- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

San Antonio Express-News. July 2, 2017.

Dear Energy Secretary Rick Perry:

Thanks for expressing a desire for an honest, “intellectually engaged” conversation on climate change. We think it could be really beneficial. For you.

There is no denying it. You love your Aggies. That’s why the best place for you to start this conversation is with the brilliant scientists at Texas A&M; University’s Atmospheric Sciences Department. Check out the department’s website where faculty have posted a unanimous statement about climate change.

Here’s the quick version: Between 1880 and 2012, the average global surface temperature warmed about 1.5 degrees. These scientists say “it is extremely likely” humans caused more than half of that warming between 1951 and 2012. If we don’t do anything to limit emissions, the Earth will warm between 2.5 and 7 degrees.

Our hearts sunk a bit when you said carbon dioxide is not the primary driver of global warming. That was a real “oops” moment, sir.

Carbon emissions are the biggest driver of climate change. At least, that’s what the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said. We have wondered if the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to remove statements about human impact on climate change from its website contributed to your confusion. Perhaps you can convince Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA, to restore the text. He’s been pretty darn confused on this one, too.

Good luck with the conversation.

___

Houston Chronicle. July 3, 2017.

When a bullet from a high-velocity assault rifle strikes the soft, moist texture of human flesh, it is as if a bomb went off. It blasts a massive hole, destroying surrounding tissue so completely that it often cannot be repaired. Any organ in its path - the liver, kidney, lungs, heart, brain - disintegrates.

And the bullet doesn’t have to strike the organ to pulverize it. Because it hits the body with so much force, it creates a violent ripple effect known as cavitation that can explode organs in its wake. Cavitation will also burst arteries and vessels, releasing a torrent of blood. Bone is pulverized. The damage is so catastrophic, the shooter doesn’t have to aim for a vital organ, he just has to keep pulling the trigger.

This is the kind of weapon that was used in 2012 to kill 20 elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, and last year, 49 revelers at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, and five police officers in Dallas, the worst incident for law enforcement since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The list of tragedies is long and painfully consistent. There have been eight high-profile mass shootings in the past two years, and assault-style rifles were used in seven, according to data compiled by Mother Jones magazine. Last month, James T. Hodgkinson opened fire on members of the Republican baseball team at a practice field in Alexandria, Virginia. Four were wounded, including U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, who was shot in the hip and was in serious danger of succumbing to his injury. Scalise has undergone several surgeries to repair the damage and is improving. His doctors say his will be a lengthy recovery.

We would like to believe that the tragedy visited upon their colleagues and friends on the baseball field would bring our elected representatives to their senses. How could anyone be opposed to sensible laws to control the availability of these lethal weapons? In fact, it has been done. In 1994, Congress passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which for 10 years prohibited the manufacture for civilian use of assault weapons and certain large-capacity ammunition magazines. The law expired on Sept. 13, 2004. Since then, the U.S. Congress has been in a frenzy of making these weapons available to as many people as it can, including terrorists on the government no-fly list, people with emotional incapacity so severe they can’t go alone to the bank to cash their disability checks, and men who have been charged with domestic violence.

We know why the National Rifle Association is opposed to any restrictions - profits. The NRA is the lobbying arm of the gun industry, and assault weapons are among the industry’s most popular, most profitable consumer products. As revolting as it may sound, mass shootings are good for business.

Remington Outdoor, maker of the Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifle that was used at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, saw its profits jump thirtyfold the year after the massacre, and the biggest increase in sales was assault rifles. After America’s deadliest mass shooting in Orlando, stock prices for two of the largest gun manufacturers, Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson, spiked on a day when broader market averages declined. The NRA gets millions of dollars in contributions from gun manufacturers, so much money that it has repaid that generosity by establishing an exclusive club with membership limited to individuals who give $1 million or more. Many of its members are gun industry executives.

But we are most interested in an explanation from our representatives in Congress who oppose sensible limitations on these deadly weapons. It’s not because they are representing their constituents’ preferences. According to a CBS News poll taken after the Pulse nightclub shooting, 57 percent of voters support bans on assault-style weapons.

Perhaps those opposed genuinely believe terror suspects, for example, have a right to own an assault weapon with a 30-round magazine. Or maybe their opinion has been colored by the $768,662 in NRA contributions to congressional Republicans in 2014 - Democratic candidates got a total of $40,800. Either way, continued support for these weapons is getting harder and harder to explain. To parents in Newtown. To survivors in Orlando. To the growing number of families whose loved ones have been mowed down in mass killings. And to the four wounded on the baseball field in Alexandria.

___

Fort Worth Star-Telegram. July 3, 2017.

Baylor University can’t seem to catch a break. Now, a recently released series of misogynistic 2009 emails offers a glimpse into the university’s troubled past.

