Texas National Guard

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott shocked the civilized world by openly pandering to right-wing conspiracy theorists. In an unprecedented move, he ordered the Texas National Guard to “monitor” proceedings of the United States military as they conducted a training exercise known as “Jade Helm 15” across the country, including in this state, specifically near Bastrop. These training exercises are meant to replicate the unique environment that members of our armed services may encounter overseas.

The aforementioned crazies believed this was a part of some type of power-grab by the federal government meant to enslave the people of Texas into tyranny and socialistic serfdom. (Yes, really.)  The speculation was further fueled by the apparent temporary closings of a few rural Walmarts. Conspiracy theorists opined these stores were connected with an elaborate system of underground tunnels, would serve as distribution centers during martial law and would even be a headquarters for “invading troops from China.” (Once again, really.)

Now, any reasonable sane public official would not breathe life into these maliciously slanderous rumors, much less condone them. But that is exactly what Abbott did by dispatching the state’s National Guard to somehow keep an eye on the American armed forces. All of a sudden, the wingnuts felt emboldened and vindicated by their governor, doubling down on their firm believe that the feds were coming to take their guns and impose Lenin-Marxism.

Basically trying to hold back laughter, representatives from the Pentagon clarified that there would be no armed takeover of the state of Texas and that Jade Helm 15 was, indeed, a training exercise. But you can’t convince the unconvincables, including radio talk show host Alex Jones, Congressman Louie Gohmert, Sen. Ted Cruz and Abbott. Quite a motley crew has assembled to ostensibly “protect” the people of Texas from their country’s military; at least, that is what they have deluded themselves into thinking.

Thankfully, many former leaders in the state have been quick to be voices of reason. These include both former Gov. Rick Perry and former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, respectively, who both sharply castigated Abbott for pandering to idiots and disrespecting the military by insinuating that they would somehow institute martial law against their own people.

It is positively unacceptable that our state’s governor would risk the integrity and safety of this state’s residents in a pathetic attempt to increase his bona fides with nutjobs. Texas, yet again, has become the laughingstock of the entire country, as folks from Washington to Florida have groaned and rolled their eyes at just how gullible we must be. 

What is perhaps saddest of all is that these assumptions of Texas will stick around far longer than the fleeting training exercises that birthed them. Most Texans haven’t heard of Jade Helm 15, much less spent enough time watching InfoWars to actually be convinced that they are some type of nefarious plot to enact a new world order. For whatever reason, however, our governor has shamelessly pandered to that minuscule minority nonetheless. 

For shame, Gov. Abbott!

Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks to the media after meeting with business owners Wednesday in New York. 

Photo Credit: AP Exchange | Daily Texan Staff

Thousands of refugee children from Central America have shown up at our border. For any rational individual, the expected response would be to send the Red Cross and other humanitarian entities to provide aid and comfort to the children, almost unanimously fleeing violence in their home countries and facing some form of abandonment by their parents. Lamentably, rational individuals are not making decisions on this issue in Texas government.

Gov. Rick Perry has dispatched the Texas National Guard to the border area. For what, this board is not exactly sure. The Border Patrol, an arm of the Federal Department of Homeland Security, has the unchallenged power not only to enforce the border laws but also to make arrests. Perry has specifically prevented the guard from having explicit arresting privileges.

This board would much prefer substantive solutions to this humanitarian problem rather than empty political posturing from a future presidential candidate. Photo ops of Perry leaning on a machine gun in a helicopter or posing with Sean Hannity in military gear might curry favor with the primary voters in Iowa or South Carolina, but it does very little to solve the actual problem at hand.

We believe that these children should be treated for what they are: refugees. Whether they have been from Europe, Asia or even Cuba, the United States has always accepted desperate, young refugees with open arms. The current situation — holding these young people in deplorable, subhuman conditions while they await possible deportation — is
truly sickening.

Furthermore, attempts to politicize this crisis by casting the refugee children as some type of disease-ridden infiltrators, hellbent on destroying this country, merely elucidate the absurdity of the Tea Party’s positions on the matter. 

