Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hullabaloo over protest hypocritical

I’m not a football fan so it took me a few days to catch onto the hoopla surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s choice to not stand at attention for the national anthem. Then I thought it would blow over and people would move on to more important matters. Weeks later I still see conservative outrage that a man would exercise his constitutional right to non-violent protest of injustice.

All the anger Kaepernick’s act has generated is deeply disturbing considering that the argument I hear most often from conservatives is that he has behaved disrespectfully toward our troops. Did you watch a game on television this weekend? Did you stand with hand over heart while the national anthem was played and the flag presented? If you watched a game and didn’t stand for the anthem weren’t you just as disrespectful?

How could anything be more disrespectful to our troops than sending them into a needless and illegal war in Iraq? Isn’t it disrespectful to our troops to say it is too expensive to provide those injured in war with the medical care and support services they need like Senator Jeff Sessions did in 2014?

Looking at it another way, the oath of enlistment our troops take upon entering service says: I “solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed ...”. Since the First Amendment of the United States Constitution says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech…” isn’t Kaepernick’s choice to kneel instead of stand a constitutionally protected act which is what our troops have sworn to defend? How is that disrespectful?

If you really must take what goes on at football games so seriously then wasn’t it incredibly disrespectful for fans at several NFL games last Sunday booed with President Obama’s recorded tribute 9-11 tribute was played? If you’re going to call out Kaepernick that shouldn’t you be calling out those fans too? Oh wait, it seems that the same folks calling out Kaepernick are the fans booing our president.

When the Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks said of Pres. George W. Bush “we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas” they were called treasonous and received death threats. If you had a problem with the Dixie Chicks please explain why those booing President Obama aren’t treasonous too. The irony is that those doing the booing were also the ones who stopped buying Dixie Chick music.

We should be proud that Kaepernick and Maines felt comfortable making their protest; in many countries such acts could have cost them their lives or at the very least their freedom. Isn’t that what our troops fight for?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Snake Oil and Trump University

On the radio I recently heard that the for profit technical school ITT Technical Institute has closed its doors; blaming the shutdown on a recent move by the U.S. Education Department to ban the company from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid. In another statement , they called it over-regulation. That’s a claim I often hear from conservatives, too much regulation is what they say prevents job creation.

I’m fairly sure that old time snake oil salesmen said the same thing when the FDA was given enforcement powers putting many of them out of business. Of course that claim is true in the strictest sense, because when our government regulates health and safety causing a business to stop selling its unsafe or ineffective product someone does lose a job but then those who aren’t harmed or defrauded benefit and reputable businesses prosper.

In the case of ITT Technical Institute the Department of Education has been under pressure to reduce student loan defaults. The Department of Education investigated and found that a high percentage of those who graduated from such schools were unable to find employment and that the placement assistance promised was either inadequate or non-existent. This led to those graduates either being unemployed or going back to the same kind of low paying burger flipper job they had borrowed $30,000 or more to try to escape.

ITT Technical Institute like so many other for profit education companies were modern day snake oil salesmen and like their earlier counterparts will complain loudly that have been unfairly maligned and that their employees have been put out of work. Sadly the students will have no one to advocate for them as they attempt to carry on with their lives many still owing tens of thousands of dollars and for the current students not even a worthless diploma to show for it.

This ITT Technical Institute debacle is remarkably similar to the Trump University scam wherein prospective students were promised they would learn from real estate investment experts hand picked by Donald Trump and materials prepared or at least reviewed by him. What they got were people hired to present material many of whom had no familiarity with real estate investing prior to reading the material in preparation to give the class. Donald Trump has been sued in numerous states as well as being investigated by the attorneys general of several others. Trump famously or infamously called the presiding judge in one of the pending cases biased because he’s a Mexican, which is a lie.

The Trump University scandal doesn’t just involve the presidential candidate. It also includes our own Governor Greg Abbot, then Attorney General of Texas, who took a $35,000 campaign contribution and Pam Bondi, currently Attorney General of Florida, who took a $25,000 contribution from Trump at around the times each decided to drop their respective investigations into fraud at Trump University.

