Saturday, October 21, 2017

Saving Our Democracy

Early this month a group of America’s top political scientists gathered at Yale University to answer to discuss whether or not American democracy in decline and should we be worried? The near unanimous conclusion was: American democracy is eroding on multiple fronts — socially, culturally, and economically.

Breakdowns in social cohesion, the rise of tribalism, the erosion of democratic norms such as a commitment to rule of law, and a loss of faith in the electoral and economic systems as clear signs of democratic erosion are the symptoms these students of politics offered as support for their conclusions.

While none of the scholars claim we’re near collapse they did say we need to work hard to solve America’s many problems soon. America’s institutions are where democracy has proven most resilient according to the researchers. For now, our system of checks and balances is working: the courts are checking the executive branch, the press remains free, and Congress is generally fulfilling its role as an equal branch.

According to Nancy Bermeo, a politics professor at Princeton and Harvard, democracies don’t merely collapse, as that “implies a process devoid of will.” Democracies die because of deliberate decisions made by human beings.

Most often, the people in power become disconnected from their fellow citizens, seeing themselves as a class unto themselves. They develop promote and pass policies that benefit themselves and their benefactors to the detriment of the rest of society. Over time the citizenry becomes angry and divided tearing society apart.

In the past when this has occurred in the United States we’ve managed to elect leaders who pulled us back from the brink using what you might call class compromise. Teddy Roosevelt became known for trust busting, breaking up monopolies that enriched the few at the cost of the many. His nephew Franklin Delano Roosevelt later was considered a traitor to his class as the wealthy patrician instituted policies and rules that cut into the profits of his wealthy peers in order to recover from the economic collapse caused by financial speculation.

Democracy takes a lot of work much like a marriage; both parties must make an effort to be fair and faithful. I’m not talking about the government or the political parties; I’m referring to the electorate, the citizens. When things were going reasonably well many in this country felt comfortable disengaging from our government forgot the importance of participation and engagement. Today the United States is among the industrialized nations with the lowest average voter turnout. In 2016 Texas was 46th lowest turnout in the nation at 55%. Some parts of Seguin were in the 30% range.

Civic engagement is critical to maintaining our democracy and it starts with little things like knowing who your city councilmember is and how to contact them. We should all remember that local and state government are actually more influential to most people’s daily lives than the president or congress because they make the rules we live by every day.

Political theorists refer to the “social compact,” an implicit agreement among members of society to participate in a system that benefits everyone. Such an agreement only succeeds when we the people demand that our leaders act in our interests and not those of the wealthy donor class.

We must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions; sometimes it just takes phone calls from enough constituents to get their attention. In other cases it’s at the ballot box. Neither of those things will happen with a disengaged electorate which doesn’t even bother to stay informed about what their elected officials are doing.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Comparing Democrat and Republican Tax and Budget Proposals

Congressional Republicans have released some of the details of their proposed rewrite of the federal tax code, and the Texas Association of Realtors responded with a study showing the vast majority of homeowners in this state would pay more taxes if the current proposals are passed into law. The realtors’ study also shows the Republican plan would cost Texas more than 22,000 jobs and $3.4 billion in economic activity, mostly due to the distribution of tax breaks being weighted to the top 5%.

Republicans are also promoting a budget that cuts Medicaid by $110 billion a year. Remember that a substantial fraction of Medicaid covers costs for about two thirds of nursing home residents. That means many of us could end up with our aging and ill parents and in-laws living with us. Are you ready for that?

In addition to those cuts the Republican proposal calls for $47 billion a year in Medicare cuts and raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67. While the proposal doesn’t say exactly how those cuts will manifest themselves they are guaranteed to come out of the pockets of retirees who depend on it for their healthcare. As to raising the eligibility age well that just means higher private insurance costs and industry profits as those of use reaching that again see our premiums rising rate of illness with age. Employer based insurance coverage will also cost more small companies with older employees.

These proposals haven’t gone unchallenged, Democrats in Congress have offered “The People’s Budget”. Where Republicans would cut the healthcare for seniors and reduce the number of people eligible for Medicare/Medicaid Democrats would expand Medicare by offering the Public Option which would allow every American to buy their insurance from Medicare if they can’t find a better deal on the private insurance market.

The Democrats proposed budget permits the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate cheaper drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. This will significantly lower the price of prescription drugs for seniors and save Medicare $429 billion. The People’s Budget also combats monopolies held by drug companies and the use of patent settlements to block generic drug competition for a growing number of branded drugs. The People’s Budget ensures Americans have access to affordable prescription drugs.

