Saturday, February 17, 2018

Gubernatorial Candidate Roundup

Early voting in the primaries starts Tuesday next week so let’s time to talk about the Democratic candidates for governor. While there are officially nine, only five are worth talking about as the rest seemed to have filed because they woke up and decided it would be great to be governor. In no particular order the five to actually consider are Jeffrey Payne, Tom Wakely, Lupe Valdez, Andrew White and Cedric Davis, Sr.

Jeffrey Payne seems to be earnest and thoughtful, he’s been campaigning since last fall. Payne is an entrepreneur who owns a wide range of businesses including a court reporting operation and a bar among others. I’m confident he has the best interests of Texas at heart, I think he genuinely cares. My problem with him as a potential governor is he lacks any governmental experience at all.

Tom Wakely is a long time activist, I’ve met him several times over the last few years. Wakely ran for congress unsuccessfully last term, he too has been actively campaigning since last fall. Wakely has made numerous trips around the state and is actively seeking support in some of the more forgotten communities in Texas. His strong populist message deserves the attention of all Democrats and especially voters in underserved communities where raising the minimum wage and treating health care as a human right would go a long way toward improving life. Wakely is a Viet Nam era Air Force veteran and a former union organizer who worked with Cesar Chavez in San Antonio in the 1970’s. He now runs a hospice for the terminally ill. Wakely’s only weakness is that he has no experience in government at any level.

Lupe Valdez is a retired U.S. Army captain, she’s been a federal agent and a four term Sheriff of Dallas County. Valdez is from a large family of migrant farm workers. Her parents taught her to work hard and the value of education which is why she believes we have to invest in Texans and help them find their path whether that’s university without massive debt, free community college, trade skills, or the tools to start a small business. Valdez believes health care is a human right and is committed to expanding Medicaid, passing paid family and sick leave, stopping the attacks on women's healthcare, and ending the medical deserts in urban and rural Texas. Having been elected four times she knows how to campaign and win and having served in public office for over 12 years she has experience in government. I think she’s a solid candidate.

Andrew White is only on this list because he’s generated big money in campaign contributions. White is an entrepreneur like Payne above who has no experience in governance and unlike Wakely has shown no interest in working to make Texas better. When first exploring whether or not to run he publicly stated that he could see himself running as a conservative Democrat or a moderate Republican. That tells me all I need to know as he doesn’t stand for anything. Perhaps he feels entitled as he is the son of former Texas governor Mark White.

Cedric Davis, Sr. is a Desert Storm veteran, as well as civic activist, policeman, teacher, civic leader and the first African American Mayor of Balch Springs near Dallas. Davis wants to raise minimum wage, expand Medicaid by taking the nearly $100 billion available to Texas under the Affordable Care Act. Davis says he’ll work to restore state funding for public education and believes criminal justice reform is an important part of making Texas a better place.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Layoffs, Tolls, and Trickle-down Economics

Ten days ago Trump gave his first State of the Union address. An important but little discussed point involves the proposed public-private partnerships in his infrastructure plan. None of this should be a surprise as Trump talked about such public-private partnerships during his campaign. The Trump administration expects that by providing 15-20% of the funding state governments or private companies will be encouraged to provide the rest of the funds needed to construct roads and bridges as well as other projects. He claims that $200 million of federal money will drive construction of up to $1.5 trillion in infrastructure.

Regarding state government projects such a partnership is not unusual, think of interstate highways as an example. What Trump failed to mention is that private companies have no incentive to build a road and let people drive on it unless they can charge them to use it, that means a toll road. Every other project a private company might be willing to build involves that company charging the public to use it.

Most folks I know regardless of political persuasion hate toll roads. Trump thinks they’re just dandy as do his servants in congress. Remember that when elections roll around in November.

Of course, Trump also touted his big “accomplishment” the tax cut that mostly benefits the top 10% and multi-billion dollar corporations. Yes, a few companies will give bonuses, a few others will give small raises. Mostly the tax cuts will end up in stock buy-backs, stock dividends and CEO pay. Worse than that are the companies that are hiding large layoffs behind small bonuses. That list includes:

Kimberly-Clark, manufacturer of consumer products like Kleenex, Viva paper towels, and Huggies diapers, announced it will use its tax cut windfall to pay the costs of closing 10 factories and laying off as many as 5,500 employees.

AT&T was the first to announce one-time bonuses as a result of the tax bill. Just days later, it reported plans to lay off more than 1,000 employees in early 2018.

