- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Sept. 18, 2015.

Stop making demands, and avoid having a government shutdown

We get tired of hearing the word “demanded” when people in Washington aren’t cooperating. It seems like legislators, administration officials, political candidates and others in Washington make too many demands of other people.

It’s not that we quarrel with the usage of the word. “Demanded” actually is a pretty accurate way to describe some of the blustering that goes on.

The reason we are so weary of the word is that it’s so disappointing to repeatedly see the dysfunctional way political opponents interact with each other.

The possibility of a partial government shutdown on Oct. 1 looms as a case in point. A group of conservatives is demanding cutting off federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Their approval of legislation funding federal agencies could be at stake.

Making demands and issuing threats about consequences if the demands aren’t met is no way for leaders to operate. It sounds more like schoolyard bullying than conducting the business of government.

The same thing happened two years ago when a Republican group of legislators took aim at the Affordable Care Act. They didn’t get what they wanted, and a partial shutdown of government occurred.

The administration retaliated by such things as shutting down national parks. The intention appeared to be to hurt Americans as much as possible and make them angry at Republicans.

The height of absurdity during that 2013 conflict was closing down the World War II monument, which is open 24/7 with no guides or staffers present.

Because there is no gate or enclosure, the National Park Service had to bring in barricades to block access to the monument. Even more outrageous, they brought seven workers - who were exempted from the furloughs given National Parks Service employees - to make sure people were kept from the monument.

A Washington Times story quoted an anonymous and angry Park Service ranger in Washington: “It’s a cheap way to deal with the situation. We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.”

The two political sides were trying to further their own agendas and make their opponents look bad rather than to represent their constituents. It went on for 16 days.

Most Americans didn’t want that type of maneuvering then, and they don’t want it now.

If a debate about Planned Parenthood or Obamacare or anything else is needed, the House and Senate need to have it at the proper time and place - and definitely not tied to a demand or threat.

Regarding legislation to fund government agencies, lawmakers need to pass it and keep the government operating. And don’t wait until the last moment on Sept. 30.

If legislators can’t pretend they are willing to work with political opponents, they at least need to act in the best interests of those who put them in office. And that means keeping the country operating.


San Antonio Express-News. Sept. 28, 2015.

Who, what comes after Boehner?

House Speaker John Boehner, who announced to House members last week that he is stepping down from his leadership post, will leave a mixed legacy. He presided over a divided GOP caucus whose far right, absolutist faction he, in turn, enabled and thwarted.

There was that 16-day government shutdown in 2013 that showed him and his House caucus at their worst. There was failure to bring to the House floor needed immigration reform that won bipartisan Senate support. And there was a seeming desire to oppose anything President Barack Obama favored, no hint of compromise even remotely possible.

Boehner was buffeted by the same hard right, conservative winds tossing the GOP presidential candidates to and fro - taking him some distance from his pre-speaker reputation as an institutionalist interested in governing.

But there were also shining moments when he stopped or ended government shutdowns and gained other modest wins. But how he achieved these likely tell the story of the forces prompting his resignation. He did it with the votes of Democrats. And there was a slight possibility that, with another challenge to his leadership from the far right percolating, he would have required those same Democratic votes to retain his post. He likely found the prospects for this theme continuing unpalatable.

Our reaction to his resignation is as mixed as his legacy. We feel regret and dread - regret that he won’t be there to save the House GOP caucus from itself and dread of what - and who - comes after.

His likely successor is said to be House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who is viewed more favorably by the tea party faction of the caucus. We simply don’t know whether he will completely fold to the far right or be flexible enough to work with Democrats to actually achieve meaningful legislation. And if McCarthy is successfully challenged for the position, we doubly fear what comes next.

It seems his resignation will make unlikely a government shutdown this week - over Planned Parenthood funding. The Senate and then the House will vote on a temporary spending bill to fund government through Dec. 11, when another shutdown threat looms. This is not effective governance.

Some are saying that the address to Congress by Pope Francis on last week - an event long sought by Boehner, a Catholic - provided some of the inspiration for the speaker’s surprise announcement.

The pope touched on many topics but also pleaded for cooperation in Congress for the common good.

It was good advice. And it will be good advice for whoever follows Boehner.


The Dallas Morning News. Sept. 24, 2015.

Execution of mentally ill man serves no greater good

Any reasonable debate over the value and efficacy of the death penalty must eventually return to the greater good.

Those who support the continued application of capital punishment believe a greater good is served by putting to death the worst of the worst, those whose criminal acts forever brand them as evil beyond redemption.

And while recognizing that moral argument, this newspaper disagrees that any greater good can result from a penalty of such irrevocable finality so inconsistently applied.

When the life in question is a schizophrenic who demanded to represent himself at trial dressed as a TV cowboy and sought to subpoena the pope, John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ, where is the point of contention?

Scott Panetti has struggled with mental illness for four decades. In the six years before he shot his estranged wife’s parents, Joe and Amanda Alvarado, in Fredericksburg, he was hospitalized more than a dozen times, diagnosed with schizophrenia, delusions and hallucinations. On one occasion, he became convinced the devil had possessed his home and buried his furniture in the back yard. Today he believes that prison guards have implanted a listening device in one of his teeth.

