The election year grilling of oil company executives by posturing politicians of both stripes saw Texas Sen. John Cornyn seemingly the only voice not wanting to exoriate the oil business for operating in the black.
The nation's top oil executives including Exxon Mobile Chairman Rex Tillerson faced a near drumhead tribunal in front of the Senate judiciary panel in Washington Tuesday. Most held their own as senator after senator threw out tongue lashings over what they call "obscene profits and prices," and questions about mergers in the industry.
Cornyn noted that the oil industry's profit margin was just 5.8 percent - it's the scale of the industry that makes the profits look big. He snarkily noted that making a profit "is not yet a crime in America."
Gov. Rick Perry has dispatched more resources to fight Panhandle wildfires. To date the fires have have burned nearly 750,000 acres and claimed 11 lives.
“Right now we are focused on containing the blazes, with heavy dozer crews on the ground and heavy air tankers dropping fire retardant,” Perry said. “We are also pre-positioning assets in preparation for the next 48 hours by bringing manpower and equipment from less threatened areas to high threat areas. We are using the largest air tankers available in the nation in this effort, and I have activated available air assets from the Texas Army National Guard – two CH-47 Chinook helicopters and two UH-60 helicopters – to fight these wildfires.”
State aircraft have flown 133 missions and dropped more than 135,000 gallons of fire retardant since the current outbreak began. Currently crews from Oklahoma and New Mexico are working in Texas. Crews from Georgia and South Dakota are will join the effort later today.
Monday night the bodies of four fire victims were found in a vehicle in Roberts County. The fires have also claimed the lives of three persons in Hutchinson County and four in Gray County.
Since Dec. 26, more than 10,365 separate wildfires in Texas have burned nearly 3.7 million acres and destroyed 397 homes.
On Tuesday, the Dallas County Commissioners Court discussed opening a door on the south entrance of the George L. Allen Sr. Courts Building. The door has been closed under an building plan created a few years ago that included aspects of security and funding for the building.
Commissioners took up the matter after some people complained about the door being closed, largely because of the inconvenience involved for some people, including disabled persons, in getting inside the building at the one entrance on the north side of the building. Judges from the George L. Allen building have opposed opening the door, citing security concerns.
While commissioners were also concerned about security, some were willing to vote for opening the south entrance if the security would be the same as on the north side of the building. “Can we keep it as secure if we have the south entrance open? If we have an incident, that would be unconscionable that we made that decision without security in mind,” said Commissioner Maurine Dickey. “I would vote yes if we had the same security.”
County Judge Margaret Keliher and Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield also said that they would support opening the door if security issues were resolved at the south end of the building. Commissioners Mike Cantrell and John Wiley Price said that they were opposed to opening the door.
The Texas Tax Commission is looking at broadening the state franchise tax in order to meet public school funding needs and reduce property taxes.
The bipartisan commission, led by former Comptroller John Sharp, met in Arlington on Monday to get feedback from the public about the current tax system and about the commission’s recommendations. The Commission has met on a number of other occasions throughout Texas, frequently receiving feedback from business and community leaders. The commission was created by Governor Perry in November and has the stated goal of developing proposals to “modernize the state tax system and provide long-term property tax relief as well as sound financing for public schools.”
In order to guide the commission’s work, Governor Perry established that the commission should recommend solutions that are fair, broad-based, modern, understandable to taxpayers and competitive with other states.
“What we have these hearings for is to hear other ideas - whether it involves sales tax, cigarette taxes, (etc.) - but ways to figure out how to lower the property tax down to a historic level,” said Sharp. Sharp said that the commission didn’t believe that simply lowering the property tax rate 10 or 20 cents would do Texans any good. A significant solution, according to Sharp, would have to have a much more dramatic effect on property taxes.
While the commission’s final recommendations will not be made until it issues its March 21st report, it has hinted at what may lie ahead. The commission is focusing on changing the state franchise tax to cover and broaden the tax base of businesses and close loopholes that have allowed all but 1 out of 16 businesses to pay franchise taxes. One way to do this, according to the commission, would be for every Texas business, with revenue in excess of $300,000 a year, to pay a 1 percent tax on yearly gross receipts.
This change, according to the commission, should produce enough revenue that school districts could lower their property tax rate to 1 dollar for every $100 in property value. Under the current system, companies usually pay 4.5 percent of their net taxable income.
