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

Friday, April 21, 2017

Most Americans Want Medicare For All

In one sense Democrats and Republicans agree on the need to reform healthcare in the United States. The difference is the goal of Republicans in Congress is to lower taxes, particularly for the wealthiest while the goal of Democrats is to make sure more people are covered by insurance. Republicans in Congress can’t seem to agree on how far to push, the Freedom Caucus, aka TEA Party, want to take away healthcare for everyone receiving coverage through the Medicaid expansion. That’s in addition to the folks the so called moderate Republicans want to throw to the wolves by reducing subsidies on the Exchange such that they could no longer afford insurance.

Whether or not the motivation for cutting off the federal assistance is at least partially racist the fact is that the rate of uninsured among Hispanics is 30.7%, more than twice the rate of African-Americans and three times that of whites.

Texas' overall uninsured rate is about 8 percentage points higher than the overall U.S. uninsured rate. Nearly 18% of Texans still don’t have health insurance making this state the worst in the country.

Medicaid expansion critics like Gov. Abbott object to providing coverage to able-bodied adults who can work. What they don’t talk about is that many Texans work a full time job and still don’t earn enough to qualify for subsidies on the exchange but they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s latest healthcare “reform” proposal Medicaid would be turned into what is called block grants the amount that the federal government gives to states to administer Medicaid would be reduced. A block grant would allow much more freedom to states like Texas to set their own criteria for who deserves healthcare and how much care would be paid for. Since under Ryan’s proposal funding would also be reduced some people would lose coverage or have access to less healthcare.

One group most likely to suffer are those in nursing homes since a very large fraction of Medicaid is spent to subsidize the fees since Medicare doesn’t cover it and their social security checks usually aren’t enough either. Once those folks run out of their retirement savings the only thing keeping them in the nursing home is Medicaid. If Paul Ryan were to get his way be prepared to close in the garage and put grandma in there because there will be no where else for her to go.

I think most of us would agree that the folks we, know regardless of income, deserve to be able to see a doctor when they’re sick and fill the prescriptions needed to recover. I’ll bet most of believe that every child should get the healthcare they need to grow up strong and healthy. Recent studies show that over 60% agree that it would be so much simpler and better if everyone was on Medicare. And it’s not just liberals who believe this, 30% of Republicans agree.

Representative John Conyers of Michigan has filed a bill in Congress named the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, H.R. 676. The bill that would not only insure that every American could go to the doctor when sick but it would also save the 20% that insurance companies now get to spend on overhead because Medicare is just that much more efficient.

If you wondered what that bunch of demonstrators out in front of the Guadalupe Regional Medical Center last Saturday were doing; we were calling on our congressman, Vicenté Gonzalez, to join other Texans in co-sponsoring H.R. 676.

Published in the Seguin Gazette April 14, 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

Science Fiction and the Consequences of Wrecking Our Environment

Writers of what is often termed literary fiction tell a story about what is called the “human condition”, love and loss, revenge and overcoming adversity are just a few of the themes. Science fiction often does the same thing cloaked in a far off future but sometimes it examines the potential consequences of today’s actions or choices. Over the last 40 years post-environmental collapse stories such as the movies Mad Max, starring Mel Gibson, in 1979 and Waterworld, starring Kevin Costner, in 1995.

Neither movie spends much time on how things got to be the way they are, instead they address what life is like after civilization breaks down. Both movies offer worlds where violence is used to gather and control scarce resources whether it is oil or fresh water and run by warlords with no compassion or sense of decency. Neither movie ends on an especially hopeful note.

If, like me, you accept the scientific consensus that global climate change is occurring and that man’s activities are responsible the vast majority of it then you’re likely to have been frustrated by the slow pace of official action by the Obama administration to stem the tide. Now that Trump is in office the slow pace has been reversed starting with the appointment and confirmation of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt earned his chops as a conservative hero by suing the Environmental Protection Agency to benefit polluters.

In a recent CNBC interview, Pruitt stated that he does not agree that carbon dioxide is the primary driver of the global warming revealed by the temperature records over recent decades. The American Meteorological Society, your favorite TV weatherman is probably a member, wrote him a letter calling out his scientific ignorance and urging him to reconsider his “...stance on the science, and then help lead the nation and the world to consider, first, options for action, and then the course to be followed.”

Trump has taken direct actions that are contrary to the need to get off fossil fuels before it’s too late. Just over a week ago he approved the Keystone XL pipeline which will allow the transmission of dirty, caustic tar sands from Canada to refineries in the United States. Tar sands are much less efficient to process into gasoline, diesel and other petrochemicals due to the contaminants it contains making it much more energy intensive to refine and therefore raising the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

Then in what he claims is an effort to restore coal mining jobs Trump signed a bill which reverses the Stream Protection Rule, an Obama era regulation that prohibits coal mine operators from dumping mining waste containing arsenic, mercury and other harmful chemicals into nearby streams. So not only does this bill give wealthy coal mine operators the right to contaminate our water supply it encourages the burning of a fuel that wrecks the climate.

