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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

October 2, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Victoria Advocate. Sept. 30, 2018.

We knew the recovery from Hurricane Harvey wasn’t going to happen overnight, but we didn’t know how slow the federal assistance part of the process was going to be.

We are at 13 months past the disaster that struck the Texas coasts causing billions of dollars in damages to home and businesses.

Victoria and Bloomington school districts are still trying to make repairs to their campuses. At the same times they are still trying to get reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency so they can continue to pay for these essential repairs.

The process is excruciatingly slow as school officials work with the insurance companies and FEMA to get reimbursed. In the meantime, the districts are having to take from their fund balances to pay the repair bills.

The biggest part of the problem is the red tape jungle known as FEMA.

Recently, Victoria school district was notified it would receive a little over $1 million from FEMA to bring its total reimbursement from the federal agency to $1,384,402.

It took several months and a special effort by the district and Congressman Michael Cloud to get this money earmarked for the Victoria school district. It was not an easy task.

Every time they appeared to make progress, it would either come to a stop and they would have to start over or new people would be assigned to the case so the process would have to begin again.

The bureaucracy that is FEMA makes it really slow to respond and react.

The bureaucracy that is FEMA has been present from the beginning. When FEMA representatives were present in the Crossroads, they would work with individuals and businesses to establish the claim and then move on to another area, leaving those they had been helping confused and having to start over again.

If the constant state of movement is FEMA’s ploy to keep anyone from knowing what is going on or helping, then it is working.

The disaster was horrific enough, but those affected by it do not need to be strangled by a red-tape-driven bureaucratic system whose left hand doesn’t appear to know what the right hand its doing.

We understand FEMA works on a reimbursement system, but it needs to rework its rules so they are more user-friendly for the everyday person affected by disasters.

In addition it needs to keep its people assigned to specific cases throughout the recovery and reimbursement process instead of moving them around so often. There is enough confusion during the recovery and rebuilding processes; we do not need more confusion caused by the government.

Victoria School district was fortunate Cloud was willing to work with them to get the needed reimbursement. Not all entities or individuals are fortunate to have that access.

“There are so many cases not only across our district but across Texas and other regions of the United States,” Cloud said recently. “Too often, those cases get lost in the bureaucracy of it all. We do our best to make sure they get the attention they need and that they don’t get lost.”

Prior to this, the district increased taxes 11 cents per $100 of valuation to raise money to start rebuilding its fund balance that was virtually depleted so the district could make repairs to every campus in the district.

According to information from the Victoria school district, it had $6.4 million in damages. So far, it has received $3.5 million in reimbursement from insurance and $1.3 million from FEMA. While half of the damages have been reimbursed, there is still a lot of work to be done to complete repairs, get the needed reimbursements and rebuild the fund balance.

Bloomington school district, which had $12 million in damages, has fared better in its recovery reimbursement journey.

The district will recoup a majority of the funds through insurance and is waiting for $638,000 from FEMA for three pending projects. After those projects are covered, the district will have fully recovered from the damage.

The district also received a grant from the Rebuild Texas Fund, which is helping with the rebuilding.

While it is impossible to know when the school districts will be completely reimbursed, they can only keep on working to complete the projects and keep working with the government to get reimbursed.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Sept. 30, 2018.

When a member of the public requests open records from the government, there is only one response that person should ever receive: “Yes, sir,” or “Yes, ma’am.”

Government records belong to us all.

So we’re confounded and troubled that an open records request recently in Haltom City was met instead with something quite disturbing — a call to the police.

Several members of United Fort Worth, a local immigrants’ rights group, recently approached Haltom City manager Keith Lane seeking information regarding 287(g), a portion of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

United Fort Worth opposes the provision which gives state or local law enforcement agencies authority to perform certain federal immigration law enforcement functions and to coordinate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The group has been hand-delivering similar requests to neighboring cities and municipalities for the past several months.

One of the activists stood in the doorway of Lane’s office, holding a sign and stating the group’s objections. Lane’s response was anything but helpful.

According to another United Fort Worth member who visited Haltom City that day, Lane accused the member of threatening him, and told him he would be arrested if he didn’t stop.

A live webcast of the incident on the United Fort Worth Facebook page does not show any member of United Fort Worth threatening Lane. It does, however, show Lane looking annoyed and asking a staffer to call officers.

Lane says the webcast started after the first five minutes “when the guy kept sticking the sign in my face.”

Maybe so.

Even if that’s true, and regardless who was requesting public information, Lane’s reaction was far from appropriate.

Worse — it was chilling. It could discourage others from filing future requests to see information that rightfully belongs to us all.

If Lane felt threatened, he could have excused himself. He could have directed the group to someone else for help. He could have offered to schedule a meeting or invited the members to a city council meeting.

He’s a public servant. Helping people is his job. We hope he sees it that way.

___

Houston Chronicle. Oct. 1, 2018.

Jim Allison lost his mother, a brother, two uncles and a cousin to cancer, but he says he never set out to find a cure for the disease. Like many great scientists, he was driven by “the selfish desire to be the first person on the planet to know something,” as he explained to Houston Chronicle medical writer Todd Ackerman.

In the 1990s, Allison’s development of an antibody that frees the body’s immune system to attack tumors revived the moribund field of immunotherapy, now taking its place alongside surgery, chemotherapy and radiation as a key weapon in treating cancer.

