Category Archives: Opinion

EDITOR’S CORNER: Spinning the Wheel on the US Financial Structure System

By Stacey Doud – This is the OPINION of the Editor-In-Chief and does not reflect the general views of the Grapevine Source or any of its other contributors

***

Like a lot of folks, I like to play games on my phone/tablet. It’s great entertainment when I’m waiting somewhere. It’s also a nice way to “wake up my brain” in the morning, or to just take a break from work/housework.

One of the games I play is a slot game called, “Hit it Rich!”

I got to thinking about how this game mirrors society a bit. When I first started out, the game gave me $3 million, so when I talk about millions, billions and trillions, I’m representing millions as “lower class,” billions as “middle class” and trillions as “upper class,” as far as financial standards in the US go. Yes, there are players that go beyond that in winnings, which would be “the rich upper class.”

When I started playing the slot game, I liked it because it is pretty mindless. It’s a great game to play when I didn’t want to think too much, like I have to with puzzle games and such. It has a feature that gives me extra money as long as I log in every day and spin the bonus wheel. I can request extra coins and free spins from friends, as well as gift to them.

With my initial $3 million, I tended to alternate getting up to $10 million or so or going completely bankrupt. Fortunately, when bankrupt, I logged into the game app every day and spun the wheel to build up enough winnings to play again. It took me several days to get that “baseline” of $3 million back, but eventually I’d reach that goal and be able to spin again.

Now, here are the parallels, which are completely my opinions.

I’m about to talk about federal assistance. I just want to clarify up front that I will be referring to folks who use the system honestly because they really need it, whether temporarily or more long-term. My mother is one of those people, and we are thankful that the system exists and can help her, which helps me, as I’m the only child (and definitely not financially rich).

I looked at those free spins when I was bankrupt as federal assistance and/or a job. I used it honestly, and built up enough money to “live” on (i.e. be able to spin/play). I did not spin until I had that $3 million back, though I easily could have. Of course, some people who depend on federal assistance (including my mom) have to “spin.” They need food, clothing and shelter. Ideally, the bonus wheel spins that they take advantage of every day would represent a job. But it could represent unemployment or just checking the mail every day for the assistance check or volunteering for a cause that is important to that person.

Of course, many people in this country are honestly disabled, so they may not be able to spin at all and rely on collecting the free bonus every day when they login. But the fact that they take the time to login every single day shows perseverance and initiative. The people who skip days or weeks of bonus spins or just keep requesting coins from friends are obviously not committed to the game.

I was playing along in this pattern of “millions to bankrupt” for a long time. I even gave up playing for a while, but I still collected those bonus spins just in case I ever wanted to play again.

Over time, I accumulated a few billion dollars. I could bet higher and, in turn, my wins tended to be worth more. So I was spending more, but my returns were higher. This is not always the case with the middle class. Of course, one hopes to secure a good-paying job so that they can afford to “bet” more (i.e. have some disposable income to enjoy some “luxury” items/activities) now and then. But these days, it is costing us more for “necessities,” such as food, electric service, rent/mortgage, etc. In many instances, the middle class is just able to pay the bills for a lifestyle that takes care of these necessities and that’s about it.

Of course, there are many, many Americans who live beyond their means and “rob Peter to pay Paul.” I liken this to players who actually buy extra coins, spins, etc. with real money. I realize that these are the folks that keep the game available to me for free (along with the inevitable ads) and allow the game company to update and change it from time to time. They are a big source of revenue for the game “economy.”

With my few billion dollars, I started betting higher, and one day, I hit a jackpot! I went from $1 billion or so to $36 trillion…just like that. And guess what? I started getting showered with rewards! I could move up a level in two spins! And each time I moved up, I got a bonus of at least $4 billion.

Game

Hit It Rich! Game Screen

What. The. Heck?

I don’t need those bonus things. I can bet $20 billion on a spin like it’s nothing. I give coins and free spins to all of my friends that request it. I’m not the one who needs the extras. The “millionaires” do.

Of course, one could make the argument that maybe the millionaires aren’t managing their money well or are not being thrifty or are not using all the resources that the game provides. And I’m sure this is true with many players. But what about the millionaires that are doing everything “right,” but just haven’t hit a jackpot like I did?

I’m sure I don’t have to point out the parallels here. The rich are getting richer, and they get so many perks and free stuff…yet they’re the ones who can afford that stuff if they wanted it!

Why does a rock star get a free meal at a restaurant and regular patrons don’t? It’s bass-ackwards to me. Mr. Leather Pants could afford to buy every patron in the whole restaurant a nice meal, yet his is free? How is that logical?

I know, I know…it makes Leather Pants come back to said eatery and thus attracts his fans, etc. to the establishment. I get the PR/economics of this. I just think it’s stupid.

While Leather Pants makes millions for dropping one album and touring for three months, regular folks are living paycheck to paycheck. I always thought that if I were talented enough to be a pro sports figure, a singer or actress, I’d do a couple of movies/albums/seasons and then retire. I mean, how much money does one really need – or better yet, how much money is one able to spend in a lifetime?

Sure, I could spend $50 billion (real life) dollars before I die, but it would probably be tough. If you doubt me, try this exercise:

Someone gifts you $1,000. This money doubles every day. So on Day 2, you’d get $2,000, then $4,000, then $8,000, etc. It keeps doubling every day, whether you spend it or not. Use the table below to get started. Make sure you list what you buy specifically and estimate the cost to the best of your ability.

Day

Amount of Deposit

Purchases

Cost of Purchases

Total Cash Left

1

$1,000

2

$2,000

3

$4,000

4

$8,000

5

$16,000
6

$32,000

7

$64,000
8

$128,000

9

$256,000

10 $512,000

Let me know how you do! This is what the rich upper class deals with daily. Sure, they own companies and invest in stuff and give money to charity. But if you try the above exercise, you can see it’s a drop in the bucket.

