- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Waco Tribune-Herald. Nov. 6, 2016.

Republican tolerance of Sid Miller is evidence of declining American values

For all those voters out there confident in their decisions as they stroll into local polling places, we offer no further evidence of how mistaken many of these same voters have been in the past than Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. It’s easy for some Republicans to laugh him off as GOP comedy relief, but a lot of folks in the agricultural industry haven’t been laughing since GOP primary voters in 2014 bypassed two eminently qualified Republican candidates and instead chose this rodeo cowboy to oversee our state’s farming and ranching sectors.

Now a number of Republican women - at least those with any modicum of respect for their sex - have reason to doubt as well.

Miller, who proudly assumed the role of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s designated champion in Texas and lists himself a “deplorable,” labeled Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, with the sexually derogatory term “c—t” in a tweet Tuesday. When this provoked uproar, his staff claimed his Twitter account had been hacked, but that turned out to be a lie. Then Miller showed his colors: He blamed it all on a staff member. His office has also claimed the offensive tweet was merely a retweet by somebody else, but Miller or his office took the time to repackage the tweet under Miller’s own name and brand.

Even accepting that they did just retweet someone else’s sexually derogatory comment, didn’t anyone take the time to read the comment before sharing it?

By now we have learned to expect such shenanigans from this office. The diligent Houston Chronicle this year furnished evidence indicating Miller purchased flights to and from Mississippi with an agriculture department credit card so that he could compete in a rodeo. He explained that while he intended to vie in rodeo competition, he also sought to set up meetings with agricultural officials while there. The meetings never happened, but he reportedly won $880 roping calves.

Another investigation showed Miller charged taxpayers more than $1,120 to fly to Oklahoma and meet ag officials - except again no meeting occurred. Miller was there to receive a “Jesus shot” from a convicted felon for pain incurred by rodeo injuries. (Miller later pleaded confusion and paid the state back.) This is the same guy who after campaigning as a “fiscal hawk” in 2014 gave out $413,700 in bonuses to his staff in 2015. Ironically, he was handing out bonuses while trying to increase state fees for farmers.

No less than Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has correctly dismissed Ag Commissioner Miller’s sexually debasing language as “reprehensible” and added: “No true Texas gentleman would ever talk this way.” Yet, next time Miller shows up at some local event, we expect many will slavishly welcome him with adoring applause and even a standing ovation, in the process further demonstrating the corruption of our American values.

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The (Bryan-College Station) Eagle. Oct. 30, 2016.

Once election is over, America and Americans must come together

We all need to step back and take a breath.

We are nearing the end of a long, ugly presidential campaign that has spawned great passions for one candidate or another. That is good: People should be involved in selecting their leaders.

Every citizen 18 or older should register to vote and then go to the polls, not just in presidential election years, but every time an election is held. It’s the American way - or at least it should be.

Four years ago, when President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney faced each other, only 58.2 percent of registered voters went to the polls. In Texas, only 49.6 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.

With this year’s presidential race drawing to a close in little more than a week, those percentages could be even lower. We hope not, but are not optimistic.

The two major party nominees - Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton - are the most unpopular candidates in memory. Trump has no government experience and, while Clinton has spent years working for government, she has dark clouds of scandal surrounding her - including revelations Friday that the FBI has discovered more emails that could raise new questions about her conduct as secretary of State. (FBI Director James Comey later said the bureau’s findings remained unchanged.)

Both candidates have their own core group of supporters. Each must convince uncommitted voters in sufficient numbers if he or she hopes to win on Nov. 8.

And that may be a problem. Many Democrats - especially young voters who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders during the primaries - may decide they simply don’t want either candidate and so will stay home on Election Day. For Trump, he has problems with the leadership of his party. Many of them have said they cannot vote for Trump, even though he heads their ticket. Some even have announced they will cross party lines to vote for Clinton. The question now is how many other Republicans will vote for her and how many will stay home or just skip voting for president.

We hope voters on either side don’t decide to skip voting. Every vote does matter.

Author David Foster Wallace said, “In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”

However you vote, we all need to accept that either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will be president come Jan. 20. Third party candidates have no realistic chance of winning; all they do is pull votes away from the major candidates.

In past years, while the candidate may grumble about the outcome of the election, acknowledge the victor and get on with their lives. This year is different, though. Whoever is elected in nine days will enter the White House terribly wounded.