There’s apparently plenty of tar to go around yet we don’t hear much of this in the media. This is exactly the same kind of crony capitalism that rank and file members of both parties are so frustrated with. So message to Republicans: Trump is not the answer!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A "miracle" that never really was

The “Texas Miracle” is no more, in fact it never really was. Texas women are suffering high rates of death in child birth or shortly thereafter and our economy has soured with the downturn in oil and natural gas prices.

Recent reports show maternal death rates have doubled in recent years making Texas the most deadly state in which to give birth. In fact if we were a stand alone nation we’d be worse than every other developed country. There is as yet no definitive answer to why more Texas women die in child birth or for associated reasons but it’s not hard to imagine that the fact that Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation might have something to do with it. You can thank our Republican leadership for that since our governor and state legislature have refused to accept Medicaid expansion even though the federal government will cover 90% of the cost.

There is also a likely connection to our Republican led government cutting funding to Planned Parenthood and other providers of women’s health care. There is certainly a connection to the increased number of births covered by Medicaid.  

When running for governor in 2014 Greg Abbott promised continued growth of the economy and that we would be number one in the United States. He has failed miserably; Texas has fallen from third in the nation to twenty first. Republicans have taken credit for a strong economy in Texas for the last 20 years which they claimed was due to a “business friendly” read low tax, low service government. No change in either taxes or services have occurred, the rest of the country continues to recover from the 2007 Wall Street implosion and yet Texas’ economy is well on its way to the bottom.

When Greg Abbott sought the governorship in 2014 he said he didn’t want Texas to be like California, well he got is wish. MassachusettsOregon, Delaware, Colorado and California are ranked as the top five economies in the nation by Governing magazine. The one thing they all have in common is Democratic leadership in the governor’s mansion and the legislature. Some of those states have raised the minimum wage, some have increased spending on infrastructure, they’ve all accepted Medicaid expansion. Remember that expanding Medicaid not only means more people get health care it also means more people are employed providing health care and those people spend money and buy houses.

In short our Republican leadership has taken the wrong road and all of Texas is suffering for it. We have an opportunity in November to start cleaning house. The only way that happens if we all vote so take a family member, take a neighbor or take a friend and if anyone tells you that their vote doesn’t make a difference or they’re all alike remind them that we could be growing like California instead of tanking like Kansas.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Republicans should know you can't have it both ways

As traffic and the number of school age children increase cities all over Texas struggle to address the needs of their citizens. Down the road in Cibolo the elected leaders believe that in order for the city to develop in an economically sustainable way it needs extend FM 1103 which currently runs from I-35 to FM 78 so it goes all the way to I-10. In fact this idea has been around since at least 2006 but state funding hasn’t been available and city leaders have been told it will be at least another 20 years if then before money might be available.

Rather than give up and wait a generation or more for the state to find the money Cibolo’s city council decided to investigate the possibility of partnering with a toll road operation to build the extension. Now some members of the community are up in arms over the idea of tolls and spurious claims of using eminent domain to allow an outside company to as they claim “take property a bargain basement prices”.

I was a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission that reviewed the cities options for financing the extension and recommended that working with a toll operator be explored. I was one of the skeptics on the committee and while I’m no fan of toll roads we agreed that there aren’t many options to finance this project. I reluctantly agreed that the city council should explore a toll road so it can be built.

Now here’s what I have trouble making sense out of, many of the folks objecting the loudest to the idea of a toll road are also staunch low tax Republican voters. When you are a low tax state you must also be a low service state in order to balance the budget. In Texas the city can’t even legally raise taxes to the level necessary to pay for the road and still maintain its other responsibilities. Rather than blaming city council members for taking an action they don’t like; these folks ought to be calling our state representative John Kuempel and state senator Donna Campbell to tell them to raise taxes enough to do the job that state governments are supposed to do.

While they’re at it they should also remind our state legislators that funding public education is required by the Texas constitution and they’re doing a pitiful job of that too. The legislature still hasn’t fully restored the funding cuts from they made in 2011 when thousands of Texas teachers were fired and more kids were jammed into each classroom.

Republicans are funny; they don’t want to pay taxes but they expect to get high quality services like good roads and great teachers. Most of us know that you get what you pay for; I just wish Republicans understood that.