Editorial Roundup: Texas

Austin American-Statesman. July 8, 2021.

Editorial: Forget, for a moment, the Alamo. Remember the First Amendment

Silencing journalists and scholars, chasing dissent from the public square, distorting history to serve an ideological narrative — it’s the stuff of autocrats, and now, the reprehensible behavior of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Texans of all stripes should be deeply troubled by Patrick’s announcement last week that he used his authority, as the state’s No. 2 elected official, to cancel a virtual panel discussion he didn’t like at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, a public institution supported in part by taxpayer dollars.

The topic was a new book about the Alamo, but that is beside the point. It’s not the lieutenant governor’s job to decide which ideas can be shared and debated at a public forum. It’s not his job to tell Texans what to think.

The book at the heart of this controversy, “Forget the Alamo,” casts a critical eye on Texas’ founding fathers, suggesting their desire to keep slaves helped fuel their push for independence from Mexico, which opposed slavery. That account — supported by decades of scholarship, largely by Latino historians whose work deserves greater public recognition — runs counter to the simplistic tale that generations of Texas students have learned in school, the story celebrating the white heroes of the Alamo while largely ignoring the contributions of Tejano allies and the thorny role of slavery.

The well-documented book is not, as Patrick alleged on Twitter, a “fact-free rewriting of TX history.” And it’s not solely about history. The book by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford also probes the present-day politics around the storytelling of the Alamo, suggesting Patrick used “manufactured outrage” over the Alamo restoration plan to undercut Land Commissioner George P. Bush, whom he viewed as a political rival.

Patrick’s push to cancel the book discussion went beyond preserving an idealized narrative of Texas’ founding fathers. It silenced an examination of Patrick’s own efforts to capitalize on that narrative — efforts that could cost Texas taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars if Patrick follows through on his pledge for sizable state funding for an Alamo museum, housing what the book’s authors argue is a collection of Alamo memorabilia of dubious authenticity.

For months now we’ve heard Republican gripes about “cancel culture,” a catchall condemnation for everything from the repackaging of Mr. Potato Head to the efforts by social media companies to reduce the spread of conspiracy theories on their private platforms. Simmering with faux outrage, Republicans have appeared on TV, penned guest columns and fired off fundraising emails — absurdly complaining to the masses that they were being muzzled.

But what Patrick gave us last week was a textbook case of real censorship, a clear case of the government stifling free speech. Patrick abused his authority as a member of the State Preservation Board to cancel an event at a public institution because he disagreed with the message. The only silver lining is that Patrick’s effort backfired spectacularly, drawing national attention to the topic and driving book sales through the roof. The publisher, according to one of the authors, has ordered two more printings.

Forget, for a moment, the Alamo. Remember, instead, the First Amendment. Remember that it was the first enumeration of Americans’ protected rights for a reason: The free exchange of ideas, even difficult or unpopular ones, is the oxygen that keeps democracy alive. We cannot govern ourselves if our government leaders dictate what’s fact and what’s not, what can be discussed and what’s forbidden.

And yet our state leaders keep trying. Last month Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill creating the “1836 Project,” a thinly disguised propaganda campaign about “why Texas became so exceptional in the first place.” He also signed a bill limiting the ways that race and current events can be discussed in public schools, tapping into the ginned-up debate over critical race theory — a topic he’s urged lawmakers to revisit in the special session, alongside the supposed censorship of conservatives on social media.

Abbott and GOP lawmakers have repeatedly tried to curtail an honest, nuanced examination of our state’s history, opting for indoctrination over discourse. This, on top of a barrage of bills last session in which the Legislature tried to dictate a range of decisions, from personal medical care to police funding levels, that Texans and local communities should be free to make for themselves.

Enough already. Patrick is free to disagree with the authors of any book. Better yet, he’s free to challenge the authors to explain and defend their findings. Either way, Texans deserve to have the discussion. The lieutenant governor had no right to shut it down.

___

San Antonio Express-News. July 8, 2021.

Editorial: How much will Abbott’s wall cost Texans?

Mexico never paid for President Donald Trump’s failed border wall, so why should that task now fall to Texans?

We have yet to hear a compelling case from either Trump or Gov. Greg Abbott, fresh off their trip last week to the Rio Grande Valley, where they vowed to secure the border and build more walls and — well, you have read this before. It is a terrible sequel, but even those can generate an audience.