Politicians such as Perry talk a big game about wanting to live by so-called Christian values, which coincidentally align with his ideology and the status quo. The real test of these values is when they challenge a deeply-held conviction. Perry, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott and many others all fall notoriously quiet on this subject now that it has broached the topic of unaccompanied refugee children at the border.

Horns Up: Texas national guard grants same-sex benefits

Last Tuesday, the Texas National Guard announced that it would begin offering marriage benefits to same-sex couples, in accordance with the Pentagon’s official policy. Until last week, Texas was one of just three states with national guards that continued to resist Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s August order to offer benefits to same-sex couples on the basis that the state constitution prohibited equal treatment of same-sex marriage. Now, only Georgia and Louisiana remain in defiance of the order. We’re disappointed that our state national guard attempted to hold out against equality for as long as it did, but it’s good that its discriminatory show of resistance is finally over.

Horns Down: Texas needs to do more to spot cheating

In yet another instance of test tampering run amok, a federal audit has found that the Texas Education Agency is dropping the ball on its cheating prevention methods. The audit, put out by the U.S. Department of Education, shows that Texas, which has shown evidence of test manipulation, is turning a blind eye to these inappropriate interventions by forgoing analytical tools that have exposed other cases of cheating. While we have our issues with the weight placed on standardized test scores, changing student responses is not the way to go about creating change. The state should do more to ensure test scores accurately reflect the answers filled in by students on test day. 

Horns Up: Homelessness is on the decline

Texas’ homeless population has declined by 13 percent since 2012 and over 25 percent since 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report, released in November. It’s heartening to hear that, while the U.S. economy has fluctuated over the past six years, the number of our fellow citizens chronically lacking housing has consistently fallen. We hope that as our state’s economy booms the benefits reach the nearly 30,000 Texans who still don’t have homes. 

Horns Up: LGBTQ Group stands up to guard 

The clock is ticking: LGBTQ rights group Lambda Legal is putting pressure on the Texas National Guard to reverse its policy against granting federal benefits to legally married same-sex spouses of service members. In a letter sent Friday, Lambda Legal lawyer Paul Castillo asked Major General John F. Nichols, adjutant general of Texas, to respond to the organization’s request within 10 days. While not spelling out specific consequences for failing to act in a timely manner, the letter is likely the final step before the group takes the Guard to court. Married LGBTQ couples in Texas likely still have a ways to go before they can enjoy the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts, but we are glad that the Guard is starting to feel the heat for its discriminatory policy. 

Horns Down: Predictable game calling 

Hindsight is 20/20, and we know that second-guessing the coaching of Saturday night’s football fiasco won’t change the outcome. That being said, we’re still mystified as to why much of the offensive game plan in the second half consisted of runs straight into the open arms of the Rebels’ defensive line. Seriously, Mack, you needed to call a 30-second timeout to draw out a straight line?

Horns Up: Somebody loves you, Mack Brown

At a campaign event in Austin on Friday, Lt. Gov David Dewhurst, who is running for re-election in 2014, told a reporter from the San Antonio Express-News that he still supports Texas football coach Mack Brown. Why? Because Texas has a (recently broken) “tradition of winning.” What’s the over/under on both Brown and Dewhurst being able to commiserate on having lost their jobs? 

Horns Down: Come early, be loud, stay... a little while

The stands were half empty by the end of the third quarter. To those who bolted: Yeah, your lack of confidence was vindicated when the clock ran out, but it won’t always turn out that way. And there are much better ways to support the team than heading for the exits and making #fireeveryone trend on Twitter. To those who stayed: You know and we know that when the Longhorns get back to the mountaintop, you’ll have earned it.

Horns up: Lawmakers stand up for LGBTQ rights 

A group of Democratic state lawmakers sent a letter to Maj. Gen. John Nichols of the Texas Military Forces on Monday asking him to allow same-sex spouses to enroll in the Texas National Guard’s veteran benefits program at state-operated installations. Although the Texas National Guard announced last week that it would not provide benefits for same-sex couples, an opinion recently requested from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott could deal a death blow to the new policy. While that seems unlikely given Abbott’s political leanings, we applaud the Democratic lawmakers for standing up for LGBTQ couples in the military and hope the National Guard suspends the policy until the attorney general has issued an opinion. 

