El Paso Times. May 20, 2013.
Military 'crisis': Sex crimes seen as epidemic
The nation's top military leaders admit that they've failed to check an epidemic of sexual assault and sexual harassment in our uniformed services.
"We're losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said last week.
"That's a crisis."
The latest example came at Fort Hood, Texas, when an Army sergeant was accused of sexual offenses including pandering. His job was to prevent sexual abuse.
Before that, an Air Force officer who was in charge of a sexual assault prevention office was arrested on charges of groping a woman in Virginia.
And a Pentagon report estimated that as many as 26,000 military members — out of a force of 1.4 million — may have been sexually assaulted last year.
The Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, said "the Army is failing in its efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment."
There can be no single explanation for such a crisis. But clearly, more than a decade of war is taking a toll on discipline in the ranks.
Fixing the problem will require deep changes in law and military culture. That will not be easy.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has introduced legislation to take top commanders out of the process of deciding whether a sexual misconduct case goes to trial.
The Associated Press reported that for sexual offenses with authorized sentences of more than one year in confinement — akin to felonies in the civilian judicial system — that decision would rest instead with officers at ranks as low as colonel who are seasoned trial counsels with prosecutorial experience.
Military service is inherently dangerous. But brave women and men who volunteer to serve our nation should not be in fear of sexual assault by their comrades.
Fixing the sexual assault epidemic must be a top priority for military leadership.
Houston Chronicle. May 17, 2013.
Pure-D politics Rick Perry-style
The urgency bordering on panic to squeeze a tax break for Texas businesses into the state's 2013 biennial budget with mere days left in the regular session is more sorry and silly than it is mysterious.
As they say up in the Panhandle, this is Pure-D politics, Rick Perry-style. The open secret is that Gov. Perry wants this tax break to pad his resume for a presidential run in 2016.
And so, this one's for you, 2016 GOP primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Ordinary Texans be damned.
After three legislative sessions, Perry's act is getting old, and serious-minded Republicans in Austin understand that as well as do Democrats.
The governor has threatened to veto any budget that doesn't give him his way on the cuts for business. Some lawmakers have tried to trim them back from the original $1.6 billion proposed by the governor, but several hundred million are expected to be approved.
The cuts come as the state continues to underfund public education and is having difficulties financing water infrastructure and road construction.
Why do this governor's presidential ambitions for 2016 get to cut line ahead of those priorities? For that matter, why is the man himself blind to the obvious?
Ego. Self-interest. Unbridled ambition. Take your pick.
What makes matters more problematic this session is the enormous uncertainty hanging over lawmakers as they await a ruling on education funding by the Texas Supreme Court.
The suit, brought by about 600 of the state's property-poor districts, argues that there are inequities in funding that must be addressed. Agreement on this point by a majority of the state Supreme Court justices could knock the state budget into a cocked hat.
We side with informed critics who identify as priorities more generous education funding and planning for adequate water resources to meet expected population growth.
If it matters in the least to our tax cut-obsessed governor, better- educated students eventually will become more highly skilled workers for this state's businesses and less-clogged roads mean Texas businesses will be more competitive.
Let's give Texas businesses the edge by funding obvious priorities such as public education and infrastructure rather than a politically motivated government hand-out.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. May 17, 2013.
Regents bill is a rebuke, but Perry still should sign it
When it comes to the University of Texas, political party allegiance is no match for the ferocity of Longhorn loyalty.
The overwhelming support in both the Texas House and Senate for Senate Bill 15 illustrates that pretty starkly. The measure would change the rules for appointing regents to the governing board of state university systems. Perhaps more significantly, the bill would prevent regents from unilaterally firing university presidents.
Senate Bill 15 was spawned by long-roiling tensions between some UT System regents (all of whom were appointed by Gov. Rick Perry) and UT Austin President Bill Powers. But even those trace to Perry's vision for making the state's higher education system more efficient and less expensive.
It's not that there aren't many state leaders, educators, advocates parents and students who wouldn't love to see improvements — but Perry's approach has been met with widespread cynicism and suspicion. Powers and some influential alumni have different notions from Perry and vocal regents about what reforms are needed.
Perry no doubt alienated even more UT allies when it was revealed that he sent an email in March to Regents Brenda Pejovich, Alex Cranberg, Wallace Hall Jr. and Paul Foster saying, "I know you all get tired of being hammered by the charlatans and peacocks but the fight is being won." He also compared the situation to the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
Senate Higher Education Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed SB15 to curtail what many saw as regent overreach at the UT System, and the flagship Austin campus in particular. The bill won strong support from House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas.
Even Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the state's second-highest-ranking Republican, stood with Powers when both houses of the Legislature honored the campus president in February. Dewhurst said the regents were undermining Powers and "trying to micromanage the system."
Among other things, SB15 would only allow regents to fire a campus president on recommendation of the system chancellor — though a board wouldn't have to follow such a recommendation. Regents appointed by the governor when the Legislature isn't in session wouldn't immediately be able to vote on budgets or personnel matters.
By sending SB15 to the governor, lawmakers are signaling emphatically that they're ready for a veto-override fight if Perry wants one.
The Monitor of McAllen. May 20, 2013.
