Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the reddest part of the red state

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ken Paxton issues a hateful opinion - and Reminds us of George Wallace

Ken Paxton, Texas’ criminally indicted attorney general, has issued an opinionthat would, it seems, be an obstruction of justice and a contravention of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling making every citizen of this country equal under the law — allowing same sex partners to enjoy the rights of conferred with a state-sanctioned marriage.

Paxton’s opinion also assured those county clerks with religious opposition to issuing marriage license to same sex couples that a raft of lawyers are standing by to assist those clerks and Paxton in his obstruction of justice and violation of his and their oaths of office. The opinion arises out of a request for “guidance” from Dan Patrick, the hate-mongering lieutenant governor, although it’s unclear why and how Patrick would be impacted by this ruling. According to the hateful press release, Paxton implies that religious freedom is threatened.


The language is odious.

“Indeed, for those who respect the rule of law, this lawless ruling presents a fundamental dilemma: A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is considered the law of the land, but a judge-made edict that is not based in the law or the Constitution diminishes faith in our system of government and the rule of law.

Now hundreds of Texas public officials are seeking guidance on how to implement what amounts to a lawless decision by an activist Court while adhering both to their respective faiths and their responsibility to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution.”

But how can a law be lawless if the very Constitution states the Supreme Court’s rulings are the law of the land?

And here is an even greater irony. The date on the opinion is Sunday, June 28, the Sabbath. As a Bible-thumping, breast-beating nondenominational Christian, Paxton has violated, at least, the Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.


This Supreme Court ruling is unusual. It doesn’t really have losers; no money will be forfeited as a result of the ruling. The hypocrisy and hatefulness of this attorney general contradicts everything Jesus preached. Sometimes you have to wonder how low a public official, and Paxton in particular, can go. I have a feeling we’re far from seeing him reach bottom.

Ken Paxton issues a hateful opinion - and Reminds us of George Wallace

Ken Paxton, Texas’ criminally indicted attorney general, has issued an opinion that would, it seems, be an obstruction of justice and a contravention of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling making every citizen of this country equal under the law — allowing same sex partners to enjoy the rights of conferred with a state-sanctioned marriage.

Paxton’s opinion also assured those county clerks with religious opposition to issuing marriage license to same sex couples that a raft of lawyers are standing by to assist those clerks and Paxton in his obstruction of justice and violation of his and their oaths of office. The opinion arises out of a request for “guidance” from Dan Patrick, the hate-mongering lieutenant governor, although it’s unclear why and how Patrick would be impacted by this ruling. According to the hateful press release, Paxton implies that religious freedom is threatened.

Ken Paxton issues a hateful opinion - and Reminds us of George Wallace

Ken Paxton, Texas’ criminally indicted attorney general, has issued an opinionthat would, it seems, be an obstruction of justice and a contravention of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling making every citizen of this country equal under the law — allowing same sex partners to enjoy the rights of conferred with a state-sanctioned marriage.

Paxton’s opinion also assured those county clerks with religious opposition to issuing marriage license to same sex couples that a raft of lawyers are standing by to assist those clerks and Paxton in his obstruction of justice and violation of his and their oaths of office. The opinion arises out of a request for “guidance” from Dan Patrick, the hate-mongering lieutenant governor, although it’s unclear why and how Patrick would be impacted by this ruling. According to the hateful pressrelease, Paxton implies that religious freedom is threatened.


The language is odious.

“Indeed, for those who respect the rule of law, this lawless ruling presents a fundamental dilemma: A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is considered the law of the land, but a judge-made edict that is not based in the law or the Constitution diminishes faith in our system of government and the rule of law.

Now hundreds of Texas public officials are seeking guidance on how to implement what amounts to a lawless decision by an activist Court while adhering both to their respective faiths and their responsibility to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution.”

But how can a law be lawless if the very Constitution states the Supreme Court’s rulings are the law of the land?

And here is an even greater irony. The date on the opinion is Sunday, June 28, the Sabbath. As a Bible-thumping, breast-beating nondenominational Christian, Paxton has violated, at least, the Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.


This Supreme Court ruling is unusual. It doesn’t really have losers; no money will be forfeited as a result of the ruling. The hypocrisy and hatefulness of this attorney general contradicts everything Jesus preached. Sometimes you have to wonder how low a public official, and Paxton in particular, can go. I have a feeling we’re far from seeing him reach bottom.

More Political Pornography

When the Local Government Corp. announced recently that it would join with the City Council, AmarilloGlobe-News and on at least two Facebook pages (here and here), that this meeting is another ploy at propaganda to shove the Wallace Bajjali-Downtown Amarillo Inc. plan down our throats.
Downtown Amarillo Inc., Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and others in a community meeting on July 1, TIRZ Chairman Richard Brown and others represented the meeting as one seeking input and discussion. It turns out now as a story unfolds in the

While the first clue that the meeting Wednesday wasn’t really for community input came from reports about Mayor Paul Harpole’s “Town Hall” meetings, at which he has been reported to reject an election on the Wallace Bajjali-DAI stadium, clear confirmation arrived Sunday with the story referenced above.

