Saturday, December 30, 2017

Collateral Damage Comes to Texas

One week ago today a six year old boy was shot to death in Schertz. This wasn’t a gang shooting or even a domestic violence incident. The little boy was at home because school had let out early on the last day before Christmas break. He was in his home with family behind a locked door. Kameron Prescott died as a result of gunfire from law enforcement officers.

My heart goes out to the parents and family of the little boy. I can’t imagine how distraught I would have been if that had happened to my daughter but I tear up just contemplating such a horror.

According to news reports Bexar County Sheriff deputies had been chasing the suspect for some time and say she threatened them repeatedly with what she claimed was a gun. When deputies cornered her attempting to get into Kameron Prescott’s home they report she held up what appeared to be a gun and all four deputies fired. At least one bullet missed the suspect, went through the wall of the home hitting the boy in the abdomen and he died shortly afterward. No gun has been found days later.

I grew up understanding that peace officers are supposed to protect lives so I can’t help but wonder if our society hasn’t crossed a line that ought not be crossed if peace officers are willing to shoot at a suspect without due regard for the people behind that suspect. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar says that he believes his deputies followed proper procedure; if so perhaps procedure needs to be reviewed if the rules of engagement allow firing on a suspect when people are behind them.

What sort of training are local police and sheriff’s deputies getting that all four would fire without considering that the house probably had people in it and perhaps shooting wasn’t a good idea? Has our society’s willingness to accept the deaths of innocent civilians referred to as “collateral damage” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen led us to accept similar disregard for innocents here at home?

If we don’t ask questions like this now we may end up with the same kind of unaccountable and out of control policing as the infamous Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart Division. This may indeed have been an unavoidable tragedy but not asking questions and demanding a thorough investigation and expecting full transparency in the results of that investigation sends a message that the community will accept whatever law enforcement dishes out.

If we simply accept the death if this innocent child and move on; we’re telling our sheriffs and police chiefs that they don’t have to work hard to do better and be better. I think we should all be asking our local police chiefs and sheriffs to review their use of force policies with an eye toward avoiding a senseless tragedy like the death of Kameron Prescott. I’ll be asking my city councilman and mayor to demand that the police chief review the department’s training and use of force policies in light of this tragedy and I hope you will too.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - December 29, 2017

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Wealth, Political Influence, Tax Breaks

Over the course of my adult life I’ve worked for two companies both of which have been small family owned businesses. The first one grew to about 50 people over the years and the family became comfortably wealthy which they deserved for their hard work, sacrifices and skills. The second is newer and is still growing and I have no doubt the owners will also achieve a comfortable level of wealth. I have never begrudged them their success and have worked hard to help them achieve it as they have also allowed me to share in that success via a good salary and nice bonuses.

The Republican tax plan, which will likely have passed and been signed into law by the time you read this, the entrepreneurs I’ve worked for over the years may benefit a little but 70% of middle and working class families won’t. The bulk of the benefits go to the wealthiest 10% of Americans, the latest in Republican largesse will go to those with massive real estate holdings like Donald Trump and Sen. Bob Corker who suddenly changed his no vote to a yes vote about the same time as the 20% tax break was added to the bill.

Presidents often tout their economic successes by quoting increases in the Dow Jones Industrial Average which now stands at nearly 25,000. The tax plan includes a huge break on corporate taxes especially for international profits that are brought back to the US which are guaranteed to increase stock values which some analysts expect will cause the Dow to hit 27,000. That’s great if you own stocks but nearly half of Americans don’t, in fact over 80% of stock value is owned by the same 10% of Americans who will benefit the most from the Republican tax plan. How nice for them.

Now here’s the problem, the big reason those massive tax benefits go to the ultra-wealthy is that they use a small fraction of their wealth to influence the rules that affect their wealth. Through campaign donations directly to candidates and political action committees (PAC’s) some of which obscure where the money came from, and an army of lobbyists the wealthiest among us pursue further economic advantage over the rest of us.

The McCain-Feingold Act which provided some limits to the amount of money that could be spent by any one individual or corporation on a single politician wasn’t perfect but since the Supreme Court decisions overturning much of those limits, McCutcheon v. FEC and Citizens United v. FEC there has been a tidal wave of money flowing from the ultra-wealthy into campaign coffers of federal and state legislators. It is now ridiculously expensive to run a competitive campaign for any of those offices in nearly every district.

As I said earlier I don’t have a problem with people getting wealthy off of their own efforts, I do have a problem with people getting even wealthier by stacking the deck. It isn’t just tax breaks that enrich these folks either. They also push laws that prohibit competition such as the law in Texas that says no municipality can operate its own internet service provider. The wealthy also push for reductions in regulation that protect the health and safety of workers and consumers alike. One such example is the elimination of rules that coal companies had to abide by regarding polluting streams with runoff from mining waste which can dump high concentrations of toxic arsenic and mercury into drinking water sources.

We’ve returned to the era of the “Robber Barons”, are you comfortable with that?