Horns down: Shortchanging historically black schools 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but historically black colleges are still getting the short end of the funding stick in several Southern states. A report by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities found the states had always met their funding obligations to historically white land-grant colleges but had been dragging their feet on matching funds for historically black colleges. Topping the list of delinquent states was our very own Lone Star State, which owes $12 million to Prairie View A&M University. We don’t mean to impute racist motives to the powers that be, but their disregard for historically black colleges’ financial well-being is yet more evidence that black citizens still aren’t being given an equal shot at success.  

Horns up: Austin property tax rate not rising 

On Monday afternoon, the Austin City Council passed a resolution that will keep the current property tax rate (50.29 cents per $100 of property value) steady through next year. Though keeping the tax rate the same will cut the city’s expected budget surplus from $13 to $6 million, we agree with the council’s decision. Most students may not own property in Austin, but many pay rent to those who do, and there are others who would like to live in Austin post-graduation but are discouraged from doing so because of the expensive housing market. There are still problems with the budget that the council needs to confront — Police Chief Art Acevedo was adamant that he needs staff increases far larger than those that were granted — but we remain optimistic that the council can use the $6 million in surplus to deal with these challenges.

Horns down: Goodbye, grocery money, hello textbooks! 

We’re finally past the point of no return on textbook purchases  — if you still have yet to buy them, it’s probably going to start hindering you right about now. That being said, it would be great to not have to drop $150 on a brand new textbook because we need the one-time code for online content written inside the cover. Call us old-fashioned, but we’d take a used, scribbled-in, significantly cheaper paper-ink-and-glue version of “Great Moments in Accounting” any day.

Horns up: Lawmakers stand up for LGBTQ rights 

A group of Democratic state lawmakers sent a letter to Maj. Gen. John Nichols of the Texas Military Forces on Monday asking him to allow same-sex spouses to enroll in the Texas National Guard’s veteran benefits program at state-operated installations. Although the Texas National Guard announced last week that it would not provide benefits for same-sex couples, an opinion recently requested from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott could deal a death blow to the new policy. While that seems unlikely given Abbott’s political leanings, we applaud the Democratic lawmakers for standing up for LGBTQ couples in the military and hope the National Guard suspends the policy until the attorney general has issued an opinion. 

Horns down: Shortchanging historically black schools 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but historically black colleges are still getting the short end of the funding stick in several Southern states. A report by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities found the states had always met their funding obligations to historically white land-grant colleges but had been dragging their feet on matching funds for historically black colleges. Topping the list of delinquent states was our very own Lone Star State, which owes $12 million to Prairie View A&M University. We don’t mean to impute racist motives to the powers that be, but their disregard for historically black colleges’ financial well-being is yet more evidence that black citizens still aren’t being given an equal shot at success.  

Horns up: Austin property tax rate not rising 

On Monday afternoon, the Austin City Council passed a resolution that will keep the current property tax rate (50.29 cents per $100 of property value) steady through next year. Though keeping the tax rate the same will cut the city’s expected budget surplus from $13 to $6 million, we agree with the council’s decision. Most students may not own property in Austin, but many pay rent to those who do, and there are others who would like to live in Austin post-graduation but are discouraged from doing so because of the expensive housing market. There are still problems with the budget that the council needs to confront — Police Chief Art Acevedo was adamant that he needs staff increases far larger than those that were granted — but we remain optimistic that the council can use the $6 million in surplus to deal with these challenges.

Horns down: Goodbye, grocery money, hello textbooks! 

We’re finally past the point of no return on textbook purchases  — if you still have yet to buy them, it’s probably going to start hindering you right about now. That being said, it would be great to not have to drop $150 on a brand new textbook because we need the one-time code for online content written inside the cover. Call us old-fashioned, but we’d take a used, scribbled-in, significantly cheaper paper-ink-and-glue version of “Great Moments in Accounting” any day.