Allison, the MD Anderson Cancer Center’s director of immunology, was honored on Monday with the Nobel Prize in Medicine. He shared the award with Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University in Japan, who conducted similar research.

The Nobel announcement, which follows the prestigious Lasker Award and other recognition showered on Allison’s work, is a proud moment for the harmonica-playing scientist, for MD Anderson and for Houston. And it’s a reminder that even amid the turmoil and drama that often roils major medical institutions, the men and women toiling behind the scenes in labs deserve our support — including the support of public funding — even when the practical benefits of their work aren’t immediately apparent.

“Everyone thought I was crazy,” Allison says, when his research with mice challenged conventional wisdom regarding the function of a newly identified protein. While other scientists believed the protein stimulated the immune system, Allison’s work indicated it had the opposite effect — it was a brake, not a gas pedal.

Even as Allison’s work advanced — he figured out how to unlock the brake — it wasn’t clear whether or when it would lead to effective treatments. Twenty years later, immunotherapy drugs are extending the lives of patients with lung, breast and other deadly cancers.

The accolades for Allison’s work over the past few years have coincided with controversy and turmoil in the institution that employs him. After five years as MD Anderson’s president, Dr. Ron DePinho resigned in March 2017 amid a revolt by faculty members who said they felt pressure to produce more revenue through higher patient loads. The world-renowned cancer center started in 2017 with an operating deficit of nearly $170 million. It laid off hundreds of employees.

Leadership issues and financial problems ebb and flow, but the work of scientists like Jim Allison will endure. Its legacy will be the lengthened and improved lives of countless cancer patients, and the inspiration that trickles down to future generations of researchers driven, like Allison, by a pure thirst for knowledge.

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The Dallas Morning News. Oct. 2, 2018.

The surprises of the Trump administration just keeping coming, and frankly, sometimes they are welcome. In this case, we are talking about the sudden inclusion of Canada in the new trade agreement this administration is trying to cobble together in place of that old, hated pact referred to as NAFTA.

We, of course, are actually fans of the North American Free Trade Agreement. So we will take a minute to enjoy a little glee that Donald Trump now appears to be coming around to our point of view.

OK, that’s actually a bit of a stretch. The truth of it is that the Trump administration launched into this particular trade imbroglio on the promise (often dismissed by critics) that tossing the entire deal up into the air would serve as a good bargaining position. Count us among the skeptical about the soundness of such a strategy generally.

But in this specific case, the trade terms are being redrawn. And the new terms offer a few points to issue sighs of relief about. We’ll name just a few.

Throughout this process, the administration pushed for a sunset clause to the new trade deal of just five years. That would be very damaging because no multinational corporation would want to invest hundreds of millions of dollars if trade terms could change radically just about the time a new factory opened its doors. Thankfully, the deal that emerged sunsets in 16 years.

The dispute resolution of this agreement also has been streamlined in such a way as to make it less likely that foreign corporations could lodge complaints that are needlessly costly.

The revised deal also updates provisions on new technologies.

Trade deals are extremely complex, not least because now we will have to see how a number of multinational corporations reorder their supply chains. But the broad takeaway here is that we should be encouraged by the fact that the Trump administration managed to open a door for Canada to walk through. Now let’s continue the project of expanding the American economy through a trading system that ensures North America rivals every other economic bloc in the world.

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Beaumont Enterprise. Oct. 2, 2018.

It could be time for a re-test. A recent review of Texas public schools by Hearst Newspapers revealed serious discrepancies between the rankings given to state schools and the actual performance of their students in college.

At two-thirds of the highest-rated schools, most students fail to score high enough on the SAT or ACT to be considered “college ready.” A majority of students from schools that got A or B ratings were likely to need remedial courses in college because they weren’t ready for the more challenging curriculum.

That doesn’t sound right, and it suggests an obvious problem: Schools getting higher rankings to satisfy state officials and local taxpayers, when in reality their actual performance is less rosy.

The Texas Education Agency and the Legislature have to review this study and find out exactly what is going on. If large numbers of kids from a school with an A rating can’t handle college, something is wrong.

The study suggests that public school districts are placing too much emphasis on things like improving their scores on the STAAR test (the state’s standardized exam) and high school graduation rates. Under the state’s A through F ratings system, schools that do well on those criteria will get higher rankings.

Those categories are important, but the bottom line should always be the same: How much are the students actually learning? Do they truly have the skills needed for their next stage in life, or are school districts simply passing them along the assembly line to get regulators and parents off their backs?

If so, that’s unacceptable. Students who enter college without the academic foundation they need are more likely to drop out. That usually leaves them with the student loan debt that so many young people have these days — but without the college diploma that can get them a good job.

At a personal level, they may think they have failed to live up to their potential, something that could affect them negatively their entire life, when in reality they simply weren’t prepared for the rigors of college. It might have been much better for them to forego college and enter the military or get some other type of technical training.

One clear fix to this problem is incorporating students’ grades on the ACT and SAT exams into their school ratings. If a high school is getting an A or B grade from the state, its top students should be scoring fairly well on college-entrance exams — and not needing remedial courses in college.

The decrease in dropout rates in Texas high schools is commendable. The first step to any kind of education is getting kids in school and making sure they graduate. But their diploma must be more than a piece of paper. It must mean that a young man or woman has the basic tools to transition into adulthood. If our high schools are failing that challenge, no Texan can be satisfied.

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