While we are confident Abbott won’t build much of a border wall, or “secure” anything more than his re-election in 2022 and perhaps a shot for president come 2024, we wonder how much this bit of agitprop will cost Texans. As the saying goes, politics is the art of the possible.

Theatrical news conferences at the border can gin up the base in advance of a primary, but they can’t overcome the reality that immigration is a federal issue, asylum-seekers have rights, a border wall is a monumental expense Texas can’t afford, and most of the land along the Texas-Mexico border is privately owned. The Trump administration, despite its bluster, built only about 80 miles of new wall, according to news reports.

But by all means, governor, please keep tweeting videos of brush getting cleared for your wall.

To get the job “done,” Abbott has pledged $250 million from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and he is also seeking private donations. There is something unsettling about the governor’s office soliciting private funding for a politically charged public project in the runup to the 2022 election, but even more unsettling is the prospect of using federal COVID relief funds for such a cause.

Texas’ Democratic lawmakers have sounded that alarm, asking Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a letter to block Abbott and Co. from tapping $15 billion designated for COVID relief for the wall.

“With no Republican support, we approved $350 billion in the American Rescue Plan for eligible state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments to assist local leaders, who confronted pandemic challenges, and to assist with economic and job recovery,” wrote the 13 Democrats, including U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett, Joaquin Castro and Henry Cuellar, who all represent San Antonio.

These funds, they continued, are to support essential workers, small businesses and public health outreach, and boost government services. But they have nothing to do with a wall.

A spokeswoman for Abbott has said the governor plans to call a special session in the fall to determine how the funds are spent.

Better for Yellen to cut this off at the pass. These are funds that should be applied to local and state governments to boost economic recovery as we emerge from the pandemic.

Political visits to the border have their place and can be helpful, but too often they are mere photo ops for talking points that inflame fears around immigration and border security without much nuance or thought given to the realities of immigration, the complexities of border communities or the need for comprehensive reform.

It’s easy to hold a news conference with Trump or don a flak jacket for an in-house video espousing the dangers of the border. It’s much harder to hash out realistic reforms that address security and honor the humanity of immigration. And so nothing changes.

We’ve been impressed with reforms proposed by state Sens. César J. Blanco, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Judith Zaffirini, who represent El Paso, McAllen and Laredo.

Rather than a traditional wall, for example, they suggest a virtual wall that bolsters law enforcement and preserves natural habitat for a fraction of the cost. They also propose using asset forfeitures to reimburse property owners along the border for damages; cracking down on gun trafficking; and modernizing ports of entry.

If Texans are going to pay for border politics, they should at least get something better than an ugly political symbol.

___

Abilene Reporter News. July 11, 2021.

Editorial: Medal of Honor for William Dyess remains long overdue

The recent change-of-command ceremony at Dyess Air Force Base offered pride and history.

Which quickly brings to mind Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess.

We are proud that Dyess was a West Texas boy. And history assuredly notes his heroism, in combat and as a Japanese prisoner of war. Heroism ultimately cost him his life.

Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess

At 27 and back in the States, Dyess’ guided his disabled P-38 Lightning away from residents of Burbank, Calif., and crashed Dec. 22, 1943. He was killed but his decision potentially saved lives.

Dyess has been honored.

In 2015, the Legislature awarded the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor to his family. Three years later, his youngest sister and only surviving immediate family member, Elizabeth “Nell” Denman, received the Congressional Gold Medal.

George Washington in 1776 was the first to receive this award. Only 160 individuals, groups and organizations have received this prestigious award since then.

Dyess was honored 75 years after his death.

The one honor yet to be bestowed is the Medal of Honor.

It is the most significant, and would better make the nation aware of Dyess’ heroism.

For years, the effort has been made to bring that medal home. Dyess is buried in Albany in Shackelford County, where he grew up.

When an Air Force base was opened west of Abilene in 1956, it needed a name. It had been called Tye Army Air Field, Abilene Army Air Base and Abilene Army Airfield.

Dyess served in the Army Air Corps, not in the Air Force, which was created as a service branch in 1947, almost four years after his death.

An effort was made locally to land a post-World War II base here.

That was accomplished, and honoring Dyess with its name was a popular decision.

There have been more than 3,500 Medals of Honor awarded, but there are just seven recipients since the Vietnam War.

