Friday, July 21, 2017

Wealthy Use Law to Maintain Their Wealth

Anti-drug laws, voter suppression and gerrymandering, and tax policy are all used by the wealthiest among us to maintain a fractured society. It’s in their interest to keep us at each other’s throats so we don’t turn our attention to their hoarding of assets and work together to develop a more equal and just society.

Using wedges to keep people with common interests separated has been a trait of the wealthy here since colonial times when plantation owners noticed that indentured servants were fraternizing with and sometimes escaping with slaves or running off to live with the Indians. In order to stop losing their enslaved workers the planters developed programs for the indentured servants wherein they would receive what was essentially a large bonus at the end of their servitude, assuming they lived through it. In addition they were made the supervisors of the black slaves and given the privilege of beating and otherwise abusing them.

Anti-drug laws such as the prohibition against marijuana were created expressly to enable the arrest and prosecution of black members of society since at the time of inception it was preferred over liquor and beer due to being cheaper because they could grow their own. The use of anti-drug laws has continued to be used for control as explained by former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman who was quoted in Harper’s magazine saying "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people, you understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities, we could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

Until the Voting Rights Act poll taxes and literacy tests were used to prevent “undesirables” so that the wealthy could continue to prosper at the expense of the lower classes. Now laws like Texas’ Voter ID bill seek to suppress the vote by only allowing forms of ID that tend to be held by wealthier white voters and not by poorer voters of color. Gerrymandering is used to prevent voters of color from electing officials who might be more sympathetic to their plight. Here again Texas is a prime example with a federal judge having found that the 2011 redistricting maps were intentionally discriminatory against voters of color.

Just look at Texas tax policy and the funding of public education. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claims that property taxes are too high and he wants to set a maximum that cities and school districts can charge. Ironically he’s been instrumental in reducing the share of public school funding provided by the state thus requiring school districts to raise property taxes in order to provide an adequate education. The way this hurts people of color is that their school districts generally have overall lower property values so even if they could afford to raise the tax rates they’d still have less money to spend on educating children in their districts. Most of us would be very angry if our tax deduction for mortgage interest went away so it won’t but the people who get the greatest advantage out of it are the very wealthiest who buy multi-million dollar homes.

Nearly 400 years later and the wealthy still lead us by the nose.

Published in the Seguin Gazette July 14, 2017

Friday, July 7, 2017

Are We Terrorists or Christians?

In 2001 the entire country was up in arms after the attack on 9/11 that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. Thousands of people, rich and poor, teenagers and 30 somethings volunteered to join our military and risk their lives in order to take the battle to the terrorists.

This week the Congressional Budget Office reported that the Senate healthcare bill will cause 22 million Americans to lose their health insurance. We know from studies done after the release of the similar House bill which causes 23 million to lose their insurance that between 10,000 and 30,000 of those folks will then die unnecessarily.

Even taking the low number that’s more than three times as many people dying every year than who died in the 9/11 attack. We went to war over that attack. We spent trillions of dollars to fight that war on the basis of preventing another attack. Yet now, 16 years later, our elected leaders are willing to allow 10,000 mostly poor people to die every year in order to give rich people a tax break. Not only that but thousands more will go bankrupt, losing their homes and everything they’ve ever worked for.

How are we any better than the terrorists if we lie down and take it when the Donald Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress deny children healthcare simply because their parents are too poor to pay for it? How are we better than the terrorists if we accept that grandmothers will be turned out of the nursing homes that provide the medical care they need because their families don’t have the resources to pay for it? How are we any better than the terrorists if we continue to allow sick people to suffer and die to save a few dollars on our taxes?

I frequently hear claims that this is a Christian nation most often by some Republican elected official. If you believe that, how to you reconcile that with denying hardworking people and their families life saving healthcare? I can’t make that connection because the nuns who taught me at St. Lawrence the Martyr and the brothers who taught me at Archbishop Rummel made it very clear that “when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!"

The majority of Americans don’t want what John Cornyn wants to pass of on us. We disagree with Ted Cruz that the bill isn’t tough enough. Most Americans want something better than the Affordable Care Act not something worse. There is a better replacement available that most Americans do support. The replacement is called Medicare for All, or single payer. Medicare could be everyone’s health insurance plan whether a new born or a great-grandmother, sick or healthy, rich or poor. It wouldn’t matter if got cancer after the company you worked for went out of business or moved the factory to China because your health insurance wouldn’t be attached to your employer. You’d never be in the situation where you or your child got sick when you didn’t have insurance.

