- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Dallas Morning News. March 31, 2016.

Wacky worldviews and partisans who stand by them

Just when it appeared the State Board of Education was turning over a new leaf, with Republicans such as Thomas Ratliff working to rein in polemicists whose views made Texas the butt of many jokes on late-night TV, along comes Mary Lou Bruner.

If you’ve heard her name, it probably was attached to her ridiculous assertion that President Obama once supported a drug habit by working as a gay male prostitute. Or that dinosaurs rode aboard Noah’s Ark.

Oh, it gets better.

Or worse, we should say, because Bruner hasn’t backed away from her fringe rhetoric, although she’s deleted the disturbing posts from her Facebook page.

Bruner, 69, hasn’t been elected yet to the board that sets curriculum standards and approves textbooks for more than 5.2 million schoolchildren, and that’s a good thing. But the retired public school teacher is in a May 24 primary runoff to replace Ratliff, who decided six years on the board was enough.

Remarkably, Bruner was the top vote-getter in District 9, which includes much of East Texas and touches on the Dallas-Fort Worth area counties of Rockway and Kaufman. She captured 48 percent of the 220,000 ballots cast in the 31 counties and will face Lufkin chiropractor Keven M. Ellis, 44, president of the Lufkin ISD school board.

Most GOP leaders in Texas have refused to repudiate Bruner, and we can’t understand why, especially given how such timidity toward fringe characters has worked in the presidential race.

Instead, many party operatives dismiss Bruner’s extremist views - for example, global warming is a “government hoax”; the Democratic Party “had JFK killed because the socialists and Communists in the party did not want a conservative president”; the United Nations plans to depopulate the earth by two-thirds; we could go on - as merely the musings of a social media misfit.

“At the end of the day, is Mary Lou a wacko extremist? No,” Tammy Blair, chairwoman of the Republican Party in Cherokee County, recently told The New York Times. “She’s a nice older lady who doesn’t understand social media and the impact that it can have. I’m still going to vote for Mary Lou, and I’m going to encourage people to do the same.”

That’s some woefully misguided thinking.

That a candidate for any office would espouse such madcap musings is perplexing enough. That any official would stand by such a candidate is even more confounding. Add another unhappy dynamic to the list of problems with America’s political process.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times. March 30, 2016.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s endorsement of Ted Cruz could have been seen coming. But former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s endorsement of Cruz, who all but ended Dewhurst’s political career? That’s an entirely other matter. And it speaks volumes about the curious state of affairs the Republican presidential primary has become.

Dewhurst’s 2012 Senate campaign drowned in an avalanche of mud slung by Cruz. And it’s not as if Dewhurst has forgotten: “I was mainly talking about moving the ship of state forward by sticking with my conservative principles and values,” he told the Texas Tribune, “and Ted ran an effective campaign by attacking me saying that I was a moderate, in support of a state income tax, while neither statement was true. But that was the campaign.”

Yes, that was that campaign. In this campaign, Donald Trump has nicknamed Cruz “Lyin’ Ted,” which Dewhurst of all people should appreciate.

One of the qualities we liked about Dewhurst when we endorsed him in 2012 was trustworthiness - that and being a military veteran and self-made private-sector success. Those are true-conservative bona fides compared to Cruz, a former government employee with no military service who campaigned on false accusations.

We’re disappointed that Dewhurst didn’t take a harder line on honesty in deciding whom to endorse. We understand his opposition to Trump but there still is another Republican alternative, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whom we endorsed in the Texas primary and whose veracity is not an issue.

Kasich is, like Dewhurst, a so-called establishment candidate whose apparent transgression is having gotten things done via what for Republican voters has become the longest four-letter word in the English language - compromise. It’s a foul word except when Trump re-brands it as the art of the deal.

Kasich from Dewhurst’s perspective should be like looking into a mirror and liking what he sees. But Kasich isn’t a Texan and Dewhurst told the Tribune he wanted to be loyal to Texas. So he chose Canadian-born Cruz.

Dewhurst even acknowledged to the Tribune that “the polls show today that Hillary Clinton beats both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.” Cruz’s saving grace other than being a true conservative, according to Dewhurst, is that he’s a much more disciplined campaigner than Trump - “and I should know of what I speak.”

