- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

The Dallas Morning News, Oct. 16, 2017

Here’s where we should take the #MeToo movement next

The past 48 hours have witnessed an online phenomenon that brings out the best in social media. Countless women from every walk of life have posted two simple words on their timelines: “Me, too.”

To this we hasten to add our own statement: Us, too.

Women are posting messages on social media to show how commonplace sexual assault and harassment are, using the hashtag #MeToo to express that they, too, have been victims of such misconduct.

These women are saying publicly what for years has been reserved for quiet talks among friends. They add up to a frightening reality: Sexual harassment is a near-universal experience for women in American workplaces.

No, that does not mean every woman in every job is held to a set of rules that don’t apply to men. It doesn’t mean that every workplace has a male boss willing to use his power to humiliate, harass or harm women. Of course not.

But women are saying clearly that these kinds of things happen so often that accepting, combating, or somehow navigating around such conduct has become a necessary part of workplace survival for nearly all women.

That should stop, and stop now. The Harvey Weinstein saga has been disgusting. We hope it can become a catalyst, too. Women are changing already. Simply declaring “Me, too” helps eats away at the silence on which such predatory behavior always depends.

It is a moment of action for men, as well. The #MeToo meme is stripping the blinders away so that all men should be fully aware that the women they love and respect have likely had to endure some level of harassment or abuse - from unequal treatment or pay or all the way up to criminal assault.

With that knowledge must now come a conversion to full-on ally.

We add our voice here, too, because this is a phenomenon that affects all women, including women on this editorial board and beyond at this news organization. Let’s recognize the extent that these experiences have on women’s lives - in the work setting, in personal relationships and beyond.

By saying “Me, too,” women are inviting their male colleagues to say with them: Not anymore.


The (McAllen) Monitor, Oct. 15, 2017

Aerial surveillance welcome alternative to building a border wall

The use of smaller, tethered unmanned surveillance balloons, which can see for about 5 miles into the distance and cost considerably less to operate than the giant aerostats that currently fly above our region, is a welcome option to building a wall on the Southwest border.

The devices - Winch Aerostat Small Platform (WASP) - were tested in the Rio Grande Valley sector by U.S. Border Patrol agents in late August and are being considered for field use because of the ease by which they can be assembled and relocated, the Associated Press reports.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, told us these mini-units are a viable alternative to building a massive wall. Cuellar has long been an advocate for alternative surveillance options that are effective in dissuading illegal immigration, yet less permanent and less expensive. He has said that every mile of permanent border fencing, or wall, would cost $6.5 million; but one mile of technology costs just $1 million.

By comparison, one WASP costs $800,000, plus about $350,000 per year to operate, depending on how often it’s moved. The current fleet of six Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID) devices tethered in Hidalgo and Starr Counties and one in Laredo, however, cost the federal government $33 million annually to operate. This includes outrageous operating costs paid to private contractors of $308,000 per month per unit, or $3.7 million each per year.

We have for years complained about these high costs, which we don’t comprehend, especially considering that RAID aerostats were designed by the U.S. military and most were used in Afghanistan by our troops.

Paying private contractors to operate units that our federal government used to operate seems ludicrous.

There are some limitations to the smaller units, however. The WASPs are more limited in scope and can only take images of about 5 miles away; RAID units have a visual reach of up to 20 miles, depending on weather. But the large units are cumbersome and difficult to relocate and almost always remain in the same location. WASP units can be set up within an hour.

This could be invaluable for giving agents information on ever-changing hot-spot entry areas and would be welcome eyes in the sky that can be moved around as needed.

Plus, the smaller units would be operated by the Border Patrol. So there would not be ridiculous sums of taxpayer money paid to private contractors for operational fees.

“Aiding border patrol and curbing illegal immigration is the most important aspect of enhancing our Border Security,” Cuellar told us. “Any technology that supports this necessity is more than welcome. The WASP balloon not only promises to save the Department of Homeland Security money, it is a 21st century solution for this 21st century challenge.”

With a 1,954-mile Southwest border, positioning an Aerostat every 20 miles would require 97 units that would cost $465.6 million annually to operate. But we believe these little WASP units could work in tandem with the bigger units to augment coverage at much less cost.

One report said: “Adding a smaller agent-deployed aerostat to the Border Patrol technology toolbox represents an inexpensive solution to provide persistent surveillance and communications.”

We highly encourage President Donald Trump’s administration to consider the long-term viability that this technology could offer to our agents on the ground.

We encourage that Congress appropriate funding for these devices and begin actively deploying them along with the hiring of more border agents and the use of added underground sensors, more river patrols, ATV vehicle patrols, horse patrols and other creative methods to help keep our borders safe from those who would try to illegally enter.