It is awarded by the president, and there were hopes that then-President Trump would award one to Dyess a few years back.

Dyess served in the Philippines and was captured when the Japanese took the nation of many islands. He survived the 65-mile Bataan Death March, then led a daring escape from Davao Penal Colony prison camp.

His life was not taken in war; he gave his life back home.

We are proud that the airmen who come to Dyess, as young men and women, or to lead as Col. Joseph Kramer is doing as 7th Bomb Wing and base commander, learn more about a true American hero.

We urge those in Washington, D.C., who can make this happen to do so.

America is in search of heroes, and we have one right here.

___

Houston Chronicle. July 10, 2021.

Editorial: If Abbott and Trump were true leaders, they’d urge vaccinations

Evidence that the pandemic is passing from our lives is all around us. People out and about — in restaurants, in parks, at ballgames, at backyard gatherings over the Fourth — are glorious signs that life is beginning again. The goal now is to keep that momentum going.

Unfortunately, that’s anything but guaranteed. The so-called delta variant, which emerged in India and then spread like wildfire around the world, is wreaking havoc in countries with low vaccination rates. It seems to be driving a renewed surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

This country isn’t being spared either. The delta variant now is the dominant strain of the virus, and accounted for 51 percent of new cases in the past two weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. That’s not because COVID-19 vaccines are unavailable, but because residents of certain areas stubbornly refuse to be vaccinated. Areas of recalcitrance include parts of Texas, as well as rural and small-town areas of the South, West and Midwest. Most are red states run by Trump-obeisant governors and state legislatures.

The highly contagious delta variant may have sparked the recent outbreak that ravaged a youth camp sponsored by a Houston-area church. Children and adults came home from camp with more than just a sunburn. At least 125 individuals tested positive for COVID-19.

“Clearly, COVID is not over,” Dr. Benjamin Neuman, a virologist and professor at Texas A&M University, told the Texas Tribune.

“COVID isn’t ever gone until it’s completely gone,” Neuman added. “And I think we’ve made the mistake of assuming that the virus would go away or assuming that the virus wouldn’t affect children. … We keep stumbling into the same mistakes over and over, and that is not a way out of COVID-19.”

The way out is relatively simple: People who get vaccinated are protected, even if they are exposed to the delta variant. They get the shot, they protect themselves, they protect their friends, they protect family members. They get on with life. That’s how simple it is. Some few may still get sick, even with the vaccines, but when they do their cases are far less likely to require hospitalization and much less likely to get others seriously ill.

Unfortunately, Texas is one of several red states where vaccination rates have stagnated, mainly because of Republican reluctance. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that nearly half of Texas Republican voters say thanks but no thanks on getting a COVID-19 vaccination. A Harvard University analysis of vaccination rates by congressional district found that the 14 Texas districts with the lowest vaccination rates are all represented by Republicans.

Too many Republican governors, Republican congressmen and Republican state officials would rather play political games with their constituents’ lives than do the right thing. They would rather ridicule President Joe Biden’s insistence that people get vaccinated — even if he has to send vaccinators door-to-door, needle in hand to offer to deliver the shot — than to tell their constituents the truth about vaccines and urge them to do the right thing.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, is an exception. Although he criticized candidate Biden for questioning vaccine safety under the Trump administration, the congressman told the Chronicle he will “continue to support and urge the White House to make progress on these vaccinations.”

“I don’t think we should give up,” he said, “until we’ve continued to drive these vaccination rates up higher, because it certainly, to a layman, is clear that the cases we’re seeing and the illnesses we’re seeing are coming from unvaccinated Americans.”

Just imagine if former President Donald Trump said something similar. Imagine him summoning the press to his New Jersey golf club, where he would urge his fellow Americans to get vaccinated. “Get the shot,” he would say, or maybe it would be, “Get the damn shot!” Millions of vaccine skeptics would get their shots.

We all know, of course, that Trump would never perform such a public service; he’s not that kind of guy. In fact, when he himself got the shot just before leaving the White House, he failed to even mention it. But what about a Republican governor? What about Greg Abbott?

We can imagine the popular and influential Texan calling the press into the venerable Governor’s Reception Room in the Capitol, so that he can talk straight to his fellow Texans about vaccines. Arrayed behind him would be state health officials, doctors and nurses and a bipartisan bevy of lawmakers in town for the special session, including several legislators who are physicians.