Update on June 22 at 12:50 p.m. - UT spokesperson Gary Susswein said UT Austin and Texas Army National Guard officials had a productive meeting Thursday afternoon on their differing tuition policies.

“Nothing is final, but we are discussing a solution we believe will satisfy UT Austin's flat rate tuition policies as well as the national guard's tuition assistance program requirements,” Susswein said.

UT-Arlington and the Department of Defense reached an agreement to resume tuition funding for active military students on Tuesday, while UT-Austin and the DOD are still negotiating, according to the Texas National Guard’s Education Services Office website.

Earlier in June, the Texas National Guard sent letters to active military students in at UT-Austin and UT-Arlington, warning them they may need to self-fund their education since the DOD will no longer grant tuition assistance for students attending schools that bundle tuition rates into a single, flat rate. The DOD instead wants schools to itemize their tuition on a course-by-course basis to make sure students are using the funding only for tuition and not other expenses.

The post on the Education Services Office website said the agreement with UT-Arlington means the school will provide itemized bills directly to the Education Services Office.

“As soon as our office receives itemized bills for students attending UT-Arlington, it will start approving the previously rejected applications for tuition assistance, barring all other criteria has been met by the Student,” the website said.

The website said the office of Education Services was still in discussion with UT-Austin, and it looked foreword to reaching an agreement soon.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein told the Daily Texan last week that the University was committed to making sure no students who were members of the military would lose their funding.
 

Representatives from the UT System will meet with the U.S. Department of Defense within the next few weeks in an attempt to negotiate a deal to keep tuition funding for active UT military students.

The Texas National Guard sent letters to active military students June 7 warning them to prepare to self-fund their education since the Department of Defense will no longer grant tuition assistance for students who attend schools that bundle tuition rates into a single, flat rate. A flat rate combines tuition fees and also includes other expenses that do not only apply to tuition. Currently, both UT-Austin and UT-Arlington charge tuition by this method. The change will affect 46 students, 24 at Austin and 22 in Arlington. Veterans and their dependents who receive benefits from the GI Bill will not be affected. UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the University has been working to reach an agreement with the DOD for about two weeks and has been in contact with the UT System for several months.

“Our goal is that no students who are members of the military will lose their funding at UT,” Susswein said. “We are absolutely committed to making sure that our soldiers, our veterans and our guardsmen can take advantage of financial aid at UT.”

The letter stated active military students who applied for tuition assistance before March 22 will receive their money, but applications submitted after that date will not be approved until an agreement is reached.

Susswein said he could not give any information on what a possible solution might look like.

“There are various ideas that have been discussed, but they have not been assessed enough for us to say what they are yet,” Susswein said. “But everyone is on board with getting this solved as quickly as possible.”

The new DOD criteria requires schools to itemize their tuition on a course-by-course basis to make sure students are using the funding only for tuition and not other expenses. Students who go to schools that do not meet this criteria will not receive tuition assistance.

According to the Texas National Guard’s Education Office, the DOD’s policy change went into effect March 22 and only impacts UT-Austin and UT-Arlington.

The letter said the Texas National Guard Education Office is hoping to see a solution reached between the UT System and the DOD by the end of June. The letter warned that students from neither school will be able to receive federal tuition assistance until a solution is reached.

“Be cognizant that there is no guarantee that a solution will be reached and you may end up self-funding your tuition assistance,” the letter stated.

Donnie Davis, a veteran and sociology senior, said he had confidence that the UT System and the DOD would reach an agreement. While Davis, who gets his tuition assistance through the GI Bill and will not be affected, said the University has become better at working with veterans and active duty soldiers than it used to be when he ended his military service in 2009.

“Since I have been here, a lot of changes have happened,” Davis said. “We were kind of thrown into the school and didn’t get a lot of help when I first got here. Just within the last year things have gotten better.”

Davis said the Student Veteran Center, which provides assistance by aiding with students’ graduation plans, is an example of how the University has been better accommodating to Veterans.

“We’re one of the first schools to have a [Student Veteran Center],” Davis said. “It would be quite a step back to pull back and say ‘veteran students are cool, but these active military students are going to lose their financial assistance.’”