- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 22, 2015

San Antonio Express-News. July 20, 2015.

Symbols not merely about heritage

For some, symbols of the Confederacy and the names associated with that cause are nothing more than history remembered and heritage celebrated. For others, they are painful reminders of what precisely that cause was - preserving slavery - and how some of those fault lines still exist.

As racial healing is still necessary today, the hurt matters most.

It just shouldn’t be all that difficult to understand why these names and symbols offend a great many Texans, particularly since the Confederate battle flag’s usage in the years since the Civil War has often been to further white supremacy and block civil rights.

Respect and courtesy dictate that considerable weight be given to the hurt and anger many Texans feel over display of these names and symbols in public places. It is nigh on impossible to separate these from the cause that originally gave them meaning. And it is difficult to forget also that much of the civic tumult the South has experienced since 1865 has been about variations on a Civil War theme - how much equality and how fast.

No, you aren’t a racist if you feel Southern pride. And you aren’t necessarily an apologist for slavery if these symbols spark some of that pride in you. But a more complete understanding of the history and usages of these symbols leads to an inescapable conclusion. They are understandably hurtful to many Texans and their adoption on public property gives the impression that government either approves of what those symbols represented in 1861 and beyond or glosses over that history to rationalize delivering that hurt.

One issue here is the same that prompted the state of Texas to reject putting the battle flag on license plates, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed as constitutional last month. The state weighed the considerable baggage associated with that flag when it rejected its placement on license plates.

State license plates are not billboards or bumper stickers. Much the same applies to public places.

Placement on these spaces confers a legitimacy that seems to say all taxpayers agree with the respect extended. This can never be the case with Confederate symbols, not just because of what occurred in the 19th century but for what occurred in the 20th and is occurring in the 21st centuries. The photo of accused Charleston killer Dylann Roof with the battle flag comes readily to mind.

Robert E. Lee, whose name is on a local high school, was a brilliant military strategist and man with a complex history when it came to slavery. But the bottom line is he led an army whose victory would have meant perpetuation of white people owning black people. And consider that Lee didn’t want the battle flag displayed at his own funeral.

It’s true. Most Confederate soldiers were fighting for their states, not slavery. Most weren’t slave owners. And yet the “state right” to secede that the Confederate states invoked and for which these soldiers fought was almost entirely about preserving slavery. All the Confederate states, including Texas, were quite forthright about this in one way or another.

The truth is that ethnic and racial divisions and inequities still exist - inequity, in fact, too often correlating to race and ethnicity. Flying the flag does not further the cause of healing, and this healing is as necessary today as it was at the end of the Civil War.

The slogan “Black lives matter” and the Charleston killings did not occur in a vacuum.

These Confederate symbols and names have a place when used in the proper historical contexts. Names on public places are generally meant to honor the bearers of those names. And statues in public parks - such as the tribute to Confederate soldiers in Travis Park - are not generally placed there to provide mere history lessons, though they can serve that purpose. They are erected to honor people.

The city of San Antonio, Bexar County, area school districts, universities and the state should heed the calls to take inventory of where they’ve allowed these names and symbols to exist on public property. And in determining whether they belong there, they should take stock of the history and how this past has affected some Texans differently than others.


Waco Tribune-Herald. June 19, 2015.

Let’s not battle over Confederate flags, monuments, but jointly champion equality, freedom through improved Voting Rights Act

Whatever else, the protesters who greeted the nation’s first African-American president with large Confederate battle flags in Oklahoma City last week demolished the old saw about that iconic flag’s being all about “heritage, not hate.” It again confirms racism is alive and well in the United States, whether it’s blacks, whites or browns practicing it.

Only two years ago this summer, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the nation had evolved greatly since the days of Jim Crow. His argument allowed him and four other justices to junk a key part of the Voting Rights Act regarding changes in certain voting laws because, he wrote, the law was “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”

Roberts was probably correct in his rationale for invalidating that key part of the Voting Rights Act and opening it up for revision. But he was naive to suggest our nation has gotten past the issue of race. It has flared up this summer unlike any time we’ve seen since 1968. Its evidence in everything from particularly onerous voter ID laws to at least some deadly law enforcement actions in inner-city neighborhoods continues to indict the very ideals of the Founding Fathers, many of whom themselves failed to live up to their noble principles.

Which begs the obvious question: Can we do any better than they did?

