The State of Texas: December 9, 2014
Video of the Day
What’s better than a Texas-themed Christmas light show? Nothing. But a close second might be the Frozen-themed light show by the Storms family in Austin. Let it glow, let it glow:
Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett is as well known for his Twitter skills as his work on the bench. The former talents were on full display yesterday when he joined the digital rabble in providing captions for a wonderfully serene photo of Vice President Joe Biden. He was clearly having a blast, as he tweeted out more photo captions than there are justices on the court. Exhibit A:
I’m tempted to go vegetarian, but I really like animal crackers. pic.twitter.com/tdmmjZ3xYO
— Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) December 9, 2014
Stars and Gripes — Texas is about to be—once again—be front-and-center of an age-old court battle. We’ll soon see a good ole fashioned showdown in court. “Texas’ highest criminal court will decide whether a state law banning flag desecration is constitutional,” reports the Austin American Statesman. “Apparently rarely used, the 25-year-old law threatens one year in jail and a $4,000 fine for those who intentionally damage, deface, mutilate or burn the U.S. or Texas flags.” The details of this particular case are pretty nasty. In 2012, a twenty-year-old Lovelady man ripped out a display (because, he says, of a racial incident at a store) and threw it on the road. That’s it. And for his egregious act, he “ spent 4½ weeks in the Houston County Jail.” The case made its way through the system as a battle between free speech and protecting national symbols, except the appeals court said that because the young man didn’t have a specific political point when he pulled out the flag in anger, his speech wasn’t protected and the Texas law was applicable. Apart from the law being wildly unenforceable and open to too much interpretation, courts have historically struck down such flag-protecting laws because, you know, they’re antithetical to a society that prizes freedom from governmental tyranny and compliance. Still, it’ll be an interesting case to watch . “The court has no deadline to issue a ruling . . . though a decision is expected before year’s end. ”
Man With a Plan — Just in time for the new year, our new governor has announced his new staff and a new set of legislative goals. For those who followed governor-elect Greg Abbott’s talking points on the campaign trail, the priorities won’t be much of a surprise: “Education, he said, is the top priority and includes improving pre-K through the fourth grade schooling, making sure that high school graduates are ready for college or a good job, making higher education more affordable, and making sure Texas universities break into the ranks of the top ten nationally,” reports the Statesman. Abbott’s legislative wish list pretty much steers away from any controversy, which was clearly a disappointment for the Associated Press. The governor-elect’s priorities include “securing the Texas-Mexico border, cutting taxes and pumping $4 billion annually into a traffic-clogged state road network,” wrote the AP, before coldly adding, “None of the goals announced at a Monday news conference were new.” But surely new news is on the horizon. Four years (eight years? sixteen years?) is time enough to tackle abortion, extreme border security, machine-gun rights, and the like.
(T)oil and Trouble — Is the oil boom’s gush beginning to spurt? The stories of low foreign oil and gas prices and how they’re affecting production stateside keep bubbling up. And now here comes BP with some not-great news. “BP PLC is still reducing jobs as is shrinks in the aftermath of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the company might provide more details when it meets with investors this week,” according to the Associated Press. “Published reports over the weekend in the UK tied ongoing cuts to the decline of nearly 40 percent in the price of Brent crude oil since summer. The company said in March that spill-related compensation and other costs were nearing $43 billion. BP said it had sold $38 billion worth of assets over three years and planned to sell off another $10 billion by the end of 2015.” Meanwhile, oil companies, not expecting the drop in oil prices to be a little blip are making adjustments to their 2015 plans. The Midland Reporter-Telegram runs through a number of companies that are facing the reality of international competition, although most sounds fairly optimistic (they’re still going to be making a ton of money). “This is still a great asset; we’ll just have less cash flow,” said one local oil executive. “With tough markets comes great opportunities,” said another. Now that’s the Texas spirit.
Giving Back — “Former Coahuila Treasurer Héctor Javier Villarreal, who admitted to laundering money in Texas and was quietly released from jail this fall in San Antonio, has agreed to hand over more than $2 million to the U.S. government as his criminal case proceeds in secret,” writes the San Antonio Express-News. “Villarreal agreed to turn over his Bermuda bank account as part of a civil lawsuit that federal prosecutors in Corpus Christi filed last year. They alleged he transferred $2.3 million that had been stolen from the Mexican state government, shuffling the money through Texas bank accounts to a financial institution in Bermuda.” The Express-News does a pretty solid job of informing readers of the case, particularly commendable since pretty much “every aspect of the case has happened away from public scrutiny.” It seems that if your criminal involvement includes lots of money with political connections, a secret trial away from the public is something prosecutors prefer. “Federal officials garnered criticism earlier this year when Antonio Peña Arguelles, a Zetas money launderer and intermediary between the gang and corrupt politicians, was released in San Antonio after a little more than two years in custody.”