The bottom line is that, in my opinion, the benefits to the lower, middle and upper classes are upside-down. My little $3 million in the slot game is a distant memory. I am LOADED RICH, baby! But does that make the game more fun? Not. At. All.

Editor’s Corner: Inside the Courtroom – The Dr. Dennis Hughes Hearing

WARNING: Some of the details I discuss in this article are graphic and some language may be offensive. Reader discretion is advised. I do not reveal these details lightly. The purpose is to analyze details of the case that had to be left out of articles for larger distribution. These are my opinions and observations and are not affiliated with Houston Community Newspapers and Media Group, Star Communications or 1013 Inc.

FederalCourthouseI didn’t even know there was a Federal Courthouse in Galveston, so when it was time for me to go to the Pre-Trial Hearing for Dr. Dennis Hughes, I had to do some searching for where to go.

Hughes had been arrested on Friday, June 5, 2015 for Federal Possession of Child Pornography.

Why “Federal?”

Because federal jurisdiction almost always applies when the Internet is used to commit a child pornography violation. And that happens a lot, unfortunately.

Hughes was escorted into the courtroom by a group of U.S. Marshal Gulf Coast Task Force members. He appeared unassuming; a stereotypical professor-type, clean cut and balding, except for his attire, which was an army-green prison-issue jumpsuit. A Marshal sat with Hughes during the proceedings, which created the impression that Hughes was very dangerous.

SealU.S. District Magistrate Judge John Froeschner entered the courtroom and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Zack was soon speaking to her first and only witness, FBI Special Agent (SA) Kelly Berry.

Berry testified that according to Hughes, his habit had been snowballing since the 1990’s, when he started looking at magazine ads and found himself attracted to adult women who were dressed to make them appear younger. By the time he was arrested, Hughes had been spending his nights online, looking at and downloading pornography that displayed pre-pubescent girls (around age 11 or 12) after his family was asleep.

This is the predictable course of pornography addiction. It starts off innocent enough, but the person starts needing something new and different. Sometimes, in the cases of adult porn addiction (and sometimes with children, but I won’t go there), people “graduate” from “just looking” to seeking out prostitutes or other folks who’ll do things with them that they have seen done in pornography. In rare cases, this can escalate into rape and other non-consensual acts.

Fortunately, it seems that Dr. Hughes has not been inappropriate with any real-life children. None of his pediatric patients or their parents, members of his Little League teams, the kids that he volunteered with at his children’s school nor his own children, have thus far reported any wrongdoing on Hughes’s part.

Some people reported that his behavior seemed “a little strange,” like him taking photos at the school even after the yearbook (for which he was taking the pics) had gone to print or insisting that he do full-body scans on his melanoma patients himself instead of taking the “usual” course of referring them to the Dermatology Dept. for the scans. However, this can also be explained as hindsight bias, in which people who now know that Hughes enjoyed child pornography interpret something benign as being sinister.

An aside…Hughes only spends about 20% of his time at work with patients. He is a Physician Scientist, which means most of his time is spent in a lab doing research. He is also a tenured professor. His specialty is the study of melanoma (skin cancer) and osteosarcoma, which is a type of cancer that starts in the bones and most frequently presents in children. When Hughes does see patients, they range in age from 6 months to 21 years.

But I digress…

The story of how Hughes was found out is a little complex.

The FBI was conducting an international crackdown on child pornography providers and users, and during February and March of this year, had been operating the servers of an “underground” website/forum which they had seized control of.

This website required users to purchase external software in order to gain access because the site masked Internet Protocol (IP) addresses so that users became “untraceable.” But since the FBI was operating the service, they were able to gather IP addresses of actual users. Hughes was one of those people.

The FBI subpoenaed Hughes’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) for his home address and obtained a search warrant, which they executed on June 5, in the presence of Hughes, his wife and his three children.

MugshotSA Berry testified as to the content of the files found on a thumb drive that Hughes had surrendered. She cited one example, a collection of 16 images named “ManFuckPreteenLatina,” which depicted a naked, pre-pubescent girl on a bed, first with a clothed man and then with a naked man, allowing the men to perform sexual acts on her. About 10GB, or 8,200 files, were found on that one thumb drive alone. Hughes’s computer was seized and the hard drive is being examined by a forensic team to determine if there are more files.

Hughes’s work computer was seized by UT/MD Anderson police before the search warrant was executed at his home. A cursory examination indicated that there were pornographic images of young girls on the hard drive, but a forensic exam must be performed to determine whether these images were actually downloaded at that location (which would add to the federal charges) or installed from a thumb drive or other external device, which would exempt those files from being included in the charges.

During cross-examination by the defense, it was established that Hughes had cooperated fully with law enforcement and turned over everything that was asked for. He admitted to having the files and even spoke to SA Berry about the waxing and waning of his habit.

While he claimed he had been too afraid to seek professional help because he thought he would be turned in to authorities, Hughes did say that he regularly confessed to his priest and that sometimes he would go months between “episodes” of looking at porn.

His triggers seemed to be anger and insomnia, and he found the dopamine rush he received from masturbating helpful to help him stay alert when it was time to go to work. Berry testified that it was her opinion that Hughes felt shame, guilt and remorse.

During SA Berry’s testimony, Hughes didn’t show much emotion at all. However, that was all about to change.

Defense Attorney Neal Davis called Hughes’s wife to the stand.*

Hughes lost it, and wept uncontrollably for a minute or two as his wife approached. He hung his head low and wiped the tears away with a tissue.

635694697743568182-dennis-hughesMrs. Hughes presented herself as incredibly strong in the face of the “shame” that her husband had brought her family, her church and her community. She was teary, but remained in control of herself until she was seated in the back of the courtroom after her testimony.

It was almost painful to watch this very conservatively dressed, Catholic woman testify to the events that had brought her to that point. Despite her shock at learning of her husband’s habits, she supported his pre-trial release and testified that, to her knowledge, he had not been inappropriate with any children in their lives. She said she would assist her husband with the conditions of his release if it was granted, and that she had already had their home Internet service disconnected.

Mrs. Hughes is a homemaker, and depends on her husband’s income. The prosecution tried to make a point of this and offered it as an explanation of Mrs. Hughes’s support of her husband.

Honestly, it is most likely a part of her support. Mrs. Hughes is a Notre Dame educated woman, but had not been employed since 2004, when she quit to raise her family. If her husband’s paychecks stopped coming, she would be in quite a pickle. It is unclear whether or not Hughes would continue receiving a salary if he was incarcerated. As a tenured professor, there is a strong likelihood that he would, but that is not guaranteed and is to be determined.

After she was finished testifying, Mrs. Hughes collapsed into the arms of her father, who was sitting in the back of the courtroom, and sobbed.

Zack and Judge Froeschner had a dialogue about Hughes’s release. It was apparent that His Honor was leaning toward granting the release, as long as Hughes followed the two pages’ worth of conditions during that time. Zack basically had no rebuttal…there was no indication that Hughes was a danger to others. He could be a danger to himself, but he had so far proven himself to have not crossed the line between fantasy and reality.

Judge Froeschner said that he didn’t see any danger that Hughes would pose to others if he were released. He said that Hughes had the support of his family and his community and would be closely monitored to make sure he was complying with all of the conditions set forth. Froeschner made it clear that he wanted to set a bond amount, and called a recess for the lawyers to work that out.

They agreed on $50,000. Hughes would be free soon.

Hughes was escorted out of the building by U.S. Marshals. Ultimately, it is up to them as to when to release Hughes, so he did not necessarily go home this day. However, if it wasn’t today, it will be soon.

Hughes will have to seek treatment for his addiction, stay away from schools and daycares, have “responsible adult supervision” when he is around children and refrain from any interface with the Internet. The conditions go on and on, but I won’t bore you (if I haven’t already).

If a plea bargain can not be agreed upon, Hughes will eventually go to trial. He is facing a minimum of 5 years in federal prison, with a maximum sentence of 20 years. His medical career is over. It is unclear if his marriage will survive this.

I left the courthouse feeling very sad because I knew this whole thing could have been prevented. It made me think of a former client who was labeled a sex offender for life because a few images of minors had been found on his computer. Of course, it is unknown if my client or Hughes would have escalated into actually hurting someone, but that doesn’t dampen the senselessness of it all.

The moral of the story is that if you or someone you know is dealing with pornography addiction, get help now. I don’t care if you’re Barack Obama – GET HELP. If you’re using the Internet to download videos or pictures of minors, you’re committing a FEDERAL OFFENSE. Even if it’s not minors you’re looking at, this escape is not worth losing your job, family and dignity over.

For more information about pornography addiction, click HERE. To find help for pornography addiction, click HERE and enter your ZIP code to find a helping professional near you.

Take care of yourselves out there.

*I am purposely not using the first names of Mrs. Hughes and the children to give some semblance of respect to their privacy.

To download supporting documents, click HERE (7 MB .pdf file).

Editor’s Corner: Inside the Courtroom – The Verdict (Arrijana Hill)

WARNING: Some of the details I discuss in this article are graphic. Reader discretion is advised. I do not reveal these details lightly. The purpose is to illustrate the brutality and selfishness of this crime. No disrespect is meant toward the deceased or her family. These are my opinions and observations and are not affiliated with Houston Community Newspapers and Media Group, Star Communications or 1013 Inc.

It’s all about who you know. That’s what really gets you what you want and/or need in this world. So, be kind to everyone you meet. Not because you may want something from him or her in the future, but because that’s the human thing to do. Plus, you never know what private pain a person is going through at that moment.

Opal Hill’s pain was evident last night in Judge Pat Sebesta’s courtroom as she read her Victim Impact Statement after the man convicted of killing her daughter was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 40 years. Of course, that’s if he earns it. Either way, he’ll be 58 years old at that time.

What a waste. Not only of Ryan Matthews’ life, but of Arrijana Hill’s and her two unborn babies. If you’re not familiar with the story, please read THIS. Matthews is barely 18 years old.

The jury was out for a little over five hours yesterday. They returned around 8:40 p.m. It was only through the kindness of a friend that I learned that a verdict would be returned last night. I hauled down to Angleton, getting there literally five minutes before the jury bell rang.

Mr. and Mrs. Hill were there with their support system, as well as Velma Guadiana, Pearland Police Department’s Crime Victims Liaison and Det. Jennifer Page. I thought it both fitting and ironic that it is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The Hills could be the poster family.

I gave the Hills my package of tissues, which I’d regret not keeping a few later. I smiled encouragement. What else could I do?

Matthews was brought back in the courtroom and then the jury filed in. Judge Sebesta warned the audience against outbursts of any kind and then read the verdicts.

GUILTY of count one – Capital Murder of Arrijana Hill and one of her unborn babies.

GUILTY of count two – Capital Murder of Arrijana Hill and the other unborn baby.

Quietly, most of us lost it. I personally was happy that this man got what was coming to him, but it still didn’t bring Arrijana back. It didn’t undo what was done. But it will ensure that the man who took those three lives will lose most, if not all, of his as well. It’s so sad. I needed my tissues.

Sebesta polled the jury. They all affirmed their guilty verdict.

After sentencing, Mrs. Hill slowly walked to the stand to give her Victim Impact Statement, with Mr. Hill standing behind her in strong support. Matthews kept looking at the floor, as he had when the verdict was read.

Tearfully, she faced Matthews for the first time in over a year, telling him of the, “Breathtaking agony, shattered dreams and seemingly aimless existence,” that they have been living.

“You deserve this for your selfishness and this senseless act and the impact it had on so many lives. You are a true depiction of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You could have chosen to move on and to do better in life, but you chose the coward’s way out. You get the coward’s reward,” she said.

Hill credited her faith in getting her and her family through this ordeal and finished her statement by reading the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014):

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
 I rise.

Yesterday, God’s people, Opal and David Hill, rose. They held their heads up high as they left the courtroom. Neither looked at Ryan Matthews again.

In Memory of Arrijana Hill (1997 – 2013)

Editor’s Corner: The Evolution of Evil: A Theoretical Explanation of Don Collins*

I recently covered several days of the capital murder trial of Don Willburn Collins, 29, who stood accused of tying Robert Middleton to a tree and setting him on fire in 1998 when Collins was 13 and Middleton was 8. Middleton miraculously survived the third degree burns over 99% of his body for 12 years, but died of skin cancer allegedly caused by the burns in 2011 when he was 20.

The trial concluded yesterday (Tuesday, 2/10/15) with the jury finding Collins guilty and sentencing him to the maximum of 40 years (since he was a minor at the time of the burning, he could not be sentenced to life in prison or receive the death penalty).

The trial was moved from Montgomery County to Galveston County because the case had been in the news on and off for 17 years and the concern about finding unbiased jurors was well-founded.

I kept hearing the same thing over and over from random people: How could a person do this to someone else? How does a person get to be so evil?

I pondered those questions as I watched the trial, paying special attention to Collins’ reactions (or really lack of reactions) and trying to piece together a timeline of his childhood that might explain how he became an obvious sociopath.

For every “evil” or “monstrous” person, there’s a story. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, or even explain it, but it does give one insight into how these people evolve.

Collins lost his mother around age 8 and his father had never been around. For a young boy, the absence of a father is especially damaging. I won’t go in depth here, but if you’re interested, make sure to watch the documentary Absent, which is available on Netflix.

Collins became an orphan at a young age. He was then passed around from relative to relative, basically sleeping on floors and couches, as his family was lower middle-class. He ended up at an uncle’s house in the small town of Splendora, TX in a neighborhood that was very rural.

This uncle – actually, many of Collins’ relatives – had a history of criminal behavior. It was never mentioned in the trial, but I am convinced that Collins was sexually abused as a child based on several factors that are “red flags” to me as a trained mental health professional. I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this uncle had participated in that abuse.

The rest of this article is purely my opinion, based on facts and observations I took from the case*. No one has been charged with abusing Collins and I am drawing conclusions based on statistical probabilities. As always, all parties are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

—————————

Yearbook photo

Yearbook photo

Picture if you can, an 8 year-old boy with ginger hair and freckles. He’s just lost his mother, the only person in the world who ever really showed him love. He has no contact with his father. In the midst of his grief, he is placed with a relative who lives in the woods in a mobile home, which really isn’t big enough for the whole family. This young orphan is told to sleep on the couch or the floor. No one is particularly kind to the boy; he feels like a burden and is very angry at the loss of his mom and the absence of his dad. He pushes people away because he doesn’t want to be abandoned yet again.

He’s in that home for 5 years. During that time, his uncle rapes him several times. The young man’s anger builds, and he blames everyone. He feels powerless, helpless and trapped. The people that surround him drink heavily and do drugs, and they openly share their substances with the boy. He uses and drinks. He finds that it helps him feel like he fits in somewhere and sometimes dulls his anger.

He is especially angry toward families that appear complete and happy. This is because he is jealous and feels like these people don’t deserve what he can’t have. He wants to take it away from them somehow.

He starts touching the neighborhood children, both boys and girls. This builds up to actual molestation and rape, for which he will be prosecuted in the future. This is one way to hurt happy people. He knows this because he’s experienced it.

When someone he considers to be part of the “enemy” group, which gets larger every day, commits the slightest perceived infraction against him, he feels that he must punish them. He does this in various ways, ranging from scaring kids to stomping on the head of a neighbor girl’s 10-week old kitten, killing it.

By the time this boy reaches puberty, he’s primed for more violence. No one has shown him love or compassion for years. He’s been abused emotionally, physically and sexually by the very people who give him food and shelter. He’s learned that the entire world is against him and he must defend himself, sometimes making the first move to prevent perceived pain later.

By age 13, the boy is regularly molesting and raping neighborhood children. The trial showed that there were at least 4 victims of his sexual violence in the span of a year, and there may be more who haven’t come forward.

Rape makes the boy feel powerful and in control, something that he doesn’t ever feel in any other situation. He likes it when kids are scared of him. Some of his family members even encourage him to keep hurting people.

When he rapes 7 year-old Robert Middleton, it’s suddenly not enough. He knows that Robert is part of a complete, happy family. He tells Middleton that he better not tell anyone, or he will get killed. Middleton tells no one.

Middleton’s mom, however, notices a change in her son’s behavior. She feels like this “creepy kid” in the neighborhood is stalking him. It was only a few years ago that she had pulled Collins off of her daughter because he was trying to pull down the daughter’s underwear. Moms know when something is wrong with their kids. She asks Robert about it. Robert assures her that Collins “is being nice.”

About 2 weeks after the rape, Robert is tied to a tree, doused with gasoline and set on fire by Collins, who points the finger at another kid who hadn’t even been in the neighborhood when the incident happened.

Collins spends some time in Juvenile Detention. He drifts around after that, doing more time for theft, sexual assault and failing to register as a sex offender in two counties.

Collins in 2015 (Photo: NY Daily News)

Collins in 2015 (Photo: NY Daily News)

When Robert Middleton dies in 2011, Collins officially becomes accused of murder. He is remanded into County Jail in 2013, where he gets tattoos of demonic figures, a revolver pointed into the open mouth of a skull and a swastika on his scalp and arms.

He is now fully evolved. He shows no emotion except an occasional smirk as the witnesses recount the horrors they have experienced. He is all-powerful now. No one can hurt him anymore.

————

*I am NOT condoning the actions of Collins in ANY way. This piece was meant as a theoretical explanation of how a person becomes sociopathic. This piece is entirely my opinion and does not reflect the views of The Silvercreek Tribune or Houston Community Newspapers.

The Year in Review: Editor’s Corner

Tomorrow marks a new year. Since time is a man-made concept, I don’t put a whole lot of stock into its passing. But I can’t ignore the world around me, so here are some reflections on 2014. I’m sure many of you will relate to some of it. That’s because our humanity ties us all together.

I won’t say it was a great or an awful year. Good things happened and not-so-good things happened as well. That’s the nature of life. The only constant is change. Some “bad” things turn out for the best; some “good” things bring much pain.

I retired after 15 years of counseling and got a great job with Houston Community Newspapers in late September. It has broadened my horizons, allowing me the opportunity to learn about and experience new things.

I got to ride in the Blue Angels’ C-130 “Fat Albert;” attend the first test launch of the new NASA Orion spacecraft; talk to a professor in Colorado who hails from Friendswood about how he’s exposing SEC naughtiness; meet blind “Master Chef” winner Christine Ha, who granted me an interview; speak at length with the new Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton; tour a leading-edge stem cell laboratory; meet numerous city and state administrators and officials, including Houston Mayor Annise Parker State Representative Ed Thompson, Congressman-Elect Wayne Faircloth, County Commissioner-Elect Ryan Cade, County Judge-Elect Matt Sebesta, Justice of the Peace Gordon Starkenburg, all of our local city councilmen and their wives, wonderful community leaders from the Lions Clubs, the Chambers of Commerce and various Economic Development Associations and learn a LOT about politics and the inner workings of a city of 108,000 people.

If you know me at all, then you know that I’d never in a million years think I’d find some of that stuff interesting at all (ahem, politics). But, I realize that I am finally practicing what I preach about learning about something before making judgments about it. I’ve also learned that local politics are much more interesting to me than national, but it’s all very complicated. I’ve learned that all of our city council members, the city manager and the mayor are very decent guys with the same desire to see the best things for Pearland happen, even if they disagree on what those things are sometimes.

I’ve also been able to use my position at HCN to help get news out from the local police department, where I’ve been a volunteer for over a year now. Now especially, in this tense climate, I find myself driven to educate the public about our men and women in blue and about what they do, the restrictions they have and what they deal with on a daily basis. It’s given me the opportunity to get to know the administrators and officers better, and I am very proud of the department we have here. They’re not perfect, but we are truly blessed to have them.

I’ve said goodbye to clients who have trusted me with the most personal details of their lives. I’ve told them all that I learned as much from them as they did from me. I was honored to be trusted by them and to have been given the opportunity to help them find their way. I still talk to a few clients by phone or Skype, and I am grateful to have them in my life.

I’ve had my heart soar and had it broken. I’ve been in absolute ecstasy and pit-bottom depression. But I have learned from every moment, and that’s all that matters to me.

I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane when my good friend was accepted into the Police Academy. I experienced zero gravity on “Fat Albert.” I saw and heard the incredible Orion launch, propelled by a Delta IV Heavy Rocket. I rode with my daughter during her first times behind the wheel of an automobile.

I am not the same person today that I was on January 1. I am a better person; more tolerant, more curious, more open and less scared of life. I now crave adventure and have a wanderlust I have never experienced before. I am excited about what the Universe will throw my way in 2015 – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Happy New Year to you and yours! I wish you all the best in 2015 and beyond!

Here’s a slideshow of just a few events I’ve been to and people I’ve met this year:

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Op-Ed: Thinking Critically to Move Towards Education and Peace

**This piece is entirely my opinion based on my own research and weeding out actual facts about the issues presented. It does not represent the opinions or the endorsement of any company, non-profit, person or other entity. – Stacey**

That being said, I’m sad, y’all. What is going on in this world we live in? I’m afraid that I may be a (small) cog in the biggest problem: the media.

I am a reporter for a small group of community newspapers. I like reporting the “good stuff,” not who got killed, raped, assaulted, threatened, etc. I think people like to read positive things. Obviously though, as a whole, the masses are also hungry for the negative. So, based on supply-and-demand, which 24-hour news channels created the supply for, demand increases. And so on.

I remember when things were first going down in Ferguson, MO. I don’t watch or read “big media” unless I have to, but I did hear about this WHITE police officer that shot an unarmed BLACK teenager. That’s ALL I heard for the longest time.

I tend to suspend judgment on an issue until I can get the facts, but I do see how it would be easy to just parrot what’s all over the news and social media. And parroting was rampant. It still is.

I was horrified at the thought of any officer shooting any unarmed person just for the heck of it. I knew there had to be more to the story. I couldn’t find it on social media or on the big news channels, though.

Since I am a volunteer for my local police department and a supporter of law enforcement, I have other sources in this area. I went to my “go to” sites: PoliceOne.com, Law Officer, the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Information was scarce for a while, but the facts leaked out slowly. After all, the matter was under investigation, and unlike the media and the masses, law enforcement officers and organizations are not allowed to say anything about an open investigation.

Their silence was interpreted by the big media as some sort of admission of guilt or an indication that someone was hiding something. That’s just not true. Even locally, members of the department cannot and will not talk to anyone about an open investigation. Period.

The reasons for the silence make sense if you think about it critically. If any member of law enforcement speculated about an open case, those opinions could (and probably would) be interpreted as fact. That person’s speculations would not only contaminate the investigation, but may produce bias in the people of the community and even in the people doing the investigation.

Also, when things are reported before investigations are complete, small details can make big waves.

There is a department elsewhere in Texas that made the mistake of posting a report about a two-car accident on their Facebook page. Within minutes, commenters were giving out the names and facts about the drivers, and soon after that, rumors about the drivers started flying: he was drunk, she was on drugs, I know him and he’s a real jerk. The department had to post a warning about discussing personal details and took the original post down.

No one had even been hurt in the accident. The department had posted it to alert citizens about road congestion around the wreck. They had good intentions, but what is that they say about the road to hell?

When an incident like the one in Ferguson happens, the agency has to conduct an internal investigation and may even hire a third party to do a separate query into the facts to determine whether or not the officer abused his duty to uphold the law.

In Ferguson’s case, the facts were submitted to a Grand Jury. And there were LOTS of facts to be gathered and presented, witnesses to interview (many of them were spoken to numerous times), video footage to watch and police band recordings to listen to. If you’d like to see everything that was presented to the Grand Jury, visit http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/11/us/ferguson-grand-jury-docs/index.html.

In the meantime, the silence from the police department left them open to threats of death, obstacles to doing their jobs (to the point where many officers couldn’t go home to their families for days) and the frustration of not being able to say anything. Their silence also gave the big media folks time to fill in the blanks with speculation and falsehood. It also gave the teenager’s family and their supporters time to get really, really mad.

And who blames them for being mad? Not me. I’d be mad as hell, too. I’d be hurting. I’d want to get revenge. I’d probably even want to stir up some trouble. Losing a family member or friend is one of the most painful things a human being can go through. Extreme emotions are common. It’s what people do with these feelings that matter in cases like this.

I can’t say for sure what I’d do if I were the parent of a teenager who was killed by a policeman. I do know what I wouldn’t do, however. I wouldn’t incite riots or violence and if others did in my child’s name, I’d do whatever I could to stop them. I’d want to keep my pain private. I’d definitely talk to members of the agency that employed the officer and I’d probably not be nice about it. But that’s me.

I don’t mean to imply that Michael Brown’s parents incited riots or even wanted them. It got to be bigger than them and bigger than their son. It morphed from a tragic incident to a war between the races and a war between the people and the police. I can’t imagine that Brown’s parents ever really wanted that.

But it happened. The first person to get the idea to riot and loot most likely recruited some buddies to do it with him or her. Herd mentality takes over in human beings rather quickly. It’s ‘if they’re doing it, then it’s OK for me to do it as well.’ And who wouldn’t get angrier in the middle of destroying a store or a car or making off with stolen goods? Their actions may have initially been driven by herd mentality, but they were sustained by anger, which may or may not have been individually present when a person first decided to participate.

When a person dies, it is only natural to want to blame someone. If it is a natural death, many people go through phases of blaming God. But when a police officer kills a person, it is easy to place blame. The problem is that the blame starts getting generalized to every person in that occupational field. Even if Officer Wilson had been indicted, the anti-police movement was already in full swing. An indictment wouldn’t have brought peace anyway.

The Grand Jury no-billed Wilson after hearing, seeing and reviewing everything that they possibly could. Having read most of the evidence presented to them myself, I agree with their decision. It doesn’t change the fact that a kid is dead. But, when you look at the facts, Michael Brown decided to kill himself the minute he took a step toward Wilson after having already proven himself violent and ignoring Wilson’s warnings to stay put. People say Brown was “unarmed,” but sometimes people don’t need weapons to be armed. The kid was huge. He was a weapon himself.

That being said, I want to state that I am not some blind follower of law enforcement. There was recently an incident in south Texas in which an officer TASEREed an elderly man. I saw the video. It’s under investigation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the officer was found to have abused his authority. There’s nothing “right” about that…ever. However, I don’t think I’ll run down there to riot or protest if the officer is cleared. In fact, I’ve stayed out of it. It’s not my monkey and it’s not my circus. Neither was Ferguson.

This new wave of race wars and anti-police movements are my circus, though. It’s America’s circus, whether you lend your voice to it or not. You are being represented in one way or another by big media anyway.

I say all of this long-windily to encourage everyone to start thinking critically. Get the facts from several, dependable sources. FOX, NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC and all of the other giant media conglomerates are not dependable. They all have an agenda. They want to tell you what to think. And different media outlets present opposing points of view on purpose. They want to stir the people up. Anxious and angry people are easy to manipulate and control. Think about that next time you take something you heard on the news as gospel.

There is no easy solution to these problems. There’s a pro-police movement that’s gaining momentum, but all that does is give opposition to the anti-police movement. You can’t have a war with only one side.

Race issues have been in existence since the beginnings of humanity. I know it’s worse in some parts of the country than others. There are plenty of racists out there of ALL colors and ethnicities. Most of their bias comes from ignorance.

Perhaps the best baby step toward solving these problems is the use of critical thinking and education to learn about “the other side.” Find the opposition’s humanity. That, after all, is what we ALL have in common.

Oh, and turn off the news already. It’ll make you a happier person.

Click HERE to send hate mail, flames and love letters to the editor.

Behind-the-Scenes at Ellington Airport

I am telling you – I have the best job EVER! My recent employment at Houston Community Newspapers has opened so many doors for me and I am very grateful for these opportunities.

Not only have I been able to cover many inspiring local events, but I have had unique opportunities to cover unique things outside of Pearland.

Mayor Annise Parker (R)

Mayor Annise Parker (R)

Most recently, I have been able to attend the unveiling of the Lone Star Flight Museum plans (and ended up sitting next to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, which was cool no matter how you feel about her), a media event with The Blue Angels and yesterday I got to ride in the cockpit of their C-130 (“Fat Albert”) and ended up next to Master Chef Season 3 winner and native Houstonian Christine Ha!

It is my utmost pleasure to be able to share some behind-the-scenes things with the readers of The Tribune – things that may not make it to print.

So, in that spirit, below are links to a couple of YouTube videos that I took with my GoPro on the C-130 yesterday. I was bummed that the sun prevented me from capturing the full view out of the cockpit windows. We were mostly flying below 3,000 feet…and if you happen to live near Ellington Airport, we probably buzzed your rooftop! Fat Albert flies at about 400mph and can keep that speed up at extremely low altitudes. At one point, we were about 250 feet above the airstrip (not landing, either)!

Take-off consisted of a brief flat acceleration period followed by a 45-degree upturn. It was close to a rocket launch! The pilot then did a nose dive, creating a zero gravity environment for a few seconds! We had moments of high-G upturns, and I was holding my video camera (they ran out of mounts on the plane) so it was quite a struggle to keep my arm up so I could keep filming! We went in for a landing after about 7 minutes, and we headed straight for the ground. At the last minute, the pilot pulled up and leveled us off to land safely. This C-130 is a HUGE plane and it’s amazing that it is so incredibly maneuverable!

I hope you enjoy the videos and I hope to see some of you out at the Wings Over Houston Airshow this weekend at Ellington Airport! For more information, visit WingsOverHouston.com.

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Critical Thinking: Let’s Bring It Back

This article is part of the Editor’s Corner and was written by Stacey Glaesmann, MA. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions or attitudes of The Silvercreek Tribune.

 

I haven’t willingly watched a news program in over 15 years. I say willingly because I am occasionally trapped in a waiting room with CNN blaring. Sometimes I ask the person with the remote to change the channel. Sometimes, I put in my ear buds and listed to music or a TedTalk. And yes, I work for a newspaper. It seems counterintuitive doesn’t it?

Let me explain. I have dealt with depression and anxiety my whole life, and it occurred to be one day that the news was just sad. So I turned it off and haven’t looked back. Yes, I’ll read news articles online for research or to educate myself, but I make sure to read several pieces on the same issue. If that seems weird it’s because critical thinking is often considered strange these days.

Critical thinking is defined as, “Disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence,” according to the 2014 edition of the Random House Dictionary. It sounds simple enough; however, many times, the big news channels feed what little information they have to the public to basically shape the masses’ views, which usually stir up fear, doubt and controversy. People are easier to control en masse when they’re scared out of their minds or so busy arguing with each other that they don’t notice the big picture.

For example, have you heard of Ferguson, MO? If you have, it’s most likely because it’s the small town outside of St. Louis where a (white) police officer shot an unarmed (black) teenager in cold blood out in the street for no reason. Well, maybe because the (white) officer doesn’t like the (black) people that live where he patrols. In an astute act of protest, people looted the town. This is all that was broadcast about the actual incident for weeks.

People were mad! They were outraged! And not just people in Ferguson, either. I’m talking people in other states and even other countries! How dare anyone defend this racist guy who killed a kid in cold blood without provocation?

Thanks to the Internet and sites like Facebook and Twitter, people can influence others all around the globe into what psychology calls a “mob [or herd] mentality.” This occurs when a small group influences a person or people to do things that they may not ever do on their own. All social animals are hard-wired this way; thus the term “herd.” And many times, this can work for the greater good. One meerkat sends out the signal, the others run away from a predator. The tribe is saved! A media outlet releases potentially bad news for a company, the stock market tanks! Oh wait…that’s not so good.

What distinguishes humans from meerkats, among other things, are our higher reasoning skills. Sometimes, we forget that we have those skills when something catches our attention and then we see that everyone else is mad (or rioting or panicking or whatever). So, we join in, even though we may not actually know much about the issue at hand.

Anyway, let’s get back to Ferguson. So, the media tells people that some white cop killed a black kid for no good reason. Are you going to be the one who says, “Hey! Wait a second! Maybe there’s more to the story?” If you do, you could be receiving threats on your life from the rest of the herd! So, this is mainly why no one said it (or maybe someone did but took it back because you can do that on Facebook).

It’s now 2 months later and guess what? Forensic evidence and witness testimony has shown that there really was a reason for Officer Darren Wilson to defend himself against Michael Brown! The kid attacked Wilson in his cop car, trying to get his gun, and Wilson fired 2 shots, one striking Brown in the arm. And Brown had just burglarized a local convenience store, giving him a defensive perception even though Wilson was not aware of this at the time. No jury has acquitted Wilson at this time, but had rioters waited for all of the information about the issue, maybe they wouldn’t have been rioting.

Critical thinking requires us to be patient, yes. Investigations and reports are not produced overnight. But it is my opinion that being patient now can help me be a better person, mother, reporter and human being in the long run. I’d rather be silent then post something on Facebook that I’ll regret later (even if I can delete it). I want to be a positive role model to my daughter and to humanity in general because Michael Brown was a person, just like Darren Wilson is. Just like we all are.

For more information on the latest Ferguson information, visit CNN.com.

To send me hate mail, click HERE. 🙂

More Bricks Without Straw: Dr. John Kelly

From PISD Superintendent Dr. John Kelly:

I’m underwhelmed by Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams’ response to the excellent (and obvious) recent ruling by Judge Dietz on the Texas school funding case. In that ruling, the judge found our current state funding system inequitable, inadequate, and essentially indefensible. But Commissioner Williams then stated, “It should be our state leaders making those decisions, not a single judge.” His statement inexplicably parrots a few other Texas politicians.

Read more…

Editorial: Does Policing Need to Get Back to the Basics?

As many of you know, I am an active volunteer with the Pearland Police Department as a Board member of the PCPAAA and the 100 Club of Pearland. This involvement has led to many opportunities to learn about policing procedures, policies, problems and culture.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to attend the Texas Citizens on Patrol Association Conference in Cleburne, Texas. As a result, I had the opportunity to bend the ear of Cleburne Police Chief Rob Severance, who has brought efficiency, reform and vast improvements to his community since his appointment in 2012.

Chief Rob Severance of Cleburne, TX

Chief Rob Severance of Cleburne, TX

I often hear that the goal of policing is, “To get home safely at the end of the shift.” I hear it everywhere, not just locally, and Severance admitted to having used it as a standard in his agency…until he attended a leadership seminar taught by Retired Chief Larry Hesser.

Hesser pointed out that this stated goal misses the mark of what policing is about – the safety of the community and the guardianship of the Democracy. Severance now says that his agency’s primary mission is: To Protect and Serve Cleburne. “This,” he says, “more accurately reflects the purpose of the police as articulated by Sir Robert Peel in 1829. We care very much about the safety of our officers, and focus on training and equipping them to protect and serve as safely as possible.” The police profession has a proud tradition of service before self. After all, aren’t officers out there to protect the community, catch the bad guys and serve in any capacity required? Thanks to Severance, I was able to secure an interview with Chief Hesser and what he said was very perspective-changing for me.

Hesser started his policing career in the mid-1960’s before there was any formal training. He learned as he went along and took advice from officers who were WWII Veterans – what he called, “the old timers.” It turns out that their advice was invaluable. The first formal basic training Hesser ever attended was as an instructor! Back then, the widely-held goal of policing was protecting people and property. And those in the field were fiercely serious about it.

Chief Larry Hesser (Ret.) Circa 1987

Chief Larry Hesser (Ret.) Circa 1987

In the early-2000’s, Hesser had the opportunity to attend Leadership Academy at West Point Military Academy to learn how to teach the United States Military Academy model of leadership. “They treated me like a soldier,” he said. “They treated me like one of them. They socialized me and I left holding the motto, ‘Duty, Honor, Country.'” That motto stuck so well that Hesser got permission from West Point to put “Duty, Honor, Community” on the police cars at the agency he was leading at the time.

It was the mid-90’s when Hesser started noticing a change in the academy cadets that were training to be part of his agency. “I’d take them to lunch and ask them what they had been learning. That’s when I first heard of ‘get home safely.’ I told them that that’s not a goal, it’s a given!” he said.

Of course, no one enters this profession wanting to die, and believe it or not, the vast majority of police officers don’t want to have to discharge their weapon or injure/kill anyone. “If your goal is to get home safely at the end of your shift, that means that officers who have died in the line of duty have failed at their goal,” said Hesser. “Do you want to go tell the surviving family that? Of course, they didn’t fail! They were still protecting and serving. That’s just another reason why this goal doesn’t work for me.”

Hesser has had a long career in policing. He spent 29 of his 39 years in the field as a police chief in Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina, and Texas. In retirement, he’s used his time to go out and educate other chiefs and supervisors about aspects of leadership. He bases his trainings on what he learned at West Point, and also incorporates the work of Dr. Elliott Jaques and Dr. Kevin Gilmartin.

“The bottom line here is that there’s an attitude problem in the field,” said Hesser. “Police work cannot be just a job [chore] or a commodity [way to earn a paycheck]. It has to be a calling [Hesser credits Ret. Chief Don Hanna for this concept]. And the leader in any department needs to be committed to a higher purpose, not money or power or policy. When your leaders are committed to the higher purpose of protecting the Democracy, they can’t help but influence those within the ranks to look to the same higher purpose,” he added.

Hesser feels confident that many solutions lie in the re-focusing of leadership back to, “the nobility of police officers – as guardians of the Democracy.” He feels that most agencies have lost sight of this and the seriousness of the task, and urges them to re-focus on it. In his trainings, he encourages agencies to take a hard look at the relationships between leaders and followers, as well as group dynamics. “Good working relationships and trust are crucial,” he said. “We need to get back to the basics…remember why we went into this field in the first place.”

So, where can agencies start? Re-focusing on an end goal of to protect and serve as safely as possible, or something similar, would be a good place. Or as John Bertetto with the Chicago Police Department and author of Teaching the Police Ethos said, “Our primary mission is to ensure the safety and security of the communities we serve. The community is not the obstacle to our mission, they are our mission. Before we see to our own needs, we must first attend to theirs.” This would put the safety of the community at the forefront because police officers take an oath that may require sacrifice – sometimes of his or her own life – for the sake of another. And that is never something to take lightly.

For further reading, I suggest the following links:

I’ll close with a video that Chief Hesser says that he shows at the end of his trainings. This was uploaded in the beginning of 2009, so the statistics have changed. So far in 2014, 72 officers have died in the line of duty, which is up 3% from last year. Alarmingly, shooting deaths have increased 52%.

Thank you for taking the time to read this editorial, and I welcome your questions and comments below.