- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Eagle of Bryan-College Station. March 9, 2014.

We must be careful in cutting our defense budget

“The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without.” - Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower may have been the last president who truly understood the role of the military in America. He warned against a military-industrial complex, yet also knew that the only way to be safe in the world is to be strong, stronger than everyone else.

He grasped the proper role of the military because he served this nation in the Army for more than 30 years, earning the rare five stars and serving as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the final years of World War II. In 1952, when Sen. Robert A. Taft was seeking the Republican presidential nomination on a platform of non-intervention, Eisenhower entered the race to work for the elimination of Communism and the reunification of the Koreas.

During Ike’s eight years as president, the Cold War grew into a stalemate of mutually assured destruction. It was an uncomfortable time, but Eisenhower and other patriotic Americans understood that the only way to prevent a Soviet takeover of the world was to remain powerful and resolute.

By the time Communism had fallen in the Soviet Union, Eisenhower was long gone, but the message he espoused remains as powerful today. The world cheered the break apart of the Soviet Union, believing hopefully that the world was on the way to peace. Sadly that hasn’t been the case.

We have seen time and again, in the Middle East, in Africa, in South America, in Asia, that incredibly strong and corrupt politicians have worked - many times violently - to keep their children in check. And just recently, we have seen Vladimir Putin reinstate Soviet-style aggression against Ukraine.

It should be obvious to everyone that the world remains a dangerous place and the United States cannot afford to let down its guard.

And yet, the administration of President Barack Obama is planning on massive cuts to our defense budget, going so far as to reducing the size of the Army to the levels it was before World War II.

This must not be allowed to happen.

It is a dangerous road the president is headed down. One that doesn’t allow for easy retreat.

We understand the incredible pressure the president, and Congress, are under to reduce the size of America’s government and we applaud reasonable efforts to do just that. Cutting the military significantly is not the way to balance the budget.

To be sure, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the military can go on a modest, sustainable diet. But the president isn’t proposing to trim the military; he wants to eviscerate it.

The president’s proposed budget for the 2015 fiscal year would cut some $113 billion from the Defense Department.

Always a loyal soldier, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that, even with the cuts, American’s military still could carry out its global mission, although the risks would increase dramatically. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the president’s plan.

To be honest, our military has responded magnificently to every crisis, every threat this nation has faced over more than two centuries.

The military already has been hampered by the sequestration imposed by Democrats and Republicans in Congress as a way to avoid a government shut down. Only now is the full devastation of the sequestration being realized fully.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., correctly told the president, “You come here with a budget that constrains us in a way that is unprecedented,” adding that many of the challenges facing the Pentagon today are due to sequestration.”

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, agreed saying, “The results of these cuts have been devastating to our national security.”

The president does propose more military spending above the sequestered limits in 2016, but they may not be enough and are certain to be attacked by congressional budget hawks. Looking at the reality of the budget in a few years, Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budget Assessments, said, “I think (the increases) are wishful thinking.”

The president has said Americans are weary of war and don’t want any more Iraqs, any more Afghanistans. We agree, but the way to peace around the world is not through reducing America’s military might.

We are always weary when wars end, but we must always be prepared to do what is need to protect our interests around the world.

Of course, the Pentagon’s budget can be trimmed. Just as with our home budgets, the entire federal budget should be combed for savings, some of the no doubt painful.

But we must be especially careful in cutting the defense budget.

This is a hostile world, and we must be able to defend America and its citizens wherever they are.


San Antonio Express-News. March 7, 2014.

Setback for sexual assault victims

The U.S. Senate has spoken - and it was a discouraging word for victims of sexual assault in the military.

On Thursday, the Senate blocked a key measure by requiring 60 votes to get to a floor vote. It received 55.

The best of the two bills addressing the role of military commanders in dealing with sexual assaults was by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY. It would have taken decision-making in such cases out of the chain of command, substituting trained prosecutors.

Another, by Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, would keep court-martial proceedings in the chain of command. It passed overwhelmingly.

The McCaskill bill ignores a clear and present danger to military victims of sexual assaults - their commanders. They have too often lacked the expertise - or have been motivated by a conflict of interest - to make the right calls.

