It was the teenage girls of Trundle who opened up the hearts of Sydney. Their school principal was on the radio last week describing Australia’s devastating drought and the impact it was having on students in this small rural town in the state of New South Wales. Among his examples: Some farms no longer have enough water for showering.

A three-day evidentiary hearing beginning Monday at the Comanche County Courthouse in nearby Comanche could determine if Joe Bryan one day goes free or continues to serve time. For the past 30 years, he has been in prison based on a highly questionable conviction for killing his wife. Once a well-regarded high school principal in Clifton, northwest of Waco, Bryan is now 77. He has never wavered in his innocence.

Today the Texas Education Agency will issue report cards for our schools. We do this for two main reasons. First, parents should know how well our schools are performing so they can better support their children. Second, educators benefit from having clear information about school performance, highlighting successes and challenges, to help improve support for students over time.

It took almost two years for two dozen officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to pull together a case against Golden Valley Lending and three other online lenders that were making small short-term loans at interest rates as high as 950 percent, violating laws in at least 17 states that cap interest rates. “The average rate that the infamous Cosa Nostra mob charged in New York City in the 1960s was 250 percent,” said Christopher L. Peterson, a former CFPB attorney now teaching at the University of Utah College of Law. “These firms were charging almost four times as much.”

Like an approaching summer squall over the placid horizon, the confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate loom large for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. As a spirited dialogue — debate? — will likely envelop the Judiciary Committee’s public evaluation of his background and qualifications, Americans are likely to hear about competing theories of constitutional interpretation. There may be references to “original meaning,” “textualist” and “living tradition,” among others. But if everyday Americans are lucky they will also hear references to “The Federalist Papers.”

Do you need a license to perform your job? Texas requires individuals in more than 500 occupations to have licenses to be able to engage in one’s job. This affects one in three Texans in our economy. If the state agency regulating your profession decides to deny you a license or determines your license should be revoked, in almost all cases you have a right to an impartial hearing where the agency must prove facts to justify its action. It’s only just that the government should provide you a fair hearing.

Yellow school buses. Fresh haircuts. Crisp, clean spiral notebooks. New names laminated on old desks. Moms and Dads and tears in elementary school parking lots. Nervous teenagers at awkward lunch tables. The early morning crack of football helmets. Marching bands practicing fight songs. These are the things of August. As memories, they are palpable because of our history, because of the hope we place in education and because of the power of teachers.

A Washington publication on July 19 portrayed Barack and Michelle Obama in a peculiar position on its cover: An illustration of a partially hidden couple peeking around the Washington Monument, with the headline, “How the Obamas became invisible. Longtime Washingtonians hoped the former president and first lady would become unofficial ambassadors for their adopted home city. Instead, they’ve kept largely out of sight.”

It is not much of a reach to say that Texas is the No. 1 gun friendly state in the Union. If not, Texas is certainly near the top of the list. Nonetheless, recent tragic events at the Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and at Santa Fe High School have proven that even in Texas, the debate over the right to arms enumerated in the U.S. and Texas Constitutions can be animated if not downright hostile.

No more wild-eyed claims that 9/11 was a hoax, that the government was behind the Sandy Hook massacre or that the Parkland kids are “crisis actors.” No more spittle-flecked speculation about “white genocide” or how chemtrails are used for population control. Now, if you want to learn more about how the “New World Order” is bent on corralling us all into prison camps, you’re going to have to type into the address bar yourself.

For the 98 percent of Americans not involved in agriculture, the sparring in Congress every five years over the farm bill may seem like something that doesn’t affect them. But this year’s farm bill has important implications for shoppers: Can states enact trade barriers that ban common items from the grocery store?

President Donald Trump is acting with a desperation I’ve seen only once before in Washington: 45 years ago when President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Nixon was fixated on ending the Watergate investigation, just as Trump wants to shut down the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

America’s health-care debate is entering a new phase. Liberals, inspired by self-described socialists such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district, are excited about the possibility of “Medicare for All.” Republicans have at the same time largely abandoned efforts to enact major reforms of health care.

Right-wing commentators had a field day last week with the news that Sarah Jeong, a young Korean American hired to write about technology for the New York Times editorial board, had a history of attacking “white people” on Twitter. She was predictably pilloried as a racist by the usual suspects — Fox News, the Daily Caller, Gateway Pundit, Breitbart, Infowars, etc. And understandably so. As The Washington Post noted, her tweets include: “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men”; “White people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants”; and “#CancelWhitePeople.”

Among the happiest of prospects for most workers is the annual vacation. It offers, at least in theory, our best opportunity to pass time on our own terms. It’s freedom from the clock, from stressful demands. Some choose to spend that free time in crowded places, others in solitude. One way or another, it is time spent, we hope, just as we — not the boss, client or customer — want it to be.

Much ink has been spilled in the past few weeks — and rightly so — about the imminent threats to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) posed by the Trump administration and its allies in Congress. Critics of recently proposed policy changes — reducing protections for species deemed “threatened,” making it easier to consider economic factors in the decision to list species as endangered and generally clearing the way for faster approval of energy projects — regard them as thinly veiled giveaways to industry lobbyists and interests, rolling back regulations to favor resource extraction and risking extinction of some species.