Trump’s repeated epithet of “Crooked Hillary” and Clinton’s proclamations that Trump is unqualified and even dangerous will leave whoever wins severely weakened as president. Whoever wins will have to work with Congress - something President Barack Obama and congressional leaders never seemed to grasp. And, a weakened president will have a much harder time dealing with our international friends and enemies.

There are further concerns, too, concerns that deal with the future of our republic. In the third and final presidential debate, Trump refused to say whether he would accept the outcome of the election. The next day, amid criticism from Democrats and Republicans, he said he reserved the right to challenge the results if he suspected fraud or other miscounts. That’s not what he meant at the debate, though.

On Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz, our very own junior senator, said that is Clinton wins, he and other Republicans just might refuse to consider any nominees she would make to the Supreme Court - as they have done with Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Obama on March 16 to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who tried unsuccessfully to become president, said something similar earlier this month.

Such comments go against what Americans believe and accept. According to our Constitution, the president - every president - appoints nominees to fill vacancies on the High Court. And then, Congress is supposed to consider the qualifications of a nominee and decides whether to approve him or her or not.

The Constitution does not say that only Republican presidents can name a nominee or that only conservative nominees will be considered. Whether we vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, we understand that whoever is president will nominate candidates for the court who reflect his or her philosophy. That’s simply the way it works, although it concerns us when we have “Republican” justices and “Democratic” justices.

Finally, we are concerned with the aftermath of the election. We understand that supporters of the winner will be elated and supporters of the other candidate will be dejected. But we always - always - have accepted the election results and moved forward, Republicans and Democrats, working together to make our country even stronger.

Talk of “taking her out” if Clinton is elected has no place in America.

We all lose when we have a president who cannot get anything done.

___

Houston Chronicle. Oct. 27, 2016.

AT&T; merger: Politicians need to start ringing the alarm on overpowered companies

Where is Wright Patman when you need him?

A longtime East Texas populist, Patman represented Texas’ first congressional district in Washington for 46 years, where he worked as chair of the House Committee on Banking and Currency to block bank mergers and slow the concentration of corporate power.

Over his storied career, the maverick politician fought to get World War I veterans their promised bonus payments, stopped Wal-Mart style stores from undercutting mom-and-pop shops, and was the first Democrat to investigate Watergate. In an unlikely alliance, Patman worked closely with Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis on limiting the power of wealthy families, foundations, corporations and banks.

Think of him as a cross between Ron Paul and Elizabeth Warren.

And we imagine he’d be spitting mad to read about AT&T;’s plans to buy Time Warner in a $85.4 billion deal.

That merger would result in a media company that not only controlled television and internet access - including DirectTV - but also the movies and shows aired over those networks. Experts call it a vertical merger, in which a company buys one of its suppliers, and we’re seeing more of them in the media world. In 2009, Comcast had little trouble purchasing NBC/Universal in a similar melding of telecom and media company. But in the past seven years, the United States political landscape has undergone a disorienting upheaval.

Both the Republican and Democratic tickets have expressed concern about the AT&T; merger.

“Less concentration, I think, is generally helpful, especially in the media,” vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine said on “Meet The Press.”

The leaders of the antitrust subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee have also called for a thorough investigation as to whether it would create a harmful monopoly. And the FCC has to approve that the merger is in the public interest, as well.

From Donald Trump’s neo-nationalism on the right to Bernie Sanders’ left-wing socialism, there’s a growing skepticism of concentrated power in the corporate world. This pushback comes after years of bipartisan support for this sort of consolidation.

Matt Stoller, a budget analyst on the Senate Budget Committee, wrote in an October essay for The Atlantic website about the turning point when Baby Boomer politicians replaced New Deal populists like Patman. A Great Depression-era fear of monopolies gave way to a new generation that saw large corporations as key to efficient management and new innovation.

Looking at the corporate landscape, however, it is hard to deny that we’ve swung too far. It isn’t just a question of whether these super-sized behemoths reduce consumer choice. There’s a greater danger of yielding so much power to individual entities that it undermines our republic.

As Justice Brandeis said, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

We’re seeing that play out as our government has no trouble rushing to save banks that have become too big to fail, but is all too slow when mill towns crumble in a changing economy.