Walmart announced it would raise the minimum wage for its workers to $11 per hour on January 11 but, that same day, announced the closure of 63 Sam’s Club stores and that about 10,000 workers will be laid off. Walmart also laid off between 400 and 500 corporate employees at its headquarters last week.

Comcast announced 100,000 bonuses of $1,000, while around 500 managers, supervisors, and salespeople were fired.

Of the Fortune 500 only 29 (5.8%) report giving one-time bonuses and just 17 (3.4%) report providing wage increases.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that Carrier, the company Trump claimed kept jobs in Indiana because he negotiated a deal, announced another 200+ employees will be laid off in addition to the 340 laid off last summer.

It’s nice that some folks are getting one time bonuses, but considering that the tax breaks their employers are getting are permanent shouldn’t the employees be getting raises instead so they can share in the benefits of the tax cut?

If you never understood the term trickle-down economics before, now you do, especially if you or a loved one is on the laid off list even though corporate profits are at record levels.

One time bonuses instead of raises, layoffs and tolls, this is what Trump and his minions in congress expect us to accept. This November you’ll have a chance to let them know just how wrong they are.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Saturday with Other Angry Texans

I spent last Saturday in San Antonio in the company of a few hundred angry people from all over Texas. We were there because we believe our state and federal governments have long been run for the benefit of the wealthy and the privileged and yet we remain hopeful that we can change that. We gathered together to in the belief that if we organize ourselves and devote our energy to our common cause we can create a better world for everyone.

Our group is Our Revolution Texas and at our state convention there were delegates and activists from the eleven regional organizations. One of the main priorities was to create a declaration of principles to guide our actions as we work for a better future. Among those principles is opposition to the rise of oligarchy in modern society. We recognized that the deregulatory agenda of the American right has led to the most shocking and intolerable inequalities of wealth and income in the history of the modern world.

We agreed to demand from our elected officials that the current embrace of greed and economic inequality be replaced with a more just society in which resources, wealth, and the fruits of human labor and inventiveness are more justly shared by all persons as a human right.

Our Revolution members believe that our nation and our state must adopt living wage legislation setting the floor at $15 per hour and indexing it for inflation. Those skilled workers already at or near that rate are underpaid and should have the right to organize and join strong labor unions in order to collectively negotiate conditions of employment including fair pay, sick leave and the like.

It is our position that medical care is a human right without regard for ability to pay that society as a whole must provide legislatively through a universal health care program such as Medicare for All.

While progress has been made over the last century we agreed that there is much to be done in order to remove the social and economic barriers women face in achieving equal rights. Our society’s tragic history of male supremacy must be overturned and perpetrators like Steve Wynn, the disgraced former Chair of the Republican National Committee who resigned earlier this week, must be cast out.

Sadly, it isn’t just male supremacy that we suffer from, white supremacy has also created social, political and economic barriers to equal rights. It is utterly intolerable that 150 years after the end of slavery our society still treats people of color as second class citizens. We affirm that Black Lives Matter.

We believe that no human being is illegal and that immigrants are entitled to equal protection under the law. We call for the speedy passage of enactment of laws to provide a path to citizenship for those previously covered under DACA and an end to the inhumane detention practices which break up families.

We recognize that our beautiful earth and life-protecting environment is being pillaged to benefit those whose rampaging greed is insatiable. We insist that our elected officials devote immediate attention to reversing the tragically accelerating process of climate change for which unnatural human interference in the environment is the primary cause.

The members of Our Revolution Texas stand committed to the hard and laborious long-term work of organizing a powerful mass political movement for the accomplishment of all aspects of this vision.

Published in the Seguin Gazette, February 2, 2018

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Trump a Danger to Our Democracy

There is so much press on the latest crazy thing Trump tweets or says that you’d think that was all there is to worry about with his presidency. Unfortunately those things are just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t mean that in just the sense of scale but also in the sense of what is readily visible as compared to the damage being done under that visible layer.

Although the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause prohibits taking things of value, like money, from foreign nations or their leaders Trump continues to profit from their spending at his various hotels and resorts. All Presidents in the last century have avoided such things with those in our lifetimes having put their businesses or investments in blind trusts or otherwise even having the appearance of profiting from their office. Trump does it proudly and often. What’s worse is that the Republican controlled Congress can’t be bothered to take action to enforce it and the courts have thrown out lawsuits filed by those who attempt to hold him accountable.

Trump has made numerous nominations or in some cases appointments of people who were manifestly unqualified. In one case a judicial nominee that couldn’t answer first year law student level questions. In another case the nominee lacked experience and failed to disclose that his wife works in the White House counsel's office. This from the man who when he campaigned claimed that he always hired the best people.