Published in the Seguin Gazette - December 22, 2017

Friday, December 15, 2017

Tax Cuts and Republican Economic Mythology

Republican propaganda surrounding their partisan tax plan pushes the notion that when rich people have more money they’ll invest and create more jobs, going so far as to call the bill the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. If you own or manage a business you know that’s just not true. Generally greater profits end up mostly if not completely in the hands of the company owners. Some few forward thinking folks will do some form of profit sharing so that their employees will get a little of the extra profit but that’s a small minority. No business creates jobs just because they have more profit, they only create more jobs if there is more demand.

Only demand for goods and services create jobs, if there is no one with both the desire for your product and the money to pay for it no business owner in their right mind adds to their payroll. So, if Republicans really wanted to create jobs using tax cuts they’d make sure that those cuts went to the folks most likely to spend those extra dollars which actually increase demand and create jobs which in turn generates more taxes. Instead 60% of the tax cuts will go to the top 10% of earners who rather than spending it will most likely invest it in the stock market which is nice for your 401k or Mutual Fund IRA if you’re among those fortunate enough to have one but it won’t put money in your pocket right now.

In case you think there is no proof, just look at Reagan and the first Bush, after Reagan’s tax cuts early in his term then when the economy didn’t take off he had to repeatedly raise taxes in order to avoid increasing the deficit. What’s worse is while his tax cuts largely benefitted the very wealthy his tax increases were felt mostly by the middle class.

This is all Economics 101 and either congressional Republicans know that and are willfully lying or they’re stupid. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is more likely.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa pushed back when questioned about the merits of  eliminating the tax on estates valued at more than $5 million stating “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.” I don’t know about you but I find that offensive coming from a guy who last worked a job like average Americans hold in 1959 when an assembly line job like he held paid well enough to buy a house, a car and raise a family.

Today that assembly line job barely pays enough for a family of four to cover rent, food and medical care. Even when both adults work full time most families just don’t earn enough to save millions of dollars as Grassley seems to think. Throw in a few recessions and a health crisis or two over the course of 30 years and a lot of us can’t manage to pay for our children’s college education without student loans.

As economist John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out long ago, "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

It’s not too late to call Senators Cruz and Cornyn to let them know they’re tax plan is bad for most Americans and you’re not happy about it.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - December 15, 2017

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Wage Theft a Bigger Problem Than Armed Robbery

In the United States when we think of crimes most of us will immediately think of the perpetrator as someone of disreputable appearance, perhaps a gang member, someone from the wrong side of the tracks. We’ll picture a drug user or a biker, often someone of different ethnicity. We rarely think that someone like us, someone who owns or manages a business, someone who lives in our neighborhood or volunteers at our church.

Yet much of what we imagine is a fairy tale just like Little Red Riding Hood. On the whole Americans will suffer more than twice as much in financial losses from their employers than from armed robbers. According the crime statistics collected by the F.B.I. in 2012 American individuals and businesses combined suffered $414 million in losses. In that same year the US Department of Labor, various state departments of labor and their attorneys general as well as private attorneys reported recovering $933 million in back wages and other stolen compensation according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The data collected by the Economic Policy Institute doesn’t include dollar amounts from Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, and Vermont from which such information was unavailable. While armed robberies are almost always reported wage theft often is not; either because the employee doesn’t know to whom to report the crime or they fear that they’ll lose the job that provides for their families, so the total is likely much higher.

Here are just a two examples starting with an upscale Manhattan restaurant, reached a settlement in March 2012 with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office over its illegal theft of wages from 25 employees. The restaurant paid employees less than the minimum wage, failed to compensate them for overtime work, and cheated them out of tips.

Two busboys were paid no wages at all for their work and had to subsist solely on their share of pooled tips. Then, once a manager began to oversee tip distribution, their meager earnings shrank further. After checking with waitresses, they realized the manager was illegally taking a share for himself. At this point, Jacal and Suarez got in touch with an advocacy group and subsequently the attorney general’s office.

After he was sued, restaurant owner retaliated against the two known whistleblowers — first cutting their hours and then firing them. The case settlement required the restaurant to pay restitution of $25,000 to each of the two busboys and $150,000 to the other 23 workers.

In 2012, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) dealt with repeated wage theft offenses by contractor Affordable Safe and Professional Flagging, LLC. The company routinely paid less than the prevailing wage and failed to pay overtime to employees who conducted traffic control on public construction projects. The company was forced to pay a total of $107,010.24 in back wages and disqualified from holding further state contracts for 5 years. The firm was allowed to finish its work on the current contract, which led to yet more instances of stolen wages as employees’ paychecks bounced on several occasions and most received no pay for an entire month.  In 2013, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries obtained another settlement of $113,000 in back wages for 36 employees.

The Oregon example is evidence that state and federal law don’t provide sufficient penalties to dissuade repeat wage theft offenses. Unlike armed robbery stealing from your employees doesn’t incur jail time, perhaps it should.