More Political Pornography

When the Local Government Corp. announced recently that it would join with the City Council, Downtown Amarillo Inc., Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and others in a community meeting on July 1, TIRZ Chairman Richard Brown and others represented the meeting as one seeking input and discussion. It turns out now as a story unfolds in the AmarilloGlobe-News and on at least two Facebook pages (here and here), that this meeting is another ploy at propaganda to shove the Wallace Bajjali-Downtown Amarillo Inc. plan down our throats.

While the first clue that the meeting Wednesday wasn’t really for community input came from reports about Mayor Paul Harpole’s “Town Hall” meetings, at which he has been reported to reject an election on the Wallace Bajjali-DAI stadium, clear confirmation arrived Sunday with the story referenced above.


“The purpose of the meeting on Wednesday is to bring before the City Council and Amarillo Local Government Corp. a review of what has been done and what’s next, so that informed decisions can be made going forward,” the article states in an unattributed paragraph. What makes this particular paragraph unusual for the Globe-News is the lack of attribution, veering from the normal style of crediting a source to every paragraph.

One other usual feature in this story is the move from bashing City Hall back to the overt propaganda for the Wallace Bajjali-DAI plan.

The other ramping up of the propaganda are those two Facebook pages. The first is a community page called “Advance Amarillo,” which purports to “work to educate our community on the importance of growth downtown and beyond.”

“Educate,” in this case, means continuing to spread the lies that no public money will pay for these Wallace Bajjali-DAI projects. It is clear that, while private investors have indicated interest in the projects, public subsidies in the form of guarantees and tax abutments will reach into taxpayer pockets. And two of the ramrods for this page seem to be Walter Riggs, a prominent banker in Amarillo, and Steve Pair, a former news director and Red Cross executive. Both have been four-square part of the Wallace Bajjali-DAI support group.

The second Facebook page is labelled: “This is the official Facebook page for Amarillo City Commissioner, Dr. Brian Eades.”

It, too, furthers the propaganda for the Wallace Bajjali-DAI plan. It would also be of interest to know if the city’s information technology people maintain this page for Eades, thus using city resources for propaganda, or if he maintains it himself.

What both pages have in common is this: Every post from someone who disagrees with the Wallace Bajjali-DAI plan is refuted, often with misinformation if not outright untruth. Further, the modus operandi of the pro-Wallace Bajjali-DAI plan is to call those opposed to the Wallace Bajjali-DAI debacle “negative,” as though it is a great insult. And it overlooks that many support revitalization, but want a more honest and rational approach.

The last city election was very much about the direction of downtown coupled with a referendum on whether the leadership in this city could be trusted. I will continue to point out that I warned this city about Wallace Bajjali and no one listened. But all said and done, I was right. There are other voices suppressed, political games played and questionable judgment infesting the entire effort so far. That the FBI and a grand jury is even looking at the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. and some of the other activities (including how the Herring Hotel has been treated) is enough taint to this process, even if no true bill is reported.


This get-along-by-going-along is hurting Amarillo in the long run. The revitalization effort needs to be rebooted and more open.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Waiting for an explanationi

The Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act on Thursday and on gay marriage have, rightfully, overwhelms the media — social, mainstream and lamestream. But in doing so, the local media have missed another story of some import, one that gives credence to the case that Downtown Amarillo Inc. and Amarillo City Council’s old guard has mislead us on downtown development.

In all the uproar Thursday, we received a press release from one Hayley Sitz, of the firm Weber Shandwick, announcingthe commencement of construction of the new Xcel office building in downtown. The building is actually being developed by the Opus Group.

None of the local media have reported on this little announcement, despite the postingThursday. So, I bring it up again. Why no coverage? And why no attempt to get DAI head Melissa Dailey and Mayor Paul Harpole and Councilman Brian Eades to reconcile their comments with the start of construction?



Love wins

To go on my blogs shortly:

An Open Letter to Greg Abbott, Ken Paxton and Myriad Others,

For the second time within a week, the United States Supreme Court has ruled on matters that you have strongly opposed. The first ruling was the declaration the Affordable Care Act was constitutional. Today, a majority of the justices ruled that the equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applied to everyone.

In your opposition to both of these measures, you have fomented hatred and lies, reflecting an indecency of human spirit and a hypocritical repudiation of the true message of Jesus Christ — a message which you try to convince us you so fervently embrace. Looking at your rhetoric, you fail.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Catching them in a lie?

We have heard repeatedly from the advocates of the Wallace Bajjali-Downtown Amarillo Inc. approach to revitalizing downtown that the ballpark is key to a full range of development, including being the deal breaker on a new building for Xcel Energy. The PR firm shilling for the Opus Group and Xcel announced this afternoon that contractors have are commencing construction of the 119,000-square-foot building. This means one of two things.

Either a secret deal exists to build the Wallace Bajjali-Downtown Amarillo Inc. ball park despite Amarillovoters clearly demanding more transparency and not proceeding on the park without the new CityCouncil considering the project further.


Or, all the talk about the ball park being the lynchpin is not and has not been true all along.

Neither of those “either-or” statements reflect honesty from the previous council. And this also reflects the wisdom of the voters to shift the power a City Hall. Mayor Paul Harpole and Councilor Brian Eades owe us the truth. Maybe the will tell us at the big public forum July 1. But I doubt they will.

Here is the entire release:

The Opus Group® Announces Start of Construction on
Build-to-Suit Headquarters for Xcel Energy in Texas

AMARILLO, Texas (June 25, 2015) – The Opus Group

 (Opus) announced today the start of construction on the new 119,000-square-foot build-to-suit headquarters in downtown Amarillo, Texas, for Xcel Energy, the development’s anchor tenant.

