Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Friday, October 31, 2014

Is the city of Amarillo being honest about fixing animal control?

The city of Amarillo and its city councilors continue to assure the public that all is well and the city is making great progress on cleaning up problems what was formerly called the Animal Control Department.

But that isn’t true, according to two former officers at that department. Those officers spoke exclusively to ProNews 7 and, in a report that aired at 10 p.m. Oct. 30, these former city workers discounted the city management’s contention that things are better. Niki Niimi and Brittainy Hall did something rare in Amarillo. They bravely came forward to and spoke out against the powerful city government.

The city knew this report was coming and at 5:39 p.m. Oct. 30 issued a press release that was the city’s attempt at a pre-emptive strike against the truths to come from ProNews 7. The extensive release tries to put lipstick on a pig; other than the two top managers being gone, the below-par employees remain. And the two top managers were, disgracefully, allowed to retire instead of being fired.

And, ProNews 7’s David Grasso-Ortega, one of ProNews 7’s investigative reporters, has promised to probe the news release further. Stay tuned.

City press release 2014-10-30

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Close enough for government work?

A few days ago, I was floating around on Facebook when I saw a logo for the Alliance Defending Freedom for Faith and Justice. This is inarguably a fundamentalist oriented Christian organization that — with cleverly vague language — advocates for its views to be pushed into our secular society.

But, what interested me about the Alliance’s logo is how it struck me as similar to the City of Amarillo’s logo. You know, the second logo after the city learned the first one proposed was plagiarized from a firm in the Middle East. You know, the logo the city chose after a contest it held during one of the city’s many rolls in the hay with the Amarillo Globe-News.

So, tell me, folks, it the “A” too close for comfort?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Amarillo animal control still flawed

This is the first of two reports on the City of Amarillo's animal control department. It would seem the city is not only having trouble making the positive changes needed at the shelter but also having trouble controlling the message. Kudos to KVII Pronews 7 and David Grasso-Ortega for not backing off on this story.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Amarillo Globe-News pick for guv insults decent Texans

The countdown to the mid-term elections continues and, with it, the editorial endorsements for candidates by the legacy media — newspapers. Those endorsements usually come after visits with the “editorial board.”

So, the Amarillo Globe-News, a tired vestige of what was once a newspaper, backs the Republican candidate for governor, Greg Abbott, the current Texas Attorney General. The Globe-News did so with the title of its endorsement “Editorial: Abbott best reflects Texas values.” The basis of the endorsement is this, from the editorial: “Voters choosing the next governor of the state of Texas have a simple question to ponder: Which of the two major party candidates best reflects their values and beliefs related to government?”

What the local bird cage liner endorsement is telling Amarillo is it backs a hypocritical liar who, without compassion, embraces the very worst in self-serving politics and in purchased political power. And in couching its endorsement as it did, the Amarillo Globe-News told Texans that they, too, lack compassion as they lie, cheat and spurn their fellow citizens’ needs in favor of enriching themselves.

Here is a small sample of Abbott’s record, from the Austin American Statesman’s PolitiFact Texas’ reckoning of mostly false. The American-Statesman’s definition of “mostly false is that “(t)he statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.”

In other words, Abbott knowingly lied.

·       Abbott said Democratic opponent Sen. Wendy Davis was complicit in barring the attorney general from settling a lawsuit over school funding.

·       Abbott’s accusation that Davis’ legal work as an outside counsel for the North Texas Tollway Authority is the target of an FBI probe as mostly false, on the basis that Abbott had no proof. The FBI, as noted, will neither confirm nor deny an investigation.

·       Abbott said Davis would raise taxes in Texas up to $35 billion.

·       There were no problems with the Texas voter ID law, Abbott claims, but that isn’t true either.

·       The claims that more than 200 dead people voted in the most recent Texas election — false again.