If you or someone you know has suffered wage theft contact the Texas Workforce Commission at 800-832-9243 to file a claim.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - December 1, 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

CHIP Funding Fail

The party claiming to represent “family values” also known as the Republican Party is once again showing its hypocrisy. Nearly two months ago the funding for the decades old Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expired and the funding bill Republicans in the House passed would simply take the $8 billion a year from Medicaid and more from other public health programs to pay for it. Senate Republicans knew that wasn’t going to fly and have even filed bill that continues funding without sticking it to the poor and other vulnerable Americans but there have been no hearings on the bill, nor have they scheduled a vote on it.

There’s no telling when Republican leaders will get around to pursuing a funding solution for CHIP but it looks like they’re going to hold the lives and health of 9 million poor children and pregnant women, more than 400,000 of them Texans, as hostage to get concessions like budget cuts from Democrats. In the interim, 11 states expect to run out of funds by the end of December and are preparing to send letters telling the parents of these children that if they get sick don’t expect them to receive medical care. How’s that for a Christmas present? Ebenezer Scrooge would be so proud.

The CHIP program only covers persons under age 19 and pregnant women who are either citizens or legal U.S. residents. If the family has only one child the total annual income must be less than $24,473 so we’re talking about folks on very low incomes.

CHIP covers primary health care, prescriptions, mental health, vision, physical and occupational therapies and dental care for children under 19. Additionally women receive CHIP coverage for prenatal and postpartum services.

Some states have enough funding to last a few more months but some don’t. Several states have already made emergency requests for funds to hold it over until February by which time they hope Congress gets around to deciding if the program will be retained.

The Senate and House are now very busy working toward providing massive tax cuts to billionaires while claiming they’re going to put more money in the pocket of working and middle class Americans. Of course, tax breaks for billionaires didn’t do anything to help working families under Reagan nor under George W. Bush. Republican leaders must think Americans are like Charlie Brown to their Lucy promising to hold the ball for him to kick this time.

One of the provisions getting a lot of attention will allow deductions for private jets. This is the same bill also takes away the deduction for school supplies that teachers purchase for their classrooms so it’s clear who Republicans really care about and it isn’t you and me.

CHIP has had bi-partisan support since its inception, yet this time around Republican leaders are so focused on the tax cuts they promised to their wealthy benefactors they just can’t find the energy to do the right thing. I guess we shouldn’t really be surprised at the heartless greed exhibited by congressional Republicans, after all they’re still trying to gut the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid. Apparently they’re idea of right to life doesn’t include actual living people.

Published in the Seguin Gazette, November 25, 2017

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Trump Incompetence Might Strengthen the ACA

For all that Republicans complain about the Affordable Care Act it has been tremendously successful in increasing the percentage of Americans covered by health insurance of one sort or another. In those states, unlike Texas, that took the Medicaid expansion funds offered very few are left without access to quality healthcare. Every year more people have learned about the availability of insurance coverage at affordable rates and signup rates continue to climb.

This year we have a Republican president who is determined to undermine the law of the land and has taken measures intended to reduce the number of Americans with health insurance. Trump has reduced the time period of open enrollment in half, to just 6 weeks, ending December 15. Possibly worse, he’s cut funding for advertising of open enrollment by 90% leaving groups that assist people in selecting and signing up for affordable, subsidized plans scrambling for ways to overcome the barriers.

A couple of weeks ago, in an attempt to overcome the lack of promotion, a small group of Democrats knocked on nearly 400 doors in Seguin handing out flyers and explaining that help is available through CentroMed and other providers both in and near Seguin. We want everyone to know that they can call one central phone number, 210-977-7997, or visit the coalition website to make an appointment.

One of the great things about the Enroll SA coalition is even if the applicant isn’t eligible for subsidized health insurance through the Affordable Care Act the enrollment staff will check eligibility for other forms of assistance including Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) or low cost care at community clinics.

While some of Trumps efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act may very well have the intended effect his incompetence and that of his staff may also work against him. His executive order ending payments to insurance companies called cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies. They are paid directly to insurers, and they provide financial assistance for individuals who make between 100 and 250 percent of the poverty line. Cut those subsidies off, and insurers will try to make up the difference by raising premiums. In a report on the likely effects of cutting off the subsidies earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that premiums would be about 20 percent higher for typical plans purchased under the law.

But the joke is on Trump, as the premium hikes won't directly affect most low-income people, because Obamacare's subsidies increase with premiums, insulating those individuals from higher costs. Instead, this move is likely to raise premiums for people who earn too much to qualify for subsidies under Obamacare, the people who have already been hit hardest by the law's price hikes.

There are some reports of insurers offering plans with premiums in the range of $0-10 for those who are eligible for subsidies so if a member of your family or your friend isn’t currently insured be sure to let them know that now might be the best time of all to apply for coverage. Give them the phone number 210-977-7997, or help them visit the coalition website to make an appointment. The great folks at CentroMed on County Line Road in New Braunfels as well as some organizations right here in Seguin can help anyone find out how to get covered.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - November 17, 2017

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Tax Breaks for Billionaires Bad for You and Me

If Republicans have their way on the tax plan they’ve proposed you and I will end up subsidizing tax breaks for billionaires. The bill eliminates deductions that you and I use when we suffer major losses like fires and floods or medical costs due to life threatening illness in order to drop the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%.