“We’re thrilled to have earned more business with Xcel Energy,” said Phil Cattanach, director, real estate development, Opus Development Company, L.L.C. “Our early commitment to price and certainty of outcome provided Xcel Energy the confidence to select Opus for their new office headquarters in Amarillo. This project is a testament to how Opus’ unique design-build platform provides excellent turnkey service for clients throughout the country.”

Located one block southwest of Amarillo City Hallon South Buchanan Street, the seven-story office building will be able to accommodate up to 525 employees, providing space for future growth for Xcel Energy’s downtown employee base. The development will also feature 5,000 square feet of ground-level retail space. The building is designed to achieve LEED certification and will feature an architectural precast and glass exterior with interior LED lighting, energy efficient HVAC systems and structured parking.

“Xcel Energy is in a period of historic growth across its Texas-New Mexico service area, and most of the work is being directed from our downtown Amarillooffices,” said David Hudson, president of Southwestern Public Service Company, an Xcel Energy company. “The new building will provide us a more efficient workspace and will be a valuable tool in recruiting our future workforce as a growing number of employees move toward retirement.”

Demolition is currently underway and construction is scheduled for completion in March 2017. Opus Development Company, L.L.C. is the developer, Opus Design Build, L.L.C is the design builder and Opus AE Group, L.L.C. is the architect and structural engineer of record.

Opus’ ongoing work with Xcel Energy includes a 222,000-square-foot build-to-suit office building

 to expand Xcel Energy’s corporate headquarters campus in downtown Minneapolis. Construction on this project began in 2014 and is slated for completion in July 2016.

About The Opus Group
The Opus Group® is a family of commercial real estate development, construction and design companies headquartered in Minneapoliswith offices and projects across the country. Opus operates as an integrated, multidisciplinary team with expertise in development, capital markets and finance; project management and construction; architecture, engineering and interior design. The Opus Group includes Opus Holding, L.L.C. and its operating subsidiaries: Opus Development Company, L.L.C., Opus Design Build, L.L.C. and Opus AE Group, L.L.C. Specializing in healthcare, residential, office, institutional, industrial and retail projects, The Opus Group has broad capabilities, deep experience and a proven design-build model that delivers solutions for customers on time and on budget. For more information, visit www.opus-group.com

 and follow @TheOpusGroup
 on Twitter.


Amarillo doc loses license

Directly from the Medical Board:

Shelton, Douglas Ray, M.D., Lic. No. J2325, Amarillo
On June 12, 2015, the Board entered a Final Order against Douglas Ray Shelton, M.D., which revoked Dr. Shelton's Texas medical license. The Board found Dr. Shelton engaged in violations of patient-physician boundaries with multiple patients, failed to meet the standard of care with respect to two patients' surgical procedures and their follow up care, failed to maintain adequate medical records, and was the subject of adverse peer review during which Dr. Shelton resigned his hospital privileges in lieu of disciplinary action. The action was based on the findings of two administrative law judges at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. This order resolves a formal complaint filed at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Dr. Shelton has 20 days from the service of the order to file a motion for rehearing.

Texas’ execrable, repulsive and deplorable attorney general

Americans who face potentially devastating medical problems have found succor in the Affordable Care Act and, with today’s United States Supreme Court decision, will continue to do so. The 6-3 ruling affirmed the constitutionality of the law, also known as Obamacare, with the three most ignorant, corporatist shills on the bench dissenting.


The right wing’s ideological knee-jerk sure to follow has already begun with Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general currentlyunder investigation for securities fraud, quick with a pressrelease — as he usually is — to condemn the federal government for “overreach,” clearly forgetting his oath to uphold the constitutions of the United States and Texas. This poor excuse for a law enforcement officer squanders taxpayer money to rail against those acts of government that don’t capitulate to his corporatist overlords. Like almost all politicians of the right wing, he fails to understand basic health care economics, the multiplier effect of funding health care and ignores the national interest in having a healthy society.

Further, the content of the press release is populated with right wing lies, perpetuated on right wing “news” sources and blogs since February 2014 when the Congressional Budget Office released a report on the ACA. Economist Paul Krugman pointedout what the CBO report really stated; so did Newsweek, among other emphasizing that the ACA didn’t cost American jobs.

Whatever our political persuasions, Texans have the highest regard for honesty, revering such symbols of integrity as sealing a deal with nothing more than a handshake. With Paxton, we have a traitor to this state’s righteous history. Texas deserves better.


What big media will call his cards on this as we have? 

Texas’ execrable, repulsive and deplorable attorney general

Americans who face potentially devastating medical problems have found succor in the Affordable Care Act and, with today’s United States Supreme Court decision, will continue to do so. The 6-3 ruling affirmed the constitutionality of the law, also known as Obamacare, with the three most ignorant, corporatist shills on the bench dissenting.

Texas’ execrable, repulsive and deplorable attorney general

Americans who face potentially devastating medical problems have found succor in the Affordable Care Act and, with today’s United States Supreme Court decision, will continue to do so. The 6-3 ruling affirmed the constitutionality of the law, also known as Obamacare, with the three most ignorant, corporatist shills on the bench dissenting.