The Democrats proposal would eliminate the preference for investment income over labor income which allows a hedge fund manager to earn the same amount as salaried employee and yet allow them to pay a lower tax rate. Currently, the tax code gives preferential treatment to income from investments, long-term capital gains, and qualified dividends. The People's Budget ensures the rich pay their fair share by creating new tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires. It preserves existing marginal tax rates for middle-class families while restoring Clinton-era tax rates on annual incomes above $250,000. For annual incomes above $1 million, it would adopt new progressive tax rates topping out at 49% for $1 billion and over.

While the Republican budget cuts billions from public education spending The People's Budget provides universal access to quality pre-k programs, which will expand social mobility by helping low-income and at-risk students read and write at the same rates as their peers. It would also provide $41 billion a year to eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities.

Even with the cuts proposed by congressional Republicans their budget would increase the deficit $200 billion each year because they also increase tax breaks for big corporations and the 400 or so wealthiest families in the nation. This is the era of Borrow and Spend Republicans.

Friday, October 6, 2017

John Kuempel Touts Distractions From Real Issues

Recently our state representative John Kuempel mailed out a flyer touting he presumably considers accomplishments from the recently completed 2017 legislative session. In this piece of tax payer funded propaganda Kuempel expounds on the value of SB 263 which substantially lowers the cost of handgun license as assisting lower income folks in their quest to take advantage of their Second Amendment rights. I won’t argue the meaning of the Second Amendment or its value in a modern society. Instead I would ask if reducing the fee by over $100 leaves other tax payers subsidizing the cost of administering the licensing program? If it doesn’t, then why were we being gouged by the state in the first place?

On “Election Integrity” Kuempel claims that the smattering of marginal issues addressed in several house ethics related bills is somehow meaningful reform. In reality one of the bills he touts, SB 5 which is another attempt by the legislature to pass a voter ID bill was immediately challenged in court where U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found it was passed with discriminatory intent and is therefore invalid. The legislature made no attempt to deal with redistricting even though both the state House map and the Congressional district maps have both been found to have been drawn with discriminatory intent. There was a bill filed which would have taken the entire redistricting process out of the hands of the state legislature and put in the hands of every day people but Republicans couldn’t even be bothered to give it a hearing.

Public Education has been considered a top priority of the state since it was enshrined in the state constitution in 1845. Once again Kuempel and his Republican colleagues gave it short shrift. Admittedly they did right by shoring up the retired teachers’ health care plan known as TRS Care but the pittance the provided for educating our precious children barely covers the increase in enrollment across the state. Once again many districts across the state will fund their public schools on the back of property taxes. The problem is that no all districts have the same average taxable real estate values so kids in low taxable value districts don’t get the best teachers or facilities.

Kuempel’s pro-birth stance belies the fact that the legislature placed an undue burden on women whose pregnancies fail by forcing them to pay for burial or cremation services instead of disposing of the remains the same way as an amputated foot or arm. The same bill no forces women to purchase separate coverage for abortions that were once covered by their regular health plans. Regardless of how you feel about abortions most Americans understand that there are some medical circumstances involving either the health of the mother or the viability of the fetus where the only safe thing to do is to abort and now those mothers who haven’t recognized the need for a separate policy will be forced to pay for the procedure out of pocket.

All the purported advances in Kuempel’s missive simply distract from his failure to actually do something to improve the lives of his constituents or in some cases made them worse off. Texan’s whose homes suffered damage in the recent hurricane and haven’t filed a claim with their insurer yet lose some of their rights to compensation due to legislation he voted for. Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world and no substantive action was taken to address it. I don’t think John Kuempel has much to be proud of, do you?

Published in the Seguin Gazette, September 29, 2017

Friday, September 29, 2017

It's Not About Healthcare, It's About Campaign Contributions

Once again the Republican Party is leading the charge to take away access to health care from 30 million or so Americans. The leadership is attempting to rush the bill through with minimum scrutiny in order to meet a September 30 deadline for acting with only Republican votes.

When eight months and countless hours of hearings in multiple committees in both the House and Senate had been held prior to the vote on the Affordable Care Act Republicans screamed that the bill was being voted on before anyone knew what was contained in it. Now that Republicans control congress their efforts to take away health care from tens of millions of Americans, 11 million of whom are so poor they qualify for Medicaid, there will be only one hearing and it will be in the Homeland Security Committee which has never held a hearing on healthcare or much of anything else that isn’t about security from terrorism. There will be no witnesses testifying other than the senators who developed the legislation, so no one will hear from health policy experts or the people who will be affected. Make no mistake about it, this is a backroom deal and the goal is to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who don’t need or deserve those breaks.

