- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Houston Chronicle. Nov. 25, 2015.

Cities on a hill: Mayors show leadership in their call for an informed approach on Syrian refugees.

With more than two dozen mostly Republican governors around the country leaping like startled frogs into pander mode when it comes to fear of Syrian refugees, it’s heartening to see the nation’s mayors exhibit not only compassion but also common sense and leadership. Unlike the governors, including Texas’ own Greg Abbott, more than 60 mayors collectively signed an open letter from the United States Conference of Mayors urging Congress to “resist” the effort to “halt the entry of refugees, particularly Syrian refugees, to this nation.”

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Austin Mayor Steve Adler were among those who signed the letter; Houston Mayor Annise Parker issued a statement of support.

Rawlings told The Dallas Morning News that surrendering to xenophobia about Syrians fleeing the calamity that has made their nation a living hell would “fall into the trap” of what ISIS hopes to achieve. On MSNBC he noted that “ISIS is no more Islamic than Nazi senior staff was Christian.” He added that he was more concerned about mass shootings than the risk of violence from refugees.



Writing in TribTalk, a Texas Tribune blog, Adler urged residents of his city to find “the strength to put aside our fear and welcome Syrian refugees to Austin in a way that protects both our safety and our values.” He noted that since 9-11, about 750,000 refugees have resettled in the United States and not one has been arrested for terrorism.

Parker expressed similar sentiments. “It is unfortunate that Texas wants to turn its back on the refugees,” she said. “As the most diverse city in the nation, Houston prides itself on being welcoming, tolerant and accepting. We are a city of immigrants, and our arms remain open to those in need.”

Parker and her mayoral counterparts resisted the temptation to play to people’s fear. As Rawlings noted on MSNBC, both he and the governor are deeply concerned about public safety.

The difference is, the mayors apparently took the time to investigate the arduous resettlement process, a process that subjects would-be refugees to extensive background checks by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Departments of State and Defense. The whole process can take as long as two years - even longer if they’re from Syria. The newspaper Roll Call reported recently that “refugees coming from Syria immediately trigger an additional layer of security, known as the ‘Syrian Enhanced Review.’”

We understand fear and apprehension. We understand that security concerns are legitimate in the wake of what happened in Paris and Mali. But we expect more from Abbott, from presidential candidate Ted Cruz, from U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas and other elected officials who have been quick to traffic in stereotype and prejudice, who are seemingly eager to stoke the nation’s worst fears, rather than equipping Americans with information and awareness.

That’s not leadership. Nor is it strength.

___

Longview News-Journal, Nov. 25, 2015.

Texas’ lawsuit-happy AGs aren’t doing us any favors

Legal action of just about any sort is an expensive endeavor. Those who have been sued, or filed as the plaintiff themselves, know this to be true. Top-flight attorneys make hundreds of dollars per hour, and that is just the beginning of the costs.

If you want to utilize the courts for much of your business, best make certain your bank account can stand the strain.

Or you can follow the Texas example and use someone else’s money - in this case money that’s being handed over by taxpayers - to foot the bill.

Gov. Greg Abbott, the previous Texas attorney general, and current Attorney General Ken Paxton have proved themselves to be downright lawsuit happy. Abbott spent years as attorney general suing the federal government and President Barack Obama over a multitude of issues.

Paxton is falling into the same mold. It seems that if either Abbott or Paxton disagree with some Obama decision or law, they seek retribution in the courthouse.

According to a recent analysis by the Houston Chronicle, 39 cases have been filed since Obama took office. To date, Texas has scored eight victories.

If an attorney in private practice had that kind of record his client list would be short, indeed.

Unfortunately, while the two so far have been losers at law, they have pandered to their base just by filing the suit.

It’s been a real lose-win situation for both of them.

But for taxpayers, there’s been no win involved. When the state sues the federal government, guess who pays all of the bill. Taxpayers, of course.

Texas has spent more than $5 million to pursue these suits against the federal government - and the tab is going up, and up. Six more suits have been filed since Paxton took office in January. We don’t know just how much the feds have spent, but it would not surprise us if the figure was twice as much. Don’t forget: We’re paying for that, too.

