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

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?