues to decline. Attacks on Hispanics and African-Americans also declined, according to the Office of Justice Programs Criminal Victimization report.

As we watch repeated heartbreaking reports on deadly mass shootings both near and far, read social-media posts on each crime and hear politicians debate immigration’s impact on public safety, it would be easy to grow frightened and imagine America as violent and crime-riddled.

That is not fact.


Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Sept. 1, 2015.

Texas shouldn’t have to be sued to fund schools

The so-called wheels of justice are misnamed. They grind too slowly to bring justice to students in Texas public schools.

Consider that the Texas Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by more than 600 school districts in October 2012. As Will Weissert of The Associated Press pointed out, today’s high school seniors were freshmen. The school districts sued the state, asserting it doesn’t fund public education adequately.

That’s no stretch. The lawsuit was filed the year after the Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education. The purpose of the Kilimanjaro-sized cut was to offset an estimated state revenue shortfall that turned out to be severely inflated - and was widely suspected to have been inflated on purpose. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist’s paranoia to conclude the state’s political leaders are anti-public education.

The state’s education budgets since the 2011 Legislature make a convincing Exhibit A. The 2011 cut caused per-student spending to drop 8 percent while the price of just about everything else kept going up because that’s what the price of just about everything does. Then in 2013, despite a state treasury swollen with oil revenue, the Legislature restored only $3 billion. The $1.5 billion increase in 2015 only offset growing enrollment, estimated at 80,000 students a year. The pattern is hard to deny.

Add to the pattern of transgression that more than 60 percent of Texas schoolchildren are from economically disadvantaged homes. The situation cries out for a swift remedy. Austin District Judge John Dietz let only four months pass before declaring the state’s funding of education unconstitutionally inadequate. Don’t blame him for the slowness of the grinding of the wheels. Blame the insistence of the state’s political leaders on fighting the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Gov. Greg Abbott carried that ball when he was attorney general. Now it’s in the hands of his successor, Ken Paxton. According to the attorney general’s office, funding for public education meets state constitutional standards for providing a “general diffusion of knowledge” efficiently.

Do tell. This is the same education system that countless state lawmakers vilify when they argue for tax credits for private school and for expanding charter schools. They consider the state education system just fine and dandy only when challenged to fund it.

The plaintiffs in this case include rich and poor school districts that educate three-quarters of public school students. So consider this case Texas vs. Its People. A lawyer for the plaintiffs - again, that’s all of us, assuming we’re not elected state officials - says the facts of the case and the law, if followed, make it pretty much a slam dunk. So the question comes down to whether the Texas Supreme Court can be trusted. That’s a vexing question considering how the court gutted the Open Beaches Act in 2012.

Let’s hope the court sticks with precedent going back to the 1980s, which is to find the state in the wrong. Even if it does, justice will move too slowly to be called justice. There’s no deadline for the court to decide the case.

This litigation cycle won’t break until Texas makes education a priority. Abbott campaigned on that promise. Yet here we are again.


The Facts of Brazoria County. Aug. 29, 2015.

Re-examine legalization of cannabis for medical use

It’s not clear why Texas is on the fence about medicinal marijuana.

The research to support its legalization is there. There are forms of the substance that reduce pain and nausea without giving users the traditional “head high” recreational users seek.

And most importantly, there is a clear, heart-wrenching need.

Lake Jackson resident Cherie Rineker opened her life up to The Facts in a story skillfully told by Facts reporter Brittany Lamas.

She invited us into her chemotherapy sessions, her home and her workplace, described the financial burden and even let us in on her young daughter’s prayers.

The result was as compelling a tale as readers will ever find into the struggles a cancer patient has in desperately researching any treatment that could prolong her life and improve its quality.

The unbelievable frustration at knowing a treatment is out there, yet unattainable in her home state, was clear in her story.

And she is not, by far, alone. Our series also told tales of others who are in the same situation. They are representative of countless similar stories out there.

These people aren’t druggies. They don’t want to break the law.

They just want to feel better.

Theirs are stories that deserve to be heard. And when people listen, minds change.

The overwhelming sentiment from 100 Facts readers who weighed in on our Facebook page was that marijuana should be legalized for medicinal purposes.

A March survey from the Pew Research Center was not quite as one-sided, but it did show 53 percent of Americans favor the legal use of marijuana. A 2014 Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll showed only 23 percent of respondents would keep marijuana illegal in all cases.

It’s time for lawmakers, both at the federal and state level, to re-examine the issue, look at the science and vote to legalize some forms of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Too many people are suffering, and help for a better quality of life is out there.

It’s not a cure. But until there is one, this is something.

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