Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:
San Antonio Express-News. Aug. 26, 2018.
There may never be another such as John S. McCain, 81, who died Saturday after a battle with brain cancer. Which is another way of saying that the nation has too few heroes in its political class. McCain surely filled that niche.
His heroism occurred in two spheres, as a naval aviator who became a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and as an elected official – a U.S. representative and senator. This makes his achievements all the more remarkable.
His heroism was indelibly linked with the word that came to describe him – maverick. He veered from that trait from time to time, some say opportunistically as the political need arose, but he returned to it always.
It was his true north.
He was a maverick when he bucked his Republican Party to co-sponsor landmark campaign finance reform with perhaps the most liberal member of the Senate, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold.
He was a maverick when he returned to Washington from his sickbed in Arizona – after being diagnosed with brain cancer – to cast one of three GOP votes that kept his party from repealing the Affordable Care Act.
He was a maverick as a member of the Gang of Eight to bring comprehensive immigration reform to the Senate floor.
Knowing personally what torture is – a lesson learned as a POW in the “Hanoi Hilton” – he was a maverick to forthrightly call out the George W. Bush Administration for its “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
And, most recently, he was ever the maverick in standing up to the invective and bullying that has come to characterize the administration of President Donald Trump. McCain was and remains a rarity in that regard in his party, but he recognized his man earlier than most, while Trump was running for the presidency. This prompted the candidate to question his heroism. Trump said of McCain, “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
But McCain was surely a hero during and after his captivity in North Vietnam. After 5½ years of torture and much of his imprisonment spent in solitary confinement, he was offered an early release obviously because his admiral father was in command of the war in the Pacific. He refused because he knew other POWs had been there longer.
“I knew that my release would add to the suffering of men who were already straining to keep faith with their country,” he later wrote.
That some of the contributions of being a maverick were ultimately stymied do not render his efforts meaningless. The U.S. Supreme Court rendered his campaign finance reform meaningless with its Citizen United decision – money is now speech and corporations are people. The Gang of Eight’s immigration reform floundered in the U.S. House, never became law, and was replaced with harsh rhetoric against immigration and immigrants by the president and others in the GOP. His vote prevented outright repeal of the ACA, but the act’s effectiveness nonetheless has been eroded by executive order.
Ironically, being a maverick cost him in his second presidential run in 2008 (the first run was against George W. Bush in the GOP primary in 2000). He named the little-known governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate and her statements quickly caused many to question her ability to step into the No. 1 spot if tragedy occurred. He lost the 2008 race to Barack Obama.
It’s always easy to jump on a bandwagon headed in the wrong direction, but harder to stand athwart it. Easy to join your voice to a chorus, harder to hit that discordant note that’s not on the sheet music – on purpose.
John S. McCain will be remembered not just for his maverick ways and his true heroism. He will be remembered for the wisdom, compassion, integrity and patriotism that were their foundation.
Longview News-Journal. Aug. 26, 2018.
Frank Hajart has been an American for decades. At long last, he has a piece of paper to prove it.
That this man who fought as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam had to wait nearly 60 years to get that piece of paper is another sad illustration of the unfortunate quirks of our nation’s system of immigration. It also is a reminder that system is badly broken and must be fixed.
At least Hajart, who was 12 years old in the mid-1950s when his family came to the U.S. to escape their native Yugoslavia, was not tossed into a cage away from his parents as thousands of young immigrants recently have been at our Southern border.
In case you’ve missed the stories about his odyssey, Hajart joined the Marines in the ‘60s, being told by his recruiter he would get citizenship. However, that was not the case. It apparently was not an issue for the Overton veteran until a couple of years ago, when he went to renew his Texas driver’s license. It was flagged because he truthfully checked a box on an application indicating he was not a U.S. citizen.
“A red flag went up, and it went over my whole being,” Hajart told us.
He spoke to his friend Lori Thomas, a military veteran peer network coordinator at Community HealthCore in Longview. She started a process to help Hajart get his license and his citizenship. To get his license back, he had to jump through hoops with the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
And last week, in a naturalization ceremony in Dallas, Hajart at long last became a citizen.
As touched as we have been by the good news aspects of this story, we also know it is not unique, either among veterans like Hajart or others who have immigrated to the U.S. Green card holders, who are lawful permanent residents of the U.S., are increasingly badly treated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when they apply to become citizens.
