- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. July 1, 2015.

Court’s rulings aren’t ‘lawless;’ they’re the law

Since when did the law of the land become “lawless”? Since never, that’s when.

Yet, repetitively, disturbingly, people in positions of real power and influence have described the U.S. Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decisions legalizing same-sex marriage and affirming the legality of Affordable Care Act subsidies as “lawless” acts perpetrated by “five unelected lawyers.”

Sure, these people in high places are entitled to express their opinion - note: that’s opinion singular, not plural because the same words are being said as if memorized from the same script.

But this is not mere rhetoric. The rest of America can’t just dismiss these people with a wave of the hand and a “consider the source” because, well, consider the sources - Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and two dissenting members of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia.

All occupy positions powerful enough that their words carry more than meaning. By calling the lawful court’s lawful decisions lawless, as did Cruz and Paxton, they encourage and enable disrespect and lawless disregard of law.

And by dismissing the Supreme Court majority as five appointed lawyers, Abbott, Roberts and Scalia undermine the authority of an entire branch of government that is our protection from the other two. Which is more frightening, a five-lawyer majority of the Supreme Court or those other two branches?

Think seriously before answering. And while pondering, consider that the court also just ruled, 5-4, against the Environmental Protection Agency’s new power plant emissions standards opposed by Texas and 22 other states. Abbott and Paxton were only too happy to see five lawyers take down the executive branch on that one.

Regarding the same-sex marriage ruling, Abbott went so far as to issue a directive to state agencies to protect “religious liberties” at the expense of gay couples seeking to wed. The governor thus used the word “liberty” to try to deny liberty, which we find strikingly similar to Cruz and Paxton’s ironic misuse of “lawless.”

Paxton followed up with an opinion that public servants could refuse to grant marriage licenses or preside over wedding ceremonies based on their religious objections. How far might this frighteningly elastic new concept of religious liberty be stretched? Shall government services - they are, after all, government and not religious services - be denied to uncircumcised men? To unveiled women?

If that sounded like a joke, it wasn’t meant as one. It was meant only to point out the lawless joke being made of religious freedom by those seeking to use it to obstruct the Supreme Court.

Children who are raised right are raised to respect and abide by the law. The God-fearing among us take it a step further and raise children to believe in and love God. Calling the law lawless and twisting religious belief into nothing more than a weapon to attack a law - and to attack the people the law was meant to protect - undermines what we teach our children. Adults in positions of authority are leading by bad example - showing children how to disrespect and violate the laws they don’t like, to dismiss the people and institutions that make those laws, and to view religion cynically as a strategic tool rather than a system of faith.

One of these adults in authority, Paxton, is an actual lawbreaker who nevertheless was elected to be Texas’ chief lawyer. Paxton violated the law requiring him to disclose that he was an agent receiving commissions for investments he recommended. He has dismissed as a technicality this fundamental breach of honesty. What respect does this elected lawyer’s authority deserve? Certainly less than the five unelected lawyers who stands accused of lawlessness by this lawbreaker.

There’s a difference between criticizing and obstructing the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court - a perilous difference.

___

El Paso Times. July 7, 2015.

Donald Trump buffoonery draws different responses from business, GOP

It’s difficult to decide how to respond when Donald Trump says something truly goofy.

On the one hand, he is a professional provocateur, drawing attention to himself and his brand. The best response might be to just ignore him and starve his vanity of the oxygen it needs to burn.

But his Kardashian-like celebrity gives him a megaphone, especially now that he’s running for president. What he says, no matter how patently ridiculous, will find an audience. When it came to Trump’s recent buffoonery, condemning Mexican immigrants in the harshest of terms in his June 16 presidential announcements, a broad range of Hispanics decided that ignoring him was not feasible.

As a result of their activism, numerous businesses cut ties with Trump.

El Pasoan Guillermo Castaneda Jr. started an online petition encouraging NBC to sever its ties with Trump on the Miss Universe pageant. More than 200,000 signatures later, NBC did just that.

