Posted: Jul 24, 2012 11:00 AM
Updated: Jul 24, 2012 11:01 AM
The Dallas Morning News. July 21, 2012.
Health exchange would benefit Texans
This newspaper didn't think the Affordable Care Act was the best health care overhaul for America, but for the life of us we can't figure out why Gov. Rick Perry is so rock-solid against implementing sensible parts of the legislation. Not only has he turned down federal Medicaid dollars to help low-income families acquire health insurance, he also is defiantly opposing the requirement that states create exchanges where uninsured residents can shop for the best health plan.
It isn't like health care exchanges are a socialistic plot to take over health care. They instead create marketplaces where consumers and small businesses can compare health insurance plans. Republicans as well as Democrats have favored this competitive approach.
In Utah, for example, the state's GOP leadership approved an exchange in 2011 that has led to a marketplace where insurers can offer their plans and customers can search for one that most fits their needs. The Utah exchange is part of the governor's office, but it is overseen by two boards of public-and private-sector leaders. The exchange screens plans, the rates insurers charge and the quality of their offerings.
As this newspaper's Jim Landers reported Tuesday, Utah's experiment has not been without blemish, but it does feature 140 different plans and lets brokers help companies and individuals find the best options.
In other states, leaders are considering exchanges that are managed through a nonprofit organization that basically sets the ground rules and lets residents do their shopping. The options vary from state to state, and they have been studied or adopted by states led by Republicans.
So this isn't a wild-eyed concept. In fact, Republicans in the Texas Legislature last year tried to pass a bill that would get the state ready to create its own exchange. The measure was offered by GOP Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond doctor, but Perry didn't want much to do with it.
The governor and other opponents contend the Affordable Care Act comes with too many rules governing exchanges. Here's the problem: If Texas doesn't create its own marketplace, the feds will do it for us.
Since when is that a good idea?
The smarter play is for legislators to get busy now thinking through the best option. GOP Sen. Bob Deuell, a Greenville physician, tells us that he thinks the Legislature will do something next year. We certainly hope so.
At the very least, Austin should submit a plan to Washington before the law takes effect. Washington may tweak it, but the state can then start negotiating. Standing still won't help Texans who could gain from a marketplace that informs them about the quality, cost and services of health plans.
Houston Chronicle. July 21, 2012.
Kudos to former president for AIDS work
Before the moment passes, we join others in extending our appreciation for former President George W. Bush and first lady Laura's ongoing support for efforts to break the deadly AIDS epidemic threatening Africa. Thank you, President and Mrs. Bush.
The former first couple spent a week earlier this month in Zambia helping to build a facility to treat women's cancers, which hit HIV-positive women especially hard. We saw pictures of a very fit-looking Bush, in T-shirt and jeans, hauling construction materials to build the new facility.
Critics will say this was little more than a photo op, and that may be true at a certain level. But such a gesture is also important and beneficial to the daunting cause of bringing AIDS under control in some of the world's most remote and medically underserved regions.
The spotlight of attention brought by the presence of a former American president and his wife brings a priceless focus to the problem and those most affected by this manageable plague, including untold numbers of children. It is worth its weight in hammers, nails, construction materials, drugs, doctors and medical technicians - because that is the harvest of interest and good will it will yield.
The Bushes' post-presidential efforts remind us of the important work George W. Bush did on behalf of the AIDS-in-Africa cause during his time in the Oval Office. Even his harshest critics acknowledge the breadth and effectiveness of this effort that benefits those who do not cast a single vote, Republican or Democratic.
It was an act of compassion and human kindness, offered with no expectation of payback - monetary, political or otherwise.
The world could use more of it.
San Antonio Express-News. July 18, 2012.
Allow alcohol sales at Alamo Hall
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson's plan to allow the sale of alcohol at private events at Alamo Hall understandably provokes some emotional opposition. Hundreds of men on both sides of the fight for Texas independence lost their lives in and around the Alamo grounds.
The resting place of the Alamo's fallen defenders never documented likely is in the area. From its days as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the grounds of the Alamo served as a burial place for Native Americans.
A sign from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas still greets all visitors at the entrance to the Alamo chapel, reminding them that they do indeed tread on hallowed ground. Those who enter are requested to please be quiet. Cellphone use is not allowed. Gentlemen are asked to remove their hats.
But Alamo Hall, built in 1922, is not the Alamo chapel. Nor is it even within the boundaries of the 1836 fortress.
Alamo Hall is on less hallowed ground than Alamo Plaza, where during Fiesta parades beer is routinely sold and consumed, clowns perform and Fiesta royalty is called on by jovial crowds to show off their shoes.
The occasional consumption of alcoholic beverages at private events held in Alamo Hall is not going to undermine the sacredness of the Alamo. No one is planning to turn the Alamo into the next set of "The Hangover" movie franchise. Patterson held a news conference on Friday to clarify there would be no "beer machine in the chapel."
