- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Waco Tribune-Herald. May 12, 2015.

You can’t obey the U.S. Supreme Court only when its constitutional rulings please you

For those who marvel at the pathetic depths to which the 84th Texas Legislature has regularly descended, prepare to marvel again: Many Texas House members, likely including state Reps. Charles “Doc” Anderson and Kyle Kacal, who took an oath in January to uphold the U.S. Constitution, will violate that oath by supporting anti-gay legislation that negates the Constitution.

House members will vote on HB 4105, which basically dares the U.S. Supreme Court to issue any ruling on same-sex marriage with which the religious right disagrees. State Rep. Cecil Bell’s bill forbids state and local officials from issuing or recognizing marriage licenses involving same-sex couples - even if the nation’s highest court rules same-same marriages are constitutional. That’s called anarchy.

This newspaper, believing that most people already have their minds made up on the issue of same-sex marriage, has offered no opinion on the subject. However, given the likelihood that lawmakers such as Anderson, Kacal and state Sen. Brian Birdwell don’t really understand the Constitution (except when it’s convenient to their political prospects), here are the basics of how our system works under the U.S. Constitution:

Congress and state legislatures pass legislation, which is then approved by the president or governors, thus making our laws. State and federal agencies then issue rules based on those laws. Presidents sometimes issue decrees and executive orders. When concern for constitutionality of these laws, rules and directives arises, the Supreme Court is sometimes tapped to render a studied decision.

Right-wing zealots have lately insisted that the high court is not final arbiter in such matters. But it is the final arbiter in the sense the specific questions raised about the law, ruling or directive are settled by the court on constitutional grounds, without concern for Christian, Muslim or Jewish dogma. In another sense, lawmakers are free to try to address the topic again, but this time the idea is they do so with regard to settled constitutional law.

Oh, yes - another thing. If you don’t like how our Constitution operates, you’re free to try to amend it. Otherwise, politicians should abide by their oaths and their allegiance to our flag - or quit taking oaths they won’t honor.

Depending on what the high court decides on same-sex marriage in June, this bill also guarantees lots of expensive lawsuits, which conservative lawmakers are supposed to oppose. Beyond that, we note the idiocy of state leaders not paying close attention to what befell Indiana when the business community rose up and condemned its new anti-gay law.

It’s too bad smarter minds couldn’t have crafted a real solution in Texas - possibly granting civil union licenses to couples, whatever their sexual orientation, and leaving churches, mosques and temples their religious freedom to decide whether to marry someone. Alas, state lawmakers have chosen grandstanding to wisdom and are painting themselves into a corner. Let this costly circus begin.


Houston Chronicle. May 12, 2015.

A shifting tide: Opposition to gay marriage will eventually be a thing of the past.

Texas has been here before, standing athwart the course of history, desperately trying to stem the tide. In the 1950s it was school desegregation. In the 1970s - and continuing - it was abortion rights. Now it’s gay marriage.

Texas Republicans led by state Rep. Cecil Bell of Magnolia are pushing legislation to bar state and local officials from using taxpayer dollars “to issue, enforce or recognize a marriage license for a union other than a union between one man and one woman.” The bill is likely to pass both the House and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s even more conservative Senate this week, and Gov. Greg Abbott is sure to sign it.

It matters little to Bell and his cohorts that the U.S. Supreme Court in a few weeks is likely to rule that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. What matters to opponents is that a Texas ban would keep the issue bottled up in court for years and would encourage other states to do the same.

Conservative activist Steven Hotze of Houston told The Washington Post that “Texas, above all states, has done everything we can to eliminate abortion,” even though it remains technically legal. “By taking a stand on homosexual ‘mirage’ - and I call it ‘mirage’ because it’s counterfeit, it’s false, it’s a lie - it will send a loud signal and be a rallying cry across the country for those who do not want to redefine marriage.”

It’s a rear-guard action, nothing more, but one that could cause continuing chaos in the courts, cost the state millions in legal costs and delay implementation for years. Texas also is likely to see a business backlash similar to what happened in Indiana in the wake of a so-called religious freedom law that was widely perceived to be anti-LGBT.

Bell, Hotze and other opponents of same-sex marriage are well aware that the tide has shifted dramatically, even in Texas. Polling conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute last year found that 48 percent of Texans support same-sex marriage, while 43 percent oppose it. Gay marriage is now legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia, and support continues to grow. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last month found that six in 10 people nationally said they supported same-sex marriage. That’s a record.

