Recent editorials from Texas newspapers
Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:
Longview News-Journal. Aug. 5, 2018.
Since 9/11, when terrorists used commercial aircraft in attacks against U.S. targets, air travelers have increasingly faced a trade-off: undergoing time consuming and sometimes invasive searches at airport security checkpoints in exchange for security aloft.
A cost-cutting plan reportedly being considered by the federal Transportation Security Administration could change that. It would do so by eliminating screenings of passengers boarding commercial flights at smaller airports, including East Texas Regional and others in the area.
It is a bad idea, one that would put Americans at unnecessary additional risk every time they fly. We agree with East Texas Regional Airport Director Roy Miller, who told us: “You can’t put a price on safety. Safety has to be paramount, and security is part of safety. You don’t cut costs on security or safety.”
Last week, CNN reported that TSA officials were considering the idea of dropping passenger screening at about 150 airports that serve planes with 60 seats or fewer — a list that includes East Texas Regional Airport, Tyler Pounds Regional Airport and Texarkana Regional Airport.
The plan would have passengers from such airports screened when they arrive at larger hubs for connecting flights rather than at the initial point of travel. The costs saved — said to be about $115 million annually — would be used to strengthen security at major airports.
Official TSA documents obtained by CNN argue that cutting security at these airports would cause only a “small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.”
But even a small increase in risk is too much, especially when it’s one that could harm East Texans.
Security experts have said that while passengers would still be screened before boarding the largest jets, terrorists could then more easily target regional planes at small airports.
Beyond that, critics of such a move have warned the risks would increase more than the TSA admits. The plan could give potential terrorists openings to target smaller aircraft or use them to destroy buildings. The Washington Post has pointed out that while it might affect only 0.5 percent of passengers on any given day, with more than 2 million passengers traveling by air within the United States each day, that would amount to more than 10,000 people.
We should not forget that terrorists, including on 9/11, have used smaller airports to gain access to aircraft before. If this plan is rolled out, what would stop terrorists or potential attackers from flocking to airports like ours, at which security has been slashed?
Since it became public, the TSA has said the idea is simply part of its routine budgeting assessments and no decision would be made without a proper risk assessment. While we agree every federal agency should be looking at ideas for savings, this is one idea we do not want to see going any further.
Passengers flying from airports like East Texas Regional are not second-class citizens, and deserve the same level of security as those flying from major hubs. TSA should be looking elsewhere for savings.
The Monitor. Aug. 5, 2018.
President Donald Trump has shown a penchant for scrapping U.S. international treaties or replacing them with deals of his own making. He’s pulled this country out of the Trans Pacific Partnership with Asian and North American countries and bolted from the Paris Agreement to mitigate human factors affecting our atmosphere. More locally, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has benefited the Rio Grande Valley immeasurably, is being renegotiated after Trump threatened to renege on that deal.
Each of those steps has brought howls of opposition. But at least one international treaty might benefit if the president turns his attention — and hostility — its way.
U.S. border interests have long complained about the 1944 U.S.-Mexico water sharing treaty for the Rio Grande. The 74-year-old treaty is grossly outdated, and major disagreements between the two countries over its provisions need to be addressed.
The treaty requires Mexico to deliver 350,000 acre-feet of water per year into the Rio Grande from several rivers that feed it; the United States has similar requirements.
But the river system isn’t the same as it was in 1944. Since that time the two major dams, Falcon and Amistad, have been built to better control the water in the river. More critically, Mexico has built several dams on the tributary rivers, controlling the flow of water to the Rio Grande. This has enabled Mexican interests to hold back water that otherwise would have flowed freely to the Rio Grande at the time the treaty was signed.
U.S. interests allege that Mexico has used the dams to take advantage of treaty stipulations that provide five-year windows for compliance. The windows allow for times of drought, when there isn’t enough water to release into the Rio Grande and still provide for the needs of Mexico’s own residents.
However, it’s apparent that in recent cycles, Mexico has withheld the water even during normal conditions, leaving U.S. short. It has then released whatever water was needed to comply with the five-year total in the final year of the cycle all at once. Critics say the practice has enabled the Mexican farming industry to expand while U.S. farmers have lost billions of dollars because they couldn’t irrigate their crops.
Some have called this a predatory practice that violates not only the intent of the water treaty, but international trade laws as well.
But while U.S. officials see the window as a means to deal with the whims of nature and expect the annual flows of water during normal times, Mexico interprets the clause to mean that as long as its obligations are met by the end of the five-year period, it has complied.
