- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Houston Chronicle. Aug. 12, 2015.

On Planned Parenthood: a rush to judgment: Opponents miss the target: Defunding Planned Parenthood defunds birth control.

In what seems to be a perennial event, the political discourse again is florid with outrage and denunciations about Planned Parenthood. This time, the uproar is fueled by a series of surreptitiously recorded, heavily edited videos of personnel at Planned Parenthood offices around the country, including the Houston office, discussing the potential for donating fetal tissue from abortions for scientific research. Opponents of Planned Parenthood claim these videos show that the organization sells fetal tissue for profit and are demanding that it be stripped of all of public funding. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick insisted that Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson launch a criminal investigation into the Houston office. Once again, a rush to judgment has overwhelmed the facts.

The current obsession with defunding Planned Parenthood is not only or even mostly about abortion. It is about birth control. Abortion is already defunded. Title X, the federal family planning program, provides no money for abortions, and Medicaid has not since 1976 when the U.S. Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which with slight adjustments over the years forbids coverage except in cases involving rape, incest or the health of the mother.

Defunding Planned Parenthood would in essence defund women’s health services, principally access to birth control. Planned Parenthood is the largest single provider of contraception in the country. Furthermore, any cuts to its services would fall most heavily on lower-income patients - 79 percent of people receiving services from Planned Parenthood in 2012 were at or below 150 percent of the poverty level, or about $18,500 for a single adult.

The battle over birth control has been waged by the same obstinate mindset for almost a century, ever since Margaret Sanger began her drive to give women the right to control their reproductive lives. Sanger founded the organization in 1921, and she fought to overturn laws that criminalized the use, sale or distribution of contraceptives. Incredibly, birth control was illegal for married couples in many states until 1965, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned those laws in Griswald v. Connecticut. The right was extended to single women in 1972 in Eisenstadt v. Baird.

If the current video scam succeeds in defunding Planned Parenthood, it would likely have much less impact on abortion services than on access to contraceptives. The irony, of course, is that decreasing access to birth control increases demand for abortions.

We believe that the state and local investigations might clear the air and, based on all we have seen, likely will vindicate Planned Parenthood. Yet we also believe the investigations amount to political grandstanding and a waste of taxpayer money.

Nothing in the transcripts released so far indicates that Planned Parenthood has done anything illegal. It is not illegal to donate human tissue for scientific research. For example, some National Football League players have made plans to donate their brains for research into the degenerative brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Fetal tissue has been used in research for decades and was instrumental in developing the vaccines for polio, rubella and chicken pox. It is also perfectly legal to recoup the costs of processing, storage and shipment of these tissues to researchers. The $30 to $100 discussed in one of the videos is well within the range of legitimately recouping costs, according to most experts, and below the amounts charged by many other organizations that supply these tissues. Two states, Indiana and Massachusetts, have already concluded their investigations and found their Planned Parenthood clinics to be in compliance with all laws and regulations.

Texas already has earned a top rating as a state hostile to a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health. After HB 2 passed the Legislature in 2013, about 20 abortion clinics, many of which provided women’s health services, were forced to close. Now, based on information of dubious authenticity, local and state officials are off on another politically motivated attack. This time, they may find themselves on the wrong side of history.

Two recent polls have found more Americans have a favorable opinion of and oppose cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood than do not. In a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 45 percent of respondents had a favorable view of Planned Parenthood; 30 percent an unfavorable view. A Monmouth University poll taken after some of the videos were released revealed that 49 percent opposed defunding and 39 percent supported it. Perhaps the prevailing public view - one that’s not so quick to judgment - convinced the U.S. Senate to derail legislation that would strip Planned Parenthood’s funding. We support that outcome.


The Dallas Morning News. Aug. 12, 2015.

Arlington police chief fills in some blanks, but one remains

We knew 19-year-old Christian Taylor should not have been inside the car dealership where he died early Aug. 7. Now, we know that the man who killed him, Brad Miller, shouldn’t have been, either.

Miller, 49, is a former Arlington officer today. Police Chief Will D. Johnson said Miller “created an environment of cascading consequences that produced an unrecoverable outcome” by entering the building by himself, with no plan to confront a criminal suspect.

It’s not clear whether these policy violations alone were enough to cost a rookie still in field training his job, but no one disputes that what the chief called the “catastrophic outcome” of a dead young man was a deciding factor.

Johnson, as promised, has directed a thorough and transparent investigation into Taylor’s death. His detailed timeline of those tragic events, unsparing to Miller, should give the former Angelo State University football player’s loved ones confidence that the ongoing criminal investigation will be the same. There are elements to place Taylor’s death within the emerging national narrative of unarmed black men killed by white police; so far we lack motivational fact, even as the media spotlight finds Arlington.