Like Hajart, they have lived legally in the U.S. for years, but their applications, which once took a few months to process, now drag on for nearly two years in some places. The Washington Post reported the nationwide average wait is more than 10 months, double the time in 2014 and twice the agency’s own stated goal.
Adding insult to injury, the Post said, applicants, nearly 90 percent of whom are approved and ultimately become U.S. citizens, are compelled to pay $725 in fees for this appalling service. That’s a hefty bill considering the median family income of naturalized citizens is less than $60,000.
Part of the problem stems from an application surge, but also is blamed on an array of institutional, structural and technological problems. The agency, which also handles refugee and asylum applications, is badly underfunded and Congress has balked at appropriating additional funds.
The Post pointed out that the Obama administration deepened the problem by doubling the list of questions, and therefore the interview times, required of applicants. The Trump administration also has made things worse by doubling the workload for immigration officers, requiring them to interview all green-card applicants sponsored by employers, in addition to citizenship applicants; previously, interviews were often waived for employment-based green-card candidates, who are considered low-risk. Congress also shares some blame, as it has balked at appropriating additional funds to handle the increases.
This all points out at least two facts: One is that immigration has brought and continues to bring this nation good and needed people like Hajart, who served faithfully and has lived as a true American and East Texan. Another is that it is long past time for politicians to stop dishonestly using immigration as a political issue and get to work to fix and adequately fund this system that has helped make this country great.
It does not do that by blocking out immigrants or by making qualified applicants wait two years – or 60 – to be considered Americans. That is shameful.
The Dallas Morning News. Aug. 26, 2018.
The Catholic Church’s most recent – and perhaps most depraved – sexual-abuse scandal is stunning and has hit our community and our state hard. According to the most recent U.S. Religion Census, at least 56 percent of Texans are adherents to a religion; of those, nearly 20 percent are Catholics.
But one need not be a Catholic nor an adherent to any faith to be sickened by the Pennsylvania grand jury report that identified 301 “predator priests” throughout the state who abused more than 1,000 children – some as young as 2 years old – over seven decades.
The details are well-known and too heinous to repeat. But what’s lesser-known is that the roughly 900-page report said the strategies deployed by the Catholic Church – deacons, priests and bishops – to respond to allegations amounted to “a playbook for concealing the truth.”
Those strategies included using fellow clergy to investigate allegations of abuse, refusal to explain why abusive priests were removed or transferred to a different diocese, use of euphemisms like “boundary issues” in cases that were clearly rape, and, lastly, not reporting accused priests to law enforcement.
The scandal hit closer to home when Bishop Edward Burns of the Dallas Diocese announced last Sunday that the Rev. Edmundo Paredes, pastor at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Oak Cliff for 27 years, has fled the state and likely the country after being accused of stealing up to $80,000 from the parish and molesting three teenage boys over a decade ago.
The revelations regarding Paredes were made public just a day before Pope Francis’ letter to all Catholics addressing what he called the “atrocities” in Pennsylvania. “We showed no care for the little ones,” he wrote, “we abandoned them.” Regarding Paredes’ flight from justice and the abuse scandal, Burns said, “I recognize this diocese cannot cover its ears, its eyes, its mouth. We need to look at this head-on.”
We agree, and hope Burns and his fellow bishops take Francis’ words on the responsibility of clerics to heart. As the pope wrote, “Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.”
As happened in 2002 after the Boston Globe’s investigative report about the cover-up of decades of sexual abuse by priests, many Catholics are withholding donations and demanding accountability. The Globe investigation led to the prosecution of five priests. But due to Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations on child sex abuse and the deaths of many involved, only two of the 301 accused priests have been charged.
Understandably, many in Pennsylvania and around the country are calling for the statute to be lifted – at least long enough to provide alleged victims a window to receive justice.
In 2013, Minnesota did just that with passage of the Child Victims Act, which opened a three-year window for victims to report cases. Hundreds flooded in, leading to the 2015 bankruptcy of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Similar legislation proposed in New York and other states has faced strong opposition from the Catholic Church. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, has called the proposed one-year window in his state’s Child Victims Act “toxic” and “strangling” for the church.
After last month’s resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, over allegations he sexually abused minors and adult seminarians for decades; after what the pope has called “wounds” that “will not go away” in Pennsylvania; and after what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called a “moral catastrophe,” perhaps Dolan and like-minded lawmakers will better understand that it is the crimes against children that are toxic and strangling.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the USCCB, has rightly acknowledged that the church needs to “make the reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier.” He’s also called on the church to “develop and widely promote reliable third-party reporting mechanisms.”