And once again, we invite Trump to tour the Rio Grande Valley and view these devices up close for himself, as well as see how our economic and environmental landscape would forever be changed by the construction of a border wall here.


Austin American-Statesman, Oct. 13, 2017

Texas should keep promise to Harvey-hit school districts

State officials have promised Hurricane Harvey-affected school districts - some of which have yet to reopen their doors - that Texas will be there to help them rebuild safe and healthy communities for students and educators.

It’s imperative that state leaders deliver on their promise to those most affected by Harvey’s epic destruction. Texas can’t afford to cut corners, especially in the school districts most severely beaten by the storm. The lives that depend on fulfilling the promise are the future business, education and community leaders of Texas. Promises kept will ensure a brighter tomorrow in those affected areas and beyond.

Steps like those taken last week when the House Public Education Committee heard from Harvey-affected school districts are a good sign that the state is making good on their vow. During the committee hearing, school district officials voiced what they most need from Texas in their recovery efforts. The committee will meet again in two weeks to decide how to respond.

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance companies will pick up most of the tab for storm damage to campuses and facilities, it is the state that will need to address the financial burdens to school districts that will be triggered by weakened public school funding streams, such as enrollment and property taxes.

House committee members focused last week on addressing the immediate needs facing affected school districts, but in the coming weeks, state officials must ensure they address the long-term social impact associated with recovery, like mental health issues that will certainly arise later. It can take months for trauma symptoms caused by a natural disaster experience - including loss of a loved one or the destruction of a home - to surface, according to various studies.

Harvey dumped as much as 50 inches of rain in some parts of Texas, killed 77 people, and destroyed entire communities along the Coastal Bend. Gov. Greg Abbott has estimated the tab for disaster recovery could hit $180 billion.

Aiding affected schools will be among the costliest tasks for the state, Comptroller Glenn Hegar has said. It’s easy to see why: Harvey ripped through 60 counties along the Texas coast, forcing 1.4 million students to miss at least some school.

Officials expect more than a 50-percent loss in property value in areas hit hardest by Harvey. That could be a significant blow to some school districts, because property taxes are used to pay for their daily operations and to repay debt.

Schools may also be hurt by a decline in student enrollment and daily attendance; both help determine how much money the state doles out to a school district. With so many homes destroyed or uninhabitable - and a shortage of rental homes - many families are unable to return to their home school districts, leaving officials there fearing a decrease in state funding.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials estimate it will cost the state more than $1.6 billion over the next two years to help hurricane-ravaged schools rebuild and avoid financial losses.

Texas has about $94 million more than initially anticipated this budget year to use over the next two years. Hagar expects that money will be used to cover Harvey-related costs, including to help affected school districts.

We agree with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that the Legislature should use the so-called rainy day fund, the state’s savings account, to pay for Harvey damages not covered by the current budget.

State funds to repair the massive damage left by Harvey should be earmarked not only to repair or replace damaged structures and to allow the reopening of schools. They should also be used to ensure the well-being of students and staff.

The TEA, the Higher Education Coordinating Board and the state Health and Human Services Commission have announced a task force to connect public schools and universities with mental health services to deal with the traumatic effects of Harvey. Experts say the effects can last years if not addressed.

Because the task force is still in its early stages, however, officials don’t how much funding will be needed for school districts or what mental health services - if any - the state will provide. Officials also don’t know what local programs are available. For now, the task force offers an online list of state-level resources across the three agencies for school districts to consider.

State officials need to hammer out those details soon, preferably within the coming weeks. Schools districts - including those in affected smaller communities far from urban areas - should know by January how the mental health of students and staff will be assessed, what funding will be available and where services can be accessed.

Officials should not wait until January 2019, when the Legislature reconvenes, to address long-term issues like mental health services for children and teachers affected by Harvey.

State officials’ guarantee to have the backs of Harvey-battered school districts means Texas should help them meet their immediate and long-term recovery needs. Anything short of that will be a broken promise.


Waco Tribune-Herald, Oct. 10, 2017

‘Bump stock’ ban might simply be enforcement of federal law on automatic weapons

No less than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made clear in his famous 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller ruling that, like other cherished amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Second is not without its limits. While vigorously defending Americans’ right to maintain weapons for self-defense, the conservative jurist wrote that the Second Amendment and its legal precedents are “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

With that as a constitutional foundation, let us praise Republican Congressman Bill Flores and Sen. John Cornyn, both of Texas, for suggesting consideration of a federal ban of the type of gun attachment that allowed a 64-year-old gunman to essentially convert semi-automatic weaponry into a type largely forbidden to private citizens by federal law. The lawmakers demonstrate courage rare for Republicans these days.