Full disclosure: I have never seen an episode of the long-running PBS children’s show called “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The only reason I went to see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” the documentary about Mr. Rogers and his show, was because we were visiting friends who very much wanted to see it. Thank you, dear friends! The movie was very special — poignant, profound, elegantly understated and brimming with kindness, warmth and understanding.

The Voting Rights Act, which aimed to abolish discriminatory voting practices, was signed into law on Aug. 6, 1965, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. At the signing ceremony attended by Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, President Johnson called the act “a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on the battlefield.”

News reports recently pointed out that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Commissioner of Agriculture Sid Miller aren’t planning to debate their Democratic opponents before the upcoming election. In fact, Miller’s spokesman, Todd M. Smith, said, “It’ll be a cold day in Texas before we give our opponent the opportunity to have free name recognition by having a debate.”

Like so many of my colleagues, I have covered this nation’s wars for decades, working side by side with our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. I have shared foxholes and flight decks with these brave Americans, and I have felt our mutual respect for the responsibility that each of us holds in our chosen professions. It has been an honor covering them and the families who support them. I am proud that I can tell their stories.

No matter where I am, here in Washington or elsewhere in the United States, the question is almost always the same: “Jonathan, who’s going to save us?” Not an unreasonable question given the daily assault against morality, truth and democracy that is President Donald Trump and his administration. At first, I struggled for an answer. Like everyone else, I’ve run out of words to describe what we are living through. But each query forced me to think and to find my voice and a solution.

It has been 30 years since Princeton University professor James McPherson published his extraordinary “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era,” which won a much deserved Pulitzer in 1989. Great books remain references for decades, and now the book deserves a rebirth of sorts. Listening to McPherson’s account of the 1850s, for example, is oddly relevant even as history makes clear that the relatively young Union was in a far more perilous condition then than ours is today.

Increasingly, Americans are fondly recalling the days when Barack Obama occupied the White House. They long for the civility that our country experienced when he was our commander in chief. Many of them did not vote for our former president and disagreed with him on a number of policy issues. But they were not troubled with his personal life, nor did they witness constant blistering attacks by him on those who questioned his administration. They appreciated his calmness and restraint in the course of his governance.

From the bluster at the NATO summit in Brussels, through his attack on the United Kingdom’s prime minister, Theresa May, to his deference to Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the joint news conference in Helsinki, President Trump’s trip to Europe marked a new low for trans-Atlantic relations. Perhaps the president does not wish to destroy the alliance — but it is not clear that he would behave any differently if he did.

Donald Trump hasn’t shown a lot of love lately toward America’s European allies. On his recent trip to Europe, he dismissed Germany as Moscow’s minion and called the European Union a “foe.” He’s also treated NATO as an alliance to be bullied into submission rather than as the premier method of coordinating security policy with friendly nations. He even threatened to pull the United States out of the alliance.

In these days when all the world seems to be imploding, I don’t know what is mine to do. I turn my heart to this and then to that and the next day there is a new insult to humanity and nature. I dizzy myself with the actions around me that I find abhorrent, immoral and unAmerican. Where do I focus when there no longer is a greater vision? I gave up asking “How much worse can it get?” as I did in the early days. Now I know there is no limit to how bad it can get. We witness a freefall of narcissism that builds like a snowball racing downhill, growing ever bigger as it flings protests aside effortlessly.

Eighteen months into his presidency, Donald Trump continues to display near-complete ignorance about how NATO works and why the alliance matters. He tweets that the United States gives 4 percent of its GDP to NATO. (Not so: We spend 4 percent on defense; we actually contribute less than $500 million directly to NATO for its combined civil and military budgets, or less than one-10th of 1 percent of our defense budget.) He sees NATO as a charity project for Europeans rather than a cornerstone of U.S. national security. And, as we learned from his Fox News interview with Tucker Carlson on Tuesday night, he is willing to call into question Article 5 — the alliance’s mutual defense provision. He appears either unable to comprehend that an ironclad commitment to Article 5 is at the heart of NATO or is purposefully undermining the alliance in the wake of his traitorous performance in Helsinki.

We’ll cede to others any debate over whether Gov. Greg Abbott’s press conference in Waco last week was well-timed electioneering or genuine executive branch business. We agree with his push for statewide bail reform to better protect local and state law enforcement officials. But that’s not enough. Any bail reform undertaken by the Texas Legislature must go further than even Abbott’s outlines and ensure protections for all Texans, including low-income defendants with no history of violent crime.


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

After the events that unfolded just a few days ago in Charlottesville, it is encouraging to hear people, especially faith leaders across our state and country, speak out in opposition to hate speech and the groups that advance such ideas. In my own church on Sunday, I heard these words preached from the pulpit, that we cannot claim the cross of Jesus while using it as a symbol of hate. As James 3: 9-12 put it, cursing people who are made in the image of God is a paradox, like a spring that puts forth fresh and salty water.