Editorial Roundup: Texas

Dallas Morning News. Nov. 13, 2021.

Editorial: Stop shaming Matthew McConaughey

It was a record scratch of a moment: Texas actor and potential gubernatorial hopeful Matthew McConaughey, who is vaccinated against COVID-19, declared in an interview this week that his younger children are unvaccinated and that he wants more information.

The comment sparked a headline frenzy and touched off waves of dismay and judgment on social media, where all nuance goes to die. But McConaughey is not Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who misled the public about his vaccination status, flouted NFL rules and used his fame to spread anti-vaccine rhetoric. Anyone who takes the time to absorb McConaughey’s full comments will learn that his wife, mother and 13-year-old child are vaccinated, that he supports mask use and that he rejects the belief that vaccines are a Big Pharma conspiracy.

It’s imperative that we vaccinate the youngest Americans so that school and other aspects of their lives and everyone’s lives can go back to normal. Yet even well-meaning parents will need convincing. Instead of busting out the pitchforks, our country needs to do more soul-searching on how to better persuade families about the benefits of the shots.

What some of us may not realize is just how many of our neighbors, friends and co-workers who are parents share McConaughey’s hesitance. According to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 1 in 3 parents of kids ages 5 to 11 said they would consent to their kids getting the vaccine as soon as possible. Another third of parents said they would wait and see, and the other third said they would definitely not get shots for their kids.

Even parents who are vaccinated, like McConaughey, have told reporters and researchers that they have fears about how the shots will impact their children. Academics from Northeastern, Harvard, Rutgers and Northwestern universities found that roughly 40% to 50% of vaccinated parents surveyed in September described the newness of the vaccine, its immediate side effects and its long-term effects as a “major concern” when thinking about their children. Those percentages were higher among unvaccinated parents.

We’d like to borrow a page from Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general. In response to McConaughey’s comments, he said it’s OK for parents to ask questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, and he urged them to talk to their doctor and consult credible health sources. But he also argued that getting the shots is ultimately the right decision, pointing out that the illness has sent thousands of children to the hospital and killed some of them.

“As a dad of a child who has been hospitalized several years ago for another illness, I would never wish upon any parent they have a child that ends up in the hospital,” Murthy told CNN.

Murthy gets at the heart of the matter: Parents’ top concern is the well-being of their children, not an abstract duty to protect one’s community. Doctors and other trusted messengers must continue to emphasize that vaccines are safe for children and address individual concerns about potential side effects. They must continue to remind parents that the vaccines will get their children to resume their social lives safely and stave off more quarantines and virtual schooling.

Parent-shaming is a popular sport, but we don’t have to play it.

___

The (Harlingen) Valley Morning Star, Nov. 9, 2021.

Editorial: Convictions: Lucio held to principles despite changes in party

At first thought, many people might not consider state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. a rebel, but few would deny his willingness to go against the grain. Fellow Democrats at several times found themselves at odds with the man who has represented the eastern Rio Grande Valley in the Legislature for more than three decades, serving two terms in the House and before his election to the Senate in 1990. Lucio, 75, announced last week that the current term, which ends in January 2023, will be his last.

Over the past 35 years, which now places him as the third-longest-serving member of the Senate, Lucio has become known for using his charm, force of will and, sometime, a little guile to help enact important legislation, both large and small, that has benefited the Valley.

Through it all he has defied the old adage that one can’t serve more than one master. Lucio clearly had three: his constituents, his faith and his party. That fact at times frustrated, and even angered, state, local and party officials when he refused to toe their line. For example, he was the only Democrat in the Senate who voted with Republicans on controversial bills to restrict abortion and give transgender Texans access to restrooms and sports teams that reflected their chosen sexual identity.

Still, the former St. Joseph Academy staffer, who still identifies himself as an educator, will be best known for is support and advocacy for education and students. He authored bills to improve bus safety, make lunches healthier — even restrict student access to vending-machine candy — and strengthen laws against school gangs.

Lucio also was instrumental in improving higher education in the Valley, not only in supporting the universities and colleges in South Texas but also in the establishment of the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center. When Valley cities began bickering over placement of the center, Lucio helped forge the compromise legislation that placed it in the central location of Harlingen. Along with other members of the Valley contingent, he also pushed through legislation that fast-tracked the creation of UT Rio Grande Valley and its ground-breaking medical school.

He also has been a strong champion of infrastructure and business development. Even before the partial collapse of the Queen Isabella Causeway, Lucio was calling for a second crossing between South Padre Island and the mainland.

To be sure, it would be unusual to serve this long without some controversy. Lucio has been connected to an international bridge at the Port of Brownsville that was promised and partly financed but never built, and the federal detention center in Willacy County that became embroiled in a bribery and kickback scandal. The senator, who said he helped “bring people together” using the contacts he’d made in Austin, was never formally connected to the scandal although he was a paid consultant for the principal contractor on the jail contract.

