Friday, May 19, 2017

Last week another terrorist group announced plans to kill Americans, far more than Al-Qaeda or ISIS. The group then met to celebrate with their recently selected supreme leader, a prickly fellow known for rambling speeches exhorting his followers. No this wasn’t in a far off land, it was in Washington, D.C.

I’m talking about the House Republicans who voted for Trumpcare. The vote shows that Republicans like Lamar Smith and Paul Ryan are real American terrorists because they are guaranteed to have blood on their hands if the Senate Republicans choose to pass it. By repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act which provided expanded Medicaid and subsidies for health insurance purchased on the exchange they have endangered the health of 24 million Americans, thousands of whom will die and tens of thousands of whom will suffer bankruptcy while trying to stay alive.

Subsidies and Medicaid expansion aren’t the only parts of the Affordable Care Act that will get the axe under this legislation, coverage for pre-existing conditions is lost and lifetime caps are back. My friend Sean’s son, Navin, was born with a congenital heart defect which has already cost over a million dollars to treat. My wife has had five surgeries and spent months in intensive care and therapy in her 50 years. Well over a million dollars has been spent on her healthcare. Under Trumpcare both could be denied coverage for future medical expenses.

Some apologists claim that pre-existing condition coverage isn’t removed by the bill but that’s a lie because it allows states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act requirements and Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, has already announced plans to do so. Other states will surely follow and if your employer has operations in one of those states they’ll have the option of choosing to use the rules of whichever state suits their financial goals and if that means their workers get a poor quality insurance plan then too bad.

Trumpcare also allows states to waive the requirement that ill and healthy individuals pay the same rates and gives the states the option to setup high risk pools again. Having had my wife insured through the Texas high risk pool I can tell you the rates will once again be outrageous. There were years where we spent as much as 25% of my gross pay in healthcare. If I had earned a lower wage we could never have afforded it.

All this and more was done so that Republicans can give huge tax breaks to their biggest campaign contributors. Trumpcare provides $27 billion in tax breaks each year for the top 4.4 percent, people earning $250,000 a year or more. Donald Trump alone could save $30 million a year under the House bill.

The 217 men and women who voted for Trumpcare chose tax breaks for billionaires over the lives and health of their fellow American while claiming to be good Christians. With friends like these why are we worried about al-Qaeda or ISIS?

Congressional Republicans aren’t the only group to blame though, every one of you who voted for a Republican in 2016 is complicit in the suffering this will cause millions of Americans, young and old alike.


Published in the Seguin Gazette May 12, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

Truth Lost On Trump Voters

When will the American public recognize that we have not only been lied to on a few of Trump’s campaign promises as is generally expected of any candidate but we’ve been lied to about the kind of man that Trump really is. He claimed to have wonderful, super, incredible plans for healthcare reform, so good you won’t believe it. It turns out he had no plan at all as shown by the fact that Paul Ryan is the one pitching an Obamacare replacement plan that doesn’t do any of the things that Trump promised during the campaign. Trump said his plan would cover more people at a lower price and continue to cover pre-existing conditions. The current iteration of the Republican Repeal and Replace does none of those things.

Trump said “I'm a really smart guy.” He also said “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things. . . . My primary consultant is myself, and I have, you know, I have a good instinct for this stuff.” If those statements had a shred of truth he’d have known that President Andrew Jackson was long dead by the time of the Civil War which Trump recently claimed Jackson would have avoided. He’d also have know that Frederick Douglass, a celebrated historical figure, was a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln and therefore dead for over a century so he wouldn’t have said “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.”

That “big, beautiful wall” Trump promised Mexico would pay for and so many voted for him over isn’t happening either. At least he’s backing off that one slowly, now it will only be in “certain areas” because “you don't need” it where “you have these massive physical structures” or “you have certain big rivers.” Of course Texas Republicans are strong proponents of property rights so the use of eminent domain to acquire the land necessary to build and support such a wall is anathema not to mention the landowners along the border wanting none of it. The budget deal that will keep the federal government’s lights on until September doesn’t include a dime for the wall so it’s looking more like it will never be built.

According to Trump during the campaign, China is a currency manipulator and would be treated as such once he was in office. He quickly changed that tune, probably while eating the “most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen” with Chinese President Xi Jinping and ordering 59 Tomahawk missiles to strike Syria. Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, considered the missile strike “after dinner entertainment” which “didn’t cost the president anything.” Of course the fact that those missiles cost taxpayers between $480,000 and $1,000,000 each and didn’t do enough damage to stop Syrian pilots from launching aircraft from the very same facility just hours later meant nothing to Trump. On the positive side the president did make a killing on the stock market as his shares of Raytheon, which makes the Tomahawk missile, went up 1.45% on news of the strike.