The ability to serve alcohol at Alamo Hall receptions has the potential to raise needed revenues for Alamo conservation projects. This isn't, however, fundamentally an issue about money, and it certainly isn't about compromising the sanctity of the Alamo to get it. Those compromises were made long ago when the merchants and tradesman of a growing city set up shop around San Antonio's most famous landmark.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. July 19, 2012.
Accurate voter rolls aren't a partisan tool
There's compelling evidence from credible sources that voter rolls around the country are generally littered with bad information.
It's wrong to jump from there to the conclusion that voting fraud is rampant.
But in a tensely competitive presidential election year, protecting the integrity of elections and protecting voting rights seem to have become competing interests.
It's a false conflict with destructive consequences.
The latest episode involves whether states can use a federal database, known as SAVE (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program), to help determine whether noncitizens are erroneously registered as voters.
SAVE allows government agencies to verify whether legal immigrants qualify for benefits and licenses. Those listed in the database have typically been assigned an identifying number, such as through a visa or green card. The system isn't designed to track whether illegal immigrants are improperly listed on voter rolls maintained at the state level.
There is no master list of illegal immigrants that allows one to say, "See? We told you they've been stealing our elections!"
Now that the Homeland Security Department has agreed, after months of sparring, to give Florida access to SAVE, other states are asking for it, too, to help purge wrongly registered noncitizens.
Texas Secretary of State Esperanza "Hope" Andrade joined that effort Wednesday, though a spokesman characterized it as "just taking the first steps" and said no decisions have been made about how the state might use the information. Texas maintains a central voter database that is revised periodically when counties submit their updated lists, but state officials haven't determined how many noncitizens they believe might be improperly on the rolls.
It's unclear whether any changes could be made based on SAVE before November balloting.
Lawsuits involving Florida dispute whether federal law prevents states from purging voter rolls within 90 days of a federal election.
Clean and accurate voter lists are a worthy goal, and are important to valid elections and public confidence in the results.
It's unfortunate that the tug-of-war over the SAVE records looks less like safeguarding the vote and more like maximizing the Republican and Democratic parties' ability to win in November.
Republicans act as though this tool is critical; Democrats argue that Republicans risk disenfranchising large numbers of minority voters.
The reality is that election officials, academics and technology specialists have argued for years that our state-based voter registration system is costly, inefficient and desperate for modernization.
The nonpartisan Pew Center for the States reported in February that about 12.7 million voter records nationwide are out of date, 1.8 million show dead people on the rolls and 12 million have incorrect addresses. Meanwhile, almost a quarter of eligible voters -- 51 million people -- aren't registered. (bit.ly/KyOIvC)
Part of the problem is that many people move and wrongly assume their voter registration follows them. The system also invites error: It's done mostly on paper, with new registrations flooding in right before election deadlines and without sufficient ways for officials to crosscheck and verify data.
Using the Homeland Security database might be a small help in ensuring accuracy. The Miami Herald reported in June that Florida officials developed a list of more than 2,600 people who might be noncitizens; the state determined that 500 were citizens and 80 were noncitizens, and officials want to use the federal data for further checking. More than 40 of those noncitizens might have voted illegally, according to reports, though it's unclear whether they mistakenly believed they were eligible or knowingly engaged in fraud.
Noncitizens shouldn't be voting. But citizens wrongly taken off the rolls should have ample opportunity to prove their eligibility before Election Day. In Texas, a voter considered for purging is notified by the county voter registrar to provide proof of eligibility within 30 days.
Elections are tainted when people try to sway the outcome knowing they shouldn't be voting. But fair elections are also undermined when legitimate voters are prevented from participating.
Protecting voting rights and electoral integrity ought to go hand in hand, not get caught in the partisan schism.
The General Land Office is calling the shots these days at the Alamo complex in San Antonio. And a recent decision by Commissioner Jerry Patterson to allow outside groups that rent Alamo Hall to serve adult beverages at their events isn't sitting well with some Texas history buffs and members of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas who take offense at the notion of alcohol being offered at such a hallowed site.
To be sure, the Alamo is sacred ground -- literally. Folks tend to forget that it was Mission San Antonio de Valero, where Christian missionaries and their Indian converts lived and worshipped, long before that fateful March day in 1836 when a band of brave Texans fell to the Centralist army of Gen. Antonio L pez de Santa Anna.
But the argument that the land upon which Texas heroes fought and died shouldn't be defiled by someone ingesting a Shiner rings a little hollow given how disturbed that ground was in 1922 to build City Fire Station No. 2, which today is Alamo Hall, the center of the brewing controversy.
And the Daughters of the Republic of Texas can be forgiven their angst over the notion of margaritas being sipped in the proximity of the heroic struggle against impossible odds, but they need to remember that they had no similar heartburn back in 1936 when they literally dug up bones to build the Alamo Gift Museum to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo.
