Posted: Jul 10, 2012 11:01 AM
Updated: Jul 10, 2012 11:02 AM
Corpus Christi Caller-Times. July 3, 2012.
Texans' health should figure into the battle plan
Texas, one of 27 states that opposed the federal health care act in court, actually won something from the Supreme Court's decision last week upholding the legislation. The court sided with Texas in preserving a state's right to refuse what would have been a forcible expansion of Medicaid to cover low-income people not already covered by the program.
By "Texas," we mean Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott acting on Texans' behalf whether Texans wanted them to or not. By Texans, we mean all legal residents, including the one in four with no health insurance.
The ruling ensures Texas' right to deny Medicaid to Texans who need it and don't have it. Think about this: Our state leadership can refuse federal funding that would cover all of the expense for the first few years and 90 percent thereafter.
Whose interest would this outcome serve? Certainly none of the uninsured.
Already, Texas is tardy to the task of setting up an insurance exchange to help individuals and small businesses obtain coverage. The federal government has allocated money to help with this task. Texas (again, in this usage we mean Perry and Abbott) thus far has concentrated on fighting rather than complying with the act.
What will Texas do now? Perry's reaction to the ruling doesn't sound compromising: "Now that the Supreme Court has abandoned us, we citizens must take action at every level of government and demand real reform, done with respect for our Constitution and our liberty."
We can understand the anger. But respect for the Constitution works both ways. The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts who can be described fairly as Perry's kind of guy when it comes to political philosophy, ruled the health care act constitutional. The ruling respected our liberty to refuse health insurance. It also respected Congress' authority to put a monetary price on that liberty, by defining the price as a tax.
Having fought hard and successfully to defend Texans' liberty, now the governor needs to focus on protecting Texans' health, especially the 6.2 million who lack health insurance. For their sake, Texas needs to learn the new system and master it, especially if Texas wants to be in a position to change the system meaningfully in a way more palatable to the state's leaders.
As Associated Press writer Ramit Plushnick-Masti established in an article last week, Perry's pattern of resisting the federal government leads to more, not less, federal oversight of Texas. In his resistance to federal authority, Perry often speaks of the intent of the framers of the Constitution, which suggests a reverence for American history. If so, he should consider the historic example set by Comanche chief Quanah Parker. No figure in American history fought harder, more bitterly or more bloodily for his and his people's liberty.
But when the fighting was done, Parker studied the victors' socioeconomic ways, adopted them and used them to the best advantage of himself and his people. He kept them fed and made sure they became landowners rather than government dependents.
In the final analysis, Parker actually won his war for liberty, though the rules of engagement changed considerably. Perry's battle, likewise, needn't be over. But for the sake of his people, the battlefield needs to change.
Houston Chronicle. July 4, 2012.
How about a patriotic fix to health care?
This Fourth of July Americans are being treated to the extra display of rhetorical fireworks produced by a full-on race for the White House.
Traditionally, the Congress takes a July Fourth recess. This year that break means lots of candidates, incumbents and challengers are busy in their districts circulating among voters at the traditional July Fourth public gatherings.
As of last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring the Affordable Care Act constitutional under Congress' power to tax, the stump rhetoric is particularly superheated.
For the Democrats, the challenge is to find a way not to say the "T'' word tax when discussing health care. Good luck with that. Meanwhile, Republicans are focused on the "R'' word repeal of the ACA with a vote scheduled in the House of Representatives for July 11. Good luck with that one, too, with a Democrat-dominated Senate in place, at least until the Nov. 6 elections.
With his opinion declaring the health care act constitutional as a tax, Chief Justice John Roberts has kicked the issue from the high court into the court of public opinion, the November elections.
Roberts' words moved the earth politically in our divided nation. They dominate the conversation, and will continue to do so throughout the campaign season.
But on this the nation's 236th birthday, we have a kind of, sort of patriotic thought related to health care. We encourage a widening of the public debate based on what we consider the second-most important words uttered publicly last historic week.
Those belong to President Obama and were contained in his initial reaction to the Supreme Court decision a couple of hours after the ruling was made public.
Obama promised to "work together to improve it where we can."
