- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Denton Record-Chronicle. June 26, 2017.

It’s been two years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage in the United States. The court delivered its 5-4 decision on June 26, 2015.

Ohio residents James Obergefell and John Arthur set the stage for the landmark decision when they got married in Maryland on July 11, 2013. They returned to Ohio, which then refused to recognize their marriage under state law.

John Arthur was terminally ill and suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He wanted the Ohio Registrar’s Office to identify Obergefell as his surviving spouse on his death certificate, based on their marriage in Maryland.

The local registrar’s office agreed that discriminating against the same-sex married couple was unconstitutional, but the state attorney general’s office announced plans to defend Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell ended the legal wrangling. So, for two years now, same-sex couples have had the right to tie the matrimonial knot in Texas and all across the U.S.

Obergefell also means same-sex couples can get divorced. It would be interesting to see how many gay couples who rushed into marriage after the Obergefell decision are now divorced.

Legalized gay marriage represented a serious defeat for the socially conservative Christian wing of the Republican Party. Despite the law, die-hard social conservatives cling to the belief that legitimate marriages exist only between a man and a woman.

Dire predictions that Obergefell set the stage for people to marry their dogs did not come to pass. As far as we know, human beings have not tried to marry inanimate objects.

Even though gay marriage has not heralded the apocalypse, social conservatives opened a new front in the war surrounding sexual preference and gender identity. It started in North Carolina.

Six months after the Obergefell decision, the Charlotte City Council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that included a section allowing transgender citizens to use the public restroom of their choice. By summer 2016, conservatives in the North Carolina Legislature came up with a way to strike a blow for traditional gender roles.

Lawmakers passed a new statute that trumped the Charlotte ordinance by requiring everyone to use the public restroom that corresponds to the gender listed on their birth certificate. No one explained how the law could ever be enforced.

Now, the Texas Legislature is considering a similar bathroom-use statute. It’s a puzzling situation. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, leader of the push for a bathroom bill in Texas, has said it will keep male predators in drag from accosting women in restrooms. But several criminal assault statutes already address those kinds of incidents.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that GOP politicians are signaling evangelical Christians that the Obergefell decision was not the last word in gender politics. True believers fight on.

One might wonder why social conservatives are focusing so much attention on the tiny transgender community? Yes, the numbers are small. But the transgender people are linked to a much larger number of lesbian, gay and bisexual activists, a key constituency of the Democratic Party.

In other words, the bathroom bills are not really meant to solve a substantive legal problem. The real goal is to attack Democrats by portraying transgenderism as an evil fad despite the fact that medical science has clearly established the reality of gender dysphoria.

We must stop trying to apply standard logic to the push for bathroom bills. It’s a fool’s errand. It’s just politics.

___

Tyler Morning Telegraph. June 26, 2017.

Something strange is happening with the price of oil, even as instability increases in the Middle East. That something is. well, nothing. Instead of oil prices spiking on news reports of missile strikes and terrorism, oil prices are remaining level and even dipping a bit.

This is important, particularly for Texas, the top energy producing state in the U.S. It shows that petroleum markets are now truly global in nature, and instability in one region will no longer plunge the whole world into turmoil.

“In early June, when Qatar was suddenly and unexpectedly isolated diplomatically and economically by the rest of the Persian Gulf - with American support - the question of how energy markets would respond was reopened. But this time, there was no spike,” the National Interest reports. “Growing instability near the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of all globally-traded oil passes each day, elicited no more than a shrug from the markets.”

Compare that to crises in the Middle East before the shale revolution freed the U.S. from Middle Eastern dominance of the oil markets.

“When war, revolution or some other seismic shock hit the Middle East, it seemed to pose a threat to the region’s oil resources,” the National Interest explains. “As the global importance of Middle Eastern oil grew, so too did fears that instability in the region would threaten future access to affordable energy. In October 1973, a . geopolitical shock struck the Middle East, as Arab armies launched an unexpected attack on Israel during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Acting together, the Arab oil-producing states declared an embargo on oil shipments to the United States, threatening to turn off the pumps unless the West ended its support for Israel.”

That crisis was followed by further tensions, wars and embargos.

“The events of the 1970s seemed to confirm it: when geopolitical risk in the world’s major oil-producing region rose, so too did global oil prices,” the magazine reports. “When war broke out between Iran and Iraq, both major oil producers, in 1980 the world braced itself for another round of price shocks.”

Here’s the key difference. In the 1970s, U.S. oil production was on the decline.

“In the past few years, the forces that have shaped global-energy consumption have resided largely outside the bounds of geopolitics,” the National Interest explains. “High prices in the late 2000s encouraged investment in new, technologically advanced methods of extraction in North America: “tight” oil locked in shale rock or the Alberta tar sands. The rise in North American supply coupled with a slowdown in the Chinese economy created a market glut in summer 2014, sending the price tumbling. Subsequent decisions by Saudi Arabia to increase production in order to squeeze out competition lengthened the glut, flooring the price below $30 a barrel in January 2016.”

What this means is that the Middle East no longer controls the energy fate of the world. The market is truly global in nature now, with the U.S. close to self-sufficient.

That’s good news for Texas.

___

The Dallas Morning News. June 26, 2017.

It was hard to read the tragic tale of the Kylia Booker and her four sisters. Their mother was locked up multiple times over the years, and these innocent youngsters paid the price for her mistakes, left alone to fend for themselves.

