Posted: Oct 16, 2012 11:01 AM
Updated: Oct 16, 2012 11:02 AM
The Dallas Morning News. Oct. 12, 2012.
Hoping for California death penalty repeal
It shouldn't surprise us in Texas that Californians cite weaknesses in our criminal justice system in supporting a ballot proposition to ban executions in that bluest of blue states.
If that helps make the case with some Golden State voters to end the practice there, so much the better, from the perspective of this newspaper's opposition to the death penalty as inherently flawed and unevenly applied. Still, it's uncomfortable when our ugliest warts are exposed.
The California vote on Nov. 6 is a referendum on a capital punishment system that has little resemblance to our own. California has the largest death row of any state at 724, easily twice the size of Texas' yet has executed only 13 inmates since capital punishment resumed 20 years ago. Texas executed 13 murderers last year alone, among 486 since reinstatement.
Some California capital punishment supporters say their state's routine of interminable appeals is the problem, and they cite their very first death row inmate, who is still fighting his sentence 34 years later. If only the machinery of death could be sped up, they say.
That's where Texas enters the discussion, since along with the relative speed of most executions our state's mistakes are renowned. No state has more DNA-proven exonerations, highlighting the indefensible risk of executing an innocent person.
In a series of editorials last month, The Sacramento Bee reversed its more-than-150 years of support for capital punishment and urged passage of Proposition 34. One editorial bore this headline: "Death penalty Texas style? No, thank you."
The Bee went on to cite the disturbing case of Carlos DeLuna of Corpus Christi, executed in 1989 despite the absence of forensic evidence and despite the fact that another man bragged about committing the bloody knife attack. Further, the newspaper asserted, Texas "has a record of taking shortcuts with the law," by tolerating the execution of defendants with poor legal representation.
Other reasons cited by The Bee are common to multiple states and exposed by research, such as the unproven deterrent value of capital punishment and the higher incidence of executions for blacks and for killers of white people. Also, the punishment in California can depend on geography; a disproportionate number of death sentences are imposed out of Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, similar to Texas' disproportionate death verdicts out of Harris County.
Opinion polls show Prop 34 trailing, despite prominent and surprising voices of support. One is Ron Briggs, a key proponent of the 1978 proposition that brought back capital punishment. Briggs now says that it failed to deter crime and deliver justice.
We hope California doesn't pass up the chance to join the 16 states and District of Columbia that have outlawed the death penalty, five in the past five years. California would provide huge momentum for a national awakening to an uncivilized practice.
San Antonio Express-News. Oct. 12, 2012.
Scrap 'fix' to state's dead-voter law
Ensuring the integrity of elections should not be at cross-purposes with protecting the right of citizens to vote. In Texas, however, those two worthy objectives are in conflict as a result of a flawed law passed by the Legislature in 2011 with bipartisan support.
That law added the Social Security Administration's death master file to the sources the Texas Secretary of State uses to identify deceased individuals and purge their names from voter rolls. The file, with 93 million records, draws on a variety of public and private sources for reported deaths. Any database that large is bound to have errors, especially those involving people with common names.
To comply with the law, Secretary of State Hope Andrade notified county elections officials across Texas of two categories of suspected deceased voters: strong matches from more reliable sources traditionally used in purging the deceased from voter rolls, and weak matches for those flagged by the Social Security death master file.
For the 68,000 weak matches, the onus was on voters to respond to a letter within 30 days to avoid being removed from voter lists. As expected, those matches included plenty of reports of deaths that were, as Mark Twain might say, greatly exaggerated.
Four of the recipients of those letters who are very much alive filed suit to block implementation of the new law. Last week, the state and the plaintiffs reached an agreement that properly makes it the responsibility of elections officials to confirm that voters are dead before purging voter lists rather than voters having to prove that they are alive.
A better solution would be for the Legislature also to remove the Social Security Administration's death master file as a source to cancel voter registrations. The state's method of cleaning up voter lists wasn't broken until lawmakers decided it needed fixing.
Austin American-Statesman. Oct. 10, 2012.
A diverse student body benefits society
The arguments have been made. Months from now, the decision will arrive. Then new arguments will begin.
We refer to Fisher v. the University of Texas, the affirmative action case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. Though not the full court, we should add. One justice, Elena Kagan, recused herself, presumably, according to news reports, because she had worked on the case as the Obama administration's solicitor general.
By now you've heard the name Grutter quite a lot since Wednesday morning. The reference is to Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the University of Michigan Law School, like all institutions of higher education, benefits from putting together a diverse student body and thus can use race as one factor among several in assessing student applications. UT says it follows parameters set forth in Grutter and its application process is therefore constitutional.
Three of the five justices who formed the majority in Grutter Sandra Day O'Connor, John Paul Stevens and David Souter are no longer on the court. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the frequent swing vote in close cases, remains, as do Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. All three were in the minority in Grutter.
The new chief justice, John Roberts, and Justice Samuel Alito, who replaced O'Connor, have been critical of race-based admissions in the past. The court can always surprise, but the court's new lineup means using race as a consideration in college admissions may soon be history.
The Fisher of the case is Abigail Noel Fisher, who applied to UT-Austin in 2008. Because she did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her high school class, she was not automatically accepted under the top 10 percent law passed by the Texas Legislature in 1997. So Fisher became one of about 16,000 applicants competing for 1,200 slots left available for students outside the top 10 percent.
She didn't make the cut. Her disappointment compelled her to sue UT, claiming the university rejected her because she's white and gave a spot in the 2008 freshman class that should have gone to her to a less-qualified minority student. Not so, says UT. Among the students who failed to gain admission in 2008 were 168 minority students whose qualifications placed them higher than Fisher.
