- Associated Press - Monday, January 4, 2021

Laredo Monitor. Dec. 31, 2020.

Editorial: Will virus’ economic hit help bid to allow casinos?

For more than two decades, the Texas Legislature has received proposed legislation that would allow casino gambling in the state, and the idea has been turned down every time. The proposal once again has been offered.

The more than 1,100 bills that have been pre-filed for the 87th Legislative Session include a couple that would allow limited casino gambling in the state. With Texas struggling, like much of the world, to deal with billions in lost economic activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, might our notoriously conservative lawmakers be more receptive to an idea that could help offset those losses with an industry that traditionally is heavily taxed?

One of the sites most often mentioned for casino construction is South Padre Island. Such a facility would generate millions in annual tax and tourism revenue for the Island, the Rio Grande Valley and the state as a whole.



A growing list of advocates is pushing for casino legalization, including the owners of Las Vegas Sands, one of the world’s largest gambling conglomerates that is looking to expand into areas like Japan, New York, Brazil and - if possible - Texas. Sands has assembled a well-funded team of lobbyists to promote the idea during our legislative session, which begins Jan. 12.

“We view Texas as a worldwide destination and one of the top potential markets in the entire world,” Sands spokesman Andy Abboud said at a Dec. 8 presentation in Austin. “Texas is considered the biggest plum still waiting to be out there in the history of hospitality of gaming.”

Surveys suggest that Texas could become the third-largest betting market in the country behind California and New York, if sports betting also is allowed. Creating that market could tap an estimated $18 billion a year in revenue.

Proposed legislation would enable Texas voters to decide a proposed constitutional amendment on the issue, with a limited number of casinos that all would be within 200 miles of the Gulf Coast.

Such a band, however, would allow casinos to be built in areas such as Houston, San Antonio and Austin, as well as anywhere in the Rio Grande Valley.

A casino might even be possible at the proposed riverside entertainment and business development in downtown Brownsville, or near popular Winter Texan communities in the Donna and Mission areas.

Under the proposed legislation, Texas gambling would be supervised not by a new gaming agency, but the existing Texas Lottery Commission, which already has nearly 30 years managing state-run games and associated programs such as gambling addiction referrals.

Casino and gambling proceeds would be taxed at 18%, generating substantial revenue for their communities.

Public opinion polls indicate that 90% of Texans believe voters should be allowed to decide the issue, and that 60% would vote in favor of casinos.

All that’s left is for our lawmakers to give them the chance to make that decision. In the hard times wrought by COVID-19, we’ll see if our traditionally conservative lawmakers will choose continued prohibition or creating a source of funding for vital public services and assistance when they are most needed.

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Houston Chronicle. Dec. 29, 2020.

Editorial: Austin isn’t a war zone and Texas isn’t a police state, Gov. Abbott

WARNING: Unwary travelers daring to venture into Austin these days will encounter a situation much more dire than clogged traffic on I-35 and homeless colonies clustered under viaducts. Don’t let a sparkling downtown lake and soaring office towers fool you. As cowed residents are painfully aware, the Capital City suddenly has become a crime-wracked, violence-ridden hell hole on par with Prohibition-era Chicago or cartel-controlled Culiacan. Or so suggests Gov. Greg Abbott.

Skeptical? Why else would the governor take the extraordinary step of proposing to hand over the duties of the Austin Police Department to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The governor proudly promised last week - “just in time for Christmas” - that legislation is in the works to allow the DPS to take responsibility for the safety and responsibility of Austin’s residents, because, in Abbott’s view, their squishy-minded city council dared try to cut the police budget.

It’s unclear whether the still-to-be-filed proposal - crafted by Ron Wilson, a former Democratic state representative from Houston, and Terry Keel, a former state representative and Travis County sheriff - would allow state troopers to take control of the whole city or just downtown and the University of Texas area. Abbott’s draft language would obligate Austin to pay for its policing, but the city would have no say in policy or administration.

Oh, what a small price for Austinites to pay for having a bold leader looking out for them. Surely. A dangerous, chaotic city must be brought to heel. Or so suggests the governor.

Never mind the actual facts. Recently elected state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt of Austin, Mayor Steve Adler and others have noted that the Capital City is invariably rated among the safest in the nation and that its local economy is one of the strongest, even in the pandemic era. In reality, the city’s biggest headaches - traffic and the lack of affordable housing - are the result of people clamoring to live in a thriving, progressive urban area.

We can only speculate as to the governor’s motives. We know the Houston native, who happens to live in a big, white mansion in downtown Austin, likes to voice a country-bumpkin disdain for urban Texas, particularly true-blue Austin.