These are but a sample. And maybe voters are willing to let lies slip by as part of Texas’ “contact sport” of politics. But there is no doubt that Abbott slinks and sinks lower into the slime of corruption with other activities. The Texas enterprise Fund is a clear example not only of the Abbott-Perry corrupt alliances and cronyism, but also an example of how public records rulings of the attorney general’s office can also be corrupted. Two media sources, the Texas Tribune and Dallas Morning News took note of an audit that lacerated Perry and Abbott for the allocation of millions of taxpayer dollars — money shuttled to friends, cronies and political operatives allied with the incumbents. Abbott’s ruling to protect the records that would document corruption so clearly makes him complicit.

If using our money to help pals isn’t enough, Perry and Abbott’s use of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute for the same purposes instead of seeking cures for one of the most dreaded diseases we know just makes Abbott more evil than we thought any politician could be.

The issues with CPRIT go back many years, but in 2012, the Dallas Morning News broke the story that $11 million awarded to a Dallas biotechnology firm lacked the required review of scientific and other experts. The dominoes began to fall. Seven scientists, including a Nobel laureate, had recently resigned from the advisory board in protest that politics and commercialization interests were placed ahead of science. The resignations went further and deeper when, according to the Huffington Post, “chief scientific officer Dr. Alfred Gilman resigned in protest after the CPRIT approved a $20 million grant for a so-called incubator project at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The Nobel laureate told colleagues in heated emails that he was trying to prevent misuse of taxpayer dollars and funding decisions based on political considerations.”

Then came the first indictmentalmost a year ago. Jerald “Jerry” Cobbs is slated to go on trial after the elections. Abbott’s office has defended all of these activities.

Abbott certainly doesn’t represent my political interests. His anti-women, and anti-choice and continual right-wing agenda positions disqualify him from my support anyway. But even if I were conservative, in the best sense of the word, I don’t believe I could support someone this corrupt. Therefore, one must ask what is instructive about the Amarillo Globe-News endorsement?

Clearly, the answer must be that Abbott reflects the values of the leadership in Amarillo and the values imposed by the leadership in Augusta, Georgia. And that, fellow Amarilloans, is one of the saddest things to say about it local newspaper.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

How Not to Handle a Crisis -- Hospital Style

About 47 years ago, I sat a University of Iowa classroom and listened to, Gerhard Hartman, the head of the Graduate Program in Hospital and Health Administration snidely criticize a story on a local health issue in the Iowa City newspaper. In the five decades that have passed since earning my Master’s, I’ve often thought about that classroom experience; and, more so, in the past 18 years as a professional journalist — reporter, editor and publisher.

Hartman, an economist, founder of the master’s program and chief executive of University Hospital was well known for his arrogance and his pleasure in putting people down. As I think back, I don’t believe any of my classmates understood that whatever errors Hartman thought were in the story might have just as well come from the editing as from the reporting. Or, from the sources themselves, whomever they were and if these sources were innocently misinformed or if they had successfully mislead the reporter.

No one was in a position to defend the reporter or the newspaper and had anyone disputed Hartman, it is possible they would have paid direly for it. It was 1967 and at that time and place, Hartman was pretty much the dictator. That graduate school paradigm had other elements and consequences that might be a blog topic for another time. Today, the memory provided a portal into a discussion of the “crisis” at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas. It isn’t the Ebola crisis, per se, that bears discussion. It’s the leadership crisis at what The Dallas Morning News reports Sunday many see “one of the region’s more prestigious hospitals.”

Of course, the first crisis really was the hospital’s and the error that lead to the failure to properly diagnose and immediately treat Thomas Eric Duncan’s Ebola infection on Sept. 25, according to various media reports. Duncan returned two days later to be diagnosed with the virus and died Oct. 8. But, as we learned two nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, also contracted the deadly disease, the hospital’s pubic announcements were confusing, contradictory and, frankly, defensive. The lack of clarity seemingly within and outside the hospital was just what I would have expected after been in the industry for 25 years. Top hospital officials are trained to protect the institution and they are aided and abetted by laws that evolved over the years. Those laws have the consequences of using “privacy” to cover up problems.

