Friday, August 18, 2017

Trump the Worst But Better Than Republican Alternatives

Regardless of the scandals, racist policies, incompetence and outright ignorant foreign policy of our current president I’m not all that interested in seeing him impeached any time soon. I’d much rather the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation find every bit of the dirt and then begin the impeachment process sometime in May of 2020 after it’s too late for any real competition for the Republican nomination.

Recently published research shows that regardless of Trump’s plummeting national approval rating, Republican voters in those districts that voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 still rate him the same as they did on his inauguration day. I see little chance of that changing so if all else remains equal we’ll lose again in 2020. We’re going to need the next three and a half years to figure out and execute a plan to get non-voters to the polls. Here in Texas that’s a lot of folks, in fact more than half of the voting age population of Texas didn’t vote at all. Based on demographics most of them are likely to vote for Democrats if they can be persuaded to show up at the polls. Winning in Texas is really important since if Texas had swung to the Democrats in 2016 Trump would have been two votes short in the electoral college and we’d likely have a Democratic president today.

We’ve got serious work to do in South Texas, for example in Hidalgo County the voting age population is over 616,000 and just 28% voted in 2016. El Paso County has a voting age population of 638,000 and only 33% voted. Harris County, 3.3 million and 39% turnout, Bexar County 1.4 million 41% turnout, Guadalupe County 115,000 and 49.4% turnout. Pathetic as those numbers are statewide the turnout rate was just 42.62%. Non-voter demographics suggest that about two out of three of them would vote for Democrats if they voted at all, so just an overall turnout increase of 17% would have been enough to win Texas for the Democrats in 2016.

I’m not just interested in impeachment being delayed for electoral reasons. It is actually in the best interest of the American people to have an incompetent Republican in the oval office rather than a competent one. If Mike Pence were President, he might very well have been able to work with the House and Senate to come up with a bill to repeal at least parts of the Affordable Care Act and who knows how many Americans would suffer and die for the greed of his wealthy sponsors. While some pundits argue that Mueller is going after Pence too, even if both are impeached the Speaker of the House is next in line of succession and that gives us Paul Ryan as President which I don’t see as a good thing.

Ryan is the architect of the House version of the bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act which would kick 15 million Americans off Medicaid and cause another 7 million to lose their insurance coverage. Not only that but even very conservative estimates suggest passage of repeal would lead to the unnecessary and preventable deaths of 15,000 to 20,000 Americans every year. Then there’s the untold suffering of those who would be left untreated for illnesses that too often damage their bodies for life. Not to mention the number of bankruptcies that would increase again due to those who received medical care they then couldn’t pay for.

Trump may be one of the worst presidents ever but anyone other Republican is likely to be worse for America.

Published in the Seguin Gazette August 11, 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

Trump Antics Distract From Damage

While many of us have been watching the train wreck that is the Trump administration quite a few damaging pieces of legislation have been signed into law almost unnoticed.

As is often the case Republicans are all for local control until it threatens some rich guy’s profits. Two bills HJR 66 and HJR 67 have rescinded Obama era rules that made it possible for states to setup their own IRA-type retirement savings programs. California was the first to jump on the option which would have created a way for millions of Californians who work for employers without a 401k or pension plan to save for their retirement. Trump signed the bill which blocks states from setting up such payroll savings plans. The bill rescinds Department of Labor rules designed to expand the number of working Americans with access to IRA-styled savings accounts. Between 30 and 55 million Americans have lost the option to join a payroll deduction savings plan, which is well known to be the best way to save for retirement.

HJR 43 reversed the Health and Human Services rule that prevented states like Texas from withholding funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood that perform abortions. In so doing, Republicans and their rubber stamp Trump have caused tens of thousands of poor women in Texas to lose the chance to have mammograms, birth control and other reproductive health services unrelated to abortions.

HJR 83 rolls back protections for workers who are injured on the job by reducing the statute of limitations on inaccurate record keeping from five years to six months. Once again Republicans let dangerous employers off the hook by letting them get away with sloppy record keeping thus making it harder to prove that the employer is negligent.

For those of you rich enough to hunt from an airplane or helicopter HJR 69 repeals a rule issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which prohibited aerial hunting of bears and wolves and bear-baiting, in Alaska. No one should have to hike for miles in the wilderness to kill an animal so they can hang its head on their wall.

Next time you’re out of work due to your employer going bankrupt or simply a reduction in force and you file for unemployment compensation don’t be surprised if you are told you have to take a drug test because Republicans in congress passed HJR 42 so you can be further demeaned. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that in every state where its been tried almost no one who files for unemployment ever tests positive for drug use. If you’re a conservative it seems to be a matter of principle that being unemployed means you’re a slacker and a druggy. Of course you’ll notice that they never test for alcohol abuse so it must be OK to be a drunk.

Since regulations to protect government contractors by requiring employers to disclose labor law violations, including wage theft, unsafe working conditions and hiring discrimination offended their big money supporters Republicans passed and Trump signed HJR 37. By rescinding those regulations Republicans have once again given a green light to federal contractors who steal from their employees.

That’s just some of the lowlights you might have missed in the first six months of the Trump train wreck. It’s important not to let the shenanigans reported in the media distract us from the real damage being done by the Republican Party.