We reiterate: Kasich!

The former lieutenant governor’s endorsement starts to make sense when one of the crucial issues of the campaign is considered - the attractiveness of the candidate’s wife. Unflattering Trump-tweeted photos notwithstanding, Dewhurst has seen Heidi Cruz up close and un-airbrushed. He has gotten to know her in the aftermath of her husband’s scorched-earth campaign against him, according to the Tribune. Making Dewhurst set aside what Ted Cruz did to him in 2012 - that’s getting into launching-of-a-thousand-ships territory.

He shared this little nugget with the Tribune from lunch chitchat with Heidi Cruz earlier this year: “I remember telling her, ‘Heidi, I’m 100 percent on board with Cruz for President.’ Pause. ‘Heidi Cruz for President.’”

Dawwwg!

We will keep reiterating what we have iterated as long as the Kasich campaign continues: The Republicans have an alternative unless they like tragicomedy. Unlike Trump, Kasich understands how government works and has operated it successfully, and unlike Cruz, he never has tried to destroy ours. But trying to talk sense into the Republican Party right now is like talking to a wall that keeps getting higher.

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Houston Chronicle. March 24, 2016.

Border wall reality: A wall stretching from the Gulf to the Pacific would destroy more than it would protect.

Almost as infuriating as Donald Trump’s macho blathering about building a gigantic wall along our border with Mexico is the mindless assent the other two Republican presidential aspirants give to the notion. “Of course, we have to have a border wall,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich said during a recent debate, as if the magnificent U.S.-Mexico borderlands were a flat, featureless tabletop, and dividing the interconnected borderlands would be no more trouble, expense or environmental disruption than setting up a net across a Ping Pong table.

Apparently neither Kasich nor his fellow candidate - a Texan who should know better - has any notion of the spectacular landscape along both sides of the border - in the Big Bend area, for example, or the seamless flow of nature back and forth across the banks of the Rio Grande from Boca Chica to El Paso or the vast desert ecosystem along the border through New Mexico, Arizona and California. The border-wall enthusiasm of the would-be presidents suggests ignorance of the vast region and contempt for all that lives there (plants, animals and people).

Certainly, nations have a right to protect their borders, but a seamless wall stretching from the Gulf to the Pacific, nearly 2,000 miles, would destroy much more than it would protect.

Portions of the border wall built in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the most bio-diverse regions in North America, already are having a negative environmental impact. They’re fragmenting endangered species, including bobcats, jaguarundi, the 50 or so ocelots remaining in the U.S. and the pygmy owl, as well as white-tailed deer and javelina.

“The fence is the very definition of habitat fragmentation, the very definition of what inhibits free movement of wildlife within its natural habitat,” Laura Huffman, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Texas office, told Newsweek recently.

The Sierra Club has pointed out that existing portions of the wall have dammed washes and have caused floods, severe erosion and habitat loss in Arizona. In southwest New Mexico, northern Mexico and central Arizona, mule deer, puma, black bears, bighorn sheep and jaguar are being adversely affected.

A wall along the Rio Grande as it snakes through the rugged Big Bend region would be just as devastating, if not more so. Big Bend on this side of the river and the equally wild and spectacular Maderas del Carmen desert mountain region on the other side are home to 446 species of birds, 3,600 species of insects, more than 1,300 plants and 75 species of mammals. A multibillion-dollar wall through Big Bend, even if it could be built, would devastate one of the world’s last unspoiled regions. Ecosystems and endangered species aren’t the only ones paying a price for such an extravagant boondoggle. So is the American taxpayer (at a time, by the way, when net immigration from Mexico is zero). The New York Times has estimated the cost of building Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” as $16 million per mile for a total of about $20 billion. That may be chump change for a big spender like Trump, but it better fits the definition of his latest catch phrase: “waste, fraud and abuse.”

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San Antonio Express-News. April 1, 2016.

There is freedom from religion, too

The Georgia governor was correct in vetoing a law that opponents saw as license for those claiming religious beliefs to discriminate.

The veto and what prompted it - significantly, opposition to the legislation by the business community - should be an object lesson for the Texas Senate. It is signaling that it will consider similar bills.