If America is really a Christian nation shouldn’t we start acting like one?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Wishful Thinking About Joe Straus

I don’t agree with Joe Straus on a lot of things, he’s a Republican after all, but I have to say he’s shown real leadership as Speaker of the Texas House and it’s a real shame Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick aren’t more like him. For that matter it’s a shame that the Republican leadership at the federal level isn’t more like him.

Here in Texas Gov. Abbott has called a special session of the legislature to deal with, among things, Dan Patrick’s bathroom emergency. I don’t mean he has food poisoning or some such, I’m talking about his burning desire to require that the bathroom you use matches the gender on your birth certificate. Now, like North Carolina before us if the legislature passes his bill and Gov. Abbott signs it, Texas stands to lose $3 billion a year in tourism spending of which $412 million would be lost by San Antonio and the surrounding area, according to a study by the Perryman Group for the San Antonio Tourism Council. That translates into a heckuva lot of jobs lost over a solution in search of a problem.

The other non-sense Patrick is pushing and Abbott is caving in on is school vouchers. Texas already underfunds public education and the state keeps reducing its share of that funding, school vouchers will simply reduce the total available for public schools while giving a discount to folks wealthy enough to send their kids to private schools. Don’t forget that private schools don’t typically operate in rural areas so 80% of the state would never see one anyway.

Joe Straus isn’t having any of it, last week he told school board members from across Texas at a conference in San Antonio “Somebody is going to pay for public education, it’s either going to come from the state or it’s going to from local property taxes. If we want real property tax reform we need real reform of school finance.” He explained that the way to improve public education and reduce property taxes is to increase state funding for education but legislation to regulate bathrooms and offer state money for private school tuition is wrongheaded and counterproductive.

At the federal level Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues hiding the ball on healthcare bill. There has been no public hearing, there has been no published text of the bill. In fact, according to Senate Finance Committee Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), he doesn’t intend to hold a hearing. Apparently Hatch knows the bill will cause problems for Republicans if it is opened for debate. He claims that he’s getting no cooperation from Democrats on the healthcare bill but perhaps it’s because he won’t let them see it in order for them to offer any suggestions or even opinions.

It isn’t just Democrats who can’t see the bill, the Republican leadership is hiding it from the American Medical Association, the Association of Hospitals, and the American Cancer Society. So if you aren’t a lobbyist for an insurance company it’s a secret. That’s not the way Democrats handled the Affordable Care Act in 2009. That bill had months of hearings in several committees in the Senate alone and the those were public hearings unlike the smoke filled room deal McConnell and his lackeys like Hatch are working out.


If we have to have a Republican in the White House why couldn’t it be Joe Straus?

Published in the Seguin Gazette June 23, 2017

Friday, June 23, 2017

John Courage Wins SA City Council

San Antonio experienced a change in direction Saturday night when the election results were posted. Ron Nirenberg’s mayoral win over Ivy Taylor and John Courage’s win over a traditional conservative, Marco Barros, in the most conservative council district in the city go a long way toward effecting that change. The election cycle knocked out several incumbents and replaced them with more progressive leaders.

John Courage is a military veteran, a public school teacher with nearly 30 years of service and a longtime progressive activist who has worked for decades to bring accountability to local and state government. Courage was a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders and won the endorsement of Our Revolution, the political organization formed by Sanders and activists connected by his presidential bid.

Our Revolution San Antonio (ORSA)—a local group of volunteers—endorsed Courage and recommended him to the national Our Revolution organization, which accepted our local recommendation and posted it on the national website. ORSA endorsed Courage after he and other council candidates made presentations to ORSA about their platforms and requested endorsement. The local organization pitched in to help contact prospective voters for months and that effort paid off.

I'll bet the folks in District 9 found it refreshing to hear John say, “There’s no such thing as a liberal streetlight or a conservative pothole.” What Barros seemed to overlook when he declared that he would win District 9 handily because we are a “very conservative” district is this: listening to the voters and learning what their issues are is more important the wearing a label such as “conservative” or “liberal”.

Unlike Barros and much of the local media Our Revolution San Antonio was not shocked by the results of the runoff.  Only those not on the ground knocking on doors were surprised.  ORSA endorsed Courage, not because he claimed to be liberal or conservative, but because he and his team put together a transparent, service-oriented campaign that focused on communicating with and serving voters. 