“We’re a stubborn bunch,” he might say. “We don’t like to be told what to do, whether it’s a Mexican Army looking to take a Texian cannon at Gonzales or intrusive big-government busy-bodies nosing into our business.”

(Someone behind him mumbles something about Biden going door to door like a Fuller Brush salesman. Republican lawmakers chuckle.)

The governor continues: “Yes, we can be stubborn, stubborn as granddad’s old mule, but there’s something else about Texans that many of our fellow Americans don’t understand: We’re a big-hearted people. We look out for each other. We care for each other.

“That’s what happened when Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston a few years ago; their fellow Texans — and our Louisiana neighbors, I might add — rushed in to help. That’s what happened just last February, when vicious winter cold, dangerous cold, deprived so many of us of power and water. Neighbors checked on each other; they shared. That’s what Texans do when times are tough.”

Of course, the governor might decide to x out the winter storm reference, since his office has not covered itself in glory in response, but the point he would be leading up to is pertinent: Getting the shot benefits everyone, not just the one being jabbed.

The governor might even mention that the more Texans who are vaccinated the closer we get to herd immunity. He might quote a recent article in the Dallas Morning News, pointing out that to reach herd immunity a population needs about 80 percent protected. Fortunately, that protection can come both from those who are fully vaccinated and those who had the disease, have recovered and are now protected. As the Morning News noted, those two figures in Dallas County surpassed 80 percent over the July Fourth holiday, so the county is considered to have achieved herd immunity.

“Believe me, you’d rather reach herd immunity through getting a couple of shots than contracting a life-threatening illness,” the governor might say.

“I know that some of you are wary,” he might add. “But trust me, the vaccine is safe. It’s not some devious government plot concocted with the help of a mad scientist in Wuhan, China. George Soros is not trying to make you sick. Bill Gates is not implanting microchips in the arms of gullible Americans.”

Abbott might also remind his listeners that more than 52,000 of our fellow Texans have died of the virus. Ninety-nine percent were unvaccinated.

“Look,” he continues, adding perhaps a forgivable amount of spin, “these are Trump vaccines. The president got them to us in record time, and it’s up to us not to waste them.

“Trust me. It’s time for every eligible Texan to roll up their sleeve and get the shot.”

The governor might confess to his fellow Texans that he and his family have been vaccinated (assuming they have). He might urge those standing with him to hold up their own vaccinated arms. “And except for a little soreness the next day, you’re not going to feel a thing,” he might say, chuckling. Those behind him nod their heads in agreement.

Abbott would not be the first Republican governor to talk sense about vaccines. Last week, Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia urged his state’s residents to get the shot. “If you’re not vaccinated, you’re part of the problem,” he said.

So, is Abbott up to the challenge? Can he tell the truth about vaccines to his fellow Texans? Or is he running scared? Running from the likes of primary challengers Allen West and Don Huffines, not to mention the crew of anti-vaccine hysteria spreaders on Fox News and a former president whose catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic helped get us into this fix. As the special session continues and the pandemic fight goes on, we’ll see the kind of leader Abbott really is.

___

Wichita Falls Times Record News. July 5, 2021.

Editorial: Critical race theory fear a mix of the predictable, the outlandish and the justified

Republican legislators in about two dozen states have introduced or won passage of bills to censor the education of children on race.

Exactly what are they afraid of?

A lot of it stems from President Donald Trump’s “liberal indoctrination of America’s youth” demagoguing last year, when he created a commission to promote “patriotic” education in classrooms. (President Joe Biden killed the panel.)

Part of it is reaction to the The New York Times’ Pultizer Prize-winning “1619 Project,” which argues that Black Americans first brought to this country as enslaved people are the foundation of U.S. democracy – and which conservatives fear is a type of historic revisionism that will seep into schools. (Classroom curriculum from the project has already been developed.)

And there are concerns that children could be exposed to vaguely understood academic concepts like critical race theory, which right-leaning detractors claim stigmatizes white people as oppressors.

“Critical race theory says I’m a white supremacist,” Texas lawmaker Steve Toth, a sponsor of the school censoring law in that state, told an Austin television station.

He’s wrong about critical race theory and what it says about him. But the accumulated fear driving this wave of legislation is a mix of the predictable, the outlandish and, even, the justified.

