Thursday, March 26, 2020

Republicans Fail Again

It isn’t just that I disagree on policy that makes me angry with Republicans it’s that they consistently fail and Democrats have to clean it up then get blamed for spending what it takes to fix the problem. Once again we have Republicans leading the nation and again we seeing an abject failure to provide competent leadership in a crisis. Trump and his brown nosing enablers in the legislature take the COVID-19 virus seriously at the outset and still haven’t taken the necessary steps to put industry to work on providing the basics needed to treat the soon to be deathly ill thousands of Americans.
Italy which had its first cases January 31, three weeks later there were 76 confirmed cases. As of Sunday there were over 59,000 cases and 5,471 dead. The death rate is high because the Italians don’t have enough critical care beds and ventilators necessary to treat the massive number of sick people. The doctors there are being forced to decide who gets treated based on both likelihood of recovery and length of potential life left to live so older/sicker patients are only receiving minimal treatment to relieve pain because there simply aren’t enough resources to go around.
The United States had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 January 21, so far there are more than 32,000 confirmed cases and 416 deaths. Given what we’re seeing in Italy you’d think Trump would have used his authority to demand that U.S. industry ramp up production of materials necessary to treat Americans quickly. For weeks he said that governors should handle it and the White House wasn’t a shipping business. Just a week ago he finally got around to invoking his powers on the Defense Production Act of 1950 which authorizes a President to prioritize materials for national defense and demand increased production including providing incentives to build more capacity. All the while or doctors and nurses have been trying to make due with shortages of protective gear that is necessary to keep them safe while treating severely ill patients. It’s typical Republican day late and dollar short behavior.
On the economic side Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell is more worried that his campaign donors in the airline and hotel industries will suffer profit shortfalls than he is about skyrocketing unemployment figures for working stiffs like you and me. Many Americans are suddenly worrying whether or not they will have enough money to pay the rent or mortgage with enough left over to cover groceries. McConnell’s proposal bails out big business who already got big tax breaks last year 90% of which was used to buy back their own stock to raise share prices which triggered bonuses for executives and leaves the rest of us to sink or swim on our own. Fortunately Senate Democrats said that bill is a non-starter and are demanding that individuals get government support and industry can borrow money and the super-cheap rates currently available from banks.
While one of the Democratic sponsored bills Trump has signed requires that all Americans be able to get tested at no charge that doesn’t help with paying for treatment if you’re one of the 5 million Texans without health insurance and you require hospitalization for COVID-19. Texas has twice the national average of uninsured and the main reason is our Republican Governor and state legislature refuse to expand Medicaid.
If Americans are smart, nine months from now Joe Biden will take office and begin steering in the right direction. Of course Republicans will then complain about the cost and the national debt.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - March 25, 2020

Thursday, March 19, 2020

COVID 19 Republican Failure

In 2019 a petulant Donald Trump declared a national emergency when Congress wouldn’t give him his ridiculous border wall. After weeks of claiming “everything will be fine” the toddler in chief finally  declared a national emergency after COVID-19, aka coronavirus, has spread throughout the country.
China has taken draconian measures in some areas which have drastically reduced infection rates after the initial rapid spread of the disease. Italy has failed to take adequate measures and both the infection rates and death rates are soaring upward. The Italian health care system is overwhelmed in many areas and doctors are making hard decisions about who to treat due to lack of sufficient resources to treat all. They are only providing palliative care to the very old on the grounds that they only have a short time left to live anyway as well as those in poor health to start with as those resources are better used to treat younger, healthier patients who have both a better chance of survival and more to lose.
Unfortunately so far the United States is handling the situation about as poorly as Italy and we may suffer similarly for it.
On Friday the Democratic led House passed H.R. 6201-Families First Coronavirus Response Act which would provide free access to tests for the virus, including for those without health insurance. It would also give workers affected by the virus paid family and sick leave, boost unemployment benefits, strengthen government food programs for children, older people and those with low incomes and help states meet expenses for Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor. More than a quarter of Texas Republicans in the House voted against the bill, they are Brian Babin, Michael Cloud, Louie Gohmert, Lance Gooden, Chip Roy, and Randy Weber.
In the Senate even knowing that passage of the bill was imminent Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell failed to recognize the seriousness of the emergency last Friday and chose to shut down for the scheduled recess and won’t return until Thursday. The excuse is that they’ll be back in a week and will vote on the bill then when the situation has clarified. The Senate’s failure to act will delay relief and exacerbate suffering needlessly.
While the pandemic has spread to 46 states and Washington D.C. the Trump White House asked for funding cuts to the Centers for Disease Control budget. Texas is particularly vulnerable to the consequences of the pandemic due to all the rural hospital closures suffered over the last decade as Republicans have slashed budgets for health care. Closures over the last decade have primarily been driven by $50 million a year in Medicare cuts to Texas rural hospitals starting in 2013 as well as a $80+ million a year underpayment by Texas Medicaid which is controlled by our Republican controlled state legislature and Governor.
Fortunately local officials like the superintendents of Seguin ISD and Schertz/Cibolol/Universal City ISD have taken action and closed all schools in their districts for at least this week. We need the Trump administration to take strong, swift measures like our local officials are doing.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - March 18, 2020