Scientists say that if we don’t get our act together soon and cut our C02 and methane emissions the climate will take an irreversible turn around 2050 and by 2100 human life in much of the world will be unsustainable. You and I won’t live to see that but today's young adults and their children almost certainly will.

Today we resist however we can. In 2018 it is imperative that we vote out Trump’s Republican enablers in Congress and demand strong action in order to save our grandchildren and great grandchildren from life that English philosopher Thomas Hobbes would likely describe as “nasty, brutish and short”.

Published in the Seguin Gazette April 7, 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017

#donthecon meets Tax Reform

Now that Trump has ordered Speaker Paul Ryan to put aside Trumpcare they’re moving on to “tax reform” also known as Tax Breaks for Millionaires. Fortunately for the rest of us failing to take away healthcare for millions of Americans makes this scheme a lot harder as one of the fig leaves they had planned to hide the budget busting effect of the tax breaks behind has been removed.

They’ve also run into trouble with big retailers like their corporate sponsor Walmart over Trump’s desire to apply a tax on goods at the border. The plan was to raise taxes on imports and use the money to both rebate exporters and lower taxes for millionaires. Walmart which imports 70% of its merchandise from China alone isn’t happy about that as you might imagine and has sent their army of lobbyists off to the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building with the message that they won’t stand for import tariffs. Of course the fact that it would have set off a trade war wasn’t enough.

Even Republicans in Congress can’t agree on where to focus the tax breaks. Some want to lower the top corporate tax rate, some want to lower the individual rate for top earners and some want to lower the rate charged on international businesses. Between the bust on saving billions by letting low income folks be sick and die and the Walton family putting their foot down has left the hapless Republicans in a bit of a tight spot.

Some talking heads in television and radio land suggest Speaker Ryan should reach out to Democrats for assistance passing a tax reform bill. I doubt Ryan’s ready to try that yet as it’s only two months into the Trump presidency and he’s probably going to  try to get his right flank, known as the “Freedom Caucus”, to march in step. Of course, since the Freedom Caucus is the group that sank Trumpcare he’s welcome to try.

#donthecon is more in tune with tax breaks for millionaires like himself, you can tell because during the presidential campaign he made big promises about healthcare but never put forth a plan whereas on taxes he’s actually put pen to paper and made concrete proposals. Basically his tax plan is if you’re a millionaire or billionaire you deserve a tax break, the little people like us, not so much.

One of the proposals being floated is to eliminate all itemized deductions except for home mortgages. While that would certainly streamline tax forms it will surely hurt those of us with large healthcare expenses not paid by insurance. Last year I was able to deduct $7750 in un-reimbursed healthcare expenses which saved me $1938 in taxes. Under the Trump/Ryan tax plan as proposed I’d lose that deduction and I’d be certain to pay higher taxes even if they lowered the overall rate a few points.

Are you ready for a tax plan where just like Trumpcare the benefits go to the wealthiest among us?

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 31, 2017

Friday, March 31, 2017

HJR 118 is best for all Texans

Do you believe that some people’s votes should count more than others? Do you think Senate District 21 which runs from Starr County which is an hour south of Laredo on the Mexican border northeast to Guadalupe County then north to Travis County is a sensible district? Do you believe in gerrymandering for partisan gain? Do you believe legislators should get to pick their constituents instead of voters picking their legislators?

If you answered no to those questions you probably should support Victoria Neave’s bill HJR 118 which would change the way Texas creates state legislative and congressional districts. Today state law gives legislators from the party in power the right to create the district maps in their own interests. Since they’re drawing the maps they make sure that their seats are safe and that two incumbents of their party aren’t put into the same district. Essentially they are picking their constituents in order to insure re-election.

Those hyper-partisan maps have triggered numerous lawsuits and cost Texas over $2 million just in the current decade. Texas is losing the current lawsuit but it is still battling so taxpayer dollars continue to be spent.

In 2013 Austin used an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw its 10 city council district boundaries in compliance with federal and state requirements through an open and transparent process that enabled full public consideration and comment. The volunteers on the commission held a series of public meetings over four months to gather public input.

The Commission worked to ensure that the districts were geographically contiguous and compact, minimizing the impact on local neighborhoods or communities of interest, used existing election precinct boundaries, and had geographically identifiable boundaries.

HJR 118 would create a non-partisan Citizens Redistricting Commission which would consist of 14 voters who aren’t elected officials, lobbyists or major campaign donors. They would be tasked to create district maps that are both compact and respect communities of interest. The process would include input from community members around the state. Equally important they would be expected to draw maps without regard to partisan makeup or where incumbents live.