We also see it as private companies conspire to violate individual liberty. In 2013, AT&T; was caught selling customer data to law enforcement at a cost of millions of dollars per year to taxpayers. The telecom collected cash while authorities circumvented the Constitution.

Imagine the sort of power AT&T; would wield after this merger.

The AT&T-Time; Warner deal may end up being worthwhile, but we’d feel more comfortable if it were scrutinized by the likes of Patman or Brandeis. And it has been a long time since men of their caliber held power in Washington.

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San Antonio Express-News. Nov. 6, 2016.

A need for Texans to enroll in ACA

The fourth enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act opened Tuesday. The imperative to enroll is undiminished in terms of personal health needs, but there is some added urgency this time around.

Full tax penalties come into play next year. The penalties had been phased in amid angst about the so-called ACA mandate for coverage. Federal law requires everyone to have health insurance through the federal or state exchanges, or through an employer. Enrollment ends Jan. 31.

Apart from ensuring the obvious societal good that comes with coverage for as many Americans as possible, there is the need to make sure that the pool of those insured is a mix of healthy people and those in need of medical care. Costs stay down with such a balance.

The absence of that balance is part of the reason premium costs will go up an average of 25 percent nationally. Too few healthy young people have been signing up. That needs to change. Federal outreach has to be stepped up, though these premium increases also reflect the underpricing some carriers did at the beginning.

Some 84 percent of Texans enrolled through the exchanges received subsidies this year. A high number is likely to be eligible in 2017. And despite some departures of private insurers from the exchanges - Aetna and Cigna among them in Texas - 12 carriers are planning to sell through the exchanges in the state in 2017.

Despite the rhetoric from Texas elected officials about the ACA, it has been a success. The uninsured rate in Texas declined from 25 percent to 16.8 percent in 2015, with more than 1.3 million Texans enrolled this year. That is more of an impact than the Legislature has managed to make for Texans not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

And Texas’ uninsured rate still leads the nation, making the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the ACA a mystery.

ACA can be even better for Texas if everyone who is eligible enrolls. Go to www.healthinsurance.org for more information.

___

The Dallas Morning News. Nov. 4, 2016.

Better inmate conditions are dependent on Sandra Bland settlement having lasting impact

A federal judge’s sign-off last week of a $1.9 million settlement between Sandra Bland’s family, Waller County officials and the trooper who arrested her brings some measure of closure and justice in this tragic case.

Of course, nothing can make up for the loss of a loved one in such a senseless way. Bland was found hanged in her jail cell in July 2015, three days after a minor traffic stop went very bad. Her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, sued Waller County officials and law enforcement for negligence.

But if some good can come in this case, it’s that the settlement requires improvements in how inmates are booked and supervised at the jail. And there are already signs that it could also lead to statewide reforms, such as better training for jailers and immediate access to medical care for inmates in rural jails throughout Texas.

Bland became a national symbol of the escalating tensions between African-Americans and police. Hers was one of several violent encounters that sparked outrage and protests throughout the country.

The 28-year-old had just moved to Texas to take a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M;, when she had the misfortune of being pulled over by state trooper Brian Encinia for failing to signal a lane change. As a dashcam video shows, she became irritated from almost the moment the trooper puller her over. But Encinia’s responses suggested an officer who had no interest or proper training in de-escalating the situation.

Their clash ended with Bland arrested, thrown in jail and, apparently, distraught over not being able to make the $500 bail. She was found hanged in her cell. Bland said at booking that she previously tried to commit suicide; she should have been checked on every 30 minutes.

Encinia was fired and indicted on a perjury charge.

It’s good to see that lawmakers appear ready to make changes to prevent such tragedies in the future.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat and chairman of the House County Affairs Committee, has promised to introduce a Sandra Bland Act in the next session.

He says he wants to consider ways to ban stops without probable cause by law enforcement and require additional de-escalation training. Better approaches to dealing with mental illness will also be considered, with more detainees diverted away from jail and into treatment.

Those are good places to start.

But we’ve heard these reform promises before. It’s incumbent on the feds and lawmakers to monitor progress to ensure that specific reforms are carried out.

Nothing will bring back Sandra Bland. But maybe the circumstances of her death can lead to real healing - and steps toward rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the community it serves. That’s going to take real action.


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