Unlike Texas, about half the states accepted federal funds and expanded Medicaid. Some of those states are represented by Republican Senators that have already stated that they will vote to take away that funding. Just eliminating Medicaid expansion means 11 million Americans will lose their healthcare. Sure they can still go to an emergency room when they’re really sick or injured but that treatment only covers stopping them from dying right then it doesn’t cover prescription anti-biotics or blood pressure medicine and it doesn’t cover follow up care to insure that a wound hasn’t become infected.

Even Republican governors like John Kasich of Ohio and Bill Walker of Alaska oppose the repeal because they know that doing so will hurt their constituents. Walker is seen as key to getting the bill passed this time as he’s believed to have influence over Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of the three Republicans to vote no last time.

You’d think that at least some Republican Senators might shy away from voting for something that will hurt their constituents so severely but what you don’t know is that a network of wealthy donors has made repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the tax breaks that depend on it a condition of them providing $300 million to $400 million for the 2018 election cycle. In other words no tax breaks, no campaign donations. If Congress fails to repeal the network, led by the Koch brothers, will likely spend much of those funds on primary challengers and make an example of those Republicans who stood in the way.

That’s the problem with our campaign finance system; it’s obvious that these wealthy donors expect to get what they want for their money and just as obvious that our elected leaders are willing to give it to them but it isn’t illegal, even though it is antithetical to a healthy democracy.

 Published in the Seguin Gazette September 22, 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

What hurricanes and cyber crime have in common

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have devastated huge swaths of the coastal United States damaging homes, businesses and public facilities including roads, water treatment plants and power systems. There have been pleas for donations of food, clothing, water and personal hygiene products. Thousands of first responders, power company employees and civilians have rushed in to save lives. Even Washington in a surprise move got its act together and responded promptly with federal funds to support the recovery effort.

All of that has been big news, including the explosion and fire at the Arkema chemical plant outside Houston which sickened first responders when the toxic fumes from a fire blew over them. Knowing what chemicals are stored at a site which is at risk of fire, flood or other catastrophic event is important for a number of reasons. If you know what might explode or catch fire you can take the precautions necessary to protect your life and health such as wear a gas mask or respirator, wear hazmat gear or increase the distance between the material and you and the people you’re protecting. Then in the aftermath when you’re trying to clean up the mess it’s important to know what chemicals may have contaminated the soil and water. If you’re a fan of CSI or a medical show based in an emergency room you probably know that it’s a lot easier and faster to find a toxin in someone’s blood if you already have an idea of what you’re looking for. Now imagine you’re in the Houston refinery and chemical plant corridor. Wouldn’t you want to know what chemicals you’re likely to find?

What you may not know is that Arkema and other similar chemical plant operators have successfully lobbied to be relieved of their responsibility identify the chemicals stored at their facilities. They spent a few hundred thousands of dollars and stand to save millions. The risk of their failure to disclose can be measured by the damage to the health of the first responders charged with keeping people in the area surrounding their facility safe and the contamination that the public will be contending with for years to come. There is so much toxic material in the flood waters that people are being told not to even try to recover their clothes from flooded homes as the toxins can’t just be washed out.

The hurricanes are the only big news affecting millions of people though, credit reporting company Equifax just announced that due to a security breach 143 million Americans are now in danger of having their identities stolen. How is this connected to the disastrous hurricanes and the undue influence of money in politics discussed in the paragraphs above you might ask? It turns out that Equifax along with the other big credit reporting firms are lobbying congress to prevent the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s regulations on forced arbitration from taking effect later this year. Why is that important? It’s important because Equifax states on their webpage where you’re supposed to go to find out if your social security number and other identifying information was stolen has a small print item which says that by checking on your information you are accepting their claim that you can’t sue them and must use arbitration to get restitution. In other words if you ask them if they failed in their duty to protect your information you have absolved them of responsibility for their failure.

These are just two examples this week of the power of money to influence regulations meant to protect Americans. Why do we allow this to continue?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Rescinding DACA isn't the Christian thing to do

When President Obama signed the executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), he said up front that it was a temporary measure designed to give Congress time to act on comprehensive immigration reform. He and most Americans believed it was in the nation’s interest and part of our character to not penalize young people for the actions of their parents. The people eligible for DACA, had to have been brought to this country so young that they had no choice in the matter. They had to be currently in school, have graduated from high school, obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces. Not only that but, they couldn’t have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors of any kind; nor pose a threat to national security or public safety. In other words they had to be educated upstanding individuals, the kinds of people we all want in our community and working with us.