Others who’ve ended their relationships with Trump include Univision and Macy’s. You can’t do business with someone who maligns a big chunk of your customer base or audience.

Trump’s remarks were not nit-picked or taken out of context. He chose to roll in the muck of full-on bigotry.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

This is not a contention that some border crossers commit crimes. No, Trump classifies the entire group of people who cross the border from Mexico as criminals, drug dealers and rapists, though he allows for the possibility that “some are good people.”

His hateful - and wildly inaccurate - words brought swift condemnation from many quarters. But Republican leaders were slow to respond, though New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and presidential candidate Jeb Bush condemned the remarks in recent days.

That slowness to respond speaks to the nature of Republican politics. Trashing immigrants and the border resonates among parts of the GOP base, even though polls show a majority of Republican voters support a path to citizenship for those currently in the country illegally.

Trump’s remarks are similar to comments in Texas’ 2014 Republican primary races for state offices.

Dan Patrick, who eventually was elected lieutenant governor, decried a “silent invasion of the border” - even though data showed illegal crossings dropping dramatically - and accused border crossers of “bringing Third World diseases with them,” citing “tuberculosis, malaria, polio and leprosy” - again contrary to all available evidence (there hasn’t been a case of polio in the Western Hemisphere in decades.)

The business community’s response to Trump’s hateful remarks is encouraging. But the tepid reaction among Republican leadership to outright bigotry is shameful.

___

Houston Chronicle. July 3, 2015.

Historic shift: Relations between Cuba and the U.S. are moving in the right direction.

In his announcement last week that the U.S. and Cuba would restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies for the first time in 54 years, President Barack Obama gave the simple, yet profoundly correct reason for changing America’s Cuba policy: the old one failed, and it is time to try something new.

One could argue that the policy of economic and political coercion used since the earliest days of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution and embodied by the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba did not just fail, it backfired.

Fidel is still around, his brother Raul is running the show, Cuba remains one of the world’s last communist-run countries and the international community shows its scorn by condemning the embargo annually in a near-unanimous vote at the United Nations.

As Obama said last week: “Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba, despite good intentions, increasingly had the opposite effect - cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere.”

We have endorsed this policy change before and do so again. The old policy assured that we had no presence in Cuba and gave Fidel Castro space to shape the country with little U.S. influence.

Now, in theory, that changes, not just with the new embassy and diplomatic relations, but Obama’s earlier relaxation of restrictions on travel and business imposed under the embargo. Until a few years ago, Americans were a scarce commodity in Cuba, but their numbers are growing daily. The president assumes, as we do, that an increased American presence will bring change to Cuba in a way that American exclusion could not.

Obama has repeatedly called for the Republican-led Congress to repeal the embargo and did so again last week, with predictable results.

Republican leaders, including our own Sen. Ted Cruz, denounced his policy and said Cuban concessions on human rights and political reform must come before the resumption of diplomatic relations - which was the foundation of the old failed policy.

“I think it is a mistake to give Castro everything he wants in exchange for nothing,” Cruz told the Chronicle at a Houston appearance promoting his new memoir “A Time for Truth.”

We would respectfully disagree with the senator. We’re not giving Castro anything. What we’re doing is giving the Cuban people open communication with the United States as we build the first economic ties in decades. These, by the way, are not just ties of commerce. They are ties that move forward the ideas of freedom and liberty.

In the meantime, we applaud the new policy and believe it will bring better days for U.S.-Cuba relations and ultimately for the Cuban people, so long caught up in bad policy on both sides of the Florida Straits.

___

San Antonio Express-News. July 5, 2015.

Detention ill-serving justice

“I am certain that there are people with winnable cases who have lost, or will lose, because the conditions of detention don’t give them a fair shot to fight (deportation).” - Brian Hoffman, lead attorney for the CARA, Family Detention Pro Bono Project

This is not hyperbole.

Hoffman was speaking specifically of conditions at detention centers in Dilley and Karnes City that house migrants, most of them part of a relatively recent influx of mothers and children from Central America. These conditions were laid out in a recent Express-News article.

