Friday, February 10, 2017

Trump's Host of Controversies

The controversy of the moment is the unacceptable and un-Christian action taken by Trump to stop Muslim refugees from seven countries from entering the United States. The problems with Trump’s order are several, it was sudden and to all appearances not based on any new intelligence or even the recommendation from his National Security team. The order appears to be unconstitutional at least to the eyes of the acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, who he fired for doing her job. I say, for doing her job, because her oath of office calls for her to defend the constitution and her job is to provide counsel to the president so he doesn’t violate it. Yates told him the order was wrong and told her staff not to defend the indefensible in court and she was fired for it. Had she done his bidding Yates would have been complicit in the crime just as the German soldiers were who claimed they were just following orders as they gassed Jews in places like Auschwitz.

Trump’s action on refugees is far from the only issue worthy of protest. Hearings are still going on for his often incompetent, occasionally dangerous, possibly criminal, and sometimes unethical nominees for cabinet posts as well as a terrible nominee for Supreme Court justice.

So we have a C student from Texas A&M nominated to head the Department of Energy which among other vital tasks is responsible for the safety and maintenance of our nuclear arsenal. Yes, it’s former Governor Rick Perry, the same incompetent dullard who ran for president and wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy entirely except he couldn’t remember its name during the debate. Now he says he hadn’t realized how important the agency is. Don’t you think the responsible thing to do before you suggest eliminating something is to find out what it does?

Then there’s Betsy “Billionaire” DeVos who never saw a public school she didn’t want to dismantle to feed her investment portfolio and has been nominated for Secretary of Education. Senator Al Franken asked DeVos for her views on the controversy over mastery versus improvement for judging student achievement and teacher competence. Sadly DeVos is so incompetent she didn’t even understand the question let alone have a coherent response. For someone who claims to be informed about education in general and public schools in particular Betsy “Billionaire” seems mighty ignorant.

Trump’s dangerous nominee for the job of among other things defending civil rights is a man with a history of using his position to prevent minorities from exercising those civil rights. The nominee is Jeff Sessions who was previously denied a federal judgeship by a Republican controlled Senate due to his racist actions in attempting to prosecute African American voter registration volunteers for doing their best to turn out voters to the polls. Sessions also took credit for prosecutions while a US Attorney for which he didn’t even exercise oversight let alone actively participate.

For a potentially criminal and certainly unethical nominee there’s Tom Price who is Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. He’s been proven to have invested in medical product companies then used his position as chair of the committee overseeing them to improve their profits thus fattening his own wallet.

Finally, there’s Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for justice on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch decided the Hobby Lobby case which defying all logic allows a business to claim it has religious rights just like a natural person. He opposes regulation of businesses, so it’s OK if the coal mine poisons the water for everyone downstream.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Trump Delivering on Promises is Double Edged Sword

Trump is delivering on or at least signing documents that appear to deliver on many of his campaign promises. He made promises to the evangelical Christians and ultra-conservatives which he’s delivering on with his nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be a justice on the Supreme Court. Not only is Gorsuch a man in the mold of Antonin Scalia which Trump promised his nominee would be, he’s also the mind behind the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell decision with gave corporations the right to be exempt from laws that offend their shareholders. Frankly I’ll believe that a corporation has religious rights when I meet one in church.

One of the defining reasons to incorporate your business is to protect yourself from legal responsibility for actions and liabilities of the business. If you incorporate your business you have created a legal entity with the rights and responsibilities to engage in business and if the entity is sued the owners are not a party to the lawsuit in most cases. Gorsuch’s decision bridges the gap between the owner and the corporation enabling the owner to claim that the business shares their religious convictions and therefore should be exempt from providing insurance coverage the provides contraception. In my view bridging that gap pierces the “corporate veil” which protects shareholders and may one day come back to haunt businesses due to the loss of protection offered by it.

