- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Victoria Advocate. Nov. 4, 2017.

The American people’s relationship with Facebook is changing from “friends” to “it’s complicated.”

Friends don’t lie to each other daily. If the social media giant keeps promoting dishonesty, then its relationship with the public could be irrevocably broken.

During recent congressional hearings, Facebook officials revealed they allowed Russian agents, intending to sow discord among American citizens, to disseminate inflammatory posts that reached 126 million users.

In addition, Facebook is littered with fake or otherwise unscrupulous accounts. The company has estimated that 5.5-11.2 percent of its 1 billion users are fake.

Closer to home, Victoria Mayor Paul Polasek’s two business partners have said they created fake Facebook accounts to troll others about city issues and elections. In a curiously worded response on his mayoral Facebook page to the Victoria Advocate’s investigation published Oct. 29, Polasek wrote that he does not “own or control” the social media accounts in question. What he did not say is the most telling: He did not say he has not created or posted under fake accounts. He also did not denounce those who use fake social media accounts.

About two hours away in the small Travis County town of Lakeway, the mayor there inadvertently revealed earlier this year that he had used a bogus internet account to campaign for two fellow council members. The Texas Ethics Commission fined that mayor $500 on Oct. 25 for injuring a candidate or influencing the result of an election while misrepresenting the source of the communications, a violation of the election code.

At a national level, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner have introduced a bipartisan bill to require internet companies to identify those who paid for political ads on the tech companies’ platforms. These internet companies should be held to the same standards as broadcasters.

Ultimately, though, it’s up to Facebook to police itself or lose its customers. The company has no excuse for allowing about 100 million fake accounts on its platform. Even when users report obviously fake accounts to Facebook, the company is slow to act if it ever does.

Facebook, Twitter and Google all share responsibility for making the country’s political rhetoric uglier and more divisive than ever. These social media outlets happily promote the good they do, but they have turned a blind eye to the harm created by hate masquerading as a friend.

In this depressing and discouraging social media climate, it’s understandable, if not acceptable, that elected officials and others might feel the need to secretly post responses or troll others. When the pig starts slinging mud, it’s tempting to get in there and fight back. However, all that achieves is to get everyone covered in mud and make the pig even happier.

Facebook is a $306 billion company profiting in part from mud-slinging. It needs to exert all of its resources on cleaning up its act.

___

The Monitor. Nov. 5, 2017.

The recent official announcement by Stanley Black & Decker that it intends to open a manufacturing facility in Mission is huge news for the region and we offer those people who helped make this happen our heartiest congratulations.

The world’s largest tool manufacturer announced that it had signed a lease on a nearly 300,000-square-foot facility in Mission where it plans to manufacture DEWALT power tools.

This translates to 450 new, well-paying jobs beginning as early as 2018, according to a news release issued by the company.

We congratulate the City of Mission and its officials for landing such a premier facility and we especially congratulate the Mission Economic Development Corporation for facilitating the opportunity.

In particular, it has been noted that people such as David Deanda Jr., head of Lone Star National Bank and president of the MEDC, and Alex Meade, MEDC’s CEO, were particularly instrumental in making this facility a reality.

Beyond that, we offer kudos to the political leadership of the City of Mission as well as Hidalgo County, which stepped forward with inducements amounting to $700,000 in tax breaks over the next five years.

When weighed against the creation of 450 jobs, the notion of offering taxpayer-funded inducements is a great idea and we commend the political leadership for reaching into its own toolkit to show how committed the region is to securing the investment of one of the world’s leading manufacturing operations.

And, of course, we offer our thanks and our vote of confidence that Stanley Black & Decker made the right decision to invest more than $25 million into this facility and, more significantly, invest that much money in the Rio Grande Valley.

“The opening of our third manufacturing facility in Texas augments our strategy of making where we sell, reinforcing our long-standing commitment to making in America and making in Texas,” Jeff Ansell, president of Stanley Black & Decker’s Global Tools & Storage business, said in a news release.

“We have continuously manufactured in the U.S. since 1843, and we are the first tool company to proudly bring manufacturing back to the USA in recent times. We continue to strengthen and expand our U.S.-based manufacturing capabilities and we believe that this newest expansion in Texas will enable further acceleration of our Made in the USA with global materials portfolio.”

We applaud this company’s commitment to giving back to our country and would note that over the past three years, the company has added 40 percent more manufacturing employees in the United States and added manufacturing capacity in North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, Maryland and, now, Texas.

But we would be remiss in not pointing out the often misunderstood symbiotic relationship that our community has with Reynosa, Mexico, which many analysts believes may have played a role in Black & Decker’s decision to locate here.

While we believe Black & Decker’s decision to locate here was a wise one because we know the capability of our local workforce, we also recognize that Black & Decker already has one of its largest, most sophisticated manufacturing operations in nearby Reynosa and the proximity of that plant to the one planned for Mission makes smart business sense.