It needs improving. The 2,400 page bill that was signed by the president contains a lot of confusing, cluttered language and some unacceptable favoritism about that, few would disagree. Case in point: those waivers granted behind closed doors by the administration to politically powerful interests such as labor unions.
Now that the chief justice has ruled that it's a tax, are those folks entitled to be exempted? What about the president and Congress? We doubt it.
Of course, the law also contains things people like: such as allowing young folks through age 26 to stay on their parents' policies, accepting people's pre-existing health conditions for coverage and discounts for prescriptions for the elderly.
Some good things were left out. Allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines will increase competitiveness and cut costs. Improving portability and allowing defined contribution plans as well as defined benefit plans would help as well.
What voters deserve from candidates of both parties as the 2012 campaign season revs up is a common-sense discussion of what workable health care coverage looks like in its specifics regardless of which party claims credit.
Such a debate would be in the "Spirit of '76" the thoughtful, enlightened patriotism that the Founders envisioned would guide this nation when they created the Declaration of Independence, the document we honor today.
The Dallas Morning News. July 3, 2012.
Let's move on from EPA challenge
Now that a federal appeals court has ruled that the EPA has clear authority to pursue tougher rules on greenhouse gas emissions, Texas must stop the foot-dragging and begin planning a cleaner-energy future.
The unanimous ruling last week leaves little wiggle room for climate skeptics such as Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott, who led the state down this litigious dead end by questioning the EPA's scientific judgment. Even after being shut down by the court, Abbott called the ruling "deeply disappointing" and accused the judges of failing "to rein in the unelected bureaucrats at the (environmental) agency who are holding our country's energy independence and fragile economy hostage to a radical environmental agenda." He said Texas is still considering appeals options.
Frankly, the state would be better served if it spent less time in court and more time making sure Texas is ready for the future. Cleaner energy is crucial to this nation's future, and Texas, a heavy energy-producing and -consuming state, can't remain economically competitive if it continues to fight scientifically sound progress. In its opinion, the appeals court showed obvious irritation with the state's challenge, noting brusquely: "This is how science works. The EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question."
Texas was the only state to refuse to cooperate when the agency began requiring states to apply for greenhouse gas permits. Others since have moved to comply while Texas squandered time in a losing legal fight.
No doubt tougher rules on greenhouse gases will affect Texas' coal-fired power plants as well as farmers and ranchers who use fossil fuels to cultivate their land and fertilize their crops. This puts an added responsibility on Texas to take the right steps to make sure new clean-energy jobs are created.
Texas can't pretend that the rules shouldn't apply in this state. Texas consumes and produces more electricity than any other state, and per capita residential use is significantly higher than the national average. About 35 percent of all greenhouse gases released by industrial sources in the United States originate in Texas, much of it from the state's prominent energy sector. The rules aren't optional, and tethering ourselves to a 20th-century approach in the 21st century would be a disastrous economic miscalculation.
Texas should be at the forefront of efforts to reduce emissions that both endanger health and discourage businesses from locating or expanding in the state. Instead of opposing the tougher air quality rules, Austin would be wise to focus instead on how best to be a leader in a less carbon-dependent and cleaner economy.
Austin American-Statesman. July 6, 2012.
Wanted: Strong top education official
If Gov. Rick Perry needs assistance with a special "help wanted" notice, we're only too happy to assist with the wording: "Executive sought to run large state agency. Experience in managing 181 self-professed experts in education, business, medicine and social policy helpful. Must be proficient in English and Educationese. Spanish a plus, but not required. Salary details available to finalists only. No phone inquiries please."
Robert Scott ended a five-year stint as the state's education commissioner, setting a record for tenure and perhaps for endurance in a job that needs doing but has never been easy.
Years ago, the commissioner was hired by the State Board of Education, which meant the commissioner's fate was determined by a majority of board votes that could change on a whim.
Since 1991, the commissioner has been a gubernatorial appointee, which means a commissioner's fate can change with a shift in political winds.
It may be too early for an extensive, objective review of Scott's performance, but he should get high marks for effort.
He managed the agency efficiently enough and had the good sense not to get mired in the eternal culture war that continues to rage on the 15-member State Board of Education.
Statistically speaking, Scott hit some high notes. According to figures compiled by the State Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2010, "78.7 percent of Texans age 25 and over had a high school diploma or higher degree, up from 75.7 percent in 2000. Texans with a bachelor's degree or higher were reported at 25.5 percent in 2006, about 2 percentage points lower than the national average."