Do not expect this to stop from Texas’ side. More suits will be filed, and the overwhelming majority of them will be little more than tilting at windmills - except it would cost a lot less taxpayer money to take a run at a windmill than to file another suit.

Still, as long as pandering politicians get a boost in polling numbers, they will not abandon this course.

The “good old days” were rarely as good as we make them out to be, but one thing we would enjoy reliving is that time when going to the courthouse was the last resort and not a political maneuver to win votes.

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Abilene Reporter-News. Nov. 27, 2015.

Zion decision an example of our great divide

Zion Lutheran Church’s decision not to renew its charter with local Boy Scout groups certainly makes for good discussion.

The church in far south Abilene recently ended its host relationship with three Boy Scout units - Troop 258, Venture Crew 258 and Pack 260. This means those troops soon will be without a meeting place, the challenge to find a new one made harder because it comes at a busy time of the year. We understand, however, that other churches in the Wylie area may answer the need.

At issue is the national Scouting organization’s decision to allow gay adults as Scout leaders, though we suspect that gay marriage being given the green light this year nationally by the U.S. Supreme Court played a part in the decision, at least subliminally.

It was time to renew the charter but this time, church membership narrowly voted not to re-up. Clyde Kieschnick, the church’s pastor, said the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to first allow gay Scouts and then gay leaders went against the church’s doctrine, “that God definitely opposes the homosexual agenda.”

This is a tough call.

A church should have the right to uphold its doctrine and not be forced to change. Obviously, there are good arguments against that when that doctrine violates what can be perceived as human rights. But even Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Pastor Protection Act, which states that clergy cannot be forced to perform unions opposed by their congregations and/or denomination.

Zion does not have many, if any, Scouts in the affected units. There was not as much obligation to continue the charter.

On the other hand, was the decision borne out of fear at the expense of community service?

We were told the vetting process of leaders is thorough, and many safeguards are in place to keep Scouts and leaders separate when they ought to be.

Some have soured on Boy Scouts, believing the organization caved in to pressure. In the Boy Scout oath, a Scout pledges to “keep myself … morally straight.” Those opposed to homosexuality say BSA has violated its own oath because of its revamped inclusiveness.

We see great value in Scouting, maybe more so today than ever. Many of our community leaders were Scouts, many achieving Eagle Scout. Abilene High’s 2009 state championship football team starred great athletes and Eagle Scouts.

With many youths getting less guidance at home or not connected to a church - though many units meet in church facilities - an activity that instills service, duty to country and to others is needed.

But there is this now troublesome passage in the Boy Scout promise: “Your family and religious leaders teach you to know and serve God. By following these teachings, you do your duty to God.”

First, define family; the man-woman union has given way to single parents and same-sex couples. Secondly, some churches are teaching that being unwavering in the face of change is righteousness; others may rely more on trust that a situation of conflict will work out.

What is faith, we might ask - faithfully holding the line or reaching out in faith?

Because those once unquestioned goals today have become muddied by interpretation, we face issues such as a church disassociating itself from Boy Scouts to preserve its doctrine.

Zion’s decision did not come easily; Kieschnick said pain and prayer played significant roles.

There is more to this than praising or condemning Zion for its decision, or praising or condemning Boy Scouts for its decision.

We have enough battle lines drawn, too much segregation of opinion in this country. But what do we do when this issue arises again, because it will. Is this an all-or-none issue, or an opportunity for compromise?

This is not about Scouting today versus what it used to be (please do not suggest separate Scouting organizations). It’s about balancing what is right for our community while respecting the spiritual beliefs of our friends and neighbors.

___

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Nov. 25, 2015.

State board’s vanity impeded education

The State Board of Education had an opportunity to make its textbook selection process less tragically comical. Alas, Jesus riding a dinosaur is destined to remain the symbol of Texas history and science education a while longer.

Last month, the board rejected the idea of establishing an expert panel that might include - horrors! - college professors to review textbooks for errors. Two rays of hope in the vote were 1) that it was 8-7 and 2) that it was a Republican board member’s proposal.

The chief objections were that it would be an unnecessary new layer of bureaucracy and that board members were all but certain to encounter “philosophical differences” with the college professors.

