Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump the Russian Nesting Doll

Evidence of Trump and his associates’ connections to Russia has continued to expand since the first revelation that his first campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had such connections and resigned in August. Manafort was shown to have worked for Ukraine’s former president, the Russian backed strongman Viktor Yanukovych and is believed to have been paid millions for his work.

Even before he ran for office Trump’s family has admitted that his business had huge investments from Russians which accounted for a significant percentage of his working capital. Several newspapers have followed the money trail as well as they can given the number of shell companies involved and found that there are numerous Russian investors in his real estate businesses and buyers of his development properties.

Rex Tillerson, former Exxon chairman and now Secretary of State, has had dealings with the Russians for a long time and shepherded a billion dollar deal with Putin to conclusion before leaving the company.

Since then further revelations have tied numerous staff members to Russian oligarchs and Putin himself. In July last year Carter Page, a member of Trump’s National Security Advisory Committee, made a trip to Russia ostensibly as a private citizen. That trip is getting a closer look due to new disclosures about his contact two weeks later with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican convention in Cleveland. Just days after Kislyak talked to Page, and two other campaign officials, WikiLeaks posted thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s servers which U.S. intelligence recently attributed to the Russian government.

Until this week retired Gen. Michael Flynn was the most notorious Trump associate having served as National Security Advisor for all of three weeks before being forced out when it was revealed he had spoken to the Russian ambassador about sanctions imposed by the Obama administration before Trump took office and then lied about to Vice President Pence. Flynn also was paid handsomely by Russia Today, Putin’s television channel.

Now Trump’s Attorney General has been revealed to have perjured himself when testifying under oath at his Senate confirmation hearings. Sen. Al Franken’s question: "...if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?" Sessions responded: "Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on it." But it has since been revealed that Sessions twice met Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., including once during the Republican National Convention.

There’s been enough political pressure on Sessions that he has recused himself from any investigations into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Given that the Attorney General has so obviously perjured himself he needs to resign or be impeached. This country cannot tolerate its chief law enforcement officer lying to Congress under oath.

When will the next shoe drop?

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 10, 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

Guadalupe Rallies to Defend the ACA/Medicaid/Medicare

Last Saturday more than 80 area residents rallied at the Guadalupe Regional Medical Center on E. Court Street in support of maintaining the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare. The group acted because of the threats to those programs posed by actions of the Republican controlled Congress. Republicans have begun the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act. They’re also working to turn Medicaid into straight block grants to the states and convert Medicare to a voucher system.

The goal of the event was to send a message to newly elected Congressman Vicente Gonzalez that many of his constituents rely on various parts of our current healthcare insurance system and drastic changes will be unwelcome. Doctor Sarah Typhair held a sign stating “This M.D. proudly supports the A.C.A.” Many in attendance have children or grand-children covered through the provision that allows them to stay on their parents insurance until age 26. Some rely on the fact that A.C.A. forced insurers to drop the lifetime cap that meant people like my wife who have had multiple serious health issues no longer lose coverage after $1 million dollars of healthcare.

Congressional Republicans have been using the phrase “Repeal and Replace” for quite a while now so you’d think they’d have most of the details figured out but you’d be wrong. While Republicans have the repeal part down they can’t agree on the replace part at all. The Congressional Budget Office analyzed one of the more widely accepted proposals and found that if enacted it would increase deficit spending by $171 billion or force a 26% cut in the subsidies available to those who get their insurance through the exchange meaning that many would once again find health insurance unaffordable.

Turning Medicaid into a block grant is sure to fix the number of dollars spent and therefore further limit the number of people who benefit from it. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured in the nation at 17% due to Governor Greg Abbott’s failure to expand Medicaid which the federal government would have paid for 90%. That’s 4.6 million Texans whose only option for healthcare is the emergency room and no follow up care or prescription coverage. Converting to block grants means our rate of uninsured will climb higher still.

The proposal to convert Medicare to a voucher program would mean that seniors would get a fixed amount of money to use in order to purchase health insurance on the private market. There are a host of problems with that not the least of which is insurers don’t want to insure seniors in the first place because of their numerous and expensive health problems. Another problem is that there’s no guarantee that the voucher would cover the entire cost of the insurance premium so those seniors who are already struggling to pay their bills or for their prescriptions will have an even greater costs shifted onto them.

Rally participants urged Congressman Gonzalez to come out strong as a defender of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare. Every there understands that those programs aren’t perfect but the Trump Republican proposals to abolish or dismantle them are moves in the wrong direction. Gonzalez would do well to become a champion for improving those programs.

