Saturday, March 17, 2018

Welfare Makes Better Workers

Liberals are often said to be bleeding hearts and though our goals may be admirable we’re told our proposed programs and policies are impractical, too expensive, counter-productive or all of the above. The truth is that our empathy and gut instinct to do right by our fellow man is in fact not just morally righteous, but also practical, cost effective and productive. A fine example of this dichotomy of views is public assistance generally known as welfare.

Studies done around the world show that insuring that children are adequately fed and clothed via cash public assistance to the family can increase working hours and earnings, particularly when the beneficiaries are required to attend classes that teach specific trades or general business skills. Welfare isn’t just morally righteous it is an investment in the health and future careers of low-income kids.

In a recent paper from researchers at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago the results of a Mexican program called Prospera, the world’s first conditional cash-transfer system, were analyzed. The program provides money to poor families on the condition that they send their children to school and go to the doctor regularly and stay current on vaccinations.

By matching up data from Prospera with data about households’ incomes the researchers were able to analyze the program’s effect on children several decades after they started receiving benefits. They found that young people who participate in the program for seven years usually completed three more years of education and were 37 percent more likely to have a job. Prospera beneficiaries grew up to become adults who worked nine more hours each week on average than similar poor children who didn’t participate in the program. On top of that they also earned higher hourly wages.

This is important for the United States in particular right now when the Republican Party is on a bender to reduce public assistance of all kinds including those programs like Medicaid which benefit poor children. Republicans make a lot of dubious claims about the connection between public benefits and non-working adults but the evidence proves they’re wrong. Of course, facts don’t seem to matter to Republicans all that much, particularly when they contradict core revealed “knowledge” spouted by their authority figures. It doesn’t seem to matter that the agenda of those authority figures is driven by the wealthy campaign donors and the corporations who will employ them once they have left congress.

It isn’t just Mexico where providing the basics goes beyond addressing immediate concerns, American adults whose mothers received prenatal coverage under Medicaid have lower rates of obesity, higher rates of high-school graduation, and higher incomes than those from similar households who were ineligible for Medicaid. Other research has shown that children covered by Medicaid expansions went on to earn higher wages and require less welfare assistance as adults than similarly situated children who didn't get those benefits. Recent research from the University of Pennsylvania on people in Canada and the United States shows that even basic-income plans encourage people to either continue working or go back to school to improve their skills.

All this shows that the conservative claims that public benefits are too expensive is just short term thinking. In reality it’s much less costly to provide benefits now because those children will grow up to earn their own living and thus pay taxes than it is to leave them destitute during their formative years and have the public suffer the effects of too many unskilled people with no hope of ever earning a living for themselves and their families.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Dark Money and Foreign Interference in Elections

In a decision made by the Supreme Court in 2010, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, overturning campaign finance protections, they made it legal for Political Action Committees (PACs) which spend money on political advertising to hide the names of the donors who provided those funds. Since the public is therefore in the dark as to who is really paying for the political advertising the term dark money was coined. In many cases people donate funds to one organization which must provide the names of its donors then that organization donates the bulk of its funds to another organization that doesn’t have to reveal the names of its donors. If this sounds like money laundering that’s because after a fashion it is, though it’s legal.

When interpreting a message most of us will consider not only what is said but also who is saying it. If a known liar makes a bold claim the average listener will consider that claim with a large helping of salt. The same is true for political advertising most of us want to know who is making the claims in the ad in order to better judge whether or not to believe the claims.

The most recently appointed Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, was supported by $10 million of dark money pushing for him. Given that it is a lifetime appointment doesn’t is seem appropriate that the American public know who was promoting him and in order to provide guidance on how legitimate the claims made about him might be?

If China had donated $5 million to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or Iran had donated $3 million to an Islamic mosque in Houston which was then used that money to support Hillary Clinton’s run for the presidency I’m quite certain that Republicans in congress and everywhere else would have jumped all over it. The National Rifle Association spent $30 million in support of the Trump campaign. It has come to light that Russia may have donated millions of dollars to the National Rifle Association at that time. Hardly a word is being said about it by Republicans.

There are laws in place prohibiting foreign governments and their citizens from funding political advertising or campaigns but when “dark money” is allowed how do we truly know whether or not those laws are being followed.

Dark money isn’t just a problem in presidential campaigns, there aren’t any prohibitions on it in state campaigns either. Numerous state legislature races have been impacted by dark money in recent years. State Representative Charlie Geren twice filed bills that would have prohibited such anonymous funding of campaign advertising but Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t gotten behind the bills so Texas legislature has failed to pass them. Isn’t it well past time that the public get the opportunity to judge political ad claims by who is paying the bills for those ads?