If you’re a Republican you just might be OK with the current hyper-partisan maps but remember if Democrats ever retake control of the legislature under current law they could and likely would return the favor. It’s in the best interest of every Texan that a non-partisan Citizens Redistricting Commission as called for in HJR 118 draw the maps after the 2020 census. If nothing else it should dissuade many of the current plaintiffs from suing the state again.

The Redistricting Committee has yet to meet and hold a hearing on this bill. If you believe as I do that no politician should have the right to choose their own voters call Representative Cindy Burkett at (512) 463-0464 and urge her to hold a hearing on HJR 118.

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 24, 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

Trumpcare and what's wrong with it

The Republicans finally unveiled the replace part of Repeal and Replace of the Affordable Care Act which is sure to become known as Trumpcare. It should come as no surprise that Trumpcare cuts funding for Medicaid and Exchange subsidies in order to give huge tax breaks to the wealthiest among us. If you earn in the top 1% or above $450,000 a year your tax break will be $33,000. If you earn in the top one tenth of 1% or above $1,695,000 annually then your tax break will be $190,000. Just about everyone else comes out on the short end of the stick.

That’s right in order to give tax breaks to people who don’t need them Trumpcare will cause upwards of 14 million people to lose their healthcare immediately and within the next six years 24 million will likely be without healthcare. Trump and his Republican acolytes in congress want to smear the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office with claims that they’re over-estimating the number of people who will lose their health insurance coverage but even if they’re estimate is twice as bad as reality that’s still 7 million people losing healthcare immediately and 12 million within a few years. How is that not disaster?

Trump has repeatedly stated that Americans should look forward to his plan because it will cover more people for less money and provide better coverage. Trumpcare fails on all three counts. The bill cuts subsidies by more than two thirds for many people meaning to get the same coverage on the exchange a 60 year old person living in a rural area will pay as much as $9,000 more than they do now. That’s why the AARP opposes the Trumpcare.

The bill eliminates funding for the Medicaid expansion which will cut 10 million low income Americans out of healthcare. That won’t be noticed in Texas because Republicans like John Kuempel wouldn’t vote to accept the federal money to expand Medicaid in the first place meaning that nearly one million Texans have gone without healthcare unnecessarily.

Trumpcare fails on providing better coverage since in order to lower premiums the bill lets insurers write barebones policies which don’t cover things like: prescription drugs, laboratory services like x-rays and blood tests, outpatient care you get without being admitted to a hospital, emergency services, pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care (both before and after birth), mental health care like counseling and psychotherapy, rehabilitative services and devices to help people with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions gain or recover mental and physical skills, preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, or pediatric oral and vision care. That’s why the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association oppose the bill.

Trumpcare isn’t about making life better for you and me, it’s all about providing tax breaks for the very wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else. Ripping healthcare away from millions of Americans will not only mean they’ll be sicker it means many will die unnecessarily and that’s immoral.

Trump lied about his healthcare bill and he’s still lying about it, that makes him #donthecon. The only question is; will the American people push back and tell congress to kill this bill before it kills them?

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 17, 2017

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump the Russian Nesting Doll

Evidence of Trump and his associates’ connections to Russia has continued to expand since the first revelation that his first campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had such connections and resigned in August. Manafort was shown to have worked for Ukraine’s former president, the Russian backed strongman Viktor Yanukovych and is believed to have been paid millions for his work.

Even before he ran for office Trump’s family has admitted that his business had huge investments from Russians which accounted for a significant percentage of his working capital. Several newspapers have followed the money trail as well as they can given the number of shell companies involved and found that there are numerous Russian investors in his real estate businesses and buyers of his development properties.

Rex Tillerson, former Exxon chairman and now Secretary of State, has had dealings with the Russians for a long time and shepherded a billion dollar deal with Putin to conclusion before leaving the company.

Since then further revelations have tied numerous staff members to Russian oligarchs and Putin himself. In July last year Carter Page, a member of Trump’s National Security Advisory Committee, made a trip to Russia ostensibly as a private citizen. That trip is getting a closer look due to new disclosures about his contact two weeks later with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican convention in Cleveland. Just days after Kislyak talked to Page, and two other campaign officials, WikiLeaks posted thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s servers which U.S. intelligence recently attributed to the Russian government.

Until this week retired Gen. Michael Flynn was the most notorious Trump associate having served as National Security Advisor for all of three weeks before being forced out when it was revealed he had spoken to the Russian ambassador about sanctions imposed by the Obama administration before Trump took office and then lied about to Vice President Pence. Flynn also was paid handsomely by Russia Today, Putin’s television channel.