Sadly, the Republican controlled congress never got its act together due to their obsession with insuring that President Obama failed. While Obama was re-elected and had a moderately successful presidency despite Republican obstruction congress failed to govern and couldn’t manage to pass an Immigration Reform bill of any kind, even one that Obama would have vetoed.

Now Trump, the darling of many evangelical Christians, seems to be acting more like an Old Testament believer than the Christian he claims to be by visiting “the iniquity of parents upon children and children’s children, upon the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34). Whatever you think about people who have overstayed their visas or illegally crossed the border how can any merciful, loving person punish the children of those people? We’re talking about kids who brought here at the average age of six who know no other home, no other culture, and often have no other family. Many of them are now parents in their own right, with babies who are citizens of the United States by birth.

I regard this action as Trump’s spiteful rage over his failure to get his border will approved and built. Regardless of that Trump has put the onus of passing legislation on congress. Speaker Paul Ryan claims “It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution…”  Well, if he’d bother to look at legislation that’s already been filed he’d know that there already is a permanent legislative solution called the DREAM Act, which is a bi-partisan bill now co-sponsored by both of Colorado's U.S. Senators, Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner.

If Republicans really want to govern they’ll come together or this bill or some other proposal in time for it to be signed before Trump’s six month delay in DACA termination expires. I frankly don’t hold out much hope given that as much as I’m glad they failed this same pathetic leadership couldn’t pass a health care reform bill even though it was touted as their number one priority.

I for one, will be doing what I can to put pressure on recalcitrant legislators in an effort to insure that they offer the mercy and justice that I learned Christianity meant from Sister Agnes and Brother John Fairfax. I hope you will too.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Upcoming Republican Tax Break Giveaway Spree

This coming Tuesday Congress will go back to work and the top item on the agenda, according to House Speaker Paul Ryan, is tax breaks for billionaires. Of course, he doesn’t call it that but nevertheless that’s what it amounts to. Oh sure, there’s talk of cutting out loopholes but the biggest ones they’re talking about are the breaks that many of us take advantage of such as the mortgage interest deduction and the one on taxes we pay to states and cities in the form of sales tax.

On top of that the size of the tax breaks the Trump, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are talking about can’t be made up just by closing loopholes. If they can manage to agree on a bill that resembles anything like what’s been proposed and Trump signs it we could be looking at adding another $1.2 trillion in debt each year. It should come as no surprise that it would also break a Trump campaign promise.

Back in September 2015, Trump made this pledge to the American people regarding his tax plan: "It reduces or eliminates most of the deductions and loopholes available to special interests and to the very rich. In other words, it's going to cost me a fortune -- which is actually true -- while preserving charitable giving and mortgage interest deductions, very importantly." As I’ve already mentioned the mortgage interest deduction is already on the chopping block. Another proposed change to the tax code that many don’t understand involves what are called pass through businesses like sole-proprietorships and closely held partnerships. Trump’s proposal would drop the tax rate from 35% to t 15%. Since many of Trump’s real estate ventures are sole proprietorships and closely held partnerships he and his children stand to get huge tax breaks. Given Trump’s penchant for bald-faced lies breaking his campaign pledge comes as no surprise.

Then there’s the Republican bogeyman called the Estate Tax, which doesn’t kick in until the estate is worth well over $5 million. Trump and Ryan want to eliminate it entirely even though it only affects 5200 estates of the very wealthiest Americans. Since that tax rate on qualifying estates is 40% of the amount over $5 million, and assuming he’s telling the truth about his net worth, Trump’s kids stand to save $7 BILLION in taxes.

The triumvirate of Trump, Ryan and McConnell are working hard to make the investments that the oligarchs of this country made in their elections payoff. In fact that’s really what the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is really all about. Part of that legislation implements a 3.8% capital gains tax to pay for healthcare.

With such huge tax giveaways there aren’t enough places to raise taxes by cutting other breaks so the most likely plan is to cut benefits just like Gov. Sam Brownback did in Kansas. His efforts to implement Republican low tax ideology wrecked the Kansas economy after six years and made him the least popular governor in the country until fellow Republican Chris Christie overtook him. Recently the Republican controlled legislature in Kansas recognized that trickle down economics doesn’t work and has reversed some of Brownback’s deepest cuts.

 If there is any hope of saving the economy of the entire country Democrats and non-crazy Republicans must stop the Trump/Ryan tax proposals in their tracks.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - September 1, 2017

Friday, September 1, 2017

Afghanistan, A Solution?