But it’s widely acknowledged that the expert panel envisioned by board member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, would have prevented a world geography textbook from referring to African slaves as workers. In October, a ninth-grader in Pearland brought that egregious gaffe to the attention of his mother, who brought it to the attention of the world, thereby perpetuating Texas’ reputation for boneheaded textbook selection. Remember, we’re the state made famous for ideological fights to put creationism into textbooks and take Thomas Jefferson out for having coined the phrase “separation of church and state.” If we were to forget, late-night television comedians would remind us.

The objection that the panel would be unnecessary bureaucracy shows board members’ misunderstanding of the word bureaucracy. Perhaps the educations they received in Texas schools is to blame. They appear to understand only the negative connotations of bureaucracy and the political expedience of using it as a label to kill good ideas. An expert panel of textbook fact-checkers and error-removers, by whatever name the name-callers want to call it, is an unfulfilled need.

The most amusingly sad objection to the proposal was that it would call the effectiveness of the current adoption process into question. Duh! It’s a good thing our ancestors didn’t think that way - dismissing improvements to the human condition because they might insult the status quo. We’d be living in caves with no paintings on the walls. Board member Erika Beltran, of Dallas, pointed out the obvious about the current process and its reputation - that it’s “not positive and I think we all know that.” Apparently, unfortunately, not all of them - not even a majority.

Speaking of status quo, the expert panel idea could have started a slow process toward reversing the one that has prevailed on the education board and given conservatism and Texas a bad name. Expert fact-checking leads to better, more accurate textbooks, which leads to better textbooks being selected, which leads to better education - which leads, eventually and inevitably, to the election of better-educated, better-informed, less-misguided State Board of Education members.

Again, the vote margin was 8-7, with two Republicans voting with the minority. That’s progress. There’s hope.

___

San Antonio Express-News. Nov. 28, 2015.

Smith’s intimidation tactics offensive, dangerous

As a longtime member of Congress, Lamar Smith wields significant influence. His position as chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee makes him a pivotal player when it comes to how research is funded and prioritized.

Smith is also a well-known climate change skeptic, an uncomfortable fact given his powerful position over science.

We’ve long disagreed with Smith in these pages about his views on the human impact on climate change. The debate is settled. The vast majority of scientists believe humans are contributing to the warming of the planet, a view clearly articulated in a unanimous online statement from faculty at the Texas A&M; Atmospheric Sciences Department. Given the potential human and economic threats that climate change poses across the globe, and right here in Texas, the stakes are just too high to inject political doubt.

But today our concern with Smith’s chairmanship of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee is chiefly about governance.

His use of cumbersome, widespread records requests; threats of criminal charges if data isn’t released; allegations of political manipulation of data without any evidence; and attacks against well-respected scientists, such as Kathryn Sullivan, a former astronaut who now heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are Orwellian. The broadened subpoena powers are new and unfortunate. No longer does Smith have to consult with the ranking Democrat on the committee before launching an investigation like this.

Smith told Express-News reporter Bill Lambrecht that he has taken such an aggressive approach because the Obama administration hasn’t been honest with the public about climate change and is ostensibly using it as a wedge to force more regulations on industry. He has focused on an NOAA study that found the rate of global warming hasn’t slowed between 1998 and 2012, a finding that runs counter to other studies. Smith has requested emails and internal communications about the study, arguing it was politically manipulated, and has threatened Sullivan with criminal penalties if she doesn’t comply.

The play here is clear: Make a sweeping request about a study that’s objectionable, take information out of context, and intimidate scientists from doing research on climate change. Then cast it as oversight.

As Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society, told Lambrecht: “It puts you in a position as a scientist where you ask, ‘Do I really want to work on this stuff?’ Because depending on how the research comes out, I may have to justify whether I have the integrity that I thought I had.”

Come up with a study that Smith disagrees with and you better lawyer up. That’s a frightening use of power.

Climate science is enormously complicated and easily muddied for the public. It’s easy to confuse sea ice, for example, with continental ice sheets.

Much like intelligence on ISIS or any other threat - and climate change is a threat - skewed data serve nobody. As a key watchdog, Smith should be on the lookout for manipulated science. But using that power to suppress research, threaten scientists or inflame partisan politics is its own form of manipulation.

With so much on the line for future generations, it’s a particularly dangerous game to be playing.

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