ORSA’s mission is to engage citizens to participate in local governance as activists as well as to recruit and support progressive candidates to fill positions as party precinct chairs, city and county commissions, school boards, city council and county commissioners court.  Progressives want progress, to get things done in a democratic environment where we all are respected as stakeholders who are entitled to accessible government, an opinion and a vote.

John Courage and others like him are the beginning of a new day in representative government.  Keep in mind that Courage will take votes that affect all of San Antonio, not just District 9, and he will help shape a new City Council that hopefully will move toward a better, more representative government.  We encourage other citizens who share these progressive values to get engaged with Our Revolution or other organizations that have been awakened by the deterioration of our government, to start making a difference where you live.

Our Revolution San Antonio is the regional umbrella for people in the city and all the surrounding counties who believe in the principals that Bernie Sanders ran on during the 2016 primary. We support universal healthcare, tuition free public universities and a $15 minimum wage among other principals. If you believe in similar principals we invite you to contact us through our Facebook page Our Revolution: San Antonio Area.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Republican Dodgeball

When Donald Trump, Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott were kids I’ll bet they were all great at dodgeball. Today they dodge taking care of real pressing issues by latching on to fringe issues like a pit bull grabs its prey by the neck and shakes it until its neck is broken. There are many important issues our elected officials could address which would improve the lives of most Americans if they were willing to raise taxes on their super-wealthy campaign donors but rather than lead they avoid biting the hand that feeds them.

Most Americans now understand that climate change is a real and pressing threat to our way of life and human civilization as a whole. Instead of working to address it Trump has announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. He dodged the issue by claiming that converting to green energy sources will cost Americans their jobs. The reality is that there are already more people working in the solar energy field than there are in the coal industry and the difference is exploding.

Instead of leading on addressing climate change Trump is still pushing his Muslim travel ban which multiple federal judges in a variety of jurisdictions have tossed out. Even if his ban were to go into effect it is unlikely to stop a single terror attack. Most terror attacks carried out in the U.S. and Europe since 9/11 have involved either citizens or long term residents not recent immigrants. In fact more than half of all deaths in terror attacks have been caused by white United States citizens.

Democrats in Congress have been pushing for a climate agreement for years and President Obama finally was able to sign one last year. If anything staying in the agreement and fulfilling our goals, which are strictly voluntary and have no enforcement measures would have been a boon to our economy creating tens of thousands of jobs but costing oil, gas and coal companies profits.

Here in Texas our Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, spent the entire legislative session pushing his infamous Billion Dollar Bathroom bill, SB 6, which could cost the state up to $8.5 billion and 185,000 jobs. This legislation is a solution in search of a problem which Speaker of the House, Joe Straus, wanted nothing to do with. Dan Patrick just didn’t want to deal with finding the money to adequately fund public education in Texas. He made lots of noise and satisfied some of his small minded voters while avoiding raising taxes on his campaign donors.

Democrats in the state legislature have fought tooth and nail to address the outdated and inadequate public school funding formula. Now Gov. Greg Abbott has called a special session which among other things will address Dan Patrick’s Billion Dollar Bathroom bill. Gov. Abbott has also included formation of a public school finance commission but if Dan Patrick hadn’t wasted so much time on who uses which bathroom this could have been dealt with during the regular session.

None of that gets Greg Abbott of the hook though as the special session call includes such terribly important issues as anti-abortion insurance legislation. He’s asking the legislature to make it illegal to sell health insurance that covers abortion.


Democrats in the legislature would rather work on strengthening the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) by fulling funding it rather than cutting benefits to the people who taught most of us the three R’s but again that would cause a few billionaires to pay more taxes and they pay good money to avoid that.

Published in the Seguin Gazette June 9, 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017

Time to End the War on Terror

In October the “War on Terror” will have been going on for 16 years. It is now a bi-partisan war in that it has been fought by both Republican and Democratic administrations. "The world is a battlefield and we are at war; therefore the military can go wherever they please and do whatever it is that they want to do, in order to achieve the national security objectives of whichever administration happens to be in power." That's the logic which reportedly drives the Joint Special Operation Command known for directing SEAL Team Six among other special operations forces.

“The world is a battlefield” isn't just a vaguely aggressive point of view; it's the legal underpinning of the use of military force in today's War on Terror. This legal definition comes from the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which Congress passed on Sept. 14, 2001 which gave the President of the United States broad power to fight terrorism around the world.