The right wing’s ideological knee-jerk sure to follow has already begun with Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general currentlyunder investigation for securities fraud, quick with a pressrelease — as he usually is — to condemn the federal government for “overreach,” clearly forgetting his oath to uphold the constitutions of the United States and Texas. This poor excuse for a law enforcement officer squanders taxpayer money to rail against those acts of government that don’t capitulate to his corporatist overlords. Like almost all politicians of the right wing, he fails to understand basic health care economics, the multiplier effect of funding health care and ignores the national interest in having a healthy society.

Further, the content of the press release is populated with right wing lies, perpetuated on right wing “news” sources and blogs since February 2014 when the Congressional Budget Office released a report on the ACA. Economist Paul Krugman pointedout what the CBO report really stated; so did Newsweek, among other emphasizing that the ACA didn’t cost American jobs.

Whatever our political persuasions, Texans have the highest regard for honesty, revering such symbols of integrity as sealing a deal with nothing more than a handshake. With Paxton, we have a traitor to this state’s righteous history. Texas deserves better.


What big media will call his cards on this as we have? 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Government must reclaim its integrity

About three weeks ago, ABC 7 News ran a storyabout allegations that Amarillo Police Department officers beat a black man, Robert Johnson, during an incident on the north side of town. Today, the Amarillo Globe-News reportsthat Blackburn and Brown, a law firm headed by civil rights advocate and attorney Jeff Blackburn, has asked for DNA testing on bags that APD officers allege they found on Johnson during that incident. The cops allege that the bags contained marijuana. The implications in the article are clear. Johnson’s attorneys are suggesting that the cops planted the weed on Johnson.

But wait, there’s more — more dots to connect.


According to the Globe-News, the testing is to be done at a private lab in Virginia, not the taxpayer-owned and -funded Department of Public Safety lab. That’s probably a good decision. It seems that DPS can’t be trusted.

As I reportedin my companion blog in April, the Dallas Morning News’ Dave Lieber told us “the state is selling our private information to firms so they can market their wares to us.” Today, Lieber exposesDPS’ lies about its TrapWire system, a high-level surveillance system to ostensibly catch terrorists. Turned out, the DPS claim of TrapWire resulting in 44 arrests was false. Worse, not only was the TrapWire claim false, but so was another DPS claim about drug seizures. And before that was the DPS claim some time ago about DPS troopers confiscating jars of urine and feces from pro-choice advocates during a debate before the state Legislature that was also a lie.

And that brings the story back to the city of Amarillo and the Amarillo Police Department, which is now reeling from allegationsthat one of its officers, Micah Meurer, sexually assaulted a woman while on duty. As the story and subsequent investigation unfolded, you can’t help but notice that none of the stories about Meurer mention APD Chief Robert Taylor — at least so far. The public face so far has been Acting Chief Kenneth Funtek.

Now let’s connect the dots.

To those of you who work for taxpayers in government jobs at all levels: In case you’ve not noticed, you and your jobs are under attack by the Tea Party and other conservatives who think government is too big, inept and corrupt. Every time you tolerate and fail to cure incompetence or corruption in your ranks, you give the anti-government forces more ammunition to take away your jobs. Your greatest and best self-interest is to make sure you and your co-workers are part of a government that delivers services with integrity and competence.

Then, there is the message for Amarillo, its City Council, with its new members and city leadership: You face a daunting task of righting two horrible wrongs. You must figure out a way to completely reboot and redirect the downtown revitalization activity while minimizing the downside of curing any contractual issues with other entities, especially and specifically the hotel and garage developers. And, you need to see the operational problems — the day-to-day service delivery — are solved.


Our nation and government was founded on integrity. It’s time to reclaim that way of governing.

Government must reclaim its integrity

About three weeks ago, ABC 7 News ran a story about allegations that Amarillo Police Department officers beat a black man, Robert Johnson, during an incident on the north side of town. Today, the Amarillo Globe-News reports that Blackburn and Brown, a law firm headed by civil rights advocate and attorney Jeff Blackburn, has asked for DNA testing on bags that APD officers allege they found on Johnson during that incident. The cops allege that the bags contained marijuana. The implications in the article are clear. Johnson’s attorneys are suggesting that the cops planted the weed on Johnson.

But wait, there’s more — more dots to connect.

Government must reclaim its integrity

About three weeks ago, ABC 7 News ran a storyabout allegations that Amarillo Police Department officers beat a black man, Robert Johnson, during an incident on the north side of town. Today, the Amarillo Globe-News reportsthat Blackburn and Brown, a law firm headed by civil rights advocate and attorney Jeff Blackburn, has asked for DNA testing on bags that APD officers allege they found on Johnson during that incident. The cops allege that the bags contained marijuana. The implications in the article are clear. Johnson’s attorneys are suggesting that the cops planted the weed on Johnson.

But wait, there’s more — more dots to connect.


According to the Globe-News, the testing is to be done at a private lab in Virginia, not the taxpayer-owned and -funded Department of Public Safety lab. That’s probably a good decision. It seems that DPS can’t be trusted.

