- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Houston Chronicle. Nov. 17, 2016.

In the words of Nobel laureate Bob Dylan’s seminal 1966 album Blonde on Blonde: “But I would not feel so all alone / Everybody must get stoned.”

He’s not feeling so alone after November’s elections.

Voters in California, Maine, Nevada and Massachusetts approved recreational marijuana initiatives. Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota also approved their own medicinal marijuana initiatives.

Once those laws go into effect, more than 20 percent of Americans will live in states or territories with legal recreational marijuana. And nearly 40 percent will live with legal medical marijuana.

The people have spoken. It is time to end the war on marijuana.

The next Congress needs to remove the drug from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate federal criminal penalties for low-level possession. President Obama should also try to pardon as many marijuana-related convicts as possible.

Marijuana is neither particularly dangerous nor deadly, and personal use doesn’t merit a trip through the expensive and unforgiving criminal justice system.

However, there should be no illusion about the real health risks that marijuana can pose. The plant is still a drug and a harmful habit. Evidence shows that marijuana can be particularly damaging to teenagers’ growing brains.

The law should reflect this reality. This means treating marijuana as a public health concern instead of a crime. The threat of jail time failed to reduce marijuana use during the past four decades. Meanwhile, a dedicated anti-smoking campaign has driven tobacco use to historic lows.

Here in Texas, legislators are already filing bills to bring our state’s laws into the marijuana majority. (Or, if you’re going by the spelling on the Texas law books, marihuana majority.)

State Rep. James White, R-Woodville, has proposed marijuana diversion courts for first-time offenders.

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, filed a bill that would replace criminal punishment for pot possession with a civil fine.

Houston’s State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., a Democrat, filed one to reclassify low-level possession as a class C misdemeanor, similar to a speeding ticket.

And State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, filed two resolutions that would put the questions of recreational and medical legalization before voters.

At least one of those referenda would likely pass a popular vote. A Texas Lyceum poll last year found that nearly half of Texans supported total legalization of recreational marijuana. Another 28.5 percent supported decriminalization.

The toughest barrier to marijuana reform, however, might be one man: Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor said during the last legislative session that he would not approve any move to legalize pot. The Texas Tribune reported that Abbott has not changed his mind during the intervening months.

Texans should encourage the governor to reconsider.

Whatever harm marijuana poses to a person’s life, arrests and jail are far more damaging.

Besides, if Bob Dylan is going to get a Nobel Prize, marijuana reform is the least Texas can do for our own genius singer-songwriter - Willie Nelson.

___

Waco Tribune-Herald. Nov. 17, 2016.

Neither Bears for Leadership Reform nor anyone else concerned should be outfoxed by initial reform ideas crafted for Baylor University’s embattled Board of Regents.

While we’re glad some regents are earnestly discussing useful ways to improve board transparency and accountability in the wake of a sexual-assault scandal that has tarnished administrators, coaches, players and especially regents, no one should assume mere publishing of board minutes and agendas will halt protest, including some very angry and vocal donors.

One reason public uproar over Baylor’s mishandling of sexual-assault allegations has continued for more than a year is because regents’ secrecy has created an increasingly isolated echo chamber of governance. Whether the topic involves the firings of Baylor President Ken Starr and head football coach Art Briles last May; October’s stinging departure of Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford, who was supposed to lead the charge to correct these matters; or multiplying allegations of more rapes and more assaults, regents contributed to it all through erratic accountability.

In an interview with the Trib, regent chairman Ron Murff said internal conversations between the board’s executive committee and governance committee produced the decision to post agendas and minutes starting next year. Only catch: The university already issues press statements summarizing action by regents (or at least what they choose to publicize after their closed-door meetings).

To us, it sounds as if the board will be taking those press releases, stamping “Minutes” on them and claiming “transparency.”

Murff last month told the Trib that open regent meetings or partially open meetings are “a little more difficult to do” because of Baylor’s private-university status and best-practice interpretations.

Huh?

Actually, there’s nothing difficult about it, given that public universities and other public entities do it all the time, understandably retreating into privacy when legal or personnel issues are discussed. Just imagine how the light of transparency, accountability and informed and open discourse might have reversed the very dark narrative now regularly spun about Baylor.