And the digging isn't over. An amphitheater is planned for an area next to the arbor that shields the restrooms on the northern end of the complex.
The proceeds from the gift shop, coupled with donations from individuals and private foundations and rental fees for Alamo Hall, help fund the maintenance and programming at the 4.2-acre complex.
Although state-owned, the Alamo has been run by the DRT since 1905. The Daughters haven't always been the best stewards of the beloved Texas landmark, which is what prompted the 2011 Texas Legislature to place operations under the direction of the GLO.
Admission to the Alamo is free, as it should be. The complex is open daily (except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sundays. During the summer, the Alamo remains open on Fridays and Saturdays until 7 p.m.
Those 5:30 p.m. closing times leave lots of opportunity to rent out Alamo Hall and the adjoining patio for evening receptions, dinners and meetings. Many outside organizations -- from professional and fraternal associations to military and law enforcement reunion groups -- like to offer their members and guests a cocktail or a beer. And caterers for those events are more than happy to sell them.
Patterson's decision to allow groups renting Alamo Hall to furnish adult beverages is a pragmatic decision. It will likely expand the universe of customers interested in hosting an event at the repurposed fire station, located north of the DRT Library along the eastern wall of the complex. And those rental fees go right back into the maintenance and operation of the Alamo.
To be clear, Alamo Hall is not the Alamo. No one at the GLO envisions allowing alcohol into the shrine, although strong spirits were undoubtedly consumed before David Crockett and Jim Bowie crossed Lt. Col. William Travis' famous line in the sand.
In fact, Travis was one of the few known to be a staunch teetotaler.
The Eagle of Bryan-College Station. July 15, 2012.
Replacing Kyle Field where it is a bad idea
We love our Aggies and can't wait for Sept. 8 when A&M plays Florida in the first home game as a member of the SEC. We'll have a new coach and new uniforms and a new enthusiasm for the men in maroon.
The future looks so bright for Texas A&M except for one thing. A&M officials are pondering what to do about the aging Kyle Field, home to so many storied games over the decades. Most people agree that the historic stadium isn't suited for an SEC school.
So, what to do? There are three basic options, and each has its plusses and its minuses not just for A&M, but also for the entire College Station-Bryan community.
Option one would be to build an entirely new stadium a Kyle 2.0, as it were perhaps on the rapidly filling A&M West Campus. That way, Kyle Field could be used while the new stadium is under construction.
Option two would be to expand the existing stadium, replacing some decades-old sections in stages. If this option is selected, work would begin the day after the last football game of the season in Kyle Field. As much work as possible would have to be completed by the start of the next season, although construction might limit the stadium's capacity for a while which, of course, would make Aggie football tickets even more precious. A&M always has had a "can-do" attitude, as it proved with the delightful new Blue Bell Park baseball venue. As opening day drew near, work crews were doubled and labored day and night to get the baseball stadium ready. That may be a necessity at Kyle Field if this option is chosen. It might cost more, but what's money to the A&M athletic department?
Option three would be to tear down Kyle Field and build a modern new stadium on that site. Doing so would require the Aggies to play "home" games somewhere else, probably Houston or San Antonio, for at least one season. That would be a disaster for so many reasons.
An unnecessary inconvenience, it would require students and the myriad of local supporters to drive two or three hours to attend a "home game."
More than that, however, a season of all away games, no matter what they were called, would be devastating to this community. Hotels, restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores, retail stores, bars and so many other businesses would suffer what, for some, would be irreparable harm. Many of them depend on home football weekends to have a successful year. If the third option is picked, some local businesses possibly would be forced to close.
This community is dependent on Texas A&M, but at the same time, A&M relies heavily on College Station and Bryan and, indeed, the entire Brazos Valley. The success of both town and gown is dependent on an intertwined vision for the future. The success of one relies on the success of the other.
The greatness of Kyle Field is not because of sacred turf it has been replaced naturally and artificially many times over the years or concrete, aluminum and glass. Rather, the greatness stems from the young men who have played there and their outstanding coaches, on the exuberant students bodies, on the devotion of its local fans and others and the memories of great Saturdays and exciting Thanksgivings each of us carries with us.
If A&M decides to build a new stadium, it makes sense to put it somewhere with better parking and much better access. Tearing down Kyle Field and rebuilding there should not be an option A&M officials have given even a second thought.
The Chamber of Commerce is assembling a report on the devastation the third option would cause the community. If you care about this community and Texas A&M as much as we do, let A&M officials know your thoughts on the stadium issue. Write A&M President R. Bowen Loftin at:
Office of the President
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas 77843-1246
You also may email President Loftin at president(at)tamu.edu.
Please keep your correspondence polite and to the point.