Now Trump’s Attorney General has been revealed to have perjured himself when testifying under oath at his Senate confirmation hearings. Sen. Al Franken’s question: "...if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?" Sessions responded: "Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on it." But it has since been revealed that Sessions twice met Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., including once during the Republican National Convention.

There’s been enough political pressure on Sessions that he has recused himself from any investigations into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Given that the Attorney General has so obviously perjured himself he needs to resign or be impeached. This country cannot tolerate its chief law enforcement officer lying to Congress under oath.

When will the next shoe drop?

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 10, 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

Guadalupe Rallies to Defend the ACA/Medicaid/Medicare

Last Saturday more than 80 area residents rallied at the Guadalupe Regional Medical Center on E. Court Street in support of maintaining the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare. The group acted because of the threats to those programs posed by actions of the Republican controlled Congress. Republicans have begun the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act. They’re also working to turn Medicaid into straight block grants to the states and convert Medicare to a voucher system.

The goal of the event was to send a message to newly elected Congressman Vicente Gonzalez that many of his constituents rely on various parts of our current healthcare insurance system and drastic changes will be unwelcome. Doctor Sarah Typhair held a sign stating “This M.D. proudly supports the A.C.A.” Many in attendance have children or grand-children covered through the provision that allows them to stay on their parents insurance until age 26. Some rely on the fact that A.C.A. forced insurers to drop the lifetime cap that meant people like my wife who have had multiple serious health issues no longer lose coverage after $1 million dollars of healthcare.

Congressional Republicans have been using the phrase “Repeal and Replace” for quite a while now so you’d think they’d have most of the details figured out but you’d be wrong. While Republicans have the repeal part down they can’t agree on the replace part at all. The Congressional Budget Office analyzed one of the more widely accepted proposals and found that if enacted it would increase deficit spending by $171 billion or force a 26% cut in the subsidies available to those who get their insurance through the exchange meaning that many would once again find health insurance unaffordable.

Turning Medicaid into a block grant is sure to fix the number of dollars spent and therefore further limit the number of people who benefit from it. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured in the nation at 17% due to Governor Greg Abbott’s failure to expand Medicaid which the federal government would have paid for 90%. That’s 4.6 million Texans whose only option for healthcare is the emergency room and no follow up care or prescription coverage. Converting to block grants means our rate of uninsured will climb higher still.

The proposal to convert Medicare to a voucher program would mean that seniors would get a fixed amount of money to use in order to purchase health insurance on the private market. There are a host of problems with that not the least of which is insurers don’t want to insure seniors in the first place because of their numerous and expensive health problems. Another problem is that there’s no guarantee that the voucher would cover the entire cost of the insurance premium so those seniors who are already struggling to pay their bills or for their prescriptions will have an even greater costs shifted onto them.

Rally participants urged Congressman Gonzalez to come out strong as a defender of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare. Every there understands that those programs aren’t perfect but the Trump Republican proposals to abolish or dismantle them are moves in the wrong direction. Gonzalez would do well to become a champion for improving those programs.

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 3, 2017

Friday, March 3, 2017

Call for a Constitutional Convention a Distraction

If you thought it was only Donald Trump who lived in his own universe using alternate facts think again. It seems or dear Governor, Greg Abbott, does too. Knowing full well that the state budget is once again in crisis due to a significant drop in oil and natural gas prices and therefore production, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has already informed the legislature it will have $3 billion dollars less to spend over the next two years than it did in the last two. Rather than allowing the legislature to focus on state budget issues Abbott has designated a call for a federal Constitutional Convention as an “emergency” item on the agenda, requiring it to be put in the front of the line for hearings and action.

Abbott’s collaborator in the Senate is Brian Birdwell of Granbury and the bill he filed is SJR 2. The bill calls for an Article V convention "for the limited purpose of proposing one or more amendments to the constitution to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and to limit the terms of office of federal officials and members of Congress."

The first problem with this whole notion is that there is nothing in the Constitution that says a convention can be limited to certain topics. In fact the last time there was a Constitutional Convention was in 1787 and they threw out the Articles of Confederation and drafted a whole new Constitution. Given the current high level of polarization of today’s political climate and the big money thrown around by lobbyists it’s not hard to imagine a runaway convention controlled by multi-national corporations. And don’t think, “Well, 38 states would still have to approve any amendments from convention” because there’s nothing stopping a convention from rewriting the rules of ratification while they’re at it.

Just for the sake of argument let’s assume the convention doesn’t get out of hand and rewrite the constitution to resemble a corporate charter. Abbott’s call for imposition of fiscal restraints, is in other words a call for a balanced budget amendment. Even Richard Nixon, who famously said “We’re all Keynesians now”, understood that in times of an economic slump it is the job of the federal government to stimulate the economy through deficit spending. Had Abbott’s balanced budget amendment been in effect in the 1930’s there’s no telling how much worse the Great Depression would have gotten. We’ve had varying degrees of economic downturns over the last 80 years including the one in 2007 precipitated by the bursting housing bubble and each time to greater or lesser degree the federal government has used deficit spending to mitigate the damage. Are you really prepared to accept the consequences of the next economic downturn without the option of federal intervention? Herbert Hoover was and look where that got him and our nation.