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 9, 2018

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Five Great Reasons to Vote in the Primary

As of the end of early voting more Democrats than Republicans had voted in the primary in the 15 largest counties and that’s unusual. It’s a sign of Democratic voter enthusiasm that follows trends set in special elections across the country over the last 12 months. The Democratic wave that is building across the country has the potential to remake the House of Representatives and the Senate but that won’t happen if Texans don’t get out and vote.

There are important races in this primary which will determine who challenges Republican incumbents like the governor and US Senate. In the U.S. Senate race Texas Democrats have a terrific opportunity with Congressman Beto O’Rourke from El Paso. It’s important to vote in this race because in the past unknowns with no political experience, no support, and no campaign have won primaries against candidates like O’Rourke leaving Democrats with non-viable candidates in November.

A few years after O’Rourke graduated from college he moved back to El Paso and started a small tech company which soon became successful. O’Rourke also became deeply involved in the civic, business and community efforts in El Paso. He ran for El Paso City Council in 2005 and served for two terms before running for U.S. Congress in 2012, taking on an eight-term incumbent and winning. He knocked on thousands of doors and had real conversations, face-to-face, with the voters in El Paso. In Congress, O’Rourke serves on the House Committees for Armed Services and Veterans Affairs.

Mike Collier has been building his campaign for Lt. Governor for nearly 3 years and has developed name recognition across the electorate. Collier is a career accountant who has worked for some of the largest companies in the world and helped build a successful Texas oil company while serving as its Chief Financial Officer. Collier built a reputation for rigorous financial analysis, independent decision-making, and a commitment to telling the truth, no matter what. If we’re going to hold politicians accountable, that’s exactly what Texas needs right now. He hopes to challenge Dan Patrick in November and is one of the statewide candidates that actually stands a chance to win.

Joi Chevalier is running for Comptroller. Chevalier is an entrepeneur whose experience in corporate planning and product development could provide valuable prep for the job of a state comptroller, a position that serves as Texas’ chief financial officer and revenue forecaster. Chevalier has an impressive understanding of the state’s challenges. She’s endorsed by Progress Texas and she speaks regularly on entrepreneurship, food and tech, product management, and the opportunity for women and African-Americans in technology and through food entrepreneurship.

Miguel Suazo is running for Land Commissioner. Suazo is an energy and natural resources attorney with a decade of experience in energy, natural resources, government, and business. When I met Suazo a few weeks ago, he told me he's running for this office because he's incensed at the poor job George P. Bush has done handling of the hurricane recovery efforts along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Steve Kling is running for Senate District 25. He’s a former Army Captain decorated for his service in Afghanistan and Iraq who now works in the tech industry. One of Kling’s top issues is public education and he summarizes his views this way; “Meaningful finance reform only will occur when we reduce the dependence on our local school property taxes, streamline the host of unfunded mandates for teachers and districts, eliminate high-stakes consequences for students and provide support for a well-rounded education for all Texas students.”

You can vote today or Tuesday, make your voice heard.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Gubernatorial Candidate Roundup

Early voting in the primaries starts Tuesday next week so let’s time to talk about the Democratic candidates for governor. While there are officially nine, only five are worth talking about as the rest seemed to have filed because they woke up and decided it would be great to be governor. In no particular order the five to actually consider are Jeffrey Payne, Tom Wakely, Lupe Valdez, Andrew White and Cedric Davis, Sr.

Jeffrey Payne seems to be earnest and thoughtful, he’s been campaigning since last fall. Payne is an entrepreneur who owns a wide range of businesses including a court reporting operation and a bar among others. I’m confident he has the best interests of Texas at heart, I think he genuinely cares. My problem with him as a potential governor is he lacks any governmental experience at all.

Tom Wakely is a long time activist, I’ve met him several times over the last few years. Wakely ran for congress unsuccessfully last term, he too has been actively campaigning since last fall. Wakely has made numerous trips around the state and is actively seeking support in some of the more forgotten communities in Texas. His strong populist message deserves the attention of all Democrats and especially voters in underserved communities where raising the minimum wage and treating health care as a human right would go a long way toward improving life. Wakely is a Viet Nam era Air Force veteran and a former union organizer who worked with Cesar Chavez in San Antonio in the 1970’s. He now runs a hospice for the terminally ill. Wakely’s only weakness is that he has no experience in government at any level.

