- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Dallas Morning News. Aug. 24, 2015.

What sort of university does Ken Starr want to run at Baylor?

Baylor University’s newest billboard campaign capitalizes on the slogan “Always Deliver.” Two of the massive signs hover over Interstate 35 as it cuts alongside the Waco campus and the school’s shiny new McLane Stadium.

Baylor promises on one billboard to “Always Deliver Success.” On the other one: “Always Deliver Compassion.” If school President Ken Starr must choose, which of the two rules?

That’s not a hypothetical question. A stunning rape story raises troubling questions about whether the desire to deliver success on the football field annihilated desire for compassion toward a victim of rape.

Former scholarship football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of sexually assaulting a fellow Baylor student in 2013. He was sentenced to six months in jail and 10 years of probation in a case that the athletic department managed to keep secret for almost two years. Even as recently as June, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was crowing to alums that Ukwuachu would take the field this year - after sitting out Baylor’s last season for undisclosed issues.

Actually, Ukwuachu was headed to a court room, not a locker room. The trial revealed not only a sexual assault but disturbing circumstances of his transfer from Boise State. It also exposed Baylor’s own horribly lax investigation of allegations by Ukwuachu’s victim, a former soccer player at the school.

With much of the dirty laundry spilled into public view, Starr ordered a new internal investigation. At the scandal’s core are two Baylor stalwarts whose leadership has legitimately been called into question:

Football coach Art Briles, who welcomed Ukwuachu to Baylor despite, at best, mightily lacking curiosity about exactly what problems led to Boise State wanting to be rid of the All-American player.

Much verbal passing of the buck has gone on between Briles and former Boise State coach Chris Petersen about what Baylor’s coach did and didn’t know. But Briles knew this much: If ever a program needs to walk carefully, it’s Baylor.

These days, the Bears are legitimate national football championship contenders; they learned Sunday that they will start the season ranked No. 4 in the nation. But remember that another Baylor coach, Dave Bliss, led the destruction of the school’s athletic program back in 2003 after a scandal that involved the shooting of a basketball player by a teammate.

Associate Dean for Student Conduct Bethany McCraw, whose title makes her the chief judicial officer for Baylor. Her perfunctory investigation of the sexual assault claim against Ukwuachu back in 2013 involved reading text messages, looking at a polygraph test he independently commissioned and contacting the football player, the victim and one witness on behalf of each.

Here’s what McCraw didn’t do: access Boise State records showing that Ukwuachu had hit and choked his former girlfriend or review the October 2013 medical report that detailed signs that, indeed, the Baylor soccer player had been assaulted.

While poor decision-making by Briles and McCraw is getting the attention, it is Starr who bears the greatest responsibility now.

Will the Baylor president do whatever’s necessary for the sake of Ukwuachu’s victim and every one of those students beginning classes this week? Will he ensure that Baylor does “Deliver Compassion,” even if that promise comes at the expense of football success?


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Aug. 21, 2015.

UT chancellor orders sexual violence study

In what might be one of the greatest undertakings of his storied career, William H. McRaven - best known as the architect of the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden - is tackling another white whale.

He’s out to determine just how serious is the issue of sexual assault on campus.

The retired four-star admiral, now the chancellor of the University of Texas System, has ordered a comprehensive, $1.7 million, multi-year study on the scope, causes and impact of what some are calling a culture of sexual violence at universities.

McRaven hasn’t arrived at that conclusion yet. And he’s right to withhold judgment for now.

For a variety of reasons, including poor sampling procedures, some of the existing research on sexual assaults at universities has been suspect.

The statistic most frequently cited by policymakers and university activists comes from a Justice Department study that found one in five women will be assaulted during her college career.

If true, that number is alarming, but it’s been widely debunked.

Still, it’s no secret that sexual encounters on college campuses often occur in the presence of drugs and alcohol, circumstances that leave both men and women vulnerable to unwanted sexual advances.

Just as it’s true that until the last decade or so, victims who spoke out faced significant social stigma.

College administrations have a history of slow or inadequate responses to allegations of assault on campus. In recent years, there is at least anecdotal evidence to suggest the pendulum is swinging the other way - as with the now infamous case of an alleged brutal sexual assault at the University of Virginia that has since proved to be false.

McRaven’s approach seems like the right one.

He was asked by The Washington Post just how big the problem of sexual assault is on UT’s 13 campuses.

“I don’t know,” McRaven said. “My experience tells me I don’t have enough data just yet.”

There is much that he and other universities need to learn about the nature of campus sexual encounters and the culture that enables them before effective, responsive and fair policies can be developed and administered.

This study is a first and most important step in that process.


Houston Chronicle. Aug. 21, 2015.

Pushing for clean air: New federal rules on methane emissions have been a long time coming

A rainbow sheen across Galveston Bay is all the proof you need to see how a mishandled tanker can lead to an oil spill. Black goop spewing from a ruptured pipeline makes for easy B-roll during a news report about oil transportation safety. If you want to see methane escaping from an oil rig, however, then be ready to slap on a pair of infrared goggles. Methane is a key component of natural gas, but it is also invisible, allowing leaks to remain hidden while tons of an important natural resource are lost into the atmosphere. It is time for the oil and gas industry to get these leaks under control.

This waste doesn’t just deplete a finite natural resource, but also adds a powerful greenhouse gas to the planet, contributing to the threat of global climate change. More than 7 million tons of methane are lost to leaks every year, the Environmental Defense Fund told the Chronicle editorial board. This has the same 20-year impact on global warming as 160 coal power plants.

Meanwhile, methane leaks are also indicative of other pollutants escaping from oil and gas infrastructure, such as volatile organic compounds, which contribute to smog, and airborne carcinogens like benzene. Stop the methane leaks, and you’ve put a plug in all sorts of pollutants.