Teachers in Texas are already underpaid, schools are underfunded and this terrible tax plan takes away the deduction teachers can now take for supplies they purchase for their classrooms out of their own money.

Texans hospitalized for life threatening illnesses like cancer, heart attacks or severe infections will be further harmed by losing the deduction for major medical expenses.

The Republican tax plan hurts struggling students and recent college graduates by eliminating the student loan interest deduction. Current rules allow borrowers paying off education loans can deduct up to $2,500 of interest paid on student loans.

The Republican proposal hurts families with four or more children doing away with the dependent exemption, which provides $4,050 for each qualifying dependent and replacing it with a child tax credit to $1,600. They are also calling for a new $300 credit for each parent and non-child dependent, but this tax break will expire by the end of 2022.

What’s worse is that even with all that and more passing the bill would cause the federal deficit to increase by $1.5 trillion because they can’t eliminate enough deductions to pay for the huge tax breaks being offered to big business. Unlike the extra $300 child tax credit the corporate tax break doesn’t expire.

Big business is raking in record profits, they don’t need a tax break. Republicans claim that if businesses get a tax break they’ll raise wages and salaries but it didn’t work for Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s, or under Bush in the early 2000’s, and it didn’t work in Kansas this decade where Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts did so much harm to the economy the Republican state legislature had to override him in order to restore services.

This tax plan does nothing to raise wages and will in fact harm the economy by taking money out of the hands of people who will spend it and putting in the hands of those who already have so much they’ll save it. The only way to expand the economy and raise wages is to increase demand and this tax plan does exactly the opposite.

Every day somewhere in the United States a bridge collapses forcing people to use a longer route. Every day many new potholes open up damaging tires and suspensions. Every day all over America millions of drivers sit in stop and go traffic costing them time and money. All these problems also cost business in lost efficiency and therefore profits. Instead of giving big business and billionaires more tax breaks we ought to be spending money on repairing our roads, replacing aging bridges, building new schools and replacing other city infrastructure like water and sewer lines many of which are so old they leak or are unsafe.

If we spend our money on replacing infrastructure both citizens and businesses benefit. Putting people to work will raise demand for workers and give those workers money to spend in store creating demand for yet more workers. That increase in demand for workers is what will cause wages and salaries to rise and improve the lives of all of us not just the billionaires.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - November 10, 2017

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Opioid Crisis Versus Other Vices

The media and our politicians have recently made a lot of noise about the horrors of prescription opioid addiction. They quote alarming sounding statistics like 34,000 people in the U.S. died from prescription drug overdoses in 2016. What they fail to do is put the issue in perspective by comparing death rates caused by various other vices in which Americans partake.

Consider this; last year 480,000 Americans died due to smoking tobacco. That’s more than 12 times the number who died taking prescription drugs yet we no longer hear much about government efforts to convince people to stop smoking. The really alarming statistic though is that 41,000 people died from second hand smoke, those folks didn’t have the nasty habit but lived or worked with someone who did and lost their lives because of it. On average smokers die 10 years earlier than non-smokers. About 15% of Americans still smoke but the rate has been falling gradually for the last 50 years.

Smoking tobacco isn’t the only socially acceptable vice that kills more than prescription drugs, obesity or being significantly overweight also kills far more than drug use at a rate of 300,000 Americans per year. While tobacco use has been falling, obesity has been rising for the last 30 years and today nearly 38% of Americans are obese.

Then of course there is the real drug of choice, alcohol, which kills 88,000 Americans every year. Last year more than 10,000 of those deaths were in automobile accidents of which 8,400 were not the drunk driver. Alcohol related deaths are also on the rise with nearly one in seven Americans or 32 million people struggling with a serious alcohol problem last year. That’s more than the population of Texas.

After all those preventable but socially acceptable causes of death we get to opioids. In 2016 more than 20,000 Americans died of overdoes involving prescription opioids. That’s less than one fourth of those from alcohol related causes. It’s half as many as those killed by second hand smoke.

For more than 40 years the country has fought a war on drugs as President Nixon famously labeled it and we still have drug abuse and deaths due to overdoses. We have an entire federal agency and every local police department in the country focusing resources on drug users and their suppliers.

Based on recent history I foresee further tightening of regulations and enforcement making it even harder for people with serious chronic pain like arthritis and fibromyalgia to get the small doses of morphine that make their lives tolerable.

Why do our leaders ignore the positive results of the efforts to get people to stop smoking that have succeeded without recourse to armed officers arresting people on the street? Why do our leaders appear to ignore the far greater scourge of alcohol abuse which has no criminal penalties unless the user is caught driving while intoxicated? Why aren’t we as a nation focusing on the far greater number of deaths and long term health problems caused by obesity? Why is drug use treated more vigorously than other more dangerous vices?

 Published in the Seguin Gazette November 3, 2017

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Trump Tweets Cover for a Host of Sins

I don’t for one moment believe that Trump’s Twitter rants are calculated measures designed to cause the public’s eye to watch one hand while his other hand he attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act with executive orders, but they do have that effect. His controversial and often insulting lies eat up news cycles to such a degree that both his actions and those of Congress seem to be ignored all too often.