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Religious Exemptions Against Public Interest

Government and religious exemptions are on my mind right now on two separate topics. First up is the pretzel-like logic of conservatives which never ceases to amaze me. They’re the noisiest on the topic of religious freedom but they’ve got this really strange idea that it means letting them push their religion on everyone else. I call your attention to the case of Aimee Madonna in South Carolina where tax-payer funded foster care organization, Miracle Hill Ministries, rejected her because she's the "wrong" religion – the agency will only work with evangelical Protestants, not Catholics, Jews or people of any other faith. That’s a lot of Americans. If Miracle Hill were operating on their own dime there wouldn’t be much I could say other than shame on them for keeping children in need of foster care services from finding loving homes. In this case Donald Trump and his Department of Health and Human Services has actually granted South Carolina a waiver to allow this injustice and discrimination with your tax dollars.
It isn’t just South Carolina either, our own Attorney General Ken Paxton has also requested a waiver to allow foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate against potential parents purely on religious grounds. You might say well the parents can just go to another agency but it’s not that easy. In South Carolina Miracle Hills by far the largest agency. In Texas some of the largest agencies also discriminate based on religion and those that don’t often only cover small sections of the state.
If the adoption agencies in Seguin hold to the same discriminatory practices as Miracle Hill that would mean that over half the city’s population is ineligible to adopt or provide foster care just on the basis of the church they attend. Are you OK with your tax dollars funding discrimination against yourself?
The second topic is non-partisan and a public health issue that involves religious exemptions from required vaccinations for children attending public schools. This is becoming a massive national health problem with Texas near the top of list of states at risk.
When the percentage of people who have been vaccinated for a given disease falls below a certain threshold the risk of that disease spreading throughout the population increases exponentially. The threshold percentage is a function of how communicable the disease is with measles being highly contagious it requires around 93% of the population in a given area to prevent one case of measles from spreading the hundreds of people. Herd immunity protects people who can’t be vaccinated due to health conditions or newborns who aren’t ready to be vaccinated. There are some that have been vaccinated but due to differences in how our immune systems they don’t have full immunity and others with a compromised immune system like cancer patients.
The right of a community to be free of a deadly and immunizable disease should be more important than one person’s right to refuse an immunization. Just as a community like Seguin has a stronger right to protect itself from disastrous fires than a property own has the right to a to burn trash during a drought.
In my view your right to behave as you want stops when you put me and mine at risk. If people don’t want their kids vaccinated then they should keep them home and the parents should stay home too.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - March 4, 2020

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Democratic propositions are worth taking a look at

First and foremost I want to remind you that in order to vote in Texas you’ll need some form of identification. The most common is a Texas driver’s license or state ID. You can also use a U.S. military I.D. card with your photo on it, a U.S. passport book or card, U.S. Certificate of Citizenship or Naturalization with your photo, Texas concealed handgun license issued by the Department of Public Safety, or a Texas Election I.D. also issued by DPS. If you have none of those you can still vote a regular ballot if you bring one of the following to your voting site: Valid voter registration card/certificate, current utility bill (or a copy), bank statement (or a copy), government check (or a copy), paycheck (or a copy), current government document with your name and address on it, certified birth certificate (must be an original). Then you’ll fill out a form at the voting site stating that (1) you are who you say you are and (2) have a reasonable impediment or difficulty getting one of the acceptable photo IDs. Then you can vote a regular ballot.

Besides candidates there are eleven propositions on the Democratic Party ballot asking for your view on a wide range of important topics.

Proposition #1 asks “Should everyone in Texas have a right to quality healthcare, protected by a universally accessible Medicare-style system that saves rural hospitals, reduces the cost of prescription drugs, and guarantees access to reproductive healthcare?” Wouldn’t it be great knowing that your employer wasn’t in control of your health insurance? It sure would be nice to never worry that if you become too ill to work or your employer goes bust that your health insurance and that of your family wouldn’t end.