Then consider Abbott’s comment a few years ago about the “People’s Republic of Austin.” Speaking in small-town Belton, he told a gathering of law-enforcement officials that “once you cross the Travis County line, it starts smelling different. And you know what that fragrance is? Freedom. It’s the smell of freedom that does not exist in Austin, Texas.”

A bit of political hyperbole, no doubt, and yet it does seem odd that Abbott’s paean to freedom does not seem to extend to Texas cities seeking to exert control over their own affairs, whether it’s Houston trying to enact a tree ordinance, Denton seeking to ban fracking within its city limits or local governments setting their own property tax rates. Local control used to be a conservative mainstay, but Abbott’s proposal for the People’s Republic of Austin would suggest that he’s taking his inspiration from another People’s Republic, the one with its booted heel on Hong Kong.

Perhaps the governor couldn’t resist the political wedge issue growing out of demonstrations that erupted after George Floyd’s death beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. The governor and other Republican elected officials, including the president, jumped on “defund the police,” the imprecise slogan some Democratic progressives adopted as cities around the country felt compelled to re-assess their approach to law enforcement and reallocate funds.

No city, as far as we know, has actually defunded its police department with no plan to replace it.

Austin’s response was to attempt to reallocate $150 million from the APD’s budget, which has grown every year since 2009. The reallocated monies would go to mental health, family violence prevention, homelessness, victim services and pandemic response. The city also proposed to earmark $49 million for a Reimagine Safety Fund, aimed at providing alternatives to traditional policing. No officers were laid off.

It’s too early to know whether that effort, begun in August, was foolish or farsighted. Regardless, it’s Austin’s decision to make - the voters’, actually - not the governor’s.

He has more urgent issues to address. The number of Texans hospitalized for COVID-19 and the average number of people who have died in the past few days are soaring. Hospitals are nearing capacity.

Our fellow Texans, out of work and hope, are waiting in long food lines in part because of the federal government’s dallying. Schools - and parents - are in distress. The state’s sales tax revenues are seriously depleted.

Get to work, Gov. Abbott, on things that matter. You know full well that the Austin Police Department is not in crisis. You know that crime isn’t soaring and a rise in a relatively low number of murders, for instance, is not out of step with pandemic-era increases in other major cities.

Texans have neither time nor patience for political gamesmanship. And, governor, before lawmakers come to town in a few weeks, let them know they can leave the flak jackets and AR-15s at home.

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San Antonio Express-News. Jan. 1, 2021.

Editorial: Headstones didn’t inform; they insulted

Headstones bearing Nazi swastikas are not worth keeping.

Their recent removal from Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery should be celebrated. The event should have been broadcast far and wide to raise awareness about the horrors of the Holocaust, the genocide of 6 million Jewish people and the murder of millions of others under the Nazi regime. This was a teachable moment. Never again.

Instead, the removal and replacement of two headstones for German prisoners of war Alfred P. Kafka and Georg Forst was a stunningly quiet moment, even if it was a welcome about-face from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The removal was chronicled by Express-News reporter Sig Christenson thanks to a tipster, not a formal announcement or press briefing.

While this reflects Christenson’s outstanding sourcing on all things military, we agree with the sentiments of Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who slammed the VA’s decision to keep the removal quiet.

“The fact that … they were trying very hard not to have anyone see it shows that they were embarrassed. They don’t like having to do it, and it’s as simple as that,” he said.

There is simply no compelling argument to maintain these headstones on a military cemetery. Americans died fighting the Third Reich. And what were Nazis fighting for?

To ignore their cause - inscribed on the headstones as “He died far from his home for the Führer, people and fatherland.” - is an insult to history and the dead.

And this is why the argument that these headstones somehow preserve history falls way short and is so insulting and infuriating.

In an earlier statement, the VA defended the preservation and continued display of these headstones, saying there was an obligation “to protect historic resources, including those that recognize divisive historical figures or events.”

But these headstones offered no historical context or understanding about the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.

That context can be found at the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio. Never again.

And yet we worry people are forgetting.

In recent years there has been a sharp increase in documented anti-Semitic incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Its 2019 audit found 2,107 such incidents. This is an increase from 2018, when 1,879 incidents were reported. In 2016, there were 1,267 incidents, and in 2015, 942 incidents.

A depressing survey from 2020 commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found a “worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge” among adults younger than 40.

This included 1 in 10 adults never having heard the word “Holocaust.” The majority of those surveyed did not know 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and some respondents thought Jewish people perpetrated the Holocaust.

So, in this context, how does displaying Nazi headstones at a military cemetery inform us about our history or deepen our understanding about the horrors of the Holocaust?

It doesn’t. The headstones had to be removed because they never should have been there.

END

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