- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Dallas Morning News. June 11, 2014.

Influx of immigrants fleeing death

The United States faces a pressing new immigration crisis from Central America that defies easy solutions. A flood of undocumented migrants at the South Texas border, including unusually high numbers of unaccompanied minors, stems from an explosion of gang and drug violence across Central America.

Many parents would rather risk taking their children on the dangerous journey through Mexico, or even sending kids alone, than expose them to continued violence, threats and high potential for gang recruitment in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Homicide rates in those three countries were the highest in the world in 2011, according to U.N. data.

Senior White House officials acknowledge the government wasn’t prepared and is resorting to extreme measures to cope with the influx, including housing the kids on military bases for processing into temporary foster care while they await deportation proceedings.

Part of the surge is being fueled by a widely circulated rumor that the United States now allows migrants to enter and stay without penalty. U.S. officials say they’ve launched a media campaign advising Central Americans that the rumor is false. This program needs to be stepped up dramatically.

The gang and drug violence are problems that cannot be solved through standard immigration reform proposals, such as guest-worker programs. Nor can they be addressed with hard-line stances, such as those offered at the Texas GOP convention, to build more walls and redouble border enforcement.

It’s less economic opportunity driving these migrants toward the U.S. and more the fear that, if they stay at home, they could be killed. Yes, beefed-up border security will help U.S. authorities halt undocumented immigrants before they disperse into bigger population centers. But when it comes to families or unaccompanied minors being apprehended, it’s not as simple as busing them back across the border and leaving them to fend for themselves. Placing kids on military bases or in foster care is compassionate, humanitarian assistance, not, as critics assert, a “catch and release” program.

Gangs developed after a heavy buildup of weapons during Central America’s Cold War-era civil wars in the 1980s, followed by mass U.S. deportations of youths whose parents brought them to this country as refugees. Many were recruited on U.S. streets into gangs such as the notorious Maras Salvatrucha, and they simply regrouped in Central America. Then they joined forces with trafficking organizations to profit off Americans’ insatiable appetite for illicit drugs.

The solution will require a longer-term strategy aimed at stabilizing Central American security, creating jobs and improving the quality of life. A hard-line, get-tough approach in this country, as impressive as it might sound at political conventions, is hardly a sufficient disincentive when these migrants compare it with the much meaner streets they face back home.

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Longview News-Journal. June 10, 2014.

Tea party, GOP usually wants feds out, but now …

We can’t help but point out the rich irony on display regarding the federal government’s role in protecting the U.S. steel industry from lower-priced imports.

Some elected officials - state reps. David Simpson and Bryan Hughes among them - have been calling for the federal government to step up its enforcement of regulations against unfair trade practices and “dumping” of foreign steel products in the United States.

It isn’t that we disagree with such sentiment. The practices have been a problem for some time and a particular challenge for the steel industry. But it appears at odds with the usual rallying cries against federal regulations from Republican and tea party officials who win votes arguing the feds should just leave us alone.

But there they were early this month at U.S. Steel Corp.’s tubular plant in Lone Star, rallying for federal protection of the U.S. steel market to protect East Texas jobs. Simpson and Hughes have said they do not want more regulations, just an enforcement of those on the books. We had the impression they believed federal regulation was bad, period.

It proves again how opinions change depending on whose ox is being gored.

Of course, it also could be said one person’s “dumped” steel is another person’s bargain deal. That really only works, though, if companies in the United States were able to freely sell their products anywhere at any price they wished. They are not. Other nations protect their industries with strict regulations on sales of foreign goods, particularly sensitive products such as steel. The U.S. has its own rules, but often does not enforce them because of the risk of a trade war with other nations and a belief in free trade. Nothing is simple when it comes to international trade.

East Texas politicians are by no means the only ones of either party who have played this game. Gov. Rick Perry has made a habit of criticizing the federal government, then demanding to know why firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service aren’t in place when wildfires are raging, or complains about FEMA not acting quickly enough to help out in the aftermath.

The real moral of this story goes deeper than trade, to the fundamental idea that government influence can be good and the definition of “good” depends totally on circumstances and viewpoint.

Some groups want to diminish the power of government, and there is no doubt that in numerous areas governments at all levels step in where they have little business.

But as the steel dumping discussion clearly illustrates, a balance must be reached.

It will never be easy, perhaps not even possible, to keep our balance completely. This is one of the lessons we learned after the terrorist attacks of 2001. Then, our desire for security led us far overboard in what we allowed the government to do.

Such situations remind us nothing is as simple as politicians would sometimes like voters to believe. Discussion and compromise are required.

They also remind us to be skeptical of politicians who constantly repeat simple sound bites. They are hoping voters are not going to realize the issues are more complicated. If they are right and we keep electing such politicians, we will give them no incentive to fix any of the real problems we face. They will just keep appeasing us at rallies, telling us what they think we want to hear and waiting for our applause.

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The Brownsville Herald. June 11, 2014.

Tough campaign

The U.S. House of Representatives last week unanimously passed a bill that would let veterans seek medical care through private doctors and hospitals. We hope this helps reduce the backlog of vets waiting for health care, but it probably won’t address all vets’ needs.

Valley veterans have had such private access for years, and yet a recent audit reveals that the South Texas VA system has some of the longest wait times in the country, even though Valley facilities are among the newest in the country.

Congress members’ vote was a response to revelations that some veterans have had to wait months just to see a doctor at a VA medical facility. Auditors found the problems were so bad that some health care centers falsified documents to hide the problem.

The audit, which the Department of Veterans Affairs released last week, shows the problem is nationwide. In the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System, which covers South Texas, the average wait time for a first appointment is 85 days for primary care, 145 days - nearly five months - to see a specialist, and 55 days to see a mental health specialist. More than 500 Valley vets weren’t able to get an appointment at all in the past decade.