The chief was careful to specify that Miller did not follow his training or his senior officer, Cpl. Dale Wiggins, when he pursued Taylor into the Classic Buick GMC showroom. Miller was one of six Arlington officers who responded to reports of vandalism and a break-in at the dealership near Interstate 20 and Collins Street. Miller and Wiggins were to cover a west-side door while the others formed a security perimeter.

Taylor should have been sealed off inside. Only when Miller left his post did Wiggins chase after his rookie partner. Officers believed Taylor to be armed, although the bulge in his pocket turned out to be a cellphone and wallet.

When Miller confronted Taylor in a hallway, the suspect refused to surrender and advanced on the officer, Johnson said. Miller didn’t know his partner was now close behind; Wiggins initially didn’t realize his partner had fired his gun, not a Taser. And Taylor was dead.

Taylor, a Mansfield Summit High School graduate, had been seen on surveillance video jumping on and breaking into one car and driving another vehicle through a closed gate. Unfortunately, there is no video of the final moments of his life, Johnson said.

Miller had completed his academy training but not field training and, therefore, has no right to appeal his firing.

Johnson brings the right background. According to his bio, he is a Police Executive Research Forum executive fellow and developed a use-of-force accountability model that “focused on bridging informational silos within departments to create a culture of integrity.”

He will need that as Tarrant County prosecutors present the case to a grand jury. Because among the many knowns, thanks to Johnson and his team, we still have this pivotal unknown: Did Miller break the law when he shot Taylor?


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Aug. 14, 2015.

Family shows grace in wake of tragedy

It doesn’t matter what your perspective on the national debate over allegations of excessive force by police, or how you feel about the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

What happened inside the Classic Buick GMC dealership in Arlington the morning of Aug. 7 was a tragedy.

A tragedy for Christian Taylor, whose promising young life was cut short by a police officer’s bullet.

A tragedy for police officer Brad Miller, whose career is over and who will carry the weight of his actions with him the rest of his life, whether or not he faces criminal charges.

In the days since the shooting, which occurred after Miller and other officers responded to a burglary call early that Friday morning, fears that another tragedy was imminent - the unraveling of a community, as we’ve seen in places like Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and New York City - have been palpable.

When neighborhoods in other cities have literally gone up in flames, Arlington has mostly done the opposite, its disparate communities turning toward each other in an attempt to understand and recover.

This is happening, we suspect, in no small way because of the remarkable response of the Taylor family.

As his family scrambled to prepare a funeral, Christian’s father, Adrian, expressed sympathy for Miller.

“We are all human and make mistakes, and there isn’t a winner in this. You know what I mean? We are both losers,” he told The Washington Post.

“I feel for him and pray for him,” he told a writer with The Dallas Morning News.

Friends and family members say Christian was a good kid, driven by ambition and anchored by faith. That’s why his behavior, recorded by a surveillance camera the morning of the shooting - breaking into a car dealership and methodically burglarizing a vehicle before crashing his own car through a glass wall - is so peculiar.

Even Adrian and his two other sons are mystified.

But they have not allowed their grief and confusion to transform into hate and anger.

Their gracious example cannot provide answers or turn back the clock, but it can help the community move toward healing and understanding.

It already has.


Waco Tribune-Herald. Aug. 12, 2015.

Throwing illegals in clink for five years is no answer to immigration dilemma

As if to prove there’s always a way to screw up a good idea, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is now pushing what he labels “Kate’s Law,” which is named for crime victim Kathryn Steinle and would amend federal law to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for any immigrant caught re-entering our country illegally. It comes at a time when Republicans and even Democrats such as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein agree something must be done to make “sanctuary cities” at least accountable for in-custody immigrants in the country illegally with serious criminal records.

But this isn’t it.

Prison terms for immigrants with records of breaking felony laws who keep coming back after deportations are one thing. But even staunch Cruz allies such as ultraconservative Mike Lee - a Utah Republican who has worked with Texas’ junior senator on a number of issues - have serious reservations about throwing into the clink for several years someone with no criminal background who has been arrested for illegal re-entry when his or her only intent is doing grunt work in our fields, putting roofs on our homes or bussing tables at our restaurants.

In other words, jobs many Americans won’t lower themselves to do.

We could suddenly end up paying to prosecute and imprison poor, low-skilled immigrants from Mexico or elsewhere in Central America who have not the know-how or resources to take advantage of our legal immigration laws. Is this more of Cruz’s American justice - lengthy incarceration of those from neighboring countries who seek to escape their impoverished conditions, if only briefly, to eke out existences for the benefit of their families?

The House passed its own legislation before recessing. While it very correctly blocks federal funding to cities whose policies defy Department of Homeland Security detainment orders for those immigrants with criminal histories or security concerns, it falters by turning local cops into immigration officers, which is not a city’s responsibility and could lead to racial profiling.