Trump’s first Secretary of Health and Human Services, former congressman Tom Price, was forced to resign over using tax payer funds to pay for private travel expenses. Other cabinet members were caught doing the same thing but managed to get away with it under cover of Price bowing out.

In addition to nominating those who are manifestly unqualified he has been installing agency heads who have previously urged the destruction or shrinkage of the agencies to which they’ve been appointed. First among them is our on former governor, Rick Perry, who when he ran for president said that the Department of Energy was one of the three agencies he wanted to eliminate and now he is the Secretary of Energy. Perry publicly admitted after his appointment he didn’t know that the Department of Energy is responsible for the development and maintenance of the nation’s nuclear warheads.

At the Environmental Protection Agency Trump appointee Scott Pruitt previously spent his career working to dismantle environmental regulations that keep Americans healthy. Pruitt has simply ignored a 2015 law that requires the agency to review areas of the country that aren’t meeting the standard set in 2015 and force compliance in order to protect the health of Americans in those area. Pruitt has begun replacing highly qualified scientific and medical professionals who server on agency advisory committees with people that have a track record of disagreeing with established scientific research and in some cases have financial connections to polluting industries.

Trump has repeatedly attacked judges who have ruled against him on issues like the travel ban. He has attacked the FBI which is investigating allegations of collusion with Russian agents. He has attacked the press and wants to enact laws to make it easier to sue for libel which would weaken the protections afforded by the Bill of Rights.

He has done all this and more in his first year in office and yet the only substantive legislation he has signed is a tax break for millionaires. The damage to our nation and most importantly to our democracy has only just begun.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Trump Policies Not Helping Rural America

On Monday, Trump went to American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Nashville to tout his tax law and preview a new strategy to help rural America but his administration is working on legislation and policies that are the exact opposite of what most farmers and ranchers say the need. Threats to terminate NAFTA and other trade agreements that have expanded agriculture exports to the advantage of American farmers and ranchers aren’t helping rural economies.

Just look at the tax law he signed as one example. According to analyses of the tax law by economists at the Department of Agriculture it could actually lower future farm output and effectively raise taxes on the lowest-earning farm households, while delivering large gains for the richest farmers.

Siraj G. Bawa and James M. Williamson, of the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service, developed a model which of the tax laws effects on farm households which projects that 70 to 80 percent of the law’s benefits will flow to the top 1 percent by income.

In a session hosted by the Agriculture and Applied Economics Association Mr. Bawa said the law actually shrinks tax refunds for the lowest-earning 20 percent of farm households. The reason stems from a combination of changes in the bill, including its elimination of a tax break for domestic production.

While many farmers have cheered Trump initiatives like rescinding tighter regulations on water pollution and weakening worker safety standards his immigration enforcement policies are causing those farmers problems finding enough migrant workers to pick produce.

Canada among other nations is beginning to export goods that have long been a staple of United States exports, such as lobster.

Agriculture industry lobbyists say Trump is hearing from them about maintaining trade agreements that support the rural American economy but they aren’t sure he’s actually being persuaded as they’ve seen no action on their concerns.

A good number of the folks who read this newspaper are involved in agriculture directly or indirectly. Just because they don’t own or work on a ranch or farm doesn’t mean their business or job isn’t dependent on the agriculture industry. Back in 1985 plenty of folks in New Orleans found out they were dependent on the oil industry even though they owned restaurants, clothing stores and lumber yards.

I doubt any readers are in the top 1% who will enjoy the benefits of Trump’s tax law, they’re much more likely to be among the bottom 20% who will see a tax hike. Even those who stand to benefit from the tax law will be hurt if access to foreign markets is reduced due to Trump’s protectionist agenda.

Trump’s rhetoric during the 2016 election campaign was often tuned to rural voters whose overwhelming support helped him win the electoral college victory which put him in the White House. If things don’t work out on the farm they might want to look into a job building Trump’s wall. Of course, once it’s built they’ll be out of a job again.

Published in the Seguin Gazette, January 12, 2017

Saturday, January 6, 2018

No Taxation Without Representation Redux

The slogan "No Taxation Without Representation" summarized a primary grievance of the American colonists during the 1750s and 1760s and was one of the major causes of the 1776 revolution. The lack of representation was more obvious 242 years ago but it is nevertheless true today. Modern Americans suffer the same plight due to extreme partisan gerrymandering.

When voters aren’t able to choose their representation fairly it’s the same as not being represented at all so they are taxed without representation. In addition many of their other concerns are left unmet or even opposed unjustly.

