- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

The Monitor. Dec. 9, 2018.

The 86th Texas Legislature convenes in a month, and we hope that some of the more controversial issues of the previous session, which grew out of the contentious presidential campaigns, aren’t resurrected.

Gov. Greg Abbott has said that one of the more divisive issues, known as the bathroom bill, won’t be a priority, and we trust that other state officials have similar attitudes.

In fact the governor now says he never supported the proposal. During his September debate with Democratic gubernatorial challenger Lupe Valdez, Abbott said resurrecting the bill was not on his agenda for the upcoming session.



Two years ago, he Abbott touted the bill as a way to “make sure our children maintain privacy in our school bathrooms and locker rooms.”

The bill was similar to a North Carolina law enacted in 2016 that mandated the use of public restrooms by the gender that is listed on a person’s birth certificate. It was issued in response to anti-discrimination ordinances some cities were passing, and prompted the issuance of a Barack administration memo stating that public school restrooms should be used according to the gender under which a student was identified.

Texas was one of several states where bathroom bills were introduced, but few actually passed. After it failed to reach a vote by the 85th Texas Legislature, Abbott called a special session that included the bill as one of several issues he wanted revisited.

Again, it failed to pass. And that’s good - not only because it would be patently discriminatory and address a problem that never existed, but because it would have severely damaged the economies of Texas cities and the state in general.

Proponents of the bill warned that child molesters could simply dress as women and enter women’s restrooms to lie in wait for their victims. Opponents noted that people who saw themselves differently from the gender on their birth certificates, especially those who had sex reassignment surgery, would not be able to use public facilities.

Many businesses, organizations and entertainers threatened to cancel events or avoid states where such a bill would pass. This included major sports all-star games and college tournaments, concerts and conventions. Companies announced they would reconsider any plans to open any new outlets or headquarters in states that enacted bathroom laws.

House Speaker Joe Straus, whose resistance to the bill kept it from advancing in that chamber in 2015, formed a bipartisan committee after the session to study economic issues, including any possible fallout from a bathroom bill, among other issues.

The committee’s report, issued in March, said the state should heed warnings about “the consequences of such discriminatory legislation to avoid endangering the state’s successful economy,” and avoid “any unnecessary distractions, such as manufactured social issues that are unreasonable, unenforceable and harmful to the economy.”

Some conservative groups have stated that the issue still needs to be addressed. We hope the majority of our lawmakers agree with our governor that such discriminatory and divisive matters should be left to lie where they fell two years ago.

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Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Dec. 10, 2018.

The latest chapter in the nine-year Hatfields and McCoys saga between Texas Tech University and former football coach Mike Leach played out in the Seventh Court of Appeals with the Amarillo-based justices ruling against Leach and his litigation emissary, Wayne Dolcefino.

The ruling, reversing an earlier district court decision by Judge William Sowder, did not close the book on the matter. In fact, it seems to have opened a new door for Dolcefino, who openly questioned the justices’ integrity in his post-decision comments, insinuating that because all three jurists are Tech alums, their objectivity is tainted.

To that, we say - C’mon, man! First off, this is the new reality in which we live. There is no such thing as objectivity, no such thing as impartiality. It is part of the same kind of thinking that gives us the concept of fake news and other pejorative terms that demean the hard work of professional people. Fake news has become a new way for people to say “unwelcome” news or even negative news. It has become standard practice in many corners to not just blame the messenger but say there is something fundamentally wrong that completely disqualifies the messenger. That this type of thinking would spill over in the aftermath of a legal ruling should come as a surprise to no one in a day and age of super-heated and intentionally divisive rhetoric.

Look, it should go without saying that the three who rendered the final decision - Chief Justice Brian Quinn and Justices James Campbell and Judy Parker - are above reproach. They have impeccable credentials and outstanding track records as reasonable people who understand the law (much better than the sideline critics) and apply it accordingly. Just typing that sentence in black and white says as much about where we are in society as anything.

Here’s the deal, appellate court justices (or judges of any type for that matter) don’t get where they’re going without a lot of hard work. More important, they don’t stay there very long if they have a blind spot. Those robes judges wear demand respect - for the person and for what they represent. Yes, there might be a very small number of poor judges out there, just like there are poor preachers, teachers, lumberjacks or any other discipline. As is the case across the board, those few exceptions are quickly rooted out and shown the door. For someone to proclaim an entity would receive a “hometown discount” in a court of law based on the educational pedigree of the judges is out of bounds.

