Amarillo Globe-News. March 22, 2016.
President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba is historic — for many reasons.
However, before America buries history and “the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas” (as the president remarked Tuesday), we offer clarification on a few points — minus the political nonsense.
— The president remarked that his visit to Cuba was to “extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.” Let us be clear — America has remained a friend to the Cuban people since a dictator took control of the country in 1959 and established his own version of a Marxist/Leninist-style of government. Had America not been a friend to the Cuban people through the decades, why does America grant favorable treatment to Cuban immigrants and refugees?
— If the Castro brothers truly cared about the welfare of all the Cuban people, why are so many Cubans willing to risk their lives by traveling across dangerous waters in sometimes ramshackle boats just to flee their homeland? According to www.migrationpolicy.org , there are an estimated 1.1 million immigrants from Cuba in the United States — 2.7 percent of the foreign-born population. In 2011, “Cuban immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants represented a diaspora of 2.1 million.” The fact so many Cubans have been willing to risk their lives for decades just to get out of Cuba is all we need to know about the Castro regime.
— The president called for the lifting of the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Realistically, this is the goal for the Castro regime — to cash in on the end of the long U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. It is naive to think the Castro regime is motivated by some newfound appreciation of human rights, freedom or democracy.
— President Obama also said any changes in Cuba “will depend on the Cuban people.” This is also not realistic. The unelected Castro regime will do whatever is necessary to maintain its control of Cuba — and history has proved this. Any changes in Cuba will come because the Castro regime allows these changes — and it is that simple. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not paying attention to history.
— Speaking of trade (at least in another sense), how about Cuba address the issue of the 70 fugitives avoiding U.S. justice in Cuba? (One of these fugitives is a convicted cop-killer.) If America is going to make nice with Cuban dictators and improve Cuba’s economy, how about these dictators do something about these fugitives from American justice hiding in their country? (And we don’t think it would be difficult for the Castro regime to locate these fugitives.) This seems a reasonable trade.
While the president touts his new relationship with Cuban dictators, there is reason for skepticism that much will change in Cuba — for the reasons just mentioned.
Beaumont Enterprise. March 18, 2016.
If you or your family were planning to go to SeaWorld’s San Antonio park this summer, you can still go. But things will be different there and at its San Diego theme park. The company announced Thursday it would finally stop breeding killer whales and featuring them in shows.
This was the right call, and it didn’t happen voluntarily. SeaWorld has been under growing criticism and public pressure about the way these intelligent, social creatures are treated. A key factor was the 2013 release of the critical documentary “Blackfish,” which refuted company claims that orcas love captivity and thrive in it.
Finally, like so many businesses these days, SeaWorld recognized that it just can’t keep defending controversial things that were acceptable a generation ago.
As SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby put it, “Society’s attitude toward these very, very large, majestic animals under human care has shifted for a variety of reasons… It wasn’t worth fighting that. We needed to move where society was moving.”
Indeed. That’s why smoking is no longer permitted on airplanes or toddlers in cars have to ride in safety seats. The new way is better than the old, and more and more people were demanding change.
And make no mistake about it, SeaWorld’s switch isn’t “political correctness” or some of the other misleading terms that may be applied to it. Killer whales range through hundreds of miles in the open ocean. Confining them to a small tank and forcing them to perform tricks is simply not the way they should be treated.
Developed nations have to lead the way on changes like this so they can ripple into other places, where animals suffer even greater abuse. And there are ways that animal treatment could be improved in this country too.
But these battles must be waged one at a time, and a victory here can lead to another one there. SeaWorld finally recognized this reality, for the benefit of both orcas and humans.
Dallas Morning News. March 22, 2016.
Inevitability arrived at the airport in Brussels and visited its subway for Tuesday’s morning rush hour, this time in the shape of three bombs. Dozens were killed and many more injured.
The initial bulletins from Belgium, horrific as they were, were at the same time not unexpected. Carnage on such a scale still shocks the senses, but such terrorism is nothing new to Europe.
Just this week this newspaper remarked on a 55-page report from French anti-terrorism authorities on what they knew, what they’ve learned, and what they still do not know about the terrible Islamic State attacks Nov. 13 in Paris. Coordinated shootings, bombings and hostage-takings left 130 dead and the world aghast.
Now, the hometown of the last known survivor of the Paris attacks explodes into a state of emergency.
Salah Abdeslam was arrested just last week a short walk from his mother’s home in the Molenbeek section of Brussels. His attorney says he had been cooperating with authorities while resisting extradition to France. Counterterrorism officials worried that he continued plotting attacks during his 125 days as a fugitive.
Two bombs ripped through Brussels’ Zaventem airport — one from a suicide bomber in the departures area — and another at the entrance to the Maelbeek subway station in the heart of the city, near the European Union headquarters.
If Paris destroyed our hopes that the Islamic State could be contained to its home base in Syria and Iraq, Brussels should convince us that determined, networked terrorists remain a step ahead of those chasing them.