Al-Qaeda is now a shadow of its former self but other groups have taken up the call so terrorists still strike anywhere in the world including here. The United States continues to send troops, drop bombs, and fire missiles in more than a dozen countries today. ISIS is now the focus of much of our attention and while it has inspired many terror attacks including the recent Manchester, England slaughter it is not sending out directing or coordinating large scale attacks like September 11, 2001.

Terror is not an ideology regardless of Trump’s recent assertion on Twitter. Terror is a tactic and you can’t fight a war against a tactic. The followers of ISIS and other similar groups aren’t fighting because they believe in terror they’re fighting because they believe that their people are oppressed. They attack us and European countries because we prop up and in the case of the Shah of Iran install and support their oppressors. Regardless of that they have committed many more attacks on their own people and killed many more of them.

Some of the ISIS fighters are religiously motivated and some aren’t. While the leadership may claim religious they’re creating a religious state as called for in their view of their religious text it’s clear to most people of the world, including those of the same faith, that ISIS and groups like it aren’t inspired by their holy book so much as they use selected passages from it to defend their baser instincts.

The War on Terror isn’t winnable in the sense that there is capital or leader to capture, no one to accept peace terms, no country to conquer and rule. All we can accomplish by continuing to spend blood and treasure is insure that there will be other mothers losing their sons and more young people angry over lost family members killed by American bombs.


We would do well to reconsider who our friends are around the world. Instead of supporting oppressive regimes just because they allow American companies to plunder their natural resources as we have done in Central America, Africa and the Middle East perhaps we should show support for governments that are truly democratic regardless of whether they are capitalist or socialist or somewhere in between. After all many of the European nations we’re allied with are social welfare states to one degree or another. Standing up for human rights would put us on the moral high ground. Of course that might mean rescinding the $110 billion arms deal Trump just approved with one of the most oppressive governments in the Middle East.

Published in the Seguin Gazette, June 2, 2017

Friday, June 2, 2017

Trump Lied and Americans Will Suffer

Almost two years ago when Donald Trump was just a candidate for president he set himself apart from the rest of the Republican field by promising to "save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, without cuts. Have to do it. Get rid of the fraud, get rid of the waste and abuse, but save it."

Now Donald Trump is president and his budget director Mick Mulvaney released a budget that cuts Medicaid funding nearly in half by 2027 when combined with the proposed cuts already passed by the House in Trumpcare, the American Healthcare Act or AHCA.

There are $610 billion in Medicaid cuts in the budget in addition to the $880 billion cut in Trumpcare. Nearly every American will be affected one way or another because either they or a loved one will suffer from those cuts. Nearly one in four Americans is covered by Medicaid. The elderly and disabled account for about 6 of every 10 dollars in Medicaid expenditures, with the disabled and mentally ill, accounting for $4 of every $10 of spending.

Do you have a parent or grandparent in a nursing home or likely to be in one in the not to distant future? If so, get ready to turn your garage into a bedroom because they’ll be living with you instead. You and your spouse will be doing the care too because this budget is likely cut off payments for them.

Do you know anyone working in a nursing home? You’d better tell them to start looking for a new job because when the funding dries up and the patients are forced to leave there won’t be any work for them.
Nursing homes are expensive, average annual cost is $80,000. Medicaid is the largest source of funding for nursing home residents covering about 40% of the total costs. Six of every ten nursing home residents are beneficiaries of those funds because Medicare doesn’t cover those costs.

Oh, you say none of your family will be in a nursing home anytime soon, are any of them disabled and on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)? The Trump budget cuts that too. SSDI is funded through your FICA payroll taxes so cutting it won’t have any effect on the national budget. Just like Social Security for those over 65, SSDI recipients must have worked a certain number of years and have accumulated social security credits, but be younger than 65. Social Security Disability isn’t easy to access contrary to some claims, in fact only four out of ten applicants are approved for benefits. The standards for receiving it are much higher than they are in other developed countries while the benefits are nearly lowest of all developed nations.

Recipients of payments aren’t getting rich off of SSDI, since payments average under $1200 per month with many receiving much less. The actual amount varies depending on how long you worked and how much you earned while working just like regular Social Security. Can you imagine paying rent, utilities, food, clothing and medical expenses on less than $1200 a month? Now think about doing on 25% less or even no benefits at all since some people will simply lose benefits or those who would have previously qualified will now be denied.


Candidate Trump promised to take care of the people of this nation especially the most vulnerable. President Trump is cutting off their lifeline. Donald J. Trump is a liar and the sooner we all recognize it the sooner we can take action to prevent further harm to the American public.

Published in the Seguin Gazette May 26, 2017