Saturday, July 4, 2015

Thoughts for the 4th of July


I am convinced our country will never be conquered by a foreign power in my or your lifetime.  I am concerned, however, that hypocrisy, greed and callousness will erode many ideals which have caused our country to become the greatest nation on earth.  To continue our greatness, we need to return to the attitude that we are all Americans who love freedom and should concentrate more on our American heritage than our political preferences. 

As a young person I was taught to respect our president even though I might disagree with his policies.  Today too many Americans are quick to demean our elected leaders by describing them as not real Americans, idiots, weak, uncaring, dishonest, and then lament our leaders are not respected around the world.  One good example of how sometimes good Americans miss the mark-- Vietnam vets should be among the most honored of our veterans.  Many of them chose to obey the law even though they were strongly against us being in the war.  They went and did their duty, even disagreeing with the politics which put them in harm's way.  Yet, many of them, when returning to America, were treated like ex-convicts rather than the heroes they were. 

America probably creates more and more millionaires via our economic system while more and more working poor suffer without adequate income, medical care--and some even basic sustenance--because of our current economic system. 

Voter participation appears to be at an all-time low, even in local elections, while too many of our politicians work to limit voting rather than encourage.  The influence of money in our elections is at an all-time high.  Money, according to our Supreme Court, is speech--and real speech seems to have become only TV entertainment.  Debates are no longer real debates, but sound bytes prompted by trite questioning by some TV personality.

One of the worst examples of national hypocrisy relates to action or inaction on the part of our United States Congress.  It seems many of our congressmen are hawkish, ready to go to war at the drop of a hat.  I've noticed most of them are individuals who never faced real combat.  Too many of our Congressional leaders are quick to want to go to war yet very reluctant to pay the cost or clean up the mess left by the aftermath.  Too often, it seems, our military veterans who have returned to America in body bags or seriously damaged are not adequately revered or cared for. 

A recent news article pointed out that even though Congress is well aware of the condition and status of our VA hospitals, the waiting line for our veterans to be accepted for medical treatment is 50% greater than it was only a year ago.  While making great speeches about how we love our veterans, our Congress lets the VA hospitals go three billion dollars in the hole.  All of this while many of our veterans wait for months to be afforded treatment for injuries or treatment they suffered in our defense. 


For this 4th of July, I suggest that we, as American citizens, resolve to contact our leaders to put our country’s money where the politicians’ mouths are in their 4th of July speeches.  

God bless America!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Not in office and growing old...

It has recently occurred to me ex-politicians should realize when they are no longer the occupant of an important office.  Additionally, all of us need to learn we are growing old.  In an effort to help all with those two conditions, I submit the following:

SIGNS OF BEING OUT OF OFFICE

–no free tickets are being offered to you for things you didn’t want to go to anyway
–your jokes are not as funny as they use to be
–not being invited to groundbreakings by the Chamber of Commerce
–important people are harder to reach by phone
–fewer people get in your face and say, “You don’t remember who I am, do you?”
–your postman doesn’t bring you as much mail
–you’re not asked to make many speeches
–more folks remove you from their speed dial
–you wait longer on hold when calling someone
–“Our government was better when you were in” is your main topic of conversation
–people in public confront you with, “Didn’t you use to be ____?”


THINGS TO NOTICE TO REALIZE YOU ARE GROWING OLD

–when you see a good looking young woman you think “she reminds me of my granddaughter”    rather than “what a hot looking babe”
–most of your mail is medical bills or catalogs
–you and your friends talk mostly about your ailments
–you look forward to getting junk mail
–you read the obituary columns of the paper more often
–you find more of your acquaintances and old high school chums in the obituary column
–you attend more funerals than weddings
–your wife nags you more about your health
–your wife complains more about you not hearing her nag you about your health
–AARP sends you more invitations to join
–grandchildren are asked to help you with your computer and cell phone
–I can’t seem to remember the other things

I’m hopeful these suggested signs will help you to realize you are no longer in office and growing old.