Meanwhile, Presbyterian staffers and physicians spoke out, faulting the hospital for poor training, poor technique and confusion, according to the Huffington Post on Oct. 16. The hospital leadership pushed back, of course: “‘The assertions do not reflect actual facts learned from the medical record and interactions with clinical caregivers,’ Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas said in a statement.”

Over the years, I have grown disdainful of “statements” like this being issued by organizations under the gun for messing up. It’s the coward’s way — avoiding a real discussion with the public to which it is responsible. The Dallas Morning News made the full statement, issued at 4 a.m., available here.

Then, on Oct. 17, according to another News story, a further public relations push began with the hospital trotting out Dr. Daniel Varga, Presbyterian’s chief clinical officer, to admit the hospital’s errors.

“The hospital hired Burson-Marsteller, the global public relations firm, after a series of contradictory news releases, unanswered questions and growing criticism over how it treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian who died of Ebola at Presbyterian,” the Oct. 17 story reported.  So, with the report Sunday, including a letter to the community published in The News, we see the hospital in full PR crisis mode.

I don’t personally know the leadership at the hospital in Dallas or in Arlington, where Texas Health Resources, the huge parent organization is based. Here is what I do know:

·         The public was ill-served by the hospital’s attempt to look good in the face of a clear error or set of errors.

·         The news media may or may not have over reacted, but whenever a good journalist smells stonewalling or an attempt at disinformation and misdirection, he or she ratchets up the intensity of the reporting effort.

·         Knowing that Presbyterian wasn’t really coming clean as quickly as possible, the hospital and parent corporation brought the bad publicity and the lack of public confidence on itself.

·         The physicians running the emergency services, Emergency Medicine Consultants Ltd., as Texas Medicine Resources LLP, similarly invite the kind of scrutiny it doesn’t want for the same reasons that the hospital is in the same pickle.

I wonder how Hartman would have handled the situation.

Working Against Another Corporate Screw Job

I’ve always loved to travel, as much for the journey as for the destination. As a kid, I fell in love with trains and planes — less so with automobiles, owing (perhaps) to the interminable two-hour rides to my grandmother’s house.

My first plane ride was at age 9, when we flew from New Orleans to Montpelier, Vermont to visit my uncle and his family. I still remember the smell of the DC-3 from what was then Moisant International Airport to Atlanta.
The next leg, to LaGuardia was on the classic Lockheed Constellation, required some reassurance when, as dusk faded to night, the flaming exhaust became visible. Still, the magic of going so far so quickly wasn’t lost on me. Now, as a non-frequent flier on a limited budget that isn’t subsidized by the incestuous commercial relationships, I am no more than one more sardine to be stuffed into a tin can. Ugh.

Trains are a different story. I have no idea where the love of trains began. All I know is it’s always been there, although I remember taking the Louisville & Nashville’s “Hummingbird,” from Biloxi to New Orleans, with the trip being much faster than by car. But, passenger trains in the United States have devolved from the pride of the railroad companies to the underfunded and much-maligned Amtrak. The business community and Babbitts from the Chamber of Commerce have bribed enough legislators to gut Amtrak’s funding; and, then they argue that Amtrak isn’t effective so it needs to be killed off. The Texas Panhandle’s own backbencher Mac Thornberry is in that group of stupid and short-sighted people.

Simultaneously, the airlines — like the corporate highway users such as truckers and inter-city bus companies — benefit from the massive federal subsidies.

Now, travel expert Christopher Elliott tells us that screwing the little guy is even more afoot. In an articlein today’s Washington Post, he points out that United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are among those companies changing their frequent flier programs. As Elliott explains it by citing Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.).