In addition to wrecking the economy Abbott seeks to put a crimp in regulatory power of the federal government by removing the power to write and enforce laws. Were we really better off before Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency? Did you watch coverage of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 showing the smog so bad people had to wear masks over their mouth and nose? That’s what happens with we don’t have nationwide environmental protections.

What of civil rights law, or food and drug safety?

In essence Abbott is calling for restoration of the failed Articles of Confederation. If they didn’t work back in 1787 what makes Abbott think they’ll work now?

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Cost of Trump's Fossil Fuel Agenda

2016 was the hottest year on record and as we’re experiencing right now, 2017 is already showing signs of another record setting hot year. Trump and his Republican enablers continue to deny the existence of global climate change. Trump even claims it’s a hoax perpetrated by China of all places. Apparently he hasn’t seen studies proving the Arctic ice cap is shrinking or the massive crack in the Antarctic ice shelf Larsen C that once it breaks loose will make an iceberg the size of the state of Delaware. Republicans in general deny that the carbon dioxide we’ve been spewing into the atmosphere for the last hundred years can affect the global climate but the numbers don’t lie. Our auto and power generation emissions have increased for decades and as the rest of the world’s economies have grown so have their emissions.

Even China, the world’s greatest polluter, recognizes the problem. Earlier this month China’s energy agency vowed to spend more than $360 billion on solar and wind and other renewable energy projects by 2020 in order to cut smog levels and carbon emissions while creating 13 million jobs in the process. While Republicans roll back efforts to build a clean energy economy in the United States, an industry that could employ ten times as many people as coal and gas generation China is taking advantage of the situation to be seen as a clean energy leader in the Third World. Chinese leaders recognize the opportunity to exert soft power and bring more countries into their sphere of influence.

Instead of moving forward on clean energy Trump promises to bring back coal mining jobs which is a fools errand if only on the grounds that coal is too expensive compared to the alternatives now available in form of natural gas. Wind and solar energy projects are now often competitive on cost with even natural gas so why even bother with coal? Of course one way to make it cheaper is to eliminate environmental rules regarding the waste from coal mines and that’s just what he’s done by rescinding the Stream Protection Rule which would have made it tougher to dump mining waste into nearby waterways.

The Republican energy program relies on fossil fuels thus damaging our environment through polluting our air and water with mercury, arsenic and other toxins. Their fossil fuel agenda also costs the economy in terms of the lost opportunity for job creation. The Trump/Republican energy agenda also harms us through our loss of international influence both in the developed and third world. The only beneficiaries of their agenda are the billionaires in the fossil fuel industry who finance their political campaigns.

Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." I think this clearly explains Republican intransigence but I have to wonder how long Republicans can persist in lying to the American people given that record setting high temperatures are likely to be set again in 2017 and beyond. I suppose if Exxon became a solar or wind energy company Republicans would overnight become firm believers in global climate change and clean energy advocates.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Trump's Host of Controversies

The controversy of the moment is the unacceptable and un-Christian action taken by Trump to stop Muslim refugees from seven countries from entering the United States. The problems with Trump’s order are several, it was sudden and to all appearances not based on any new intelligence or even the recommendation from his National Security team. The order appears to be unconstitutional at least to the eyes of the acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, who he fired for doing her job. I say, for doing her job, because her oath of office calls for her to defend the constitution and her job is to provide counsel to the president so he doesn’t violate it. Yates told him the order was wrong and told her staff not to defend the indefensible in court and she was fired for it. Had she done his bidding Yates would have been complicit in the crime just as the German soldiers were who claimed they were just following orders as they gassed Jews in places like Auschwitz.

Trump’s action on refugees is far from the only issue worthy of protest. Hearings are still going on for his often incompetent, occasionally dangerous, possibly criminal, and sometimes unethical nominees for cabinet posts as well as a terrible nominee for Supreme Court justice.

So we have a C student from Texas A&M nominated to head the Department of Energy which among other vital tasks is responsible for the safety and maintenance of our nuclear arsenal. Yes, it’s former Governor Rick Perry, the same incompetent dullard who ran for president and wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy entirely except he couldn’t remember its name during the debate. Now he says he hadn’t realized how important the agency is. Don’t you think the responsible thing to do before you suggest eliminating something is to find out what it does?