On immigration reform efforts, Perry offers no assistance
Once upon a time, Texas Gov. Rick Perry seemed to actually believe his job was to offer his input, however limited by the state's Constitution, to further the interests of the state.
Then he started running for president, and morphed into a talking head who does little more than try to offer catchy sound bytes and criticisms of whatever it is that the opposition — whether it's the other party or competing candidates in his own — might suggest or support.
Perry, a border governor who could be one of the most important voices in the current debate over immigration reform, this week announced that he opposes those efforts because they don't go far enough to secure our nation's borders.
"Until you address border security, I'm not going to be much inclined to have an academic conversation" on immigration reform, he said during an interview with Newsmax TV.
In particular, Perry condemned the Obama administration for reducing the number of Border Patrol agents deployed to the Mexican border.
It wasn't that long ago that the governor — when he actually acted like one — rightly insisted that simply adding border patrols wouldn't work. Perry famously called for the enhanced use of technology that would enable law enforcement agencies, and others, to monitor the border. He advocated the creation of a "virtual fence" that he believed would be more effective and cost-efficient.
In fact, he even did what governors are supposed to do — he worked with legislators to allocate state money to augment federal efforts to better secure his border. He got more night-vision equipment for agents and motion and heat sensors to place in remote areas, and he even had a network of cameras installed that anyone could monitor on the Internet, so that interested citizens could add their efforts to those of law enforcers and report suspicious activity they might see on the screen.
Granted, those efforts didn't produce the wave of immigrant and drug apprehensions that many people had hoped, but they at least were a tangible idea that could be tried, and improved if possible.
President Barack Obama actually is furthering Perry's basic idea for using military technology to monitor areas where "boots on the ground" might not be as effective. Instead of cameras and sensors, the current federal plan is using aerial drones that can provide wide-range, elevated views of remote areas and move around to cover more area.
Maybe the governor could even offer the president a few ideas on what part of his "virtual fence" worked, and why other parts didn't. Reaching across the aisle in the name of addressing one of our nation's primary needs might actually win favor for Perry, who currently is best known as "Governor Oops" for his memorable gaffes during the 2007-08 Republican primary debates.
Instead, he is doing nothing more than poo-pooing other people's efforts to find solutions to our national problems, without offering any of his own.
Where's the governor who once saw the border as a state, as well as federal, issue, and was willing to devote state resources to it?
Where's the leader who offered ideas to this and other issues that needed to be addressed in his state?
Where's the former lieutenant governor who inherited a Legislature that was known for putting progress ahead of partisan politics?
Apparently, they've been flushed away by the notion that electability comes from being the most aggressive combatant, not from having the best ideas.
Perry is wrong to subjugate the needs of his state to his own desire to be a national champion of the right wing. He's also wrong to insist that no discussion on immigration can begin until the border is impermeable. There's so much more to immigration reform, and true leaders know that it's best to address points of agreement.
There's an old saying that when times are critical, people need to lead, follow or get out of the way. If Rick Perry doesn't plan to do anything other than launch grenades at those who actually are trying to solve our nation's — and our state's — border problems, then he needs to just stay out of their way.
Longview News-Journal. May 19, 2013.
Deadly practice: Texting data keeps piling up; lawmakers still failing to act
In case you missed it, it's official: The No. 1 cause of death for teenagers while driving is texting.
That's not a guess. It was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says texting while driving has now passed drunken driving as the deadliest practice for youngsters at the wheel.
This is alarming in more ways than we can count.
Chief among them is the fact parents may be able to exert a powerful influence on their children against drunken driving, as might the legal ramifications.
But texting while driving? Not so much. The main reason is that a study also done by the CDC revealed the astounding fact that adults text and drive even more than teenagers.
We will repeat that: Adults text while driving in greater percentages than do teens. That's disappointing.
It is likely most parents set a good example for their children in not driving while intoxicated. Unfortunately, they are setting a terrible example when they text and drive.
One reason for this, we firmly believe, is that texting and driving is not against the law in Texas, other than in a school zone during operative hours.
As with drunken driving, a law will never eradicate the dangerous practice of texting while driving. But making it illegal would lead law-abiding, responsible adults to stop the practice, thus making them set a good example for their children. In that respect it is a good idea.
Texans believe our state should have such a law, and their elected representatives have tried to provide it. Unfortunately, our governor has denied them, vetoing such legislation in the last session. Lawmakers are trying again this session, but running out of time.
A law alone is not the solution. But we firmly believe it is part of the answer, and call on the Legislature and governor to provide it.
Beyond the needed law, we must find some way as a society to impress on both teens and adults that they should stop texting while driving.
Facts may help. In 2011, according to recent data, texting was involved in more than 11,000 Texas crashes. Nearly 2,600 of those resulted in fatalities.
We were pleased a few days ago to learn the four biggest U.S. cellphone companies are set to launch a joint advertising campaign against texting while driving. They will be joined by 200 other organizations backing the multi-million dollar ad campaign. Such a coalition, which should also include private citizens and government, can be a big part of the solution.
Regardless whether our governor is willing to do the right thing this time and sign an anti-texting bill into law, each of us can take the matter into our own hands or, rather, out of them. If you text and drive, stop that silliness — now — before you hurt yourself or someone else. And we hope you'll join us in calling on lawmakers and the governor to do the right thing and outlaw this deadly practice on Texas streets and highways.