A consensus has developed nationwide, and same-sex marriage is becoming a part of everyday life. Ten years from now, 20 years from now, opposition will seem as inexplicable as opposition to interracial marriage seems today. Even in Cecil Bell’s Texas.


The Brownsville Herald. May 8, 2015.

Up in arms

You know things have gotten out of hand when Texas’ flighty former governor, Rick Perry, tells current leaders to cool it.

His successor, Greg Abbott, expressed fears that the U.S. military might be planning to invade our fair state and impose martial law on all God-fearing Texans. Somehow those fears have spread far and wide across the state.

The angst erupted after the U.S. military announced in March that it would hold joint exercises across seven states, including Texas. The operation, called Jade Helm 15, will include several departments, including the Army Special Operations Command.

The exercises in this state will be conducted in Bastrop County on both public and private land. They’re being done with the full knowledge - and permission - of the property owners.

Such exercises are carried out with some frequency, although Pentagon officials say this is perhaps the largest of its kind.

But some government-hating patriots decided it’s a federal plot to take over Texas, and in response Abbott announced he would dispatch the Texas State Guard to keep the feds in check. Abbott said he wanted to ensure that Texans’ “safety, constitutional rights, property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”

As can be expected, commentators and comedians nationwide have had a bit of fun at our expense; some might say Texas currently is the nation’s laughingstock.

Thanks, Governor.

With active armories in Brownsville, Harlingen and Weslaco, most Rio Grande Valley residents are well aware that military exercises are conducted frequently here and elsewhere. They understand that such exercises are necessary to ensure that our fighting forces are well trained and prepared for whatever they might encounter during any deployment. Older Texans might even remember the practice bombing runs using live munitions that were conducted at Matagorda and Padre Islands and near Kingsville just a few decades ago.

And if the practice makes our fighting forces better, most people likely will be happy to let them in.

What’s more, some might find it ironic that those who are most up in arms about the military presence in our state are the very people who have steadily militarized our border. Valley residents are just as likely to see Homeland Security, Department of Public Safety or National Guard troops around the area as they are to see any of the local law enforcement officers who serve admirably to keep our communities safe.

Operation Jade Helm 15 will be conducted from July 15 to Sept. 15. Who knows - some of our own enlisted people and reservists might participate.

We see little reason to worry that the exercise is a precursor to a full military occupation. Why would President Obama want to further aggravate the state that already is perhaps the biggest thorn in his side?

Besides, with respect to the Valley, further occupation probably won’t make much difference.


Corpus Christi Caller-Times. May 6, 2015.

Texas’ lunacy goes all the way up to Abbott

It’s time Texas put a stop to the silliness, starting at the top.

It is now widely known, via dead-serious national news reports and comedic parody on “The Daily Show,” that Gov. Greg Abbott used the weight of his office to dignify a loony conspiracy theory that a pending military exercise is really a plot to take over Texas. Supposedly, our fellow Americans - remember, we haven’t seceded since the Civil War - those brothers and sisters in arms whom we, until recently a patriotic state, used to support enthusiastically, are going to seize our guns and impose martial law, as ordered by someone in Washington.

And we all know who that someone is, don’t we?

Oh, and somehow Walmart is involved, which is kind of strange considering that Walmart is where a lot of us buy ammo.

The job of a leader in this instance would be to ignore or dismiss the wackos and to express unqualified support for and confidence in our military. What Abbott did instead was commit the Texas Guard to monitor the exercise, known as Jade Helm 15. The Guard will do this because, according to Abbott, “it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.” Just to clarify what has occurred: The governor of this great state chose to humor the reality-challenged perpetrators and perpetuators of an odd rumor and, in so doing, cast suspicion on the U.S. military.

How stupid is that, exactly?

That, in so many words, is a rhetorical question former state Rep. Todd Smith of Euless asked Abbott publicly and indignantly, in an open letter. Evidently, Smith is overly afflicted with sanity and conscience, two qualities that are disappearing from Texas politics. In his letter, Smith said he could see only two explanations for Abbott’s actions: Either the governor is that big a bonehead or he’s that gutless. Smith said he wasn’t sure which was worse. And, no, there isn’t a third option.

Well, SOMEBODY had to say it!