If the state of Texas puts him to death, as a jury ruled in 1995, he will take his last breath believing it was the end of a plot to silence his allegations of prison corruption and attempts to preach the gospel.

Panetti is caught in a fatal Catch-22: He has no money to hire an expert to evaluate his condition, yet the state argues that courts already have rejected his claims and that he’s not entitled to funding because he cannot show that he’s too mentally ill to face execution.

He hasn’t been evaluated by a mental health professional in nearly seven years. A neuropsychologist who reviewed his records pro bono at his lawyers’ request concluded that his condition was worsening, exacerbated by age and the stress of living under a death sentence.

In what could be his last hope, a panel of 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals justices heard testimony this week and will decide whether to grant his lawyers access to funding that could prove his incompetence.

So we’re back to that fundamental question: What greater good is served by putting Scott Panetti to death?

This newspaper finds common ground with Richard A. Viguerie, speaking for a group of national conservative thought leaders, and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Tom Price, who dissented from his Republican colleagues on allowing Panetti’s execution to go forward.

Because no matter where you come down on capital punishment, the evidence in this case is clear: Carrying out this sentence, especially in the absence of a complete and timely mental health evaluation, serves neither deterrence nor retribution. It only diminishes us as a state, as a nation and as a people.

There’s no greater good in this. No good at all.


Houston Chronicle. Sept. 21, 2015.

Smoke signals on the horizon: Legal pot in Texas is inevitable

Early in September, the University of Michigan released the findings of a series of national surveys of U.S. college students showing daily marijuana use among the nation’s college students is on the rise, surpassing daily cigarette smoking for the first time in 2014. The surveys, part of the university’s “Monitoring the Future” study, shows that marijuana use has been growing slowly on the nation’s campuses since 2006.

The survey results mirror relaxed public views about the drug. According to a Pew Research Center survey in March, a slim majority of Americans say marijuana should be made legal, and about 7 in 10 Americans believe alcohol is more harmful to a person’s health than marijuana.

“It’s clear that for the past seven or eight years there has been an increase in marijuana use among the nation’s college students,” said Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the University of Michigan study. “And this largely parallels an increase we have been seeing among high school seniors.”

The findings come amid the steady march toward decriminalization - some call it regulation - of marijuana. Consider the following:

The Texas Legislature introduced a record number of marijuana-related bills seeking to improve marijuana laws. Eventually, Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation to allow Texans who suffer from seizures and other patients to treat their conditions with oil derived from marijuana.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson last year launched a pilot program for first-time, small-possession marijuana offenders so they can avoid the risk of a criminal record.

Even Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, in a radio interview last year, described the so-called war on drugs as “a miserable failure,” saying we cannot continue to criminalize a large population of society that engages in casual marijuana use.

And, as the Pew Center points out: Four states - Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska - and the District of Columbia have passed measures to legalize marijuana use, while an additional 14 states have decriminalized.

With the inevitable in view, educating youth needs to be priority No. 1, and we need to be honest about the effect of marijuana usage, just as we have in the public health campaigns against smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol.

Teens and young adults like those college students the Michigan university survey spoke about need to know that marijuana compromises judgment and skills required for safe driving, no less so than alcohol-fueled impairment. The message that cannot be repeated enough, and public service announcement much like the shock PSAs to deter smoking, drinking and texting while driving would be in order. It’s not too early to raise the red flags.


The (Brazoria County) Facts. Sept. 24, 2015.

Rita evacuation taught us all lessons

Ten years ago this week, much of the state was in gridlock. Hurricane Rita was churning in the Gulf of Mexico and much of Brazoria County was stuck on roadways, gas tanks low and patience long gone.

With the devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans fresh on our minds, families took the threat of Rita seriously, and they evacuated in record numbers. With infrastructure lacking and state planning woefully deficient, the result was a catastrophe worse for those who were evacuated from the actual storm.

City governments and county governments in Harris, Brazoria, Galveston, Fort Bend and Matagorda counties did not coordinate the way they should have, worsening the gridlock.

Where were you 10 years ago? And how has your family’s personal evacuation plan changed since then?

If you’re like us at The Facts, the Rita experience changed you and helped refine your evacuation plan. It was an experience that, while horrible, could have been much worse had Rita made a direct hit on this area, instead of tracking north toward Beaumont.

Beyond the personal change, though, was a systematic change in the way the state and municipal governments handle large-scale evacuations.

Rita spawned dialogue, planning and road construction that continues today.

We saw the fruits of some of that planning in the Hurricane Ike evacuation.

While it was still difficult to move massive amounts of people in a short timeframe, the Ike evacuation was much smoother. Officials coordinated efforts and called evacuations in stages, with those in coastal cities facing danger from storm surge given priority. Gas stops were set up along major highway and contraflow lanes were instituted much sooner.

The change spawned by Rita continues today, with large-scale road projects planned locally, including on State Highway 36, green-lighted with hurricane evacuation a factor.

Because of that horrible time 10 years ago, we are safer today, but only if we have the sense to get out of harm’s way when necessary.

We won’t forget Hurricane Rita, for the havoc she wrought or the lessons she taught us.

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