Then there’s Betsy “Billionaire” DeVos who never saw a public school she didn’t want to dismantle to feed her investment portfolio and has been nominated for Secretary of Education. Senator Al Franken asked DeVos for her views on the controversy over mastery versus improvement for judging student achievement and teacher competence. Sadly DeVos is so incompetent she didn’t even understand the question let alone have a coherent response. For someone who claims to be informed about education in general and public schools in particular Betsy “Billionaire” seems mighty ignorant.

Trump’s dangerous nominee for the job of among other things defending civil rights is a man with a history of using his position to prevent minorities from exercising those civil rights. The nominee is Jeff Sessions who was previously denied a federal judgeship by a Republican controlled Senate due to his racist actions in attempting to prosecute African American voter registration volunteers for doing their best to turn out voters to the polls. Sessions also took credit for prosecutions while a US Attorney for which he didn’t even exercise oversight let alone actively participate.

For a potentially criminal and certainly unethical nominee there’s Tom Price who is Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. He’s been proven to have invested in medical product companies then used his position as chair of the committee overseeing them to improve their profits thus fattening his own wallet.

Finally, there’s Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for justice on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch decided the Hobby Lobby case which defying all logic allows a business to claim it has religious rights just like a natural person. He opposes regulation of businesses, so it’s OK if the coal mine poisons the water for everyone downstream.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Trump Delivering on Promises is Double Edged Sword

Trump is delivering on or at least signing documents that appear to deliver on many of his campaign promises. He made promises to the evangelical Christians and ultra-conservatives which he’s delivering on with his nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be a justice on the Supreme Court. Not only is Gorsuch a man in the mold of Antonin Scalia which Trump promised his nominee would be, he’s also the mind behind the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell decision with gave corporations the right to be exempt from laws that offend their shareholders. Frankly I’ll believe that a corporation has religious rights when I meet one in church.

One of the defining reasons to incorporate your business is to protect yourself from legal responsibility for actions and liabilities of the business. If you incorporate your business you have created a legal entity with the rights and responsibilities to engage in business and if the entity is sued the owners are not a party to the lawsuit in most cases. Gorsuch’s decision bridges the gap between the owner and the corporation enabling the owner to claim that the business shares their religious convictions and therefore should be exempt from providing insurance coverage the provides contraception. In my view bridging that gap pierces the “corporate veil” which protects shareholders and may one day come back to haunt businesses due to the loss of protection offered by it.

Trump also recently announced that his administration would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches from engaging in political activity at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status. Such a repeal of the law would require approval by Congress. Currently certain tax-exempt organizations — in this case, churches — are not allowed to openly endorse or campaign for political candidates. If they do, under existing law, they risk losing the benefits of their tax-exempt status. Should Trump get his way he’ll be able to honestly say he’s delivered on another campaign promise to evangelicals who have chafed under this restriction for quite some time. There are even organizations of lawyers who among other issues have repeatedly attempted to get this restriction overturned so his success would be met with great joy in some circles. I have to wonder though if it isn’t a double edged sword in the sense that it will also embolden and empower churches which take opposing views on many issues dear to the hearts of the evangelicals Trump seeks to reward for their support during the election. How will they feel when an Imam at a nearby mosque calls for followers to vote for a candidate opposed by their church?

Nominating Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education is an indirect reward to the evangelicals who supported Trump in that she’s a strong supporter of school vouchers which she and others want to allow parents to use in order to fund their child’s tuition to private religious schools. This is a very contentious issue since having the government directly fund religious education seems to violate the First Amendment by favoring religion with our tax dollars. I know a lot of very religious folks feel strongly in favor of this because it would either save them a lot of money they’re currently spending or would enable them to send their children to such a school. I have to wonder if even more voters won’t be up in arms when they learn that those funds must also be provided to members of other faiths and they see a news story about a taxpayer funded madrassa right here in the United States just like in Afghanistan.

Friday, February 3, 2017

This is Why Women Marched

I’ve heard from men and women who didn’t understand what the Women’s marches around the country were all about. We can start with the fact that the people asking the question are most likely responsible for electing a man to the presidency who brags about grabbing women in their private parts. He’s been recorded saying such things on more than one occasion so cannot plausibly deny it. Given the fact that these statements have been broadcast repeatedly as well as written about in numerous major newspapers that means there are lot of people who don’t care that they voted for the kind of man who does such things and brags about it.

The marchers had good reason to protest against a man who has admitted on live radio to walking into the dressing room of Miss Teen USA while the teenage girls were undressed. He wasn’t just mouthing off as numerous young women who competed in the pageants have reported that he did indeed walk in on them while they were in various states of undress. As the father of a teenage daughter I find that kind of behavior reprehensible yet many fathers and mothers ignored it in order to vote for him.

