February 1, 2016 Updated: February 1, 2016 at 7:49 pm
Houston Chronicle. Jan. 27, 2016.
Twisted fate: Facts led DA's Planned Parenthood probe, now fairness should lead state officials.
In today's hyperpartisan political climate, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson's straightforward description of the grand jury's findings in its investigation of charges that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue for profit was a breath of fresh air: "We had to follow the evidence where it led us," she said, and that evidence exonerated Planned Parenthood. But it didn't stop there. In a stunning twist, the grand jury handed down indictments against David Daleiden, director of the anti-abortion front organization Center for Medical Progress, and Sandra Merritt, an employee, who created the videos at the heart of the allegations.
We can only imagine how shocked and chagrined Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick must have been at the news. Back in August, when the videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood personnel discussing the sale of fetal tissue hit the news, Patrick demanded that Anderson, a Republican, launch a criminal investigation. He surely expected her pro-life standing to trump her pro-law credentials.
But the evidence that led the grand jury to its conclusions was indeed straightforward. Donating fetal tissue for research is legal and has over the decades contributed to development of important vaccines, including for polio and rubella. Recouping the costs associated with those donations is legal. On the other hand, altering a governmental document for nefarious purposes is illegal — creating a fake driver's license whether to buy liquor, for example, or to scam your way into Planned Parenthood offices with the intent to defraud. Buying or selling — as opposed to donating — body parts, whether to secure a kidney to be transplanted into an adult or to procure fetal tissue for research, is illegal.
Daleiden and Merritt were indicted on the charge of tampering with governmental records when they created false California driver's licenses, a second-degree felony that carries a sentence of up to 20 years. Daleiden was also charged with violating a Texas ban on buying "human organs, namely, fetal tissue for valuable consideration," a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year. Planned Parenthood lawyer Josh Schafer has said Daleiden ran afoul of this ban when he sent an email to Planned Parenthood offering to pay $1,600 per sample for fetal tissue, an offer so outrageous that Planned Parenthood did not respond. Now it is up to a jury to determine their fates.
Will Texans never tire of having their top political officials spend our tax dollars on personal crusades? Texas is the 12th state to have investigated these allegations and found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood; eight states never even bothered to investigate. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick announced they had no intention of suspending their probes into Planned Parenthood. These include ongoing investigations by the Health and Human Service Commission's Inspector General and the attorney general's office, as well as the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee.
We use the term "investigation" loosely. These are not efforts to get at the truth — the Harris County DA's investigation did that. No, these are witch hunts meant to destroy Planned Parenthood, which if successful will deprive low-income women of much-needed health care, including contraceptive services, STD testing and cancer screening.
The state has already withdrawn Planned Parenthood's funding for HIV prevention, and efforts are underway to disqualify the organization for Medicaid reimbursement. It is reassuring that 12 Harris County grand jurors were able to see past the politics to the facts. If only the Republican leadership in Austin was as fair-minded.
San Antonio Express-News. Jan. 31, 2016.
More at stake than just immigration
The welfare of more than 4 million immigrants — contributing economic benefit from the shadows — is more than a niggling concern. A significant number of them came here as children. But Texas' challenge of the president's authority to allow them to stay with work permits has ramifications beyond these individuals.
At stake is federal authority across a broad range of policy issues. A win for Texas — and the 25 other states that have joined in this lawsuit — could mean the states have just broadened their ability to usurp federal authority.
It has to do with a single word — standing.
On Jan. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Texas argues that the federal government has imposed on the state the cost of issuing driver's licenses, other costs for immigrants who are directly affected, and a flood that will allegedly follow.
And this, it says, gives Texas standing. Two lower courts have agreed.
But if this were true, the states — which impose unfunded mandates all the time on local governments — could effectively be able to ignore federal authority, not just on immigration but on a host of other issues.
And this is old hat for Texas. The state challenges seemingly every Environmental Protection Agency policy but also tried to immunize itself from the congressionally approved Affordable Care Act. It is as if Texas views itself not as part of the union but as a member of a confederacy of states to which a central government cedes its sovereignty to all of the states collectively or an individual state whenever there is a policy dispute.
If memory serves, we've fought that war.
The administration, on the standing issue, argues that there are reasons both general and specific that Texas does not have standing.
"A state generally lacks standing to challenge the executive's policy choices about how to enforce federal laws, including the immigration laws," the administration wrote in its petition for the court to hear the case.
Specifically, the state argues that it is burdened both because it will subsidize the costs of providing "temporary visitor" driver's licenses and because it will allow affected immigrants to apply for these.
