Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Who Is In Office Matters And So Does Your Voice

Three weeks ago I told you about the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act filed by Senator Bernie Sanders. Also known as the Stop Bezos Act it was written so that if passed it would require employers like Amazon and Walmart to pay taxes to offset the amount of federal assistance their full time employees collect due to the low wages they and similar employers pay. The federal assistance provided to employees effectively subsidizes highly profitable companies like Amazon and Walmart. This week Jeff Bezos the CEO of Amazon announced that the company has raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour and publicly thanked Sen. Sanders and thousands of activists for pushing his company to make that decision.

The news about Amazon raising wages to a livable level is timely since we’re just over two weeks away from the start of early voting and there are too many Texans especially in towns like Seguin who don’t vote especially in mid-term elections. If you’re a regular reader of this column you are probably known among your family and friends as politically knowledgeable and aware; not because you read this column but because you’re interested in the topic and this column among others in the Friday editorial section is an indicator of your interest. Studies show the fact that your family and friends respect your knowledge means on average you have more power to persuade 10 people to vote and who to vote for. That makes you much more effective than some stranger knocking on their door or calling them on the phone.
When someone you’re talking to about voting says voting doesn’t matter or all politicians are alike you can point to Sen. Sanders impact on the decision wage increase as evidence that not all politicians are alike. If the family member or friend you’re talking to says their vote doesn’t matter remind them that in 2017 a state legislature seat in Virginia was decided by a coin toss because the vote was tied. Or you can point to the 2010 race for Texas House District 48 in Austin which Donna Howard won by just 12 votes. Or Lisa Jackson’s 5 vote margin of victory in the race for Mayor of Cibolo in the 2013 election.

Amazon isn’t the only highly profitable company that needs to raise wages, Senator Sanders isn’t going to fix the country by himself even if he is elected president in 2020, and your vote alone isn’t likely to swing an election but if all of us work together to raise awareness and we each do our part to bring out those 10 voters we have influence with, we can make a difference.

Early voting starts Monday October 22 put that date on your calendar and get to the polls early, if you do you might save yourself a lot of candidate phone calls as they try to spend their limited time on people who haven’t voted yet. Remind those family members and friends to get to the polls early too.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - October 5, 2018

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Kavanaugh Confirmation is Another #MeToo Moment

Reporting of sexual abuse by prominent members of society has been on the rise for quite a while having reached from the Catholic Church most recently in Pennsylvania, to Hollywood especially Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, to the halls of Congress including Democrat Anthony Weiner and Texas Republicans Blake Farenthold and Joe Barton. The man in the White House has been repeatedly accused of sexual assaults and on occasion has paid substantial out of court settlements to silence his accusers. Now we have a Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who is being accused of sexual assault by three separate women.

The charges against Catholic priests in many cases go back decades and stem as much from the coverups as the original crimes. Weinstein and Cosby got away with their crimes for decades by using the power of their positions to deter accusations. Kavanaugh supporters claim disbelief because the assaults weren’t reported at the time of occurrence. The same supporters also question the accusers veracity claiming suspicions that they are making the accusations for political reasons.

Most research shows that between 70% and 80% of sexual assaults go unreported for one reason or another. The accusations against Kavanaugh go back 30 plus years just like the accusations against Cosby for which he was recently sentenced to 3 to 10 years in jail showing that the number of years since the crime doesn’t matter. It appears that there are several reasons that the three brave women have suddenly spoken up about their experiences at the hands of Kavanaugh, the #MeToo movement that began with the downfall of Harvey Weinstein not least among them. Another likely reason is that the first Kavanaugh accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, saw that telling the story of her life changing attack could protect others from such an experience and an opportunity to strike back at her assailant with maximum effect. Now that Senate Republicans have been working to push aside Dr. Ford’s testimony and rush to confirm Kavanaugh other victims have come out to tell their stories in support. This is similar to the Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby accusers, once someone was brave enough to speak of their attacks it emboldened those who had previously held their tongues in fear.

They are even Republican women on national television making the excuse that such behavior is just what teenage boys do. As the father of a young woman; I say if that’s what you believe then you’re an awful parent and your sons need to be locked up to protect the safety of girls everywhere.

