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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

December 4, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Houston Chronicle. Dec. 2, 2018.

George Herbert Walker Bush spent but four years in the Oval Office as America’s president, but as we mourn his passing Friday at age 94, the pain of that loss is leavened by the increasingly shared conviction that his career before, during and after the White House looms as large as that of any public figure in recent memory.

It’s true that Bush lacked the political genius of either his lionized predecessor or the silver-tongued successor with whom he later became close friends. His record as president was mixed, and his campaign for a second term was scuttled by an inability to convince voters he understood the economic and cultural currents in which they were adrift.

Where he succeeded, Bush did so on a grand, and often global, scale. He made history, and much of that history made the world and America with it a better place, as when he led a broad international coalition to push an invading Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Or when he almost single-handedly stage-managed the creation of a new world order amid the collapse of communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.

These events rocked the world, and Bush calmly sat shotgun to history steering their outcome with a calm that characterized most of his public life.

On the domestic front, despite Democrats controlling both houses of Congress all four years he was president, Bush signed significant, even landmark, legislation, from the Clean Air Act to the Americans with Disabilities Act. He signed legislation that enhanced tax credits for poor families, and banned the importation of most semiautomatic weapons. After a veto, he reluctantly signed a labor standards bill that raised the minimum wage, too.

What stands out most today about this remarkable man and the more than 75 years he spent in the public eye is the manner in which he conducted himself. He was up and he was down, but George Bush almost always steered to the center with a belief that Americans should come together to find solutions.

Bush did so with a set of manners and respect for “the other guy,” as he would put it, that are perilously rare today. As the love of his children and of his remarkable wife Barbara, who died in April, attest, this approach to politics, to life, came from a place deep within himself. It was woven into his fabric, and worn on his sleeve.

How this nation, and this city where he made so much of his life, will miss that example of power mixed with wisdom, compassion, and self-sacrifice.

Bush was born to privilege and power, and his boyhood during the Great Depression was as sheltered from the struggles of other Americans as one could imagine. But in that rarefied cocoon, he learned the value of putting others first, and of seemingly old-fashioned patriotism that put country over self. These values would mark his extraordinary life.

On his 18th birthday he enlisted in the Navy. Less than two years later, in 1944, he was piloting a bomber into Japanese territory when his plane was shot. With the plane in flames, he continued through the run and dropped the bombs on the tower that was his target, then did all he could to fly out to sea. He parachuted out at 2,000 feet, gashed his head on the way down and landed near a life boat. He paddled against the shoreward current out into the open sea long enough to be rescued. He was awarded the Navy’s Distinguished Flying Cross and a host of other decorations.

After the war, not yet 21, he went to Yale, where he played baseball and graduated with honors. With a degree in hand, he went west.

Forty years later, standing in front of the Texas Republican Party state convention, he explained that he had moved to Texas to establish a career and a family of his own, connected but independent of the still-strong family ties in the east. “When I wanted to learn the ways of the world I didn’t go to the Kennedy School. I came to Texas, in 1948.”

By then of course he was running for president against Michael Dukakis. He had been a Congressman from Houston, the nation’s envoy to China, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and for eight years the vice president to Ronald Reagan. He began the race against Dukakis badly behind, but ended up winning and doing what neither Al Gore, John McCain nor Hillary Clinton managed to do: Follow a two-term president of their own party into the White House.

Bush’s work in Midland and later in Houston as an oil executive took him all over the world. Yet it was the image he struck close to home that put him on a path to politics.

Soon after he moved to Houston, he was recruited by local Republicans to lead the Harris County GOP. He ran for Senate unsuccessfully in 1964 against one of the last truly liberal Texas senators, Ralph Yarborough, and then won a seat in Congress in 1966. He served two terms before making a second and bruising run for the Senate in 1970, which he lost to Lloyd Bentsen.

It was in Houston that he made his home before, during and after his service in Washington. As Richard Ben Cramer wrote in a 1992 profile for Texas Monthly, Nice Guys Finish Last, “In Houston — it was Houston every other weekend, no matter the effort required — the office ladies adored George Bush. Sometimes, if things got slow, Bush would exit his inner office in a flying ballet leap, just to make les gals giggle.”

That image of a playful Bush can seem at odds with the more somber demeanor he wore as president, but it’s a reminder of the energy that animated a career that put him in the eye of history’s storms for seven decades.

It also jives with the political philosophy that ran through his entire career. Personally, and politically, he eschewed absolutism. It’s an example today’s politicians, on both the right and the left, would do well to emulate.

If in his private diaries he dismissed the young Gore “as a far-out extremist” on environmental issues, if he wondered how America could vote for a “draft dodger” like Clinton, he saved his deepest contempt for fire-breathing ideologues like then-Rep. Newt Gingrich, who came to power as a member of the House leadership while Bush was president.