The administration credibly counters that these are voluntary actions. So, in effect, Texas is claiming its sovereignty is compromised because of a voluntary act.
Others very well may have standing to sue the administration over the president's executive actions — but the harm they claim must be real. In our view, the states have not come anywhere close to reaching that bar. Moreover, their arguments neglect the overriding good that bringing in more than 4 million people from the shadows will present to the states and their economies.
The president's executive actions are an exercise in the long-acknowledged enforcement discretion accorded federal agencies. These immigrants have sunk roots to raise families — members of whom were brought here as children. They know only this country.
The president acted because a dysfunctional Congress has dithered on comprehensive immigration reform. On the GOP presidential campaign trail, reform is derisively — and inaccurately — referred to as "amnesty." The deferral of deportation occurs in the hope that Congress will act more broadly.
The state also argues that the president has supplanted Congress as the nation's lawmaker. No, his actions fall well within the president's discretion to prioritize whom to deport.
But what's truly scary about the state's lawsuit is the expanded power potentially conferred on states if the Supreme Court agrees.
Interestingly, a different set of courts rejected a similar challenge to the president's action. This challenge was brought by Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona. He didn't have standing. And the D.C. Court of Appeals held that the president's actions didn't constitute "unlawful legislation and/or rulemaking" because the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to establish enforcement priorities.
In the states' lawsuits, the president's actions were halted by a U.S. District Court judge in Brownsville, and then affirmed in a 2-1 ruling at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Judge Carolyn D. King, in her dissent, wrote, "The majority's 'breathtaking expansion of state standing' would allow potentially limitless state intrusion into federal policy making."
Coming from Texas, such intrusion would be simply frightening.
The (McAllen) Monitor. Jan. 26, 2016.
Reform immigration law that lets Cubans walk into Texas
We all know that the Cold War has waned long ago and that the United States' relationship with Cuba is markedly improved, even allowing the American flag to be flown in Havana at our newly opened embassy there, and drawing Pope Francis to both countries last September where he urged reconciliation.
Therefore we don't understand why a 50-year-old U.S. law that allows an immediate pathway to permanent U.S. residency for any Cuban who steps onto U.S. soil is still on the books today, especially when so many other Hispanic immigrants are detained or turned back from our borders.
This law is fueling a recent surge of Cubans who are crossing into South Texas with impunity.
We agree with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who in a recent editorial board meeting with The Monitor told us he is against this policy.
We applaud Cuellar for bringing to light this unfair and antiquated law that Congress needs to change. And we respect his repeated calls for Washington to implement meaningful immigration reform, which includes changing this law and considering the plight of other Hispanic migrants.
"With all due respect to the Cubans, I don't think they ought to get preferential treatment. I think they ought to be treated like everybody else," Cuellar said. "We ought to change the law."
In December, Cuellar traveled to Costa Rica where he said he witnessed thousands of Cubans who are awaiting migration north through El Salvador and Mexico and into South Texas. An estimated 8,000 Cubans have been stranded at the border with Nicaragua since mid-November when Nicaragua, Belize and Guatemala shut their borders to Cuban migrants looking to travel through their territory en route to the United States.
In the past two years there has been an upswing in Cubans coming to the United States via the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act.
In 2014 and 2015, 67,437 Cubans have come into the United States, with nearly 44,000 entering in Laredo. And we're told thousands more are on their way to South Texas.
Commonly known as the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, Cubans know that if they make it to U.S. soil then they are given automatic entry but those stopped on U.S. waterways may be turned back. Therefore they are now coming en masse via a land bridge from Central America through Mexico and into South Texas, where they are not detained by federal authorities — unlike the thousands from Central America and Mexico who are fleeing violence, gangs, drugs and unspeakable horrors, yet are detained and many turned back under U.S. laws.
In addition, Cuellar points out that under the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980, Cubans also are afforded immediate refugee assistance programs and federal benefits, such as food stamps and health care in our country, which other immigrants who are appealing for asylum are not privy to.
"The moment they come in, regardless of the situation, they can get federal benefits right away," Cuellar said. "Who else gets this type of (deal?) Nobody gets this so it's not fair for everybody and we ought to change it."
Cuellar is a member of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations and sits on the Subcommittee for Homeland Security. Recently he was key to helping appropriate $750 million for aid to Central American countries, like Costa Rica, which are dealing with an influx of migrants trying to get to the United States. We believe this is money well spent to extend our border to the "20-yard-line" as Cuellar put it and to give these other countries more resources to help screen and process and warn these people of the perils of travel.
