- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Austin American-Statesman. Nov. 17, 2015.

How should the U.S. respond to the Paris attacks?

Reactions matter. The question that should guide the response to Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people is: How do we and our allies respond militarily without making matters worse?

Terrorists act to intimidate - to strike fear in a populace, and in striking fear, sow political discord. They also act to provoke a disproportionate response. Lashing out can be self-defeating. Al-Qaida’s policy, as Osama bin Laden defined it, was “to provoke and bait” the United States into “bleeding” itself “to the point of bankruptcy,” just as the Soviet Union had done in Afghanistan in the 1980s. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe; attacking France to provoke a response that blindly targets French Muslims is part of the Islamic State’s recruiting strategy in Europe.

Our reaction to terrorism should be calm and measured. Whatever you think of President Barack Obama’s strategy in Syria and Iraq - Obama is not without fault when it comes to the mess in Syria, and his gradual escalation there has lacked coherence - he at least understands that bellicose rhetoric and careless military action solves nothing when it comes to defeating terrorists.



This was a point Obama kept returning to Monday, when he spoke about the Paris attacks during a news conference at the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey. Obama defended his strategy against Islamic State. It is a patient strategy that couples airstrikes that target Islamic State’s leadership and infrastructure with action to limit the group’s abilities on the ground, while supporting the Iraqi, Syrian and Kurdish forces that are fighting Islamic State. The president’s goal, he says, is to contain Islamic State - Obama’s critics saw his use of the word “contained” in an interview with ABC last week as a sign of how badly he has underestimated Islamic State - and then slowly squeeze the territory in which it can operate.

As Obama noted Monday, the United States and its allies - prominently, France; its weekend airstrikes in Syria were not its first, though that might not be the impression you have from reading some of the latest news reports - have conducted more than 8,000 airstrikes to date. Key Islamic State leaders and commanders have been killed while the group has lost territory in Syria and Iraq. Rather than standing as a sign that Islamic State is expanding its capabilities, the Paris attacks might signal that the group is in retreat and is lashing out at the West in retaliation. Unfortunately, an Islamic State in decline can be more dangerous short-term than an Islamic State on the rise.

“When you actually listen to what (my critics) have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things we’re already doing,” Obama said Monday. The exception comes from those especially hawkish critics like U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who call for the United States to send ground forces to Iraq and Syria. We could follow their advice and put tens of thousands of American and allied troops in Iraq - for the third time - and they could take Ramadi and Mosul from Islamic State forces, and we could capture territory in Syria as well, but then what? As the president asked Monday, are we prepared to occupy Syria and Iraq permanently? And possibly Yemen, too? And then North Africa? And Central Asia?

The Islamic State has threatened additional attacks on the United States and elsewhere. It is a serious threat that must be confronted and defeated. As we continue to debate how to do so, we can’t ignore recent experience: Expanding wars have a way of not going as planned.

___

The Dallas Morning News. Nov. 17, 2015.

Abbott’s refugee ban panders to xenophobia

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is now leading the charge for Americans to harden their hearts and slam shut the doors to desperate people fleeing war and Islamist terrorism in Syria. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a GOP presidential hopeful, suggests America should impose some kind of religious litmus test. Fellow candidate Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, suggests that only Christian refugees be allowed to enter.

These leaders - along with other prominent Republicans - are pandering to the most xenophobic tendencies among a small sliver of the American electorate, as if to capitalize on last week’s tragedy in Paris for political gain. Shame on them.

Abbott wrote to President Barack Obama on Monday imploring the federal government to stop accepting Syrian refugees and declaring that Texas will not accept them because a Syrian passport was found near one of the terrorists killed in the Paris attacks. Initial reports suggested a Syrian may have mixed in among the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into Europe.

In Abbott’s mind, that makes all refugees suspect. In Cruz’s mind, Muslim refugees should only go to Muslim countries. America is for Christian refugees, Bush suggests.