During the major drought that devastated South Texas farmers in the 1990s, Valley water districts filed suit against Mexico for violating the treaty. An end to the drought ended that litigation. More recently, in 2013, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-San Antonio, and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, sent a letter to the International Boundary and Water Commission, threatening to withhold federal funding for the agency if the difference in interpretations couldn’t be resolved.
With a new president taking the helm in Mexico in December, this could be a perfect time to call for President Trump to complete a reworking of our country’s water-sharing treaty — or at least negotiate a consensus on the terms of the existing deal.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Aug. 5, 2018.
If you haven’t received your electric bill for July, get ready for a little sticker shock. July and August are usually the hottest months of the year for North Texans, and that means our air conditioning is working overtime, sending electric meters into overdrive to provide comfort in the triple digit heat.
Meanwhile, the utilities that provide our electricity are saving some hard, cold cash because of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” President Trump signed into law last December.
The legislation cuts the corporate tax rate for investor-owned utilities from 35 percent to 21 percent. Some economists estimate that will reduce the industry’s tax bill by $1 billion a year. In Texas, electric providers will see their taxes cut by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Will residential and business consumers see any of that relief? Good question. If you believe in trickle-down economics, you expect the utilities to pass the savings on to the rest of us. We absolutely believe they should.
But there’s little indication the Texas retail providers — the companies that send you your monthly bills — are in a sharing mood. And if they don’t want to engage in fair play on their own, we urge state lawmakers and the state’s Public Utility Commission to take action that will leave them no choice.
Here’s what’s happened so far. It’s especially complicated in Texas because we have a deregulated electric market where some companies generate the power; others maintain the infrastructure and distribute electricity through power lines; still others sell it to customers. They may all be receiving the tax cuts, but they aren’t all regulated and required to pass them on to the rest of us.
The Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) regulates and sets rates for the distribution and transmission companies. In North Texas and much of the state that’s Oncor, which serves about 40 percent of Texans.
In February, PUC commissioners took steps to require transmission companies like Oncor to “reflect this lower tax rate in the utility bills of Texas customers.” That seems to be happening.
Oncor told this editorial board it expects to reduce customer rates by about $181 million a year.
“We’ve been collecting the savings ever since ‘The Tax Reform and Jobs Act’ was signed by the President in December,” said company spokesman Geoffrey Bailey. “We’re in conversation with the PUC to find the best way to return the savings to customers and the best time to do that.”
How much will that reduce your bill? Not much, it turns out. Bailey says the average residential household using 1,300 kWh of electricity per month will see a savings of $1.43 a month — not even enough to buy a specialty coffee at Starbucks.
Still, Oncor seems to be playing fair, passing on savings to the rest of us.
Most of the retail providers, however, that sell you electricity through the Power to Choose website, aren’t making any promises.
The PUC also asked them to disclose how much less they’re now paying to the federal government than they did prior to the tax cut, though the agency can’t require them to do that or transfer savings.
TXU Energy, claims to be the state’s biggest electric retail provider. In a letter to the PUC, its President Scott Hudson said the savings, “will be appropriately reflected in customers’ retail electric bills.” Which means what?
In a series of emails, TXU’s spokesperson deflected our questions about the amount the company is saving and turning over to customers.
“We believe the projected benefits resulting from the tax reform should further support the company’s capital allocation priorities including debt reduction, strategic growth, return of capital to shareholders and rewarding employees for strong performance,” the spokesperson said.
So, the savings would be used to pay off debt, increase shareholder earnings, give raises to employees. We don’t see any mention of their customers.
We don’t know how much a residential user would receive if retail providers like TXU pass on most of their tax break, but customers should get a big chunk of it.
Since the PUC doesn’t currently have the authority to require those savings trickle down to consumers we suggest this:
State lawmakers should join Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who chairs the Senate’s Business and Commerce Committee. In a letter to the PUC he suggested regulating retail providers if they don’t “flow” their savings to consumers. Thanks, Senator!
The AARP has called for the PUC to post the names of retail providers on the Power to Choose website that willingly transfer their tax savings to consumers. That’s a good idea, too. Consumers can then buy power from retailers who value them.
Finally, taxpayers, make some noise. Tell your state lawmakers this is money you deserve. It may not be a windfall, but you pay the bills and you should get your fair share.
Houston Chronicle. Aug. 6, 2018.
That’s one of the most important lessons we need to learn from Hurricane Harvey. One year ago today, we had no idea what was about to hit us — literally. One year later, the magnitude of it all — both physical and emotional — may have faded a bit.
Maybe the reasons to complain in neighborhoods across Harris County have dwindled now that debris has been hauled away, repairs have been made and a lot of people have moved back into their homes. Maybe the blazing anger and deep frustration felt by many flood victims has dissipated, allowing people to get on with their lives. In many ways, that’s good news.
