Saturday, August 11, 2018

Republican Plot to Kill Paid Sick Leave

How do you feel about going into a restaurant or fast food place and being served by someone who is obviously ill? How would you feel if they were sick but you couldn’t tell just by looking or their behavior? How do you feel about your child being served by someone sick? What if it is another kind of retailer or an office you work in?

It’s important to consider this because not every employer provides paid sick leave and that encourages people who are paid at or near minimum wage to work even when sick. We all understand that many illnesses like the flu are easily transmitted from one person to another and we even have a word for an action taken to stop the spread of especially virulent strains, that word is quarantine. If you’re ill and don’t have some overwhelming reason to be out and about most people will self-quarantine just because they don’t feel like doing anything other than staying home in bed or on the sofa.

Low income folks without paid sick leave often are compelled to work even when quite ill by the need to make the rent or buy groceries for their family. Instead of self-quarantining they then interact with dozens of people and run the risk of infecting some of them. Many businesses recognize that having sick people at work just makes it more likely for other members of the staff to become sick as well and therefore offer paid sick leave.

In an effort to address the health concerns of the public who may shop at or otherwise visit locations where the employer encourages ill staff to work the cities of Austin has passed a paid sick leave ordinance. In San Antonio citizens have gathered 140,000 signatures on a petition to get a proposition to create a paid sick leave ordinance on the November ballot.

So far this seems quite reasonable but our Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton (R), claims the Texas Minimum Wage Act preempts cities from enacting a paid sick leave ordinance. I’ve read the legislation, nowhere in it does it even mention sick leave. AG Paxton isn’t the only one on this crazy horse, our state senator, Donna Campbell (R), sent the mayor of San Antonio a letter urging him to block such an ordinance on the grounds that employers don’t like it. According to her letter some members of the business community have taken exception to the proposition on the grounds that it will cause them to lose business opportunities. This is typical Republican logic, make poor, sick people work until they drop and the heck with the health consequences for everyone else because “job creators” need every penny.

Sen. Campbell and AG Paxton just don’t get that employers aren’t job creators, customers are, and when you sicken your customers and your other employees you’re really just hurting your own bottom line. Worse they don’t care about the public health issues created by forcefully encouraging sick people to expose themselves to the general public. Given that Campbell is an emergency room doctor you’d think she’d know better but as in other cases in the past Campbell has let her raging right wing agenda override her professional judgement.

In about 90 days you and I will have an opportunity to send her a resounding message that her failure to look out for the health and well-being of the citizens of her district and all of Texas are unacceptable by electing Steve Kling as our new state senator for Senate District 25.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - August 10, 2018

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Health Care Promises versus Real Proposals

When running for president, Trump claimed he already had plans in the works for fixing the healthcare mess this country has suffered for 70 years.  Candidate Trump promised “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” in an interview with The Washington Post. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us” he continued. On another occasion he claimed "​I am going to take care of everybody. I don't care if it costs me votes or not, the government's gonna pay for it." Not only have those promises not been kept; there has been no actual plan proposed by the Trump administration that would even attempt to fulfill them.

Democrats in congress have already filed legislation that would address all those issues, it’s called Medicare for All and our congressman, Vicente Gonzalez, is a sponsor of the bill. There’s a reason that the “market” can’t provide health care for all at reasonable costs. Health care isn’t like a commodity or even most services.

When you need it you don’t have time to shop around, sometimes you need it regardless of the cost so rising prices don’t substantially affect demand as they would for most commodities and for the most part there is no substitute or alternative. If the price of potatoes goes up people eat more rice or bread. As the price of beef has risen people switch to chicken. When you’ve got an infection that’s gone septic your alternatives are strong antibiotics with hospital care or surgery to remove the affected limb or death. I know because my wife spent three months in the hospital and various rehabilitation facilities after coming close to death.

Another claim was “I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially in the process that we’re going through.” I got a raise in February and in March my insurance premium went up almost exactly the same amount. While not every reader may have experienced it I’ll bet most of you have found that your insurance premiums have risen yet again.

A recent study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University projects that if Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill were to pass overall health costs would go down, and wages would go up. Had the study been done by some group at the University of California at Berkeley I’d expect a lot of complaints of liberal bias, in this case the Mercatus Center is backed by wealthy Libertarian Koch brothers. So if even the far right can see the benefits of the Democrats bill we should all be confident it’s the real deal.

Early in his campaign, candidate Trump claimed on Twitter, “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid”. In October 2015, he tweeted, "I am going to save Medicare and Medicaid, …”. So far there’s  been no indication that he’s actually working to avoid cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and since the Republican controlled congress is working on legislation to slash both programs in the name of deficit reduction he’d better get a move on or he’ll fail to fulfill yet another campaign promise.

