- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Houston Chronicle. March 1, 2016.

Unstoppable Trump: Time is growing short for Republicans to rein in The Donald’s brand of anarchy.

The Irish poet W.B. Yeats never met Donald J. Trump, and yet lines from his most memorable poem are prescient on an evening when the blusterous New York billionaire consolidated his choke-hold on the seemingly helpless Republican Party. “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” Yeats wrote in “The Second Coming.”

Of course, the hand-wringing Republican Party is not the world, and yet its transformation into the Trumpian Party, now almost inevitable, could be prelude to a Trumpian America. Anarchy on a global scale just might follow.

As expected, a triumphant Trump demonstrated his wide appeal among Americans disgruntled with politics as usual on so-called Super Tuesday. With resounding victories in states across the length and breadth of the nation, it’s hard to see how anyone stops him, despite the teeth-gnashing consternation of what used to be called the Republican establishment.

Trump faltered in Texas, finishing second to native son Ted Cruz, who got 40 percent of the vote, and in Oklahoma, which Cruz won with 35 percent. The hard-right senator’s modest success only prolongs the party’s agony. Although he portrays himself as the true-blue - or rather, fervid-red - conservative in the race, Cruz likely is learning the hard lesson of several Texan forerunners on the presidential campaign trail, namely John Connally, Phil Gramm, Lloyd Bentsen and Rick Perry. With the exception of two Bushes and an LBJ, Texans attempting to go national don’t travel well.

A few months ago, Cruz expected to win a goodly number of Bible Belt states. He fell short. Christian conservative voters were conservative first, Christian second and enamored of a man whose Christian bona fides are questionable at best.

Despite his Red River victories, our advice to the freshman senator is to quit the race, come home and be a senator. That may be hard, since Cruz’s fellow lawmakers cannot stand him, and yet the people of Texas deserve a senator who’s looking out for their interests, not solely his own. The American people deserve a concerted effort on the part of the Republican Party to find a legitimate challenger to a divisive and dangerous Trump, a difficult task in light of the fact that Cruz and the other Trump alternative, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, are even further to the right than Trump on most issues and are playing versions of the same angry, divisive game.

Rubio is hoping to hang on until March 15, when his home state votes. At this point, Trump enjoys a double-digit lead in the Sunshine State, despite Rubio’s recent gutter-sniping strategy that made him look like a junior-high smart-mouth rather than a potential president.

The only GOP candidate with the experience, judgment and temperament to be president, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is limping along, hoping, like Rubio, to do well in his home state on March 15. If Trump knocks off both challengers on their home turf, while also winning Illinois and Missouri, there’s no stopping him.

Meanwhile, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton consolidated her lead over a stronger-than-expected challenge from a septuagenarian democratic-socialist senator from Vermont. Although U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders won his home state and Oklahoma, Clinton won handily everywhere else. As soon as possible, she needs to turn her attention to the likely nominee of the Republican Party. She will need all the determination, resourcefulness and fortitude she can summon, even as she acknowledges the legitimate anger and disgust afflicting the body politic. Trump has flummoxed his fellow Republicans; Clinton must not allow that to happen to her.

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” That’s the question Yeats asked in the aftermath of World War I. Nearly a century later, a Yeatsian sense of foreboding is beginning to settle in over an uneasy nation as a manifestly unqualified, bullying demagogue slouches toward the White House. Americans of every political stripe - Trump supporters included - need to think long and hard about where this “con artist” (to use Rubio’s words) is leading the nation.

Super Tuesday’s results suggest it’s getting perilously late for the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan and George H.W. Bush, but it’s not too late for America.


The Dallas Morning News. March 4, 2016.

Requiring birth certificates for Texas’ transgender athletes is insensitive, wrong

Here’s a conversation we wish weren’t necessary. But there is value in plain speaking when it comes to complex realities.

Some human beings are born with a boy’s genitalia, and yet in every other way come to understand themselves are female - and vice versa. As reports in The Dallas Morning News about young transgender children considering surgery made clear last June, this process of self-awareness, this coming to terms with one’s true gender, does not happen quickly. And it rarely happens easily.

It’s also not always easy to understand from the outside. For people who have never experienced a day’s doubt about whether they are male or female, such a mismatch between anatomy and gender identity can seem almost fanciful.