In addition to the above signs, your friends can give you helpful hints about your aging process.  The most common reply you get from friends when complaining of aches and pains is, “At least it’s better than the alternative.”  I’ve started replying to that catchphrase by telling my friends, “That’s not what my preacher tells me.”  My only ambition at this point is to live as long and as well as my mother.  She would always say as she was approaching her 100th year, “I’ve lived a long and good life and done almost everything I ever wanted to do and look forward to meeting my Maker in the near future.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why have disclosure of money?

Recent events have brought about interesting thoughts concerning attitudes about race relations in the South.  All of a sudden it seems conservative Republican leaders are giving serious thought to removing the Rebel battle flag from the top of public buildings--not only in South Carolina, but elsewhere in the Ol'e South.  Clearly, this change of heart was brought about by all of the adverse publicity concerning racial hatred involved in the slaughter of nine people as they worshiped in an old African American church in South Carolina.

The lesson to be learned from the shameful tragedy of the church in South Carolina is that now some of our Republican politicians are stumbling over themselves to hurry and return money which has been revealed to have come from Earl Holt, III.  Holt is a leader in a white supremacy group known as the Council of Conservative Citizens.  Ted Cruz, it was discovered, had accepted $11,000; Ran Paul an undisclosed amount; and Greg Abbott $1,000.  As soon as word got out they had received campaign money from this group, all suddenly had a pang of conscience to the extent that Ted Cruz wants to donate his to the victims of the killing.  My question is, if their hearts were in the right place and truly believed all Americans were brothers, at least in the eyes of God, why did they not consider giving the money back or not accepting it in the first place?  It seems pretty clear the motivation for these politicians returning the tainted money was the public revelation of from whence it came.  Voters, however, should know the source of hate speech, or speech contrary to the voter’s personal interest.

To me the scenario of politicians giving campaign money back once it is disclosed makes the very point that they do not want the public to know that many of their supporters are among tainted, unacceptable groups to a majority of Americans.  Why then should we continue to allow secret donors to buy our elections?  Even worse, we don’t even know who the buyers are, or what the ultimate price of the sale could be.

I’m appalled at good union members, workers and retirees, who do not see the dangers of letting folks like the Koch brothers spend almost a billion dollars to elect their choice of the next president of the United States.

Benefits such as the right to collective bargaining--in order to demand safer working conditions, to not be summarily discharged from your livelihood because someone didn’t like the way you parted your hair this morning--are important issues the Koch brothers and their followers do not like.  They would like to have the ultimate authority and make working people just one step away from being slaves.


It is far better for all of us if we could be protected against such occurrences--which are nothing more than buying elections, but even worse are elections bought when we don’t even have an idea who the buyers are!  We should not allow democracy to be for sale!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Politicians want full disclosure from poor people, but not themselves...



Once again it appears the Legislature has taken two steps backward on ethics as it applies to them.  

It seems the Legislature wants full disclosure about whether or not poor people took advantage of Obama Care in a way similar to ancient history where wrongdoers were branded with an “S” on their foreheads which became known as the “scarlet letter.”  The Legislature overwhelmingly passed a requirement that people who were furnished coverage through Obama Care would have a set of numbers placed on their health cards identifying them as “Obama Care” recipients.  Ostensibly, this is so doctors would know whether or not to take that insurance.  I wonder if this measure was passed hoping doctors would refuse the insurance so acquired as the state has turned down the several billion dollars we could have gotten for implementing a decent program for poor people.

During this same session, the Legislature quickly killed any measure which would have required identification of secret groups which might have given money to slush funds for the members of the Legislature or other politicians—better known as “dark money.”  

Senator Huffman, Chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, pushed through two anti-ethics measures through her committee this session.  First of all, Senator Huffman decided she couldn't trust the public integrity unit of the Travis County District Attorney, so she passed legislation handing off investigation of any wrongdoing of an Austin politician to the Texas Rangers.  It’s doubtful any powerful senator or member of the Legislature, or even governor, would worry a lot about being investigated by an entity which wholly depends on legislative appropriations for the salaries of its members.  Even worse, if the Rangers find wrongdoing, they have to refer it to the politician’s home prosecutor to decide whether or not to prosecute.  Most of the senators, representatives and governors I have known in the past have a cozy relationship with their local folks back home.  It sure seems to me such a procedural scam will not lead to many indictments or convictions.