“Frequent-flier programs are rigged to favor airlines, deceive passengers and cost consumers billions of dollars,” according to Grayson. And Grayson plans to do something about it. He has asked the Transportation Department’s inspector general to investigate these bait and switch tactics and the IG has complied. The results should be public in about a year and I’d be hard pressed to believe an honest look at the airline business won’t find these companies be as despicable as Grayson paint them. It’s another case of unfettered “free market” capitalism failing to meet the needs of society.

What will come of the audit and what changes we might expect are far from clear. And, frankly, the things we can do as consumers are limited. But here are some tasks:

Vote — We’re weeks away from mid-term elections. I have little doubt that our lock Mac the Hack will retain his back bench perch. But votes for anyone else would send a message. And nationally, the nation would benefit if in those districts the non-plutocrats can unseat the oligarch incumbents.

Write legislators — Most members of Congress won’t pay attention to you if you’re not a big contributor. Despite the fact that most of us don’t contribute enough to our federal legislators to get them to listen, write anyway. And, write the Secretary of Transportation demanding he make sure the audit is honest and that he supports it.

Write CEOs — Like the bought and paid for people in Congress, CEOs don’t generally give a damn about the consumers like us. That’s OK; write them anyway. And let me know what you hear. Maybe I’ll add that to a later blog.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What's the Cure for a Self-Serving Congress?

My good friend, Bill, sent me a link to a long and very interesting storyfrom Esquire. My friend is not only well-read but also smart and discerning. When he sends me a something to look at, it behooves me to do so. I say this because, with so much noise in cyberspace, getting to the signal is hard but extremely important. So it is with this story.

The extensive interviews with members of Congress give insight to why that institution has become so dysfunctional. It’s also an attempt to explain why Congress can’t fix itself, although I find that part of this story perplexing.

Why? Because for all the discussion Mark Warren, the author, drew out from the members, nowhere was it clear why these members thought it was important to stay in Congress. Not one articulated why they should be citizen legislators instead of be career politicians. Nor did the people interviewed discuss how they could cure the reasons for their lamentations wrought on them by big-money politics and the Citizens United ruling. After all, they have the power to do so. I have to conclude they don’t want to; that they love the perks and the power and the money. So, how can I not conclude that the people interviewed were hypocrites and Mark Warren was sucker-punched.

And for those of us in the reddest part of the Red State, it is sadly instructive that many interviewed for this article held Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert is such low regard. If the goal for some of these people in Congress is to truly and sincerely help the country, how well is Texas served by representatives who are held in such disdain? If you argue they accurately reflect and represent their districts, what does that say about us?

Congress has, in part, the power to fix itself; and we have the power to fix Congress if it won’t do so on its own. The lingering question is: Why can’t we?

The answer, again, comes down to big money and propaganda, because it is the big money that buys the spreading of propaganda. Anyone who knows about Edward Bernays would understand how the American public is now ruled by advertising, public relations and — also sad to say — the calculated dumbing down of the population by those who wish to scotch the critical thinking that would overthrow the status quo.

It’s a good read. And a sad one.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pastors on wrong side of issue, can't have it both ways

The Ebola crisis has taken some of the focus away from other stories, although one issue a rising above the noise about the deadly disease. (By the way, I am working on the medical discussion.)

The right-wing cackling crowd and pundit classes have launched a campaign against the Houston officials who have subpoenaed sermons from pastors who opposed, and from their pulpits lobbied against, a failed attempt to overturn a human rights ordinance in Houston. The Texas Tribune reportson the situation and ABC News reported on it Thursday evening.

How ironic is it that leadership of Christian churches would oppose equal rights for anyone? But, that aside, we had a long-standing tradition in our country of separation of church and state. The faux outrage of the right-wing Christian community reflects that community's attempt to impose their churches’ views on our state. This troubling trend over the past three decades or so has led to the hot-button issue fights over birth control, abortion and gay marriage.