I may have misjudged our president, I thought he was an incompetent fool, now I know better. This epiphany occurred when I learned that his chosen senior aides had a long discussion with Erik Prince, formerly CEO of Blackwater, about Afghanistan. Prince was also a campaign advisor and go between for Trump prior to his election. Mr. Prince’s proposal is that the United States privatize the occupation there by replacing our troops with security contractors working for a new company he offered to create. Prince’s plan would also save the U.S. money by paying for his company troops using the proceeds of the mineral wealth they would extract from the country.

In interviews Prince explained that the reason both Bush and Obama failed to succeed in Afghanistan is that they were attempting restore the country to self rule by training and supporting its fledgling government and troops. In his view holding territory and protecting the rural population should be secondary to securing routes to valuable resources and their extraction points such as mines and wells. The desire to complete the job and leave, in other words have an exit strategy, has been the undoing of both prior administrations’ efforts he said. In a television interview Prince said the occupation of Afghanistan is premised on a faulty model. “We’ve fought for the last 15 years with the 1st Infantry Division model,” he says. “Now we should fight with an East India Company model, and do it much cheaper.”

This is a stunning opportunity for the American people, we could bring our troops home while at the same time have the opportunity to invest in this new, potentially highly profitable corporation. The genius of it is that Prince’s plan harkens back to the days of the British East India Company which essentially ruled India for over 100 years. In his presentation to Trump, Mr. Prince pointed out that while American security contractors cost three times as much as American troops he plans to keep costs down by using foreign mercenaries.

What could possibly go wrong? Let’s consider what went wrong with the British East India Company occupation. By working with local chieftains they created warlords rather than strengthening the national government and troops loyal to it. Their troops and their management took graft and corruption to new heights such that the company didn’t turn a profit during the century of the occupation.

Prince isn’t proposing to just replace the U.S. military with hired contractors, his explicit reference to the British East India Company says he’s actually proposing to remove elected civilian control over operations and replace it with a profit seeking corporation’s board of directors. How do you maximize profits in this scenario? You pay as little as possible to the troops while pillaging natural resources. There will be no schools or hospitals built to win hearts and minds or build a better future for the populace; only mines, oil wells and roads to the nearest port.

The very idea that such a proposal would even be considered by high level White House staff is an abomination. The old adage that you can tell the character of a man by the company he keeps tells us all we need to know about Trump. He’s far worse than even his biggest critics ever imagined.

Published in the Seguin Gazette, August 25, 2017

Friday, August 25, 2017

Trump Shares Responsibility for Murder of Heather Heyer

The terrorist act committed in Charlottesville, Virginia by a right wing, white supremacist makes me angry, sad and afraid for a number of reasons. The senseless murder of Heather Heyer, a young woman lending her voice to those protesting the ugly bigotry of the Unite the Right rally being held by white nationalists, neo-nazi’s and Ku Klux Klan members, is first among them. The President’s disgusting “all sides do it” response is another reason.

With a trio of white supremacists among the senior White House staff it’s no wonder Trump can’t be bothered to make a statement condemning the words and deeds of the leaders of the rally. There’s Steve Bannon, formerly of Breitbart News which by his own description is a website that caters to white supremacists/white nationalists. There’s his friend and fellow white nationalist Stephen Miller, who on national television stated “Our opponents, the media and the whole world, will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned” when discussing Trump’s attempted Muslim travel ban. And there’s Sebastian Gorka, another Breitbart News alumnus, who though lesser known is no less vile, he wears a Nazi pin to work every day at the While House.

If one of President Obama’s senior advisors had worn a Black Power pin you can’t tell me there wouldn’t have been tens of thousands of protesters marching on the White House. My Dad and three uncles, like most young men their age, joined up to fight the Nazi’s in World War II. While all my family members returned home, some with life long health problems, many of their friends didn’t. It sickens me that after the sacrifices all those men and women made in the 1940’s this nation’s current president embraces the philosophical descendants of Adolf Hitler and the treasonous, secessionists like Jefferson Davis.

Event organizers and speakers like former KKK grand wizard David Duke and Richard Spencer, one of the founders of the alt-right movement, as well as president of the National Policy Institute white nationalist think tank are an ugly reminder that this nation still hasn’t gotten past the sins of its founding fathers. It’s even more frustrating that Donald Trump ascended to the presidency with the vocal support of people like them. He got that support by using their hate filled racist language to arouse white voters. They’re some of the few who still support him so it’s no surprise he hasn’t called them out on their hateful actions.