Texas is a prime example of gerrymandering, our state has 36 congressional districts. In the 2016 election the vote split for president was approximately 55% to 45% so you’d expect that Republicans would hold about 20 seats and Democrats 16 but our state is gerrymandered such that Republicans hold 25 seats and Democrats 11. Numerous other states suffer similar unsupportable distribution of seats for the same reason.

Elected officials drawing the district maps use sophisticated analysis to create districts that favor one party or another. Packing refers to drawing districts in such a way as to maximize the number of disfavored voters in the fewest possible districts. Cracking refers to a technique that splits disfavored groups of voters into districts with majorities of the favored party’s voters so that they’re unable to amass a majority in any district therefore blocking them from selecting a representative of their choice. Both techniques are outlawed by the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and a number of states and smaller jurisdictions including Texas were once required to get approval from the Justice Department before finalizing redistricting due to prior bad behavior. Unfortunately the Supreme Court overturned Section IV of the VRA which covered pre-clearance in 2013 and parties in power in many states let fly with bad behavior that had previously not been permitted.

Last summer a three-judge panel of a federal district court ruled 2-1 that the drawing of two Texas congressional districts, the 27th and 35th, violated both the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The panel issued a similar ruling on maps for the Texas state House of Representatives. In early September the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling issued a stay of the order which means that this year we’ll again use the unconstitutional maps for our elections.

The Supreme Court currently has three gerrymandering cases from Wisconsin, North Carolina and Maryland before it. In the case of Maryland it’s the Democrats playing dirty. We can expect decisions in these cases by the end of the current term this summer.

Even if the Supreme Court rules against the states which have gerrymandered districts the ruling won’t have any effect until 2020 and by then many voters will have gone nearly a decade without fair representation. Worse yet, unless the court invokes a portion of Section 2 of the VRA known as bail in, which would require offending jurisdictions to once again submit redistricting for pre-clearance, we’ll just go through the same decade long legal stand-off all over again after the 2020 census invokes redistricting in 2021.

There is a solution to all this, Texas could follow Austin’s lead and create a citizens redistricting commission which would be tasked with creating fair district maps without regard to partisanship. Common Cause Texas proposed such a bill last session and it was filed by Representative Victoria Neave but the Redistricting Committee chair failed to even call a meeting the committee so neither it nor any other proposal even got a hearing. Hopefully the Texas legislature does better in 2019.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Collateral Damage Comes to Texas

One week ago today a six year old boy was shot to death in Schertz. This wasn’t a gang shooting or even a domestic violence incident. The little boy was at home because school had let out early on the last day before Christmas break. He was in his home with family behind a locked door. Kameron Prescott died as a result of gunfire from law enforcement officers.

My heart goes out to the parents and family of the little boy. I can’t imagine how distraught I would have been if that had happened to my daughter but I tear up just contemplating such a horror.

According to news reports Bexar County Sheriff deputies had been chasing the suspect for some time and say she threatened them repeatedly with what she claimed was a gun. When deputies cornered her attempting to get into Kameron Prescott’s home they report she held up what appeared to be a gun and all four deputies fired. At least one bullet missed the suspect, went through the wall of the home hitting the boy in the abdomen and he died shortly afterward. No gun has been found days later.

I grew up understanding that peace officers are supposed to protect lives so I can’t help but wonder if our society hasn’t crossed a line that ought not be crossed if peace officers are willing to shoot at a suspect without due regard for the people behind that suspect. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar says that he believes his deputies followed proper procedure; if so perhaps procedure needs to be reviewed if the rules of engagement allow firing on a suspect when people are behind them.

What sort of training are local police and sheriff’s deputies getting that all four would fire without considering that the house probably had people in it and perhaps shooting wasn’t a good idea? Has our society’s willingness to accept the deaths of innocent civilians referred to as “collateral damage” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen led us to accept similar disregard for innocents here at home?

If we don’t ask questions like this now we may end up with the same kind of unaccountable and out of control policing as the infamous Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart Division. This may indeed have been an unavoidable tragedy but not asking questions and demanding a thorough investigation and expecting full transparency in the results of that investigation sends a message that the community will accept whatever law enforcement dishes out.

If we simply accept the death if this innocent child and move on; we’re telling our sheriffs and police chiefs that they don’t have to work hard to do better and be better. I think we should all be asking our local police chiefs and sheriffs to review their use of force policies with an eye toward avoiding a senseless tragedy like the death of Kameron Prescott. I’ll be asking my city councilman and mayor to demand that the police chief review the department’s training and use of force policies in light of this tragedy and I hope you will too.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - December 29, 2017