The Islamic State, in fact, has been losing ground at home, with Russian and U.S. bombing helping to chip away at its held territory by as much as a fifth, by some experts’ estimates. Those experts also warn that this only accentuates Islamic State leaders’ resolve to take the fight into Western nations.
Whether or not Abdeslam was involved, the Brussels attacks were a clear message, for which the Islamic State took responsibility.
Like his compatriots, Abdeslam managed to travel freely in Europe, easily evading police who pursued him from Paris to return to Brussels. The French report on the Paris attacks noted that Islamic State operatives exploited weaknesses in European border controls to move about undetected. They also worked with a high-quality forger in Belgium to acquire false documents, The New York Times reported.
Authorities have been surprised to learn the size and scope of the terror network in Europe and now must assume that the Islamic State has other webs operating. Officials concede that they cannot track all of the Europeans traveling to and from Syria and Iraq, as many of the Paris attackers had.
This is a serious problem for Europe, but it’s not solely Europe’s problem. Make no mistake that a deadly attack on U.S. soil is the ultimate prize for Islamic State leaders. Consider Chattanooga, San Bernardino and Garland fair warning.
As Europe has learned, such skirmishes are not the end of anything.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. March 18, 2016.
We all learned about the effects of illegal drugs in health class, from TV and parents.
We’ve watched fictional drug addicts on anything from Orange is the New Black to Elementary.
We all know that drugs are bad, and drug dealers are even worse. We want both off the streets and away from kids.
In those worst-case scenarios, a teenager becomes addicted to drugs. He or she gets arrested for drug possession and then has a criminal record.
He or she still has the addiction, so the problem doesn’t get better; it usually gets worse. Death or jail time most likely will follow.
But instead of that scenario, what if the teenager got help and wasn’t arrested? He or she goes to a treatment facility and recovers from the addiction. No addiction equals no drug problem.
The latter scenario is the better avenue for the teenager.
The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative and the Grapevine police department agree.
The department will join the initiative, a nonprofit organization designed to “to fight the war on drugs by doing something about the demand, not just the supply,” the organization’s website says. “Under (PAARI co-founder Leonard Campanello’s) plan, drug addicts who ask the police department for help will be immediately taken to a hospital and placed in a recovery program. No arrest. No jail.”
Grapevine is the only city in Texas involved in the nationwide program.
“Police officers often found themselves arresting drug addicts as much, if not more so, than drug dealers and traffickers,” the PAARI website says. “In most cases, the addicts were only guilty of possessing an illegal, life-ruining substance and they faced arrest, prosecution and prison terms.”
Out of the more than 1.2 million drug arrests in the U.S. in 2014, about 83 percent were for drug possession, says an FBI report.
Around 80,000 of those arrested for “drug abuse violations” were people under 18 years old. About 15,000 arrested were under 15.
More police departments should take the approach to treat the addiction instead of arresting the addict. It’s a better way to stamp down the drug epidemic.
Longview News-Journal. March 19, 2016.
Justices of the Texas Supreme Court are considering a case that could considerably change the financial landscape of the Texas budget for years, and chances are you either haven’t heard about it or don’t completely grasp what it is all about.
Don’t feel alone.
The esoteric case, involving sales taxes on some oil field equipment, has been bouncing around Texas’ court system for years. The only ones who seem to be certain about the proper ruling are those who are paid to have an opinion — the lawyers representing either side.
Don’t let its complicated nature fool you into thinking the outcome cannot have a direct affect on you, because it most assuredly can.
Here is the basic question to be answered: Is equipment used in oil and gas extraction, including metal pipes and tubing, exempt from sales taxes?
For years the state has taken the position such equipment is subject to sales taxes, but oil and gas producers have built a strong case the state is wrong, that such equipment falls under an exemption for processing equipment and sales taxes on it should be refunded to those who paid them.
It’s the refunding that raises eyebrows because it is estimated to come with a price tag to the state of more than $4 billion.
The good news is that the state’s rainy day emergency fund has about $4 billion in it now and is expected to grow to about $10 billion. That could cover the tab.
Except it is not quite that simple.
For one thing, a lawsuit over school funding also looms over the Legislature’s head, and most believe the court will demand Texas fix inequities in its system. We don’t yet know how much that will cost.
Second, given the nature of our state government, there will be legislators (and perhaps Gov. Greg Abbott, too) who balk at using so much from the rainy day fund. Because we know taxes will not be raised, either, that would mean more cuts in a state budget already stretched too thin in many areas.
We’re sure some state spending could be trimmed, but deeper cuts at this point would be unwise and harmful to many Texans. Unfortunately, the decisions made by the Legislature will not necessarily be based on what is best for Texas. What is best for the next political campaign is more likely to be the guiding factor.
After all, if what is right for the state and best for Texans were always top of mind for legislators, we probably would not be engaged in the public school financing lawsuit.
Having said all that, the Texas Supreme Court should (and no doubt will) decide this case on the merits and not the condition of the state’s coffers or the Legislature’s friendly relationship with the Texas oil and gas industry.
We all ought to be prepared for the possible fallout, though. It would not be pretty.
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