Trump has used the megaphone that the mainstream media have given him since he announced his run for the presidency to activate the pathetic excuses for humanity that make up the white nationalists and he rode it to the top. Since his candidacy we’ve seen people once on the fringe come to the fore and be outspoken about their racist beliefs. After one high school student was informed that flying the Confederate Battle flag from his bumper was unacceptable on campus he came to a city council meeting to defend his right. I was stunned and disappointed but at the time I hadn’t realized what Trump had unleashed, now I know and it saddens me for the country and the people who will suffer.

I was proud of this country when we elected our first black president by a substantial margin. I was sickened when we elected his anti-thesis as his successor. Since he didn’t win by a majority of the votes perhaps there is still hope.

Published in the Seguin Gazette, August 18, 2017

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

John Courage Wins SA City Council

San Antonio experienced a change in direction Saturday night when the election results were posted. Ron Nirenberg’s mayoral win over Ivy Taylor and John Courage’s win over a traditional conservative, Marco Barros, in the most conservative council district in the city go a long way toward effecting that change. The election cycle knocked out several incumbents and replaced them with more progressive leaders.

John Courage is a military veteran, a public school teacher with nearly 30 years of service and a longtime progressive activist who has worked for decades to bring accountability to local and state government. Courage was a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders and won the endorsement of Our Revolution, the political organization formed by Sanders and activists connected by his presidential bid.

Our Revolution San Antonio (ORSA)—a local group of volunteers—endorsed Courage and recommended him to the national Our Revolution organization, which accepted our local recommendation and posted it on the national website. ORSA endorsed Courage after he and other council candidates made presentations to ORSA about their platforms and requested endorsement. The local organization pitched in to help contact prospective voters for months and that effort paid off.

I'll bet the folks in District 9 found it refreshing to hear John say, “There’s no such thing as a liberal streetlight or a conservative pothole.” What Barros seemed to overlook when he declared that he would win District 9 handily because we are a “very conservative” district is this: listening to the voters and learning what their issues are is more important the wearing a label such as “conservative” or “liberal”.

Unlike Barros and much of the local media Our Revolution San Antonio was not shocked by the results of the runoff.  Only those not on the ground knocking on doors were surprised.  ORSA endorsed Courage, not because he claimed to be liberal or conservative, but because he and his team put together a transparent, service-oriented campaign that focused on communicating with and serving voters. 

ORSA’s mission is to engage citizens to participate in local governance as activists as well as to recruit and support progressive candidates to fill positions as party precinct chairs, city and county commissions, school boards, city council and county commissioners court.  Progressives want progress, to get things done in a democratic environment where we all are respected as stakeholders who are entitled to accessible government, an opinion and a vote.

John Courage and others like him are the beginning of a new day in representative government.  Keep in mind that Courage will take votes that affect all of San Antonio, not just District 9, and he will help shape a new City Council that hopefully will move toward a better, more representative government.  We encourage other citizens who share these progressive values to get engaged with Our Revolution or other organizations that have been awakened by the deterioration of our government, to start making a difference where you live.

Our Revolution San Antonio is the regional umbrella for people in the city and all the surrounding counties who believe in the principals that Bernie Sanders ran on during the 2016 primary. We support universal healthcare, tuition free public universities and a $15 minimum wage among other principals. If you believe in similar principals we invite you to contact us through our Facebook page Our Revolution: San Antonio Area.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Republican Dodgeball

When Donald Trump, Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott were kids I’ll bet they were all great at dodgeball. Today they dodge taking care of real pressing issues by latching on to fringe issues like a pit bull grabs its prey by the neck and shakes it until its neck is broken. There are many important issues our elected officials could address which would improve the lives of most Americans if they were willing to raise taxes on their super-wealthy campaign donors but rather than lead they avoid biting the hand that feeds them.

Most Americans now understand that climate change is a real and pressing threat to our way of life and human civilization as a whole. Instead of working to address it Trump has announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. He dodged the issue by claiming that converting to green energy sources will cost Americans their jobs. The reality is that there are already more people working in the solar energy field than there are in the coal industry and the difference is exploding.

Instead of leading on addressing climate change Trump is still pushing his Muslim travel ban which multiple federal judges in a variety of jurisdictions have tossed out. Even if his ban were to go into effect it is unlikely to stop a single terror attack. Most terror attacks carried out in the U.S. and Europe since 9/11 have involved either citizens or long term residents not recent immigrants. In fact more than half of all deaths in terror attacks have been caused by white United States citizens.