“We’re getting pounded and the right wing is the worst,” Bush wrote in his diary in 1990, after he agreed to a compromise budget bill that included taxes he had tried to avoid. “There is a clump of these extreme extremists that I detest. But I can’t let the bastards get us down. . Push forward.”

Bush’s instinct for fair play, and for solutions over speeches, was more than just a political strategy. It flowed from his personality, and was part of his success throughout his career. His biographer, Jon Meacham, called it a penchant for “consensus and contact.” As president, it meant constant phone calls to members of Congress, and invitations for martinis and conversations at the White House residence. It was part of his basic approach to life — everyone deserves attention — and as he wrote in his diary, “a place in the sun.”

In 1990, he looked around with some dismay. “God, there are so many problems out there,” he dictated to his diary in January. And yet he shaped and signed significant legislation during the first two years of his administration.

And while he later acknowledged that he “paid a big price” for breaking the “read my lips: no new taxes” pledge he delivered at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans, he concluded it had been the right call given the circumstances at the time. To his credit, he didn’t minimize the breach of trust. Bush’s pledge was intentionally aimed at winning support of the very conservatives he came to despise.

For all the political turmoil the broken pledge stirred up, it’s also true that once his own budget proposal had failed, backing the Democrat-led plan was the right move. Most economists agree it helped lay the groundwork for the economic lift that took place on Bill Clinton’s watch.

Bush’s record on domestic issues was destined to be mixed, given that he shared power with a Democrat-dominated Congress.

On the world stage, he held the reins. Reagan often gets more credit for ending the Cold War than he deserves. He played a part, and so did Mikhail Gorbachev and the failures of his Soviet predecessors.

But when hardliners in the Soviet Union lost patience with Gorbachev’s historic reforms and staged a coup, it was Bush who, over weeks of negotiations and preparations, managed to convince our NATO allies to remain calm and not provoke a new revolution as Boris Yeltsin emerged as a force for democratization.

Meacham concludes in Bush’s biography that the peaceful resolution of the Soviet coup “was a ratification of his essential diplomatic instincts of balance and moderation. “We could have over-reacted and moved troops and scared the hell out of people,” Bush dictated to his diary. “We could have under-reacted by saying, ‘Well, we’ll deal with whoever is there.’ But . I think we found the proper balance.”

More than balance, what Bush exuded all his life was the strength that came from the coupling of conviction and collaboration. He was often challenged as a wimp, but his life - from athlete to decorated bomber pilot to risk-taking entrepreneur and politician to nonagenarian skydiver - defied that caricature at every leap.

It’s a lesson in the shortcomings of image-makers that America is well-acquainted with these days. We seem to have become increasingly enthralled by the take-no-prisoners approach to politics that repulsed Bush. Recently, we’ve seen the ease with which a candidate can hide behind rhetoric and simplistic solutions.

Bush, for all his human foibles and occasional inadequacies, was the real deal. He was an American hero, an underrated president and a Texan in the grittiest sense.

While this city, and this nation, will miss him dearly, we must not despair that the lessons of his leadership will dim with his passing. This melancholy nation needs those thousand points of light Bush spoke of more than ever. Those of us who still value integrity, service and duty to country over party must reflect on Bush’s example, celebrate it, and then spread like stars across the nation to, as he wrote in 1990, “push forward.”

___

The Eagle. Dec. 2, 2018.

At a time when politics has become a blood sport, full of swords from the left and spears from the right, George H.W. Bush was a point of light, if you will, a bright shining point of light.

He was a good man, a decent man. The courtesy and respect he showed to others stand as an example of how we should treat each other. His death late Friday reminds us of how we long for the days when politics was an honorable profession, peopled by men and women of principle who, despite philosophical differences, worked for a better America. Boy how we miss those days.

President Bush’s death brought to an end a lifetime of service to America and Americans. It was a remarkable life, one that inspires awe and admiration. And it was a life that earned a great deal of thanks from all of us.

The son of Prescott Bush, a two-term U.S. senator, Bush was the father of another president, a governor and presidential candidate, and grandfather of Texas’ own land commissioner. President Bush’s legacy will live long and proudly.

The last president to serve in the active-duty military, Bush joined the Navy in 1942, on his 18th birthday, at the height of World War II. He became the Navy’s youngest aviator and was at the controls of a Grumman TBM Avenger making an attack on Chichijima on Sept. 2, 1944. His plane was hit and on fire, but Lt. (jg) Bush completed the mission. He parachuted into the ocean, the only survivor of his three-man crew, and was rescued by the submarine USS Finback. He later pondered why he was saved, but it was obvious God had plans for him — big plans.

