- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Houston Chronicle. Aug. 11, 2017.

President Donald J. Trump isn’t the first to talk about overhauling government functions using ideas from the business sector; former Vice President Al Gore, similarly inspired, wrote a book titled “Businesslike Government” using “Lessons Learned from America’s Best Companies.”

This worthy goal is easier said than done. Although the high-end hotel business may be challenged to provide a guide for solving social problems, at least citizens have a right to expect that the Trump administration will tackle problems such as reducing teen pregnancy relying on basic common sense.

That’s not happening.

The administration has recently proposed deeps cuts to the evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program in the 2018 budget. Let’s be clear: No abortion counseling is provided in the TPP budget; it’s all about prevention. The program awards grants to scientists looking for ways to help teens avoid unwanted pregnancies. Not all of these grants have shown a positive effect, but draconian cuts to much-needed research in this area represent bad fiscal and social policy.

First, the timing: Hotel developers don’t stop construction half-way just because they think they’ve found a better site. Yet, the cuts - which came as a surprise to the grantees - will put a premature end to research projects scheduled to last five years. Studies will have to be redesigned, or if that’s not possible, scrapped before valid scientific conclusions are reached. Taxpayer money will be inevitably wasted.

In addition, good businessmen make decisions based on evidence, not on wishful thinking. Public health research supports the conclusion that the decline in the teen pregnancy rate in recent years is largely attributed to contraceptive use. Yet Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and other top officials at the department seem to favor abstinence-only programs.

Virginity pledges are not going to solve the problem of too many teens giving birth, and any shift by the administration to an overreliance on abstinence-only education would have tragic consequences not only for Texas teens but for their children.

Texas already has the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate, the fourth-highest teen birth rate and the highest repeat pregnancy rate of any state in the country, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Harris County more than 5,000 teens had babies in 2015.

Good business principles would argue for robust prevention. Teen pregnancy cost the state $1.1 billion, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Eighty-seven percent of the births to teens are paid for by Texas Medicaid, according to Gwen Daverth, CEO of the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

The social costs of teen pregnancy and birth are high as well. “A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child,” the actress Sophia Loren once famously said.

Her observation states the problem with teen births in a nutshell. Giving birth while still a teen is limiting for both parent and child. Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of college or high school. They’re likely to live in poverty, to be incarcerated and to need social services; and so are their children. The president’s proposed 2018 budget is not legally binding document, only a wish list. But consider the initiative a shot across the bow toward ineffective and wasteful policy. Taxpayers should contact their representatives and let them know that they care about the future of adolescent women and support funding for effective teen pregnancy prevention efforts in Texas and beyond.

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Beaumont Enterprise. Aug. 13, 2017.

Good financial news is always welcome, and Beaumont residents recently got some about their school district. The elected trustees should take note of it even though they are still sidelined as the managers run the district. Eventually, those trustees will take over from the state-appointed managers. When they do, they must continue a key reform.

For the first time since the managers were appointed three years ago, the district earned a passing score on the state’s financial accountability ratings. Last year, the Beaumont Independent School District was one of only four in the state that didn’t meet this standard. That’s embarrassing.

The change, however, cleared the way for more bond refinancing and a tax rate decrease of 2 cents on the interest and sinking rate. The district’s overall tax rate should drop from $1.315 per $100 assessed valuation to $1.294 cents.

Ironically, this happened while the second-largest district in Jefferson County is doing the reverse. Port Arthur ISD voters approved a whopping 13-cent tax rate increase for the new school year. The new rate will be $1.48 cents, just 2 cents under the state maximum.

The PAISD did lose a tax valuation lawsuit with the Valero Energy Corp. and had to return millions to the company. But the district has always had a high tax rate and rarely made efforts to control spending.

The Beaumont ISD does not need to head in that direction. Appraised values are increasing in Beaumont, and when that happens, tax rates can be level or lowered to bring in the same overall revenue for a school district. In turn, this makes the district more attractive to new residents and businesses - a cycle that can perpetuate itself.

That matters. The financial stability produced by the managers should not be viewed as an opportunity for future increases in spending and tax rates by the elected trustees when they take over. It should become the new normal, the standard they maintain because it’s right and smart.

That’s the best way to respond to a state takeover, and ensure that it’s never needed again.

___

San Antonio Express-News. Aug. 14, 2017.

When it comes to North Korea, the president needs to tone it down and listen to the adults in his administration.

Consider:

President Donald Trump promised “fire and fury” if North Korea continues its threats - which sounds like, not if it strikes militarily or there is credible evidence that it is about to, but if it merely threatens it.

North Korea, which reportedly has miniaturized its nuclear warheads to fit atop intercontinental missiles, threatens Guam, a U.S. territory, and the U.S. mainland.

Following criticism that his words are unnecessary escalations and are inching the antagonists into war, Trump doubled down - “Frankly, the people who were questioning that statement, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn’t tough enough.” And he said, the U.S. is “locked and loaded.”

Meanwhile, others in the president’s Cabinet went to lengths to stress that, while there are military options, that war would be “catastrophic” and that diplomacy continues to be the preferred route.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson even had to resort to telling the public it could sleep peacefully.

In other words, we have had the spectacle of a president uttering unhelpful and dangerous bluster that threatens to have this country bungle into war, while the adults in his administration have had to salvage matters with what amounts to a caution to the country that it shouldn’t listen to its president.

Unfortunately, the American public, this country’s Asian allies, its main foe in Asia - China - and the world don’t have the luxury.

