- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The (Brazoria County) Facts. July 3, 2016.

Reconciliation at heart of our country

When we think of our nation’s birthday, which we are celebrating this weekend, we naturally think of our freedoms the Founding Fathers boldly declared on July 4, 1776.

After its historic passage, in what might serve as the greatest thread to how we celebrate it, they went and had a beer.

While many in modern politics now twist the words to their aims, comparing the tyranny of George III to those who occupy the White House, governor’s mansions and other seats of power, we take for granted the necessary sacrifices that followed the posting of the famous phrases in the Declaration of Independence.

We also ignore several key ones - all men being created equal perhaps chiefly among them.

Overlooked as well is that after all of the major conflicts involving our country, both internal and with other countries, the United States and its people have been known for their powers of forgiveness and willingness to reconcile.

That cornerstone or our national psyche - and most religions to which Americans adhere - is at its most vulnerable point in most of our lifetimes. Our current unwillingness to embrace or even accept those with whom we have disagreements is something we pause to think about between bites of hot dog.

After the British surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, in October 1781, the Patriots - a rather unforgiving group leading up to and during the war - allowed some 80,000 British loyalists to leave the country. The wealthiest would return to England, while the majority resettled in Canada.

Confederate soldiers after the Civil War were allowed to return home and even keep their weapons. All were pardoned.

The Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe after World War II, and we now are trading partners with Vietnam. The civil rights movement brought integration or schools and acceptance of mixed-race marriages.

It is safe to say when American blood is shed, America emerges stronger than before.

We are at another turning point in our nation’s history. Many of the grievances sent across the Atlantic to the British monarchy almost two and a half centuries ago could be repeated now. We are ruled by a distant, out-of-touch government that has little care for the common person.

Just as our brave forefathers, it is in our hands to decide the destiny of our country. We can accomplish this not through war but, in large measure, simply by choosing to provide our consent.

That means we must pay attention to those who purport to lead us and choose through wisdom and not emotion.

Let us understand this guidance from the Declaration: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

We remain a great country not because of our might but because of our people who dwell in hope and internal strength of character. We are a free people who can choose to love, hate or tolerate anyone we wish.

For the benefit of our country and the world, we choose acceptance and peace above all else. It is one of the foundations of our greatness, and one we must not allow to crumble under the strains of those who choose otherwise.

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Houston Chronicle. July 1, 2016.

Misdirected zeal: Improving the lives of all Texans would be a worthy goal for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Texans are fortunate that the Lone Star State is so wealthy and so well-governed that it can indulge a lieutenant governor more interested in pursuing a quixotic ideological crusade than in responding to the needs of its 27 million people.

We speak, of course, of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick - and we speak in jest. His response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down some of the most restrictive abortion regulations in the nation is merely the latest example of his misdirected zeal. It’s another example of his blinkered approach to wielding power and shaping public policy while occupying what is arguably the most influential elective office in Texas.

The lieutenant governor - as well as Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton - was unmoved by the court’s 5-3 ruling that, in essence, called his bluff. He and his Republican cohorts always have asserted that House Bill 2, the anti-abortion legislation the court struck down, was designed solely to protect the health of Texas women, an assertion laughable on its face.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, saw through the subterfuge. “We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence,” he wrote, that showed requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals advanced any “legitimate interest in protecting women’s health.” The court also found no legitimate medical reason for requiring clinics to meet surgical standards, a requirement that cut in half the number of clinics that were operating in the state before the legislation became law.

Despite the court ruling, Patrick insists he will continue his crusade. He wrote on Facebook “that the Texas Senate will continue to work to protect women’s health in the next legislative session.” State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Bedford Republican even more extreme than Patrick, vowed an “absolute onslaught of pro-life legislation.”

Patrick’s stubborn resistance to the Supreme Court comes a few weeks after he suggested that the Legislature might jump into the battle against guidelines in Texas that allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. “The fight is just beginning,” he proclaimed last month, apparently eager for a Texas version of the anti-transgender law that North Carolina passed, legislation that has cost the Tarheel State dearly.

Surely the lieutenant governor can find better things to do with his time and with the powers of his office. Although he hasn’t asked, we would suggest all manner of worthy government initiatives that would qualify for the “pro-life” label, initiatives designed to protect and nurture the whole child, not just the fetus. A few examples:

Texans and their lawmakers tolerate 1 in 4 children living in poverty, with poverty rates for Latino and black children nearly three times higher than they are for white and Asian children. Raising the minimum wage, developing our workforce and reducing the cost of higher education would take some of the pressure off struggling families.

Although we’ve made progress under the Affordable Care Act, we still have 5 million Texans without health insurance, the highest number and percentage of uninsured in the country. That means that parents can’t get checkups their children need, can’t take them to doctors unless it’s an absolute emergency. Patrick and his pals still stubbornly refuse to accept Medicaid expansion, which would make a tremendous difference for thousands of Texans.

We tolerate a school finance system that does not invest enough to ensure that all our children get the quality education they need.