It isn’t just campaign promises and lies though, the Washington Post has been tracking his statements since he took office and during the first 100 days there have only been 10 for which they haven’t recorded at least one lie. Most days there are several lies. Sadly 93% of Trump voters still support him. How much damage will he have to do before they turn against him?

Published in the Seguin Gazette May 5, 2017

Friday, May 5, 2017

Trump's False Promises

It’s been about 100 days since Trump took office after having lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. While campaigning he famously focused on the loss of coal mining jobs and has used it as an excuse to eliminate Obama era restrictions on dump mining waste into the streams and rivers that provide drinking water for communities near coal mines and those downstream as well. What you don’t hear is that those jobs aren’t coming back because gas and solar are both cheaper than coal and getting cheaper all the time.

His focus on coal mining also masks that fact that there are more jobs created and sustained by solar energy today than there ever were in coal mining at its peak. If Trump really wanted to put Americans to work he’d give solar much more attention. Trump also shows no interest in the fact that since 2001 more jobs have been lost in retail, 85,000, than the 53,000 which exist in coal mining today. Why isn’t he talking about bringing back retail jobs?

Trump talks about the loss of manufacturing jobs and there’s some truth to his claims that many of those jobs have gone overseas for cheaper labor. His claimed triumph at the Carrier plant in Indiana turns out to more smoke than fire as only 730 at risk jobs were saved, two-thirds of the claimed 1,100, and many of those are still on the chopping block due to automation replacing those workers. What he doesn’t say is that even more jobs have been eliminated entirely by automation and you don’t hear him even mention that.

It isn’t just factory jobs that are being automated either, Amazon.com which has a distribution center just across I-35 from the Guadalupe County line and another in San Marcos is in the process of further automating its facilities nationwide. Low skill and manual labor jobs aren’t the only ones being replaced by automation, many financial news articles are now written by computer software with the only human intervention being identifying the company to be written about and the location of the current financial statements for that company. No word yet on whether Trump will seek to ban robots from the factory floor but he sure is intent on deporting undocumented immigrants.

During the campaign he said he’d focus immigration enforcement on “bad hombres” but every day there’s another story of a long time resident with children who are United States citizens getting deported after showing up at the local courthouse in compliance with the rules that had previously allowed them to stay in the country. Then there’s the story of the woman hospitalized with a brain tumor who was dragged from her hospital bed to a detention facility. There are also 1,400 military veterans who served in our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been deported. Our congressman, Vicente Gonzalez, has made his mission to get those veterans repatriated but he’s having a tough time finding Republicans to support his efforts. Perhaps the reason Trump’s deportation efforts have focused on these easy to capture folks is that the Obama administration had already been deporting those with real criminal histories.


Do you want to know what the only difference is between the jobs Trump talks about and the ones he ignores? The ones he talks about are predominantly held by white males and those he doesn’t by females and non-white immigrants.

Published in the Seguin Gazette April 28, 2017

Friday, April 28, 2017

Discrimination in the Guise of Religious Freedom

Last week every Republican in the Texas Senate voted to allow county judges and other elected officials recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses if they have personal religious objections. This action is of course intended to provide cover for county officials who don’t want to provide constitutionally guaranteed services to same sex couples. It remains to be seen if Joe Straus and the Texas House will approve it as well.

If the House passes the bill and Gov. Abbott signs it then you can guarantee it will be challenged in court as soon as the first county clerk fails to do their job. Such state sanctioning of discrimination flies in the face of the Supreme Court ruling that set all this in motion two years ago. As Kathy Miller, president of Texas Freedom Network put it, “The Texas Senate today said it has no problem with public officials picking and choosing which taxpayers they will serve.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Brian Birdwell a Republican, says “If we don't do this, we are discriminating against people of faith.” There’s a problem with that notion. The problem is that we’ve now been providing marriage licenses for same sex couples for two years and no one has made any person do something that violates their religious beliefs or moral values. This is true because there is no requirement that any specific individual take the job of county clerk or other official. Frankly, if you have a problem doing the job you were elected, appointed or hired to do then resign or don’t take the job in the first place.

Now for those moralizing over the “sin” of same sex marriage think about this, the bill is written so broadly that it“… opens the door to taxpayer-funded discrimination against virtually anyone who doesn't meet a public official's personal moral standards,” according to Miller. Having read the bill myself I agree with her assessment. If a County Clerk is a staunch Catholic and believes that certifying a marriage license of a previously divorced individual violates their religious views they can recuse themselves. The same holds true if County Clerk feels that certifying the marriage license for a couple that happens to be Lutheran or other protestant denomination would violate their religious beliefs because they are apostates.