As Burns explained, since 2008, over 125,000 people in the Dallas Diocese have been vetted and trained on how to protect children and other vulnerable individuals from abuse. Priests who come to the diocese, he said, must have a “letter of suitability” from the church that reviews their past. But, he added, “Bishops rely on other bishops to indeed assure the truth.” The abject failure of this self-policing is the reason grand jury investigations have proved necessary and “third-party reporting mechanisms” are essential.
Nevertheless, we would remind all clergy, regardless of faith, that the separation of religion and state does not mean anyone is above the law. Section 261.101 of the Texas Family Code mandates that anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect must report it immediately. This, the law clearly states, “applies without exception to an individual whose personal communications may otherwise be privileged, including … a member of the clergy.”
Importantly, the law also applies when “an adult was a victim of abuse or neglect as a child and the person or professional determines in good faith that disclosure of the information is necessary to protect the health and safety of another child.”
No prison sentence, fine or award of damages can ever make up for the abuse of a child. Such crimes, as Pope Francis wrote, “inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike.”
We must hope – and yes, pray – that the Catholic Church can reform itself. It remains an important institution and must take every measure to continue to be so. But we must be vigilant and hold all individuals who abuse a child, or fail to report abuse, accountable for what are nothing less than crimes against humanity.
Houston Chronicle. Aug. 26, 2018.
Immediately after Hurricane Harvey, the Houston Chronicle editorial board began meeting with elected officials, business leaders, environmentalists, engineers and other experts in the process of crafting a long-term vision for our region. The result was a 12-point list of recommendations, intended to focus attention, energy and political capital on what it would take to make greater Houston truly resilient.
How have we done? What have we accomplished? Momentum is slow, and far too much work has been delayed until 2019 because Gov. Greg Abbott never called a special legislative session to address the second most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history. But we cannot be discouraged. Houstonians who care about our city’s future must keep up pressure on our leadership to implement these policies.
Houstonians piloted bass boats, volunteered at shelters, mucked and gutted neighbors’ homes and, after a year of rebuilding, it is natural to feel like we deserve some rest. But our work cannot end with the passage of the $2.5 billion Harris County flood bond. Too many other projects loom, too many needs remain, if Houston is to recover after Harvey in a way that ensures we’re better prepared for the next storm. Because there will be a next storm.
Here are the recommendations and where we stand today:
1. Establish a regional flood control authority.
“Instead of dividing these disaster-prevention efforts into provincial fiefdoms, we need a single authority with the power to levy taxes that will take charge of all of our area’s drainage issues.”
Local leaders are talking about the creation of an informal regional authority that can assist in planning and help distribute funds, similar to the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s efforts in transportation planning. That’s a good first step, but will likely fall short in rallying the resources our region needs to effectively deal with the flood threat. And, like so much about the Harvey recovery, it relies on state officials doing their job during the next legislative session and creating this authority.
2. Build a third reservoir.
“Houston environmental attorney Jim Blackburn maintains that at least one new reservoir should be constructed in northwest Harris County that can help flooding along Cypress Creek, Bear Creek and Buffalo Bayou.”
Blackburn, county leaders and the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium now question the original plans for a third reservoir that had been on the books for decades. They still maintain the need for some kind of reservoir along Cypress Creek and upstream of the Addicks reservoir. That need won’t be met by the county flood bond, and federal funds have only been allocated to study the project – not build it. State lawmakers have the opportunity to step up in January.
3. Build the coastal barrier system.
“If Hurricane Ike in 2008 had steered straight up the Houston Ship Channel, its powerful surge would have wrought catastrophic damage not only on the Johnson Space Center and the Bayport Industrial Complex, but also on the nation’s economy.”
Congress has allocated nearly $2 million to study a coastal barrier system that would protect the upper Texas coast from hurricane storm surges. The Army Corps of Engineers has been allocated $4 billion to boost already-existing coastal levees in Port Arthur and Freeport and build new coastal levees in Orange County. But we’re still nowhere near construction of a storm surge barrier that will protect Galveston Bay and the Port of Houston.
Congress should pass a bill that simply instructs the Corps to design and build this project. State government could help by putting an agency in charge of operating and maintaining the proposed barrier and creating a Coastal Spine Advisory Board that would disband after the project’s completion. That hasn’t happened.
