Findings just released by the U.S. Department of Education officially confirm that the Texas Education Agency failed to comply with federal law for more than a decade by excluding an unknown number of students with disabilities from receiving special education services. Although Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an immediate letter to the TEA demanding that it take action, the case highlights the critical need for attention to disability rights in our state. In other words, it must be a call to action.

Early prediction of icy weather almost inevitably poses one of the most dreaded predicaments for local administrators because the path to total victory remains impossible in this situation. School administrators, city personnel, first responders, etc… each knows that the predicted day for a brief Arctic apocalypse will bring chaos and fear for some in Central Texas.

Washington is aghast over the news that, during a closed-door meeting with congressional leaders, President Donald Trump asked if we could exclude immigrants from “s---hole” countries such as Haiti and the nations of Africa. If true, what Trump said is terrible. But what the Democrats did is worse.

After leaving office, President Ronald Reagan created the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award to recognize individuals who have fought to spread liberty worldwide. Nancy Reagan continued the tradition after her husband’s death, and in 2008 she bestowed the honor on human rights icon Natan Sharansky, who credited Reagan’s strong defense of freedom for his own survival in Soviet gulags. Reagan recognized that as leader of the free world, his words carried enormous weight, and he used it to inspire the unprecedented spread of democracy around the world.

While the 2016 election may have left our country divided on many issues, it exposed one critical problem that should unite all Americans: Our democratic process is vulnerable to attacks by hostile foreign powers. As our intelligence community unanimously assessed, Russia used social media channels to influence and mislead voters. It also hacked political campaign committees and local elections boards in a brazen attempt to undermine and subvert our elections.

President Donald Trump has had a ragged couple of weeks. Without reliving every sour note, let’s just say he hasn’t started the year with an inspirational vibe. His unforced, bizarre errors have overshadowed soaring consumer confidence, the potential benefits of tax cuts and the dismantling of Obama-era regulations. But could everything soon change? Is Trump about to take a break from his acidic public presence?

Me too. Me too. Me too. When our friends and colleagues are the accusers, when our neighbors and peers are the accused, the problem stares us in the face from a proximity so intimate that we cannot dismiss it with a simplistic response. All that’s clear is that the problem is real, and the solutions will not be simple.

Today the Trib again offers one of its most popular seasonal services to readers, one unique for daily newspapers our size: Q&As with political candidates, in this case those running competitive primary election races. Dominating today’s opinion section are interviews with Republicans vying to be their party’s nominee for McLennan County Precinct 2 commissioner. Look for Q&As with other competing candidates, including the two Democrats seeking the Precinct 2 post, in coming weeks.

Just under 800,000 people received permits to stay and work in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program begun by President Obama. President Trump has announced the program’s end, pending a lawsuit winding its way through the courts. It now falls to Congress to decide the fate of the “Dreamers.”

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, let us remember that the civil rights movement he breathed life into was successful because it helped make America a better place for all of its citizens. It was successful because it included the best interests of millions of people, not just a selfish few. It was successful because it revealed the hurt and suffering of black Americans and, through their prism, the hurt and suffering of yet others. It was successful because it included the concept of forgiveness.

First, I thank Congressman Bill Flores for his Dec. 30 column detailing and defending how the recently passed tax-reform law “helps you.” His expertise as a CPA and a businessman is not in question. I appreciate the column’s intent, which was to provide real information to constituents in a public forum that allows us to read and to respond. That has not been the case in the telephone town halls or in his office policy to delete most critical comments to posts on his Facebook page about the tax plan. In the Waco Trib, then, we can have a dialogue.

It should come as no surprise that some congressional Republicans are doing their best to sabotage the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into possible links between President Donald Trump and Russian meddling in the 2016 election. To that end, they’re maligning the FBI and resurrecting the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails, settled more than a year ago.

In the months following President Donald Trump’s election, more has been revealed about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information. More has come out about the FBI’s bias in the investigation, and more reporting has shed light on former FBI Director James Comey’s manipulative nature. So does the Clinton email matter need a fresh look? Yes.

Regardless of what you think about Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” the book has made a whole lot of news. Despite the president’s best legal efforts, the book has shot to No. 1 on Amazon’s sales ranking. It has led to a pretty severe rupture between Donald Trump and former White House strategic adviser/current Breitbart head Stephen Bannon. And it has led the president to tweet about what a very stable genius he is.

Someone I know was in a minor car crash recently. The car was hit from behind by a driver who was using a cellphone, causing damage to both vehicles, but nobody was hurt. The police were called and, though the officer was told that the driver who caused the crash was using a cellphone, no tickets were issued.