Gillibrand’s bill would have best served the interest of justice, though McCaskill’s measure would allow victims to challenge discharges from service and civilian secretary review if a prosecutor and commander differ on whether a case proceeds to military trial. Better to have taken commanders out of the process altogether.

The requirement for 60 votes was originally engineered last month because of alleged distress that Majority Leader Harry Reid would not allow a measure on Iranian sanctions in an earlier defense authorization bill.

But it was clear Thursday that the real goal - of members on both sides of the aisle - was to block the bill altogether.

Opponents of Gillibrand’s bill again argued that removing such cases from the chain of command would undercut commanders’ ability to enforce discipline and maintain morale.

Is there any worse blow to morale than a commander failing to remove a predator from the ranks?

An estimated 26,000 military members were sexually assaulted in 2012, widely accepted as well below the number of actual cases because of a reluctance to report.

This reluctance almost certainly involves commanders’ outsized role in deciding how these cases proceed.

Gillibrand promises to return with the measure. Perhaps by then, more than 60 senators will side with victims over commanders.


The Dallas Morning News. March 8, 2014.

Home-rule effort could push needed change at Dallas Independent School District

The stark numbers are no secret. If you ever lived within the Dallas Independent School District, you know.

Despite well-intentioned effort over decades, fewer than 1 in 10 DISD students graduate ready for college. That number shrinks to microscopic levels outside some magnet schools and especially south of downtown.

So when it’s your children, what do you do? If you can’t afford private school, or can’t stomach the thought, how about the suburbs?

Because for a steady march of Dallas parents, DISD isn’t an option, not for their kids. They’ve seen the numbers, and they want a different future. The tens of thousands who can afford to leave often do. And those who can’t?

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings calls this the devil we know, “the train wreck,” a school district spending roughly $3.5 million to educate each college-ready student over a decade. Simply, a failed enterprise.

This is much of what motivates Support Our Public Schools, mostly folks with strong historic ties to DISD who want to shed most state controls and effectively turn it into Texas’ largest charter school. DISD would be the first district to use a 1995 state law that allows this path.

If the group collects about 25,000 petition signatures, DISD trustees must appoint a 15-member commission charged with drawing up a new governing document. If approved as lawful by the Texas Education Agency, that charter would go before voters, ideally in November. If turnout in DISD reached 25 percent - not uncommon for a gubernatorial election - voters would decide whether DISD should get home-rule status.

Two goals are to intensify adult involvement in DISD and to spark a wider debate over how best to govern the state’s second-largest school district. Organizers say these things can’t be accomplished under Texas’ one-size-fits-all educational regulation.

By launching the commission process, organizers say, DISD parents, educators and taxpayers who care enough to speak up can own the new governing structure. If voters don’t like the commission’s product, they can say no. What’s to lose?

Once Support Our Public Schools organizers - backed by Rawlings and state Rep. Jason Villalba - paused long enough last week to explain what they hope to accomplish, their idea sounded more plausible than in early news accounts, peppered with no-comments and did-not-return-calls.

Certainly, big questions remain. Organizers insist this is by design, that a blank slate is the best and only way to fuel community input. It’s clear to this newspaper, as it has been for some time, that this is the conversation we must have to reform and improve public education.

If it takes signing this petition, you should. It beats running to the suburbs.

We might find that the alternative is beyond even Einstein’s definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over, even with noble intentions, might produce incremental progress but still would cheat more and more generations of Dallas children out of their future.


Corpus Christi Caller-Times. March 9, 2014.

Ballot propositions were just pledges of allegiance

The Texas Republican Party placed six non-binding propositions on Tuesday’s primary ballot and the Democratic Party placed four. All 10 passed. The lowest victory margin was 86.5 percent. Like good trial lawyers say: Don’t ask if you don’t already know the answer.

Take, for example, Republican Proposition 1: “Texans should be free to express their religious beliefs, including prayer, in public places.” The only surprise in the outcome is that a whopping 2.75 percent disagreed.

Who were they? A cynic might suggest that they were Democrats who crossed over. But Democrats are a freedom-of-expression bunch. We prefer to think that the nays were just practical, God-fearing folks who would insist on a caveat such as “so long as it doesn’t interrupt the algebra class,” or who thought it must be a trick question since Texans already have this freedom.