The women and men marching weren’t just protesting the newly inaugurated president for his personal behavior though. They were also protesting against his campaign promise to defund Planned Parenthood which provides women’s health services to tens of thousands of low income women and men nationwide. Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers have served 2,840,000 men and women in the U.S. and have helped prevent an estimated 515,000 unintended pregnancies and averted 216,000 abortions every year.

The gender wage gap is another reason 2.6 million Americans marched in various cities and towns all over the country, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas among them. The gender wage gap is bad enough for white women but it's even worse for women of color. A 2015 study showed that while white women earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by a white man while black women earned 65 cents and Hispanic women 58 cents. The result isn't explained by education or field alone, it turns out that when women become the majority in any given job area the pay for that field goes down for everyone including the men doing the same job.

Actress and activist America Ferrera explained her participation this way "We reject the dehumanization of our Muslim mothers and sisters. We demand an end to the systemic murder and incarceration of our black brothers and sisters. We will not give up our right to safe and legal abortions. We will not ask our LGBTQ families to go backwards. We will not go from being a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance. We won’t build walls, and we won’t see the worst in each other. And we will not turn our backs on the more than 750,000 young immigrants in this country currently protected by DACA."

The marches were about many things including solidarity, protest and inspiration. Now the hard work begins for those who seek to make this country better as we organize and network to get voters to the polls and defeat the forces that would set women’s rights back.

Published in the Seguin Gazette January 27, 2017

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dan Patrick's $8.5 billion Bathroom Bill a Distraction

The Texas legislature is now in session and the first thing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to talk about isn’t spurring the economy even though the state has fallen from third to twenty-first in economic strength since 2013. No, instead he wants to talk about his $8.5 billion bathroom bill that the cost the state 185,000 jobs according to a study by the Texas Association of Business.

The Bathroom Bill is a Republican distraction, Patrick and his followers are using fear to take the public’s eye off their record of incompetence. The Texas Comptroller announced that tax revenues are expected to fall during this two year budget period so there won’t be as much money available this legislative session.

We all know that Republicans never want to be seen raising taxes so that means there will be cuts; once again we’re likely to see public education take a hit. Consider that while the legislature did increase public school funding a little in the last cycle it has yet fully restore what it cut in 2011. Now they’re going to cut again, we could be back to a 2011 style budget where thousands of Texas teachers lost their jobs.

Senator Donna Campbell will once again push her school voucher bill in an effort to gut public education in Texas. No matter what she and voucher supporters say it’s really just a way to provide discounts to rich people who already send their kids to private schools and turn a public service in to profits for private businesses. Private schools aren’t required to provide bus service so not every child is able to attend them and they aren’t accountable for the quality of the education provided. Private school students don’t even have to take the standardized tests administered to public schools so their performance can’t even be compared.

Campbell is sure to claim once again that her bill will save the state money because it doesn’t use all the money allocated per child in the public system but that just means that it’s even less useful to middle class and low income parents who can’t afford to subsidize their children’s education. Will John Kuempel stand up for Seguin and the rest of Guadalupe county school children and say NO?

There will surely be cuts to other agencies that provide services the public relies on. The only question is which agencies will see budget cuts and how deep they will be?

Then there’s Out on Bond Ken Paxton, the man who is supposed to be the state’s chief law enforcement office but will spend the next few months preparing for a trial that could see him got jail for 99 years. He’ll be too busy fighting a legal battle to save his life to actually do the job for which he was elected. If the man had any character at all he’d resign so that the citizens of Texas could get the law enforcement services our tax dollars are paying for. Of course that would mean he’d no longer be able to take donations from rich people to pay for his legal defense. Or let me rephrase that he’d no longer get those donations because we wouldn’t be in a position to return the favor.

 Published in the Seguin Gazette January 20, 2017

Friday, January 20, 2017

Republicans Push Confirmations Before Due Diligence

Almost two weeks ago Republicans in Congress voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) by taking away both power and independence from the investigative body, and give lawmakers more control over internal inquiries. The mission of the bi-partisan OCE is "to assist the House in upholding high standards of ethical conduct for its Members, officers, and staff and, in so doing, to serve the American people". In the last term it investigated 16 members of Congress, three of them from Texas. The House Republican Conference thought they’d pull the wool over the eyes of the American people by holding the vote late in the day without warning and without discussion.

The vote made headlines the next day and by the time new members of the House had been sworn in and Speaker Ryan called the House to order thousands of Americans both Republican and Democrat had called their representatives to express their disgust and demand that the move be withdrawn. The Republicans heard the people and in a victory for both transparency and democracy relented. This victory belongs to you my fellow citizens.

Now Republicans in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are attempting to sidestep normal procedures on confirming cabinet nominations by holding hearings and votes before the nominees have even filed their financial and employment disclosure forms with the Office of Government Ethics as required by legislation passed in 1978. Review of those documents usually takes a few weeks, not a few days so there should be no hurry to vote on these nominees. That’s not stopping Senate Republicans who are rushing to pass them through, which makes me wonder what they’re hoping to hide from the American people.