Some companies have already taken voluntary steps to implementing low-leak completions on new oil wells, going beyond the current mandates that only target natural gas wells. After all, that leaked methane gas is basically money lost if the cost of capturing it is less than the price at market. Today’s cheap natural gas, however, reduces that profit motive for companies to do that right thing.

States like Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming and Ohio have passed their own rules to specifically target methane emissions. Yet while these states have moved forward, Texas, the nation’s lead oil and gas producer, has lagged at the back and failed to make rules of our own.

Smart environmental policy in a few key companies can’t solve an industry-wide challenge, and a patchwork of state regulations can’t fix a national problem.

That is why the Obama administration recently released a plan that would require companies to reduce methane leaks at all levels.

The total cost of the program seems daunting at first, but break down that cost over time for the whole industry and the regulations should add a little more than a penny to the cost of natural gas - about one-third of one percent of today’s prices. That’s an easy price to pay for cleaner air.

The current state of methane leaks in the petroleum industry has us tolerating the equivalent of a massive oil spill in the sky. If we want natural gas to be a clean energy alternative, then we have to make sure that it truly is clean - even if it takes infrared goggles.


Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Aug. 19, 2015.

Listen for the echoes when Trump talks

“Stimpy, you’re one of the good ones.” - Ren

For those who don’t recognize the names Ren and Stimpy, they are the title characters of the cartoon “Ren & Stimpy.” The quote came to mind as we reviewed the immigration policies proposed by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Trump proposed, among other things, deporting all “criminal aliens” but letting “the good ones” come back. Ren knows how to differentiate “the good ones.” That sets him apart from Trump, who had no answer when asked.

Trump’s plan is less realistic than a cartoon. In addition to his financially, logistically impossible mass-deportation scheme, there’s also his politically impossible plan to do away with birthright citizenship, which has been protected by the Constitution since 1868, and his financially and diplomatically impossible proposal to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. Trump’s plan didn’t address a similar northern wall to be built at Canada’s expense. We are left to assume that all immigrants from there, legal and illegal, are good ones.

Our purpose is not to ridicule or dismiss Trump. We have faith that the Republican Party, the electorate or some combination of the two will exercise enough judgment and self-respect to do that, eventually. Also, other publications already have done a bang-up job of discrediting Trump’s premises and notions. The Washington Post noted, for example, that undocumented immigrants are a tenth of California’s workforce and that their sudden disappearance would cripple the huge agriculture industry of our nation’s most populous state.

We gleaned this from USA Today contributor Raul Reyes: A Mexican presidential spokesman told Bloomberg News that Trump’s plan to make Mexico pay for the wall “reflects an enormous ignorance for what Mexico represents, and also the irresponsibility of the candidate who’s saying it.” (Sugarcoating is part of a presidential spokesperson’s job, which makes that the choco-flan version.)

Reyes also cited an estimate by the conservative American Action Forum that deporting all undocumented immigrants, as Trump proposes, would cost $400 billion to $600 billion, would take about 20 years and would cause real gross domestic product to shrink by $1.6 trillion.

Paying this much attention to Trump is not some guilty pleasure of ours. There’s a purpose to it, and that purpose is to pay attention to how the other candidates react - to see who agrees or disagrees with any of his ignorance-, hate- and fear-based proposals, so that informed decisions about their suitability as candidates can be made.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are among the would-be wall-builders. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would build the wall only in urban areas. None of the three was foolish enough to suggest making Mexico pay for it. But just going along with the wall concept should be alarming enough to voters.

Never mind the obvious impracticality. Where else in the world does a wall of such magnitude exist, separating nations? The last one of significance that we can recall, other than China’s archaic Great Wall, was the one separating the two Berlins, which presumably would put it on a scale with Christie’s urban-areas-only idea. Why would we want to be the East Berlin in what is supposed to be a relationship between allies and trading partners?

So far, in the Republican field, the only candidate whose immigration policies show human compassion and pragmatism is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who not only wouldn’t build the wall but also favors a path to legal status for the undocumented.

It’s early yet - too early for us to consider endorsements but not too early to consider pruning the field to only the good ones.


San Antonio Express-News. Aug. 19, 2015.

Miller owes an apology for Facebook post

We recently said that Sid Miller is the worst Texas agriculture commissioner since Reagan Brown. We were wrong. Miller is worse than Brown.

A better man would apologize for the offensive social media post that made an appearance on Miller’s Facebook page calling for the atomic bombing of “the Muslim world.” Of course a better man would never endorse such a view, much less tolerate staffers who would taint his political brand with such offensive drivel.

But this is Sid Miller. We assume such a global nuking would include the more than 420,000 Muslims who call Texas home. Texans whom Miller represents.

The post was later taken down, and initially a Miller staffer said it was “inappropriate” and made in error. But a bit later, Miller campaign spokesman Todd Smith clarified, saying there would be no apology. He refused to characterize the post as inappropriate, instead calling it “thought-provoking.”

Interesting word choice - “thought-provoking.”

Not one we usually associate with Miller. And yet, in a sense, it is “thought-provoking” that a public official, even one this inconsequential, would so casually embrace dropping nuclear weapons on roughly 2 billion people. That’s called genocide. We’re definitely thinking about that.

“Commissioner Miller does not believe we need to drop an atomic bomb on the entire Muslim population of the world, I can assure you that,” Smith said.

Well, thank goodness for that. Really, though, we’re just thankful Sid Miller is far, far away from the red button.

And yet, despite the assurance that Miller doesn’t think the entire Muslim population needs to be wiped out, we can’t help but wonder if he would be OK with that happening. You see, without an apology and disavowal, that’s the implication.

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