The Texas foster-care system, with about 30,000 children in homes and institutional settings, is “broken and has been that way for decades,” a U.S. district judge ruled in December. Many of those children “almost uniformly leave state custody more damaged than when they entered,” the judge said. She has ordered an independent overhaul of the system, but Texas continues to fight her.

The list of things that could occupy Patrick’s time, energy and intelligence could be much longer. We haven’t even mentioned transportation and infrastructure needs; the protection of our air, land and water; tax reform and dozens of other state concerns that would keep Patrick off the transgender trail and out of the lives of women.

Engaging the real issues, though, the issues that affect the vast majority of Texans, requires hard work, good-faith negotiation and a willingness to compromise - qualities that may be beyond the reach of the true believer who occupies the lieutenant governor’s office.

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Waco Tribune-Herald. July 3, 2016.

Cherished concept of liberty doesn’t mean you get your way all the time

Independence Day 2016 arrives at a remarkable time in our history. A little more than a week ago, the people of our cherished, longtime ally, the United Kingdom, voted to leave the European Union, triggering financial panic, political confusion and possible breakup of the kingdom itself. While the holiday tomorrow marks our exit from Great Britain 240 years ago, we wish its people the best in their time of national anxiety.

Not too surprisingly, Brexit has encouraged Texas’ undaunted secessionist movement to press the idea of “Texit.” If Gov. Greg Abbott’s Facebook page is any indication, some secessionists suggest the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-3 opinion striking down two key aspects of Texas legislators’ 2013 law regarding abortion clinics is clear justification for Texas once again leaving the union. Hogwash.

Independence Day champions liberty and equality, but it’s important to remember such concepts are but one-half of American exceptionalism. The other half is the 1787 Constitution, a sort of owner’s manual for how citizens, freed of monarchs reigning by divine right, can govern themselves without liberty running riot and heaping anarchy across our land.

Americans have always differed vigorously with one another. We as individuals sometimes celebrate the votes of our federal and state legislatures. We sometimes concur with the nation’s highest court and its meticulously researched opinions. We even sometimes welcome strong actions by our chief executives in the White House - so long as a decision is one we personally endorse.

But as Americans who pledge allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands (or, at least, those of us who actually take that pledge seriously), we must forsake any idea of tossing out the republic and our founding principles when congressional votes, court opinions or executive actions don’t go our own way. You can live to fight another day for your candidate or issue. But skulking off in a secessionist funk or mounting a lawless action is contrary to our constitutional principles.

Last month our state leaders celebrated mightily the Supreme Court’s ruling that President Obama had indeed exceeded his constitutional authority in suspending federal deportations of a certain class of illegal immigrants. Given similar actions by Republican presidents, we disagree with this opinion (which runs no more than a sentence, given that it was a split decision) but nonetheless we recognize all must now abide by it. This is our constitutional system.

Last week the same court negated two dubious provisions of the Texas Legislature’s otherwise reasonable ban on abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation. State officials quit celebrating the immigration ruling and erupted in almighty indignation, vowing to defy the court in the 2017 legislative session. Secessionists cited the opinion as grounds for breaking away.

In a republic that cherishes liberty but also prizes law and order, in a system that provides for majority rule but allows significant minority protections as well, no one is ensured the privilege of seeing his or her viewpoint endorsed every single time. Only kings, queens and dictators get that right. President Obama cannot defy the U.S. Supreme Court on immigration law but must instead seek change through Congress, like it or not. By the same token, state legislators must accept the high court’s strong constitutional protection of abortion rights - and instead seek novel ways to aggressively discourage unplanned pregnancies in the first place while protecting the sanctity of life among the children, aged and ailing now amongst us. Great place to start: Overhauling Texas Child Protective Services and ending the scourge of innocent children who have been abused, neglected and killed.

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Amarillo Globe-News. June 30, 2016.

Trump colors the issue

Considering how unappealing the presumptive major party candidates for president are, there is an interesting question that will be answered come November - will red-hot Texas turn a lighter shade of red? Perhaps even blue?

The political color scheme for Texas is a question because of the qualifications (or lack thereof) of all-but-official major party nominees Donald Trump (Republican) and Hillary Clinton (Democrat).

Both candidates have enough baggage to drown the most skilled airline baggage handler, which is why what happens in Texas in November will be interesting.

Could the negatives of both Trump and Clinton (more Trump in this case) change Texas?

A Democrat presidential candidate has not won the Lone Star State since 1976.

However, at least three Texas polls indicate Trump’s lead over Clinton is not insurmountable, at least mathematically. (Two polls taken since June 22 give Trump single-digit percentage point leads over Clinton.)

Hence the question, which seems almost absurd - could Clinton actually win Texas in November? Let’s just say there is a better chance of the thermostat dropping significantly in Hades than Clinton winning arguably the reddest of the red states.

However, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility for Clinton to do better than expected here.