About this time a year ago, I sat down with five middle-aged and older white guys who voted to make Donald Trump president of the United States. I wanted to better understand what motivated them to cast their lot with this wildly unconventional candidate. Two things impressed me about this group, drawn from those who wrote articulate letters to the editor for Trump: None took a cheap shot at Hillary Clinton during a ricocheting 90-minute interview and most offered surprisingly nuanced views on illegal immigrants.

As we enter the new year, congressional approval ratings remain at historic lows among members of both parties. Only 13 percent of Democrats approve of Congress’ work. And only 28 percent of Republicans concur, according to a recent Gallup Poll. To quote the great philosopher Yogi Berra: “Slump, I ain’t in no slump, I just ain’t hitting.”

President Donald Trump had a big job ahead of him when he took the oath of office in January 2017: reinvigorating Barack Obama’s slow-growing economy, rolling back Obama’s regulatory steamroller, improving national security and “draining the swap.” The good news is Trump has made a lot of progress — a lot more than many expected. Now the question is whether his second year can top his first. It’s possible. Here’s how.

Longtime civic leader and Trib contributor Wilton Lanning expressed shock upon opening his Tuesday Trib and laying eyes on a vintage photograph of Conery and Henrietta Miller, parents of Pearl Harbor war hero Doris Miller, on their farm in 1942. “I’m still shook,” he told us, recalling his own boyhood encounter with Conery Miller. “I live right on the bluff on Lake Shore Drive and, when the sun sets, I’m looking out at where that actually happened.” Tuesday’s Trib story focused on release of “Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement,” in which historians T. Michael Parrish and Thomas Cutrer argue for Miller’s relevance in ending decades of segregation. By request, we here publish Lanning’s own May 24, 2009, column on his encounter with the Miller family.

On Wednesday night, President Trump abruptly announced he was disbanding his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. This was the panel charged with finding proof of Trump’s absurd claim of millions of illegal voters, and it went downhill from the beginning. But while the panel has vanished, its spurious arguments remain widespread. Claims of voter fraud still form the basis of efforts to suppress the vote across the country. Now can we call a stop to that effort, too?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sounded a bit perplexed in her annual New Year’s address. Germany, she noted accurately, is strong and economically successful, and more of its people have jobs than ever before. Yet the country is plagued by “anxieties and doubts.” Many feel confident, many others “left out.” There seems to be a “rift running through” her society, Merkel lamented.

Trusting the bomb cyclone of winter weather headed for the East Coast to protect both filers and filing, the civil suit filed in D.C. federal court this week by Paul Manafort’s lawyers skates on thin legal ice. Manafort — the indicted former Trump campaign chair — wants Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Department of Justice enjoined from further pursuing the criminal charges pending against him for money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent.

In his recent opinion commentary published in the Washington Post and Waco Tribune-Herald, former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr proposed a “reset” of the Russia investigation in which Congress “steps up” to establish a bipartisan investigative panel and the “executive branch’s approach” changes from criminal law enforcement to some kind of nebulous fact-finding. Despite its bland profession of respect for the probe, Starr’s column was really just a subtler version of suddenly pervasive efforts by Trump apologists to undermine the investigation into Russian tampering in the 2016 election.

Social media’s dark side has transcended the psyche of individuals and companies to taint our nation’s democratic institutions. When political ads appear on Facebook from sources called “_american.made” or “Being Patriotic” but are actually from Russian “troll farms,” it’s something to take seriously in our sacred democracy. At the same time, we’re learning that social media can influence society more than we think. Historically, media have changed politics. This, however, is a game-changer.

With Iran experiencing its largest, most widespread protests in years, thoughts in the White House will inevitably turn to Iran’s 2009 “Green Movement,” sparked by what was widely considered to be the rigging of presidential elections by Iranian authorities that year. President Obama’s administration, unsure how to help the protesters and reluctant to scuttle its nascent engagement with Tehran, responded to the demonstrations with diffidence, prompting criticism from left and right alike.

Before memories of 2017 fade, it’s worth taking stock of the past 12 months in Washington. The holidays always help put the year into perspective. Think, for example, of the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Taking a cue from Clarence and George Bailey, I’d argue that, even when faced with challenges, we’ve done better than the pundits would have you believe.

Zoologists tell us that there is such a thing as an “alpha male.” In the animal world, male members of a particular group compete with one another to determine who is the superior male. Often this involves a fight to the death. Only the strongest — also the most cunning and ruthless — survive this test. By this means, nature determines who is the most worthy to pass his superior DNA on to future generations.

Readers gauging the Trib’s top stories of 2017 will notice some are continuations of news events that broke a year or two earlier. They’ll also notice at least two of the top stories, while set in Waco, exploded on the national scene in gripping fashion, even as subsequent, exceedingly relevant developments over the past year ensued with declining acknowledgement and interest from the outside world.