The heartless remarks Trump made while on a phone call with the widow of one of the four United States soldiers killed in Niger have succeeded in stopping most major media sources from asking; what are U.S. troops doing in Niger? Even Congress doesn’t know according to elected officials from both parties.

Among the other damage Trump’s tweets and outrageous behavior have masked are the failure of the Republican controlled Congress to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which along with their proposed budget which makes severe cuts to Medicaid would leave millions of Texas children without any form of health insurance. This means that tens of thousands of Texas children won’t get the health care they need to do well in school which will penalize them in their future earnings.

Secretary of Education Betsy De Vos is rolling back guidance to colleges and universities regarding handling sexual assault allegations which were created to protect young women who far too frequently suffer more punishment than the perpetrators.

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price was run out of the administration for using tax payer funds to pay for charter flights to various speaking engagements. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin got a slap on the wrist for doing the same thing to the tune of over $800,000.

Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke is working to eliminate some national monuments and shrink others. He advocates giving big mining and fossil fuel companies access to the lands rather then the public. He has also spent thousands of dollars of public money on charter flights that he could have made on regularly scheduled airlines for a few hundred dollars. Now there’s word that friends and campaign contributors of Zinke have been awarded a $300 million dollar contract to rebuild the power grid in Puerto Rico even though the their company consists of only two people and the company has no experience with such a large scale project.

Our former governor and now Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, has also carelessly used $56,000 in taxpayer money to pay for charter flights that could have been made on scheduled airlines for far less. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has done the same and like Perry and Zinke is under investigation by the inspector generals of their respective agencies.

The members of the Trump administration have exhibited the same callousness and disregard for the public as Trump has and there is no end in sight to the greed, corruption and abuse of the American people. I hope that in the future the news media will spend less time with shocking headlines over Trump’s latest tweet and more on holding him and his appointees accountable to the people they pledged to serve.

Published in the Seguin Gazette October 27, 2017

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Saving Our Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Comparing Democrat and Republican Tax and Budget Proposals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

John Kuempel Touts Distractions From Real Issues

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

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

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

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

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

Published in the Seguin Gazette, September 29, 2017

Friday, September 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Published in the Seguin Gazette September 22, 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

What hurricanes and cyber crime have in common

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Rescinding DACA isn't the Christian thing to do

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Upcoming Republican Tax Break Giveaway Spree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in the Seguin Gazette - September 1, 2017

Friday, September 1, 2017

Afghanistan, A Solution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in the Seguin Gazette, August 25, 2017

Friday, August 25, 2017

Trump Shares Responsibility for Murder of Heather Heyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in the Seguin Gazette, August 18, 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017

Trump the Worst But Better Than Republican Alternatives

Regardless of the scandals, racist policies, incompetence and outright ignorant foreign policy of our current president I’m not all that interested in seeing him impeached any time soon. I’d much rather the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation find every bit of the dirt and then begin the impeachment process sometime in May of 2020 after it’s too late for any real competition for the Republican nomination.

Recently published research shows that regardless of Trump’s plummeting national approval rating, Republican voters in those districts that voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 still rate him the same as they did on his inauguration day. I see little chance of that changing so if all else remains equal we’ll lose again in 2020. We’re going to need the next three and a half years to figure out and execute a plan to get non-voters to the polls. Here in Texas that’s a lot of folks, in fact more than half of the voting age population of Texas didn’t vote at all. Based on demographics most of them are likely to vote for Democrats if they can be persuaded to show up at the polls. Winning in Texas is really important since if Texas had swung to the Democrats in 2016 Trump would have been two votes short in the electoral college and we’d likely have a Democratic president today.

We’ve got serious work to do in South Texas, for example in Hidalgo County the voting age population is over 616,000 and just 28% voted in 2016. El Paso County has a voting age population of 638,000 and only 33% voted. Harris County, 3.3 million and 39% turnout, Bexar County 1.4 million 41% turnout, Guadalupe County 115,000 and 49.4% turnout. Pathetic as those numbers are statewide the turnout rate was just 42.62%. Non-voter demographics suggest that about two out of three of them would vote for Democrats if they voted at all, so just an overall turnout increase of 17% would have been enough to win Texas for the Democrats in 2016.

I’m not just interested in impeachment being delayed for electoral reasons. It is actually in the best interest of the American people to have an incompetent Republican in the oval office rather than a competent one. If Mike Pence were President, he might very well have been able to work with the House and Senate to come up with a bill to repeal at least parts of the Affordable Care Act and who knows how many Americans would suffer and die for the greed of his wealthy sponsors. While some pundits argue that Mueller is going after Pence too, even if both are impeached the Speaker of the House is next in line of succession and that gives us Paul Ryan as President which I don’t see as a good thing.

Ryan is the architect of the House version of the bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act which would kick 15 million Americans off Medicaid and cause another 7 million to lose their insurance coverage. Not only that but even very conservative estimates suggest passage of repeal would lead to the unnecessary and preventable deaths of 15,000 to 20,000 Americans every year. Then there’s the untold suffering of those who would be left untreated for illnesses that too often damage their bodies for life. Not to mention the number of bankruptcies that would increase again due to those who received medical care they then couldn’t pay for.