As I reportedin my companion blog in April, the Dallas Morning News’ Dave Lieber told us “the state is selling our private information to firms so they can market their wares to us.” Today, Lieber exposesDPS’ lies about its TrapWire system, a high-level surveillance system to ostensibly catch terrorists. Turned out, the DPS claim of TrapWire resulting in 44 arrests was false. Worse, not only was the TrapWire claim false, but so was another DPS claim about drug seizures. And before that was the DPS claim some time ago about DPS troopers confiscating jars of urine and feces from pro-choice advocates during a debate before the state Legislature that was also a lie.

And that brings the story back to the city of Amarillo and the Amarillo Police Department, which is now reeling from allegationsthat one of its officers, Micah Meurer, sexually assaulted a woman while on duty. As the story and subsequent investigation unfolded, you can’t help but notice that none of the stories about Meurer mention APD Chief Robert Taylor — at least so far. The public face so far has been Acting Chief Kenneth Funtek.

Now let’s connect the dots.

To those of you who work for taxpayers in government jobs at all levels: In case you’ve not noticed, you and your jobs are under attack by the Tea Party and other conservatives who think government is too big, inept and corrupt. Every time you tolerate and fail to cure incompetence or corruption in your ranks, you give the anti-government forces more ammunition to take away your jobs. Your greatest and best self-interest is to make sure you and your co-workers are part of a government that delivers services with integrity and competence.

Then, there is the message for Amarillo, its City Council, with its new members and city leadership: You face a daunting task of righting two horrible wrongs. You must figure out a way to completely reboot and redirect the downtown revitalization activity while minimizing the downside of curing any contractual issues with other entities, especially and specifically the hotel and garage developers. And, you need to see the operational problems — the day-to-day service delivery — are solved.


Our nation and government was founded on integrity. It’s time to reclaim that way of governing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

From the Texas Tribune: When Guards Demand Sex

Preying on Texas Prisoners: When Guards Demand Sex
  by Alysia Santo, The Marshall Project
  June 17, 2015

As a prison nurse, Domenic Hidalgo had access to prescription medication, a highly coveted commodity among the inmates at the Clements Unit in Texas, the state prison where Hidalgo worked.

He tried to use that access to get what he wanted: sex with Matthew, a prisoner at the facility. When Matthew reported Hidalgo’s advances to prison staff in April of 2011, officers wired him with a recording device and told him to prove it.

In audio obtained by The Marshall Project, Hidalgo can be heard handing Matthew a Bupropion pill, a type of antidepressant, and asking to perform oral sex on him in exchange. “This is the best time,” said Hidalgo, but Matthew demurred, saying he’d come back soon. “Let me just mess with you,” Hidalgo insisted. He then pulled down Matthew’s pants and masturbated him. (The full names of victims have been withheld to protect their privacy.)



In Texas, sexual contact between staff and inmates is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison. Combined with an additional felony charge for distributing drugs to an inmate, Hidalgo was facing up to 10 years behind bars. But Hidalgo avoided prison altogether. In 2013, he pleaded guilty in exchange for a $500 fine and four years on probation. If he stays out of trouble, his felony conviction will be removed from his criminal record in 2017.

The plea deal Hidalgo received for sexual contact with a prisoner is typical in Texas, and illustrates how rare it is for prison staff there to be imprisoned for sexually abusing the people in their charge. Since 2000, the state prison system’s inspector general has referred nearly 400 cases of staff sex crimes against inmates to prosecutors. An analysis by The Marshall Project found that prosecutors refused to pursue almost half of those cases. Of 126 prison workers, mostly correctional officers, convicted of sexual misconduct or assault, just nine were sentenced to serve time in state jail. The majority of the rest received fines ranging from $200 to $4,000 and a few years on a type of probation called deferred adjudication, which results in a clean criminal record if conditions are met.

At the Clements Unit, where Hidalgo worked, more prisoners reported being forced, coerced or pressured into sexual contact with staff than in any other male prison in the country, according to a federal survey released in 2013. The Clements Unit is just one of the reasons Texas leads the nation in prison sex abuse. In federal surveys of inmates, Texas has had more facilities deemed “high rate” for sexual abuse than any other state, leading the Dallas Observer to declare Texas the “prison rape capital of the U.S.”

Nationwide, prison staff are the accused perpetrators in half of all reports of sexual abuse in prisons and jails, according to the latest justice department survey, which broadly defines any sexual contact, from unwanted touching to romantic relationships to rape, as “staff sexual misconduct.” Most of these allegations are not substantiated by prison investigators. But even when there is enough evidence to prove a staff member had sexual contact with an inmate, criminal sanctions are rare. Fewer than half are referred for prosecution.

Accountability dwindles further from there. Proving sex abuse in prisons is difficult. An inmate’s word may hold little credibility, and prosecutors often refuse to prosecute. The most common punishment for corrections staffers caught sexually abusing inmates is the loss of their jobs.

An Evolution in Policy

Guards, nurses and other prison staff have almost complete control over the lives of people who are incarcerated. That power dynamic has led to state and federal laws that identify any sexual contact, regardless of consent, as criminal, similar to protections for the young and people with disabilities.

Such protections for inmates are relatively recent. Change began in Texas in 1996, when a fed-up prosecutor named Gina Debottis lobbied the Legislature to enact new laws. At the time, she was prosecuting David Taylor, an employee at the Murray Unit, a women’s prison in Gatesville, Texas, who was charged with using threats to force multiple female prisoners to perform sex acts. “The women had to go in and ask him about their parole plan, and that’s when he would proposition them,” said Debottis. “He would tell them, ‘I know where you live. I can blow up your kids.’ And it scared those women to death. So they were willing to do anything.”