Democrats in Congress have been pushing for a climate agreement for years and President Obama finally was able to sign one last year. If anything staying in the agreement and fulfilling our goals, which are strictly voluntary and have no enforcement measures would have been a boon to our economy creating tens of thousands of jobs but costing oil, gas and coal companies profits.

Here in Texas our Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, spent the entire legislative session pushing his infamous Billion Dollar Bathroom bill, SB 6, which could cost the state up to $8.5 billion and 185,000 jobs. This legislation is a solution in search of a problem which Speaker of the House, Joe Straus, wanted nothing to do with. Dan Patrick just didn’t want to deal with finding the money to adequately fund public education in Texas. He made lots of noise and satisfied some of his small minded voters while avoiding raising taxes on his campaign donors.

Democrats in the state legislature have fought tooth and nail to address the outdated and inadequate public school funding formula. Now Gov. Greg Abbott has called a special session which among other things will address Dan Patrick’s Billion Dollar Bathroom bill. Gov. Abbott has also included formation of a public school finance commission but if Dan Patrick hadn’t wasted so much time on who uses which bathroom this could have been dealt with during the regular session.

None of that gets Greg Abbott of the hook though as the special session call includes such terribly important issues as anti-abortion insurance legislation. He’s asking the legislature to make it illegal to sell health insurance that covers abortion.

Democrats in the legislature would rather work on strengthening the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) by fulling funding it rather than cutting benefits to the people who taught most of us the three R’s but again that would cause a few billionaires to pay more taxes and they pay good money to avoid that.

Published in the Seguin Gazette June 9, 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017

Time to End the War on Terror

In October the “War on Terror” will have been going on for 16 years. It is now a bi-partisan war in that it has been fought by both Republican and Democratic administrations. "The world is a battlefield and we are at war; therefore the military can go wherever they please and do whatever it is that they want to do, in order to achieve the national security objectives of whichever administration happens to be in power." That's the logic which reportedly drives the Joint Special Operation Command known for directing SEAL Team Six among other special operations forces.

“The world is a battlefield” isn't just a vaguely aggressive point of view; it's the legal underpinning of the use of military force in today's War on Terror. This legal definition comes from the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which Congress passed on Sept. 14, 2001 which gave the President of the United States broad power to fight terrorism around the world.

Al-Qaeda is now a shadow of its former self but other groups have taken up the call so terrorists still strike anywhere in the world including here. The United States continues to send troops, drop bombs, and fire missiles in more than a dozen countries today. ISIS is now the focus of much of our attention and while it has inspired many terror attacks including the recent Manchester, England slaughter it is not sending out directing or coordinating large scale attacks like September 11, 2001.

Terror is not an ideology regardless of Trump’s recent assertion on Twitter. Terror is a tactic and you can’t fight a war against a tactic. The followers of ISIS and other similar groups aren’t fighting because they believe in terror they’re fighting because they believe that their people are oppressed. They attack us and European countries because we prop up and in the case of the Shah of Iran install and support their oppressors. Regardless of that they have committed many more attacks on their own people and killed many more of them.

Some of the ISIS fighters are religiously motivated and some aren’t. While the leadership may claim religious they’re creating a religious state as called for in their view of their religious text it’s clear to most people of the world, including those of the same faith, that ISIS and groups like it aren’t inspired by their holy book so much as they use selected passages from it to defend their baser instincts.

The War on Terror isn’t winnable in the sense that there is capital or leader to capture, no one to accept peace terms, no country to conquer and rule. All we can accomplish by continuing to spend blood and treasure is insure that there will be other mothers losing their sons and more young people angry over lost family members killed by American bombs.

We would do well to reconsider who our friends are around the world. Instead of supporting oppressive regimes just because they allow American companies to plunder their natural resources as we have done in Central America, Africa and the Middle East perhaps we should show support for governments that are truly democratic regardless of whether they are capitalist or socialist or somewhere in between. After all many of the European nations we’re allied with are social welfare states to one degree or another. Standing up for human rights would put us on the moral high ground. Of course that might mean rescinding the $110 billion arms deal Trump just approved with one of the most oppressive governments in the Middle East.

Published in the Seguin Gazette, June 2, 2017

Friday, June 2, 2017

Trump Lied and Americans Will Suffer

Almost two years ago when Donald Trump was just a candidate for president he set himself apart from the rest of the Republican field by promising to "save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, without cuts. Have to do it. Get rid of the fraud, get rid of the waste and abuse, but save it."

Now Donald Trump is president and his budget director Mick Mulvaney released a budget that cuts Medicaid funding nearly in half by 2027 when combined with the proposed cuts already passed by the House in Trumpcare, the American Healthcare Act or AHCA.

