Houston Chronicle. Sept. 25, 2013.
It's all about Ted: A colossal waste of time results in the spotlight shining hotly on tea party favorite
You have to hand it to Ted Cruz. In his meeting with the Chronicle editorial board last year and in countless campaign speeches during his two-year crusade for the U.S. Senate, the loquacious lawmaker from Houston told us exactly what he intended to do: He would work to repeal every jot, every tittle of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.
That's exactly what he's done since he won election last year. That's what he was doing last week when he held the Senate floor for 21 hours and 19 minutes. "I intend to speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand," he announced as he launched into his faux filibuster last week.
Actually the end of the faux filibuster was prearranged. According to ground rules set by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Cruz talked until noon on the after the start. The Senate then voted 100 to 0 to break off debate. Cruz's quixotic gesture did not win over a senator from either party.
Cruz talks. That's what he's been doing since he began debating in high school. In the Senate so far, he has chosen to leave the messy, murky, often frustrating task of deal-making, bargaining and compromise in a democracy that's called governing, by the way to those who actually are interested in engaging some of the nation's most complex challenges.
Cruz's approach is in marked contrast to his predecessor, fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, who once reminded the newly elected senator that it's one thing for lawmakers from relatively small states like Utah and South Carolina to spend their time debating principle and assessing the ideological purity of their colleagues, but representing a large state like Texas carries with it a responsibility to dig in and solve problems.
Hutchison cared about Texas and its needs. So far, Cruz has shown little inclination to heed her example.
San Antonio Express-News. Sept. 24, 2013.
Perry's obstruction so obvious
Gov. Rick Perry is a no-regulations kind of guy. But it appears that Perry has finally found a group he thinks needs regulating. No surprise; that would be those who help Texans secure affordable health insurance.
Don't be fooled. Perry's concern has more to do with the valuable service they will be rendering access to Obamacare than with any concern for the clients.
If Perry harbored such concerns about the clients, he would have had the state administer the exchanges under which Texans can shop for affordable health insurance and determine if they are eligible for subsidies. Instead, objecting to the Affordable Care Act altogether, he refused.
He could expand Medicaid as part of ACA to cover more Texans without insurance. He has refused. The decision came despite the fact that the federal government will pay all costs for the first three years and cap the state share at 10 percent thereafter.
Now, however, he wants to micromanage the so-called "navigators," whom the federal government has financed to help Texans get insurance.
Perry's move is about obstructing such help, part of a national campaign on the right to derail ACA lest folks find out they like and need it.
In Congress, the obstruction effort has played out with myriad, unsuccessful votes to defund the ACA.
At the state level, Perry is now among the governors upping the ante.
He has instructed the Department of Insurance to craft new regulations for these "navigators," hired as a result of federal grants nearly $11 million for Texas alone. Perry's action occurs with last week's beginning of enrollment in these exchanges fast approaching.
Last month, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, author of a bill designed to protect health insurance consumers, informed the governor that the measure "does not authorize the agency to place onerous restrictions on navigators that will make it harder for them to do their important work."
Among the unauthorized restrictions, he said, are additional training or exams beyond what the federal government requires, age restrictions, background checks or submitting fingerprints.
Perry's obstructionism may enhance Texas' status as a national leader in the number of uninsured residents.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Sept. 26, 2013.
Abbott aghast at arms treaty
A United Nations treaty to regulate the international sale of conventional weapons and keep them out of the hands of terrorists and organized criminals has enraged the American gun lobby, the Capitol Hill politicians who bow to that lobby and the Texas attorney general who wants to be governor.
Shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty last week on behalf of the United States, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott accused the Obama administration of "trampling" constitutional liberty and attempting "to subject Americans' right to bear arms to the oversight of the United Nations."
Abbott urged the U.S. Senate to vote against ratifying the treaty, but said if it did not, "Texas stands ready to lead the charge to have the treaty overturned in court."
If the attorney general did sue over this issue, it would be the 30th lawsuit Texas has filed against actions by the Obama administration.
Once again Abbott, who is prone to hyperbole when it comes to conservative causes and fighting anything remotely related to Obama, has grossly overstated the intent and impact of the treaty in an obvious appeal to the pro-gun advocates and the rigid base of the Republican Party.
Passed in April by the U.N. General Assembly on a vote of 154 for, three against and 23 abstentions the arms treaty would require that the human rights records of international buyers be considered before weapons are sold, and it prohibits transferring arms that would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity and certain war crimes, the UN News Centre reported.
Although the treaty specifically mentions regulating weapons like armored combat vehicles, battle tanks, combat aircraft and such, it also mentions "small arms and light weapons," the phrase that has Abbott and others concerned that the U.N. eventually will regulate guns in the U.S. and require gun registration.
If that's what this treaty does, it's ridiculous to think the U.S. Senate would ratify it.
But that doesn't stop the fear mongering when it comes to the Second Amendment, particularly with an election year looming.
Expect an all-out push to persuade senators to vote against ratification, regardless of what the treaty says.
The three countries voting against the treaty at the United Nations were Iran, North Korea and Syria. That's not good company.
The Dallas Morning News. Sept. 29, 2013.
Bloated Texas Constitution needs full revision
So what are your plans for Nov. 5? It's a Tuesday, so no football on TV. Run the kids to school, go to work. Maybe Domino's for dinner, if your spouse's starvation diet hasn't killed you by then.