Trump may be one of the worst presidents ever but anyone other Republican is likely to be worse for America.

Published in the Seguin Gazette August 11, 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

Trump Antics Distract From Damage

While many of us have been watching the train wreck that is the Trump administration quite a few damaging pieces of legislation have been signed into law almost unnoticed.

As is often the case Republicans are all for local control until it threatens some rich guy’s profits. Two bills HJR 66 and HJR 67 have rescinded Obama era rules that made it possible for states to setup their own IRA-type retirement savings programs. California was the first to jump on the option which would have created a way for millions of Californians who work for employers without a 401k or pension plan to save for their retirement. Trump signed the bill which blocks states from setting up such payroll savings plans. The bill rescinds Department of Labor rules designed to expand the number of working Americans with access to IRA-styled savings accounts. Between 30 and 55 million Americans have lost the option to join a payroll deduction savings plan, which is well known to be the best way to save for retirement.

HJR 43 reversed the Health and Human Services rule that prevented states like Texas from withholding funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood that perform abortions. In so doing, Republicans and their rubber stamp Trump have caused tens of thousands of poor women in Texas to lose the chance to have mammograms, birth control and other reproductive health services unrelated to abortions.

HJR 83 rolls back protections for workers who are injured on the job by reducing the statute of limitations on inaccurate record keeping from five years to six months. Once again Republicans let dangerous employers off the hook by letting them get away with sloppy record keeping thus making it harder to prove that the employer is negligent.

For those of you rich enough to hunt from an airplane or helicopter HJR 69 repeals a rule issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which prohibited aerial hunting of bears and wolves and bear-baiting, in Alaska. No one should have to hike for miles in the wilderness to kill an animal so they can hang its head on their wall.

Next time you’re out of work due to your employer going bankrupt or simply a reduction in force and you file for unemployment compensation don’t be surprised if you are told you have to take a drug test because Republicans in congress passed HJR 42 so you can be further demeaned. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that in every state where its been tried almost no one who files for unemployment ever tests positive for drug use. If you’re a conservative it seems to be a matter of principle that being unemployed means you’re a slacker and a druggy. Of course you’ll notice that they never test for alcohol abuse so it must be OK to be a drunk.

Since regulations to protect government contractors by requiring employers to disclose labor law violations, including wage theft, unsafe working conditions and hiring discrimination offended their big money supporters Republicans passed and Trump signed HJR 37. By rescinding those regulations Republicans have once again given a green light to federal contractors who steal from their employees.

That’s just some of the lowlights you might have missed in the first six months of the Trump train wreck. It’s important not to let the shenanigans reported in the media distract us from the real damage being done by the Republican Party.

Published in the Seguin Gazette August 4, 2017

Friday, August 4, 2017

In the last presidential election Donald Trump ran a faux populist campaign that fooled just enough people in the right states to win. Just six months into his term we can already see that he is not who he claimed to be. He claimed to have a healthcare plan that would cover more people at lower cost when in fact he had no plan at all.

The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t provide routine healthcare to all its citizens. In the last week or so the real populist group Our Revolution, a Bernie Sanders campaign spinoff, announced its Summer for Progress project which includes providing good healthcare to all Americans. The group is supporting HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act filed by long time supporter John Conyers.

Our Revolution knows that there is more to be done than just insuring that the sick get the treatment they need. It is unacceptable that a person should work a full time job and still live in poverty so Our Revolution is promoting the Raise the Wage Act, HR 15, which would raise the minimum wage. Remember as it stands now our tax dollars subsidize the profits of some of America’s most profitable companies, think Walmart, by providing benefits like food stamps and housing assistance to their employees whom they pay poverty wages.

Back in the 1960’s a high school education would enable a worker to get a job that would lead them to a middle class life but that hasn’t been possible in decades yet attaining a college education is impossible for too many Americans due to the high costs. I can still remember television ads for the United Negro College Fund which used the tag line “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”. That idea is as true today as it ever was and applies to even more people. Keep in mind that one of reasons that companies use when applying to bring in foreign workers is that there aren’t enough Americans with the necessary skills here in the U.S. If we educated our citizens we might find that wasn’t the case so Our Revolution is promoting the College for All Act, HR 1880 which would pay the tuition and fees for any American who attends a two year or four year college.

Today many Texans think they’re registering to vote when they get a drivers license or update it but even though they mark the box the Department of Public Safety doesn’t always forward the information to the Secretary of State so the person remains unregistered and when they show up at the polls they’re unable to vote. A federal lawsuit was filed last year over this but that’s not enough, it’s time we require every state to automatically register voters who pass through their drivers license offices so Our Revolution is promoting the Automatic Voter Registration Act, HR 2840 which would do just that.

While these issues and more are important right now we have an even larger, worldwide problem looming over us and that’s global climate change. It is now a certainty that the next 50 years will see more frequent crop failures due to longer, deeper droughts. We’ll see more frequent, more intense hurricanes. In order to minimize the damage we have to stop wrecking the environment soon so Our Revolution is supporting congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard in developing a Climate Change bill.