Rep. Flores’ support for a ban on “bump stocks” and Cornyn’s talk of legislative hearings on these attachments appeared to come even before the National Rifle Association has surprised everyone by urging that the Trump administration study regulating bump stocks. By using such attachments, Stephen Paddock was able to up his number of “kills” when he began firing on some 22,000 folks at a country music concert in Las Vegas. Thanks to technology that allows guns to function like military-style automatic weapons, Paddock’s victims below were like proverbial fish in a barrel.

Yes, some gun enthusiasts lost no time protesting, insisting any ban erodes their rights. But their arguments - including that this is a prelude to the confiscation of their guns - ignore Justice Scalia’s legal insistence that limits to the Second Amendment can apply to “dangerous and unusual weapons.” So if automatic weapons are largely banned from public purchase and an attachment can convert a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic one, has the law in effect been subverted? Most reasonable folks would say so.

Trump administration spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway similarly lost no time after the Las Vegas massacre blasting the Obama administration for allowing the sale of bump stocks through the latter’s interpretation of the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act. Sen. Cornyn has now asked the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to go back and review this interpretation and explain. “Unfortunately,” Cornyn added, “we are all now keenly aware of how this device operates and believe that this renewed review and determination will keep our citizens safe and ensure that federal law is enforced.”

It would seem some Republicans have drawn a line in the sand regarding the very limits Justice Scalia cited less than a decade ago. We’ll see if this line holds. As for gun fanatics on this issue, we quote a wit commenting on a number of them attacking Flores on his Facebook page: “Look, I gotta agree with all these other fine fellows, Rep. Flores: If people don’t want to see their families murdered by a spray of bullets totally at random, then they can get the heck out of this country! You can’t just take away rights to prevent innocent people from dying in droves on a daily basis. It’s un-American!”


San Antonio Express-News, Oct. 15, 2017

Amazon should be a local wakeup call

San Antonio has decided not to throw its hat into the Amazon ring - a point that has understandably disappointed some in the community.

The prospect of being home to Amazon’s second headquarters and all those six-figure tech jobs is tantalizing.

Cities have been falling over themselves to stand out - but we’re standing out for sitting out.

That’s really not such a big deal. If San Antonio had gone forward with a bid, we would have been supportive but also realistic.

San Antonio has much to offer, but our chances were slim to none. We lack the workforce, transportation and higher education opportunities that Amazon or any other tech behemoth would deem essential.

But we didn’t bid, so now what?

This moment should be treated as a wake-up call.

Forget about the merits of bidding on Amazon or not. That’s a distraction. And stop this constant hand-wringing about San Antonio International Airport, which is a convenient scapegoat.

Yes, our airport could be improved. Yes, we want more direct flights, too. But the airport is not the source of our economic development problems. It’s a reflection of our challenges. Namely an uneducated workforce, a lack of transportation options and a local flagship university that is not graduating nearly enough students.

Address those issues - and the airport will follow.

Let’s remember what Amazon wanted.

It wanted access to rail. We have no rail. We don’t even have a credible, near-term plan for rail. And we know we need one.

As a community, we are overly reliant on vehicles and roads. City and county leaders repeatedly say we can’t just build more roads to ease congestion - and yet we are still waiting for that rhetoric to morph into action.

We have to do more to get people efficiently moving in this town. It’s a pressing issue with our expected growth.

Amazon wanted “excellent institutions of higher education.”

We love the Roadrunners and are very impressed with UTSA’s new president, T. Taylor Eighmy. But we have to be frank here. University of Texas at San Antonio, our largest university, is atrocious at graduating students. Just 18 percent of its students graduate in four years, and just 36 percent graduate in six years. This is not remotely acceptable.

Yes, Trinity University is a jewel of a private school. And University of Incarnate Word and Our Lady of the Lake University serve our community well in many ways. But they likely don’t fit Amazon’s bill. Along with UTSA, none is a Tier One research university.

Not surprisingly, we lack an educated workforce. Just a quarter of San Antonio’s population, age 25 and older, has a college degree.

UTSA aspires to be that local Tier One university, and we support that effort. But like rail, it’s always in the distant, vague future. University officials have also acknowledged Tier One is a significant reach.

An Amazon headquarters would have come with significant community challenges. The addition of 50,000 more workers would have crowded roads, intensified gentrification and reordered the city in ways that are hard to fully grasp.

As the saying goes, everything that glitters isn’t always gold.

But if this community wants to be a destination for outside talent and a place that grows its own native talent, then we must be honest. To compete, we must excel. And for too long, we have not excelled on these core issues and have lagged on important indicators.

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