As Bears for Leadership Reform leader and significant Baylor donor John Eddie Williams noted in so many words for a Trib Q&A;, we don’t believe regents are malevolent gnomes hiding in darkness, craftily rubbing their hands together as they engage in deceit and skullduggery. But there’s absolutely no doubt their current strategy has only allowed lawsuits and new controversies to spawn and spread, largely unimpeded.

At the very least, regents should be confident enough to regularly meet with the press and public after meetings to better explain their actions. And right now they have much to explain.

___

The Dallas Morning News. Nov. 28, 2016

True to his word, Fidel Castro outlasted his allies and foes.

Castro, who died Nov. 25 at age 90, was the last of the world’s bigger-than-life Cold War leaders, which in the 1960s included John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong. Even decades later as the Soviet Union crumbled, Castro, a familiar figure in his long beard and military fatigues, continued to rule as if it were 1962.

History will record Castro’s reign both as a product of Cold War times and an abject failure for his unwillingness to move beyond communist rhetoric and improve the well-being of Cubans. Today, the island nation is no better off than when Castro seized power.

That is Castro’s legacy, a liberator-turned-dictator who dispatched dissent brutally and ruled for his own survival. He escaped numerous coup attempts, including the failed CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. Along the way, he fomented revolution throughout Latin America and Africa. Castro’s Cuba was ground zero for the missile crisis that nearly brought the world to nuclear war.

The most notable challenge to Castro’s authority came from Pope John Paul II, who during a visit to Cuba in the late 1990s, challenged the fundamental tenets of communism and forced Castro to ease some religious bans.

But that was about as much as Castro ever wavered. While the world changed, Castro continued to play the part of the revolutionary leader, even when that role had grown old, stale and unproductive. And the United States, just 90 miles away, conveniently provided the foil for his charade.

In his lifetime, the Berlin Wall crumbled. The Soviet Union broke apart, and independent nations budded from some of its former parts. China, a Cold War enemy of the United States, is now a valued U.S. trading partner, as is Vietnam, a land where tens of thousands of Americans died in an unpopular war. But through most of Castro’s reign, U.S.-Cuba relations barely evolved, from either shore.

In the last few years of Castro’s life, he witnessed U.S.-Cuban relations beginning to improve. Castro had turned over much of his power to his younger brother Raúl, now 85, and formally resigned as president after a serious illness in 2006. Then the Obama administration began to ease trade, travel and financial restrictions that had been in place for decades. Earlier this year, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in more than 85 years.

Castro is gone. New diplomatic and financial opportunities now exist for Cuba and the United States as new generations try to move beyond Castro’s ugly authoritarian rule. The challenge for both sides is to not make the mistake of turning back the clock.

___

Tyler Morning Telegraph. Nov. 29, 2016.

Donald Trump’s tweets are often more about reaction that practical policy, but one of his latest deserves special scrutiny. Responding to reports of flags being burned in protests around the country, Trump said those who do so should be put in jail - or kicked out of the country, with their citizenship revoked.

He’s wrong.

The First Amendment covers even speech we don’t like. Burning the American flag is repugnant, but imagine if progressives had the power to outlaw speech they found objectionable.

Trump tweeted, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Here’s why he’s wrong. It was just 26 years ago that the U.S. Supreme Court declared flag burning to be protected political speech.

The United States v. Eichman was decided on June 11, 1990.

“While flag desecration - like virulent ethnic and religious epithets, vulgar repudiations of the draft, and scurrilous caricatures - is deeply offensive to many, the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,” the Supreme Court held.

Why is this so important? The freedom of expression is under threat today, from those who would silence speech they find offensive or disagreeable. The threat comes from college students who demand “safe spaces” free of any dissenting views, and from radical Islamists who feel that cartoons of their prophet are justification for murder.

There’s also a movement to ban so-called hate speech - or find an exception for it in the Constitution.

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, for example, claimed last year on Twitter that “hate speech is excluded from (constitutional) protection.”

But it’s not.