In November if we elect a Democratic governor, state senate and state house they could then pass the  Healthy Texas Act which would provide similar coverage to Medicare for All but just in Texas. If you believe that everyone deserves health care get out and vote for Democrats in November.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - August 3, 2018

Friday, July 27, 2018

Can Will Hurd Save America? Does he Want to?

Last week the New York Times published an op-ed by Representative Will Hurd who represents the Texas 23rd congressional district spanning from San Antonio almost to El Paso. Hurd wrote of his concerns that Russia’s interference in U.S. elections weren’t being addressed by the Trump administration. Hurd is a former C.I.A. undercover officer so he has deeper knowledge of spying, disinformation and politics than many of his colleagues.

Hurd called out Trump for actively participating in the misinformation campaign to cover up Russia’s actions and at the same time weaken the credibility of and confidence in the United States government at home and abroad. Hurd points out that Russia is working to “sow chaos in our electoral system”. He also reminds us that the United States isn’t Russia’s only target and in fact is just one of many including Great Britain, France, Montenegro, Georgia and Ukraine.

Hurd also refers to comments by director national intelligence Dan Coats continued cyber-attacks by Russia as well as other adversaries on our digital infrastructure involving elections systems as well as electric power grids, water treatment facilities, and oil and gas pipelines.

I am not a fan of Will Hurd, but he deserves credit for calling out Trump and making it clear to Republicans around the country that Russia and Putin are not our friends. I hope that Hurd will follow-up on his concerns by standing up to Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes should he continue to try to cover up Russian interference. Hurd also needs to speak out in support of the work being done by Robert Mueller to expose any conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, especially Paul Manafort whose trial starts Tuesday next week.

A few months ago the White House cybersecurity advisors all resigned response to Trump’s inattention to their concerns about the same kinds of attacks that Hurd and Coats spoke of. Last week Trump eliminated the cybersecurity coordinator position which makes it quite clear that the advisors were right and he isn’t paying attention to the threat.

Does Trump just not get it that the strength and stability of our government is at risk? Is he simply willing to take advantage of Russian interference for the sake of winning elections? Or is he an active participant in a conspiracy to disrupt our nation for his own ends? Given that during the campaign Trump publicly called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s computers and within hours they did so one is left wondering just how cozy he is with Putin.

It’s important the Hurd not follow the example of Senator Jeff Flake who calls out Trump at every opportunity and then votes for whatever Trump wants. It’s time that Republican leaders put country over party and stand on the brakes so that our nation has a chance to recover from the damage already done and not continue to crumble under attacks that we have the power to stop or at least mitigate.

I hope we’ll see other Republicans recognize that the integrity of our democracy is at risk and there is no excuse for partisan acts in this critical moment.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - July 27, 2018

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Impeach Trump - Don't Hold Your Breath

If you’re a Democrat expecting Republicans either in Congress or on the street to turn against Trump anytime soon you should go back to the lessons of Nixon and Watergate. There you’ll find that accusations of wrong doing by the press and Democrats only serve to strengthen their commitment to their guy. We’ve got a long hard road ahead before there’s the slightest chance that Republicans in Congress will turn on Trump and it may never happen if Robert Mueller’s investigation is shutdown as various Republican leaders have repeatedly called for.

Trump like Nixon before him wasn’t loved by leading Republicans, they didn’t trust him to be conservative enough after having been the liberal Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s Vice President. It was the beginning of the Watergate investigation that solidified Nixon’s support among the conservative media and leadership. The more the New York Times, the Washington Post and other media outlets reported on his criminal actions the more strongly Republicans supported Nixon.

We can see this in play today with Trump, Republican leadership held their collective noses when Trump won the nomination and backed tepidly through the general election. As repeated Trump administration scandals have been reported such as former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s use of private charters and military aircraft for travel, today’s more powerful conservative media have defended Trump. Congress has generally ignored the unethical behavior including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who also used private charters and military aircraft for personal travel at the taxpayer’s expense. The same holds true for recently departed Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt who mis-used taxpayer funds for unnecessary security details, construction of a soundproof phone booth in his office and other violations of agency rules.

Even this week’s outrageous Helsinki Summit remarks in which Trump took the side of former KGB agent and current Russian President Vladimir Putin over every American intelligence agency and his own staff in stating that he had no reason to believe that the Russians had interfered with the 2016 election has only briefly ruffled the feathers of a few Republican Senators and media figures. Only a day later everything was back to normal, none of those Senators said they’ll vote against Trump appointees or support Democrats calls to allow congress to review Trump’s tax returns. By the time you read this I expect that Republicans will be talking about how Trump’s two hour private meeting with Putin was a good thing and somehow improved national security.