Proposition #2 asks “Should everyone in Texas have the right to high-quality public education from pre-k to 12th grade, and affordable college and career training without the burden of crushing student loan debt?” Imagine every child having the same opportunity to get a great education regardless of whether they live in a rich or poor district. Imagine every young adult having the realistic opportunity to further their education without the fear that they’d be paying back student loans until the cows come home.

Proposition #3 asks “Should everyone in Texas have the right to clean air, safe water, affordable and sustainable alternative energy sources, and a ​responsible climate policy that recognizes and addresses the climate crisis as a real and serious threat that impacts every aspect of life on this planet?” Who doesn’t want to leave their children and grandchildren a planet that can sustain them without fear of mass crop failure, famine, flooding and worse? Every time we have demanded that industry take action against pollution and climate change they’ve claimed that it’s too expensive and will cost jobs yet once it finally gets done those same industries find that they’re more efficient and that the benefits outweigh the costs even strictly on the financials let alone the lives and health saved.

Proposition #4 asks “Should everyone in Texas have the right to economic security, where all workers have earned paid family and sick leave, training to prepare for future economies, and a living wage that respects their hard work?” Shouldn’t people who work full time be able to expect that they can afford a roof over their head and three meals a day?

There’s plenty more but no room for them all in this column. I think you get the gist of what kinds of issues are being addressed.

Now go vote!

Published in the Seguin Gazette - February 26, 2020

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Inspiration by Aspiration Will Turn Out the Vote

­From time to time I hear critiques of Bernie Sanders and some of the policies that he and Elizabeth Warren have espoused like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal as being unattainable and therefore bad politics. I disagree, in fact lofty goals are inspirational, look at John Kennedy’s goal of putting a man on the moon within a decade. That feat was thought unattainable by many and NASA scrambled to make it happen but we did it.
When we elected President Obama with promises to fix our broken health care system many thought he would fail since Bill and Hillary Clinton had failed to do it more than a decade earlier. My friends and I quickly learned that his proposal was a stretch as far as congress was concerned. We worked hard to convince Congressman Henry Cuellar, who represented Guadalupe County at that time, to support the bill which he finally did though he threw his share of monkey wrenches into the mix. Democratic Senators like Max Baucus from Montana held up the bill for months while stripping it of some of the best parts. We didn’t get everything we wanted but the Affordable Care Act was an improvement over what had existed before. Had our Republican governor not failed to take advantage of the tens of millions of dollars available to expand Medicaid, tens of thousands of Texans could be healthier and happier today.
During Obama’s presidency we learned that pre-emptive compromise intended to get the support of Republicans early in the process was a failure because they just moved the goalpost further off center. Now that many of us have turned our attention to electing a president to replace the ignoramus currently in office some folks seem to believe that the only important issue is winning the election and therefore we should choose a candidate that at least some who voted for Trump will vote for. Oddly they seem to think that those are folks who are somewhere in the middle on most policy issues. The reality is that those voters who voted for Obama in 2008/2012 then voted for Trump in 2016 wanted to “shake things up”, they didn’t vote for Trump as much as they voted against Hillary Clinton whom they viewed as an establishment candidate.
Pre-emptively compromising on a centrist/establishment candidate like Joe Biden or Mike Bloomberg, etc. isn’t going to win over those voters, they’ll just go for another four years of Trump trashing our democracy, violating the constitution, and lining his own pockets with public funds. Instead we need an inspirational candidate who talks about the possibilities that can be achieved. Joe Biden has essentially campaigned on bringing another four years of the Obama presidency. First Biden no Barack Obama and second at least the people I talk to think it’s time to move forward not have more of the same.
Voters who switched to Trump after voting for Obama wanted to shake things up because they felt that our federal government was more responsive to big business than working class people and they’re absolutely right even if their prescription for fixing it was totally wrong. Giving them a candidate that doesn’t offer a big change in how our government works isn’t going to bring them back.
Early voting started yesterday, vote for the candidate whose message inspires you and your family because that is the candidate who will inspire others. For me that’s Bernie Sanders.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - February 19, 2020