Policing classroom discussions about race and racism

The 1619 Project, for example, while a noble and ambitious effort to illustrate the centrality of slavery in American history, oversold its premise to the point of committing historical interpretive error that editors first denied and then seemed to only partially concede.

Even so, responding to all these concerns by policing classroom discussions about race with a state law is like using a shotgun to drive mosquitoes out of a bedroom.

First and foremost, the new laws may very well be a violation of free speech.

Beyond that, legislation is far too blunt and unworkable a tool to surgically restrict certain controversial theories from education without chilling all discussion on the topic of race. Concerned Texas educators correctly worried that their state’s new law – with its long list of racial concepts and views that “may not” be taught – could end classroom debate about race as a contributing factor in hiring, housing, police shootings, presidential elections and countless other areas.

Critical race theory is frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted

How is stifling this kind of discussion a healthy means of expanding young minds?

Moreover, school districts violating such laws risk losing state funding, and as judicial politics expert Jeffrey Sachs argues, “The people who will actually be parsing these (restricted race) terms ... will be the paranoid principal of a cash-strapped high school, yelled at by the town attorney about how it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

A key target of this educational censorship is the frequently misunderstood academic concept of critical race theory. At its core, this decades-long academic framework, which examines circumstances where statistics show a disproportionate impact on minorities, attempts to explain why these inequalities persist and offer achievable goals to overcome them – in areas such as bank lending, discriminatory labor practices, incarcerated populations, police shootings and even higher rates of COVID-19 in Black and Latino communities.

It suggests the reality of white supremacy in social systems, and that racism has become endemic to legal processes and public policies. Critics latch on to these terms to argue the theory is trying to divide Americans. But a better response than attempting to eradicate it from classrooms is employing teachers who can helps students think for themselves about the concept.

As USA TODAY contributor Larry Strauss, a high school English teacher in South Los Angeles, argued, “I do not ‘teach critical race theory’ and I never will. I will teach (students) about it and help them understand its assertions and the evidence appropriate to support those assertions – but it must always be up to students to arrive at their own conclusions.”

He’s exactly right.

Legislators should stay out of the classroom. Curriculum, whether around race or ’rithmetic, is for school board members, principals and teachers themselves – education experts beholden to the classroom and the community – to sort out for the educational enrichment of their students.

___

Dallas Morning News. July 10, 2021.

Let’s celebrate Dallas County’s herd immunity, but tread carefully

After a year of quarantines, the loss of many lives, the closing of many businesses and then the slow return to normalcy as vaccinations became available, it’s becoming clear that COVID-19 is fading as a daily concern for many of us, even as its impact will be with us for a long time to come.

Marking milestones in a journey like this is important, and Dallas County has reached a major one: herd immunity.

A community reaches herd immunity when 80% of its residents have either had COVID-19 or been vaccinated, meaning 80% of the population has antibodies that protect them against the virus, and transmission to unvaccinated populations is unlikely. Dallas County reached this classification with less than half of residents vaccinated; others sadly had to suffer with the disease to develop the antibodies.

But now with herd immunity comes a level of protection that means we can more easily focus on other effects of the pandemic, including mental health, education loss and economic damage. We have already begun opening back up, opening businesses, returning to the office, enrolling kids in school in-person for the fall and lowering mask mandates. Now we need to work to regain what we’ve lost.

It is also important to note while Dallas County as a whole has reached herd immunity, not every ZIP code in the county has. The county’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Herd Immunity Dashboard shows some ZIP codes have 100% immunity, such as North Dallas’ 75251, while others fall much shorter than the 80% required for herd immunity, like south Oak Cliff (75237), which is only at 52%.

Many ZIP codes outside of Dallas proper are even worse. Grapevine’s 76051 is at 14.4%, and Ferris’ 75125 is at 19.9%. This is due both to a low number of positive cases in the area and a large number of residents who haven’t had even the first dose of the vaccine. While there are currently no positive cases in Ferris, there are more active cases in 76051 than vaccinated individuals.

So our work isn’t finished. We still need to push every ZIP code and county to a level of vaccination that offers protection for the entire community.

Even so, the strides made to get us to this point are worth celebrating. However we move forward as a community, it won’t be a quick return to normal. But this marker on the path to normalcy is cause for celebration as we tackle the problems left in the wake of the pandemic.

END