Abbott’s decision isn’t just talk. Actual taxpayer expense is involved, and not just the expense of calling out the Guard. The military brass, compelled to do damage control, visited some town hall meetings and issued carefully worded statements not to worry. The time and travel invested in this effort doesn’t come free to us taxpayers. Be sure to thank fiscal conservative Abbott for that.

Jade Helm is huge. It will occur in seven states, on public and private land. The owners of the private land have given their permission in the patriotic spirit for which Texas used to be known. Military officials commended them for it and so do we.

In contrast, we can only imagine how Abbott’s official suspicion of the military will play out the next time the Pentagon needs to close bases. The continuous effort to hold onto this huge segment of our local economy was challenging enough already, thank you Governor.

See? Texas’ political comedy has consequences worse than being made fun of by Jon Stewart. Texans should be outraged enough by this Jade Helm nonsense to march on the Capitol and seize it by force. The drawback to that solution is that it, also, would be crazy. The right way to go about it is by vote. Unfortunately, voters haven’t shown the inclination. And, given the Democratic Party’s ineptitude in recent statewide elections, who can blame them?

Smith, a Republican, expressed concern in his letter that his party has come to such nonsense. Texans of all political persuasions should share his concern. The mental condition of the Texas Republican Party affects all Texans because the Republicans are the inmates in charge of the asylum.


Austin American-Statesman. May 5, 2015.

Defense of free speech, denouncing bigotry are not mutually exclusive

There is much to still be learned about the thwarted attack in Garland that left a security guard wounded and two gunmen dead outside a gathering that showcased artwork and cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

However, if claims made last week are proven true, the incident would be the first attack by the so-called Islamic State on American soil.

As frightening as that prospect may be, it is important for Texans to consider carefully how they react. It is too easy to fall into the trap presented by the false choice of either supporting freedom of speech or conveying respect for all religious views. Both are important pillars of American democracy and should be protected; resorting to violence in pursuit of either is the antithesis of all Americans hold dear.

Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters last week: “We live in a country where the First Amendment is one of the paramount promises of this nation, and that provides people with the ability to speak out, to say what they want, just as people draw cartoons mocking the governor and people may draw cartoons mocking others.”

We agree both legally and philosophically. The Constitution gives individuals and the press wide latitude in expression, especially in the realms of art and satire. The law of the land, thankfully, does not require the agreement of government or public sentiment with the views expressed to merit protection. And that critical protection extends fully, even to groups whose views we despise, such as the Ku Klux Klan, Westboro Baptist Church, and American Freedom Defense Initiative, which sponsored the anti-Muslim event in Garland.

We also agree with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who responded on Facebook: “If Americans are threatened to be killed for their words (and) actions, no matter how offensive, then freedom itself is lost and with it America is lost.”

These rights protect every American’s ability to dissent on all issues mundane and profound, including government, politics, philosophy and religion.

However, in the defense of liberty, much is lost if state leaders fail to call for respectful and civil discourse on all sides. Call hate speech for what it is and reassure the nation that such speech does not represent Texas values.

Even if Abbott and Patrick choose not to directly stoke the fires of anti-Muslim sentiment, the absence of comment - as was the case in January, when Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, asked Muslims to pledge allegiance to the U.S. before entering her office, and again last week after the shootings in Garland - gives bigotry tacit approval to grow and fester.

It also allows the myth that all Muslims hate America to flourish unabated. And continued silence on the subject by leading Texas lawmakers suggests that either they believe the myth or that they do not mind the marginalization of more than 1.6 million Texas Muslims.

Certainly one need look no further than the Boston Marathon bombing - and now Garland - to see that there are some Muslims who wish harm to those who embrace Western ideals. But there are also more than 1,000 anti-government, radical “patriot” groups in the U.S., according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Domestic terrorism can be committed by those with any surname, with any skin color and of any faith. Bad actors represent the extremes and not the norms.

Muslim groups nationally and in Texas could not be more clear in their response to the Garland attack.

“We condemn (the) attack on an anti-Islam event in Garland, Texas, without reservation,” said the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, in a statement. “We also reiterate our view that violence in response to anti-Islam programs like the one in Garland is more insulting to our faith than any cartoon, however defamatory. Bigoted speech can never be an excuse for violence.”

Quick thinking and good luck prevented this attack from being as deadly as the Charlie Hebdo shooting in France, which killed 12 people, mostly journalists targeted for the publication’s satirical cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad.

We should fight radical, violent extremism wherever it abides, but we must resist demonizing an entire faith or community. For if we fail in that, democracy dies and the terrorists win.

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