Trump also recently announced that his administration would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches from engaging in political activity at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status. Such a repeal of the law would require approval by Congress. Currently certain tax-exempt organizations — in this case, churches — are not allowed to openly endorse or campaign for political candidates. If they do, under existing law, they risk losing the benefits of their tax-exempt status. Should Trump get his way he’ll be able to honestly say he’s delivered on another campaign promise to evangelicals who have chafed under this restriction for quite some time. There are even organizations of lawyers who among other issues have repeatedly attempted to get this restriction overturned so his success would be met with great joy in some circles. I have to wonder though if it isn’t a double edged sword in the sense that it will also embolden and empower churches which take opposing views on many issues dear to the hearts of the evangelicals Trump seeks to reward for their support during the election. How will they feel when an Imam at a nearby mosque calls for followers to vote for a candidate opposed by their church?

Nominating Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education is an indirect reward to the evangelicals who supported Trump in that she’s a strong supporter of school vouchers which she and others want to allow parents to use in order to fund their child’s tuition to private religious schools. This is a very contentious issue since having the government directly fund religious education seems to violate the First Amendment by favoring religion with our tax dollars. I know a lot of very religious folks feel strongly in favor of this because it would either save them a lot of money they’re currently spending or would enable them to send their children to such a school. I have to wonder if even more voters won’t be up in arms when they learn that those funds must also be provided to members of other faiths and they see a news story about a taxpayer funded madrassa right here in the United States just like in Afghanistan.

Friday, February 3, 2017

This is Why Women Marched

I’ve heard from men and women who didn’t understand what the Women’s marches around the country were all about. We can start with the fact that the people asking the question are most likely responsible for electing a man to the presidency who brags about grabbing women in their private parts. He’s been recorded saying such things on more than one occasion so cannot plausibly deny it. Given the fact that these statements have been broadcast repeatedly as well as written about in numerous major newspapers that means there are lot of people who don’t care that they voted for the kind of man who does such things and brags about it.

The marchers had good reason to protest against a man who has admitted on live radio to walking into the dressing room of Miss Teen USA while the teenage girls were undressed. He wasn’t just mouthing off as numerous young women who competed in the pageants have reported that he did indeed walk in on them while they were in various states of undress. As the father of a teenage daughter I find that kind of behavior reprehensible yet many fathers and mothers ignored it in order to vote for him.

The women and men marching weren’t just protesting the newly inaugurated president for his personal behavior though. They were also protesting against his campaign promise to defund Planned Parenthood which provides women’s health services to tens of thousands of low income women and men nationwide. Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers have served 2,840,000 men and women in the U.S. and have helped prevent an estimated 515,000 unintended pregnancies and averted 216,000 abortions every year.

The gender wage gap is another reason 2.6 million Americans marched in various cities and towns all over the country, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas among them. The gender wage gap is bad enough for white women but it's even worse for women of color. A 2015 study showed that while white women earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by a white man while black women earned 65 cents and Hispanic women 58 cents. The result isn't explained by education or field alone, it turns out that when women become the majority in any given job area the pay for that field goes down for everyone including the men doing the same job.

Actress and activist America Ferrera explained her participation this way "We reject the dehumanization of our Muslim mothers and sisters. We demand an end to the systemic murder and incarceration of our black brothers and sisters. We will not give up our right to safe and legal abortions. We will not ask our LGBTQ families to go backwards. We will not go from being a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance. We won’t build walls, and we won’t see the worst in each other. And we will not turn our backs on the more than 750,000 young immigrants in this country currently protected by DACA."

The marches were about many things including solidarity, protest and inspiration. Now the hard work begins for those who seek to make this country better as we organize and network to get voters to the polls and defeat the forces that would set women’s rights back.

Published in the Seguin Gazette January 27, 2017

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dan Patrick's $8.5 billion Bathroom Bill a Distraction

The Texas legislature is now in session and the first thing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to talk about isn’t spurring the economy even though the state has fallen from third to twenty-first in economic strength since 2013. No, instead he wants to talk about his $8.5 billion bathroom bill that the cost the state 185,000 jobs according to a study by the Texas Association of Business.

