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?