Abbott has no power to decide who lives in our state. Constitutional and civil rights experts say the governor’s words have no legal force because people properly admitted to the U.S. are free to move about the country as they please. And the Refugee Act of 1980 gives the president authority to guide the federal process determining refugee resettlement. Neither Abbott nor any of the two dozen other Republican governors making the anti-refugee declaration may override the authority granted to the executive branch by Congress.

Abbott based his position on the lack of a federal guarantee that Syrian refugees will not engage in “terroristic activity.” We share his desire to keep Texans safe.

However, no government can offer absolute guarantees. And he, Cruz and others overlook some basic facts about America’s refugee resettlement program. First, it has a stellar record. As Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., noted in a radio interview Tuesday, millions of Vietnamese were resettled here without incident after the Vietnam War. And even as Americans were being killed by suicide bombers and jihadi radicals during the Iraq war, thousands of Iraqi refugees were resettled here peacefully.

That’s because the United States imposes a rigorous vetting process that can take years to complete before any outsider is allowed in. Europe currently is grappling with the arrival of more than 750,000 refugees, and it’s clear that vetting policies have been eased in favor of humanitarian considerations.

The entry of one Syrian terrorist into Europe doesn’t mean that U.S. vetting procedures are lax, that all refugees are suspect, or that Americans should throw their sense of compassion out the window.

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San Antonio Express-News. Nov. 17, 2015.

A ‘mistake’ the high court can fix

Something has been lost in the legal back and forth since President Barack Obama offered the children of undocumented immigrants a chance to stay - legally - in the only country many of them have ever known.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals recent ruling halting the president’s executive actions in this regard is a “vindication for the rule of law.” The court upheld a decision by federal Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville.

We’re fairly certain the 5th Circuit got the law wrong, but we believe there is an overriding imperative not being considered. What about the rules that dictate common decency?

The parties in this litigation are talking about real people, many of whom were brought here as children. They had no say in coming. But these so-called Dreamers have been clear that this is their country and they want to stay. They should be allowed. They are net assets.

These young people have been schooled here at public expense and yet have to live under the official radar lest they be discovered and deported. Obama, as the dissent said in this 2-1 ruling, was well within his discretionary authority in determining priorities for deportation.

People who had no say coming here as children should be way down in this priority - the same for their parents, included in a later deferred deportation order by the president. They would get work permits - essentially making legal what they’ve been doing all along. That would be doing work many Americans won’t.

Rule of law? No, and neither is it really about the costs that Texas - and other states - said they will have to absorb if Dreamers and their parents are allowed legal residency. Texas, in particular, leads the nation in attracting people from elsewhere. Its cost estimates, likely overblown, come with the territory for a state with such explosive population growth.

Obama said Tuesday that he will appeal to the Supreme Court. High court justices should consider 5th Circuit Judge Carolyn Dineen King’s dissent. She wrote that the deferred deportations amount to “quintessential exercises of prosecutorial discretion.”

The judge added, “I have a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made.”

Yes. The Supreme Court has a chance to correct that mistake. The high court can put this controversy on executive actions to rest.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Nov. 13, 2015.

Texas abortion law faces Supreme Court test

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Friday decision to hear a case on abortion restrictions adopted by the Texas Legislature won’t lead to a resolution of the bitter social divide over terminating pregnancy.

Differences on that question will never be reconciled. Even the terms used to describe it are controversial - to some, abortion at any stage of pregnancy for any reason is akin to murder.

But our Constitution and the legal system built around it calls for the Supreme Court to examine such complicated controversies growing out of the laws we adopt and to decide what interpretations best fit the ideals expressed in the nation’s founding document.

The decision reached by the high court will not be perfect, but it will decide the fate of the Texas law and set national precedent. That system has worked well, in the long run, for more than two centuries.