These migrants fled violence - gang or domestic, and more generalized - and crushing poverty in their own countries. They should not be held prisoners - excuse us, be held in “detention” - as they seek asylum or other forms of reprieve from deportation.

We glean some encouragement from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s announcement that families that have established legitimate claims for staying will be released and that the federal government will speed up the interviews to ascertain these claims.

This last part is critical. The interview to determine this eligibility - and the final judgments on whether these families stay - must happen as quickly as possible, and this interviewing must constitute more than perfunctory inquiry. But whether migrants will be released will also apparently depend on paying the appropriate bond or meeting other conditions of release. These migrants often lack the money for bonds or the connections to raise it.

Ultimately, lack of legal representation for many of these migrants may hamper the final determination in any case. These are civil deportation proceedings, not criminal matters, so there is no court-appointed counsel. Volunteer, pro bono immigration attorneys are trying to make a difference, but there are just too many migrants and too few of them. These attorneys deserve praise.

And there’s still the matter of getting a fair hearing. Sheer volume has meant proceedings by teleconference with immigration judges across the country. And sometimes things are lost in the video translation, even when language translation is available. Sometimes it isn’t.

If Johnson’s announcement means fewer mothers and their children are detained, this will indeed represent fairness - and save money. But we have our doubts this will come true as a practical matter. As this unfolds, verifying that it does will be key.

___

Waco Tribune-Herald. July 5, 2015.

Rancor, indignation, defiance aside, our nation must finally move on

Americans appear to have made it through the Fourth of July without killing one another. That’s worth celebrating. The past few weeks have seen some Americans’ beliefs - as widely different as they already are across this magnificent land - challenged or confirmed on any number of issues, primarily in decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that would have been controversial no matter how they turned out.

One thing should be accepted without question if you’re an American: In a democratic republic, you don’t always get your way. And you don’t get to throw the system out - the one our Founders devised - simply because an election, a legislative vote or a court ruling didn’t please you.

You don’t get to take the bat and ball and go home.

The term of the Supreme Court just ending gave everybody something to cheer and something to condemn. The only difference is that each of us has different ideas of what’s worth cheering and what’s worth condemning. But, again, that’s how a democratic republic operates.

Here in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and State Attorney General Ken Paxton cheered the high court’s decision confirming their refusal to put the Confederate battle flag on Texas license plates. They also cheered court backing of their endless (and politically profitable) fight against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

They condemned, however, the high court’s protection of rights for same-sex couples, so they undermined the ruling. The staunchly conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week reminded them, in so many words, that if they want to file more suits against the federal government, they had better obey all rulings - including those that don’t go their way.

Liberals didn’t get all they wanted, either. For instance, the high court decided that states can continue using a drug linked to bungled executions. And the high court delivered a stinging defeat to the Obama administration by siding with states concerned about the expense of meeting clean air regulations.

None of us likes being on the losing side of Supreme Court decisions, any more than we like it when a favorite candidate fails to win the most votes. But it happens. And you move on. And this nation moves on, despite all the wild-eyed predictions of collapse of biblical proportions.

For those conservatives who simmer over the same-sex marriage decision, who feel the court had no business deliberating in this case, meet all those liberals who felt the very same way when the high court stopped voting in Florida and in essence handed the presidential election to George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000. You move on. The nation moves on.

If Americans react strongly to the results of the court term just ending, credit it not just to the unending incendiary political campaigns that color our times but to the fact that our population is increasingly diverse and increasingly earnest in pressing for rights once unimaginable. Thomas Jefferson, one of the most enlightened of the Founders, reminded us of this possibility.

From an inscription at the Jefferson Memorial: “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

Which brings up something else worth remembering before we put the Fourth of July weekend behind us: No one has a monopoly on being an American. Plenty of folks who voted for the other guy and cheered a court ruling you didn’t also are proud Americans. And they pledge allegiance to the very same flag that you do.


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