Friday, August 26, 2016

Trump's Ethical Dilemna

"Every Republican nominee since Richard Nixon, who at one time was under an audit, has released their tax returns" according to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. No major party nominee has failed to release tax returns since at least 1976 so what’s holding up Donald Trump? Perhaps it’s because they’ll show he isn’t the billionaire he claims to be. Perhaps it will simply show Trump has not made the millions of dollars of charitable contributions he claims to have made. Or more troubling it may be due to the connections to various Russian oligarchs whose wealth Trump relies on to fund his many ventures since no U.S. bank will lend to him. Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets, we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Trump adviser Carter Page has extensive dealings with Gazprom, the Russian state-run energy company with strong ties to Putin and his inner circle. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort consulted for former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich, a key Putin ally, until his ouster in February 2014. There’s even a ledger, recently found in Ukraine, that was maintained by Yanukovich’s staff listing $12 million as fees to Manafort.

What will Trump do if Putin makes it known that he wants to complete the annexation of Crimea or perhaps all of Ukraine and if Trump protests Putin’s buddies will cutoff funding for Trump’s projects? That’s a question that concerns ethics lawyers who worked for President George W. Bush, presidential candidates Bob Dole, John Kerry, and Mitt Romney, among others. They all agree Trump would have more potential business conflicts than any prior president.

Trump’s conflicts of interest aren’t limited to Russian investors, he’s invested in 500+ companies around the world. Many are limited liability corporations related to real estate holdings, including properties in Panama, Istanbul, Mumbai, Puerto Rico and Dubai. How would Trump behave if one of those countries says they’ll nationalize his local assets if the U.S. doesn’t relent on some issue or give them preferential trade treatment?

Trump has said many times that his children and executives would manage his businesses instead of selling them off. "This is certainly going to present an unprecedented ethical dilemma if Trump wins," said Kenneth Gross, a partner at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, who provided legal assistance to several presidential candidates during their campaigns. "He can't just get amnesia. He's stuck with the knowledge of what he owns."

The Donald has waffled when describing his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump claims he's never spoken to Putin yet in 2014 Trump said he did. According to Trump, Putin "could not have been nicer" and has praised him as a canny leader who he respects. In the last week his daughter Ivanka posted on social media a photo of her and Putin’s girlfriend out sightseeing together.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Execution of Wood unjustified

Supporters of the death penalty usually claim that it’s OK because only the worst killers are executed. In Texas that isn’t always the case and I’m not even considering the questionable convictions using tainted evidence or prosecutorial misconduct. No, I’m talking about what will happen in about two weeks. On August 24th Texas is scheduled to execute a man who even the prosecution says didn’t kill anyone. If you think he’s guilty of some other heinous crime you’d be wrong.

How is that legal, you might ask. Texas criminal code includes something referred to as the “law of parties” wherein all those party to a crime are guilty to the same degree for whatever happens even if they didn’t actually participate in the act. In this case Jeff Wood was the getaway driver for a convenience store robbery in which the robber shot and killed the clerk. Wood wasn’t even in the building at the time of the crime. The actual shooter was executed more than a decade ago and Wood has been in prison for the last 18 years.

In addition to the question of culpability, there’s also the question of Wood’s competence to stand trial. The trial was initially postponed because a jury deemed Wood incompetent to stand trial. Wood has borderline intellectual functioning and a history of emotional issues. 

And then there’s the wildly speculative and inflammatory testimony of Dr. James Grigson, the infamous forensic psychiatrist known by many, including his peers, as “Dr. Death,” for testifying in nearly every death penalty case he appeared in that the defendant would present a future menace unless executed. It’s amazing that Grigson was even allowed to testify given that he’d been expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and its Texas counterpart for his unethical behavior long before he testified against Wood.

No one, not even his family, is suggesting that Wood wasn’t involved in the commission of a crime but if your support for the death penalty is due to your need for retribution how does executing Jeff Wood satisfy that need? If you consider yourself Christian; how does “an eye for an eye” square with the Christ’s teaching on forgiveness? If your view is that “it’s the law”; just remember that slavery was once the law of the land and in 1940’s Germany gassing Jews was legal.

Recent research shows that the victim’s families don’t feel the closure so often imagined when the culprit is executed. So the questions are: Why are we executing this man? What purpose does it serve?

To quote Gov. Greg Abbott: “Human life is not a commodity or an inconvenience. It is our most basic right. Without it, we have no other rights.”

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Textbook Peddling Nonsense

"Mexican American Heritage," is the first textbook on Mexican Americans ever included in a list of pre-approved instructional materials for Texas public schools. The authors must have been fans of Donald Trump before it was cool because they attribute poverty, drugs, crime, non-assimilation, and exploitation to Mexican Americans and link the ethnic group to illegal immigration. Apparently the history books’ authors don’t understand enough history to realize that many Mexican American families can trace their roots in Texas to a time when it was part of Mexico. In case I’m not being the clear, the border moved not the people.