The VA has flagged Valley facilities for further review to see what’s causing the delays.

It would be easy to say that the problem is that there aren’t enough health care professionals to see all the veterans who need care, and last week’s House vote would help address that issue. But a shortage of doctors itself appears to be a symptom, rather than the problem itself.

Valley veterans have had access to private facilities for years. With the nearest inpatient veterans’ hospital more than 300 miles away in San Antonio, the VA in 2009 forged agreements with Valley Baptist Health System in Cameron County and South Texas Health System in Hidalgo County to provide inpatient, emergency, surgery and mental health services to veterans who need them.

At the same time, officials announced a voucher system through which veterans can seek private care that the VA would reimburse. Officials said the agreements, coupled with local VA outpatient clinics, would meet at least 95 percent of Valley veterans’ health care needs.

The problem, some vets have told us, is finding doctors who will see them. Many private doctors, we’ve been told, won’t take the vouchers, for the same reason doctors have bailed out of Medicare, Obamacare and other federal health plans: the reimbursement process is too cumbersome, costly and frustrating. Some clinics have said they had to hire extra staff just to handle the paperwork involved with government programs.

In some cases vets can pay out of pocket and submit the vouchers themselves, but many say they can’t afford to pay the up-front costs, or wait for reimbursement. Some say they can’t understand the forms well enough to use them.

Certainly, hospital contracts like those in the Valley would help many veterans who need acute, immediate care. But for routine or minor medical services, the VA’s biggest battle might be winning over the hearts and minds of private physicians.

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Galveston County Daily News. June 16, 2014.

Texas City Dike oil spill should be wake-up call

A proponent and a critic of the proposed Ike Dike recently said the same thing. They said the oil spill near the Texas City Dike ought to be a wake-up call.

The spill, which resulted in a collision between a barge and a cargo ship, was relatively minor. But it still shut down the Houston Ship Channel for days, with repercussions to the nation’s supply of fuels and petrochemicals.

If that was a minor problem, what would a real disaster look like?

What would happen if a hurricane toppled the tanks that store the really toxic stuff at plants along the bay?

How long would major ports, refineries and plants be shut down? Months? A year? How long would it take to clean up? Would the bay ever recover?

Such concerns led to the proposed Centennial Gate, a storm barrier near the Hartman Bridge at La Porte and Baytown. That project was relatively inexpensive and could be built quickly. It would protect an area where those large tanks, refineries and plants are concentrated.

The project would offer some assurance that those facilities wouldn’t pollute the whole bay if a hurricane struck.

However, five communities, worried the proposed protection of the upper ship channel would flood them, passed resolutions against the Centennial Gate. Other communities along Galveston Bay complained that the Centennial Gate concept would do nothing for them.

Eighteen local governments have passed resolutions in favor of the Ike Dike, which envisions a barrier along Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula. Massive gates would close Bolivar Roads if a hurricane struck. It’s a plan to protect the whole bay.

But critics ask good questions:

- Some models suggest that a residual surge could be devastating. After the eye of a hurricane passed over the Ike Dike, the storm would produce surge in the bay, pushing water back toward Galveston. What protection would the Ike Dike provide?

- Many of the houses on Galveston’s West End are elevated to 15 feet. Is there going to be enough benefit to justify the cost of a wall in front of those homes? And if so, how high would that wall have to be?

- The flood control systems in The Netherlands are more complicated than a single dike, and Bolivar Roads is formidable.

Is a floodgate across that entrance to the bay even possible? And if it is, how do you justify the cost?

There are many questions - and they ought to be treated as questions, rather than as criticisms.

Somehow, it ought to be possible to get those who have high hopes for the Ike Dike and those opposed to come together for a discussion, rather than a fight.

Both groups have something in common. The common ground is a belief that something should be done to prevent the kind of environmental disaster all parties can foresee.

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San Antonio Express-News. June 13, 2014.

Being gay isn’t an affliction

Being gay is, according to Gov. Rick Perry, an affliction that can be avoided.

It’s difficult to reach a different conclusion about the governor’s views on gays after a statement in California recently, reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

His statement followed the Texas GOP’s inclusion of a plank that says Texans should be allowed access to thoroughly discredited reparative therapy. This to cure them of being gay.

Asked in California whether he believed such therapy works, he said, “Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that.”

He added, “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”

First, we note his use of the word “lifestyle,” which indicates degrees of choice. And then we see him equating homosexuality - which, honest, really isn’t a “choice” - to alcoholism. So, in Perry’s mind apparently, it is an affliction that not only can be avoided, but should be through sheer willpower, even if there is a genetic disposition.

Here’s the thing. Gay men and lesbians don’t view their sexual orientations as afflictions. Or addictions, either. The only afflicting going on is by intrusive, judgmental heterosexuals.

If you are gay, it’s just who you are, as heterosexuals are just who they are. There is a good body of evidence validating that.

Did the governor “choose” to be heterosexual? Just a lifestyle choice? And if it’s all a matter of nature, why would he deny who he is by forsaking an accompanying “lifestyle” that harms no one?

The governor is confused on this issue. And suddenly we remember the gaffes that doomed his last presidential venture. He is, it seems obvious, on another such run, though the presidential election isn’t until 2016.

As governor, Perry allegedly represents all Texans, including gay Texans. Essentially calling a good number of constituents disordered doesn’t indicate that Perry believes this. The same thing - representing all the people - applies to presidents.

In any case, the American Psychiatric Association and other key medical groups reject reparative therapy, also known as conversion therapy, because it is damaging and homosexuality isn’t a disorder.

There’s nothing to “cure.”

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