Other women held at the facility also testified that they were abused. Taylor claimed consent. “They initiated it,” he said at his trial, according to the Associated Press. He faced up to 20 years in prison, but the jury believed Taylor and found him not guilty.

“I was sick about it. I felt like justice wasn’t really done,” said Debottis. She used Taylor’s case to pressure the Legislature for change, and in 1997, a bill passed that made any sexual contact between prison staff and inmates illegal, whether the prisoner consented or not. Debottis went on to become executive director of the Special Prosecution Unit in Texas, a unique agency dedicated to prosecuting crimes that occur in prison, and the law she pressed for was used repeatedly to convict staff members and sentence them to probation. “It’s another tool in the prosecutors’ tool box,” said Debottis. “If they get probation, it’s still better than prosecuting under the old law, where we had nothing.” Staff convicted under this law are not required to register as sex offenders.

In the late ‘90s, that new view of staff sexual misconduct as a crime in Texas was taking hold in legislatures across the country. In 1990, just 18 states had laws expressly prohibiting sexual abuse of inmates, but by 2006, such laws existed in all 50 states.

Not only did sex between staff and inmates become illegal in recent decades, in many places, it became a serious crime, at least on the books. The federal government raised staff sexual misconduct from a misdemeanor to a felony offense in 2006, and with that change, prosecutors went from accepting 37 percent of staff sexual misconduct cases to 49 percent. Sexual contact with prisoners by staff is now a felony offense everywhere but in Iowa and Maryland, where it remains a misdemeanor.

Pressure to put an end to sexual abuse and misconduct by staff was further bolstered by the passage, in 2003, of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which called for “zero tolerance” toward sexual abuse of any kind in detention facilities and established a set of standards for prevention and response. But there’s little in PREA addressing prosecutions of staff.

“There was a sense that we couldn’t control prosecutors,” said Brenda Smith, a former member of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which formed to make recommendations about implementing PREA. In most parts of the country, local district attorneys take these cases at their discretion. Given this patchwork process around the country, the PREA commission suggested adopting a rule that jails and prisons seek written agreements with local prosecutors to encourage the pursuit of criminal charges. But the Justice Department ultimately declined this recommendation, saying it would cause "significant burdens,” particularly on resource-strapped counties and municipalities. This was a “missed opportunity,” said Smith. “Those prosecutions — either the threat or promise of them — is an important weapon.”

Despite this evolution in policy, sexual abuse by staff continues. In 2013, an officer named David Tatarian was arrested on felony charges he had sexual contact with four women at the Crain Unit, in Gatesville. Gatesville is the same city where David Taylor’s acquittal on sexual assault charges, and his successful use of consent as a defense, inspired the outrage that changed the law almost 20 years ago. (Gatesville is home to five of the state’s 14 women’s facilities.)

Unlike Taylor, Tatarian could not claim consent, and in November 2013 he pleaded guilty to two felony sex charges. He received five years’ probation, a $500 fine and 500 hours of community service. Like most prison staff prosecuted in Texas, he reached an agreement with prosecutors stipulating that if he meets all the court’s conditions, his convictions would be cleared from his criminal record. But shortly after his conviction, Tatarian stopped showing up for probation meetings and community service and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

“I’m disappointed that things didn’t clean up,” said State Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat who introduced the bill that removed consent as a defense for guards who have sexual contact with inmates. “But all we can do is put the law into place.”

Women Most Often Accused

Since the 1970’s, when equal employment legislation took hold, women have increasingly joined men in guarding prisoners of the opposite sex, a development that has led to a notable shift in the demographics of sexual misconduct. It has also made made prosecution trickier.

Women are disproportionately sexually abused by prison staff. Nationwide, they represent 7 percent of all prisoners, yet they account for 33 percent of staff-on-inmate victims, according to the latest Justice Department study.

But female staffers also are the accused in the majority of sexual misconduct cases in prison. That fact has made consent a more complicated issue for prosecutors to deal with in cases where women are the alleged abusers. Women were the perpetrators in two out of three substantiated sexual misconduct cases in Texas, according to the state’s PREA reports. At least part of that can be attributed to sheer numbers. Men make up 91.5 percent of prisoners in Texas, and are overseen by a state correctional workforce that is 40 percent women.

Celeste Bourland was one of those officers. Bourland’s sexual relationship with Shawn, who was incarcerated at the Clements Unit, unraveled when prison officials found a love letter in her car in 2010. “You mean the world to me,” begins the note from Shawn. But the tone quickly changes, as Shawn accuses Bourland of involvement with another inmate. He concludes his note with a request for $500 and tobacco, which he suggests she tuck inside a maxi pad. “I love you!!! Your Husband! :)”

Bourland said in a recent interview that Shawn “had me in his web and under his control,” despite the fact that she was the keeper and he was the kept. It’s often hard to see incarcerated men as victims in these situations, said Mark Edwards, the executive director of the Special Prosecution Unit. “I would probably hold a male [officer] who has sex with a female inmate a little more accountable than I would a female [officer] having sex with a male inmate,” said Edwards. “It’s a double standard, but I’m sort of old school I guess.”