Birdwell's bill only applies in cases where other officials without objections agree to step in for the recusing party. It even authorizes the county to hire an outside contractor if there is no other county official willing to complete the certification. In fact if the substituting official is located outside the county where the marriage license is being sought, documents could be sent electronically so as not to unduly delay the process. The Senate defeated Democratic amendments seeking to dock the pay of county clerks refusing to issue gay marriage licenses. I don’t know about you but I have a real problem paying as public official to do a job and then having to pay someone else to do it because they refused but apparently Republicans don’t.


Republicans get might riled up over Sharia law coming to America but they don’t seem to recognize the same problem when it’s called Christian or Biblical law. Apparently in their eyes religious freedom is only for those who hold the same religious views. I can’t say Christians because they don’t all hold the same views. Every time I hear some yahoo claim this is a Christian nation I ask them “which flavor?” After all, Christians can’t even agree on which ten commandments are the real Ten Commandments.

Published in the Seguin Gazette April 21, 2017

Friday, April 21, 2017

Most Americans Want Medicare For All

In one sense Democrats and Republicans agree on the need to reform healthcare in the United States. The difference is the goal of Republicans in Congress is to lower taxes, particularly for the wealthiest while the goal of Democrats is to make sure more people are covered by insurance. Republicans in Congress can’t seem to agree on how far to push, the Freedom Caucus, aka TEA Party, want to take away healthcare for everyone receiving coverage through the Medicaid expansion. That’s in addition to the folks the so called moderate Republicans want to throw to the wolves by reducing subsidies on the Exchange such that they could no longer afford insurance.

Whether or not the motivation for cutting off the federal assistance is at least partially racist the fact is that the rate of uninsured among Hispanics is 30.7%, more than twice the rate of African-Americans and three times that of whites.

Texas' overall uninsured rate is about 8 percentage points higher than the overall U.S. uninsured rate. Nearly 18% of Texans still don’t have health insurance making this state the worst in the country.

Medicaid expansion critics like Gov. Abbott object to providing coverage to able-bodied adults who can work. What they don’t talk about is that many Texans work a full time job and still don’t earn enough to qualify for subsidies on the exchange but they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s latest healthcare “reform” proposal Medicaid would be turned into what is called block grants the amount that the federal government gives to states to administer Medicaid would be reduced. A block grant would allow much more freedom to states like Texas to set their own criteria for who deserves healthcare and how much care would be paid for. Since under Ryan’s proposal funding would also be reduced some people would lose coverage or have access to less healthcare.

One group most likely to suffer are those in nursing homes since a very large fraction of Medicaid is spent to subsidize the fees since Medicare doesn’t cover it and their social security checks usually aren’t enough either. Once those folks run out of their retirement savings the only thing keeping them in the nursing home is Medicaid. If Paul Ryan were to get his way be prepared to close in the garage and put grandma in there because there will be no where else for her to go.

I think most of us would agree that the folks we, know regardless of income, deserve to be able to see a doctor when they’re sick and fill the prescriptions needed to recover. I’ll bet most of believe that every child should get the healthcare they need to grow up strong and healthy. Recent studies show that over 60% agree that it would be so much simpler and better if everyone was on Medicare. And it’s not just liberals who believe this, 30% of Republicans agree.

Representative John Conyers of Michigan has filed a bill in Congress named the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, H.R. 676. The bill that would not only insure that every American could go to the doctor when sick but it would also save the 20% that insurance companies now get to spend on overhead because Medicare is just that much more efficient.


If you wondered what that bunch of demonstrators out in front of the Guadalupe Regional Medical Center last Saturday were doing; we were calling on our congressman, Vicenté Gonzalez, to join other Texans in co-sponsoring H.R. 676.

Published in the Seguin Gazette April 14, 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

Science Fiction and the Consequences of Wrecking Our Environment

Writers of what is often termed literary fiction tell a story about what is called the “human condition”, love and loss, revenge and overcoming adversity are just a few of the themes. Science fiction often does the same thing cloaked in a far off future but sometimes it examines the potential consequences of today’s actions or choices. Over the last 40 years post-environmental collapse stories such as the movies Mad Max, starring Mel Gibson, in 1979 and Waterworld, starring Kevin Costner, in 1995.