Even the revelation that Russian secret agent Maria Butina was arrested and indicted on charges of conspiring against the United States hasn’t affected Trump supporters in his party. Of course that might be because she helped funnel Russian government funds to the National Rifle Association which enabled them to spend millions of dollars on the 2016 election.

I’m sorry to tell you that until there’s not only a dead body, a smoking gun, video recordings and eye witness testimony from Mike Pence we’re going to be stuck with Trump. It’s not enough to just vote in November, you’re going to need to get your parents to vote, your children to vote and your siblings to vote. If you really want to stop this train wreck you’re going to have to commit to donating a few dollars to Beto O’Rourke’s senate campaign or Mike Collier for Lt. Governor. You’re going to have to volunteer for John Rodgers who is running for Texas House in Guadalupe County or Steve Kling for Texas Senate in our area. Nothing will change if we wait for Republicans to do it.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - July 20, 2018

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Republicans Know How to Exercise Power

I have to compliment Senator Mitch McConnell, he knows how to use power. When there was a Democrat as president and a vacancy on the Supreme Court 9 months before a presidential election and 11 months before a new president would take office McConnell used his power as Senate Majority Leader to stop even the consideration of the President Obama’s nominee. His argument was that the people should be allowed to speak. It didn’t matter that his action was unprecedented. The people spoke and nearly 3 million more voted for the Democrat. Nevertheless a Republican won due to the anti-democratic Electoral College votes and it didn’t matter that it was hypocritical to still prevent even a hearing let alone a vote.

Now only 5 months from an election in one third of the senators who will vote on the new president’s Supreme Court nominee will stand for election he’s pushing hard to assure that a vote is taken before the people have an opportunity to speak again. Democrats just don’t have the idea that when you have power you’re supposed to exercise it. Obama had overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate and failed to use his power to push through a robust Affordable Care Act. Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi allowed the Republicans to amend and twist the bill into a pretzel without ever committing to vote for it. That’s one of the reasons Republicans and Trump have been able to whittle away parts of it in an attempt kill it without taking blame for breaking the parts that even Republican voters like.

Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership failed to use the power of their offices to twist arms that needed twisting and it was just the Affordable Care Act. We didn’t get the forceful stimulus bill we needed, nor the environmental protection bill that would have put a real dent in climate change, or an immigration bill that might have prevented the tragedy we’re seeing at our southern border today. In fact I would argue that Obama’s failure to use the power inherent in the office is the very reason we have Trump as president today. I believe that if he had used his power in concert with the congressional leadership Democratic voters wouldn’t have sat on their hands in 2010 and Republicans wouldn’t have taken control of both houses of Congress. If he’d been the strong leader we needed voters in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida would have turned out to vote for another Democrat in 2016 and the winner of the most votes would have also won the Electoral College vote.

It’s important that Democrats get out and vote in November so we can take back the Senate and the state legislature. It’s also important that our Democratic leaders use their power to do the people’s will. Failure to use your power is a lot like failure to use your muscles. Democrats have allowed their power to atrophy unlike Mitch McConnell who doesn’t even blink at his own hypocrisy. McConnell uses his power to get anything and everything he can accomplished.

Neither Franklin Delano Roosevelt nor Lyndon Johnson were perfect, but they did great things for this country because they understood both the need and the method for exerting power. As we now know winning elections isn’t enough if you aren’t going to use your power to get things done. Understanding the use of power is one of the key attributes I will look for in every candidate in future primary elections.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - July 13, 2018

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Why are they working so hard to suppress your vote if it doesn't matter?

As this is the week of the 242nd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence it seems appropriate to consider that document in the context of today. In particular I find a phrase from the preamble to be of import; “…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”. This is one of several concepts related to the founding of this nation which set it apart from most other countries of the time. Sadly the concept of consent of the governed is under attack today and has been for some years.

Texas and other Republican controlled states have been using a variety of methods to prevent voters from getting the governance they would choose. Racial and partisan gerrymandering have received much attention from the courts and had been getting attention of the Department of Justice until the Republican controlled Supreme Court overturned important parts of the Voting Rights Act. Rulings this term have both given hope and caused despair to those advocating for fair districts. In some states the Republican party only gets about 40% of the votes but controls 60% of the state legislature. In Texas 55% of the votes allows control of 65% of the seats.