Among the people addressing the commission on Monday was State Representative Rob Orr. “I like the way you’re going. I like the direction you’ve taken. I want to commend you,” said Orr.
Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce President Bill Thorton was also supportive of the commission’s efforts and said that he hoped their recommendations would lead to “a fair and equitable balance” in the tax system.
Not everyone was optimistic about the direction that the commission seems to have taken. A number of convenience store operators and representatives spoke, as well as a liberal pastor from Dallas who objected to using monies from gambling and cigarettes to pay for education
“We’re still family owned, we don’t have the resources to absorb new taxes,” said Steve Chance, who is a convenience store operator in Texas. Chance was critical of the suggestion that additional taxes on cigarettes could be used to help fund public education. “One dollar a pack will make us the highest state of the neighboring states.”
A representative from the grocery industry was supportive of a broad based tax, but was also pessimistic of what might happen down the road. “We are concerned that (all) of the controversy will sink any particular program in the special session,” said Joe Radcliff of the Texas Grocery Contingent.
Once the commission makes its recommendations to the Texas Legislature in late March, the Legislature will have until June 1 to change the school taxing system, as ordered by the Texas Supreme Court.
It is one thing for a Senator with a grudge against Texas (Sen. Kit Bond, R-Missouri) to say Texas doesn't deserve hurricane relief money it is altogether when a former Texas governor now sitting in the White House seems to agree. Although he has lavishly praised Texan's relief efforts, President Bush's latest emergency budget request for Katrina based aid provides no money specifically for Texas. Last week Gov. Perry provided Congress with a lengthy list of needs and amazingly strong terms for Bush's successor. The governor detailed nearly $800 million in education related needs and funds for repairing damage in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area.
David and Shannon Croft of North Texas have filed a complaint in federal district court charging that Texas' mandated moment of silence in public schools, established in 2003, is unconstitutional. The complaint filed last week names Gov. Rick Perry and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District.
The parents say in the complaint that one of their children was told by an elementary school teacher to keep quiet because the minute is a "time for prayer."
"This is just a ruse to get prayer in school without calling it prayer in school," said Croft, a 37-year-old computer programmer. "Is there any study showing a moment of silence helps education?"
The Croft's lawyer said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that a moment of silence in Alabama public schools was unconstitutional. In 2001, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge backed by the American Civil Liberties Union to Virginia's moment of silence.
The Collin County District Attorney said this morning that Dena Schlosser will be retried for the grisly murder of her 10-month-old daughter, Maggie. A pre-trial hearing is set for March 15th.
Schlosser's first trial, in which Schlosser was accused of murdering her infant daughter by cutting off her arms, ended in a hung jury after the jury deliberated for three days. Prosecutors are expected to waive their right to a jury trial to allow the judge to decide the case.
"There is no dispute that Dena Schlosser killed her daughter. The question is whether Mrs. Schlosser was insane at that very time,” DA John Roach said.
Journalism is not becoming irrelevant, but it continues in the midst of an epochal transformation. That’s the conclusion of the State of the Media 2005 report, just released by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. The change is this: Technology is transforming citizens from passive consumers of news produced by professionals into active participants who can assemble their own journalism from disparate elements.
That change makes the need to know what is true all the greater, but discerning and communicating it more difficult.
“As people ‘Google’ for information, graze across an infinite array of outlets, read blogs or write them, they are becoming their own editors, researchers and even correspondents. What was journalism is only one part of the mix,” the report concludes. Obviously, the role of traditional journalism as intermediary and verifier is weakening. At the same time, however, a new and more active kind of American citizenship is rising.
According to the report, the last year saw the blossoming of citizen blogs, the emergence of a major new news source edited entirely by computers (Google News), and both triumph (exposing the Abu Ghraib prison scandal) and failure (Memogate) for one of the TV networks.
The report looks at nine sectors of the news industry including: newspapers, magazines, network television, cable television, local television, the Internet, radio, ethnic and alternative media. We will examine different sectors in several subsequent posts on Dallasblog over the next few days.
Here are a few highlights:
· While there are more news outlets, they’re covering less news – many of them focusing on the same stories.
· Contrary to the charge that the blogospheere is purely parastic, bloggers are raising new issues. However, blogs are doing almost no original reporting.