Join us 10am Saturday at Hemisfair Park in support of Medicare for All.

Published in the Seguin Gazette July 28, 2017

Friday, July 28, 2017

Letter from the future

Dateline July 11, 2082

It’s 65 years to the day since the Larsen C ice shelf calved one of the ten largest icebergs ever up to that time. Within the next three years my grandpa told me it was like the break on a pool table in slow motion as the rest of the ice shelf broke up. While none of that changed the sea level as the ice shelf was already floating in the water, it did allow the glaciers that had previously fed the shelf to run free and speed up they did. Thirty years later when grandpa died the Antarctic continent of was only half covered in ice.

Just fifteen years after the calving event, when I was 7 years old, sea levels had already risen one foot. Today with sea levels four feet higher then when my grandparents moved to Texas, Galveston and Port Arthur are depopulated due to constant flooding and the damage done by three category 6 hurricanes over the last 50 years.

McAllen and Corpus Christi have taken a beating from mammoth hurricanes as well. Between higher sea levels causing the coast to move inland, hurricanes, and the collapse of fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico all the little towns that used to be on the coast like Rockport and Aransas Pass are little more than ghost towns.

When I was little I remember being able to spend most of the day during the summer outdoors playing with my friends. Today no one goes outside between 9am and 7pm four months out of the year and yet more than 2,000 Texans die every year due to the 125 degree heat anyway.

The house outside San Antonio where my mom grew up and the one where I was born, along with just about all the others in the sprawl between San Antonio and Austin are abandoned. The desert has encroached half way to Houston and there isn’t enough water to live there anymore given that Nestle now owns nearly all the water rights.

Grandpa said some crazy president back when the ice shelf calved wanted to build a wall to keep Mexicans from crossing the border on foot. I find that hard to imagine because there’s nothing but a thousand miles of desert from Mexico City to nearly Houston. They can’t even get water at the Rio Grande unless there’s been a hurricane recently.

For hundreds of years nations have fought wars over natural resources; at the turn of the century it was oil now, we fight for potable water because it is the most precious resource of all. Some cities started recycling wastewater before I was born, now every city and town does it even if they have access to lakes or wells that have fresh water year round because they sell that water if Nestle doesn’t already own it.

When I was a kid we still had access to fruit and vegetables from all over the world but that’s almost impossible now as few countries can feed their own people. Countries now trade food for other food, not money unless the government is totally corrupt and even ruthless dictators know better than to let too many people starve.

Grandpa was politically involved to the very end. The thing that made him most angry was the climate change deniers. He said the scientists knew the environment was being wrecked and the politicians did nothing to stop it because it would hurt profits. Everyone knows now, but it’s too late.

They say the dome covering the city will officially be complete tomorrow.

Published in the Seguin Gazette July 21, 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Wealthy Use Law to Maintain Their Wealth

Anti-drug laws, voter suppression and gerrymandering, and tax policy are all used by the wealthiest among us to maintain a fractured society. It’s in their interest to keep us at each other’s throats so we don’t turn our attention to their hoarding of assets and work together to develop a more equal and just society.

Using wedges to keep people with common interests separated has been a trait of the wealthy here since colonial times when plantation owners noticed that indentured servants were fraternizing with and sometimes escaping with slaves or running off to live with the Indians. In order to stop losing their enslaved workers the planters developed programs for the indentured servants wherein they would receive what was essentially a large bonus at the end of their servitude, assuming they lived through it. In addition they were made the supervisors of the black slaves and given the privilege of beating and otherwise abusing them.

Anti-drug laws such as the prohibition against marijuana were created expressly to enable the arrest and prosecution of black members of society since at the time of inception it was preferred over liquor and beer due to being cheaper because they could grow their own. The use of anti-drug laws has continued to be used for control as explained by former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman who was quoted in Harper’s magazine saying "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people, you understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities, we could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

Until the Voting Rights Act poll taxes and literacy tests were used to prevent “undesirables” so that the wealthy could continue to prosper at the expense of the lower classes. Now laws like Texas’ Voter ID bill seek to suppress the vote by only allowing forms of ID that tend to be held by wealthier white voters and not by poorer voters of color. Gerrymandering is used to prevent voters of color from electing officials who might be more sympathetic to their plight. Here again Texas is a prime example with a federal judge having found that the 2011 redistricting maps were intentionally discriminatory against voters of color.

Just look at Texas tax policy and the funding of public education. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claims that property taxes are too high and he wants to set a maximum that cities and school districts can charge. Ironically he’s been instrumental in reducing the share of public school funding provided by the state thus requiring school districts to raise property taxes in order to provide an adequate education. The way this hurts people of color is that their school districts generally have overall lower property values so even if they could afford to raise the tax rates they’d still have less money to spend on educating children in their districts. Most of us would be very angry if our tax deduction for mortgage interest went away so it won’t but the people who get the greatest advantage out of it are the very wealthiest who buy multi-million dollar homes.