Overall, however, Lucio can step away from a political career that has filled half his life knowing that he holds widespread respect, and gratitude, of countless people across the Valley whose lives he has affected, and who appreciate his staunch devotion to his principles, and to his people.

___

San Antonio Express-News. Nov. 11, 2021.

Editorial: Race still the real bogeyman

Boogeymen only exist in the imaginations that create them and in the fears on which they prey. Spanning centuries and cultures, the boogeyman is conjured to frighten people, especially children, into fearing whatever it is the conjurer wants them to fear.

The boogeyman is the villain of a million faces, able to morph into whatever identity its creator chooses. The boogeyman is “there to ensure that we follow the rules,” says an article in the October 2016 edition of Scientific American magazine, and it is “shapeless so it can be anywhere at any time, whether that means lurking under the bed or in the closet or behind a tree in the forest.”

Or in the pages of books.

The boogeyman of the moment is critical race theory, or CRT, which, according to its Republican critics, is spreading like kudzu across the nation’s school districts as it teaches that all white people are racist and forces white children to hate themselves because they are white.

None of this is true.

CRT is a legal analysis, more than four decades old, which teaches that race is a social construct. That racism is structural in institutions and laws. It’s deeper than individual biases. Instead, the blame is on the racist systems devised decades ago that still suppress people of color today.

Redlining, for instance. Because banks, by law, could deny Black people mortgages, the nation’s Depression-era and postwar housing policy was designed, by law, to deny them the same opportunities given to white people to build wealth through home equity. The same goes for separate but unequal education, which was legal until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

CRT is taught in universities, not in any school district in the nation, meaning that not only does CRT not teach what its critics claim, it’s also not taught where they insist it is. Yet this year, Texas is among the states to pass laws banning the teaching of something that has never been taught in its schools.

The transformation of CRT into something that it’s not, into a boogeyman to be feared and lathered with vitriol, was the intent of a young conservative activist named Christopher Rufo. A few months ago, after striking a match to the anti-CRT tinderbox, the political arsonist took to Twitter to admire his handiwork. “We have successfully frozen their brand — ‘critical race theory’— into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions,” wrote Rufo. “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’”

Rufo succeeded. No phrase is more widely used by people with less understanding of what it is than “critical race theory.” Its most passionate critics, be they politicians, activists or parents, invoke it without explaining what it is or reciting what specific books and writers they want excluded.

Equally telling is that in their cataloging of the sins of CRT, they never mention law professors Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw or any of CRT’s intellectual architects. Critics don’t know these names because they haven’t read their or anyone else’s work on CRT.

Critical race theory is used as an all-purpose avoidance of American history, perspectives and experiences that make people, specifically white people, uncomfortable. CRT reveals the American history, perspectives and experiences historically hidden from those who aren’t victims.

It’s not the “critical” or “theory” that causes the most discomfort.

It’s “race.”

Yes, the same boogeyman America can’t move past. Any facts, books or ideas questioning previously unchallenged worldviews and leading to a deeper, more inclusive exploration of our history — including the impact of slavery and racism — is labeled “critical race theory.”

By turning it into a boogeyman lurking in places it’s never been, its conjurers are exploiting ignorance and ancient fears — the real threat to our democracy.

___

Waco Tribune. Nov. 14, 2021.

Editorial: No turkey dinner for you till you get your COVID-19 shot

The one heart-stopping moment of Republican Congressman Pete Sessions’ rambunctious town hall meeting last week came when Dr. James Ferguson, a local pediatrician introduced by Sessions, told a crowd openly hostile to mandatory vaccinations that the deadly, highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus will not only accelerate in spread after Thanksgiving but continue throughout the next decade. And, he said matter-of-factly, “you will all get COVID.”

Whether one survives, he said, will depend on various factors.

Dr. Ferguson didn’t really press the pluses of vaccination before the rowdy bunch in the University High School auditorium, but a new report by the Texas Department of State Health Services neatly does so, thank you. Covering COVID-19 statistics from Jan. 15, 2021, to Oct. 1, the report showed our state’s unvaccinated in all age groups were 45 times more likely to contract the coronavirus bug than fully vaccinated people — and 40 times more likely to die.

The report is the state’s first statistical analysis of the real-world impact of vaccination against COVID-19 in Texas. “This analysis quantifies what we’ve known for months,” said Chief State Epidemiologist Jennifer Shuford, M.D. “The COVID-19 vaccines are doing an excellent job of protecting people from getting sick and from dying from COVID-19. Vaccination remains the best way to keep yourself and the people close to you safe from this deadly disease.”

By week’s end, three Republican judges on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sent a somewhat different message, halting the Biden administration’s so-called vaccination mandate of companies of 100 or more employees. (As proposed, the mandate does allow for medical or religious exemptions.) The court ruling said the mandate overstepped the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s authority, creating hardships for businesses.

