The Dallas Morning News. Sept. 22, 2016.
Amid police shootings, a road map through these tense racial times
Those of us who call North Texas home understand all too well the grief of residents in Tulsa and Charlotte, the latest two U.S. cities where police have killed black men under disputed circumstances.
In Dallas, it was policemen who were gunned down when a mentally unstable African-American Army vet targeted white officers during a Black Lives Matter march. Peaceful protesters were in downtown Dallas that July 7 night in reaction to fatal shootings by police in Minnesota and Louisiana.
Now almost three months later, headlines about law enforcement's use of deadly force across the nation just keep piling up.
The inclination to look the other way, to get defensive or to think there's nothing we can do are all understandable reactions. Yet we must not give in to any of those responses.
Instead, we must ask ourselves: What kind of nation do we want to be? And what kind of change can we make in our own selves to get to that more just and moral place?
There's work to be done by all sides. One good starting place to find answers is in author and blogger Luvvie Ajaji's just-published "9 things white people can do to fight racism now."
Much of Ajaji's message out of the most recent police shootings is tough to read; parts of it we won't all agree on. But she provides a constructive road map for trying to move forward through a tense racial intersection in America:
1. Listen: Hear how black people feel and do not debate it. "We carry a trauma with us every day. The way our heart quickens when we see a cop, even if they're just walking by us," Ajaji writes.
2. Amplify the voices of black and brown people: When you don't know the best way to speak up, share their Facebook status, retweet them and encourage others to read them.
3. Talk to your family and friends: We must challenge those closest to us, at the dinner table and on Facebook. It will not be easy, but these are the times when it is most necessary.
4. Donate to anti-racism work: The opportunities range from local efforts to the Black Youth Project 100 to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
5. Know who you are voting for: 88 percent of Congress is up for election this year. Make your votes count there, as well as in local elections.
6. Demand accountability: Your voice matters, whether with lawmakers or the local police accountability board. Use that power to advocate for change and equality.
7. Be a witness: When you see a person pulled over by police, be aware. Your presence might de-escalate the situation.
8. Protest: Do not monopolize the space but be present so that those protesting can see they have allies.
9. Commit yourself to fixing this: Don't just talk about the problem. Act.
May we all have the courage to follow Ajaji's suggestions, to be vulnerable, to dig deep for empathy. May we all do what's within our individual control to get America on the right course.
Houston Chronicle. Sept. 23, 2016.
Border crossings: Fewer undocumented immigrants from Mexico allow reflection on reform measures
If Donald Trump manages to win the presidency in a few weeks and if, within his first 100 days or so, the master builder begins constructing his "big, beautiful" wall along this nation's southern border, its fate is likely to resemble other ill-conceived Towers of Babel, whether a shoddy apartment complex or a spec-built downtown skyscraper out of date before the ribbon's cut. By the time the multibillion-dollar barrier gets built, its rust-colored iron pilings soaring — 40 feet! 50 feet! — into the blue Southwestern sky, it will be obsolete. In fact, as a solution in search of a problem, it already is.
According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, unauthorized immigrants from Mexico aren't coming. Their numbers have steadily declined every year since 2007, the first year of the Great Recession. Although the overall unauthorized immigrant population in this country has stabilized since the recession ended, the total number from Mexico is now more than a million below its 2007 peak. Departures exceed arrivals.
Eduardo Porter, an economist writing in the New York Times, points out that Mexicans arriving in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s were born in the 1960s and 1970s, when their nation's fertility rate was as high as seven children per woman. Mexico also was buffeted by repeated economic crises. "To Mexicans growing up at the time," Porter writes, "the prospect of a job in the prosperous American economy of that era was worth braving the Arizona desert and the Border Patrol."
Today's Mexico is dramatically different. It's older, its labor supply is growing at about the same pace as that in the U.S., and it no longer gets knocked off track periodically by economic storms. So, with the exception of an egoistic American politician, who needs a wall?
"Mr. Trump, knock down this wall!" most reputable economists would say (alluding to the one in the candidate's fevered brain, that is). We already spend $30 billion a year on border enforcement; we don't need to spend billions more on a useless barrier fated to be a boondoggle and an eyesore.
What we do need is thoughtful and thorough reform of our broken immigration system, reform not unlike the package approved by the U.S. Senate back in 2013. That bill continues to languish in the House, held hostage by immigration hardliners who would rather play politics with the issue than resolve problems.
The hope is that somehow, someday, serious elected officials will return to the basic elements of immigration reform: border security, to be sure, but also a simple, secure system for employers to verify employment eligibility; increasing opportunities for immigrants to enter the workforce and for foreign students to stay here; a guest-worker program that streamlines the process for seasonal workers; and establishing a fair and workable path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who have been an integral part of our economy for years.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Sept. 26, 2016.
Endorsement was a new level of betrayal
There is no all's-fair-in-politics room for compromise when someone insults one's spouse, attempts to link one's father to the Kennedy assassination and calls oneself a liar repeatedly. One need not be a pugilist like Teddy Roosevelt or duelist like Andrew Jackson to defend one's honor. One need only display the courage of one's convictions.