In another part of the book they claim “Studies have shown that the Mexican American community suffers from a significant gap in education levels, employment, wages, housing, and other issues relating to poverty that persist through the second, third, and fourth generations". These are the same insults used against every other ethnic group that has ever set foot on this continent since the 1700s. Irish Catholics, Italians and Poles are just a few of the groups who have suffered such ethnic slurs over the last 300 or so years.

As it turns out the publisher of this travesty of a textbook is owned in part by Republican activist and former State Board of Education (SBOE) member Cynthia Dunbar. This is the same woman who questioned whether public education was even constitutional. Apparently she shares Donald Trump’s aversion to reading our founding documents since the Texas Constitution states: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

There are numerous like minded members of the SBOE still in office, one of them represents our district. Ken Mercer has supported textbooks and curricula that even other conservative groups like the Fordham Institute consider bad. Here’s what they had to say “Indeed, both in public hearings and press interviews, the leaders of the State Board of Education made no secret of their evangelical Christian-right agenda, promising to inculcate biblical principles, patriotic values, and American exceptionalism. And politics do figure heavily in the resulting TEKS. . . . Complex historical issues are obscured with blatant politicizing throughout the document. Biblical influences on America’s founding are exaggerated, if not invented. The complicated but undeniable history of separation between church and state is flatly dismissed.”

Mercer also claims that evolution is a hoax. Even the conservative Catholic Church has accepted the science of evolution since the 1950s and Pope Francis has reiterated that position recently. I spent 12 years in Catholic schools and well remember the high school biology lessons including evolution.

Now here’s the good part, you have an opportunity this November to retire Ken Mercer by voting for Rebecca Bell-Metereau. She’s a professor at Texas State University in San Marcos, her daughters went to public schools here in Texas. Bell-Metereau knows education and what we can do to make it better for all Texas children. If you don’t have a single other reason to vote in November improving the education of the next generation of Texans by replacing a reactionary with a professional educator should be more than enough.

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Contrast Between Two Candidates

As of Tuesday both major parties have officially nominated their candidates for President of the United States. There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the two people. The Republican Party has nominated a man who has handed a millions by his father and used it to build immense wealth including interests in over 500 companies. The Democratic Party selected a woman who grew up middle class and upon entering law school began a life in which public service has always been a part.

While still in law school Hillary Clinton gathered the information and provided the reports that led to legislation requiring that disabled children get equal access to public education. While still in law school she documented segregated academies in the south that were illegally getting public funds and tax breaks which led Richard Nixon’s administration to stop the practice.

Hillary Clinton has not only been a law school professor and a successful lawyer but she’s also been an advocate for public education, improving access to health care in rural areas and for children of low income families to name a few of her accomplishments. As Secretary of State she was able to triple the number of poor Africans able to get AIDS drugs through programs paid for by our tax dollars without spending any additional money by arranging to buy generic drugs at one third the price.

While Trump has thrown a few parties and donated some money to worthy causes, all indications are that it wasn’t nearly as much as he pretends. Since he won’t release his tax returns like every other presidential candidate for over a generation we don’t know what he has really done or even if he’s really the billionaire he claims to be.

Hillary Clinton has succeeded in working with people who had no reason to want to work with her by finding common ground as exemplified by her work to pass legislation by working with Tom Delay. She recognized that he was an adoptive parent and might be sensitive to the needs of children in foster care. They worked together to pass legislation that significantly increased the number of children adopted out of the foster care system which has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of young people over the last 20 years.

Donald Trump divorced two wives during that time and now wants you to believe he’ll never let you down.

Hillary Clinton's lifelong dedication to public service is absolutely astounding. As Bill Clinton said in his speech at the DNC convention in Philadelphia, “Very few politicians have ever made as much positive change in their entire political career as she did before she was 30”. I’m anxious to see the positive change she can bring about as President of the United States.

Friday, July 29, 2016

GOP’s message based on fear

By now you probably know that Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President of the United States. Monday at the Republican convention had the theme “Make America Safe Again”. It was all about fear, fear of others, fear of job loss, fear of loss of status.

Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani took the podium and claimed Americans have reason to live in fear but that’s just a lie since crime statistics show that the country is safer than it has been in 20 years and police officers have also been safer over the last 5 years than over the prior 20 years.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke told attendees that the peaceful protesters of Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street are anarchists and the crowd cheered. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that in other venues Clarke has called the Black Lives Matter movement “black slime” that “needs to be eradicated from the American society and the American culture,” and a “subversive movement” that seeks to overthrow the government. That’s really funny for someone like Clarke who recently accepted the “ Constitutional Sheriff of the Year” award from the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, an anti-government group that promotes the idea that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the country and thus have the power to defy federal laws that they believe are unconstitutional. In his acceptance speech , Clarke declared that “government” was the “common enemy” of the “patriots” in the room. In a radio interview he said that “on an everyday basis, to me, federal government is a bigger threat” than terrorism.

Rep. Mike McCaul, Congressman from Texas promoted fear of immigrants. So did Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions who also claimed that immigration is the reason that wages are down and jobs are scarce. He went on to say Trump will build the wall and stop immigration.