Neither movie spends much time on how things got to be the way they are, instead they address what life is like after civilization breaks down. Both movies offer worlds where violence is used to gather and control scarce resources whether it is oil or fresh water and run by warlords with no compassion or sense of decency. Neither movie ends on an especially hopeful note.

If, like me, you accept the scientific consensus that global climate change is occurring and that man’s activities are responsible the vast majority of it then you’re likely to have been frustrated by the slow pace of official action by the Obama administration to stem the tide. Now that Trump is in office the slow pace has been reversed starting with the appointment and confirmation of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt earned his chops as a conservative hero by suing the Environmental Protection Agency to benefit polluters.

In a recent CNBC interview, Pruitt stated that he does not agree that carbon dioxide is the primary driver of the global warming revealed by the temperature records over recent decades. The American Meteorological Society, your favorite TV weatherman is probably a member, wrote him a letter calling out his scientific ignorance and urging him to reconsider his “...stance on the science, and then help lead the nation and the world to consider, first, options for action, and then the course to be followed.”

Trump has taken direct actions that are contrary to the need to get off fossil fuels before it’s too late. Just over a week ago he approved the Keystone XL pipeline which will allow the transmission of dirty, caustic tar sands from Canada to refineries in the United States. Tar sands are much less efficient to process into gasoline, diesel and other petrochemicals due to the contaminants it contains making it much more energy intensive to refine and therefore raising the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

Then in what he claims is an effort to restore coal mining jobs Trump signed a bill which reverses the Stream Protection Rule, an Obama era regulation that prohibits coal mine operators from dumping mining waste containing arsenic, mercury and other harmful chemicals into nearby streams. So not only does this bill give wealthy coal mine operators the right to contaminate our water supply it encourages the burning of a fuel that wrecks the climate.

Scientists say that if we don’t get our act together soon and cut our C02 and methane emissions the climate will take an irreversible turn around 2050 and by 2100 human life in much of the world will be unsustainable. You and I won’t live to see that but today's young adults and their children almost certainly will.

Today we resist however we can. In 2018 it is imperative that we vote out Trump’s Republican enablers in Congress and demand strong action in order to save our grandchildren and great grandchildren from life that English philosopher Thomas Hobbes would likely describe as “nasty, brutish and short”.


Published in the Seguin Gazette April 7, 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017

#donthecon meets Tax Reform

Now that Trump has ordered Speaker Paul Ryan to put aside Trumpcare they’re moving on to “tax reform” also known as Tax Breaks for Millionaires. Fortunately for the rest of us failing to take away healthcare for millions of Americans makes this scheme a lot harder as one of the fig leaves they had planned to hide the budget busting effect of the tax breaks behind has been removed.

They’ve also run into trouble with big retailers like their corporate sponsor Walmart over Trump’s desire to apply a tax on goods at the border. The plan was to raise taxes on imports and use the money to both rebate exporters and lower taxes for millionaires. Walmart which imports 70% of its merchandise from China alone isn’t happy about that as you might imagine and has sent their army of lobbyists off to the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building with the message that they won’t stand for import tariffs. Of course the fact that it would have set off a trade war wasn’t enough.

Even Republicans in Congress can’t agree on where to focus the tax breaks. Some want to lower the top corporate tax rate, some want to lower the individual rate for top earners and some want to lower the rate charged on international businesses. Between the bust on saving billions by letting low income folks be sick and die and the Walton family putting their foot down has left the hapless Republicans in a bit of a tight spot.

Some talking heads in television and radio land suggest Speaker Ryan should reach out to Democrats for assistance passing a tax reform bill. I doubt Ryan’s ready to try that yet as it’s only two months into the Trump presidency and he’s probably going to  try to get his right flank, known as the “Freedom Caucus”, to march in step. Of course, since the Freedom Caucus is the group that sank Trumpcare he’s welcome to try.

#donthecon is more in tune with tax breaks for millionaires like himself, you can tell because during the presidential campaign he made big promises about healthcare but never put forth a plan whereas on taxes he’s actually put pen to paper and made concrete proposals. Basically his tax plan is if you’re a millionaire or billionaire you deserve a tax break, the little people like us, not so much.

One of the proposals being floated is to eliminate all itemized deductions except for home mortgages. While that would certainly streamline tax forms it will surely hurt those of us with large healthcare expenses not paid by insurance. Last year I was able to deduct $7750 in un-reimbursed healthcare expenses which saved me $1938 in taxes. Under the Trump/Ryan tax plan as proposed I’d lose that deduction and I’d be certain to pay higher taxes even if they lowered the overall rate a few points.


Are you ready for a tax plan where just like Trumpcare the benefits go to the wealthiest among us?

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 31, 2017