But it could be bad news for efforts to pass monumental flood control reforms. Don’t let a sense of normalcy return us to complacency. Don’t let healing and rebuilding erase a central lesson of Harvey: our government officials — local, state, and federal — failed over many decades to do all they could to protect this region from catastrophic flooding. Now, many current officials are trying to do right by people in the Houston area.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and the county commissioners are among them. Early voting begins this week in connection with the $2.5 billion bond issue Harris County flood control officials have proposed in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. If voters give their approval, the bonds would pay for a long list of flood related projects throughout all of the county’s 23 watersheds, everything from major infrastructure improvements to home buyouts to a new flood warning system.
“This is our chance to tell the world we’re going to get serious about flood control,” Emmett told the Editorial Board, adding that “2.8 cents is not enough for flood control. It’s got to increase.”
Though the years, Harris County government has earned a reputation for doing far too much of its business out of the public eye, but the process involved in preparing for this bond issue has been remarkably different. Flood control authorities led by Emmett welcomed anybody and everybody to a series of public events in all of the county’s watersheds. They not only presented detailed plans for all of their proposed flood mitigation projects, they listened and took suggestions from taxpayers with good ideas on how the plans could be improved. These weren’t meaningless dog-and-pony shows rolled out by bureaucrats who’d already made up their minds. Dozens of changes have gone onto the drawing boards based upon the thoughtful recommendations people brought to these neighborhood meetings. If you haven’t already seen them, you can look at the projects proposed for your watershed at https://www.hcfcd.org/bond-program/.
The bond issue in its first year would cost the average single-family homeowner about five bucks, scaling up to a little less than five bucks a month over the course of 15years. It’s important to note that homeowners over 65 living in houses worth less than $200,000 wouldn’t pay a nickel more in taxes for these bonds.
It’s also important to point out why a certain two aging reservoirs — Addicks and Barker — are missing from the bond package. Emmett says a lot of people have been asking. The reason is that Harris County can’t work on the reservoirs because they’re maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — that’s the federal government.
The Dallas Morning News. Aug. 7, 2018.
On university campuses across the country, scientists and engineers are scrambling to develop a radically new kind of computing — and computers — that experts say will revolutionize online communications, encryption and search.
We’re delighted to see that they could get a powerful boost from the U.S. government, thanks to welcome and bipartisan legislation advancing in Congress that would make the research a national priority.
The new field is called quantum information science, or quantum computing, and it really is that important. As one congressional staffer told us this week, “We try not to think of it as just faster computing. This is going to allow us to solve problems we never thought computers could solve.”
Just how it will do that is complicated, as it involves the marriage of information science and quantum mechanics, and some of the oldest puzzles in theoretical physics. We’ll dive into the details further below. But for now, trust us when we say the work will likely upend the way the world uses the internet for tasks as routine as sending an email or making a purchase, or as complex as the national security-level encryption that keeps the nation’s secrets secret.
To cite just one example, an encryption that would take a super computer days to crack could, as so-called quantum computers come online, take a matter of seconds. That has implications for everything from the efficacy of Google’s search algorithms to your online bank accounts and password-protected emails to the secrets kept by the National Security Agency.
The breakthrough has to do with the way computers manipulate information. The smallest unit of information read by a conventional computer is a binary digit, or a bit. These bits are binary, meaning they signal either 1 or 0. Even such simple markers, when enough are strung together, can give computers incredibly complex directions.
But quantum computers use quantum digits, or qubits. Just as quantum physics has theorized that some subatomic particles are both present and not present at the same time, these qubits can be both 1 and 0 simultaneously. It can mean the difference between instructing a computer to give one answer 10,000 times, or writing one set of instructions to provide 10,000 answers.
Last month, the House science committee unanimously advanced a bill that would instruct the administration to create 10 federal research centers aimed at speeding up development of quantum computers and related technology. The bill was shepherded by two Texans who lead the panel: chairman Lamar Smith of San Antonio and ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas. The Senate is working on a similar bill.
We’re delighted that Congress and the White House are prioritizing this work, especially given reports that China and other nations are already ahead in their own quest to bring quantum from theory to widespread use.
It’s far too soon to know where those 10 research centers will be, but we’re pleased to discover that some of the most advanced work in the nation is already being done at Texas universities — including right here in Dallas. At Southern Methodist University, professor Mitch Thornton leads a team already developing ways of writing software for IBM’s experimental quantum computer, one of a handful of such machines in existence.
It’s not often the White House and both parties in Congress can come together on a national priority. But that’s precisely what it takes for big wins in Washington. And this one could have positive impacts for generations.