And the problem here, there and everywhere in the United States is that there really isn’t any assault occurring on religious freedoms, the alleged motivations for such laws.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has tasked the Senate State Affairs Committee with studying whether religious liberties are being infringed upon by local, state and federal law. In February, the committee held a hearing and appeared to be aiming for a piecemeal approach that might include protecting opponents of same-sex marriage.

If such measures amount to a license to discriminate - in commerce, adoptions and in hiring, for instance - they shouldn’t be considered.

But let’s be clear about the goal of such measures. It is to unsettle what was clearly settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in its historic ruling in June that made bans on gay marriages unconstitutional.

Texas’ Religious Freedom and Restoration Act and the First Amendment offer substantial protections for people to exercise their religion as they see fit. But the RFRA is also clear that it cannot be used to disregard civil rights protections. And the First Amendment also means religion cannot be imposed by government on others. Laws enacted by the government to allow discrimination would allow just that - license for the imposition of religious beliefs on others.

In Georgia, business pressure was key to Gov. Nathan Deal vetoing the Free Exercise Protection Act approved by that state’s House and Senate less than two weeks before.

North Carolina’s Gov. Pat McCrory is experiencing the same kind of pressure after he signed a law March 23 that eliminates anti-discrimination protections for all lesbians, gays and bisexuals, and bars transgender people from using public bathrooms that do not match the gender they were born with.

The Human Rights Campaign tracks major businesses and scores them on what the group calls its Corporate Equality Index. Of the 789 major employers it tracks in Texas, 51 have domestic partner benefits. These businesses know that their employees are affected when states pass laws that open the door to discrimination.

But business pressure aside, the Texas Senate should shy from such laws for the simple reason that many of their constituents could also be affected. Last we looked, gay Texans are also entitled to representation.

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The Brownsville Herald. March 30, 2016.

Seeking Security

The terrorist attacks in Belgium that occurred as U.S. President Barack Obama was in Cuba underscore the value of restoring relations with our Caribbean neighbor.

Bombings at the Brussels airport and a city subway station left at least 35 dead and nearly 300 injured. Terrorist group ISIS claimed responsibility, and the attacks show the group is expanding its reach.

While much of the attention following recent U.S. overtures toward Cuba has been focused on political thaws and economic opportunities - opportunities for which the Rio Grande Valley might be uniquely positioned - we can’t ignore another major benefit of maintaining friendly relations with all our neighbors.

It would be naive to think that ISIS won’t try another attack against the United States. And it would be unconscionable to allow ISIS or any terrorist group to use Cuba as a staging area for such an attack simply because U.S. leaders refused to abandon Cold War policies that have been obsolete for more than a quarter century.

U.S.-Cuban tensions grew from Fidel Castro’s capture of the island in 1959 and subsequent alignment with the Soviet Empire. That empire dissolved in 1990. And although current Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be trying to rebuild the old union, for now he is focused on his immediate neighbors in eastern Europe and Asia and is ignoring Cuba. Castro and his brother Raul, Cuba’s current president, might still be in power, but they have no communist power behind them.

That makes this an opportune time to work toward turning Cuba from a foe into an ally.

Obama did the right thing when he announced in late 2014 plans to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba. U.S. officials already have visited the country, as have Texas and Rio Grande Valley officials and business leaders.

In a joint news conference with Raul Castro in Havana, Obama said U.S. airlines and cruise ships should begin landing in Cuba this year.

To be sure, restoring full relations will take time. As Obama said in the news conference, “We have a half a century of work to catch up on. … The relationship between our governments will not be transformed overnight.” That includes differences over Cuba’s respect for human rights.

Indeed, rights advocates have expressed new concerns over the country’s treatment of its citizens. Announcement of renewed relations prompted increased anti-government demonstrations in Cuba, which has drawn new crackdowns on dissent. Amnesty International reports that political detentions in Cuba have increased significantly in the past year.

However, an increased U.S. presence in Cuba should make it more difficult for enemies of the United States to escape detection there. And greater cooperation should help foster greater security not only for our two countries, but for all the Western Hemisphere.

We hope Congress members will come to see the benefits of improved relations, and work with the White House to reduce tensions and help improve our overall security in the process.


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