Fortunately, the scientific and medical reality of transgender identity has increasingly pushed society toward acceptance and, where needed, accommodation. As it often does, corporate America has raced ahead of government and other fields to come to terms with this new awareness. Most Fortune 500 firms have reconsidered gender-based benefits and rules.

Would that Texas public schools were so sensitive and wise. Last week, the state’s public school superintendents voted overwhelmingly to further stigmatize students in their care who needed instead compassion and sensitivity.

School superintendents - sadly including, by a proxy, Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa - voted 586-32 to prohibit, say, a student whose birth certificate says she was born male to play on the girls’ team, no matter what her doctors, parents or own experience shows her true gender to be. It did not make DISD look any better, incidentally, to have Hinojosa’s proxy, Athletic Director Gil Garza, remark after the fact that he hadn’t understood what he was voting on.

The vote was a mistake. Asking a 14-year-old to go through the arduous legal process to permanently change his or her birth certificate to reflect a new gender is unnecessary and approaches a kind of cruelty.

It’s also entirely unnecessary. The prospect of a teenager announcing to the world he or she is of a different gender is rare enough in middle or high school, and the idea that they would endure such a process just to gain some perceived competitive advantage in sports borders on preposterous.

The vast majority of other states have found smarter, kinder ways to address these concerns. In dozens of states, eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis and requires a sensitive weighing of factors, including statements from a student’s parents, doctor or counselor about the student’s identification with a gender other than what was assigned at birth. Some states allow schools to also consider the level of advantage the student’s biology may give them on the field.

The Olympics and the NCAA have each made accommodations for transgender athletes, though their rules are typically tougher than what high schools in most states have required. But what’s abundantly clear is that these decisions take individualized attention and sensitive consideration.

Texas’ new policy works to ensure that transgender students get neither.


San Antonio Express-News. March 6, 2016.

Necessary vs. reasonable officer fear

Lawful but awful.

This, Police Chief William McManus told the Editorial Board recently, is why many residents cringe after a police shooting of unarmed suspects. A shooting might involve objective reasonableness - that a reasonable officer could reasonably fear for his life given a particular set of circumstances. But all that much of the public sees is another unarmed man, usually minority, killed by police.

There is a debate in law enforcement circles about the proper standards for use-of-force training and review of such confrontations. Fortunately, the San Antonio Police Department started such reform in 2007 or so.

The high-profile police shooting death of unarmed Antronie Scott on Feb. 4 in San Antonio offers a test case of whether this reform is taking root. There are signs that it is. And there are also signs that the police department still has a ways to go - including reforming how much say the police union has in officer discipline.

The officer involved, John Lee, is now on “contemplated indefinite suspension,” a step that could mean termination.

The hopeful sign here: The chief didn’t just look at the reasonable fear standard. This has tended to constitute rubber-stamp approval of police use of force nationally. But McManus looked also at whether the incident involved tactical mistakes that went against training.

In other words, did the officer arrive at the conclusion that it was “necessary” to shoot because he made unnecessary tactical mistakes? Even with mitigating circumstances - sudden moves or “I thought it was a gun” - it is often difficult to arrive at “necessary” when the dead person was unarmed.

In such confrontations, the right people must be held accountable. And it’s encouraging here that the actions of the detectives who called patrol officers to make the arrest are also under review, the chief disclosed. Or, as City Manager Sheryl Sculley, also at the meeting, asked, “Where was the supervision?”

The chief explained the tactical mistake this way: “He placed himself in a vulnerable position . he didn’t give himself time to react.” In other words, what if the officer had, per his training, kept distance and his car door between him and the suspect?

The shooting of Scott, a 36-year-old black man, raised charges of racial injustice. Scott, wanted on warrants, was unarmed. Lee, weapon drawn and trying to make an arrest, demanded he show his hands. Scott swung the car door open quickly and turned to his left with a cellphone in his hand, according to a police incident report. Lee fired immediately, according to accounts.

One sign that more reform is necessary: There was also an incident in 2014 in which Roger Carlos was severely beaten by police officers - becoming paralyzed after surgery stemming from the beating, he says. Officers mistook him for a fleeing suspect, a clear case of mistaken identity.

The officers were given five-day suspensions, which they took care of with accrued leave. That means they came to work and got paid.