Fisher also argues that the top 10 percent law achieves diversity on its own minority enrollment at UT has increased since the law took effect and race should not be considered when evaluating additional students for admission. UT says its policy is necessary to help it achieve diversity in programs where the top 10 percent falls short.
Fisher graduated 82nd out of 674 students at Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugar Land, about 15 spots below where she needed to be to earn automatic admission under the 10 percent law. She clearly was qualified for college: She attended Louisiana State University and graduated in May with a degree in finance. She now works in Austin as a financial analyst.
The top 10 percent rule the Legislature modified the law in 2009 so the percentage of students automatically admitted to UT is now 8 percent is an objective policy but one that ignores a student's extracurricular activities, community involvement and examples of leadership. The law has been called a blunt instrument, and blunt it is.
The qualities that make up a complete student are considered when assessing the applications of those students outside the top 10 percent. If the court says the consideration of race is unconstitutional violates the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection would it be fair then to consider a student's economic disadvantages, to, in effect, add class to the complex formula that makes up a university's admissions policy? Haven't high school students who have overcome socioeconomic barriers that other students can only imagine shown strong character deserving of an opportunity to further prove themselves in college?
Outside a blind reliance on class rank and test scores, any admissions policy is going to discriminate. Had Fisher been admitted to UT, another applicant would have been rejected. Someone, even someone as prepared for college as Fisher was, is always going to be disappointed.
The struggle to find a properly balanced admissions policy will continue no matter what the Supreme Court decides - as will the lawsuits. Diversity is a worthwhile goal; it benefits students, universities and society. Whatever the court's ruling, its importance will not change.
Waco Tribune-Herald. Oct. 10, 2012.
Election season is full of conspiracies, but wary voters shouldn't be fooled
For all our enlightenment in this information age, conspiracy theories permeate American life, especially politics. Some of us will embrace such theories because they very conveniently rubber-stamp suspicions or biases we have, even when evidence is clearly lacking.
Latest example of this: last week's wild-eyed claim that the Bureau of Labor Statistics data reflecting a drop in the national unemployment rate was "cooked" to help President Barack Obama win re-election. No less than retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch, once a sage in matters of business, accused "these Chicago guys" of altering numbers in the monthly jobs report to show the lowest unemployment rate since Obama took office.
Welch subsequently admitted he has no evidence the labor numbers are being doctored, yet refuses to withdraw his widely twittered comment. Others have jumped on the bandwagon, again without a shred of proof of some massive conspiracy in the U.S. Department of Labor to fix numbers.
Sadly, this election has seen more absurd conspiracy theories and unverified claims than we ought to see no doubt a testament to the high feelings in both political camps in a nation almost evenly divided in presidential preferences. We only hope undecided voters are discriminating enough to size up such claims for what they truly are: balderdash served up by desperate political hacks, public tricksters and publicity-seekers.
For instance, where are the howls of protest about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's irresponsible claim that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney paid no federal income taxes for much of the past decade? Same goes for the unsubstantiated claim that flamboyant business tycoon Donald Trump raised about Obama being born outside the United States and now sitting in the Oval Office in violation of the U.S. Constitution. So where's the beef?
While a jobless rate of 7.8 percent for September (down from 8.1 percent in August) suggests some improvement in the economy, it's hardly vindication of Obama's policies of the past four years. He must answer for a flawed stimulus package, the abandonment of tax reform and a health care reform bill that proved a destructive distraction when the U.S. economy was flailing.
Republicans have more than enough credible complaints against the Obama administration to run on without relying on fanciful speculation. We suggest local voters ignore these wild leaps of fantasy and focus on detailed public policy stances assuming one can squeeze them out of the candidates.
Texarkana Gazette. Oct. 11, 2012.
Tracking students: Left, right upset over new ID cards with built-in GPS
It's a strange day indeed when you can find an issue on which liberal civil rights activists, such as the ACLU, and conservative evangelical Christians find common ground.
But that day has come.
Since the beginning of this month, students at John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School in San Antonio have been required to sport new photo ID cards imbedded with a radio-frequency identification device that tracks their movement throughout the school day.
The ID cards have to be worn around the neck and are required to access the lunchroom, library and some other campus locations.
The cards also must be used to vote in student elections, purchase football tickets or participate in several extracurricular activities.
The two schools are testing grounds of a sort. If the IDs work out, then the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio plans to expand the program to more than 100 schools.
The district says the goal is to keep track of students for their own safety and reduce truancy.
"Northside ISD is harnessing the power of radio frequency identification technology (RFID) to make schools safer, know where our students are while at school, increase revenues, and provide a general purpose 'smart' ID card. Parents entrust us with their children and expect that we always know where their children are; this technology will help us do that," the district's Website states.
But that doesn't sit well with some on the left, who consider it a violation of students' rights, and some on the religious right, who liken the RFID cards to the biblical "mark of the beast."
The district points out the card only tracks students on campus. No word on how they answer the Revelation speculation.
But we doubt if the complaints will make much difference.
That's because the real reason for all of this is money.
Schools in Texas get state funding based on the number of students who attend each day. And right now, Northside ISD loses an awful lot of state education money because of truancy. If this program is effective, then it could mean as much as $2 million additional tax dollars a year for the district.
And that's enough to outweigh a few angry calls.
We see no problem with the ID cards as long as their use is restricted to campus and school-related activities. The district needs all the money it's entitled to. And as a side benefit, the cards might just make a few kids stick around school instead of ditching classes and they may keep some kids safe and others out of trouble.
Frankly, students are not adults. And when in school, they have to accept some control over their actions. The new ID cards are not an unreasonable requirement.
And, while we respect everyone's right to their own religious views, we believe it's a big stretch to link these IDs with the Book of Revelation.
We just don't see any arguable downside to the RFID cards