Though not a speaker at the convention Congressman Steve King of Iowa was on the set of one of the cable channels covering the convention and claimed that western civilization, which he defined as Europe and the United States, contributed more to civilization than any other subgroup. I wonder if he understands what China or Egypt were like while Europeans were still living in squalor. Mr. King either has no grasp of history and geography or he is a racist, you decide.

Rick Perry said “making America great again starts with taking care of our veterans”. The problem with this statement is that it is his party which has prevented increasing the VA budget to adequately provide the care our veterans deserve because, according the Alabama Congressman Jeff Sessions, it’s an entitlement we can’t afford.

Arkansas Congressman Tom Cotton blamed Hillary Clinton for all he perceives wrong with American foreign policy without once mentioning his traitorous letter to the Iranian leadership in which he attempted to undermine the nuclear deal President Obama signed with them.

Former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell, Rudy Giuliani and Tom Cotton all blamed Hillary Clinton for the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi even though it was Republicans who blocked funding for more security at our embassies.

I don’t know how conservatives can stand to live in such constant fear especially when their fears are baseless. If they want something to be afraid of they should consider global climate change, but that would mean upsetting coal mining operators and oil industry executives.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Elections Tied to Post Oak Dump

The proposed Post Oak Dump is an ongoing controversy in Guadalupe County similar to one in Maverick County near Eagle Pass over a coal mine operated by Dos Republicas Coal Partnership. Both projects require permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). In both situations the citizens of the area have brought up significant concerns over damage to local water resources.

In Maverick County, despite long opposition from local residents and environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Dos Republicas has received TCEQ permits to expand its operation and to discharge waste-polluted storm water and mine seepage into nearby Elm Creek, which feeds the Rio Grande — the source of drinking water for many Maverick County residents — and Hediondo Creek, a recreational fishing stream.

In Guadalupe County, the fight to prevent Post Oak Dump from acquiring a permit from TCEQ continues because residents fear that storm water runoff will become contaminated by the refuse buried there and carry those contaminants into the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer recharge zone thereby adversely affecting drinking water in the area.

Whether project opponents in Maverick County or Guadalupe County realize it these fights are related to who we elect as Texas Governor and as our state legislators. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is run by appointees of the governor and his views on environmental protection versus the interests of business have a tremendous effect on the decisions made by the agency. As Maverick County residents have recently learned business interests outweigh safe, clean water needs in the minds of TCEQ decision makers. Of course that’s not surprising when you consider that Gov. Abbott leads a party whose state platform calls for eliminating the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

State legislators also have an impact on the decisions the agency makes through passing laws and budgets. This November we have an opportunity to affect the Post Oak Dump decision by who we vote for in the race for Texas House District 44. Incumbent John Kuempel has publicly opposed the project but has done nothing to change the process which led to the preliminary permit or that might prevent approval of a final permit. We can re-elect our current Republican who has supported the Governor at every turn or we can send a message that we’ve had enough by electing Robert Bohmfalk instead.

It could take a generation to truly change the course of the TCEQ even if we elected good environmental stewards to every state office because our overly business friendly Governors have appointed commissioners with the same philosophy to the agency which then is passed down through the hiring process for agency employees at every level. If we don’t start now we won’t see improvement in our lifetimes.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

H.R. 2802 is un-American

Next week in the U.S. Congress the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is scheduled to hold a hearing on the First Amendment Defense Act, H.R. 2802. Among other things the bill would allow retailers, restaurants and even government employees to discriminate against anyone whose marriage or sex life they claim offends their religious sensibilities.
The bill says the federal government can take not action against those who discriminate “…on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” While it is clearly aimed at allowing discrimination against same sex marriage participants the language is so broad that also includes those who: divorce and remarry, have a child out of wedlock and sex outside of marriage.
Do you have family or friends who could be discriminated against if this bill passes? Keep in mind that this bill authorizes federal employees to refuse to process applications for Medicare or Social Security benefits, or VA benefits. It would allow the local restaurant to fire a waitress if the management thought they were having sex with their boyfriend. The pharmacist could refuse service to a pregnant woman known to be unmarried. The Catholic grocer could refuse sell you groceries if you’ve divorced and remarried.
171 House Republicans are co-sponsoring this bill, with 23 of 25 Texas Republicans participating. Discrimination isn’t what the First Amendment was written to protect. Just the opposite, it was written to allow anyone to practice their religion not forcing others to practice it. The First Amendment’s clause on religion says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. H.R. 2802 would let a government employee use the power of federal government to deny the rights of others thereby violating the very Constitution that House Republicans claim they are protecting. How very Orwellian of them to use such double speak when describing their bill.
When it’s time to vote this November just remember that one of the consequences of a Republican president is that this bill would likely be signed into law. What would our country be like if that were the case? What would Seguin be like if local businesses decided that they should operate as bedroom police?
On the positive side the Supreme Court overwhelmingly threw out the Texas legislatures’ attempt to ban abortion by regulating them out of existence. The five member majority made it clear that they could see through the lies used to in an attempt to justify the measures as designed to protect the health of women seeking an abortion. It seems that since Republican politicians are unable to attain their goals by telling the truth they’re more than willing to lie and cheat to do so.

Why is it that the religious principles Republican politicians seem so intent on “protecting” all have to do with what other people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms?