- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Feb. 14, 2014.

Where not to cut spending is an ongoing education

Congressional District 27 is a military veteran-friendly district that wants to take care of its veterans. The vote last week by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Corpus Christi Democrat, to reverse pension cuts that would have hit younger veterans is, therefore, an example of representative government at its best.

Another vote last week by Farenthold, against raising the nation’s debt limit, suggests that we District 27 residents also want our government to default on its obligations because, on principle, we oppose paying our debts and favor sabotaging our country’s and the world’s economy.

Obviously we don’t. We might favor less spending in the first place, which is the way to avoid the need to raise the debt ceiling. But experience tells us that’s just a theoretical position that evaporates once folks find out what’s supposed to be cut.

The rescission of the pension cut is an example. Farenthold, representing us and our desire for fiscal responsibility, voted for the pension cut. And later, representing us and our desire not to cut those pensions, he voted to undo it.

The vote in favor of restoring the pensions is the kind of vote that leads inevitably to the need to raise the debt ceiling later. It’s also why Farenthold and other tea party Republicans who vote against raising the debt limit are urged to act like grown-ups - because government candy, metaphorically speaking, already is being eaten.

We say “metaphorically” because veterans’ pensions aren’t candy and neither is food for hungry poor children. We bring up food for hungry poor children because, when we point out the connection between restoring pensions and needing to raise the debt limit, inevitably the retort is that the cuts should come from someplace else where there’s unnecessary fat. Usually the fat-trimming target is something called “entitlements,” which is an easy word to put in the middle of a bullseye - until someone points out that “entitlements” includes food for hungry poor children, which is NO metaphor.

For an example of what is meant by acting like grown-ups, look no further than House Speaker John Boehner and Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Cornyn of Texas, all Republicans, and not just in name only. Boehner made sure the debt ceiling went to a vote in the House with no added conditions. McConnell and Cornyn made sure it didn’t succumb to a filibuster by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. They made sure it came to a vote - tantamount to making sure it passed.

Cornyn and McConnell face primary challengers to the right of them, even though there’s uncomfortably little room to the right of those two. Once the bill came to a vote, Cornyn did what Farenthold did in the House, voting against raising the ceiling. And Cornyn, like Farenthold, voted for restoring the military pension level. So, on paper, he’s guilty of the same fiscal contradiction as Farenthold.

But Cornyn also made a personal sacrifice to do what was necessary to make sure the government didn’t grind to a halt. He’s willing to risk being called something he isn’t - a liberal. And he’ll have to trust the better judgment of Texas Republican primary voters to recognize the unfitness of the best-known of his opponents. That shouldn’t be hard.

Making sure the debt ceiling bill passed, while voting against it, was just astute politics. We long for a world in which such contradictions are seen for what they are. But we’re too grown up to believe in fairy tales.

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The Brownsville Herald. Feb. 14, 2014.

Finding the Third World

Corruption had swallowed a small Texas town as the city’s police department allowed drug labs to operate without fear of arrests as the police chief and his officers accepted money or drugs in exchange for covering up crimes.

In another community in the same part of Texas, city officials and the school district’s police chief told a local television station that they worried about Mexican cartels corrupting local youth as part of their drug smuggling operations.

In a nearby community, in more recent months, federal prosecutors arrested 16 people on charges of being part of drug trafficking ring with ties to Mexico.

Surely, these communities must be on the border somewhere, probably in South Texas - most likely in the Rio Grande Valley, right?

No, every one of the communities cited above is in East Texas, a region that has had numerous indictments and arrests for years of public officials in connection with the drug trade.

That being the case, surely the state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, and other Republicans will call attention to this fact, citing concerns about the influence of drug traffickers in that part of Texas as they seek open lanes and highways to transport their merchandise to points northward.

It is troubling, it would appear, what is happening in some corners of East Texas. Why, “Third World” influences might even be creeping into that part of the state.

But no, Abbott and his fellow Republicans seeking statewide office save their derisive comments about corruption and “Third World” influences threatening Texas for the border, and most especially the Rio Grande Valley.

It’s all part and parcel to playing to the GOP’s political base, activists and their media outlets that tilt ever rightward on the immigration issue.

That’s what Abbott was doing recently in the Dallas area when he gave a speech about his plan to secure the border (one of many such GOP plans), and in citing corruption cases in the Valley tied it all to “Third World country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities.”