“The Mission Economic Development Corporation (Mission EDC) team has been working with Stanley Black & Decker for the past several months and we are excited to see their hard work has paid off,” Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas said in a news release.

“It’s a great day for Mission and a great day for the Rio Grande Valley when a company of this caliber decides to invest in our region. These are exactly the type of jobs that we want to attract to our city, and this investment shows that Mission is an attractive location for major employers to locate and grow,” Salinas said.

Indeed.

___

Houston Chronicle. Nov. 6, 2017.

Under a moonlit evening sky, lay minister Mike Gonzales, clad in black, stood in a grassy lot and led a candlelight vigil in a South Texas hamlet that few outside Wilson County had ever heard of until Sunday. The shocked residents of Sutherland Springs and those from nearby communities who had arrived to comfort them were having trouble accepting the fact that the little white-washed Baptist church in the heart of town had become the site of the worst mass shooting in Texas history.

“I mean, you hear about Las Vegas and New York, places like that. How can it be a stone’s throw from your house?” a resident mused, his 14-year-old son standing beside him.

Father and son were achingly aware that inside the building across the road, bullets had torn into the fragile, little body of a 5-year-old boy, into an 18-month-old baby, as well as an expectant mother. They knew that the minister’s 14-year-old daughter, a beloved foster child adopted a few years ago, had been ripped from their lives forever. They knew that their neighbors, at least 26 of them, were gone. The horror of what had happened a few hours earlier was incomprehensible.

Gov. Greg Abbott attended the vigil but didn’t speak. Holding aloft a flickering candle as he sat almost unnoticed in his wheelchair, he listened to the prayers, the recorded music and Gonzales’ words of consolation. Afterward, he spoke quietly to individuals who approached.

In a formal statement, the governor and first lady offered their thoughts and prayers to the people of Sutherland Springs and to the members of the First Baptist Church. So did U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and elected officials across the country.

With due respect to the faith and beliefs of every person, especially the grieving residents of Sutherland Springs, the rote statements of politicians were almost blasphemous in their repetition and meaninglessness. The only response more blasphemous was Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” proposal that worshippers entering the house of the Lord be prepared to shoot to kill.

From Japan, President Trump’s “thoughts and prayers” riff was so stale and scripted that it conveyed all the sincerity of a robocall offering an extended warranty on a kitchen appliance. The irony no doubt escaped the president that he was speaking to tortured souls in small-town Texas from a nation with strict and sensible gun laws. A nation where gun violence is almost unheard of.

Thoughts and prayers. The stock phrase trips off politicians’ tongues so easily, we might as well give our elected gunsters license to abbreviate. When a Sutherland Springs happens again - and it will happen again - let them piously utter “T&P;” and then get on with their penchant for ignoring the gun psychosis that afflicts this nation. Get on not only with ignoring but also abetting the psychosis in their Second Amendment idolatry and their craven obeisance to the National Rifle Association.

In offhand remarks to a couple of reporters after the vigil, minister Gonzales, a Sutherland Springs resident and retired Army warrant officer, mentioned how seriously the military treats weapons. “One weapon turns up missing, and the whole base goes on lockdown,” he said. (To be fair, Gonzales holds the shooter responsible, not the gun.)

We don’t take death-dealing weapons as seriously as the military experts do. Unlike every other advanced nation in the world, we accept as collateral damage the murder of a 5-year-old in a house of worship.

The governor is silent. So are Cruz and Cornyn and most other members of Congress. And, of course, so is the man in the White House. They’re silent about the need for universal background checks (that have the support of nine in 10 Americans); about requiring safe storage; about promoting research into smart guns. After a brief post-Las Vegas flurry, they’re silent about banning so-called bump stocks. They’re silent about preventing straw purchases of weapons. Despite lip service to the idea, they do little about expanding mental health services.

They might consider gun buybacks, which seemed to work in Australia. They might consider enlisting military veterans to teach and promote gun safety (Minister’s Gonzales’ suggestion). On these and numerous other sensible suggestions for trying to end the scourge of mass shootings and the daily gun carnage, the Republicans are silent.

Someday, a wave of outrage and revulsion will sweep across this country. It will leave in its cleansing wake elected officials who sold their souls to the NRA, whose warped view of tangled words in the Constitution unleashed orgies of death. We look forward to that day, no matter how far off. When it comes, we’ll be happy to offer our deathly silent leaders our sincerest T&P.;

___

The Dallas Morning News. Nov. 6, 2017.

The glitzy neon splash of Las Vegas and the just-plain-folks spirit of little Sutherland Springs represent opposite ends of America.

Yet these towns are now forever bound by a heinous reality: Two of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history have shattered each in the space of five weeks.

Vegas’ nightmare began the first Sunday in October, when a madman with an arsenal of weaponry gunned down 58 people and injured scores more at a country music festival.

The nation had hardly regained its footing when, the first Sunday in November, yet another gunman bent on evil killed more than two dozen church-goers and injured 20 or so in the worst massacre in modern Texas history.