Gerrymandering isn’t the only method used to prevent the people from getting the government of their choice. The passage of the 15th Amendment, which gave freed slaves the right to vote shortly after the Civil War, and which required the passage in 1965 of the Voting Rights Act to enforce is again being undermined by numerous states. Instead of using outright voter intimidation Republican controlled legislatures like that of Texas have passed draconian voter identification regulations. Republicans in Florida and Houston use control of elections departments to purge voter roles in ways that unfairly target minority and low income voters. A Supreme Court ruling a few years ago voiding parts of the Voting Rights Act has made it difficult to prevent such heavy handed attacks on the right to vote. Now with Republican control of the Department of Justice the federal government has gotten out of the business of even attempting to enforce voting rights.

The Republican Party of Texas 2018 platform specifically calls for the repeal of the Voting Rights Act. Conversely the Texas Democratic Party calls for restoration and aggressive enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

What is consent if not choice? How can you give consent if your right to choose is suppressed?

It’s unfortunate that too many Texans don’t even bother to vote which just makes the job of those seeking to suppress their votes easier. It’s been said many times that Texas isn’t a Republican state it’s non-voting state. I will be the first to admit that Democrats aren’t all angels and that far too many have not lived up to their promises or the values of the party they claim. On the other hand that’s why we have elections and in fact why we have primaries. I believe that if everyone voted in primaries we’d get better Democrats in office when we do elect them. For that matter if more Republicans voted in their primaries we’d probably seen fewer extremist Republicans in office.

So I ask those who think their vote doesn’t matter or that elections aren’t important to their daily lives to consider this; if their votes aren’t important why are Republicans working so hard to prevent people like you from voting?

Published in the Seguin Gazette - July 6, 2018

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Texas Democratic Party Platform the Finest in History

Saturday last week in Fort Worth the Texas Democratic Party (TDP) overwhelmingly passed the finest platform in its history. Among other important planks the platform calls for legalization of marijuana like Colorado, a moratorium on new fracking wells and shutting down existing fracking wells by 2026, as well as enacting sensible gun laws to curtail the availability of weapons with extended ammunition magazines, including rapid-fire, magazine-fed weapons.

I had the honor and privilege to be appointed to the Chair’s Advisory Committee on the Platform. My appointment allowed me to have extensive input on both the topics and positions recommended to those who were elected from each of the 31 senate districts at the Texas Democratic Party convention in Fort Worth last week.

Criminal justice reform is a big topic and was placed at the beginning of the platform to emphasize its importance. Due to the high number of Texans jailed for non-violent crimes we the taxpayer are burdened with those costs while it fails to accomplish one of the presumed goals of rehabilitation. The TDP platform calls for big reductions in incarceration starting with bail reform so that being poor doesn’t mean an automatic jail sentence even if found innocent. We also call for eliminating incarceration for many non-violent crimes in favor of probation and other programs which are much more cost effective. We also demand a quick end to private prisons as there should never be a profit incentive for jailing people.

There are a rare few items with which we agree or nearly agree with the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) such as marijuana reform which we believe should involve full legalization similar to Colorado while they only call for making possession of small amounts equivalent to a speeding ticket. The TDP platform also calls for the immediate release of anyone incarcerated for possession of marijuana and expunging their convictions. I’m don’t smoke and I don’t drink so I don’t have much of an axe to grind but if alcohol consumption is legal then I can see no reason to ruin someone’s life over their choice to get inebriated via cannabis.

While the RPT suggests allowing counties to use paper ballots, something the can already do, Democrats call for a return to paper ballots statewide on the ground that it is the only truly auditable and unhackable method of recording our votes. If our democratic republic is to survive it is imperative that we have confidence in the results of our elections. So far there is no evidence that Russian or Chinese hackers succeeded in changing actual ballot counts we know that they did indeed gain access to the election systems of several states and counties we should take steps to insure that it can’t ever happen.

The TDP platform differs in significant ways from the RPT platform passed just a couple of weeks ago in that we support the federal Voting Rights Act and the Texas Voting Rights Act, and restoration of the federal preclearance policies that were overturned by the Supreme Court while they want to repeal those protections. The TDP supports extended early voting periods that the RPT wants to shorten.  Our platform calls for creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission to end racial and political gerrymandering in our redistricting process. We also call for a constitutional amendment to eliminate the electoral college and award the presidency to the winner of the nationwide popular vote so that candidates have to campaign in all states not just swing states.

To see the entire platform enter “texas democratic party platform 2018” in your favorite search engine.

Published in the Seguin Gazette June 29, 2018