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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

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News,Science and Technology

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Jan. 15, 2014.

Gov. Perry's forecast: Gloom, despair, Obamacare in 2014

And a Happy New Year to you, too, Gov. Rick Perry. The governor/yell leader of this energy-booming, job-generating dynamo of a state delivered an uncharacteristically bleak assessment of 2014 in a guest column published by The Dallas Morning News:

"The promise and potential I normally greet each New Year with is, this year, being tested by a great sense of peril as Americans face the full brunt of the disastrous impacts of Obamacare in 2014," Perry wrote. "The delays, deceit and debacles that marked Obamacare's rollout in 2013 show no signs of slowing in the new year."

Actually, the delays and debacles are dissipating, despite Perry's best efforts. The governor of the state with the nation's largest population of medically uninsured, about 6 million, has done all he could to sabotage the rollout of the government health insurance program — and to keep Texas' uninsured millions uninsured.

Perry made sure Texas refused a federally funded expansion of Medicaid in Texas — the largest of 25 states still not signed up. And he refused to let Texas establish its own insurance exchanges to help its residents find insurance, instead leaving that task to the federal government. We feel duped, having fallen for Perry's years of evangelizing that Texas is a Lord-helps-those-who-help-themselves state.

Instead, thanks to Perry, Texas is helping all the other states by refusing to accept the Medicaid expansion. The result is that we Texans support those blue Northeasterners with our tax dollars without those Northeasterners returning the favor. A New York University professor, Jim Purvis, wrote us a big thank-you, published by the Austin American Statesman: "For so many things ... but above all, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for sacrificing your own poor people so that our poor people could have free health insurance."

That's sweet. But it leaves us feeling a bruised shade of blue.

Purvis pointed out the obvious, as have we, on several occasions — that the lack of medical coverage in Texas will keep our poor folks using the emergency room as their clinic, at inflated Texas taxpayer expense. By "Texas taxpayer," we mean, particularly, Nueces County taxpayers who fund indigent care through the Nueces County Hospital District.

We're not fans of Obamacare. But we also don't reflect wistfully upon the system it is replacing. If Obamacare is socialism, its predecessor was an oligarchy that tyrannized patients and health care professionals alike. With a nod to the great songwriter Pete Townshend, all we premium-paying plebes see is a new boss, strikingly similar to the old boss. We'd like to see how the old tyranny will look, streamlined.

If we sound like a broken record, it's because Perry sounds like a broken record. You've heard this all before from us and we all have heard it before from Perry. His non-solutions-oriented rant gets tiring. In 14 years as governor, Perry has done more harm than good to health care in Texas.

So, why did Obamacare have to be the focus of his New Year's message? Why didn't he write instead about how ruggedly individualistic Texas will keep fracking its way to heaven on earth in 2014 no matter what the feds do?

The obvious answer is as plain as the new eyeglasses on the nose of Perry's face — the eyeglasses that are supposed to make America not quite recognize the Rick Perry who ran for president in 2012. Those pilot's eyes are laser-focused on something other than governing Texas through January 2015, which is when his term will end officially. That's why the pessimistic fixation on the nation's largest wedge issue. And that's why he wrote about Obamacare as the peril facing Americans, not just Texans.

Our final thoughts: If his mind is on an office higher than governor and his focus is bigger-picture than Texas, why wait until 2015 to relinquish this job he evidently has outgrown? Why not let someone who wants it have it now?

That would make 2014 interesting indeed.

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The Dallas Morning News. Jan. 16, 2014.

With Texas water, glass still half-empty

Texas typically has a glass half-full attitude, but that approach doesn't cut it when it comes to water resources, not when some local lakes are truly half-empty, and falling.

Pardon the downer note, just when many people might think the water problem is solved with passage last year of Proposition 6, for a billion-dollar fund to jump-start new reservoirs and conservation projects.

Coming out of another dry year, lake levels in North Texas show how the thirsty, booming region lives on the edge. Dallas' sprawling northern and eastern suburbs — the white-hot growth areas — have ratcheted down to twice-a-month outdoor watering to protect reservoir levels.