The private university in Waco has been trying to get out from under a sexual assault scandal, but with ongoing Title IX lawsuits, more dirty laundry continues to get aired.

The latest airing involves past emails from a former chairman of the university’s board of regents, Austin lobbyist Neal “Buddy” Jones, who wrote university staff calling girls drinking at a party “the vilest and most despicable girls” and other insulting language.

The former regents chairman’s past comments are not only inexcusable, but damaging. When someone calls young women “perverted little tarts” for drinking, that is not only something out of another era but also poisons sensible decision-making.

No crime victim ever should feel belittled or blamed for being assaulted. No one ever “asks for” or “dresses” for a sexual assault.

Jones recently said, “Sometimes people do stupid things. And this qualifies as one of mine.”

Baylor has shown it is being serious about reform, and Jones isn’t a board member anymore.

But this type of revelation doesn’t help its cause, and feeds a social culture that is harmful to victims.

___

The Dallas Morning News. July 4, 2017.

Parents, don’t miss this valuable document tucked within your snail mail: your child’s STAAR report card.

This year you will actually be able to make sense of it- the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.

Unlike the incomprehensible assessments that the state has sent in previous years, the revamped version can be deciphered without the help of an education expert. Not only is the information clear and understandable, it’s also useful.

Yes, the document is coming in the middle of summer vacation, and who wants to think about tests right now? But they are a fact of academic life, and time spent with the STAAR report card in July will pay off come September.

Beginning in third grade, schoolchildren take the STAAR, learning their overall scores soon after test day. But the details - what’s called the confidential student report - don’t arrive until after the school year ends.

Among Mike Morath’s goals when he became Texas education commissioner was to overhaul the brain-numbing report card, which oozed education-speak and impenetrable numbers.

He didn’t stop there: He wanted a document that not only told adults how their children are doing but that provided them with tools to help their students succeed.

The new STAAR report card isn’t light beach reading - there’s a lot information to digest. But those four pages provide fascinating details.

For instance, say you are looking at your fifth-grader’s performance in science. Not only do you get a variety of data about her overall score, also included is a breakdown of categories - matter and energy, earth and space, organisms and environments - and the number of questions she answered correctly in each.

Plus you’ll find information about how your student compared, subject by subject, to others across the state.

Here’s what you won’t find: the old confusing performance labels. (We’re still trying to figure out the difference between a Final Level II and a Phase-In Level II.)

The STAAR is not a random punitive measure, but rather an assessment of how well students learned the state-mandated curriculum that instructors taught them all year long. The report card tries to drive its “progress counts” message with a substantial section devoted to academic growth from the previous school year.

With the report card’s rollout, Morath and his team are working to not just spread the message that parents are critical partners in their children’s success, but to provide specific skills and tools to help the adults do that job.

Put another way, they want to answer “This is all great information, now what?”

For starters, the Texas Education Agency has created an interactive website to provide additional student-specific resources. Included is the opportunity for parents of students in grades three through eight to view the STAAR tests, question by question, and see how their child answered.

The report card itself provides books recommended for a child’s particular reading level, games and problem-solving exercises, even tips for the most-useful questions to ask at a parent-teacher conference.

A report that demystifies the STAAR test and empowers parents - that’s a summer assignment worth completing.

___

The Facts. July 5, 2017.

The county government is chipping in with the Houston-Galveston Area Council to participate in a $500,000 thoroughfare plan study.

With the tremendous growth in Brazoria County - both in the rapidly expanding north end and industrial boom-fueled south side - focusing on major streets, roads and highways is the smart route to take.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council will fund about 83 percent of the study, with the county kicking in the rest. That amounts to about $100,000 from local taxpayers.

It’s worth it because the plan will be essential for county officials seeking to better control the flow of traffic as land becomes more developed, County Engineer Matt Hanks said.

The plan will identify a grid network of roads that could one day become more important thoroughfares, Hanks pointed out.

On top of existing roads, the study will focus on future roads not presently open to traffic, something County Judge Matt Sebesta views as becoming more important as time marches on. “It’s time for us to do that because in the future, we’re going to have to be looking at road projects as we move forward,” he said.

The thoroughfare study also will help the county to coordinate with local municipalities and those adjacent to the county when considering future rights of way, which is critical when developers come in seeking to develop tracts of land and in ensuring sufficient land areas are set aside for utilities and other infrastructure that will be needed.

The study, which will include input from the public, is estimated to take more than a year to be completed.

We’re glad to see the county get the ball rolling now with the Houston-Galveston Area Council, a regional organization that often serves as a clearinghouse for the distribution of federal and state monies.

“We are a growing county and we need to make sure our planning is up to date with that growth,” Sebesta said. “This is one of those tools that we need for helping to identify the roads we need to be putting our efforts into.”

We agree the thoroughfare plan is a smart investment by the county and state to prevent potential roadblocks to growth as it creeps south.

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