When confronted, Bourland admitted she had had oral sex with Shawn. She says she was assured by the prison’s investigator that she wouldn’t be prosecuted. “He made it very clear it would be taken care of, and that there was nothing for me to worry about,” said Bourland, who was shocked when she was arrested unexpectedly two years later. Court documents from the case include a resignation form, purportedly filled out by Bourland, which cites “personal reasons not related to the job” as the reason for the end of her employment as a Texas state prison guard.

According to Texas PREA reports, resignations are exceedingly common; 71 percent of staff found to have had sexual contact with inmates since 2005 resigned before an investigation was complete, and another 8 percent were permitted to resign after the investigation. A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Jason Clark, said the department has procedures to ensure that staff found to have had sexual contact with inmates are not rehired in Texas. But with a clean criminal record, it’s possible that staffers could find corrections jobs in other states.

Aside from sexual misconduct, Bourland admitted she also smuggled in tobacco, money and jewelry for Shawn. She pleaded guilty to one felony charge of sex with an inmate, and received a $1,000 fine and three years probation. Prison time in cases like Bourland’s would not be appropriate, said Edwards. “When someone’s had to stoop to having sex in a prison with an inmate, things have to be pretty bad in your life,” Edwards says. Juries have even acquitted female staff despite believing they were guilty, he said, noting that in his opinion, harsher penalties wouldn’t change the frequency of these crimes. “They’re not thinking about the consequences.”

One such consequence is a serious threat to prison security. Earlier this month, Joyce Mitchell, a staffer at an upstate New York prison, was charged with aiding the escape of two murderers; it has been reported that she had a sexual relationship with one of them. Female officers played a key role in crimes committed inside the Baltimore City Jail, where a leader of the Black Guerrilla Family gang impregnated four guards. Court filings state that gang members targeted the women they thought they could manipulate, those with "low self-esteem, insecurities and certain physical attributes.” Some of these officers aided in a smuggling operation run by inmates at the jail by sneaking in drugs and cell phones.

In prison, it’s not always clear who is manipulating whom. In September of 2012, Gregory, who was incarcerated in the Coffield Unit in Texas, was caught with a cell phone that contained two videos of him having sex with Carolyn Johnson, a corrections officer. Gregory claimed he took the video so he could use it as evidence to get out of the relationship. “It was like I was married to the mob,” he wrote in a statement to investigators. “I felt if I could provide information to the authorities they would help and even protect me… But then I felt they wouldn’t because I’m just an inmate.”

Johnson was sentenced to two years’ probation, with the possibility of having her criminal record purged, and fined $500.

Few Convictions Lead to Jail Time

In some ways, Texas is at the forefront of prosecuting sexual abuse in custody. It’s the only state in the country with an agency dedicated to prosecuting crimes committed in prisons, and for that reason, the sanctions imposed on prison staff are centrally located and easier to analyze than in most other states. In 2002, fewer than 20 percent of cases involving staff prosecuted for sex crimes with prisoners resulted in convictions. In 2012, that had risen to 54 percent.

It’s unusual, however, for those prosecutions to result in jail stints. One outlier is a case from 2009, when an inmate named Merijildo, incarcerated at the Allred Unit, told Texas prison officials that an officer, John Klyce, had sexually assaulted him 18 times in five years, according to court records. One of those times, when Klyce wasn’t looking, Merejildo spit his DNA into a t-shirt and saved it.

Merejildo told investigators the sexual exchanges with Klyce had escalated over the years, from requests to demands and threats. He told investigators he came forward because he was getting released soon and wanted to protect the other prisoners. Klyce denied the allegations, but once the DNA evidence was disclosed, he admitted to a single sexual encounter. He blamed Merejildo, saying he had come onto him by talking “dirty.”

While consent was removed as a defense for corrections staff in Texas decades ago, it still plays a role in most prison sexual abuse cases, at least informally. Klyce claimed consent and eventually pleaded guilty to a felony charge of improper sexual activity with a person in custody, a charge used for sex that is not forced or coerced. In recent years, Texas officials have increasingly relied on this lower-level charge, while sexual assault, which carries harsher penalties and is more difficult for prosecutors to prove, has been used less often. Klyce was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

It’s the same charge nurse Domenic Hidalgo received after using drugs to solicit sex with Matthew, who was incarcerated at the prison where he worked. Hidalgo had been sexually pursuing Matthew for months, using drugs to attempt to seal the deal, and was “persistent,” according to Matthew’s statement to investigators. He wanted to prove that he was telling the truth.

And he did.

After Hidalgo touched Matthew, they arranged to meet in a downstairs bathroom. But instead, Matthew went looking for the officer who had wired him up just half an hour earlier. In that time, Matthew had been handed drugs for sex, just as he claimed. “I got it,” he whispered as he handed over the recorder to an officer. “It’s all on tape.”

This story was written by Alysia Santo for The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal justice system. Tom Meagher, also of The Marshall Project, provided additional reporting.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/06/17/preying-texas-prisoners-when-guards-demand-sex/.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Insourcing the outsourcing

Sometimes I see something on Facebook or on the 'Net that is so outrageous, I either blow it off or try to confirm it. Blowing off some of the stuff is at our own peril and confirming the information creates angst. But it’s necessary.