“There is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment,” writes UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh in the Washington Post. “Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn Islam - or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal aliens, or native-born citizens - as one is to condemn capitalism or Socialism or Democrats or Republicans.”

That freedom is fundamental to our democracy. It’s too easy to label dissent as hate speech, and thereby silence the opposition. That’s why the Supreme Court was right to uphold flag burning.

A court that banned flag burning would be fully capable of someday cracking down on the Bible, for example, under the guise of penalizing “hate speech.”

The flag itself stands as a symbol against such nonsense - even if it’s alight.

Of course, we’ve all learned not to take Trump’s tweets too seriously; he has a habit of reversing himself in a few days (or even in a few minutes). Still, the First Amendment must be defended.

___

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Nov. 30, 2016.

Apparently Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t want to make the same mistake Mexico made in welcoming immigrants to Texas. He has made it clear in recent statements and tweets that he does not want Texas to be their sanctuary.

He could have saved Texas from the likes of Sam Houston. Houston was an immigrant from Tennessee - an illegal one who eluded Mexico’s detection and who turned out to be an insurgent.

Lucky for Houston and for Texas from a U.S. perspective, he arrived about 180 years before “sanctuary city” became such a loaded term - and before desperate Middle Eastern refugees fleeing violence in places like Syria became a wedge issue for politicians like Abbott and our own U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

Abbott has pledged to do away with sanctuary cities in Texas. Farenthold jumped in, issuing the following statement last month:

“I’m glad to see Governor Abbott’s commitment to the safety of Texans. Sanctuary cities endanger American lives by adopting policies that defy federal law and allow criminal illegal immigrants to roam free. I think we can all agree that someone who commits crimes, like rape and murder, should not be freely walking the streets. I have voted for, and will continue to support, federal legislation to defund sanctuary cities.”

OK, let’s parse.

First, no city, sanctuary or otherwise, knowingly allows rapists and murderers to roam free.

Second, immigrants, documented or otherwise, are statistically less likely to be rapists and murderers. Being a sanctuary city does not increase the odds of being raped or murdered in that city. But we all can agree with Farenthold that someone who commits crimes, like rape and murder, should not be walking the streets. We might encounter disagreements on what Farenthold’s statement accomplished, but all can agree that one thing it didn’t accomplish was the widening and deepening of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.

Abbott told Fox News with no lack of Texas pride that he has cut off funding to sanctuary cities and counties. And, as The Dallas Morning News pointed out, his tough talk has been about as effective in ending sanctuary cities as Farenthold’s in dredging the channel. The Dallas Morning News confirmed that Abbott, despite his tough talk, has not actually cut off any funding. That may have something to do with there being no actual sanctuary cities in Texas.

Austin has declared itself immigrant-friendly. But that doesn’t meet the definition of sanctuary city. No city or county officially, deliberately impedes immigration authorities from doing their work.

There was that heavily reported misunderstanding between Abbott and Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. Abbott overreacted to her announcement that the sheriff’s department would quit holding immigrants 48 hours beyond their release date for minor offenses. It turned out that her policy conformed to federal immigration officials’ policy. She clarified her policy to Abbott - without changing it. And he maintains the position that he showed her a thing or two.

Abbott also tweeted about the Ohio State incident, in which the attacker turned out to be a Syrian immigrant: “This is why I removed Texas from the Refugee Relocation Process. I will not be an accomplice to importing terrorists.”

Right. If absolutely no one from Syria were allowed in, that would guarantee that no Syrian terrorists would be allowed in.

It also would ban all innocent refugees fleeing oppression. By the way, Abbott’s refugee policy doesn’t actually stop Syrian immigration to Texas. It just guarantees that he won’t be an accomplice to saving Syrian refugees from oppression.

While Abbott hasn’t actually denied funds to sanctuary cities or been able to stop Syrians from coming, he has established Texas to be officially not to be immigrant-friendly. And that can’t help Texas. Like president-elect Donald Trump might say, some Syrian immigrants are good people.

Being a good Catholic is a big part of Abbott’s political identity. Catholicism reveres the role of providing sanctuary. Abbott at the very least should stop playing hate-thy-neighbor politics with it.


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