Secretary of Education nominee and billionaire, Betsy DeVos is just one of the four nominees who hasn’t filed disclosure forms and she has financial entanglements akin to those of Donald Trump so there is plenty of room for conflicts of interest that the vetting procedures of the Office of Government Ethics are designed to discover and help resolve. DeVos and others whose ethics reviews aren’t complete should not be voted on because we “the people” have the right to expect our government officials will not use public office to line their private pockets.

The success of phone calls by people like you and me in stopping House Republicans from shutting down the watchdogs at the Office of Congressional Ethics should embolden everyone reading this to call Senators Cornyn and Cruz at their San Antonio offices to demand that no votes on Trump’s nominees be held until a thorough review of their ethics disclosures has been performed. You can call Sen. Cornyn at 210-224-7485 and Sen. Cruz at 210-340-2885.

Keep those phone numbers handy as it’s a sure thing we’ll all have many reasons to call them over the next four years.

Published in the Seguin Gazette January 13, 2017

Monday, January 16, 2017

“Hands off Obamacare, Medicaid and Medicare”

On Sunday afternoon more than 20 people from New Braunfels and other parts of Comal County rallied in support of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare outside Congressman Lamar Smith’s office. All the participants are worried that access to healthcare will be lost for themselves or family members or friends if Republicans in Congress pass legislation to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without even having a replacement for it.

It is widely understood that the Republican plan to convert Medicare to a voucher will jeopardize the health and lives of many seniors. The problem is there is no guarantee that they’ll be able to acquire comparable insurance even with higher premiums since many of those on Medicare are much sicker than the average population. Since insurers make their profits by avoiding the sickest people some will find healthcare unattainable.

Don’t forget that a significant fraction of Medicare participants, like my wife, aren’t retirees, they’re people who are totally disabled and frequently unable to acquire health insurance on the individual market at any price. Even the Texas high risk pool didn’t want her and pushed her off to Medicare.

Let’s not forget about Medicaid, Texas Republicans have already cut reimbursement rates for some of the most vulnerable children in Texas. Now those children can’t get the physical therapy and other services they need to be even remotely healthy or self sufficient.

Lamar Smith needs to be told “Hands off Obamacare, Medicaid and Medicare”.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Texas Cities Can Make a Living Wage a Reality

Walmart, McDonald’s and other low wage employers not only take advantage of their employees they also take advantage of us the tax payer even if we don’t shop their. They do it by paying wages so low that their employees qualify for and collect federal benefits like housing assistance, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program aka food stamps. That’s because the federal minimum wage is no where near a living wage. Even in low cost areas of low cost state like Texas a 40 hour a week job at minimum wage won’t pay rent, utilities and put food on the table let alone address health care and other living expenses.

I’ll be you’re as sick as I am of our tax dollars subsidizing their profits but with the election of Donald Trump and the continuing Republican majorities in the House and Senate it is unlikely that the federal minimum wage will be raised in the next four years. The Texas governor and legislature are also Republican controlled leaving little chance that Texas will raise its minimum wage. Worse state law prohibits cities from raising their own minimum wage rates.

Cities like San Antonio and San Marcos have taken action to work around this ridiculous prohibition. In San Antonio city employees are paid a minimum of $13 per hour and the city requires all contractors to pay their employees a minimum of $13 per hour as well. That leaves an awful lot of people out of the benefit of higher wages but it’s a start. In San Marcos the city recently passed an ordinance that offers tax benefits to employers who pay at least $15 per hour.

There is nothing stopping the city of Seguin or the Seguin ISD from setting a minimum wage for all contractors doing business with them. There are other ways to increase the value of low wage workers earnings such as requiring that all employers in the city provide five days paid sick leave for every employee. In reality that actually benefits everyone since then the sick person doesn’t infect the rest of the staff or their customers. I don’t know about you but I prefer the restaurant worker handling my food to be healthy so they don’t contaminate my meal and make me sick too.

Walmart, McDonalds and other large chains often manage labor costs by shifting schedules around so that employees don’t have same schedule from one week to the next making it very difficult to plan child care, meet with children’s teachers, or see a doctor. Fast food chains are notorious for requiring their employees to work a few hours then punch out for three or four hours and then work a few more, or simply sending employees home early often preventing them from working even close to full time hours. Cities like Seguin can require that all employers in the city limits provide clarity and certainty to workers schedules.

There are ways we can make a difference at the local level but it won’t happen if you and I don’t demand it of our local officials. We must speak to our city council members and the trustees of our school districts urging them to take the actions they can to make our communities better places to work and live.

Published in the Seguin Gazette January 6, 2017