- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Oct. 9, 2015.

Court ruling protects flag’s true meaning

Without bothering to consult or conduct polls on the matter, let’s all just go out on a limb and agree that flag desecraters are a minority, probably a minuscule one - most likely a smaller minority percentage-wise than the lone Democrat on the nine-member Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

That highest of Texas criminal law courts, peopled by conservatives who on a personal level probably would like to bury a fist in the face of a flag desecrater, decided last week that Texas’ ban on flag desecration is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

The court upheld a more important, higher principle protected by the First Amendment and symbolized by the flag. Flag desecration, being rare and unpopular, is precisely the kind of exercise of free speech that the truest, red-white-and-bluest believers in the flag’s meaning should be quickest to defend. Those who rolled their eyes at the decision need to understand that it was not an endorsement of flag desecration.

The 1989 law struck down by the court was our Legislature’s attempt at a backdoor circumvention of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down an earlier flag protection law. The years it spent on the books untested because it was seldom if ever enforced proves our earlier point about the rarity of flag desecration.

In 2012, a 20-year-old man insulted by a racist store clerk in the small town of Lovelady took down the flag on the storefront and tossed it into the street. He was jailed for more than a month because he couldn’t afford bail, and faced up to a year of incarceration and a $4,000 fine.

Prosecutors asserted that the incident was a random expression of anger that did not constitute speech. Like the 1989 statute itself, the prosecutors’ argument was a weak attempt to lawyer their way past smarter lawyers. Judge Sharon Keller responded on behalf of the 6-3 majority that “throwing down a flag could easily be protected expression.”

If the defendant’s actions were to be prosecuted as a crime, why not try vandalism based on the flag having been someone else’s property mishandled without the owner’s permission? The defendant had a right to express himself by throwing down a flag - but not that flag, which wasn’t his to throw.

But there already have been too many attempts at legal creativity in defense of the flag and at the expense of free speech. Let’s hope the 2017 Legislature will resist the urge to wrap itself in the flag and take another time-wasting crack at outlawing flag desecrations. We can’t imagine anything more un-Texan than trying to outlaw the right of a rare individual to insult everyone else.

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Houston Chronicle. Oct. 11, 2015.

HERO works: Voters need to approve the ordinance that uplifts all Houstonians

All’s fair in love and local politics, we presume, although a campaign of fear-mongering and false claims against Houston’s equal rights ordinance is unworthy of this city. HERO, Proposition 1 on the November ballot, ought to stand or fall on its own merits, not on outright lies that anti-gay activists and other opponents have been pushing for weeks - with recent assistance from former Astros star Lance Berkman, who did himself no favors with his ill-advised anti-HERO TV ad. Houstonians deserve better.

As we’ve written before, and as opponents are well aware, the city’s equal rights ordinance is not about making it lawful for hordes of transgender women to assault little girls in public rest rooms. Opponents also are well aware that indecent exposure, harassment and assault in rest rooms is already illegal. The equal rights ordinance doesn’t change that.

HERO is about two vital issues: anti-discrimination and the health of the local economy.

The equal rights ordinance is a vital local tool to help protect all residents when they are treated unfairly, without forcing them to file a federal lawsuit or bear the burden of a costly and protracted legal battle. In their haste to demonize the LGBT community, however, the most extreme opponents of the ordinance have ignored pregnant women, the disabled, minorities, military veterans and others in this community who may be victims of discrimination.

Houston, by the way, is the last major Texas city to enact equal rights protections. Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio have had nondiscrimination protections on the books for more than a decade and have had no problems (with transgendered bathroom lurkers or anything else, for that matter).

If the ordinance is repealed, our local economy is likely to suffer. Repeal would undercut our rapidly growing reputation for openness and appreciation for diversity. The result would be a loss of jobs when conventions and big-time sporting events like the Super Bowl decide to go elsewhere, when corporations conclude that Houston may not be all that interested in nurturing a diverse workforce, when talented young people get the impression that Houston is stuck in the past.

Discrimination is bad for business. That’s why the Greater Houston Partnership, the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce and numerous other businesses and business organizations are supporting HERO.

Houston is a big city, a big-hearted city. To allow small-minded arguments, fraudulent claims and cynical tactics to prevail on Election Day would be a repudiation of core values that are intrinsically Houston.

This great city is bigger than that.

___

The Dallas Morning News. Oct. 12, 2015.

When hatred fails.

It’s a strange thing about hate.

It operates best in the shadows and the dark. It never seems so powerful as when it’s anonymous and hidden.

But demand that it show its face and give us its name and, more often than not, it will squirm and lose its voice.

Last week, after calls went out across social media for people to rise up and participate in armed protests at mosques and Islamic centers around the country, we saw what happens when hatred fails to muster people to answer its call.

The so-called “global rally for humanity” that stirred so much attention on the internet turned out in reality to be a series of pathetically local gatherings for a small sample of humans who despise other humans.

“Stand up against evil Islam with like-minded patriots from central Florida,” demanded a Facebook site for a group staging a rally in Ocala, Florida. “Feel free to bring your favorite anti-Islam signs, shirts, flags, etc.”

In this case, etc. meant a firearm.

Similar Facebook pages popped up around the country with full-throated support from the anonymous community of internet bigots that are attracted this sort of junk.

But when the time came to actually step away from the keyboard and stand in the sun in front of a mosque, well, it was anything but a rousing success.