He apparently gave no mention of other such corruption cases elsewhere in Texas, just as his fellow Republican politicians do the same, with all their focus about the greatest imminent danger and mayhem to the state restricted to what supposedly emanates from our part of Texas.

You see, if we don’t stop more of those people from coming into the state to join the population of those people already down there, the whole state could be ripped apart, and become, a “Third World.”

Here’s one interesting aspect of what Abbott said in Dallas. The state’s attorney general cited as one example of “Third World” influences the corruption cases at the Cameron County Courthouse. That’s interesting, especially in light of the fact that federal prosecutors successfully defined and proved that the chief architect of the judges’ and lawyers’ bribery cases in Cameron County was a lawyer from … from … from … Austin.

What does this mean?

Are “Third World” influences now so pervasive in Texas that a lawyer from Austin would open up shop in the Valley and then proceed to devise a scheme that would ensnare a judge and various lawyers in an elaborate bribery and kick-back operation?

And what would all that have to do with illegal immigration?

Nothing, but it’s good politics for Abbott to lump them together in a speech before Republicans in Dallas.

In the aftermath of his now infamous “Third World” comments about the Valley, Abbott told The Monitor newspaper that the comment was “not directed at the Rio Grande Valley,” but could apply to “wherever corruption is found.”

Terrific.

We await the Greg Abbott speech in Tyler or Lufkin or Nacogdoches where he cites concerns about ‘Third World” influences corrupting East Texas youth into the ways of the drug cartels.

Could it all rip apart the social fabric of Tyler, Lufkin and Nacogdoches?

I wouldn’t know. I’m not the attorney general of Texas, and thus, I don’t begin to have his knowledge of social fabrics.

Abbott was right about one thing in recent comments. He said his Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial race, Wendy Davis, doesn’t have “a clue” about the Rio Grande Valley.

She doesn’t; but then neither do you Mr. Attorney General.

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Longview News-Journal. Feb. 13, 2014.

Staffers with guns not option for all

No matter how vigorously you support gun rights, you must agree it is a sad commentary when our society begins arming school personnel to ward off possible attacks on campus.

Sad as it may be, though, for some schools in some places, it could be one piece of a strategy to help keep children safe. And make no mistake about it, keeping our children safe at school overrides other concerns, including those raised by folks who want more gun control. It is a far better option than losing one child who might have been saved if a staff member was in position and armed at the needed moment.

Having said that, arming staff members is probably not a good idea in every instance or in all locations. Nor is it a complete solution to security concerns anywhere.

And as soon as the decision is made to arm staffers - such as under the policy enacted recently by Carthage Independent School District - the district has increased its responsibility and potential for gun-related harm on campus.

Such a policy must require staff members carrying guns to undergo training that far exceeds what one would be exposed to in simply getting a concealed handgun license. We don’t have the expertise to say what that training should be, but believe it must include a full range of topics, including when to use deadly force.

Then, the training must be ongoing and consistent. Teachers (police officers, too) get regular training on all sorts of topics, and an annual refresher on gun use for those who are carrying weapons seems in order. When life and death issues are being dealt with, we owe it to everyone to be extra vigilant.

Some area districts - notably Pine Tree and Spring Hill - have made conscious decisions not to arm staffers, opting instead to tighten access to campuses.

We understand that some might simply see arming staff members as a less expensive, easier option. But it is neither, and it is not a magic solution to school security concerns. It will not stop attacks or even lessen them. It is one strategy that may work in some instances, but if it is depended upon too heavily the results could be disastrous.

However, arming staffers might add a layer of defense that, if properly managed, could someday save a life. For that reason, we would argue that districts wishing to go this way be allowed to do so.

But we hope they and their patrons understand it is not a complete solution.

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Austin American-Statesman. Feb. 13, 2014.

Call for academic boycott of Israeli institutions misguided

The decisions over the past year by members of three scholarly groups to support a boycott of Israeli academic institutions in protest of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians have been widely denounced by their peers as inconsistent with the idea of academic freedom. Dozens of universities and university leaders rightly have called endorsement of a boycott misguided and an attack on the open exchange of ideas.

University of Texas President Bill Powers is among the university leaders critical of the academic boycott. Powers currently chairs the executive committee of the Association of American Universities and in December signed a statement released by the committee opposing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions as a violation of academic freedom.