After the war, Bush attended Yale, where he played baseball and graduated in 2 1/2 years. He then moved his family to West Texas — a long way from his native Connecticut — and entered the oil business. It wasn’t long before his interest in politics came to the fore. After moving to Houston, Bush was elected chairman of the Harris County Republican Party in 1963. It would be the first of many elected and appointed positions Bush would hold over the next three decades.

Three years later, Bush was elected to the U.S. House, the first Republican to represent Harris County. In the House, Bush showed his willingness to do what was right, even if it wasn’t popular back home; he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and supported birth control, issues unpopular with his constituents. In 1970, he decided to run against liberal lion Sen. Ralph Yarborough, but Yarborough lost to Lloyd Bentsen in the primary and Bush then lost to Bentsen in November.

President Richard Nixon appointed Bush as ambassador to the United Nations and he was confirmed unanimously — remember those days — by the Senate. After two years, Nixon asked Bush to chair the Republican National Committee. As Watergate swirled around Nixon, Bush worked hard to keep the party together and eventually he ask Nixon to resign for the good of the country.

In the wake of Nixon’s resignation, President Gerald Ford — another good, decent man — named Bush envoy to China, where Bush fostered U.S.-China relations. In 1976, Ford named Bush to head the Central Intelligence Agency, which had been roiled by scandal. Bush spent his almost yearlong tenure as CIA chief restoring the agency morale and respect.

Bush ran for president in 1980, losing the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan, who picked Bush as his running mate. For the next eight years, Bush was a loyal assistant to President Reagan, representing the U.S. around the world with grace, charm and the needed toughness.

In 1988, Bush ran for the presidency again and this time won. It was at his acceptance speech at that year’s Republican National Convention that Bush introduced his thousand points of light, starting a movement that continues today.

President Bush’s term faced a great global threat when Saddam Hussein sent his Iraqi forces into Kuwait. Bush could not let that stand, but patiently built a coalition of international nations that banded together to push Iraq out of Kuwait. When ground forces eventually invaded Iraq, the war was over in 100 hours.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was passed under President Bush, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down during his time in office. President signed the Clean Air Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 1992, President Bush was immensely popular — he had a record 91 percent approval rating at the end of the Gulf War — when he announced he would seek a second term, which seemed assured. But the economy soured and Bill Clinton was swept into office, a bitter moment for President Bush, to be sure.

As the gentleman that he always was, Bush remained low-key for the rest of his life, supporting the new president when possible and staying quiet when not. In more recent years, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton formed an unlikely friendship, uniting to support help for disaster victims. As President Bush said, “Politics doesn’t have to be mean and ugly.”

We followed the ups and downs of the Bushes, the increasingly frequent hospitalizations. When Barbara Bush died on April 17, many feared that President Bush soon would follow. Now, he has been reunited with his dearly loved wife of 73 years and Robin, their daughter who died of leukemia in 1950.

George H.W. Bush’s final words reportedly were “And I love you, too,” spoken over the telephone to his son, President George W. Bush

In the post White House years, President Bush and his beloved Barbara spent a lot of time in College Station and Bryan, working on projects important to them. Of course, the legacy here will live on through the Bush School at Texas A&M University and the truly wonderful Bush Presidential Library and Museum. What an amazing gift to this university and to this community.

As great as those are, though, George H.W. Bush’s greatest legacy will be the kindness, the compassion and the decency he showed throughout his life of service. May they serve to light the way for all of us as we move to the future. Let us set aside the divisiveness, the hostility, the hatred that divides us as a country.

Let’s follow the example of George H.W. Bush. We’ll all be the better for it.

Let a better us be George H.W. Bush’s legacy.

___

Beaumont Enterprise. Dec. 3, 2018.

Members of Congress will soon begin studying the 1,800-page agreement that would replace NAFTA, and we wish them good luck with that dreary holiday read. If the new agreement is worth supporting — and it’s probably is better than nothing — House and Senate members from Texas should take the lead in getting it approved. Why Texas? Because our state will be affected by this treaty more than virtually any other.

No single state has large volumes of trade with Canada, even though the nation as a whole does. And while our entire country also has a great deal of trade with Mexico, Texas has a significant amount of cross-border commerce that must continue in one form or another.

About 40 percent our state’s oil and gas exports go to Mexico and Canada. Oil and gas companies along the Gulf Coast are preparing to invest billions to develop Mexico’s oil fields. Crude oil from Canada is even handled by refineries in Port Arthur and Houston, and more will head down here if the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta is ever completed. After NAFTA was signed, Texas farmers and ranchers started selling lots of livestock and produce in Mexico. Many border towns like El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville see vast crowds of Mexican shoppers.