Wait, why do we ask?
Well, it's also Election Day in Texas. As long as you've registered by Oct. 7, you can join dozens of Texans in exercising your civic franchise on local issues and, of course, amendments to our Texas Constitution.
Our state has many things going for it, but our constitution probably isn't one. Mostly, it's a relic of a bitter, bygone era after the Civil War and Reconstruction left Texans in ill humor when it came to trusting state leaders.
The solution was a constitution that takes power from the elected and gives it to the electorate. That may sound well and good, but in Texas, voters must return to the polls every two years, usually the November after a Legislature, to ratify or reject many issues that barely register on statewide public radar.
Turnout is typically less than 10 percent often far less. Does an entire state need to weigh in on whether El Paso County can tax itself to create a parks district (2011)? Important, perhaps, in El Paso County, but the other 253 have their own situations.
This year, every Texas voter can help decide whether to repeal a constitutional provision on creating a hospital district in Hidalgo County. Again, no small issue there, but elsewhere? Still, it's on the list as Proposition 8 among nine amendments on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Unlike the U.S. Constitution which has been amended 27 times the Texas Constitution functions as a limiting document. With no equivalent of the "necessary and proper clause," our state's document has grown like kudzu. It may not be the longest in America, but it's a contender (Alabama and California are even worse).
After Nov. 5, Texas voters will have weighed in on more than 660 amendments, many of the intensely local or fabulously obscure variety. To date, about 73 percent have been approved.
This editorial board will research and dutifully recommend outcomes on the nine amendments this year and publish them in the coming days. It's the least we can do.
The least our leaders could do is give some serious thought to whether this is any way to run a state. If nothing else, asking each of Texas' 254 counties to hold these elections every two years costs money that could better go elsewhere.
We recognize that every serious attempt to streamline or modernize the Texas Constitution has fallen like the Alamo, but the logic remains pristine. Our state, quite different than it was in the 19th century, deserves a governing document that doesn't need tire patches every two years.
Austin American-Statesman. Sept. 30, 2013.
Open, thorough investigation needed in Willingham case
Cameron Todd Willingham's guilt or innocence should be a matter of evidence explored, not death penalty politics debated.
The evidence thus far says faulty arson claims were used to convict the Corsicana man for setting fire to his house and killing his three young daughters. Prosecutorial misconduct also may have contributed to Willingham's conviction, according to evidence presented last week by the Innocence Project.
The group asked Gov. Rick Perry last week to order a state investigation into whether Willingham was wrongfully executed in 2004 and should be posthumously pardoned. The Innocence Project previously supported fire research that led to a report by the Texas Forensic Science Commission that discredited the arson claims used to convict Willingham.
Neither the discredited fire claims nor the possibility of wrongdoing by prosecutors cited by the Innocence Project settles the issue of Willingham's guilt or innocence. Given the years that have gone by since his conviction in 1992 and the circumstantial nature of much of the rest of the case against him, producing a conclusive answer about Willingham's guilt or innocence might be impossible. But the time is past due for the state to try to determine the truth.
In an amendment to a petition filed last year by Willingham's family with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, the Innocence Project said it has uncovered new evidence that indicates false testimony was solicited against Willingham and used at trial to help convict him. The Board of Pardons and Paroles would have to investigate the case and issue a recommendation favoring Willingham's innocence before Perry could grant him a posthumous pardon.
Arson investigators concluded that Willingham used a liquid accelerant to set the fire that killed his three young daughters in their Corsicana home in December 1991. Their testimony was instrumental in persuading jurors to convict Willingham in 1992. He was sentenced to death and executed in February 2004.
The fire investigators' testimony against Willingham was based on commonly held beliefs about how fire spreads and acts that had little or no basis in tested science. In the years since Willingham's conviction, experts studying fires methodically rather than merely accepting assumptions about them have learned that much of what arson investigators thought they knew about fires was wrong.
The Texas Forensic Science Commission was asked to study the arson science used to convict Willingham and concluded in April 2011 that none of the more than 20 "arson indicators" cited by investigators in the Willingham case reliably pointed to accelerant use. The commission agreed that the arson claims used to convict Willingham were faulty, but the commission was not in a position to determine Willingham's guilt or innocence.
Willingham's prosecutors continued to maintain he was guilty. They pointed to witnesses who said they found Willingham inadequately upset during or after the fire. And faulty fire evidence aside, prosecutors said they had information from a jailhouse informant that Willingham had admitted setting the fire.
A statement made by the informant, Johnny Webb, possibly points to prosecutorial misconduct, the Innocence Project said last week. Webb claimed Willingham had confessed his crime to him while the two men sat in jail, but the Innocence Project said it has evidence the prosecutor who tried Willingham elicited false testimony from Webb and later reclassified his crime from aggravated robbery to robbery to reduce his 15-year prison sentence.
Webb claimed in 2000 that prosecutors had asked him to lie, the Innocence Project said. But Webb's statement was never given to Willingham's attorneys before he was executed in 2004.
The two opposing sides in the Willingham case are each convinced they're right. Death penalty politics shape the debate. Those who believe in Willingham's innocence think he was wrongly executed. Those who maintain Willingham's guilt, such as Perry, say the state has never executed an innocent man.
We are in no position to pass judgment on Willingham's guilt or innocence. But there is enough evidence to warrant a thorough and open state investigation. Otherwise, Willingham's case is doomed to haunt criminal justice in Texas.