In an act of political courage, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, a senior House Republican from Oklahoma, blasted those who displayed the battle flag before the president. Cole said such actions were “particularly insensitive” after President Obama’s “personal graciousness” after the deadly tornado that struck the congressman’s hometown of Moore in 2013. We agree with Cole. And it would have been inappropriate regardless of whether the president had aided Oklahoma. A spokesman for Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, another Republican, sought to save the reputation of her state by suggesting the Confederate flag-waving protesters came from Texas.

To an extent, all this arises from last month’s massacre of black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, allegedly by a white supremacist they welcomed to worship God with them. But it also arises from tensions in a segment of society reluctant to forsake Confederate symbols and monuments championing a “Lost Cause” that has hobbled this nation - this in spite of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s wise counsel long ago to fellow Southerners to put aside such symbols as divisive. This week, in a possible resolution of the brewing fight over Confederate symbols and monuments, Democrats proposed shelving the matter in exchange for Republicans’ agreement to invigorate the Voting Rights Act.

If groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans wish to prove their point about their cause being about heritage, not hate, we encourage their nationwide support for this proposal. Let’s get past dwelling on the questionable activities of some Confederate and Union veterans long turned to dust, including Confederate Gen. Felix Robertson, a Wacoan for whom the local Sons of Confederate Veterans is named and whose alleged role in the 1864 massacre of wounded black Union soldiers reportedly outraged even Confederate leaders.

As some of our friends speaking on behalf of the Confederate battle flag have reminded us, none of our American ancestors, North or South, is completely free of complicity in the evils of slavery or abuses committed in wartime. Gen. William Sherman’s March to the Sea was not without alleged atrocities rivaling those attributed to Robertson. And mistakes about race have been made on all sides ever since. The question now: What will we do to unite this nation, black, white and brown? Will we champion the sins of our fathers or pursue more principled aims? If we gather behind this move to patch up the Voting Rights Act, it might well leave all of us in a far better frame of mind as Americans. And this is the summer for it.


The Dallas Morning News. July 20, 2015.

Donald Trump’s conduct merits public repudiation

A Republican gut check is in order regarding pursuit of the White House. The fact that billionaire Donald Trump ranks at the top in poll popularity among 16 presidential candidates offers a glimpse of the dangers ahead if shock-jock antics are allowed to shape the GOP agenda.

It’s tempting to say that Trump is destined for a flameout. But the selection process for debate participants in September - based on rankings in five major public opinion polls - encourages exactly the kind of crass, headline-grabbing buffoonery that have become Trump’s trademark. Given Trump’s strong standing, we worry that other candidates will adopt his objectionable tactics just to get a bump in the polls.

Trump generated weekend headlines by asserting that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., doesn’t deserve war-hero status for having been a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for more than five years. Trump implied that service members who let themselves be captured don’t get hero status in his book.

McCain has his faults, not being a war hero isn’t one of them. His conduct was stellar as a Navy pilot performing missions over North Vietnam before his plane was shot down in 1967. Both arms and a leg were fractured when he ejected. He was beaten and tortured for years. The North Vietnamese sought repeatedly to release McCain from captivity, but he correctly sensed it was a public-relations ploy. McCain refused, and that principled stand cost him additional years of horror.

Trump, by the way, never served in the military.

The problem is Trump talks first and thinks later. As a billionaire real estate mogul, such brash behavior may help seal big deals. On television, his penchant for snap decisions helped boost ratings for his show, The Apprentice.

But serving as leader of the world’s biggest superpower requires leadership skills that go beyond shouting, “You’re fired!” or swinging a rhetorical sledgehammer at every adversary. Persuading members of Congress, setting domestic policy and shaping world diplomacy requires deftness, dignity and aplomb - hardly Trump trademarks.

Up to now his brash and often hateful messages (see last month’s tirade about Mexicans as criminals and rapists) have resonated. In a recent Fox News poll, Trump led the field. Since Fox News is using poll results to determine the top 10 candidates who will be invited to the first GOP presidential debate in September, such rhetoric seems destined to earn him even more air time.

Instead, Trump’s conduct should be repudiated. By the public. That’s the most effective silencer to such offense.

Republicans should select a candidate who can lead responsibly. Leave the clowns and whip-snapping barkers for the circus.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. July 21, 2015.

Big names, no big deal at UT Austin

A relative handful of big-name, wealthy, influential and/or politically connected Texans wrote letters on behalf of a similarly relative handful of below-average students seeking admission into the University of Texas at Austin.