Some of my Republican neighbors complain that the women’s accusations are just political attacks and are unworthy of consideration on that basis alone. I’ve got news for them, confirmation hearings are political events by their very nature just like nearly everything else Congress does so that’s just an excuse to get their guy on the Supreme Court. The rush to confirm Kavanaugh is political, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley recognize that there is a chance that if they have to start the confirmation process all over with a new nominee it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and it’s possible they’ll lose control of the Senate in addition to the House which is already likely lost. This could be their only chance to stack the Supreme Court and Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz want to make darn sure it happens especially since Cruz is one of those at risk of losing his seat.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - September 28, 2018

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Appeals Courts Matter

Too often we voters only pay attention to the most high profile races, in part it’s because of the allure of a race for President or Senate but our media also tends to focus on those races to the detriment of  other races both closer to home and in some ways more likely to impact us as individuals. It’s rare that we hear about judicial races even for appellate courts that cover large parts of the state like the Fourth Court of Appeal which covers 32 counties west and south of Guadalupe County. There’s plenty of news about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and that should be a reminder to us all just how important our judiciary is.

Mid-level appellate courts like the Fourth Court of Appeal are where big questions of justice are most often answered as most of their decisions are not appealed further. Those decisions can impact you on issues like medical malpractice, compensation for injury in an auto or workplace accident, or responsibility for shoddy workmanship by a homebuilder. The same appeals courts also handle issues related to family law like child custody and child support as well as criminal cases.

You probably know someone who has been involved in one or more of those kinds of cases and even if their case wasn’t appealed the result of that case was affected by prior decisions made by those justices. When an appeals court judge issues a decision it includes an opinion stating the rationale and those decisions are frequently cited in trial courts when there is a controversy over the application of law and the trial judge is expected to act consistent with those prior decisions. This makes it important for appellate court justices to have trial court experience.

The upcoming elections in Guadalupe County will include five Fourth Court of Appeals races. Many of the Republican challengers are men who have had no experience in a civilian trial court other than submitting filings and perhaps taking notes. They haven’t so much as picked a jury let alone argued a case. Some have lists of purported accomplishments like staff attorney in the court or Judge Advocate in the Marine Corps. One of the Republicans seems to expect to win just because he has an R behind his name on the ballot as he isn’t out campaigning and raising money to get his message out.

All five Democrats are women with many years of experience in trial courts, three have also had 6 years of experience on the Fourth Court of Appeals. There is a clear difference between the candidates for each of the five positions up for election on the court and the Democrats running have the experience hands down.

Judge Rebeca Martinez spoke at a meeting I attended earlier this week and told us that she was inspired to become a lawyer when she was 12 years old when she watched the Al Pacino movie “And Justice for All”. I’ve also heard Judge Patricia Alvarez speak about her inspiration for becoming an attorney and then a judge. That kind of passion for justice is what I want to see in every judge and you should too.

Early voting starts October 22 and election day is November 6, you have plenty of time to get to the polls so remember how important it is to elect qualified appeals court judges. Vote for Rebeca Martinez, Patricia Alvarez, Luz Elena Chapa, Beth Watkins, and Liza Rodriguez and you’ll get the best appellate judges available anywhere.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - September 21, 2018

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies

Recently Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a bill called the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOS) Act. The bill proposes to tax employers on the amount of public assistance their full time employees receive on a dollar for dollar basis. A prime example is an Amazon warehouse employee earning minimum wage or thereabouts which could qualify them for as much as $3,000 in public assistance. Since this essentially subsidizes the highly profitable company with taxpayer funds, money collected from you and me, Sanders’ bill would tax Amazon $3,000.

Of course the simple solution would be for Amazon, Walmart and other low wage employers to simply pay their employees a living wage which is in fact the goal of the bill as stated in the bill itself and pointed out by its author and supporters. The Stop BEZOS Act isn’t so much an attempt to tax low wage employers as it is an attention getting device intended to push for higher minimum wages and corporations taking responsibility for their employees. Congressman Ro Khanna filed companion legislation in the House known as the Corporate Responsibility and Taxpayer Protection Act and makes the point that “we need to make sure that everyone is participating in the economic success”.

Low pay isn’t the only area where Amazon, Walmart and numerous other highly profitable corporations need shaming. Amazon has been reported to keep ambulances on standby at warehouses where temperatures are so high that workers routinely pass out with heat stroke. Walmart has been cited repeatedly for cheating their employees on overtime by requiring them to clock out but locking them in the store until floors are clean and shelves are stocked. It isn’t just mammoth companies that make these unjust and often illegal demands of their employees, there are many small and medium size companies which use similar tactics to increase profits at the cost of their employees.

It’s not that Amazon or Walmart are inherently evil but they’ve been allowed to become major factors in the economy and the well-being of our nation without requiring them to be responsible corporate citizens. In the 1950s and 1960s the auto industry was a major factor in the economy and while they didn’t willing act responsibly the fact that much of their workforce was unionized put a leash on their worst behaviors which enabled assembly line workers and others to enjoy a good and healthy life with a decent retirement. Amazon, Walmart and so many others operate off the union leash and their stockholders are the only beneficiaries. You and I are forced to pick up the tab to keep those employees fed while Jeff Bezos spends his unjustly accumulated riches building rockets to take him into space.

I’m not so partisan as to say that Republicans are solely responsible for skewed distribution of wealth in this country as I’m quite aware that Democrats, in particular Bill Clinton, have done their fair share to yank the wheels off the cart. Nevertheless at least many Democratic officials recognize the problem and want to address it while I’ve never heard a Republican even admit that a problem exists. I think we all know that Alcoholics Anonymous maxim – the first step is recognizing you have a problem. So given that Democrats are beginning to recognize we have a problem it is in the best interests of all to insure they’re elected this November.

You can start by voting for Beto O’Rourke for US Senate and picking every Democrat down the list.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Aren't You Angry?

I’m angry, I’m so angry it is hard to focus on any single issue to write about. In my free time, when not knocking on doors for a candidate I’ve been immersing myself in one of my favorite literary genres as an escape from the causes of my anger. I’m trying to do what I can to make our world a better place for my daughter and her generation but I feel frustrated by each day’s news that our government, supposedly the representative of our collective will continues to act against common decency.

The current White House occupant, the man who got nearly 3 million fewer votes than the woman who ran against him, continues to violate the order of a federal judge to return the children he instructed to be taken from the arms of their parents. It’s been over 40 days since the deadline passed and yet there are children still in the custody of federal authorities because of his mean-spiritedness.

My Republican neighbors make excuses for him and claim to agree which just means they too are mean spirited. How they reconcile their support for a policy that tears infants and young children from their parents in order to punish those parents for their temerity in walking up to border control station at Laredo or other border town requesting asylum with their claims to be devout Christians I’ll never understand.

The current White House occupant and his appointees to federal agencies along with his enablers in congress have assured that hundreds of children who have already suffered trauma most Americans will never know in countries overrun with violent gangs and corrupt governments are again traumatized by the country that they thought of as a place of safety. If I weren’t an American I would still be angry but I would feel no fault of my own. Being an American citizen, the son of a World War II veteran, I’m not just angry that it is happening, I’m angry that I’m in part responsible.

It’s not just the children of frightened refugees who our government is abusing, many young people who enlisted in our armed forces with the understanding that their service would earn them citizenship have been unceremoniously expelled. It disgusts me when I hear a Republican whether an elected official or simply a voter claims to support our troops but thinks it’s alright to deport veterans of our wars who thought their efforts had earned them a chance at citizenship.

The current White House occupant wants to end the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program commonly known as DACA, if he finally gets his way he will be punishing the children and grandchildren of the people who actually committed the “crime” of stepping over an imaginary line. Nearly all of those children have little or no memory of any other country, many only speak English.

All those actions are awful, yet the current occupant of the White House isn’t satisfied and has now begun attempts to revoke the citizenship of people born near the border between Texas and Mexico. If you have a Hispanic surname and were born in that region you could have your passport application denied and you citizenship called into question.

The fact that it is my government and your government, which operates by the consent of the people, makes all of us responsible. Are you sickened by the man in the White House acting in your name? If you are then you not only need to vote in November you need to bring your family and neighbors too.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - September 7, 2018

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Kavanaugh Nomination Tainted by Conspiracy with Foreign Adversaries

There are a host of reasons to reject Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. From the purely partisan point of view there’s the theft of a seat in the last year of President Obama’s second term. From power perspective Kavanaugh has expressed some dangerous ideas such as his belief that a sitting President should be insulated from justice unless dispensed by congress through impeachment. From an issues point of view Kavanaugh’s decisions and dissents in numerous cases in ways that show his deference to corporate power over workers’ rights, religious bigotry over religious diversity, and the use of wealth to achieve political power in order to enhance that wealth.

I could write pages on how Kavanaugh could be one of the very worst possible choices for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court but Kavanaugh’s views and rulings are not the only reasons to object. We should also consider that the man occupying the White House and nominated Kavanaugh has been all but named as an unindicted co-conspirator to felony crimes involving campaign finance violations that have a penalty of 5 years in prison attached. Michael Cohen who infamously organized the payoff of porn star Stormy Daniels testified in open court as he plead guilty to 8 counts that he acted at the instruction of the “candidate”. That means that Cohen not only committed a violation of campaign finance laws he was involved in a conspiracy with Donald Trump to do so.

In addition other Trump associates have been given immunity from prosecution for testimony that at present we can only propose educated guesses given their positions and what we already know about them through leaks. The publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, kept a safe full of documents which tell a tale of Trump’s cover-ups and possibly other illegal acts and he is prepared to testify. The Trump Organization’s Chief Financial Officer, Allen Weisselberg, who served in that capacity for over 20 years has also received immunity from prosecution for his testimony. That makes three of Trump’s closest associates, people who know “where the bodies are buried”, willing to testify against Trump.

Perhaps the most import of all the Cohen revelations is his statement that he witnessed the discussion Donald Trump denies having with his son in advance the meeting with Russian’s to collect dirt they claimed to have on Hillary Clinton. This provides evidence that Trump did indeed conspire with a foreign power against the United States.

Of course Trump hasn’t been convicted, but his legitimacy has definitely been called into question and while it is still too early to talk about impeachment it isn’t too early to put a stop to every judicial nominee’s appointment until such time as all the evidence has been presented and assessed. Most especially no President tainted by dalliances with foreign adversaries should be allowed to place their appointees on the federal bench for their lifetimes. The legitimacy of every single one of the judges he’s already appointed is also tainted.

The allegations against Trump are too significant to allow him to continue to reshape the federal judiciary unless and until the allegations are put to rest after a thorough review of the evidence presented. That won’t happen for months and likely not until after the election and only if his enablers on congress are defeated at the polls in November.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Protecting A Million Texans Requires Your Vote

As if you needed another reason to make time to vote in November think about this, Texas is one of 20 states suing the federal government to take away healthcare from millions of Americans especially middle and lower income Texans. Our Republican Attorney General, Ken Paxton, joined the suit earlier this year in an effort to use the courts to do what Congress chose not to. Paxton is empowered by the fact that Republicans control both houses of the legislature and every statewide office.

The cynical ploy used by the Attorneys General is the claim that since the individual mandate was central to the Affordable Care Act, the fact that Congress repealed it invalidates the entire law. Since 1.2 million Texans are covered through plans purchased via the Exchange created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) having the court decide in favor of killing it will endanger the lives and health of all of them. Of course it won’t have any effect on the 4.5 million Texans denied coverage by Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision not to accept the 90% federally funded Medicaid expansion.

Whether or not Democrats can beat Paxton directly by electing Justin Nelson to replace him or indirectly through electing a majority in one or both houses of the legislature and cutting his budget, it can be done. Readers have three or four ways to protect the healthcare of over a million Texans. They can vote to replace the current Attorney General with Justin Nelson who if elected will certainly withdraw from the suit. They can vote to replace the Governor with Lupe Valdez who can make it known to the legislature that she will veto any budget that continues to fund attacks on the Affordable Care Act. They can vote to replace the incumbent in the House with John Rodgers who would fight to force Paxton to drop the suit by cutting his budget. Rodgers would also demand that the state take the federal money to expand Medicaid which would not only be a boon to those 4.5 million Texans not currently insured, it would also stimulate the economy of the entire state leading to many more jobs and higher paying jobs as well. If you live in the part of Guadalupe County which is in Senate District 25 you can replace the incumbent who is widely recognized one of the worst legislators in Texas with Steve Kling.

On the federal side we have an opportunity to put a stop to Republican efforts to repeal the ACA in whole or in part by taking back one or both houses of Congress. We need to hold onto a House seat by voting for Vicente González so that in other districts where Republican incumbents are in jeopardy of losing their seats we can gain enough to achieve a majority there. This is really important as Republicans in the House are still working to undermine the ACA by any means available. They are also plotting to cut Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid benefits claiming that they are causing a deficit; when in fact that deficit is caused mostly by the tax breaks they just gave big banks and billionaires. A Democratic House majority insures that Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the ACA all continue to be adequately funded.

There is also the very real possibility of replacing one of the Senate’s most unpopular members if we all get out and vote for Beto O’Rourke. If Texas voters flip that seat it will go a long way toward making it possible to win a majority in the Senate.

Vote! Vote! Vote!