With Powers’ opposition expressed, the endorsement of the boycott by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association has created some minor awkwardness for UT, as the American-Statesman reported last week. Before the group voted in December to support the boycott, UT had agreed to put $15,000 toward supporting the group’s annual conference, which will be held May 29-31 in Austin and is being co-sponsored by Texas A&M; University.

Whatever bind UT officials might now feel, they nonetheless told Haurwitz they have no plans to withdraw their contribution to the group. Nor should they. As Randy Diehl, dean of UT’s College of Liberal Arts, said in a statement demonstrating the spirit of academic freedom the academic boycott of Israeli institutions denies, “We do not dissociate from organizations with which we disagree, nor do we discourage our faculty members from affiliating with them.”

So far, American academic support for the boycott is limited to the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies and the American Studies Association. The latter is the larger of the three groups, with about 5,000 members. Most members in each group didn’t bother to vote when asked to say yea or nay on the boycott, perhaps in recognition of a no-win proposition.

Outside academia, a predictable backlash has followed each group’s boycott vote. The backlash even has included proposed legislation in Congress and in a few state legislatures to cut off support to any university that participates in the boycott. The legislative proposals fortunately don’t appear to be going anywhere. They would amount to an unacceptable legislative test on which affiliations universities could pursue. Talk about a chill on academic freedom.

The call by academic groups to boycott academic institutions seems a little self-defeating. Presumably, there are universities in Israel that, if not working institutionally to facilitate peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians, house faculty members who are, or who see Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in a critical light. There are plenty of supporters of Israel - as well as plenty of Israelis themselves - who consider the occupation of the West Bank and the expansion of settlements into it as untenable long term, and as a threat to Israel’s identity as a democratic state.

Supporters of an academic boycott argue that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank restricts the academic freedom of Palestinian professors. The academic boycott is part of an international campaign to rally individuals, governments, institutions and businesses to boycott, divest and impose sanctions on Israel - the so-called BDS movement - to force Israel to change its policies toward Palestinians.

Chadwick Allen, an English professor at Ohio State University who serves as president of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, told Haurwitz he hoped his group’s endorsement of a boycott “provokes discussion that leads to positive change.” A call for an academic boycott, however, is counterproductive to the positive discussion Allen would like to provoke.

America’s nuance-averse politics confine debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within narrowly acceptable limits, and reasoned criticism of Israeli actions and policies too often draws automatic charges of anti-Semitism, as the boycott vote has drawn from some quarters, or accusations that critics of Israel are expressing sympathy for terrorists. Such reflexive responses cut off debate rather than foster it.

Nonetheless, calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is one-sided and denies Palestinian complicity in the conflict. It seems an understatement to call the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a complex issue. Religion, centuries of bitter history and post-World War I European politics haunt the Middle East. There has been no shortage of players on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who have proved hostile to peace over the decades.

Who knows where peace between Israelis and Palestinians lie, but closing the door on academic studies of the conflict and shutting off differences of opinion will contribute to it never being found.

___

Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Feb. 11, 2014.

Charter schools must measure up

The Texas Education Agency is expanding the number of charter schools as the Legislature instructed - and working to close schools that don’t meet academic or financial criteria.

Last year’s Senate Bill 2 raised the limit on charters from 215 this year to 305 by mid-2020. Supporters said more than 178,000 Texas students were attending charter schools, but another 101,000 remained on waiting lists.

Part of what persuaded some legislators to get on board was the provision for mandatory charter revocations at schools that failed to achieve academic or financial standards for three years running.

The relatively small number of schools that consistently fail to meet accountability criteria damage the charter movement.

In December, TEA told six schools that their charters would be revoked under the provisions of SB2. They are American Youthworks (Austin), Azleway Charter School (Tyler), Honors Academy (Farmers Branch), Jamie’s House Charter School (Houston), Koinonia Community Learning Academy (Houston) and Richard Milburn Academy’s suburban Houston campus.

Each of those schools received a formal review, but TEA has upheld its decisions to revoke.

If an administrative law judge upholds the revocations, they will take effect June 30, TEA said in a news release last week.

This is an extensive process. Charter holders are being given every chance to show they should be allowed to continue operating.

In the end, charters that can’t meet state criteria must fall by the wayside.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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