Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:
Houston Chronicle. Oct. 7, 2018.
NAFTA got upgrade. How about Obamacare?
It’s hard to outdo the hype every time Apple introduces a new version of its iPhone. But if anyone rates higher on the hype meter, it’s President Donald Trump, who – – seems to describe everything he does as the biggest, greatest, most significant step ever taken in America if not the world.
The latest example of the president’s preternatural boastfulness was his announcement of a new treaty to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. Despite Trump’s assertion last week that “it’s a brand new deal,” the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, is more like NAFTA 2.0. It has a few interesting wrinkles and some important updates that don’t really change its basic operating system.
None of the tinkers to NAFTA are likely to greatly impact the $187 billion in annual trade between Texas and Mexico or the $40 billion in trade between Texas and Canada. Even so, the proposed treaty, which needs congressional approval, has eased fears that NAFTA might die without a replacement and hurt not only the state’s gas and oil industry but ranchers and farmers as well.
There’s little in the new NAFTA that should excite energy companies, and the only agricultural provisions receiving much attention concern milk and cheese products mostly made in Wisconsin. U.S. producers will be allowed to supply up to 3.6 percent of Canada’s dairy market, which is about the same level agreed to in the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty that the Trump administration abandoned.
The USMCA’s auto industry rules are getting more news coverage. They would increase the percentage of American-made parts required in cars sold duty-free in the United States, and require the wages of a higher percentage of some Mexican autoworkers to be closer to what their American counterparts make.
Some analysts predict automakers may prefer to pay the measly 2.5 percent tariff they would be charged for not following the new USMCA car parts rules and consider it just another cost of doing business.
Car manufacturers with plants in Mexico also could decide to sell fewer small cars in the United States because their size makes it harder to meet the parts percentage rule. As the analysts point out, Americans seem to prefer larger vehicles anyway.
All things considered, the USMCA doesn’t match its hype. NAFTA needed upgrading in several areas, including intellectual property rights in the digital age, but Trump didn’t need to trash the 25-year-old treaty to fix it.
Trump’s insistence that he needs to kill something to make it better is a reminder of his similar approach to the Affordable Care Act. The president has tried to cripple the ACA, but it survives because he can’t come up with anything better. Hey, maybe he should give Obamacare a name change too, so needed improvements to the law can be made and more Americans without health insurance can receive coverage.
Beaumont Enterprise. Oct. 8, 2018.
Abbott is right to support dialing back pot penalties
When a conservative Republican like Gov. Greg Abbott says it’s time to dial back penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, you know it’s time for all Texans to consider it.
This is an increasingly mainstream viewpoint, as proved by the Texas Republican Party, which also approved a plank in its platform this summer urging that low-level possession be treated a civil violation instead of a criminal charge. Again, you’re not going to get much more conservative than that organization.
Abbott and countless other supporters of law and order realize that while marijuana use should hardly be encouraged, it’s not our worst problem. Our police and courts have plenty of more important issues to deal with, from violent crime to sex trafficking. Minor infractions of the law should still be prosecuted, but they should not take away too much time and energy from bigger challenges. A poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune also revealed that more than half of Texans surveyed support loosening state laws on pot.
Currently, Texans caught with less than two ounces of marijuana can face up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Abbott says he’s open to discussion about reducing that to a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500 but no jail time.
That would free police officers, state troopers and sheriff’s deputies from the time-consuming task of handcuffing suspects and transporting them to jail for processing. Even a minor arrest takes a law-enforcement officer off the streets for long stretches of time. They need to be on patrol as much as possible looking for more serious problems. The so-called “cite and release” option would provide that. As with any minor offense, violators who don’t pay their fines or appear in court would be subject to arrest later on.
The Legislature needs to discuss this issue seriously in the new session that begins in January. While they’re at it, the House and Senate should consider expanding the state’s limited medical-marijuana law. Other states have done that, listening to veterans groups and those suffering from seizures or nausea that haven’t been helped by traditional medicine, and Texas could join that trend.