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 3, 2017

Friday, March 3, 2017

Call for a Constitutional Convention a Distraction

If you thought it was only Donald Trump who lived in his own universe using alternate facts think again. It seems or dear Governor, Greg Abbott, does too. Knowing full well that the state budget is once again in crisis due to a significant drop in oil and natural gas prices and therefore production, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has already informed the legislature it will have $3 billion dollars less to spend over the next two years than it did in the last two. Rather than allowing the legislature to focus on state budget issues Abbott has designated a call for a federal Constitutional Convention as an “emergency” item on the agenda, requiring it to be put in the front of the line for hearings and action.

Abbott’s collaborator in the Senate is Brian Birdwell of Granbury and the bill he filed is SJR 2. The bill calls for an Article V convention "for the limited purpose of proposing one or more amendments to the constitution to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and to limit the terms of office of federal officials and members of Congress."

The first problem with this whole notion is that there is nothing in the Constitution that says a convention can be limited to certain topics. In fact the last time there was a Constitutional Convention was in 1787 and they threw out the Articles of Confederation and drafted a whole new Constitution. Given the current high level of polarization of today’s political climate and the big money thrown around by lobbyists it’s not hard to imagine a runaway convention controlled by multi-national corporations. And don’t think, “Well, 38 states would still have to approve any amendments from convention” because there’s nothing stopping a convention from rewriting the rules of ratification while they’re at it.

Just for the sake of argument let’s assume the convention doesn’t get out of hand and rewrite the constitution to resemble a corporate charter. Abbott’s call for imposition of fiscal restraints, is in other words a call for a balanced budget amendment. Even Richard Nixon, who famously said “We’re all Keynesians now”, understood that in times of an economic slump it is the job of the federal government to stimulate the economy through deficit spending. Had Abbott’s balanced budget amendment been in effect in the 1930’s there’s no telling how much worse the Great Depression would have gotten. We’ve had varying degrees of economic downturns over the last 80 years including the one in 2007 precipitated by the bursting housing bubble and each time to greater or lesser degree the federal government has used deficit spending to mitigate the damage. Are you really prepared to accept the consequences of the next economic downturn without the option of federal intervention? Herbert Hoover was and look where that got him and our nation.

In addition to wrecking the economy Abbott seeks to put a crimp in regulatory power of the federal government by removing the power to write and enforce laws. Were we really better off before Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency? Did you watch coverage of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 showing the smog so bad people had to wear masks over their mouth and nose? That’s what happens with we don’t have nationwide environmental protections.

What of civil rights law, or food and drug safety?

In essence Abbott is calling for restoration of the failed Articles of Confederation. If they didn’t work back in 1787 what makes Abbott think they’ll work now?

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Cost of Trump's Fossil Fuel Agenda

2016 was the hottest year on record and as we’re experiencing right now, 2017 is already showing signs of another record setting hot year. Trump and his Republican enablers continue to deny the existence of global climate change. Trump even claims it’s a hoax perpetrated by China of all places. Apparently he hasn’t seen studies proving the Arctic ice cap is shrinking or the massive crack in the Antarctic ice shelf Larsen C that once it breaks loose will make an iceberg the size of the state of Delaware. Republicans in general deny that the carbon dioxide we’ve been spewing into the atmosphere for the last hundred years can affect the global climate but the numbers don’t lie. Our auto and power generation emissions have increased for decades and as the rest of the world’s economies have grown so have their emissions.

Even China, the world’s greatest polluter, recognizes the problem. Earlier this month China’s energy agency vowed to spend more than $360 billion on solar and wind and other renewable energy projects by 2020 in order to cut smog levels and carbon emissions while creating 13 million jobs in the process. While Republicans roll back efforts to build a clean energy economy in the United States, an industry that could employ ten times as many people as coal and gas generation China is taking advantage of the situation to be seen as a clean energy leader in the Third World. Chinese leaders recognize the opportunity to exert soft power and bring more countries into their sphere of influence.

Instead of moving forward on clean energy Trump promises to bring back coal mining jobs which is a fools errand if only on the grounds that coal is too expensive compared to the alternatives now available in form of natural gas. Wind and solar energy projects are now often competitive on cost with even natural gas so why even bother with coal? Of course one way to make it cheaper is to eliminate environmental rules regarding the waste from coal mines and that’s just what he’s done by rescinding the Stream Protection Rule which would have made it tougher to dump mining waste into nearby waterways.

The Republican energy program relies on fossil fuels thus damaging our environment through polluting our air and water with mercury, arsenic and other toxins. Their fossil fuel agenda also costs the economy in terms of the lost opportunity for job creation. The Trump/Republican energy agenda also harms us through our loss of international influence both in the developed and third world. The only beneficiaries of their agenda are the billionaires in the fossil fuel industry who finance their political campaigns.

Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." I think this clearly explains Republican intransigence but I have to wonder how long Republicans can persist in lying to the American people given that record setting high temperatures are likely to be set again in 2017 and beyond. I suppose if Exxon became a solar or wind energy company Republicans would overnight become firm believers in global climate change and clean energy advocates.

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