You don't have to look far to get into an argument about statistics, but the reaction from organized business groups and from parents organized and otherwise isn't general approbation.
Very generally speaking, Texas students perform relatively well on nationally standardized math tests, but reading scores are low.
Those measures, however, might shift now that the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills has been replaced by the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. Whatever acronym is used, the effectiveness of standardized testing is hotly debated now and won't cool down between now and January when the Legislature convenes again.
Business groups and parents are agitated over standardized testing. Business leaders have served notice that if the Legislature relaxes measuring student performance by using standardized tests, they will oppose increased funding for public schools. Parents and educators are equally adamant that the state's addiction to standardized test scores is academically counterproductive.
The Legislature rolls into town in January and will face yet another session with school funding driving the budget bus.
Texas schools lost $4 billion in state funding the last time the Legislature met, and prospects that the Legislature will approve restoration much less increased funding are not good.
Complicating matters even further is that both chambers have lost their leaders on education funding and policy. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, chairman of the Senate's Education Committee, is retiring.
Shapiro's counterpart in the House, state Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, lost his re-election bid.
Developing a top-notch educational product isn't a matter of altruism. An educated workforce is the difference between survival and extinction in an increasingly complex global economy.
The state's economy is comparatively strong but not so robust that it can't be brought down by a poorly educated populace.
Meanwhile, the State Board of Education has spent time arguing over Darwin's theory of evolution and whether Thomas Jefferson was an appropriate example of a profound political thinker.
A board majority also insisted on glossing over the history of 200 years of slavery in the United States.
The antics of the state board are annoying sometimes downright amusing but the least of the challenges the new commissioner will face.
That's the kind of backdrop that would make even a strong person hesitate to step forward; yet the times demand a strong leader who has the ability to communicate forcefully and effectively with business interests, professional educators, parents and the Legislature, of course.
In his bid for re-election and his short-lived presidential campaign, Perry touted a strong Texas economy. His choice of education commissioner will play an important role in whether the state's economic vitality can be sustained and strengthened.
Waco Tribune-Herald. July 9, 2012.
An American solution
One of the really frustrating things about the cherished First Amendment is it allows people with whom we disagree the right to say fairly vicious, hurtful things, and in many venues of their choosing even as it permits us the very same right. Happily, more than 450 civically engaged people in Central Texas figured out how to make the latter part of that equation work for them and peacefully.
A full salute from this newspaper to the people many of them Texas A&M University students who stood side by side on the front lawn of Central Baptist Church in College Station on Thursday, ensuring that protesters who vowed to protest at the funeral of Army Lt. Col. Roy Tisdale didn't get near the grieving family.
Central Texans are hardly strangers to the anti-homosexuality extremists from the Westboro Baptist Church, of Topeka, Kan., infamous for mounting protests at military funerals. At the height of the two wars fought during the past decade, the Tribune-Herald regularly received notice of their profane vows to show up and create spectacles at such events.
Several members of the Topeka church even gathered during the wedding of first daughter Jenna Bush at the president's ranch near Crawford. They waved signs reading "God is your enemy, America is doomed," and "Pro-gay Bush."
The Patriot Guard, a nationwide movement of motorcyclists, many of them veterans, dedicates itself to blocking the protesters' signs from the bereaved. It has grown some 700 strong in Central Texas. But they can't be everywhere.
So when Westboro members suddenly threatened last week to mount an aggressively anti-gay protest at the Tisdale funeral, a contingent of Aggie students got connected through Facebook, resolved to show up at the funeral themselves and formed a circle to keep any protesters at a reasonable distance. The group resolved not to engage protesters and not to pick a fight with them.
It was a distinctly American solution to a distinctly American predicament and a legitimate way to express their own feelings, just as the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees. In the end, we can't pick and choose who among us is protected by the First Amendment and who isn't. That most sacred of all constitutional amendments allows each of us to do and say fairly combustible things.
Happily, the Aggies and many others in College Station (including some from the Patriot Guard) found a peaceful way to respond to a group dedicated to radical hatemongering. Not surprisingly, the Westboro protesters never showed up.