Of course, it has become more convenient in society today to target the character of people and suggest they have some sort of hidden agenda. Sports fans have certainly participated in their share of conspiracy theories along these lines, suggesting that certain officials or umpires had blind spots because they were affiliated with another university or had some secret tie to another community. The simple truth is the games move too fast for an official to think through how to sabotage a game in the brief time it takes to make a call. Do they make mistakes? Absolutely. That’s the human factor. Do judges make mistakes? Probably happens on occasion for a variety of reasons. Interestingly, though, when instant replay looks at officials’ calls in super slow-motion, the official is correct in a huge majority of cases. Thankfully, we don’t have instant-replay officials in the courtroom, but we do have an appeal process and a well-designed, well-defined system of justice that works virtually all the time.

Reading our reporter’s work this week, it appears the Leach-Tech case isn’t going away any time soon. That’s why we were so surprised to hear Leach’s name mentioned in connection with the recently filled vacancy at Texas Tech. Considering the history and apparent acrimony, at least on one side of the dispute, a reunion seems highly unlikely (although, we hasten to add, stranger things have happened). For its part, Texas Tech, from chancellor to athletic director and all points in between, appears more than ready to move forward. The university just hired its third football coach since Leach was abruptly jettisoned. While there is a segment of fans doing all they can to keep Leach’s name on the West Texas radar, it’s been a while since he was on the sideline. He seems to be pretty busy at the helm of Washington State, where he is also enjoying a successful run. Dolcefino has told media members he was hired by the former coach “to dig up” material on the university that would strengthen Leach’s case against the school. Dig up has a negative connotation and makes it appear Dolcefino is pursuing some smoking gun or otherwise unflattering material that will change the trajectory of this long-running battle.

We fear this week’s ruling may be only another pitstop in a race a long way from ending. The decision kicks the case back to Sowder’s court, where a subsequent hearing is as yet to be scheduled. Dolcefino indicated he has a good “20 to 30 years” left to continue what he sees as some sort of grail quest. That most likely means those Open Records requests will keep on coming across the desks of Texas Tech attorneys.

Until someone, probably in a black robe somewhere, says, “The End.”

___

Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Dec. 10, 2018.

Desiree Boltos spent the past several years forming relationships with people expressly to steal from them.

Lori Varnell has spent the past few years building relationships to make sure people like Boltos pay dearly for their crimes.

Mission accomplished: Because of Varnell’s outreach as Tarrant County assistant district attorney in charge of the office’s Elder Financial Fraud Unit, Boltos - the 37-year-old “Sweetheart Swindler” who bilked at least eight area victims out of more than $1.6 million - is headed for an utterly stunning 85-year prison term.

It appears to be an unprecedented sentence for a white collar criminal in Tarrant County history, and should emit shock waves throughout the country and perhaps beyond - as well as send the message that older folks are no longer defenseless against scammers.

“I certainly hope so,” Varnell says. “That was certainly the goal of it. We want to reach everybody with this message.”

The early signs are good: The Tarrant County jury’s resolute sentence Nov. 30 has been picked up by the international press, noticed by financial institutions in New York and quite likely will send quakes through prosecutorial and law enforcement circles and tremors through the back alleys where shady swindlers slink and skulk.

More importantly, the case should signal to seniors and those who love them that there is no shame in being the victim of someone else’s despicable deeds. The unnecessary self-flagellation and embarrassment that victims of sophisticated scams tend to heap on themselves can even compound the crimes against them - through not only self-reproach but also the isolating suspicion that their children will take control of their affairs if they find out about the fleecing.

Seniors and their families need to talk more, not less, about the growing finesse and fierceness of 21st-century swindles, including fraudulent home repairs, phony sweepstakes, fake jury summonses and, yes, “sweetheart” scams.

All of these con games, notes District Attorney Sharen Wilson, ruthlessly prey upon older citizens’ trusting nature and their desires to be in good standing with the government and to help those in need. But the “love con” is particularly hurtful, as it can leave victims both bankrupt and brokenhearted. “It’s emotionally devastating, it’s financially devastating,” Varnell says.

If society has historically had little sympathy for older men duped by unscrupulous younger women, society needs a paradigm shift. Whether one’s vault is broken into through a window or a heart, the theft is the same. When one of Boltos’ victims described losing his life savings to her, and being subsequently unable to help his son in Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey, it brought some jurors to tears.

“They are very much a vulnerable group of individuals,” says Varnell, adding her admiration for the many investigators, analysts and attorneys who “worked their hearts out” at all hours to put Boltos away for a good, long lifetime.

Boltos - who Varnell reports has multiple aliases and has left footprints from California to Florida as well as the fingerprints of an itinerant scam artist - claimed at trial that she never learned how to read. But she sure knew how to read people, Varnell says.