Again, none of this should undercut laws against drug trafficking or encourage anyone to light up a joint. States that have legalized marijuana have seen, not surprisingly, an increase in stoned driving, which is just as dangerous as drunk driving.
But overall, marijuana is just not as dangerous or destructive as other drugs. Our laws should reflect that reality so our police and courts can pursue other priorities.
The (Galveston County) Daily News. Oct. 6, 2018.
Be prepared for the long haul over coastal protection
Finally, it could happen. Later this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will recommend one of four plans on the table to protect Gulf communities from hurricanes.
The alternatives vary widely from a barrier that runs the length of Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula, with gates across the mouth of the Galveston Ship Channel, to a system of levees that would be built along the west side of Galveston Bay.
Obviously for Galveston County, the preferred plan would be one that features a barrier and gate system that runs along the coast — often referred to as the Ike Dike.
The corps is expected to announce which one it thinks is best on Oct. 26 and open a 75-day public comment period. Six public meetings are in the works, with three meetings to be held in the Houston-Galveston area. After that, the corps could decide to tweak based upon public feedback.
A final version of the plan should be completed by 2021, a corps spokesperson said.
Then comes the hard part — getting the funding. Given the uncertain nature of politics, when and if the funding is approved by Congress is anybody’s guess.
Consider that Hurricane Ike hit the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008. In 2015, a project began to study ways to protect the coast from storm surge such as occurred during Ike. The public comment phase will end in 2019 and two years later, the final version is expected.
The plan is likened by some to the project to build a series of dams along the Mississippi River.
“That took more than 50 years to complete,” Kelly Burks-Copes, a project manager at the corps’ Galveston District, said in a Texas Tribune story.
“If we don’t get all the money we need, we have to separate pieces and parts out and build them as separable elements,” she said.
“If it was a perfect world,” she added, construction would begin in 2025 and conclude in 2035.
With the estimated price tag in the Galveston area between $14 billion and $19 billion, getting all the funding at once seems to be unlikely.
What this really means is that state and local officials, as well as Texas’ representatives in Washington, are going to have to keep the project, at worst, on the back burner and not off the stove.
It’s going to take voters in the county in not just elections this year or two years, but for several years, making sure candidates for various offices are committed to making the plan a reality.
Even after the corps presents its plan later this month, be prepared for the long haul.
The Victoria Advocate. Oct. 6, 2018.
Mosque rebirth ignites love across community
Out of darkness, Victoria created light.
Out of hate, the city found love.
Out of loss, the community blossomed.
The darkness before the dawn Jan. 28, 2017, felt immense as flames roared above the dome of the Victoria Islamic Center. The community shuddered at the thought that hate would so consume someone to set fire to a place of worship. The crime shook mosque members to their core, causing them to fear for their families’ safety and even to question what their neighbors thought of them.
Then the sun rose again the day after the blaze. Hundreds of people filled the blocked-off street in front of the mosque to show their support, forever changing how the community and the world looked at what had happened in Victoria.
With their outpouring of love, “Victorians transformed their city and the mosque arson into a bright star in the dark skies,” mosque treasurer Abe Ajrami said during an open house celebration Sept. 29.
The ceremony celebrated the reopening of a mosque more beautiful than what stood before the fire. More than 25,000 donors from Victoria, the U.S. and more than 90 countries gave more than $1.1 million in donations through a Gofundme.com campaign.
The response also opened many hearts. The story of the mosque became about not the loss but all the individuals who stepped up to proclaim their home is better than this.
Ajrami, chief operating office of TLC Staffing in Victoria, listed some of the helpers during his speech:
— Episcopal priest Stephen Carson who canceled his Sunday service and rushed with his congregation “to pray together with the Muslim members of the human family.”