As we have pointed out before, Trump did not fare well in the GOP primary in the Amarillo area. Trump got only 8,165 votes combined in Potter and Randall counties - not reaching 25 percent in either county. The reason for Trump’s lack of success in these parts can be attributed to Sen. Ted Cruz, but to totally credit Cruz for Trump’s thumping in the Amarillo area is not accurate. When it comes to Trump, much of his damage is self-inflicted - and many Amarillo area voters did not buy his alleged conservatism.

Here is what some are missing about Texas: Had Cruz captured the GOP nomination, there would be no discussion or question about the Lone Star State’s favorite color, and Clinton’s chances in Texas would be laughable. As it is, there seems to be a degree of uncertainty. However, that is because of Trump, not because Texas is suddenly color blind and turning blue.

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Austin American-Statesman. June 28, 2016.

Texas’ death penalty beyond repair so think about ending it, judge says

We welcome Judge Elsa Alcala’s frank - and courageous - assessment of the Texas death penalty, not for what people wish the state’s capital punishment system to be, but for what it is: Discriminatory, inefficient and immoral.

That assessment coming from an experienced judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals - the state’s highest court in criminal matters - is not easily dismissed.

It’s true that many Texans support the death penalty as a tough, fair and painless way to punish those convicted of certain heinous crimes. That category includes crimes in which more than one person was murdered, a law enforcement officer was killed, or circumstances that involve murder and another aggravated felony. An example of the latter would be fatally shooting a store clerk during the course of a robbery, or killing someone during a sexual assault or kidnapping.

To be sure, those are horrible crimes that warrant the toughest punishment on the books. The problem with the death penalty is that it is final. Once done, it cannot be undone. As such, it requires a perfect system in which to operate justly and morally. An imperfect system means a killer gets away, while an innocent is imprisoned or executed.

It’s no wonder that Alcala has growing discomfort with the Texas death penalty system, riddled with imperfections. She wrote about them in a recent opinion regarding the case of Julius Jerome Murphy, sentenced to die for the 1997 shooting death of a man whose car had broken down along Interstate 30 in Texarkana.

“I think there are, as I said in that opinion, significant problems with the death penalty,” Alcala told the American-Statesman. “There are lots of problems, and I think the public is not aware of the problems.”

Alcala wrote that Texas courts should study whether the death penalty is unconstitutional because it is arbitrarily imposed by race, disproportionately affecting minorities, and whether excessive delays in imposing the ultimate sentence results in cruel and unusual punishment because inmates are held in solitary confinement for years, if not decades. Those inequities are reflected in state figures that show 71 percent of those awaiting execution in Texas are African American or Latino.

Alcala came to the bench in 2011, when then-Gov. Rick Perry tapped her to fill a vacancy. Her doubts and concerns regarding the system have been sown by cases that came before her, including:

- Bobby James Moore: Alcala wrote that her court’s reliance on a decades-old standard to measure intellectual disability, which is no longer used by medical professionals, “is constitutionally unacceptable.”

- Duane Buck: Alcala sharply criticized rulings allowing Buck to be executed despite trial testimony that he was a future danger to society because he is black.

Such concerns grabbed the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier this month, announced it would examine the constitutionality of the death sentences given to Moore and Buck.

Pointing out the flaws in the state’s death penalty system takes political guts, given the wide support it enjoys in Texas, topping 70 percent on a recent Gallup poll. That kind of courage has been in short supply since judge Tom Price left the state Court of Criminal Appeals in 2014. Before his departure, Price called for an end to the death penalty, saying he was haunted by a growing fear that Texas will execute an innocent inmate, if it hadn’t already. He worried aloud whether he had participated in executing an innocent person.

As a long-time judge on the court, Price was part of a body with a dubious history in death penalty matters. The court still is plagued by its unfortunate “sleeping lawyer” ruling more than a decade ago refusing to halt an execution of a death row inmate whose attorney had snoozed through major portions of his capital murder trial.

Following that embarrassment, there was the “we close at five” incident in a 2007 case.

Presiding Judge Sharon Keller closed the court clerk’s office at 5 p.m., preventing attorneys from filing a last-minute appeal for twice-convicted killer Michael Richard, who ultimately was executed without his final appeal being heard in court. That prompted the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to issue a public warning to Keller, but the rebuke was later dismissed on a technicality after Keller appealed.

Aside from the court’s well-documented missteps, there are other signs of the system’s imperfections in the wave of exonerations of Texans, such as Michael Morton, who were wrongfully convicted and sent to prison for many years, while the true criminals went free. Oftentimes, the guilty go on to commit more crimes, which was true in the Morton case in which the person who murdered Morton’s wife, went on to kill another woman.

It’s worth noting that Texas led the nation in the number of people wrongly convicted of crimes, who were exonerated in 2015, according to figures compiled by the National Registry of Exonerations. In all, 54 people were exonerated for mostly homicide and drug cases going back to 2004. New York was second with 17. False identifications by witnesses, misconduct by police or prosecutors, errors by crime labs or defense attorneys, all are among the things that can and do go wrong.

It’s no wonder Alcala is uncomfortable remaining silent. Doing so perpetuates the fallacy that the state’s death penalty is carried out fairly and justly. That might be what many wish it to be, but it is not the reality.

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