Sen. Ted Cruz displayed his lack thereof last week when he endorsed Donald Trump for president. Not having been born yesterday, we don't buy Cruz's assertion that he was obligated by his pledge during the primary to endorse whomever the Republican Party nominated. Trump's attacks on Cruz's family were more than enough to absolve Cruz of any promise smaller than his duty toward his wife, daughters and father.
His assertion that Hillary Clinton is worse than Trump and must be stopped at all costs also stretches both hyperbole and credulity. Endorsing Trump is way too high a cost.
Also, it's not like Cruz and Trump share a political philosophy. The "R'' after their names that they have in common is a label, not an ideology. Cruz is a Republican and Trump does a bad job of playing one on TV.
That leaves only political calculation as an explanation for Cruz's change of heart. He had been catching flak since he refused during his speech at the Republican convention to endorse Trump. He stood firm only as long as Trump's chances against Clinton looked dim and no one was making noises about Cruz's likelihood of being re-elected in 2018. It's no accident that Cruz's about-face coincided with Texas Republicans starting to like the sound of "Sen. Rick Perry."
Cruz's endorsement of the candidate he labeled accurately an utterly amoral pathological liar affirms the nickname Trump gave him — Lyin' Ted Cruz.
San Antonio Express-News. Sept. 23, 2016.
Bipartisan justice reform dead
It appears to be pretty close to official. A bill reforming the federal criminal justice system appears dead.
Once touted as a bill that would enjoy bipartisan support and pass, it is now a victim of a divided GOP caucus in the House and Senate. And that is unfortunate, yet another sign of gridlock that must be surmounted.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is a major architect of this bill, one clearly in the nation's interest. The measure would reduce the length of mandatory minimum sentences and change the types of prior drug convictions that trigger these sentences. It would divert federal efforts to felons who commit violent crimes and broaden chances for early release of some prisoners who get credit for "good time" served.
But it has run afoul of presidential candidate Donald Trump's "law and order" platform. Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia criticized the bill as not recognizing that the United States suffers from an "under-incarceration" problem. Others do not want to give President Barack Obama, who has pushed for such reform, a win in this election year.
The problem is that the United States does indeed suffer from over-incarceration problems. With both federal and state incarcerations involved, the U.S. leads the world in imprisoned residents, topping such sterling jailers as China, Russia and Iran.
While crime has surged in some urban areas, the nation is generally experiencing low crime rates compared to the levels seen in the 1990s, when these get-tough measures were approved.
And the get-tough laws have had a harmful impact on minority communities. People of color are overrepresented in federal prison. The prison population is 37.5 percent black and 34.4 percent Latino, but blacks are 13.3 percent of the U.S. population and Latinos 17.6 percent.
An American Civil Liberties Union report found that such nonviolent offenses as stealing a $159 jacket and selling $10 worth of marijuana were among the crimes counted in the three-strikes rule.
Our hope is that after November, the divisiveness stalling this bill will give way to recognition that many of the country's ailments are being unaddressed.
Another hope is that those states that haven't already — some have enacted reform without increases in crime rates — will also recognize that harsh sentencing and other get-tough measures have been counterproductive.
For the moment, however, count Cornyn's worthy bill as just one of the latest casualties of continuing polarization and gridlock.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Sept. 23, 2016.
Cost may be high if Texas quits refugee program
Texas has a long and proud history as the leading state for refugee relocation.
Indeed, the state's ethnic diversity is the result of its willingness to welcome people from all over the world.
But this week Texas tried to change that for the worse. Gov. Greg Abbott took yet another step to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees by threatening to withdraw from the federal refugee-resettlement program by the end of the month.
The threat to withdraw is contingent on the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement's failure to "unconditionally approve" the state's annual plan before the Sept. 30 deadline.
Texas' plan would "require national security officials to ensure that refugees do not pose a security threat to Texas," the governor's office said in a statement.
Articulating a fear shared by many Americans, Abbott warned that the federal refugee settlement program "is riddled with serious problems that pose a threat to our nation," and that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have admitted an inability "to fully screen refugees from terrorist-based nations."
But if the state ceded its administrative role in the resettlement program, that would not prevent refugees from entering Texas.
The federal government could work through nonprofit agencies and faith-based groups, passing federal funds along to those organizations instead.
This raises another concern.
In addition to Texas being viewed as inhospitable to refugees, the loss of federal grant dollars could have a serious impact on the ability of local agencies to provide public health services.
At the Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting last week, the county health department briefed commissioners on the potential impact of loss of the Refugee Health Program.
A $2.2 million federal grant to the local agency enables the county to provide immunizations, health screenings and treatment to refugees and asylees.
Addressing the court, health director Veerinder Taneja did not hedge. Losing the program, he said, would mean a "significant adverse impact for public health."
Withdrawing from the federal program would not achieve a goal of preventing refugee resettlement in Texas, and might result in significant public health consequences.
Abbott would do well to reconsider.