This will be the first major abortion case heard by the Supreme Court since 2007’s Gonzales v. Carhart. It tests concepts on abortion restrictions laid out in a 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

At issue are two requirements of a bill passed by the Legislature in a July 2013 special session and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.

One requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The other says abortion clinics must meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, which means stiffer requirements for their buildings, equipment and staffing.

Advocates say those requirements are needed to protect women’s health and safety. Opponents say they serve no medical need and are simply meant to make abortions as hard as possible to obtain.

Texas had about 40 abortion clinics across the state when the law was passed. There’s general agreement that the 2013 law, if allowed to go into effect, would cut that number to about 10 clinics bunched primarily in the state’s largest urban areas.

In the 1992 Casey case, the court said states can’t enact “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.” That’s what the court calls an “undue burden” on a constitutional right.

But the 2007 Carhart case pushed that envelope and resulted in the court upholding a ban on partial-birth abortions.

By July, we’ll know whether the Supreme Court believes Texas has acted within its bounds.

___

Houston Chronicle. Nov. 13, 2015.

Visible holsters: Open carry in Texas becomes effective on Jan. 1 - we’ll have to get used to it

If you decide to take a stroll around your neighborhood park after the new year, don’t be alarmed to observe a young woman, perhaps a neighbor, sitting on a bench casually reading on her mobile electronic device, a .380-caliber semi-automatic handgun strapped to her hip. Or, don’t get nervous if you see a man walking his Bichon on a leash while carrying a .45-caliber pistol in a holster on his shoulder. Welcome to the new Texas.

At the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, a new law passed by the 84th Texas Legislature and later signed by Gov. Greg Abbott allows Texans to carry any handgun openly or concealed as long as they are licensed by Texas or a state with reciprocity. Under the new law, the handgun must be carried in a shoulder or belt holster.

There should be no cause for alarm or reason to call the police. “It’s going to take some getting used to by all of us,” Houston Police Chief Charles A. McClelland Jr., said at a recent open-carry information meeting that attracted 200 people, mostly concealed-carry license holders.

We applaud McClelland, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson and City Attorney Donna Edmundson for participating in the meeting, and we suggest they hold more before the end of the year. A video of the meeting can be accessed on the HPD website and is well worth watching.

The trio acknowledged that the open-carry law is complex, with nuances and scenarios that can unfold when people are strolling around with guns on their hips.

The good news, according to Anderson, is that licensed gun owners -the only ones who will be permitted to carry their weapons openly -are generally law-abiding citizens, having already cleared the legal hurdles to win approval for a gun license.

First, some perspective: While historic in scope, the new law reflects the evolving nature of public policy. It was 145 years ago in 1871, just six years after the Civil War, when the Texas Legislature first outlawed the carrying of pistols outside the home. It was just 20 years ago when the Legislature passed its landmark Concealed Handgun License law in 1995. Now, come January, Texas will join a majority of states that allow open carry of handguns, and Houston will become the largest U.S. city where open carry is permitted.

Texas indeed will be more gun-friendly, something the Chronicle editorial board has opposed because of the atrocities wrought by gun violence across this country and the reluctance of Texas lawmakers to consider even modest restrictions on lawful access to guns and gun ownership. However, that debate will be muted until the next tragedy, and the focus now needs to be directed to understanding the do’s and don’ts under the new law.

There are things that CHL holders and the unarmed need to keep in mind:

CHL holders can’t open carry everywhere. Private businesses and public buildings and spaces have varied open-carry restrictions.

Police are allowed to stop someone openly carrying a handgun to check for identification and a gun license. Be cooperative.

Private property owners can prohibit open carry weapons by displaying proper signage or if the owner asks the person with the gun to leave the property.

The bottom line is this: The law is new, so there is a learning curve we all have to negotiate. Keep yourself safe and make the situation safer for an inquiring police officer.

As far as the woman sitting on a bench and casually reading on her mobile device, a .380 on her hip, just wave and say good afternoon. She’s probably not someone you need to worry about.

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