Costa Rica, however, is asking for more U.S. money to deal with these Cubans who are driven through their country because of our 50-year-old law. As is evident, this law has many other repercussions and in light of world events it cannot be argued that Cubans are fleeing the worst atrocities and should not be give automatic U.S. entry when others are not.
The (Bryan-College Station) Eagle. Jan. 25, 2016.
Britain's House of Commons waged a spirited, although ultimately fruitless, debate in January over whether to ban Donald Trump from Great Britain's shores. Emotions were high and the talk was at times intemperate, but ultimately the members of Parliament never took a vote.
It wouldn't have mattered if they had, because the Parliament has no authority to keep anyone out of the country. Only Home Secretary Theresa May can do that and she isn't likely to do so.
Still, the debate made a serious point: Should we elect a president who has alienated so many of America's allies? It certainly is something to consider when Texas primary voters go to the polls on March 1.
The Republican front-runner offended many Britons with his anti-Muslim rants and suggestion that the United Station should ban, at least for now, all Muslim immigrants.
Islam is Great Britain's second-largest religion, with about 5 percent of the population — some five times the percentage in the United States. Emigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan comprise the largest number of Muslims. The Muslim population is growing 10 times faster than non-Muslims.
British law requires Parliament to consider for debate any petition that garners at least 100,000 signees who must provide a confirmable email address. The anti-Trump measure has so far received more than 570,000 such online signatures.
In the parliamentary debate, Tulip Siddique, a member of the Labour Party, said, "This is a man who is extremely high-profile ... a man who is interviewing for the most important job in the world. His words are not comical, his words are not funny. His words are poisonous."
Jack Dromey, also of the Labour Party, said, "Donald Trump is free to be a fool, but he's not free to be a dangerous fool in Britain."
Most members of Parliament, however, downplayed the calls for banning Trump. Adam Holloway of the Conservative Party termed the discussion "embarrassing" and against the laws of free speech.
"We should apologize to the people of the United States," he said.. "It's for them to decide, not us."
What if Trump is elected to America's highest office in November? The Conservative Party's Kwazi Kwarteng said of the proposed ban, "We would be in the absurd situation of having banned the president of the United States."
For his part, Trump, whose mother came to America from Scotland, threatened to cancel a $1 billion investment in golf courses in Scotland if the ban passed.
The whole thing would be more amusing if the possibility of Trump becoming president wasn't so real. But it our choice to make.
Remember, though, Trump has alienated many in Great Britain and well as many in Mexico and other Central and South American countries. And his anti-Muslim rhetoric surely has tested America's Muslim allies in the Middle East.
We have to ask how will a President Trump be able to work with countries we count on the most?
It's something to consider.
The Dallas Morning News. Jan. 29, 2016.
Risk of another fertilizer explosion remains all too real
You would think that after a massive fertilizer plant explosion leveled the city of West in 2013, Texas would take extraordinary steps to protect residents from another disaster. After all, the West Fertilizer Co. warehouse had stored an estimated 30 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, and the blast was among the most destructive ever investigated by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
Unfortunately, you would be wrong.
According to a recent safety board report, at least 19 facilities in Texas that store 5 tons or more of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate are within a half-mile of a school, hospital or nursing home. And most residents don't know it. Worse still, despite these dangers, only limited changes have been enacted to increase safe storage of the fertilizer since the West explosion, which killed 15 people and injured more than 260 others.
The report found that just about every level of government — including West, several federal agencies and Texas — had opportunities to reduce the possibility of an explosion, or at least to have averted catastrophic damage. They all failed, due to a patchwork of confusing or non-existent regulations. Another West-like incident is still possible, and one reason, according to the board, is a strong resistance in Texas to increasing regulation on facilities that store and distribute ammonium nitrate.
For example, the Texas Legislature last year passed legislation to allow the state fire marshal to inspect agricultural businesses that store ammonium nitrate and report violations to the state chemist for enforcement. Among other things, the new law also barred facilities from storing ammonium nitrate with any non-fertilizer materials, and it required that ammonium nitrate be stored at least 30 feet away from combustible materials. The law also shifted regulation of ammonium nitrate from the Department of State Health Services to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The safety board says these changes are inadequate, noting that legislative action wrote existing requirements into law but did little to actually toughen standards. And things aren't much better at the federal level; myriad gaps in oversight remain there, too.
What is it going to take to get federal, state and local officials to recognize the dangers and move more quickly to reduce the risks? Texas communities are at risk, but so are many other small towns around the country. Without greater cooperation and a sense of urgency, we fear the question is not whether there will be another catastrophe but when.
This report echoes concerns this newspaper has repeatedly expressed since the 2013 explosion. Lives are at stake. Communities must demand change, and officials must deliver.