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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

March 26, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Houston Chronicle. March 25, 2019.

Since 2017, a few volunteers have gathered at the Freed-Montrose library to read stories with children and their parents. One of the stories has Sesame Street characters sharing their feelings about love. It’s one of many Houston Public Library programs promoting literacy, self-expression and engagement in the diversity of our city.

Now, it’s over.

Last week, the program’s founders published a letter to explain that they were “choosing to step away.” They wrote, “We believe in what we’re doing, but we don’t believe in putting our friends, our families or our children in danger.”

Because the program was called Drag Queen Story Time, and because the volunteers are part of the LGBTQ community and performed in playful garb celebrating gender expression and other costumes, the events had attracted protests, death threats, even a lawsuit seeking a restraining order. (It was thrown out of court.) A year ago, a man who had been banned from the library showed up with a concealed weapon, refused to cooperate when asked to leave and was escorted away by police and disarmed in the parking lot.

Who can blame the performers for feeling endangered?

Moral outrage against them only increased when news broke this month that a volunteer who had read last year, before HPL began in October to enforce rules requiring volunteers to undergo background checks, is a registered sex offender. The volunteer was convicted in 2009 of aggravated sexual assault. Some cynically seized the opportunity to regurgitate discredited beliefs about the LGBTQ community. Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted a dog whistle about the program wasting taxpayer money.

The program doesn’t use taxpayer money. Still, there’s no question that HPL should have conducted background checks from the beginning. HPL acknowledged the seriousness of the mistake, apologized and vowed it would not happen again. In their letter, the founders expressed deep regret that the volunteer’s criminal history had not been discovered.

The mistake is unfortunate, but it’s no reason to vilify the whole program. Parents chose to take their kids because it was child-appropriate and fun. Mike Webb, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, says another Drag Queen Story Time will be organized, maybe as soon as this summer. HPL supports it, many parents are asking for it and we hope it happens.

Some people might never be able to understand it, and they have every right to protest peacefully. Many more are able to appreciate that everyone wants to feel welcome and safe when they’re trying to give back to their communities. This program is about love and acceptance. If you don’t believe that, just listen to the stories.

___

The Dallas Morning News. March 25, 2019.

Nearly two years have passed since Robert Mueller was appointed, with broad latitude, to investigate possible coordination between Russian government officials and the campaign of President Donald Trump.

The intervening time has seen very serious indictments and convictions of Trump campaign officials, as well as troubling clarity on the extensive Russian government effort to sow discord in American society through social media and to influence American politics through computer hacking.

But Mueller’s findings, quoted directly in a report from Attorney General William Barr, show ”(T)he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

The president feels exonerated, and while Mueller’s report did not exonerate him, it also plainly found no evidence of a conspiracy of collusion between the president and Russia during the 2016 election.

So where do we go from here? The last two years have seen endless press coverage of this investigation, much of it very good — providing America insight not only into the depths of Russian interference in our nation’s unity, but also the seamy underbelly of American politics.

But the investigation was also the subject of day after day of hopelessly speculative “news” reports and commentary and a string of publicly announced conclusions of guilt that, in the end, Mueller’s evidence did not support. Such speculation may have been entertaining and engaging, but ultimately, it was unilluminating and probably damaging.

The expectation of the release of the full Mueller report will come next, and we agree with the president as well as his opponents that the document should be made public. Any deviance from Barr’s report will be scrutinized and deservedly so.

But what should come after that? Congressional Democrats are already promising that Mueller’s report won’t be enough. The underlying material must be brought forward. And after that, what?

The sense is already cemented that enough may never be enough. There are those for whom the political fight, not the truth of the matter, will be ever preeminent because the political fight is the means to power. And power, for them, is often more important than truth.

At some point, though, we need to gather as a nation and accept that the institutions we trust are trustworthy and have done their jobs for us with integrity and competence. To endlessly scrape and rescrape the matter won’t claw at the president; it will claw at the country.

The president’s actions throughout this investigation don’t deserve much lauding. His Twitter thumbs never stopped in their own undermining. But we can say that he let the process play out. Mueller, even under persistent presidential abuse, was able to do his job.

Might that be the end of it, for the sake of the country?

___

The Monitor. March 26, 2019.

The Brownsville City Commission last week voted to approve the purchase of five electric-diesel hybrid buses for its BMetro fleet. The purchase represents a smart, incremental move that not only will reduce the amount of pollution released into the air, but could also reduce the effects of any federal mandate for cleaner-running vehicles.

Ultimately, it also could reduce the cost to taxpayers of operating the bus system — a service that most people consider costly, but necessary.

Brownsville joins Metro McAllen, which rolled out its first electrically powered buses in 2016, in moving toward cleaner transportation systems.

A grant from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery pays the roughly $3.5 million cost of Brownsville’s new buses.

Hybrid buses are about a third more expensive to buy than conventional diesel-burning vehicles, but the costs to run them are significantly lower, beginning with the savings the city will enjoy by buying less fuel. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory report found that hybrid buses provide 37 percent better fuel economy over diesel-only buses. In addition, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute notes that hybrid buses should have longer lives and lower maintenance costs due to the reduced stress created by the electric engine. That should be good news to Brownsville residents who have expressed frustrations over lost appointments due bus breakdowns on their routes.

A yearlong NREL study found that operational costs for hybrid buses were 15 percent lower than conventional diesel buses. If diesel prices increase, the savings would be even greater.

Brownsville officials can evaluate the operating costs of these five buses to determine their own results, and whether an additional move toward electric vehicles is viable. If its experience matches those of other cities, the savings should enable Brownsville to better afford future purchases of hybrid or even all-electric buses in the future.

And that would further move the city toward the primary goal of switching to “green” vehicles.

The EESI notes that a new hybrid bus can cut exhaust emissions by as much as 75 percent over an older diesel bus.

Any reduction in air pollution is better for overall health. The Environmental Protection Agency notes that reducing diesel emissions significantly reduces respiratory, heart and other diseases and related costs that include treatment, emergency room visits, hospitalization and lost time at work.

Moreover, several Congress members and current presidential candidates have endorsed efforts to reduce vehicle emissions to zero within 10 years. Success in the 2020 elections could lead to mandates that would push us toward that goal, and entities that already have begun the transition will be least affected.

For now, Brownsville will move to the forefront among cities that are working to make our environment cleaner and, it is hoped, lower health care costs as well as their tax burden by adopting more efficient, cost-effective technology for its transit system.