· Newspaper provide the most extensive sourcing and angles on particular events, “though perhaps in language and sourcing tilted toward elites.”
· Likewise, national broadcast reports frequently quote the same few people.
· Cable news was deemed the “shallowest” of the media.
· Half of local TV news is filled with crime and accident stories, when traffic, weather and sports are eliminated.
· Big city newspapers, excepting the NY Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal, are losing circulation at faster rates than community newspapers.
The impact of technology also can be seen in the investment of traditional news sources. As newspapers reduce the number of reporters they employ, they are investing more in their online products, as are television network news divisions. Network TV and major newspaper are focusing increasingly on creating original content for their online readers. (Aside: The Dallas Morning News is in the process of equipping and training its reporters to film their stories for its online product.)
The Project for Excellence in Journalism is an institute affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The study is funded by Pew Charitable Trusts. The report tries to identify cross-media trends as well as look at each specific medium. We’ll try to analyze some of the findings horizontally across different media sectors – such as audience trends, to see where Americans are going for news. Look for future posts or read the report at www.journalism.org
To most Americans the “band of brothers” was the “Easy Company" of World War II immortalized in Steven Ambrose’s book of the same name or maybe the Tom Hanks-produced HBO series based on that book. But there is a new “Band of Brothers” in the thick of the 2008 congressional elections.
This Band of Brothers is a Democratic political action committee supporting 56 Democratic candidates for congress who are also veterans – most of them veterans of Iraq. Their ranks are mostly male and white, but there are three sisters among these brothers and one of them is African-American. Their ranks are expected to grow to more than 60.
Currently it is the GOP that claims the lion’s share of Congressional veterans. In the US house there are 69 GOP veterans and 40 Democrats. In the Senate there are 17 Republicans against 13 Democrats. This strong GOP margin has been often credited as a key reason Republicans have been able to wrap their party in the mantle of defense and security. Democrats hope that by actively recruiting recent veterans in marginal districts they can take back control of the US House, and maybe the Senate.
Eight of the 56 are from Texas. Of these none appear to be running in Congressional Districts that could reasonably be considered even a tossup. The highly respected Cook Political Report lists only one Texas Republican seat as a tossup and that is Congressional District 22 where the indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is seeking re-election. DeLay’s foe is not a veteran. Several of the Republicans are among the state’s strongest including Joe Barton from Ennis, Sam Johnson from Plano and Mack Thornberry from Amarillo.
Some believe the best chances for upsets are in San Antonio where Hispanic Republican Henry Bonilla is being challenged by Rick Bolanos. Mr. Bolanos and his three brothers served together in Viet Nam, the only four to do so.
However, there are strong candidates elsewhere. The Christian Science Monitor recently focused on Major Tammy Duckworth and Iraqi veteran and double amputee who is seeking the seat long held by Illinois Republican stalwart Henry Hyde. Hyde is retiring after 39-years service and demographic changes and weakening Republican loyalties give the Democrats a shot. In 2004 the Democratic candidate, Christine Cegelis, won an impressive 44% of the vote in a first time race.
Still, not every Democrat is willing to stand aside for a veteran even one with a story as compelling as Duckworth. Duckworth will be challenged by Cegelis and Wheaton College Professor Lindy Scott.
The Democratic goal is to put forward veterans to present a more pro-security, pro-military image while gaining credible critics for the Bush Administration’s handling of the Iraqi War and other security issues. Republicans counter that the message will matter more than the messengers and that the heart and soul of the Democratic Party lies with those who are unwilling to support the actions needed to protect the country.
The Band of Brothers organizations itself has just produced what is a truly powerful video, including a short suitable-for-TV version. It is a respectful but hard hitting attack on the administration’s rationale for and handling of Iraq. It uses the voices of people who have been to war and speak with authority. The film makes one clear point: the Republicans will have to answer.
The CNN/USA Today Gallup Poll released today finds Democrats opening a wide margin in the generic Congressional question. Democrats now lead Republicans 55% to 39%. (The same poll found that 36% approve of the job President Bush is doing while 60% disapprove.)
An Associated Press Ipsos Poll also released today found that while 51% believe abortion should be legal in all (19%) or most (32%) versus 43% who believed it should be illegal in all (16%) or most (27%) cases those surveyed were almost evenly divided on whether the issue should be left to the state where 46% said the Federal Government should rule versus 43% that would let the states decide.