In all of the coverage of this issue in which the pastors are given substantial voice about the violation of their rights, I have not seen anyone point out that the religious community is acting in a political fashion that imposes their views on others' rights. In fact, given the long standing tradition of separation of church and state and the prohibition of using the church to influence political decisions, these actions should jeopardize the nonprofit status of those churches interfering in the political process.

In short, if these pastors want to engage in the political world, that they have to expect to play by the rules in the political world. And so, if that makes someone acting in a fashion that requires investigation and a subpoena, they will have to get used to it.

Like many of the right-wing and fundamentalist Christian branches these days, these pastors can't cope with the facts that life is a two-way street. They can't have it both ways.

How sad that they forget Jesus' admonition to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Is BigPharma Corrupt? 60 Minutes Shows It Is

If you have followed my work as a health care journalist, you will remember that I have asserted that the global pharmaceutical industry’s capitalistic, free market model is antithetical to good health care. In fact, I have gone as far as calling “BigPharma” out for being corrupt — for artificially holding up prices, buying off congress and lying about the costs of research and development. Almost all of the writing if have done on this topic is no longer on The Amarillo Independent website, but any enterprising person seeking the information about this topic will find it well-documented in legitimate literature, including medical literature as well as the mass media.

The latest — and I mean Oct. 5, 2014 — piece of journalism on this topic comes from CBS News’ “60 Minutes.” The story’s revelations about the unmitigated gall of the industry are clear. The video from the CBS website isn’t long and well worth the time to listen and digest it. Click Read More to see the story.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Is Amarillo ISD Teaching Hearing Impaired Students Properly?

On Wednesday and Thursday, KVII - ProNews 7 took a look at how the Amarillo Independent School District teaches sign language to its hearing-impaired students. I call your attention to this story because I believe it needs the widest possible distribution. Given what I know about AISD, it is unclear to me how much the school board understands what goes on in the trenches. As for this particular issue, I have consolidated the two-part story into a single video which you can watch by clicking on the “Read More.”

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lubbock state senator spews lies and hate

I have waited a full 24 hours before posting this. That is longer than usual but I wanted to see if my ire and my fire would cool after reading the remarks of the newly sworn in state senator from Lubbock and his fundamentalist clergy friend. My ire and fire remain, despite trying to “chill” more. So here goes:

An Open Letter to Sen. Charles Perry with copies to Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Four Price:

The Amarillo Globe-News and Lubbock Avalanche Journal reported on your remarks at your swearing in ceremony. Those remarks not only reflect an intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy, but your comments reflect a lack of integrity and appreciation for history. To assert that there is a moral equivalency between the Adolf Hitler Holocaust and abortion and same-sex marriage is so outrageous that words to you can barely be civil.

I may not be your constituent, but I have portfolio to address this issue because my parents lost family to the Holocaust. So listen up.

·I have a Jewish heritage but I am an Episcopalian, and the last time I looked, that makes me as Christian as you and your misguided little buddy from Rock City Church. And, while my denomination views abortion as unfortunate, our canon law clearly does not consider it murder — or anything else equivalent to the Holocaust. Even if it did, what our churches teach have nothing to do with our government. And neither should your church.

·As for same-sex marriage, the Episcopal Church does not condemn the love among or between people, seeing it as the love of Christ. You will just have to get over it inasmuch as the courts are going to rule against you position sooner rather than later. I love the admonition, which I give you — if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.

·Harping on the hot-button social issues as you did in your speech stuck me as a cynical play to the right-wing nutcases in the Avalanche Journal’s market area; it also makes you a stooge for the Koch Brothers, the Morris gang and corporatists who have incrementally stolen our republic from us. What gives my assertion here more credence is that one commenter in the Lubbock paper noted a representative of your office claimed the story took your remarks out of context. That is a typical politician’s lie and I call you on it.

As for my friends Kel Seliger and Four Price. I know we don’t agree on political positions, but I’ve not seen either of you stoop to the level of despicable behavior as this Perry has done (or the other Perry, for that matter). The appropriate thing to do to this Perry is to shun him. I hope you do so.