Dallas Morning News reporter Cary Aspinwall’s disturbing investigation revealed there are at least dozens of children like the Booker siblings in North Texas, overlooked because no one in the criminal justice system is responsible for the safety of children whose parents go to jail. At one point, Kylia found herself in charge of a household and caring for her two younger sisters, at age 12.

We don’t even know the how many children are in such dire straits because no agency tracks or monitors the children of people who are arrested, not even solo caretakers.

And despite Justice Department recommendations that police departments adopt policies to keep the children of the people they arrest safe, few have done so.

There’s something terribly wrong in a system that doesn’t protect or even acknowledge our most vulnerable citizens. Many of them children who end up raising themselves, living with inappropriate guardians, or surviving on the streets.

The potential horrors they’re facing are alarming. Data suggest their numbers are growing as more women go to jail. In Texas, the number of women in jail has risen 44 percent since 2011 to 5,670 last year. And most of those women are mothers.

The News conducted a survey of 100 Texas women serving time in state prison. They have, on average, three children, and more than half of respondents said law enforcement officials didn’t call child welfare workers when they were arrested.

Their children join many across the nation. A 2005 study put the number at 250,000 U.S. children with single mothers in jail. And the number of women in jails has increased since then by more than 15 percent.

We understand the tough job police officers face in these volatile situations. They must quickly assess situations and make difficult decisions about whether to call child welfare workers or leave children with the adults on hand.

That’s why it makes sense for departments to set policy on proper procedures.

We support the Justice Department’s recommendation that officers ask people being booked into jail for the names of their children and who will care for them. Authorities should follow up to make sure children are safe.

Advocates also say mothers need legal representation at bail hearings to convince judges to consider family responsibilities when setting bail. Texas’ new kinship care law that gives some financial support to family members who take in children should also help.

No 12-year-old should be left in charge of a household taking care of younger siblings the way Kylia Booker was. No children should suffer the way the Booker sisters did. We urge law enforcement officials to immediately adopt policies that make their well-being a priority.

___

Houston Chronicle. June 26, 2017.

If an armed robber takes hostages inside a bank, police officers surrounding the crime scene don’t just warn innocent bystanders to stay away. They physically stop and maybe even arrest anybody who’s foolish enough to stroll into the gunman’s line of fire.

Our government needs to start applying that same public safety principle when it comes to American citizens who recklessly travel into harm’s way in North Korea. A country notorious for kidnapping and brutalizing innocent foreigners is no place for U.S. tourists.

We’ll probably never know the truth behind the harrowing case of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who recently died after almost a year-and-a-half in North Korean custody. His roommate during that fateful vacation trip told The Washington Post he believes Pyongyang authorities simply decided to arrest an American and Warmbier happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Indeed, the communist government may well have staged the grainy surveillance video shown in his mock trial and concocted the entire case against him. Whatever happened to this young man after what was clearly a coerced confession, North Korea’s savage treatment of other prisoners gives us every reason to assume the worst.

Warmbier was one of 16 Americans who have been detained in North Korea in the last decade. Three remain in captivity. That’s prompted the State Department to issue a series of strongly worded warnings that read like a description of a dystopian nightmare. Our government cautions that North Korea has a history of imposing “unduly harsh sentences for actions that would not be considered crimes in the United States,” such as taking unauthorized photographs, shopping at stores that aren’t designated for foreigners and mishandling pictures of the country’s leaders. The U.S. has no consular relations with Pyongyang, so Washington can do little or nothing to help Americans unlucky enough to fall into the custody of one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships.

One of the great strengths of the United States is that its citizens have traditionally enjoyed the freedom to travel anywhere, so this is not a position we take lightly. North Korea, however, poses a special case. Any American who enters that country becomes a potential hostage, complicating our fraught relationship with a profoundly unstable power that may have nuclear weapons.

No police officer would allow an oblivious adventure seeker to walk into the middle of a bank robbery just to take a few selfies. The State Department can make exceptions for certain travelers such as special diplomatic envoys, humanitarian missions or individual journalists, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson needs to ban American tourists from traveling to North Korea.

___

Beaumont Enterprise. June 27, 2017.

We doubt that few Texans are losing any sleep over what Californians think about our state, whether it’s political or personal. What we should be concerned about, however, is what we think of our state - the direction we’re heading, the legacy we are leaving for our children.

The issue arose recently when California banned state workers from traveling to Texas on official business because this state just passed a law that could prevent gay parents from adopting or fostering children.

For Texans, the larger issue is our opinion of our own state - a frank, no-spin assessment that takes an unflinching look at the good and bad. If we’re comfortable with the way things are going, that’s what really counts. Yet even the proudest Texan should note that recent trends have not been the kind any of us want to see.

The Legislature faced a budget shortfall this year for the first time in years. Given the precarious condition of the oil and gas industry, don’t be surprised if that happens again in 2019.

These financial realities caused cuts in funding to K-12 education as well as state colleges. The cuts weren’t drastic, but that’s not the direction anyone should feel comfortable with, especially because public schools were hardly overfunded to begin with.

Texas lawmakers are very reluctant to increase any taxes - which is good - but also open to cutting existing taxes - which is questionable if you can’t pay the bills. This year’s tight budget made it impossible to devote more money to, among other things, highway maintenance and construction, which has been falling behind for years.

Texas also has the largest number of medically uninsured residents in the nation, and lawmakers have repeatedly resisted pleas to expand Medicaid. This is one reason rural hospitals have been closing all over the state in recent years.

Things like that matter - education spending, good roads, health care. They have a real effect on the state’s quality of life and our ability to keep growing. If we don’t take care of them, we’re not building up our future. That’s something that even someone from another state would realize.

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