In reflecting on America’s politics of the past year, it’s impossible not to conclude that the president’s tweeting has been momentous. So far, I am unaware of any organization that has quantified exactly how much damage President Trump has caused by tweeting, but I think some substantial percentage of his problems and negative ratings must be directly attributable to his tweets.

There has been an incredible amount of false rhetoric regarding tax reform recently. As a Texas Certified Public Accountant (CPA), former energy CEO and a former chief financial officer for three multi-national businesses, I have a comprehensive and deep “real world” understanding on the impact of tax policy on American wage growth, economic activity and international competitiveness. I rely on that expertise to write and set the record straight regarding tax reform.

There’s been a lot of speculating as to whether President Trump’s tax plan will help or hurt his party next year. We’ll know soon enough, so no point in leaning too far into this question, but here are things to watch for. To be clear, the pluses and minuses I raise are the sorts of things people will notice, care about and link to the tax plan. While wonks such as me will object, for example, to the higher 2018 budget deficit (CBO expects the tax cut to add almost $140 billion to next year’s deficit), most people don’t notice that sort of thing. Here’s what might quickly get noticed.

During the Christmas season, it’s worth sparing a thought for a shamefully neglected group of Americans — those unjustly locked up in foreign prisons on political grounds. There are at least 40 of them, in five countries, held as trophies or as de facto hostages and bargaining chips by authoritarian regimes seeking leverage over Washington. In many cases, their only offense was to be a U.S. citizen.

In recent days, the drumbeat of criticism directed at Robert Mueller III and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has become deafening. I continue to believe in the honor and integrity of both men, whom I not only know well but also served with during a period of years. But neither the special counsel nor the deputy attorney general has been served well by key personnel. To the contrary, recent revelations of deep-seated bias against President Donald Trump within the Mueller staff call for both a thoroughgoing re-evaluation of the executive branch’s approach and a fundamental reset.

Copyright laws have been fundamental to American culture since the founding of our nation — they are one of the specific powers granted to Congress under the Constitution. And come January, we celebrate 40 years of operating under the 1976 revision of the copyright law. [The revised law went into effect in 1978.] Simply put, the revision has been one of the best upgrades in a long time and has been critical in the success of the arts in our nation. But today, copyright law faces new challenges, particularly with the explosion of social media.

As old age takes hold and I watch Christmas after Christmas slip by, I remember and cherish a special Christmas in 1950. Back then we were among the poorest families in a small Central Texas community five miles from Waco. While we had no indoor plumbing or heating in the family home, we had one another. I was 10 and my brothers were 9, 8 and 2. My sister was 6.

It’s that time of year again when we hear about the profanity of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and about Starbucks’ covert “war on Christmas,” run through their seasonal coffee cups. Inevitably, President Trump has intervened, insisting stores everywhere “don’t have Merry Christmas. They don’t have Merry Christmas. I want them to say, ‘Merry Christmas, everybody.’” Once again, we are awakened to the terrible assaults on the Christian heritage of our nation.

The void left by Wilton Lanning’s death at age 81 isn’t hard to understand. Civic leader, successful businessman, founding president of the Dr Pepper Museum and W.W. Clements Free Enterprise Institute and regular Trib contributing columnist, Wilton was a genial presence about Waco, mixing with all walks of life, furthering worthy causes big and small and spreading optimism wherever he went. His departure is especially sorrowful because we need his encouragement now more than ever.

First, I thank Congressman Bill Flores for his Dec. 30 column detailing and defending how the recently passed tax-reform law “helps you.” His expertise as a CPA and a businessman is not in question. I appreciate the column’s intent, which was to provide real information to constituents in a public forum that allows us to read and to respond. That has not been the case in the telephone town halls or in his office policy to delete most critical comments to posts on his Facebook page about the tax plan. In the Waco Trib, then, we can have a dialogue.

President Donald Trump has had a ragged couple of weeks. Without reliving every sour note, let’s just say he hasn’t started the year with an inspirational vibe. His unforced, bizarre errors have overshadowed soaring consumer confidence, the potential benefits of tax cuts and the dismantling of Obama-era regulations. But could everything soon change? Is Trump about to take a break from his acidic public presence?

Flashback

What were we talking about one year ago? Take a look back.

Today is a day many people fear and others have longed for: the last day of the Barack Obama administration after eight years. At 11 a.m. our time Friday, real-estate magnate and reality TV star Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. Journalists will accelerate their coverage of what promises to be a chaotic Trump administration. Historians will seek a keener perspective on the Obama tenure.

When even the most committed Republicans came around to support Donald Trump in 2016, they made a kind of bet. It wouldn’t matter much that Trump had no apparent fealty to conservative ideology or that he was a complete ignoramus about policy because he’d be leaving all that boring stuff to them. The Republican Congress would pass its agenda, he’d sign whatever they put in front of him, and they’d all live happily ever after.