The Sutherland Springs assailant all but took out an entire congregation as he, spraying gunfire, burst into the modest First Baptist Church during morning worship. In just minutes, he turned the one-blinking-light, unincorporated town 30 miles southeast of San Antonio into a horror set.

Whether church worshippers in South Texas or music lovers in Vegas, all the dead and injured were innocent victims simply going about their lives. Not only are they lost to us, their lives cut cruelly short, but they leave families, friends and neighbors to the all-too-familiar dirge of heartbreak and healing.

Sutherland Springs is not the first church shooting in Texas to explode the myth of small-town safety. Some of you will recall the gunman, clad in battle fatigues and yelling “This is war,” who opened fire on a First Baptist congregation in the East Texas town of Daingerfield back in 1980, killing five and wounding 11.

But a massacre the size of Sunday’s church tragedy takes a small town and its residents to their knees. Hearing of victims who range from age 5 to 72, most shot as they sat in their familiar church pews - it’s enough to take us all to our knees.

And for a community with only a couple hundred residents, the victims’ names will be no abstract list. In small towns like Sutherland Springs, these will be relatives and classmates, neighbors and friends. And so often, it’s the churches that knit the community together.

As we hang our heads in this tragedy, we cannot forget that we’ve barely caught our breath from the last. We know in our heads that mass shootings account for only a tiny fraction of the killings in America. But we can see that the frequency of these large-scale homicides is increasing.

And with three of the deadliest having occurred in just the last 18 months - Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs and the killing of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida - a sense of helplessness is growing nationally.

We take pride in our Lone Star grit and resiliency. But the Sutherland Springs massacre hits hard - so many of us still carry small-town hearts, even if we have learned to wear big-city armor. Thoughts and prayers - even the most sincere - are only a beginning.

___

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Nov. 6, 2017.

At least it wasn’t terrorism, we tell ourselves. At least it wasn’t racially or religiously motivated. This is what passes for comfort and reassurance in today’s America.

The worst mass killing in Texas history is believed to have been rooted in domestic violence. It doesn’t mitigate the damage but at least it’s something we all can wrap our distraught, overwrought imaginations around.

Or can we, really?

Think about it: What ended with 26 people dead and 20 wounded at a rural church near San Antonio may have begun, once upon a time, theoretically, with a young couple in love. Why is that not more monstrous than an ISIS-inspired truck driver? Why is it not more objectionable, reprehensible, frightening and unfathomable than any racist or religious motive?

The answer will not wake the dead or heal the wounded any sooner.

But it’s worth pondering, at great length. The more we learn about so-called domestic violence, the more we can do to prevent it.

Therefore, we should be asking, and answering: What could have been done in the way of intervention and prevention five years ago, before a marital relationship reached the stage at which Devin Kelley, Sunday’s killer, was convicted for attacking his wife and child, imprisoned for a year and discharged dishonorably by the Air Force?

Might we not now be mourning 26 dead? Might his wife and her family have had less to fear in the meantime?

Still, curiously, perhaps morbidly, it’s reassuring to know the likely motive. It lowers the anxiety level to have answers, no matter what they are. We know, now, that members of his wife’s family attended the church, but weren’t there Sunday, and that Kelley had sent threatening messages to his mother-in-law. Imagine never knowing any connection between Kelley and the church. Randomness would have been impossible to accept.

As a nation, we will be anxious enough, as it is, facing another incident of mass murder so soon, asking ourselves and each other, or dodging, the same questions as before, depending on our individual stances on gun rights.

Like the Las Vegas shooting a month ago and like the Orlando, Florida, shooting almost a year and a half before that, this one was carried out with a large-magazine-capacity semi-automatic rifle. Like those other two shootings, this one had a large death toll commensurate with the magazine capacity and rapid-fire capability of the firearm.

We can argue endlessly about whether guns kill people, or whether people do - or whether people who use guns to kill people kill more of them when they use an AR-15 like the one Kelley used. But the one thing for certain is that it’s not too early for the conversation to be had.

It’s known now that Kelley bought his rifle at a retail store and that the necessary background check should have prevented it. But the retailer didn’t kill 26 people, Kelley did. Besides, he could have obtained an AR-15 easily enough person-to-person.

We join the rest of the nation in gratitude toward the heroic neighbor who heard the shooting, retrieved his own rifle and exchanged gunfire with Kelley, ending Kelley’s killing spree and chasing him away to his doom. We are glad that the neighbor had access to a rifle, knew how to use it and was willing.

We hope gun advocates embrace the neighbor’s heroism for the right reasons and not for the wrong one. A gun didn’t put a stop to Kelley. Bravery did. The neighbor’s gun can’t be recognized as the solution without also acknowledging Kelley’s to have been the problem.

All that happened too soon were 26 deaths, including that of the youngest victim, 18 months, and the oldest, 77 years. The conversation can’t be had soon enough.


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