Lupe Valdez is a retired U.S. Army captain, she’s been a federal agent and a four term Sheriff of Dallas County. Valdez is from a large family of migrant farm workers. Her parents taught her to work hard and the value of education which is why she believes we have to invest in Texans and help them find their path whether that’s university without massive debt, free community college, trade skills, or the tools to start a small business. Valdez believes health care is a human right and is committed to expanding Medicaid, passing paid family and sick leave, stopping the attacks on women's healthcare, and ending the medical deserts in urban and rural Texas. Having been elected four times she knows how to campaign and win and having served in public office for over 12 years she has experience in government. I think she’s a solid candidate.

Andrew White is only on this list because he’s generated big money in campaign contributions. White is an entrepreneur like Payne above who has no experience in governance and unlike Wakely has shown no interest in working to make Texas better. When first exploring whether or not to run he publicly stated that he could see himself running as a conservative Democrat or a moderate Republican. That tells me all I need to know as he doesn’t stand for anything. Perhaps he feels entitled as he is the son of former Texas governor Mark White.

Cedric Davis, Sr. is a Desert Storm veteran, as well as civic activist, policeman, teacher, civic leader and the first African American Mayor of Balch Springs near Dallas. Davis wants to raise minimum wage, expand Medicaid by taking the nearly $100 billion available to Texas under the Affordable Care Act. Davis says he’ll work to restore state funding for public education and believes criminal justice reform is an important part of making Texas a better place.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Layoffs, Tolls, and Trickle-down Economics

Ten days ago Trump gave his first State of the Union address. An important but little discussed point involves the proposed public-private partnerships in his infrastructure plan. None of this should be a surprise as Trump talked about such public-private partnerships during his campaign. The Trump administration expects that by providing 15-20% of the funding state governments or private companies will be encouraged to provide the rest of the funds needed to construct roads and bridges as well as other projects. He claims that $200 million of federal money will drive construction of up to $1.5 trillion in infrastructure.

Regarding state government projects such a partnership is not unusual, think of interstate highways as an example. What Trump failed to mention is that private companies have no incentive to build a road and let people drive on it unless they can charge them to use it, that means a toll road. Every other project a private company might be willing to build involves that company charging the public to use it.

Most folks I know regardless of political persuasion hate toll roads. Trump thinks they’re just dandy as do his servants in congress. Remember that when elections roll around in November.

Of course, Trump also touted his big “accomplishment” the tax cut that mostly benefits the top 10% and multi-billion dollar corporations. Yes, a few companies will give bonuses, a few others will give small raises. Mostly the tax cuts will end up in stock buy-backs, stock dividends and CEO pay. Worse than that are the companies that are hiding large layoffs behind small bonuses. That list includes:

Kimberly-Clark, manufacturer of consumer products like Kleenex, Viva paper towels, and Huggies diapers, announced it will use its tax cut windfall to pay the costs of closing 10 factories and laying off as many as 5,500 employees.

AT&T was the first to announce one-time bonuses as a result of the tax bill. Just days later, it reported plans to lay off more than 1,000 employees in early 2018.

Walmart announced it would raise the minimum wage for its workers to $11 per hour on January 11 but, that same day, announced the closure of 63 Sam’s Club stores and that about 10,000 workers will be laid off. Walmart also laid off between 400 and 500 corporate employees at its headquarters last week.

Comcast announced 100,000 bonuses of $1,000, while around 500 managers, supervisors, and salespeople were fired.

Of the Fortune 500 only 29 (5.8%) report giving one-time bonuses and just 17 (3.4%) report providing wage increases.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that Carrier, the company Trump claimed kept jobs in Indiana because he negotiated a deal, announced another 200+ employees will be laid off in addition to the 340 laid off last summer.

It’s nice that some folks are getting one time bonuses, but considering that the tax breaks their employers are getting are permanent shouldn’t the employees be getting raises instead so they can share in the benefits of the tax cut?

If you never understood the term trickle-down economics before, now you do, especially if you or a loved one is on the laid off list even though corporate profits are at record levels.

One time bonuses instead of raises, layoffs and tolls, this is what Trump and his minions in congress expect us to accept. This November you’ll have a chance to let them know just how wrong they are.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Saturday with Other Angry Texans

I spent last Saturday in San Antonio in the company of a few hundred angry people from all over Texas. We were there because we believe our state and federal governments have long been run for the benefit of the wealthy and the privileged and yet we remain hopeful that we can change that. We gathered together to in the belief that if we organize ourselves and devote our energy to our common cause we can create a better world for everyone.

Our group is Our Revolution Texas and at our state convention there were delegates and activists from the eleven regional organizations. One of the main priorities was to create a declaration of principles to guide our actions as we work for a better future. Among those principles is opposition to the rise of oligarchy in modern society. We recognized that the deregulatory agenda of the American right has led to the most shocking and intolerable inequalities of wealth and income in the history of the modern world.