— Victoria architect Rawley McCoy, who immediately offered to help design the new place of worship, a project he said was “relatively small in size but is spiritually huge for him.”
— A little girl who donated her Tooth Fairy money.
— And, in a gesture heard around the world, Jewish neighbors Robert Loeb and Gary Branfman, who immediately offered their synagogue for the Muslim community’s use.
“This kind offer became international news,” Ajrami said, “and a bright spot in the dark times of the news cycle.”
The open house returned the community to the front of the mosque. Instead of rubble, ashes and despair, though, the people gathered found a dazzling new building, warm hearts and open minds. The mosque members offered tours, cookies and hugs for their new and old friends.
The ceremony opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, and later Ajrami read from the U.S. Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
He added, “These rights, ladies and gentlemen, are what make America great, what make her the shining city upon the hill.”
These words came to life in many ways during the mosque ceremony. They could be seen in full bloom in the heart of mosque member Mai Abu Shakra, who teaches computer science at the University of Houston-Victoria. During her speech, she told about how despondent she was by news of the fire. With a sick child to care for and a heavy heart, she almost didn’t attend the Jan. 29, 2017, community prayer vigil.
Once there, what she saw permanently lifted her spirits. “Sometimes bad things have to happen before good things can follow,” she said.
She recalled how a father and his 11-year-old daughter drove from Seguin to offer their support. The girl presented her a hand-drawn poster of support. Skakra wept.
Tears of anguish turned to joy. This is the story Victoria will forever share.
The (McAllen) Monitor. Oct. 8, 2018.
Take a shot: Increase in flu deaths makes precaution vital
About 80,000 Americans died of flu and its effects last flu season, according to Dr. Robert Redfeld, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the highest number of fatalities in four decades.
CDC officials say even half that number is alarming; fatalities have been as low as 12,000 in some years. That’s still a lot, considering the availability of flu vaccines and the low cost of getting it — in many cases it costs nothing.
And the number could be higher; health officials say that because the flu is so common it isn’t always reported or listed on death certificates that instead show pneumonia, heart failure or other condition that was directly caused or exacerbated by the flu bug.
In addition, the flu puts between 140,000 and 710,000 in the hospital every year.
Several factors could have contributed to the high flu fatalities. The CDC reports one prevalent strain of flu last year was especially strong, and resistant to the vaccine that was issued.
But the high number also coincides with a growing trend against vaccinations in general. Many people who have chosen to forgo all vaccinations are influenced by some celebrities who have repeated internet reports linking some vaccines to autism and other health conditions and illnesses. Medical experts insist those reports are largely false; while some people might have reactions to specific vaccines — just like some people have life-threatening allergies to common foods or plants — the number of people at risk is minuscule. The overall risk to the entire community grows with the number of people who aren’t inoculated against any disease, including the flu, the health officials say.
Flu season generally runs during the winter months, especially from late October to February, and most doctors’ offices and full-service pharmacies, including Walgreens, CVS, WalMart and H-E-B, already are offering flu shots. Everyone ages 6 months and older is encouraged to get the vaccination.
In many cases nasal sprays with the vaccine also are available.
Most health insurance policies cover flu shots completely, so vaccination usually is free.
The CDC notes that it takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body to develop adequate protection against the disease, so the sooner one is vaccinated, the better. Some small children will need the vaccine split into two doses, making the earliest first dose possible more beneficial.
The flu bug changes from year to year and drug companies, using guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration, change the vaccine every year to address those changes. Fortunately, officials say the most common flu strain this year is not as severe as the 2017 strain.
Several specific vaccines are available, and health officials will screen people for allergies and health conditions in order to administer the right vaccine.
No vaccine offers 100 percent protection against all flu strains, but a vaccinated person who catches the bug anyway likely will have lighter symptoms, the CDC points out.
The ease, availability and normally free administration of the flu vaccine should make inoculation an easy choice. The alternative could be a few days of misery — or something much, much worse.