It’s incumbent on seniors not to be an open book - and for society to help them.

___

Houston Chronicle. Dec. 10, 2018.

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell touched off a stock market rally in November when he hinted that the central bank may not need to raise interest rates again this year to stave off inflation. Too bad there was no similarly strong reaction when Powell days later pointed out that the booming economy isn’t booming as much for some Americans.

Powell said at an event to honor former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen that an historically low unemployment rate of 3.7 percent in October and all-time-high consumer spending in November “mask important disparities by income, race and geography.” Those disparities include an income gap between the richest and poorest of all Americans that grew 27 percent from 1970 to 2016, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

Reviewing income gaps across racial lines, the analysis said the median income for black Americans in 2016 was only 65 percent of what whites earn, even though that was an improvement from 59 percent in 1970. The median income for Hispanics actually fell from 74 percent of what whites earned in 1970 to 65 percent in 2016. The Pew researchers attributed the drop to an influx of Hispanic immigrants who arrived in America with less education and consequently took lower-income jobs.

The income disparities were even more dramatic in the Fed’s own analysis last year, which said the median net worth of a white family in America was $171,000 compared with only $20,700 in total assets for a Hispanic family and $17,600 for a black family. “Median net worth fell about 30 percent for all groups during the Great Recession,” the Fed report said. “However, for black and Hispanic families, net worth continued to fall an additional 20 percent in the 2010-13 period, while white families’ net worth was essentially unchanged.”

Some critics say the Fed shouldn’t point out income disparities without acknowledging the role it played in creating them through economic policies that give people and businesses more incentive to invest in assets rather than the production of goods and services. Business spending on research, new equipment and factories actually increased 19 percent in the first half of this year compared with that period in 2017. However, stock buybacks for that period increased 48 percent, rewarding shareholders with an additional $384 billion in net worth.

Think of the jobs that could be created if more money were invested in production. Think of the impact on the persistent income gaps that lower expectations and limit opportunities. It is not encouraging a class war to admit there is an inequitable distribution of wealth in America. Our country was founded on principles that birthed a democracy, not an aristocracy. We should elect leaders who remember that.

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The Dallas Morning News. Dec. 11, 2018.

If you think there is something going on in West Texas, you may be underestimating how important oil and gas exploration has been in the Permian Basin and how much it is changing the world.

Two data points should suffice to underscore just what is happening. In recent days, federal officials released the earth shattering news that for the first time in 75 years the United States became a net exporter of oil. In other words, we now ship more of the black gold overseas than we import. The import of that is we - the United States - now have the upper hand over the oil-autocratic regimes of the world.

The second datapoint is connected to the first. The United States is now the largest oil producer in the world. If you think the trade deficit matters, consider these data points will reduce it. And if you think it matters whether we boost our GDP, produce jobs at home, and gain influence for spreading the rule of law and open markets, you should celebrate both of these data points.

And the timing of the news from the Energy Information Administration couldn’t be more fun. OPEC was meeting to decide whether to cut production in order to boost prices.

OPEC members struggled last week to agree on production cuts, but eventually on Friday announced a deal. Oil prices rose. But by Monday, much of those gains vanished as investors worried about a supply glut.

If OPEC cuts production, the cartel risks losing market share to the U.S., where production is amping up. And, as we saw this week, the move might not have the desired effect on prices. That’s because new technology, including fracking and horizontal drilling, allow U.S. oil producers to draw enormous volumes of oil out of mature oil fields.

And those fields hold a lot of oil. News also broke last week of a U.S. Geological Survey report showing West Texas’ Delaware Basin contains twice as much oil as the nearby Midland Basin. The Delaware Basin side of the Permian is the largest continuous oil assessment the government has ever released.

Rather than fret about OPEC, which is far from its glory days of the 1970s, let’s talk about those who are relevant now. If producers are about to turn up the volume on Permian drilling, great. We welcome the jobs and the wealth production. . But it’s critical that the region get the support of Texas’ oil and gas regulator, the Railroad Commission.

The RRC needs to enforce environmental and safety rules that boost safety and public confidence. As we know from the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, one accident can halt drilling in an entire region. Even small accidents can prompt local authorities to block production activity.

And as we watch geo-political history develop in real-time, let’s not forget that there’s another side to the equation of net exporter. That’s consumption, where Americans have long been dominant. But consumer power is expected to shift over the next couple of decades, as developing countries industrialize and as people in the U.S. shift toward electric vehicles and renewable energy. As that happens, we’re less dependent on foreign oil.

One more news item this week to illustrate the point: Exxon Mobil Corp. announced it will use solar power for its operations in the Permian Basin.

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