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Racist Fascist March in DC

Last Saturday in the wake of Donald Trump’s acquittal by cowed Republicans in his senate trial a group of roughly 100 young men belonging to the self-described fascist and white nationalist organization, Patriot Front, marched through parts of Washington D.C. chanting “reclaim America”. I find their march disturbing as my father and three uncles were World War II veterans fighting against fascists and now these people who adhere to the same kind of ideology and Mussolini and Hitler get police escort through our nation’s capitol.
Nearly all wore khaki pants, blue jackets, khaki ball caps and all but their leader wore face masks so they could remain anonymous just like the Ku Klux Klan before them. As I’ve noticed in the past with groups like this one their manifesto starts out reasonably and I found myself agreeing with the first three paragraphs. As I read on it became clear that while we agree that our democracy is broken their diagnosis of the cause is typical white supremacist hogwash. Prominent in the tract are racist quotes from Calvin Coolidge and Charles Lindbergh. According to Patriot Front’s manifesto you can’t truly be American unless your ancestors were European.
The manifesto reminds me of the writings of a fellow native of Louisiana by the name of David Duke. The former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which he founded in 1974, is well versed in sounding reasonable long enough to draw you in before turning to blame everyone else except white men like Donald Trump for the problems of downtrodden white men.
I’m not foolish enough to believe that groups like Patriot Front exist because of Donald Trump nativist and white supremacist rhetoric. It isn’t like the Ku Klux Klan ever really went away and anyone watching the news after the election of President Obama saw racist signs and rhetoric spouted by TEA Party demonstrators. Nevertheless our current president cheers these hateful groups on even as the FBI has finally recognized that right wing hate groups of this sort are every bit as dangerous as followers of ISIS if not more so.
It’s just so sad that within weeks of marches in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King and the work that continues to bring about racial harmony and justice in this country that a group of young white men look to reverse all the progress. I should note that not only were the Patriot Front marchers in the capitol exclusively male, the rhetoric in their manifesto makes it quite clear their focus isn’t just on supremacy of whites, it is about the supremacy of white males.
Patriot Front was founded by Thomas Ryan Rousseau, now 22 years old. Rousseau participated in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer. Rousseau appears to be well spoken and media savvy similar to David Duke. I suspect he’ll be around for quite a while drawing disaffected white men like flies to a rotting carcass. We should all hope that the FBI keeps an eye on him and his followers.

Published in the Seguin Gazette - February 12, 2020

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Bolton Bombshell Requires Public Testimony

I’ve previously argued that the American people deserve a thorough and transparent senate trial. Such a trial requires that senators and the public hear testimony from former National Security Advisor John Bolton, Interim Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and others as well as the opportunity to review documents pertaining to the illegal withholding of military aid funds approved by congress. Bolton and Mulvaney among others are first-person witnesses to the words and actions of Donald Trump and therefore have direct knowledge pertinent to the trial. That should have been more than enough reason, but now that the New York Times has reported John Bolton wrote in his proposed book that Trump specifically told him that the funds were being withheld until Ukraine announced an investigation into Joe Biden and his son. Even those who still believe Trump should demand that Bolton publicly testify under oath so that we all have the opportunity to evaluate Bolton’s credibility.

Senator Cornyn voted 11 times on January 21st and 22nd to block first-hand witnesses from testifying and to prevent relevant evidence from being included. Voting against witnesses and evidence is like covering one’s ears and eyes to block out the truth.

Just over 45 years ago Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency when Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, Senator Barry Goldwater, and House Minority Leader John Jacob Rhodes met with him to inform him of failing support among Republicans in congress. Rhodes told Nixon he faced certain impeachment in the House. Scott and Goldwater told the president that he had 15 votes or less in his favor in the Senate, less than half the 34 needed to avoid removal from office. Those members of congress were no less partisan than those in congress today, but they did respond to pressure from the public.

With the current partisan split in the Senate it’s going to take 4 Republican senators to vote with Democrats in order to allow the public to hear that testimony. It’s going to take public pressure on Republicans to make that happen. There are several Republicans whose names are being bandied about as candidates for those 4 votes including Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine because of their perceived moderate positions or election vulnerability. While John Cornyn of Texas isn’t on the media list and unlike those who have been named he hasn’t made any public statements indicating any possible support for calling witnesses he is up for re-election and Democrats here have already shown the state is competitive which makes him vulnerable to public opinion.

This is much bigger than just President Trump. Preventing witnesses, evidence, and transparency in President Trump’s impeachment trial sets a dangerous precedent and potentially undermines the Constitution for generations. While impeachment might just seem like some abstract exercise, this process could affect Texans for years to come. It might be a Republican ignoring the Constitution this time, but it could just as easily be a Democratic president at some point in the future. 

Republicans and Democrats must put country over party to allow evidence and critical first-hand witnesses as part of the impeachment trial. Only public participation can keep our political process on track and that means you, your family and your neighbors need to take part. All it takes is a simple two minute phone call to Senator Cornyn’s office, (202) 224-2934. Just leave a message with your name, zip code and the fact that you want to hear what John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney have to say in public and while under oath.