“Lord have mercy on our souls,” says the song from a long-running and thoroughly enjoyable 1978 Broadway musical (and later movie) about the faux shock among Texans after a real-life house of ill repute was discovered in La Grange, not many miles from Austin.

A special investigation commissioned by UT unearthed the less-than-startling fact that 73 of the aforementioned below-average students actually gained admission to the big university from 2009 to 2014.

Lord have mercy.

A report in The Dallas Morning News, based on copies of the letters obtained under an open records request, noted that more than 38,000 students applied to UT Austin in 2014. Fewer than half were offered admission, and 7,285 enrolled.

The investigation, known as the Kroll report, said the 73 were admitted by Bill Powers, then the president of UT Austin. It suggested that the rich and famous might have influenced his decision.

Somewhere in all of this, there must be a reason for alarm, although it’s not readily apparent. UT regent Wallace Hall has been chasing a scandal about the whole affair for months.

Now he’s even suing Chancellor William McRaven for denying him access to documents related to those 73 students. McRaven and the rest of the regents are fighting back, saying revealing records on specific students would violate federal and state law.

In a perfect world, competitive university admissions would not be influenced by powerful connections. But the numbers here show no widespread problem.

And just in case something needs to be fixed, McRaven will be presenting a proposal for systemwide admissions practices based on recommendations from a committee of former university leaders and the Kroll report.

Hall will probably continue to look for his scandal. He hasn’t found it yet.


Corpus Christi Caller-Times. July 17, 2015.

Jade Helm: Don’t let them get away with it!

Now that the multistate military exercise known as Jade Helm has transpired without martial law having been declared in Texas, here are some questions to entertain (note the double meaning of “entertain”):

What if the president who was commander in chief during Jade Helm had been a Republican?

What if the conspiracy theorists who dreamed up that Jade Helm was a federal government plan to use the military to take over Texas - and who took steps to monitor the exercise while carrying guns - had been Democrats?

Or, better, what if they had been predominantly African-American Democrats? Or - let’s amp up that what-if some more - what if they were a resurrection of the Black Panthers of the late 1960s? As older Americans remember and younger ones should know from their study of history, the authorities didn’t coddle the Black Panthers the way they do today’s vocal exercisers of Second Amendment rights.

There has been a notable absence of people of color among Jade Helm theorists, not to mention among gun-rattling open-carry advocates like the Black Panthers used to be. Jade Helm theorists aren’t necessarily by definition gun rights extremists nor vice versa. But the kinship is undeniable - funny that.

Finally, what if the Texas governor who ordered the Texas Guard to monitor the military exercise was a Democrat? Not just a Democrat, but one who had built his reputation by suing the Republican president’s administration repeatedly, sometimes successfully, in his previous elected position as the state’s attorney general? What if that former attorney general’s favorite words in describing the administration’s attempts to prevent pollution and insure the medically uninsured were “overreach” and “tyranny”? And what if this hypothetical governor’s action in ordering out the Texas Guard to monitor the nation’s military had been a clear pander to the extreme left wing of his party, to the possible detriment of the military’s duty to maintain readiness?

By extreme left wing we don’t mean DINOs (Democrats in name only). We’re talking certifiable crazy-left - the kind whose distrust of the Republican president would encompass a notion as unthinkable in this nation of constitutional laws and inalienable rights as occupying Texas militarily. (We know: Just writing it made us feel silly.)

We would imagine - without actually having to use any imagination - that this hypothetical Republican commander in chief would be inundated by his party faithful and Fox News with demands that these attempts to monitor Jade Helm be prosecuted as acts of treason. The groundswell most likely would focus foremost on the Texas governor, who among all of the traitors should have known better and could have led by example.

It would be interesting to see how or whether this Republican president could allow his cooler head to prevail over the cries of his most loyal but least-restrained constituents - unlike the governor who succumbed to his.

Could such a president heed his better angels and forgo this enticing prospect of investigating and prosecuting his political opposition, having been proffered plausible probable cause on a platinum platter by the perpetrators themselves?

There’s a photo making the rounds of the president we have - the one toward whom Gov. Greg Abbott’s chronic opposition could be spun without much effort as bordering on seditious. In this photo, President Barack Obama is holding a T-shirt that says “I invaded Texas and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.” The president’s grin is Gulf-of-Mexico wide.

The message on the shirt is the work of some joker who slapped it onto an existing photo of the president. But unlike the Jade Helm conspiracy theory, this president treating the traitor-theorists with good humor rather than a trip to Guantanamo or the gallows is no stretch (note the triple meaning of “stretch”).

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