Nearly 400 years later and the wealthy still lead us by the nose.

Published in the Seguin Gazette July 14, 2017

Friday, July 7, 2017

Are We Terrorists or Christians?

In 2001 the entire country was up in arms after the attack on 9/11 that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. Thousands of people, rich and poor, teenagers and 30 somethings volunteered to join our military and risk their lives in order to take the battle to the terrorists.

This week the Congressional Budget Office reported that the Senate healthcare bill will cause 22 million Americans to lose their health insurance. We know from studies done after the release of the similar House bill which causes 23 million to lose their insurance that between 10,000 and 30,000 of those folks will then die unnecessarily.

Even taking the low number that’s more than three times as many people dying every year than who died in the 9/11 attack. We went to war over that attack. We spent trillions of dollars to fight that war on the basis of preventing another attack. Yet now, 16 years later, our elected leaders are willing to allow 10,000 mostly poor people to die every year in order to give rich people a tax break. Not only that but thousands more will go bankrupt, losing their homes and everything they’ve ever worked for.

How are we any better than the terrorists if we lie down and take it when the Donald Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress deny children healthcare simply because their parents are too poor to pay for it? How are we better than the terrorists if we accept that grandmothers will be turned out of the nursing homes that provide the medical care they need because their families don’t have the resources to pay for it? How are we any better than the terrorists if we continue to allow sick people to suffer and die to save a few dollars on our taxes?

I frequently hear claims that this is a Christian nation most often by some Republican elected official. If you believe that, how to you reconcile that with denying hardworking people and their families life saving healthcare? I can’t make that connection because the nuns who taught me at St. Lawrence the Martyr and the brothers who taught me at Archbishop Rummel made it very clear that “when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!"

The majority of Americans don’t want what John Cornyn wants to pass of on us. We disagree with Ted Cruz that the bill isn’t tough enough. Most Americans want something better than the Affordable Care Act not something worse. There is a better replacement available that most Americans do support. The replacement is called Medicare for All, or single payer. Medicare could be everyone’s health insurance plan whether a new born or a great-grandmother, sick or healthy, rich or poor. It wouldn’t matter if got cancer after the company you worked for went out of business or moved the factory to China because your health insurance wouldn’t be attached to your employer. You’d never be in the situation where you or your child got sick when you didn’t have insurance.

If America is really a Christian nation shouldn’t we start acting like one?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Wishful Thinking About Joe Straus

I don’t agree with Joe Straus on a lot of things, he’s a Republican after all, but I have to say he’s shown real leadership as Speaker of the Texas House and it’s a real shame Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick aren’t more like him. For that matter it’s a shame that the Republican leadership at the federal level isn’t more like him.

Here in Texas Gov. Abbott has called a special session of the legislature to deal with, among things, Dan Patrick’s bathroom emergency. I don’t mean he has food poisoning or some such, I’m talking about his burning desire to require that the bathroom you use matches the gender on your birth certificate. Now, like North Carolina before us if the legislature passes his bill and Gov. Abbott signs it, Texas stands to lose $3 billion a year in tourism spending of which $412 million would be lost by San Antonio and the surrounding area, according to a study by the Perryman Group for the San Antonio Tourism Council. That translates into a heckuva lot of jobs lost over a solution in search of a problem.

The other non-sense Patrick is pushing and Abbott is caving in on is school vouchers. Texas already underfunds public education and the state keeps reducing its share of that funding, school vouchers will simply reduce the total available for public schools while giving a discount to folks wealthy enough to send their kids to private schools. Don’t forget that private schools don’t typically operate in rural areas so 80% of the state would never see one anyway.

Joe Straus isn’t having any of it, last week he told school board members from across Texas at a conference in San Antonio “Somebody is going to pay for public education, it’s either going to come from the state or it’s going to from local property taxes. If we want real property tax reform we need real reform of school finance.” He explained that the way to improve public education and reduce property taxes is to increase state funding for education but legislation to regulate bathrooms and offer state money for private school tuition is wrongheaded and counterproductive.

At the federal level Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues hiding the ball on healthcare bill. There has been no public hearing, there has been no published text of the bill. In fact, according to Senate Finance Committee Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), he doesn’t intend to hold a hearing. Apparently Hatch knows the bill will cause problems for Republicans if it is opened for debate. He claims that he’s getting no cooperation from Democrats on the healthcare bill but perhaps it’s because he won’t let them see it in order for them to offer any suggestions or even opinions.

It isn’t just Democrats who can’t see the bill, the Republican leadership is hiding it from the American Medical Association, the Association of Hospitals, and the American Cancer Society. So if you aren’t a lobbyist for an insurance company it’s a secret. That’s not the way Democrats handled the Affordable Care Act in 2009. That bill had months of hearings in several committees in the Senate alone and the those were public hearings unlike the smoke filled room deal McConnell and his lackeys like Hatch are working out.

If we have to have a Republican in the White House why couldn’t it be Joe Straus?

Published in the Seguin Gazette June 23, 2017

Friday, June 23, 2017

John Courage Wins SA City Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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