The Democrats didn’t have any 90-plus-percent outcomes - 89 percent favor “a living wage for all Texans,” 88 percent favor non-discrimination legislation to protect gays and transsexuals, 89 percent want the state to accept the additional Medicaid funding provided by Obamacare but refused by Gov. Rick Perry, and 86 percent want immigration reform, including “an earned path to citizenship for those individuals contributing to the economy and the dependents of those individuals.”

Voters were likely to be more conflicted about the Democratic propositions. It’s not a partisan observation that Republican Proposition 6 - “The Affordable Care Act, also known as ‘Obamacare,’ should be repealed” - is much simpler and clearer than the Democrats’ counter-point - “The Governor and the Texas Legislature should accept federal funds; as provided in the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act of 2010; for the expansion of Medicaid to provide coverage to millions of uninsured and underinsured Texans.” With two semicolons, an ampersand and no helpful “aka Obamacare,” what did the Democratic proposition writers expect?

These propositions weren’t designed to find out an unknown outcome. When we said earlier that they were non-binding, that was an understatement. They didn’t, for example, move the country any closer to killing Obamacare or Texas any closer to accepting the Obamacare Medicaid funding bonanza.

They were just statements both parties wanted to make about themselves, taunts at the other party, wedges. In that respect, they remind us of Fox News-style questions - not really questions so much as declarations with a question mark at the end.

The voters’ role was to pledge allegiance, to genuflect. Is it any wonder that turnout was so low? If there’s anything we Texans should pray for publicly - a remedy for many of our ills - it’s a better turnout.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. March 8, 2014.

Too much panic in the power market

The recent panic over adequate and reliable electrical power supply in Texas should officially be ruled dead.

Driven by electricity generating companies and abetted by the three-member Public Utility Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the power grid covering most of the state, two years of hand-wringing already has led to a significantly higher wholesale price cap during periods of peak demand.

It was well on its way to causing a market overhaul, including a consumer-paid subsidy for generators.

Behind the panic was a fear that someday soon, weather conditions and other factors could push demand straight through available power supply reserves and cause rolling blackouts across much of the state. That’s certainly something to worry about, an inconvenience to residential customers and a serious threat to businesses and manufacturers.

What has killed the panic? For one thing, the deregulated energy market in Texas, which was opened to retail competition in 2002, has worked the way free markets are supposed to work.

New suppliers are joining the grid to take advantage of the growing demand. At the same time, consumers on average are decreasing energy use with more efficient light bulbs and appliances.

And for another thing, blame faulty forecasts that have been corrected with new methodology and now show a brighter picture.

ERCOT targets a “reserve margin” calling for available supplies to exceed anticipated demand by 13.75 percent. In its official Capacity, Demand and Reserves report released Feb. 28, the grid operator forecasts reserves at 13 percent as of June 1, climbing to 16 percent by Aug. 1 as new generating plants come on line.

The new plants are expected to add more than 2,100 megawatts of generating capacity, ERCOT said. One megawatt is enough to power about 200 homes during peak demand.

The Texas Association of Manufacturers opposed the panic-driven market overhaul. Its leaders jumped on the new ERCOT report, saying it “reinforces that reserves in Texas are in good shape.”

Tony Bennett, the association’s president, said in a news release that ERCOT’s numbers still don’t take into account “a number of generation resources and plants that have been announced and financed,” which he said will put reserves above the target level through 2019.

ERCOT said its numbers were boosted by new methods of forecasting consumer behavior and weather patterns, as well as a new approach to analyzing the potential supply contribution from wind-powered generators in coastal areas.

The Public Utility Commission had been moving toward fundamental changes in the power market. The most striking change would be a switch to a “capacity market,” under which power customers would pay more to generators to finance additional reserves.

Since the 2002 deregulation, Texans have paid only for the electricity they use, not a subsidy for power they might never need.

Even before ERCOT released its new numbers, those market changes encountered powerful resistance.

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, the chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said the commission did not have “unbridled authority to do an entire redesign” of the electricity market and insisted that the matter be submitted to legislative debate.

Now it looks like there will be no need, at least for several years.

Last week, Fraser told the Star-Telegram that the power grid doesn’t face a potential shortage “until 2020, and even then that doesn’t count new power plants.”

In other words, maybe the deregulated market will continue to work.

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