In Amarillo, police reported that more than 100 people showed up in response to call for a rally against the Khursheed Unissa Memorial Community Center. Alas, all 100 were there in support of the center. The Amarillo Globe-News did report that “one latecomer” arrived ready to protest.

In Richardson, about a dozen people managed to muster up for the global rally. They were met by counter-protesters. Unlike several of the anti-Islam protesters, none of the counter-protesters carried arms.

In Houston, there was no need for a counter-protest because none of the promised protesters bothered to show up at all.

In Seattle and Dearborn, Michigan, Jewish, Christian and Muslim people came together for inter-faith dialogue despite the fizzling of the so-called global rally.

Hatred is a seductive thing. It pretends to offer us solutions. It plays on our fears and prejudices. It makes us feel justified when we succumb to our darker selves.

That’s true whether it is the radical jihadist who convinces himself that people deserve to die because they are Christian, Jew or American or whether it is the internet troll who would stir people to take up arms to march in front of their local mosque with signs denigrating the faith of 1 billion people.

But, in the end, hatred is empty. What it offers serves no one.

It needs the foothold it gains in the dark to ever come out of its shadow. That’s why it must always be confronted and rejected in the full light of day.

That’s what happened last weekend. And it’s worth celebrating.

___

San Antonio Express-News. Oct. 7, 2015.

A needed light put on dark money

Beware of folks who lurk in the shadows. There is likely an unsavory reason they prefer it there.

In this category are those who hide behind disclosure shields that were accorded donors to politically active nonprofits known as 501(c)4s.

Last week, the Texas Ethics Commission put some light on those shadows. It passed a rule that requires disclosure of donors if these groups’ TV ads, radio spots and mailers - sent out within 30 days of an election - are “susceptible to no other reasonable interpretation than to urge the passage or defeat” of a candidate or a measure on the ballot.

And what will likely follow are legal challenges that will insist the commission overstepped its authority but really will be saying, “Let our donors stay in the dark so that voters may not see who is trying to influence elections.”

This new rule replaces an express-advocacy standard that allowed these third-party groups to avoid disclosure as long as their ads didn’t use such magic words as “vote for” or “vote against.” The problem: They clearly advocated for and against candidates and ballot measures but, because of the express-advocacy standard, could masquerade as “issue ads.” And these groups could then cite bogus First Amendment rights if restrictions were proposed.

Understand, the new rule does not say these donors and the groups that front for them cannot speak. It only says that they have to tell voters who they are. Disclosure should not be viewed as a First Amendment restriction.

The stakes have been high nationally since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United. It essentially allows for unlimited donations from corporations and unions. Texas is a bit different in that there are already no limits for individual donors to state campaigns.

In treating these third-party groups as political action committees, which do fall under disclosure rules, the commission has taken a bold step in offering more transparency to campaign spending.

Transparency. That’s legislators’ answer generally when there are calls for limits on campaign donations - that democracy is served as long as voters know who is giving the money.

Somehow, however, transparency is not given as high a value when it comes to the dark money donors of these 501(c)4s. That’s nonsense, and the Texas Ethics Commission was quite correct in addressing the issue. Hiding donors is an ethical issue.

The House and Senate have not been able to agree on dark money disclosure, which spelled the demise of meaningful ethics legislation generally.

Bravo to the Texas Ethics Commission for acting. Legal challenges may very well come. Texans should recognize them for what they are - advocacy that folks still be able to lurk in those political shadows.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Oct. 8, 2015.

Wright is wrong in his remarks on United Way

Ron Wright is not only wrong about United Way. The Tarrant County tax assessor-collector is also wrong to invoke the name of Adolf Hitler in disparaging the community fundraising campaign,

Wright’s choice of a hyperbolic and wildly inappropriate analogy discredits his complaint about the United Way of Tarrant County over a small amount of money that local donors intended for Planned Parenthood.

United Way has not supported Planned Parenthood since 1980, but it forwards donors’ gifts marked for that or any other outside charity.

Because United Way allows contributors to give money to any agency they choose, Wright and County Commissioner Andy Nguyen will not join in this year’s countywide $30 million charity fundraising campaign.

Wright described United Way’s forwarding of gifts to Planned Parenthood, a family planning and reproductive services agency that provides abortions, as a “stain on a very worthy organization,” and said:

“I will remind all of them that Hitler made the trains run on time.”

The Holocaust took the lives of millions of Europeans, including an estimated 6 million Jews, before and during World War II.

Nothing else is like the Holocaust or Hitler’s loaded trains of death.

The United Way sending along an average of $2,000 per year meant for the local Planned Parenthood chapter definitely is not like the Holocaust.

For many, the beauty of United Way is that donors get to choose.

Planned Parenthood is currently embroiled in a significant national controversy involving allegations that some chapters elsewhere have sold fetal tissue.

No employee has been charged with any crime.

Given the small amount of local money forwarded to Planned Parenthood, Wright’s decision seems silly.

Wright’s argument fails again when he compares the gifts to United Way forwarding donations to the Ku Klux Klan. Only 501(c)3 charities are eligible.

To be sure, Wright and Nguyen can choose any favored office charity.

Both chose specific United Way agencies, Meals on Wheels for Wright and the Salvation Army for Nguyen.

But Wright and Nguyen should not disparage a United Way campaign that supports 42 partner agencies doing so much good across Tarrant County.

Coming from a public official, Wright’s comments are not only wrong-headed but irresponsible.

All county employees may continue to choose to support United Way.

They should.

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