So it was a little while ago when I saw something — the illustration to the left — that I thought was so outrageous that it couldn’t be true. But I checked, and it is true. The New York Times story on June 3 explains what is happening at Disney and elsewhere all over the world. This is just another version of outsourcing — instead of shipping the jobs out, we bring the cheaper labor here. Insourcing the outsourcing.
It is, of course, the amoral free market/capitalism that makes it OK for “bidness” to do this in corporatist ’Murica.

Lest you think this isn’t close to home in Amarillo, take note that the H-1B visa was part of the Wallace Bajjali pitch that the City Council swallowed.

We need more critical thinking in our civic lives. More analysis. And we need a rage against the machine to take back our government, not by destroying and neutering it as the Tea Party would have us do; but, by empowering it to stand as a balance against the consequences of unfettered and uncontrolled capitalism.


Take this to the bank, so to speak: Our future generations depend on it.

Insourcing the outsourcing

Sometimes I see something on Facebook or on the 'Net that is so outrageous, I either blow it off or try to confirm it. Blowing off some of the stuff is at our own peril and confirming the information creates angst. But it’s necessary.

So it was a little while ago when I saw something — the illustration to the left — that I thought was so outrageous that it couldn’t be true. But I checked, and it is true. The New York Times story on June 3 explains what is happening at Disney and elsewhere all over the world. This is just another version of outsourcing — instead of shipping the jobs out, we bring the cheaper labor here. Insourcing the outsourcing.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Texas Paid Millions for Unallowable Medicaid Orthodontic Services

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (State agency) did not ensure that requests for prior authorization of Medicaid orthodontic services were approved in accordance with State Medicaid guidelines. On the basis of our sample results, we estimated that the State agency paid at least $191.4 million ($133.4 million Federal share) for unallowable orthodontic services. Of 106 sampled orthodontic prior-authorization requests, 17 were approved by the Texas Medicaid & Healthcare Partnership (TMHP) in accordance with State Medicaid guidelines and 89 were not. Of the 89 improperly approved prior authorizations, 78 did not qualify for orthodontic services and 11 did not have sufficient documentation to determine whether they qualified.

These deficiencies occurred because the State agency did not ensure that (1) TMHP properly reviewed each prior-authorization request to determine qualification for orthodontic services and (2) the TMHP dental director followed State Medicaid policies and procedures for determining qualification. As a result, TMHP approved requests for prior authorization of unallowable services.
Although TMHP failed to approve requests for prior authorization of Medicaid orthodontic services in accordance with State Medicaid guidelines, the State agency is ultimately responsible for contractor compliance. Therefore, we recommended that the State agency (1) refund $133.4 million to the Federal Government, (2) determine and refund the Federal share of any additional amounts related to orthodontic prior authorizations that the State agency improperly claimed after our audit period, and (3) monitor the orthodontic program to ensure that it is in compliance with State Medicaid guidelines. The State agency provided information on actions that it had taken or planned to take to address our recommendations.
Copies can also be obtained by contacting the Office of Public Affairs at Public.Affairs@oig.hhs.gov.

Despicable P - Why Rick Perry is evil

NPR posted a little squib about Rick Perry and Perry's presidential bid. I am waiting for NPR's moderators to approve my comment. Here is what I posted to NPR.

What a disappointing job of journalism from an outlet that has historically been above reproach for its factual reporting. I hope the national media can go in depth to expose what a horrible person Rick Perry is. Here is a summary:


·He is a murderer. Research the Willingham case and Perry’s role in suborning the Forensic Science Commission. And his relationship to the prosecutors who put people on death row. Hell, look at all the executions under Perry to see who else might be innocent.

·He is a liar. Investigate all his claims about job growth in Texas. Look at those jobs in the context of the energy boom, something Perry had nothing to do with. Were all those jobs high-paying? No.

·He is a subversive. Investigate how he has handled education and worked to undercut intellectual growth in Texas. It serves his puppet-masters’ (Koch and others) purpose to have a dumbed down populace so he can appeal to their reptilian brains as they appeal to his reptilian brain. America’s greatness was built on an educated populace and informed electorate.

·He is a crook. To say he issued the executive order “to protect young teenage girls from cervical cancer” totally mischaracterizes his relationship to business in Texas. Look far beyond Gardasil, clearly evidence of his dishonesty, to the technology fund.

·He is an opportunist. The conversion from Democrat to Republican was a clear move to take advantage of the harsh attitudes in Texas.

·He is a liar. Investigate his service in the military.

·He is a hypocrite. Investigate the rumors circulating in Texas in 2003 that he and his wife were secretly estranged and he had a male lover, all the time portraying himself as “pro-family” and anti-gay.

The citations of his relationship with Shrub and his role as cheerleader at Texas A&M are irrelevant and appeal to the Kardashian mind. NPR can do better.


Despicable P - Why Rick Perry is evil

NPR posted a little squib about Rick Perry and Perry's presidential bid. I am waiting for NPR's moderators to approve my comment. Here is what I posted to NPR.

What a disappointing job of journalism from an outlet that has historically been above reproach for its factual reporting. I hope the national media can go in depth to expose what a horrible person Rick Perry is. Here is a summary:

Monday, June 1, 2015

ALEC owns Georgia. Who's next?

This is a video showing how the Georgia political establishment is bought and paid for. It is going viral.

 

ALEC owns Georgia. Who's next?

This is a video showing how the Georgia political establishment is bought and paid for. It is going viral.