All this reminds us again that, as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio noted during the first GOP presidential debate, politicians are getting a lot of mileage from the immigration issue without doing anything intelligent about it: “And let me tell you who never gets talked about in these debates. The people that call my office, who have been waiting for 15 years to come to the United States. And they’ve paid their fees, and they hired a lawyer, and they can’t get in. And they’re wondering, maybe they should come illegally.” Good point, senator.


Austin American-Statesman. Aug. 17, 2015.

Statues of Davis, other Confederate figures should be moved

For decades, the statues of Confederate leaders located on the University of Texas’ campus have been the center of debate, targets of vandalism and the focus of protests. The tenures of the university’s past two presidents, Larry Faulkner and Bill Powers, included partial or full discussions on whether the statues should remain part of the Main Mall, but the statues persist.

This spring, a student-government resolution and a national movement leading to the removal of divisive Confederate symbols set the stage for the university’s administration to finally act. The university’s newest president, Gregory L. Fenves, chose to take a small, moderate step, rather than recast the message sent by the university’s front door.

Pending legal challenges, the university intends to move only the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. All other statues of Confederate figures will remain in their current location. This was a moment for boldness - and Fenves stumbled. An engineer by training, Fenves looked at the issue as a problem to solve, not as an opportunity to make a statement about the university and what it stands for.

The decision to move Davis addresses one of the most controversial statues - but it fails to end the discussion of whether such divisive symbols belong on a world-class, inclusive campus.

In last week’s announcement, Fenves said he will consider placing a plaque near the Littlefield Fountain to provide context for the statues. If this option gets a green light, the wording on the plaque will be crucial. Anything short of proper and scalable historical context will be a wasted effort.

What would be a better solution? Moving all the statues to a setting where they provide richer educational opportunities for students and the community. The school’s master plan, which includes placement of statuary, should reflect what the doorstep of the university should look like in 2015 - not 1916, the year the statues were commissioned.

The university president’s decision came just four days after a task force he appointed formally released five recommendations on what to do with the statues. In response, Fenves called to have the statue of Davis placed in the school’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History as part of an educational display. Subsequently, Fenves said the statue of President Woodrow Wilson will be moved to a location to be determined later to “preserve the symmetry” of the central campus.

The decision merits the question: If you move one Confederate statue, why not move them all? The other Confederate statues should follow the Davis statue or be given similar homes.

As we’ve noted before, the statue of Texan John H. Reagan, the Confederacy’s postmaster general, might merit debate on how to better place historical context. But it’s hard to make the same argument for the statues of Davis and General Robert E. Lee, given both had very weak ties to Texas and were erected on campus to commemorate the resurgence of white supremacy in the early 20th century and not the Civil War, as experts have noted. Regardless, placing them in a location where they can be studied and given historical context would be best.

Exactly who brought the statues to the university is also relevant. George W. Littlefield commissioned the statues. He was a Confederate soldier, prominent banker and the largest benefactor of the university’s first 50 years. Littlefield, who also helped plan the Confederate memorial at the Texas Capital, was a strong supporter of keeping the university as an all-white institution. He “decried the ‘Northern influence’ in history textbooks and commissioned the statues to secure a highly visible Confederate presence on campus,” according to the report presented to Fenves by the Task Force on Historical Representation of Statuary.

From the time of their inception, the statues have represented the vision of a Confederate apologist with deep pockets. They have never - not at the time of their creation or in decades since - been a symbol of the will of the university’s community. Even during Littlefield’s time, the onetime UT regent faced heated opposition from people like fellow regent George W. Brackenridge over visions for the university.

Littlefield’s contributions are no different from any other donor’s contribution who pay for lasting monuments to their causes and to themselves. The hopes is that, in today’s changing climate, current and future diverse donors would be more reflective and in line with the university’s accepting and inclusive vision.

The Confederate statues that remain on the Main Mall do not reflect that vision. They glorify historical events and figures without presenting the full picture. Not only are they outdated, but they also serve as powerful symbols of the university’s past transgressions against people of color.

As it stands, Fenves’ decision to only move the Davis statue is a missed opportunity to further make the case that the innovation and forward thinking at UT really does “change the world.”

It should be noted that the process of moving the Davis statue was to begin on Saturday, and it would be on display in its new location by the end of 2017. However, the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said in a lawsuit filed Friday that the university needs approval from the Legislature, the Texas Historical Commission or the State Preservation Board to relocate the statues. UT agreed Friday to hold off on moving the statues until a hearing can be held next week. The break should serve as an opportunity for Fenves to give serious consideration to removing all the statues from their present location if allowed.

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