Trump is commander in chief of the most powerful military power in the world, with nuclear weapons at his disposal.

While many of the nation’s generals and admirals would surely balk at an order to start a war - perhaps even refuse - the default position of military members is always, “yes, sir” or “aye aye, sir.”

War would indeed be “catastrophic.”

China, through its house organs, has now made it clear that it will not stand idly by if the U.S. strikes North Korea unilaterally or attempts regime change - even if it seemingly says North Korea is on its own if it attacks first.

Above the DMZ separating the two Koreas, the communist North has, even without nuclear weapons, enough weaponry to cause thousands of deaths in the South. Seoul, population about 10 million, is a mere 35 miles from the border. Any military strike on North Korea will spark certain military response.

There are 28,500 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in South Korea. There are another 50,000 in Japan, which would likely be another North Korean target in the event of war.

As many of the residents of Military City USA know well, war is not something that should be sleepwalked into. This bluster must end.

Here’s the reality: North Korea is already a nuclear power. Seeing the lesson of the toppled Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi - both of whom abandoned nuclear ambitions - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sees his country’s nukes as the only guarantee of his regime’s security.

He will not give them up. And this will be particularly true the more Trump blusters.

Grasping this reality is the key to dealing with North Korea. Unilateral military action has to be the absolute last option, if one at all short of credible warning that North Korea is about to strike.

Elsewhere on these pages, noted foreign affairs analyst Fareed Zakaria writes: “The world is already living with a nuclear North Korea. If that reality cannot be reversed through negotiations and diplomacy, the task will be to develop a robust system of deterrence, the kind that kept the peace with Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. Bluster from the president can increase the dangers of miscalculation or cause a downward spiral of words and deeds.”

Yes, what he said.

As the nation has become aware, Trump has a fondness for wars of words. When it comes to national security, however, he needs to understand that words of war just get us closer to that catastrophe.

___

Amarillo Globe-News. Aug. 14, 2017.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, fired off this tweet regarding the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, when three people were killed and several injured when a motorist turned his car into a vehicle of death by driving into a group of people: “I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”

Cruz described this act of hate and violence accurately. While the president took heat for not immediately condemning this act of domestic terrorism to the satisfaction of some, those who are blaming the president for an act of hatred and insanity are playing politics with reality.

The president may deserve criticism for many things (some criticism is justified, and some is not), but such criticism is primarily a matter of opinion.

The reality is this - those who want to blame the president (who, by the way, specifically condemned the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists on Monday) for this despicable act are beyond reason. Criticize the president for his initial remarks about this act of hate not being enough - fine. But to allege the president is any way specifically culpable for this act is nonsense.

It would have been nice if this so-called “protest” by this white supremacist group (or whatever it is) had resulted in the response it deserved - absolutely nothing.

Supposedly, the “protest” was related to the possible removal of a public statue of Robert E. Lee. If a poll could have been conducted of those on both sides - the white supremacists and those who came to protest the white supremacists - it is doubtful many could have identified the years of the Civil War, but we digress.

It is a shock that someone so filled with hate would purposefully drive a vehicle into a group of people, but it is not surprising that the governor of Virginia (before this act of evil) had to declare a state of emergency because of clashes between the two groups. Those who did not see the potential for violence in this protest were not paying attention.

It is not logical to blame the president for this hatred. And we are trying to find the logic in the existence of a statue of a person who has been dead since 1870 resulting in the death of three people Saturday, Aug. 12. We are failing.

___

The Dallas Morning News. Aug. 14, 2017.

It hurts to be reminded of how far America still has to go to deal with the racism that remains so much a part of our national experience.

This time the reminder came over a protests and counter-protests at the University of Virginia, where a series of clashes was touched off by white nationalists and others who rallied there Friday night, Aug. 11, under a call to “unite the right.”

It ended in tragedy the next day when a driver, apparently shouting racist slogans, drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring many others. The victims had gathered to stand up to protesters who use Charlottesville’s long connection to Robert E. Lee, the general who led the armies of the Confederacy in a war that ended 152 years ago, as a rallying cry for whites.

President Donald Trump on Monday decried the “racist violence” in Virginia and said that the Department of Justice had opened a civil rights investigation into what happened there. “Anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held accountable,” Trump said.

The statement helps. But it would have helped more had he not on Saturday ducked the opportunity to condemn the groups behind the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” and not added the words “on many sides” in what bestowed a false equivalency to the protests and the counter protests.

By Monday, Trump was willing to condemn hate groups, including the KKK and white nationalists. It was a welcome move from a president who has been strangely reluctant to acknowledge the role those groups have played in his political ascendancy.

What the president could have also acknowledged is that heartbreak in Charlottesville began long before things turned violent. It began with the hate that brought the white men and women, many of them so young, to the campus in the first place.

How it is that in 2017, a rally to “unite the right” would use race as its rallying cry? Surely the far right is not so spiritually bankrupt, so devoid of good ideas, as to have only the color of one’s skin available as a means for unity?

How is it that so many of the Friday night protesters, the ones with torches, were so young? More than 60 years after Rosa Parks made her stand by staying in her Montgomery bus seat, we are still reminded that racism persists, like a calcified tumor we’re unable to cut away.

Still, despite this pain, it’s important to remember that the Friday night protesters with their torches did not speak for America. They did not speak for white people, or for conservatives. Or for the South. As the large counter-protests showed, they did not even speak for Charlottesville.

This past weekend, we were reminded how far we have to go as a nation. But we must not let it blind us to how far we’ve come, either.


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