Published in the Seguin Gazette August 4, 2017

Friday, August 4, 2017

In the last presidential election Donald Trump ran a faux populist campaign that fooled just enough people in the right states to win. Just six months into his term we can already see that he is not who he claimed to be. He claimed to have a healthcare plan that would cover more people at lower cost when in fact he had no plan at all.

The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t provide routine healthcare to all its citizens. In the last week or so the real populist group Our Revolution, a Bernie Sanders campaign spinoff, announced its Summer for Progress project which includes providing good healthcare to all Americans. The group is supporting HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act filed by long time supporter John Conyers.

Our Revolution knows that there is more to be done than just insuring that the sick get the treatment they need. It is unacceptable that a person should work a full time job and still live in poverty so Our Revolution is promoting the Raise the Wage Act, HR 15, which would raise the minimum wage. Remember as it stands now our tax dollars subsidize the profits of some of America’s most profitable companies, think Walmart, by providing benefits like food stamps and housing assistance to their employees whom they pay poverty wages.

Back in the 1960’s a high school education would enable a worker to get a job that would lead them to a middle class life but that hasn’t been possible in decades yet attaining a college education is impossible for too many Americans due to the high costs. I can still remember television ads for the United Negro College Fund which used the tag line “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”. That idea is as true today as it ever was and applies to even more people. Keep in mind that one of reasons that companies use when applying to bring in foreign workers is that there aren’t enough Americans with the necessary skills here in the U.S. If we educated our citizens we might find that wasn’t the case so Our Revolution is promoting the College for All Act, HR 1880 which would pay the tuition and fees for any American who attends a two year or four year college.

Today many Texans think they’re registering to vote when they get a drivers license or update it but even though they mark the box the Department of Public Safety doesn’t always forward the information to the Secretary of State so the person remains unregistered and when they show up at the polls they’re unable to vote. A federal lawsuit was filed last year over this but that’s not enough, it’s time we require every state to automatically register voters who pass through their drivers license offices so Our Revolution is promoting the Automatic Voter Registration Act, HR 2840 which would do just that.

While these issues and more are important right now we have an even larger, worldwide problem looming over us and that’s global climate change. It is now a certainty that the next 50 years will see more frequent crop failures due to longer, deeper droughts. We’ll see more frequent, more intense hurricanes. In order to minimize the damage we have to stop wrecking the environment soon so Our Revolution is supporting congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard in developing a Climate Change bill.

Join us 10am Saturday at Hemisfair Park in support of Medicare for All.

Published in the Seguin Gazette July 28, 2017

Friday, July 28, 2017

Letter from the future

Dateline July 11, 2082

It’s 65 years to the day since the Larsen C ice shelf calved one of the ten largest icebergs ever up to that time. Within the next three years my grandpa told me it was like the break on a pool table in slow motion as the rest of the ice shelf broke up. While none of that changed the sea level as the ice shelf was already floating in the water, it did allow the glaciers that had previously fed the shelf to run free and speed up they did. Thirty years later when grandpa died the Antarctic continent of was only half covered in ice.

Just fifteen years after the calving event, when I was 7 years old, sea levels had already risen one foot. Today with sea levels four feet higher then when my grandparents moved to Texas, Galveston and Port Arthur are depopulated due to constant flooding and the damage done by three category 6 hurricanes over the last 50 years.

McAllen and Corpus Christi have taken a beating from mammoth hurricanes as well. Between higher sea levels causing the coast to move inland, hurricanes, and the collapse of fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico all the little towns that used to be on the coast like Rockport and Aransas Pass are little more than ghost towns.

When I was little I remember being able to spend most of the day during the summer outdoors playing with my friends. Today no one goes outside between 9am and 7pm four months out of the year and yet more than 2,000 Texans die every year due to the 125 degree heat anyway.

The house outside San Antonio where my mom grew up and the one where I was born, along with just about all the others in the sprawl between San Antonio and Austin are abandoned. The desert has encroached half way to Houston and there isn’t enough water to live there anymore given that Nestle now owns nearly all the water rights.

Grandpa said some crazy president back when the ice shelf calved wanted to build a wall to keep Mexicans from crossing the border on foot. I find that hard to imagine because there’s nothing but a thousand miles of desert from Mexico City to nearly Houston. They can’t even get water at the Rio Grande unless there’s been a hurricane recently.

For hundreds of years nations have fought wars over natural resources; at the turn of the century it was oil now, we fight for potable water because it is the most precious resource of all. Some cities started recycling wastewater before I was born, now every city and town does it even if they have access to lakes or wells that have fresh water year round because they sell that water if Nestle doesn’t already own it.

When I was a kid we still had access to fruit and vegetables from all over the world but that’s almost impossible now as few countries can feed their own people. Countries now trade food for other food, not money unless the government is totally corrupt and even ruthless dictators know better than to let too many people starve.

Grandpa was politically involved to the very end. The thing that made him most angry was the climate change deniers. He said the scientists knew the environment was being wrecked and the politicians did nothing to stop it because it would hurt profits. Everyone knows now, but it’s too late.

They say the dome covering the city will officially be complete tomorrow.

Published in the Seguin Gazette July 21, 2017

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