Currently, Texas law requires that officeholders file an annual financial report.  One purpose of this requirement is to tell voters whether or not there is a potential conflict of interest when acting in an official capacity. Senator Huffman passed a bill which is a step backwards in transparency of government.  Her bill provides that if property is in the spouse's name, it is not necessary to include that property on a politician's financial disclosure.  Texas being a community property state, no matter which spouse's name appears on the title of property, it is community property unless it is inherited or the result of a gift.  Therefore, even if property is in a spouse's name, one-half of it belongs to the politician.  Even if the property in question is the separate property of the non-serving spouse, income from it becomes communal and thereby benefits the officeholder.  This bill robs citizens of the ability to know whether or not the officeholder has a potential conflict of interest or receives benefit from a business not favored by voters. 

I suspect this legislation was prompted by the fact that a couple of our state officials have conveniently forgotten to list community property on their financial disclosure and were reprimanded by the state’s ethics commission.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Health Care

Our junior senator, Rafael Ted Cruz, is at least on target about one thing. In fighting the Affordable Care Act which has been dubbed Obama Care, Senator Cruz feared that if not repealed very soon the people would start growing to like it. That certainly has happened for millions and millions of formerly under-insured Americans who were suffering without adequate medical care. Obama Care is in fact working. 

Those who are detractors of Obama's program have yet to offer a single alternative. Americans should look at the very weak response from Republicans who claim we could do better. Rick Perry simply said we had plenty of coverage for poor people in Texas--they could go to the emergency room. Going to the emergency room may be a fine idea of good medical care for some folks, but it is sorely lacking in facilities for long-term ailments. And, those of us who pay for medical treatment, or our insurance carriers, are stuck with the bill. 

 America is said to have the best medical technology in the world, and is a place where--if you are well off--you can obtain the best medical care in the world. Unfortunately, however, the same cannot be said for people living from payday to payday or unable to work. Medical bills are the leading cause of individual bankruptcies. Today medical care takes an average of 16% from family income.  When Blue Cross started, only 6% of the family income was adequate  for medical care for the whole family.

Our conservative friends, and many in the medical profession, like to boast about how great medical care is in the United States. Yet, we rank 28th in the world of all nations concerning infant mortality.  Much of the blame for this situation goes to many of our politicians. They claim we should leave it alone and let free enterprise take care of it.  

As one writer has sarcastically said, “It’s very difficult to negotiate price when you’re on the gurney heading into the surgery room to have open heart surgery.” Market forces simply do not work. If you are told to take these pills, you do not stop to argue when offered a “take the pill or die” proposition. 

There’s often talk that fraud and phony ailments drive up our medical costs. Those are not the primary forces helping to destroy our economy. The primary cause of ever-increasing medical costs is fairly simple. It’s greed. Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and manufacturers of medical equipment combined probably have more lobbyists in Washington than all other interests combined. 

For those of you who do not believe money makes a difference in politics, look at the successful lobbying that has been accomplished by medical care lobbyists. As an example, statutorily, Medicaid is prohibited from negotiating price with pharmaceutical companies. Also, so-called charity hospitals have grown like topsy and are paying their top managers millions of dollars. M.D. Anderson has two top administrators, each receiving $2 million a year. 


To make matters worse, in Texas--purely for political reasons--Rick Perry, who is trying to position himself as an ultra-conservative to run for president, has led our state in turning down billions of federal dollars which not only denies access to good medical care to millions of Texans, but also hurts the state in other ways. Hypocritically, conservative Republicans mouth that Obama Care is the biggest job killer ever passed. Unfortunately for conservative Republicans, this claim does not square with facts. 

A recognized economist in Texas, Ray Perryman, has calculated that accepting the money and wisely spending it for health care in Texas would create 60,000 new jobs in Harris County alone. Our current governor just gave away about a million five in tax payer dollars to lure a company building tractors to Texas that would give us less than 400 new employees. Compare that to accepting the $920 million on the table for Texas to provide health care that would help create 60,000 new jobs in one county alone.  

The next time you hear someone belittling the efforts of our current president to provide better medical coverage for Americans, ask them what alternative they would propose. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Getting the politics out of politics...