We agreed to demand from our elected officials that the current embrace of greed and economic inequality be replaced with a more just society in which resources, wealth, and the fruits of human labor and inventiveness are more justly shared by all persons as a human right.

Our Revolution members believe that our nation and our state must adopt living wage legislation setting the floor at $15 per hour and indexing it for inflation. Those skilled workers already at or near that rate are underpaid and should have the right to organize and join strong labor unions in order to collectively negotiate conditions of employment including fair pay, sick leave and the like.

It is our position that medical care is a human right without regard for ability to pay that society as a whole must provide legislatively through a universal health care program such as Medicare for All.

While progress has been made over the last century we agreed that there is much to be done in order to remove the social and economic barriers women face in achieving equal rights. Our society’s tragic history of male supremacy must be overturned and perpetrators like Steve Wynn, the disgraced former Chair of the Republican National Committee who resigned earlier this week, must be cast out.

Sadly, it isn’t just male supremacy that we suffer from, white supremacy has also created social, political and economic barriers to equal rights. It is utterly intolerable that 150 years after the end of slavery our society still treats people of color as second class citizens. We affirm that Black Lives Matter.

We believe that no human being is illegal and that immigrants are entitled to equal protection under the law. We call for the speedy passage of enactment of laws to provide a path to citizenship for those previously covered under DACA and an end to the inhumane detention practices which break up families.

We recognize that our beautiful earth and life-protecting environment is being pillaged to benefit those whose rampaging greed is insatiable. We insist that our elected officials devote immediate attention to reversing the tragically accelerating process of climate change for which unnatural human interference in the environment is the primary cause.

The members of Our Revolution Texas stand committed to the hard and laborious long-term work of organizing a powerful mass political movement for the accomplishment of all aspects of this vision.

Published in the Seguin Gazette, February 2, 2018

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Trump a Danger to Our Democracy

There is so much press on the latest crazy thing Trump tweets or says that you’d think that was all there is to worry about with his presidency. Unfortunately those things are just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t mean that in just the sense of scale but also in the sense of what is readily visible as compared to the damage being done under that visible layer.

Although the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause prohibits taking things of value, like money, from foreign nations or their leaders Trump continues to profit from their spending at his various hotels and resorts. All Presidents in the last century have avoided such things with those in our lifetimes having put their businesses or investments in blind trusts or otherwise even having the appearance of profiting from their office. Trump does it proudly and often. What’s worse is that the Republican controlled Congress can’t be bothered to take action to enforce it and the courts have thrown out lawsuits filed by those who attempt to hold him accountable.

Trump has made numerous nominations or in some cases appointments of people who were manifestly unqualified. In one case a judicial nominee that couldn’t answer first year law student level questions. In another case the nominee lacked experience and failed to disclose that his wife works in the White House counsel's office. This from the man who when he campaigned claimed that he always hired the best people.

Trump’s first Secretary of Health and Human Services, former congressman Tom Price, was forced to resign over using tax payer funds to pay for private travel expenses. Other cabinet members were caught doing the same thing but managed to get away with it under cover of Price bowing out.

In addition to nominating those who are manifestly unqualified he has been installing agency heads who have previously urged the destruction or shrinkage of the agencies to which they’ve been appointed. First among them is our on former governor, Rick Perry, who when he ran for president said that the Department of Energy was one of the three agencies he wanted to eliminate and now he is the Secretary of Energy. Perry publicly admitted after his appointment he didn’t know that the Department of Energy is responsible for the development and maintenance of the nation’s nuclear warheads.

At the Environmental Protection Agency Trump appointee Scott Pruitt previously spent his career working to dismantle environmental regulations that keep Americans healthy. Pruitt has simply ignored a 2015 law that requires the agency to review areas of the country that aren’t meeting the standard set in 2015 and force compliance in order to protect the health of Americans in those area. Pruitt has begun replacing highly qualified scientific and medical professionals who server on agency advisory committees with people that have a track record of disagreeing with established scientific research and in some cases have financial connections to polluting industries.

Trump has repeatedly attacked judges who have ruled against him on issues like the travel ban. He has attacked the FBI which is investigating allegations of collusion with Russian agents. He has attacked the press and wants to enact laws to make it easier to sue for libel which would weaken the protections afforded by the Bill of Rights.

He has done all this and more in his first year in office and yet the only substantive legislation he has signed is a tax break for millionaires. The damage to our nation and most importantly to our democracy has only just begun.