The region always seems one storm away from relief, one drought away from calamity.

It's a stubborn but not intractable problem. A report out this week from State Comptroller Susan Combs outlines new approaches that lawmakers should consider beyond Prop 6, which her analysis called "only a step."

A theme running through the proposals is using grant competition to spur innovation from water providers. Conservation and increased efficiency would be a focus. Combs would put a premium on research into new technologies.

The comptroller's report also zeroes in on the vast store of brackish groundwater that could be pumped up and desalinated for household use. Developing new technologies to lower the cost of that process could be a game-changer for Texas. It was good to see Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst come out Thursday and order the Senate Natural Resources Committee to study this to prepare for next year's lawmaking session.

Texas' fame as a jobs magnet comes with a price. Competitor states take their shots, and they sting. One came last year from Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who called Texas "water challenged."

Quinn was right, actually, and he picked a potentially good tactic to scare off companies thinking about relocating to Texas.

The best way to react is to show that the fight for water sufficiency is far from over. Texas' economic future depends on it.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Jan. 16, 2014.

Combs offers ideas to meet water needs

Comptroller Susan Combs may not be planning to be in her current job when the Legislature meets next year (she's not running for re-election), but she's already laid out a few things she says should be on the agenda.

They focus on one topic: water. Specifically, she proposes steps lawmakers should take to help the state's growing population and booming economy keep up with its "increasingly unquenchable demand for water."

Combs issued a report this week, "Going Deeper for the Solution."

Texas has always been prone to cycles of drought, the report points out. The one that hit the state in 2011 was the worst one-year drought since 1895, costing agricultural interests alone nearly $7.6 billion, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Fortunately, Texans seem to grasp the seriousness of the problem. In November, voters approved moving $2 billion from the state's rainy-day savings account (which is growing fast of late because of increased oil and gas tax revenue) to assist in implementing projects in the official State Water Plan.

Combs says that's "a positive step toward assuring our water supplies — but it's only a step."

She wants to see "multifaceted strategies including increased conservation efforts and innovative technologies" used in attacking the state's water problems. She listed three recommendations for the Legislature:

— Grants to water authorities and major water users for conservation measures. She wants to see $25 million set aside for a five-year grant program, which could finance efforts such as water reuse and reductions in water loss due to infrastructure improvements.

— State funding for demonstration projects. These projects would help water planners determine the costs and benefits of using new technologies.

— Prizes for successful achievements in innovative technology. Combs suggests $25 million in prizes for "innovations with direct and demonstrable commercial applications in Texas."

All of these are reasonable recommendations. Nobody knows whether they are the best things for the Legislature to approve a year from now.

Maybe the best thing about them is they constitute a challenge to legislators and other state officials to come up with their own ideas for meeting the state's water needs.

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Austin American-Statesman. Jan. 11, 2014.

Texas law compounds family's anguish

Marlise Munoz is dead.

Two days before Thanksgiving, the 33-year-old Texas woman collapsed in her kitchen. She might have lain on the floor for an hour, her brain deprived of oxygen, before her husband found her. She was taken to a Fort Worth hospital where attempts to revive her failed.

Munoz was "brain dead," her family says doctors told them, which means Munoz was dead as Texas law defines it. But because she was 14 weeks pregnant, and because attempts to revive her had revealed a fetal heartbeat, doctors have kept Munoz on a ventilator the past seven weeks. Doctors acted against Munoz's stated wishes not to be kept alive artificially, her family says, and continue to disregard their desire to honor those wishes.

Doctors and the hospital say they were forced to put Munoz on a ventilator because a 1989 state anti-abortion law, amended in 1999, prevents "life-sustaining treatment" from being withdrawn or withheld from a pregnant patient. It's possible doctors and the hospital have misinterpreted the law's ambiguous language: In Munoz's case there was no life to sustain, no recovery to hope for. There is only her breathing and her heartbeat for a machine to maintain.

A devastating loss for Munoz's husband and her parents has become tangled in the politics of abortion. Munoz's right to die with dignity is compromised by a law that places more value on her as a "host for a fetus," as her father Ernest Machado told The New York Times last week, than as a person. And now weeks later, the reality is an untenable choice: To follow the family's wishes would mean terminating a fetus just a few weeks before potential viability.