The District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the Scott shooting to determine if criminal charges are warranted. We welcome the speedy action by the chief in this latest shooting - and the chief’s efforts to reform training in the use of force by police officers. We write this though we know that the “contemplated indefinite suspension” might not become permanent after a hearing, appeals or arbitration.

The chief talked about the difficulty in balancing “public expectations” against that Supreme Court-approved “objective reasonableness standard” now used in police-use-of-force incidents. That’s because the public expectation is that the killing of an unarmed man should never happen.

The chief said Officer Lee’s eagerness to make an arrest “actually was a good-faith, honest error,” but that it was a “big error.”

We agree. There were no exigent circumstances - no actual threat posed by an unarmed Scott.

A reasonable person might well have concluded that Scott’s cellphone was a gun. But the question is also whether a reasonable officer would have employed the tactics that led to the circumstances?

At some point, the traditional officer complaint that people just don’t understand because they don’t walk in their shoes, falls flat. The public - even a grateful one - can employ an “objective reasonableness standard” in judging police shootings.

Judging the officer’s tactics here as deeply flawed is a natural conclusion - and a man is dead. Outrage is “objectively” reasonable here because “big errors” have big consequences in matters of life or death.


Midland Reporter-Telegram. March 7, 2016.

Don’t expect next four years to be better than last eight

Sadly, it is hard to expect our country will be better off four years from now.

We have watched too many debates to give us any confidence that those trying to get elected really care about making America better. They, for the most part, just want to get elected.

And getting elected in 2016 appears to be more about running a “American Idol” campaign than a substantive, issue-oriented campaign.

Yes, this started and has been exacerbated by the Donald J. Trump effect. As Ken Herman so accurately said in a column that appeared on the Reporter-Telegram op-ed page, he is a master at playing to an audience.

He has manipulated the media. He has carved out more free air time, turned the debates into unwatchable debacles and has led other candidates to act like children in an attempt to fight at his level.

Herman is right. We should do away with audiences at debates. We will go one step further. The Republican and Democratic national committees should require debates be based on individual topics rather than the current catch-all formats that leaves us feeling like we have seen the same information over and over.

Still, what does it say about debates that leave us shaking our heads about tone, temperament and content? This isn’t about political correctness, opinion about the alleged establishment or fondness for a particular candidate.

This is about getting it right. No one, by what they have seen in a vast majority of the debate coverage, can tell you for sure who would serve our country most capably when it comes to the debt climbing toward $21 billion. No one can say for sure which candidate really would be the best qualified commander and chief for the troops abroad and those returning from war. No one can say who really is on Americans’ side when it comes to health care, the proper size and role of government, our country’s decaying infrastructure, flailing economy and energy policies.

Why is that? Well, these debates are set up for one-liners and skimming the surface of issues, not holding candidates accountable for their positions.

Maybe most Americans are comfortable electing another leader based on sayings such as “hope and change.” Maybe we really do prefer the horse race and 140-character campaigns. We would argue it didn’t work for the country in 2008 or 2012 and will accelerate the downward spiral America is on right now. Whether it’s the economy, foreign policy, entitlements, budget deficits, education, immigration and the direction of the Supreme Court, we must demand better of those who participate in the process.

Once that man or woman is in office there isn’t the opportunity to vote him or her off the island, and we are not sure what our country might look like four years from now if Americans get another election wrong.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. March 3, 2016.

Trump’s libel law threat was just hot air

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said during his rally in Fort Worth just before Super Tuesday that he intends to change libel laws to make it easier to “win lots of money.”

This was a political campaign rally, so suspension of reality is expected. Trump’s goal was to fire up potential voters - and if that required a lack of logic, so be it.

But in case anyone wonders how this translates to the real world, it doesn’t.

First, it doesn’t matter who is president, there is no federal libel law. Libel is a state issue.

Trump is probably complaining about a standard laid down in a 1964 Supreme Court case, New York Times v. Sullivan. Public figures like Trump who sue media companies must show that the news organization knowingly published false information with malicious intent.

But that would be no barrier in the situation Trump described: “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”

He referred to The New York Times or The Washington Post writing “a hit piece,” adding that “we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”

One wonders why such suits have not been filed and won. Maybe this was all hot air.

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