“The mandate imposes a financial burden upon them by deputizing their participation in OSHA’s regulatory scheme, exposes them to severe financial risk if they refuse or fail to comply and threatens to decimate their workforces (and business prospects) by forcing unwilling employees to take their shots, take their tests or hit the road,” the judges wrote, sidestepping OSHA’s original charge by Congress to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.”

Clearly, this ivory tower ruling is contrived to snake around rule of law to reach a desired outcome, even casting doubts on the “supposedly ‘grave danger’” of the pandemic. That’s an interesting twist of the facts. There’s nothing “supposed” about a rampaging virus that has claimed the lives of more than 761,000 Americans, often needlessly, in less than two years, and has infected nearly 47 million Americans in that time. Many who survived have lingering and debilitating medical conditions.

Yes, COVID-19 numbers in Texas have been in decline in recent weeks. But if we can continue along the lines of what Dr. Ferguson told us, Texas may well repeat the pattern of fall 2020 and see another surge when cool weather drives us indoors and families gather for the holidays. An informal survey by the Trib spotlights one hope: Persistent family members show remarkable success in convincing household holdouts to cry “uncle” and get vaccinated. They should now redouble their lifesaving magic.

___

Abilene Reporter News. Nov. 14, 2021.

Editorial: Listening and learning in person: The power of (good) lectures enlightens us

Twice last week, Abilene residents — and any visitors from beyond the city limits — had a chance to go home a little smarter.

At least, more aware.

One of the advantages to living in a bigger city, one with three four-year universities, is the chance to attend a lecture.

For some, that may be the worst idea of the week. Flashbacks to boring school! But then, when the talk is presented correctly, it can be as entertaining as it is enlightening.

For example, the local history talks by Jay Moore. Those draw so many folks that events planned during spikes in the pandemic had to be canceled.

It’s an older audience, to be sure, one that enjoys reminiscing about Abilene’s history and perhaps learning something he or she didn’t know.

What makes it work — besides the research Moore, the former longtime Abilene High history teacher, puts into each project — is his humor. Moore is not one to miss irony or a chance to laugh, along with us, at how silly we sometimes are as a community.

Endless debates on spitting seeds and discarding watermelon rinds? That’s Abilene.

Street signs with leap-frogging letters? That’s us.

Last week, Moore led the second of three lectures about the Founding Fathers’ efforts to create a nation through his Stone Owl Academy. The name comes from an actual stone owl visible on the exterior of the former Abilene High School on South First Street.

Moore spoke about the “Heart, Soul and Genius of America.” It drew a nice crowd to a meeting room at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church. The final segment begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

It struck us that those attending were neither extremely right or left. They were interested in history and sought to gain a better understanding of how American government started and where it is today. Maybe as a refresher course, maybe listening better than they did back in their own school days.

Certainly, most leaving these talks had a “I didn’t know that” moment. Perhaps several.

Moore knows his history, and again, lightens the load with quips and the odd truth that is stranger than fiction.

Two nights later, Moore was at The Grace Museum, where his wife, Laura, works. She is the executive director.

This time, he joined others listening to guest artist Kate Breakey, the Aussie turned Texan whose exhibition titled “Journey” recently opened.

The great thing about gallery talks like this is hearing the artist describe her or his work in their own worlds, often right there with the work.

Breakey is a photographer who, she said, enhances almost all of her work in some way. It’s a skill she has honed for 40 years. She stays outdoors and there is not a person or building in her scenes.

She grew up with access to the outdoors and believed her calling was to paint dioramas for natural history museums. But art classes changed that, and learning about photography in college from a “hippie from California” sharpened her focus on her art. She did not put away pencils and paints but uses them to complete her images.

“I alter everything I do,” she said. Her interest, she said, is in “the natural world.”

Her photograms of deceased animals, titled “Las Sombras,” were the most recent darkroom project. She eagerly joined the digital age.

Without being preachy, Breakey lamented climate change and the loss of billions of birds. Three billion the past 50 years. She pointed to human encroachment, pesticides and even flying into buildings as causes.

She called their deaths “the canary in the coal mines about what we’re doing to this planet.” She was part of an exhibition titled “Three Billion” in Atlanta, Georgia.

Breakey raved about ravens. And javelinas.

“I think they’re charming,” she said of the latter, perhaps never meeting a live one in person.

She talked about photographing animals with cameras set up to take pictures when triggered. Those images are more natural and possible without a human lurking nearby.

Breakey has done many series and loves each. Some collections have 200 images, others 400. A challenge, she admitted, is “When do you stop doing something and move on?”

Most listening to Breakey likely had not seen her work before. Seeing and hearing her in person added to the discovery.

So do yourself a favor. Instead of letting information come to you, often from the same sources, seek it. There are opportunities throughout the year in Abilene to brain up. Perhaps you don’t agree with everything that is said, but that may solidify where you do stand.

Learning never stops. Ask Jay Moore. Or Kate Breakey.

END