The Bathroom Bill is a Republican distraction, Patrick and his followers are using fear to take the public’s eye off their record of incompetence. The Texas Comptroller announced that tax revenues are expected to fall during this two year budget period so there won’t be as much money available this legislative session.

We all know that Republicans never want to be seen raising taxes so that means there will be cuts; once again we’re likely to see public education take a hit. Consider that while the legislature did increase public school funding a little in the last cycle it has yet fully restore what it cut in 2011. Now they’re going to cut again, we could be back to a 2011 style budget where thousands of Texas teachers lost their jobs.

Senator Donna Campbell will once again push her school voucher bill in an effort to gut public education in Texas. No matter what she and voucher supporters say it’s really just a way to provide discounts to rich people who already send their kids to private schools and turn a public service in to profits for private businesses. Private schools aren’t required to provide bus service so not every child is able to attend them and they aren’t accountable for the quality of the education provided. Private school students don’t even have to take the standardized tests administered to public schools so their performance can’t even be compared.

Campbell is sure to claim once again that her bill will save the state money because it doesn’t use all the money allocated per child in the public system but that just means that it’s even less useful to middle class and low income parents who can’t afford to subsidize their children’s education. Will John Kuempel stand up for Seguin and the rest of Guadalupe county school children and say NO?

There will surely be cuts to other agencies that provide services the public relies on. The only question is which agencies will see budget cuts and how deep they will be?

Then there’s Out on Bond Ken Paxton, the man who is supposed to be the state’s chief law enforcement office but will spend the next few months preparing for a trial that could see him got jail for 99 years. He’ll be too busy fighting a legal battle to save his life to actually do the job for which he was elected. If the man had any character at all he’d resign so that the citizens of Texas could get the law enforcement services our tax dollars are paying for. Of course that would mean he’d no longer be able to take donations from rich people to pay for his legal defense. Or let me rephrase that he’d no longer get those donations because we wouldn’t be in a position to return the favor.

 Published in the Seguin Gazette January 20, 2017

Friday, January 20, 2017

Republicans Push Confirmations Before Due Diligence

Almost two weeks ago Republicans in Congress voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) by taking away both power and independence from the investigative body, and give lawmakers more control over internal inquiries. The mission of the bi-partisan OCE is "to assist the House in upholding high standards of ethical conduct for its Members, officers, and staff and, in so doing, to serve the American people". In the last term it investigated 16 members of Congress, three of them from Texas. The House Republican Conference thought they’d pull the wool over the eyes of the American people by holding the vote late in the day without warning and without discussion.

The vote made headlines the next day and by the time new members of the House had been sworn in and Speaker Ryan called the House to order thousands of Americans both Republican and Democrat had called their representatives to express their disgust and demand that the move be withdrawn. The Republicans heard the people and in a victory for both transparency and democracy relented. This victory belongs to you my fellow citizens.

Now Republicans in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are attempting to sidestep normal procedures on confirming cabinet nominations by holding hearings and votes before the nominees have even filed their financial and employment disclosure forms with the Office of Government Ethics as required by legislation passed in 1978. Review of those documents usually takes a few weeks, not a few days so there should be no hurry to vote on these nominees. That’s not stopping Senate Republicans who are rushing to pass them through, which makes me wonder what they’re hoping to hide from the American people.

Secretary of Education nominee and billionaire, Betsy DeVos is just one of the four nominees who hasn’t filed disclosure forms and she has financial entanglements akin to those of Donald Trump so there is plenty of room for conflicts of interest that the vetting procedures of the Office of Government Ethics are designed to discover and help resolve. DeVos and others whose ethics reviews aren’t complete should not be voted on because we “the people” have the right to expect our government officials will not use public office to line their private pockets.

The success of phone calls by people like you and me in stopping House Republicans from shutting down the watchdogs at the Office of Congressional Ethics should embolden everyone reading this to call Senators Cornyn and Cruz at their San Antonio offices to demand that no votes on Trump’s nominees be held until a thorough review of their ethics disclosures has been performed. You can call Sen. Cornyn at 210-224-7485 and Sen. Cruz at 210-340-2885.