4. Buy the Westwood Golf Club.
“Phil Bedient, director of the SSPEED Center at Rice for Severe Storm Protection, contends that most of Meyerland would be protected from future flooding if the Westwood Golf Club along Brays Bayou was converted to a storm-water detention space.”
This buyout never occurred, and the city of Houston actually approved the construction of new homes inside the former Pine Crest Golf Course, which sits within a west Houston flood plain. The flood bond and federal dollars could underwrite some future buyouts of golf courses, but for now, this idea remains stuck in the sand trap.
5. Approve new funding streams.
“Current local budgets are inadequate to cover the costs of the massive infrastructure investment we’ll need to keep this region safe from floods. The Harris County Flood Control District has a capital improvement budget of $60 million per year. Mike Talbott, the district’s former executive director, estimated that we need about $26 billion for necessary infrastructure updates.”
The Harris County flood bond will trigger an increase in property taxes, but there have been no other efforts to craft a sustainable, dedicated funding source for flood control.
Houston tried to lift its revenue cap so that the city wouldn’t be compelled to lower the tax rate after Harvey, but those efforts were stymied by political pressure.
Sales tax revenue could be collected in the unincorporated county either by granting ordinance-making powers to the county government, or compelling unincorporated areas to form new cities or join already-existing municipalities. Those options would require a major effort in Austin, and nobody seems prepared for that fight.
Much work is needed to ensure we can afford the flood infrastructure the Houston region needs.
6. Require more effective land-use regulations.
“Adopting new regulations at both city and county levels to better control runoff would include restrictions on expanding impervious surfaces, investment in green infrastructure and stronger flood-detention standards.”
Both the city and county passed new rules that improved construction standards in the 100-year and 500-year flood plains. However, City Hall leaders have balked at other regulations that will ensure we’re building a sustainable future. Hopefully the 2019 municipal elections will rally passion about these issues.
7. Reform the National Flood Insurance Program.
“We cannot keep rebuilding homes that flood over and over again.”
Changes haven’t been made to prioritize buyouts over repairs for “repetitive loss properties.” Nor have flood maps been updated to reflect the true flood risk. And the program is still more than $25 billion in debt. After being extended in July, Congress must again reauthorize the program in November. They should take the opportunity to make necessary changes.
8. Insist on a transparent Corps of Engineers.
“Local neighborhoods remain ignorant about Corps projects throughout the region and about the risks and threats posed by floodwaters.”
While some representatives – notably U.S. Rep. John Culberson – have said they’ll provide better oversight going forward, we have yet to see any structural change. Actually, things might be getting worse. The Corps has grown silent after homeowners sued it for opening the Addicks and Barker floodgates during Harvey.
9. Reinvigorate our politics.
“Houston, Harris County and beyond have repeatedly had to deal with assorted natural disasters, including devastating hurricanes, and yet our elected officials are too often unresponsive. (…) At the federal level, gerrymandered congressional districts are unexpected contributors to flooding problems. (…) Congress needs to restore earmarks.”
Gerrymandered districts force the politics of place to take a backseat to partisan primaries. The elimination of earmarks makes it difficult for our representatives to fund specific flood control projects. Low voter engagement gives power to the political extremes instead of practical needs. None of this has been addressed since Harvey. Democrats have rallied new challengers for 2018, and Harris County has held dozens of open forums about the flood bond, but our political system remains unprepared to make flood prevention a priority.
10. Protect renters.
“Apartments must be required to offer flexibility on rent payments and late fees during disasters. Leases must be easier to break for renters who endure a natural disaster. Property owners can’t be allowed to discriminate against flood victims who rely on Section 8 vouchers to pay for new housing.”
Houstonians, especially renters, need an economic resilience to help them weather the financial burdens of the worst storm. This means allowing flexibility in rent and leases during disasters and prohibiting landlords from discriminating against flood victims who rely on Section 8 vouchers. Only the Legislature can make those changes, and the governor never called a special session.
11. Help schools rebuild.
“Abbott should provide HISD the funding it needs to rebuild by calling upon the Legislature for a one-time payment from the Rainy Day Fund.
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath should help by waiving the academic accountability ratings for public school districts and charter schools in counties declared disaster areas.”
Morath did the responsible thing after Harvey by waiving the academic accountability ratings for affected schools. The Texas Education Agency offered $400 million in state funding to help districts with lower enrollment after Harvey. And, while the governor never called a special session, the Legislature is expected to tap the Rainy Day Fund in the next session to pay back expected costs to school districts. Meanwhile, HISD is relying on operations reserves and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) funds are being used to rebuild four demolished schools.