There are $610 billion in Medicaid cuts in the budget in addition to the $880 billion cut in Trumpcare. Nearly every American will be affected one way or another because either they or a loved one will suffer from those cuts. Nearly one in four Americans is covered by Medicaid. The elderly and disabled account for about 6 of every 10 dollars in Medicaid expenditures, with the disabled and mentally ill, accounting for $4 of every $10 of spending.

Do you have a parent or grandparent in a nursing home or likely to be in one in the not to distant future? If so, get ready to turn your garage into a bedroom because they’ll be living with you instead. You and your spouse will be doing the care too because this budget is likely cut off payments for them.

Do you know anyone working in a nursing home? You’d better tell them to start looking for a new job because when the funding dries up and the patients are forced to leave there won’t be any work for them.
Nursing homes are expensive, average annual cost is $80,000. Medicaid is the largest source of funding for nursing home residents covering about 40% of the total costs. Six of every ten nursing home residents are beneficiaries of those funds because Medicare doesn’t cover those costs.

Oh, you say none of your family will be in a nursing home anytime soon, are any of them disabled and on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)? The Trump budget cuts that too. SSDI is funded through your FICA payroll taxes so cutting it won’t have any effect on the national budget. Just like Social Security for those over 65, SSDI recipients must have worked a certain number of years and have accumulated social security credits, but be younger than 65. Social Security Disability isn’t easy to access contrary to some claims, in fact only four out of ten applicants are approved for benefits. The standards for receiving it are much higher than they are in other developed countries while the benefits are nearly lowest of all developed nations.

Recipients of payments aren’t getting rich off of SSDI, since payments average under $1200 per month with many receiving much less. The actual amount varies depending on how long you worked and how much you earned while working just like regular Social Security. Can you imagine paying rent, utilities, food, clothing and medical expenses on less than $1200 a month? Now think about doing on 25% less or even no benefits at all since some people will simply lose benefits or those who would have previously qualified will now be denied.

Candidate Trump promised to take care of the people of this nation especially the most vulnerable. President Trump is cutting off their lifeline. Donald J. Trump is a liar and the sooner we all recognize it the sooner we can take action to prevent further harm to the American public.

Published in the Seguin Gazette May 26, 2017

Friday, May 26, 2017

Concept for a New Economy

The economies of developed countries will soon reach a point where there aren’t enough private sector jobs to employ most people. The reason for this is that automation replacing workers in factories is the end, it’s just the beginning. Already computerized systems have replaced humans writing financial reports and similar documents. Brick and mortar retail stores and the sales staff and management that go with them are being replaced by Amazon, eBay and other websites. Dozens of chains have been scaling back or have ceased to exist over the last decade.

Someone countries are considering “Universal Basic Income” as a way to address the fact that large percentages of their populations will likely never be able to find a job because those jobs simply don’t exist. In the United States I don’t see that idea being accepted due to the generally accepted notion that everyone should work if they can. There’s also a feeling of value that our culture imparts for doing meaningful work. I think I have a better idea, one that addresses all concerns.

Those that are not otherwise employable in the private sector should be able to earn a living working for their communities. In a sense this idea is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps and Civil Works Administration of the Great Depression era. We have national and state parks suffering from years worth of maintenance backlogs. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set out to put Americans to work his administration found a wide range of valuable tasks for people to do and many of those projects still benefit us today nearly a century later. Have you ever driven across a bridge with CWA impressed in the cement?

We have infrastructure like roads and bridges, remember the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi river in Minnesota that collapsed a decade ago, that need to be replaced. We have water lines, think Flint Michigan, in older cities that need replacement. There are schools and hospitals that are crumbling all over America. What if we put people to work rebuilding and expanding those things?

We have childcare shortages such that people who have jobs or the skills to get one can’t find childcare at an affordable price. We have eldercare shortages such that assisted living facilities and nursing homes are not only very expensive but also only provide medically necessary care. We have classroom over-crowding due to insufficient numbers of teachers and aides. What if we put people to work caring for others, providing day care and pre-school assistants, teacher’s aides, nurse’s aide’s and companions for folks in eldercare facilities?

We have much to gain by insuring that people have honorable work to do and a living wage is earned for doing it. We can simultaneously reduce or eliminate poverty while increasing empathy in our society which likely would reduce many forms of crime and substance abuse. Conservatives could stop complaining about paying people who don’t contribute and liberals could stop worrying that people aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve to earn a living.

Published in the Seguin Gazette May 19, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

Another Terrorist Group Announced Plans to Kill Americans

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, 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