Keep those phone numbers handy as it’s a sure thing we’ll all have many reasons to call them over the next four years.

Published in the Seguin Gazette January 13, 2017

Monday, January 16, 2017

“Hands off Obamacare, Medicaid and Medicare”

On Sunday afternoon more than 20 people from New Braunfels and other parts of Comal County rallied in support of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare outside Congressman Lamar Smith’s office. All the participants are worried that access to healthcare will be lost for themselves or family members or friends if Republicans in Congress pass legislation to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without even having a replacement for it.

It is widely understood that the Republican plan to convert Medicare to a voucher will jeopardize the health and lives of many seniors. The problem is there is no guarantee that they’ll be able to acquire comparable insurance even with higher premiums since many of those on Medicare are much sicker than the average population. Since insurers make their profits by avoiding the sickest people some will find healthcare unattainable.

Don’t forget that a significant fraction of Medicare participants, like my wife, aren’t retirees, they’re people who are totally disabled and frequently unable to acquire health insurance on the individual market at any price. Even the Texas high risk pool didn’t want her and pushed her off to Medicare.

Let’s not forget about Medicaid, Texas Republicans have already cut reimbursement rates for some of the most vulnerable children in Texas. Now those children can’t get the physical therapy and other services they need to be even remotely healthy or self sufficient.

Lamar Smith needs to be told “Hands off Obamacare, Medicaid and Medicare”.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Texas Cities Can Make a Living Wage a Reality

Walmart, McDonald’s and other low wage employers not only take advantage of their employees they also take advantage of us the tax payer even if we don’t shop their. They do it by paying wages so low that their employees qualify for and collect federal benefits like housing assistance, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program aka food stamps. That’s because the federal minimum wage is no where near a living wage. Even in low cost areas of low cost state like Texas a 40 hour a week job at minimum wage won’t pay rent, utilities and put food on the table let alone address health care and other living expenses.

I’ll be you’re as sick as I am of our tax dollars subsidizing their profits but with the election of Donald Trump and the continuing Republican majorities in the House and Senate it is unlikely that the federal minimum wage will be raised in the next four years. The Texas governor and legislature are also Republican controlled leaving little chance that Texas will raise its minimum wage. Worse state law prohibits cities from raising their own minimum wage rates.

Cities like San Antonio and San Marcos have taken action to work around this ridiculous prohibition. In San Antonio city employees are paid a minimum of $13 per hour and the city requires all contractors to pay their employees a minimum of $13 per hour as well. That leaves an awful lot of people out of the benefit of higher wages but it’s a start. In San Marcos the city recently passed an ordinance that offers tax benefits to employers who pay at least $15 per hour.

There is nothing stopping the city of Seguin or the Seguin ISD from setting a minimum wage for all contractors doing business with them. There are other ways to increase the value of low wage workers earnings such as requiring that all employers in the city provide five days paid sick leave for every employee. In reality that actually benefits everyone since then the sick person doesn’t infect the rest of the staff or their customers. I don’t know about you but I prefer the restaurant worker handling my food to be healthy so they don’t contaminate my meal and make me sick too.

Walmart, McDonalds and other large chains often manage labor costs by shifting schedules around so that employees don’t have same schedule from one week to the next making it very difficult to plan child care, meet with children’s teachers, or see a doctor. Fast food chains are notorious for requiring their employees to work a few hours then punch out for three or four hours and then work a few more, or simply sending employees home early often preventing them from working even close to full time hours. Cities like Seguin can require that all employers in the city limits provide clarity and certainty to workers schedules.

There are ways we can make a difference at the local level but it won’t happen if you and I don’t demand it of our local officials. We must speak to our city council members and the trustees of our school districts urging them to take the actions they can to make our communities better places to work and live.

Published in the Seguin Gazette January 6, 2017