12. Establish a national emergency website address.
“We need a national 911-style emergency information web address, a standard and easily remembered internet site where people can find up-to-the-moment intelligence on everything from road closures and rising floodwaters to web cameras and weather radar.”
FEMA never established a national version of this plan, but Houston TranStar officially released its new Flood Warning System for local roadways last month. The map uses information from the Harris County Flood Control District’s rainfall gauges to warn drivers about flooded streets. This is a must-need tool in a city where flooding can happen intersection-by-intersection. We’ll consider it a success.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Aug. 27, 2018.
Gov. Greg Abbott has been good about bringing a personal touch to hurricane recovery. He did it again over the weekend, in observance of Hurricane Harvey’s first anniversary.
On Sunday he attended First Baptist Church of Rockport, which had been wrecked by Harvey, where he called attention to the power of faith exhibited by those who survived Harvey. “We can lose absolutely everything, but still have even more” because of faith, Abbott said.
And he’s right. People indeed learned that they had the inner strength to soldier on and that their stuff was just stuff. The people of the Rockport and Port Aransas areas whose homes, churches, schools and personal belongings were in Harvey’s eye, and the people of the Houston area who survived near-Old Testament flooding, have proved their mettle.
But there is much more to be done – much more still undone by Harvey. And that’s where Abbott needs to do more. The enduring material needs of the survivors are far from superficial. We’re talking homes, schools and storm protection infrastructure, not high fashion.
There still are Harvey survivors in FEMA trailers. And in the Houston area the median home price soared recently to $290,000, driven by the inadequacy of the supply to meet the demand. In the hardest-hit parts of the Coastal Bend, Harvey didn’t just destroy homes. It destroyed so-called affordable housing. Many Harvey survivors are priced out of their communities.
We Texans appreciate self-reliance. But many of the lingering challenges are not of the triumph-of-the-individual variety. Many schools are not fully recovered at a time when their taxable bases are worth less because of hurricane damage. And many if not most areas remain susceptible to the next significant rain. We commend Houston for passing a $2.5 billion flood preparedness bond on Harvey’s anniversary. But nothing proportionately comparable has been done in Coastal Bend communities that either were hit by Harvey or were lucky not to have been.
What Houston does with its big-city resources will have positive effects beyond the big city. When Houston protects Houston, it protects Texas. We all are dependent on each other in ways that become apparent when something like Harvey comes along and compromises those inter-dependencies. For example, a few days of post-Harvey down time at Corpus Christi refineries were felt at gas pumps nationwide.
We’ve said previously that Abbott did the right thing calling a special election to fill former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s unexpired term, for the right reason – having an advocate for hurricane relief in the U.S. House. Now we have U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Victoria, looking after our interests. We urge Abbott to use his national profile to help this extremely junior member of Congress.
Abbott has been good at the spiritual leading. But it’s passing strange that he hoarded the $12 billion state emergency fund literally nicknamed the Rainy Day Fund. It has been tapped for road projects and water planning. Why not for helping communities prepare for the next hurricane? We know there’ll be more of them. And we have a pretty good idea of what happens – destruction of buildings not built to resist hurricane-force winds, power outages and flooding.
It’s time Abbott looked into creative ways to use the Rainy Day Fund and other state resources to prepare Texas for hurricanes. The fund could provide the help that cities and counties need in planning and developing flood and storm-surge protections such as seawalls and other systems for diverting and draining floodwaters.
How about programs to make the state less susceptible to storm-related power outages and to keep communications systems up and running? Downed power lines not only cause outages but also become some of the most dangerous predictable hazards resulting from storms. They can be prevented by replacing them with underground lines.
Texas ranks 15th among the 18 coastal states for hurricane-resistant building standards, probably partly because Texans don’t like government telling them what to do. But it would not be an abuse of power for Abbott to push for Texas to be No. 1 on the list. If anything, his failure to do so is an abdication. If there’s no other funding available to develop uniform building codes, he could tap the Rainy Day Fund.
A year after Harvey, we’re no better off or better prepared, and neither is Abbott. Harvey redefined rainy day. It’s time for the governor to adapt the Rainy Day Fund and the state’s many other resources accordingly. Otherwise, why have them? They’re just stuff.
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