By keeping Munoz artificially breathing doctors are keeping her fetus artificially alive. Her baby is entering its 21st week of development and in a couple of weeks might be able to live outside Munoz's uterus, but no one knows what damage the loss of oxygen that killed Munoz also did to her fetus.

Munoz's tragic circumstances coincide with the sad case of Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old California girl who underwent surgery Dec. 9 to remove her tonsils and adenoids but now lies legally dead after complications sent her into cardiac arrest. As of Friday, only a ventilator was maintaining McMath's body. Her brain has ceased to function. In contrast, however, McMath's heartbroken family has fought to keep her on a ventilator.

Perhaps more relevant to Munoz's situation is the 2007 case of Stacy Rojas, a 34-year-old Dallas woman who was six months pregnant when she suffered an aneurysm and her brain functions ceased. She was kept on a ventilator for a month so her baby could develop a few extra weeks. Doctors delivered Rojas' daughter by Caesarean section. Two days later they removed Rojas from her ventilator and formally declared her dead.

Rojas' baby was viable or close to it when she was brought to the hospital and the decision to keep her on the ventilator was made by her husband in consultation with her doctors. This is an important distinction between her case and Munoz's.

At 14 weeks Munoz's baby was inseparable from its mother and was doomed to die when she died — perhaps, as far as is known, had died when she died until it was revived. Doctors honored the wishes of Rojas' husband and family. They and the state law they believe they are following have forced upon Munoz's family an anguish no one should endure.

Marlise Munoz should have been allowed to die, though if she is brain dead as her family says she is — confidentiality rules constrain doctors and the hospital from speaking in detail about her case — then she is already dead. She will never recover. She lies a corpse in a hospital bed, her breathing maintained artificially.

She should have been granted the dignity her family says she wanted, and which they seek for her. They should have been allowed to mourn their loss in peace. Abortion politics shouldn't compound their tragedy.

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The Eagle of Bryan-College Station. Jan. 12, 2014.

A&M must search for the best and strongest president it can find

Texas A&M regents took a step in the right direction in their search for a new president for Texas A&M University president when they named Mark Hussey as interim president. Faculty and others were reassured by the choice over one promoted by Gov. Rick Perry, who continues to meddle in the affairs of both A&M — his alma mater — and now The University of Texas.

Hussey has the academic credentials needed to lead the university while a search for Bowen Loftin's replacement is conducted.

Now, the regents have to ensure that a full and fair search process is conducted. They named a search committee; regents should set the parameters of the search and then get out of the way. The worst thing they can do is micromanage the committee and interfere with its work. The committee should be encouraged — and expected — to conduct a thorough search, one that considers applicants from throughout academia. The new president must work well with a diverse group of people, from regents to administrators, from faculty and staff to students. Whoever is chosen must interact with the local community and Aggies through Texas and, indeed, the world. She or he also must be able to lobby the Legislature successfully for Texas A&M.

Being president of A&M is a big, prestigious job and the best candidate for the post must be identified, fully vetted and then seriously considered by the regents. There is no place for politics in the process and we hope the governor keeps his hands off. He has no business directing the efforts of the search committee or the regents. They, not Rick Perry, have the responsibility of making the best selection possible.

While some connection to Texas A&M is welcome, it should not be mandatory. At the same time, internal candidates for the post should be considered equally as those from outside the university and state.

The new president should have a full appreciation of the dual role of a top university to teach students and to conduct important research that can and often does change the world. He or she has to understand the role of an unfettered faculty unhampered by senseless and restrictive policies that benefit no one, least of all students.

The new president must understand that attending Texas A&M is a major investment for young Texans and their families. She or he must work to keep A&M at the top of the list of academic standards and accomplishments. To do this, the university must recruit the very best faculty. The new president also must work to restore faculty confidence in his or her willingness to listen and support their efforts.

The presidency of Texas A&M is an important and critical position. It is imperative that regents name the best person for the job, no matter who that is.

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