That trade supports a lot of jobs in Texas and provides bargain products for Texas consumers. Clearly, Texas would be harmed if commerce with Mexico (and Canada) were disrupted. The new treaty, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, would ensure that it continues.

Most analysts say it’s not dramatically different from the NAFTA it is replacing, though it does reflect President Donald Trump’s concerns about making sure the trade is fair to all parties. If the new treaty is worthwhile, influential senators like our John Cornyn and Ted Cruz could help it get through that chamber. Local House members Randy Weber and Brian Babin should be keen to protect the four major refineries and two public ports in this region that depend heavily on international trade.

But getting this new treaty through Congress will not be easy. Many Democrats are suspicious of trade agreements and want to protect American industries. Some Republicans are coming around to this viewpoint even though their party has traditionally supported free trade and opposed tariffs. The new treaty also needs a yes or no verdict, without the possibility of changes or additions.

The challenge is clear, and Congress should step up to it. Some observers think the U.S. economy could start to cool off in 2019. Strong trade with Canada and Mexico will help avoid that.

___

San Antonio Express-News. Dec. 3, 2018.

State Rep. Lyle Larson has filed a bill to restore the annual football game between rivals Texas A&M University and University of Texas at Austin.

This shouldn’t be necessary legislation, but it is. The rivalry is ingrained in Texas culture, and the absence of the game is such a shame that it casts a pall over the entire seasons for both schools.

The two teams have played each other more than 100 times, but not since 2011 when A&M left the Big 12 Conference and joined the Southeastern Conference. There is no rematch in sight. While UT Athletic Director Chris Del Conte has suggested renewing a home-and-home series in 2022 and 2023, A&M athletic director Scott Woodward has said the Aggies are booked for the next decade. Really? Well, make a scheduling change.

This is all about business, and not the fans. But Larson, R-San Antonio, and an Aggie, is speaking for fans about this football travesty. In 2011, he sent impassioned letters to both schools, asking them to renew the rivalry. Now he has filed legislation, HB 412, that would require the rivalry game be played Thanksgiving week.

He took to Twitter to talk about filling the “Thanksgiving void of one of the most historic college football rivalries.”

Auburn plays Alabama. USC plays UCLA. BYU plays Utah. Arizona plays Arizona State. Florida plays Florida State. Rivals play each other.

But not A&M and UT.

Pass this legislation.

___

The Dallas Morning News. Dec. 4, 2018.

It is easy to stereotype opioid users as poor, misguided souls, down on their luck and in search of reality-altering fixes. The reality is considerably more complex. The scourge of addiction is among us, masked in plain sight in the workplace, even among health professionals who should know better.

This is the sad takeaway from a Dallas Morning News report chronicling the deaths of two nurses at the UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Clements hospital in Dallas. They overdosed in the same way — on the job and in a locked bathroom, each clutching a syringe, track marks on their arms, using the painkiller fentanyl.

Tragically, more than 100 deaths occur each day from opioid abuse in the U.S. But addiction is far-reaching and embedded in the lifestyles of too many Americans. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that more than 70 percent of abusers of drugs in America are employed even as they binge drink, use marijuana, cocaine or abuse prescription drugs.

And medical providers aren’t exempt. The Journal of Clinical Nursing estimates that approximately 20 percent of all nurses struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Among physicians, about 10 percent will struggle with drug or alcohol abuse.

UT Southwestern has released few details about the nurses and can’t say for sure how they obtained the drugs, though it is clear that fentanyl is stolen from hospitals with concerning frequency. The Addiction Center, which monitors abuse among medical professionals nationally, says medical professionals face a deadly combination of opportunity and temptation.

Doctors and nurses have access to oxycodone or fentanyl in the course of their jobs and may be tempted to abuse these powerful prescription medications if the drugs aren’t properly inventoried and kept under the closest guard. Knowledge of the consequences should deter medical abusers, but the center notes that expertise about drug-induced euphoria may be too much for some to resist. And there is another factor in play — stress.

Medical professionals make life-and-death decisions on patients during unpredictable and exhausting work shifts. Some handle it well, but those who don’t are susceptible to self-medication, a reaction that is commonly found in many other high-stress jobs, too. Detecting a drug or alcohol dependence in doctors or nurses or even accountants and lawyers can be difficult; many are highly functional addicts.

And that is the challenge. Regardless of their occupation, addicts pose a threat to others even if they don’t think they do. Not only are they putting their health at risk but also the well-being of others on and off the job. The sooner an addiction is faced head on, the better. And that’s why it is crucial that people with addictions — especially medical professionals — get treatment and not hide in the dark recesses of drug abuse.

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