Lloyd Doggett, while in the Senate of Texas, once commented during a debate that you can’t take politics out of politics. Senator Joan Huffman of Houston, however, seems to be trying.

For several decades the public integrity unit of Texas has resided in the district attorney’s office of Travis County. This special unit has successfully investigated and prosecuted numerous complaints of official misconduct. The unit was placed where it is because more often than not most official conduct at the state level arises in the capitol city.

Over the years, the unit has prosecuted far more Democrats or their appointees than Republicans.  Among them have been two speakers and an attorney general.

Republican politicians are now whining because Rick Perry was indicted by a group of 12 citizens for abusing his power. Perry, in an attempt to force the local district attorney to resign, threatened the use of his power of veto to punish the then-officeholder of Travis County. Had he threatened to beat her up if she didn't resign, his wrongdoing may have been more clear to citizens than it is now.  Nonetheless, it was still a threat to use his power to attempt to force another officeholder to bend to his will.

It seems Huffman’s scheme would be as political--or moreso--than the present system.  In the Huffman plan, instead of having alleged misconduct reviewed by a panel of 12 reputable citizens, the conduct would be referred to a group of Texas Rangers selected by one person, appointed and serving at the will of the governor. Thus selected, if the Rangers thought necessary, the case would be referred to the home county of the accused official. If the hometown boys perchance indicted the official, the case would then be referred to the local district attorney in the home county of the official. This would be the case even if the criminal conduct occurred in some other county such as Travis County, Austin, Texas.

Apparently, several senators favoring the Huffman method have lost sight of the conduct of a Republican activist occurring just a few years ago. Several thousands of dollars were allegedly misused in connection with the election process. The then-Republican-controlled Ethics Commission let the offender go free because the money allegedly misspent in violation of the election laws of Texas didn’t count since he didn’t use cash--he only sent out checks. This is the type partisan, political mischief Huffman is inviting.

The most recent great hypocrisy among Republicans occurred in the last election cycle. While they demanded loudly for the district attorney to resign because she pled guilty to a DWI charge, in the same election cycle they elected a politician attorney general who had recently admitted to conduct which amounted to a third-degree felony. 

It seems as difficult to take politics out of politics as it is to take hypocrisy out of politics.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Senate Bill 1628 and Windstorm Insurance...

The definition of a frivolous lawsuit is one that has been filed against me. All of mine are legitimate, of course. 

This is the hypocritical position of the leading so-called tort reformers. Richard W. Weekly is a great example of the consummate hypocrite.--he has fought for tort reform: his idea is to simply do away with lawyers and juries. Yet, when he lost a huge arbitration case (in an arbitration he had advocated), he turned to the courts to try to get further relief.  

People like Weekly and big insurance will not stop their assault on individual consumers and ordinary people until jury trials no longer exist and lawyers are all out of business. Weekly and others claim the "windstorm insurance pool" was done away with because of greedy lawyers. There is a very simple way to avoid having to deal with lawyers–pay the legitimate claims you owe.

A forgotten history of windstorm insurance was the fact that insurance companies at one time were required to furnish windstorm insurance with any homeowner’s policy. Insurance companies complained so much that they promised to fund and underwrite a special insurance for coastal folks, like us, if they could offer homeowner’s policies without offering storm insurance.  What went wrong was a combination of several hurricanes in a row, closely bunched--and the fact Rick Perry and his buddies put some of their cronies in charge who were either crooked or stupid. Many did not understand or know about the insurance adjusting business, others didn’t care and simply used the position to line their own pockets. Fraud was rampant among those who administered the Texas Windstorm Pool. Unfortunately, conservatives in the Legislature, instead of punishing the wrongdoers, simply are attempting to solve the problem by punishing consumers.

Having stuck it to Texas homeowners, now big insurance wants to stick it to consumers in all insurance claims.  Now pending in the House of Representatives in Austin is a bill properly dubbed “the insurance immunity act.”  It is so named because it would be a gift to insurance companies who have pulled $11.6 billion out of Texas’ economy and are now whining about having to pay claims fairly.

There are numerous features in the bill to protect insurance companies and increase their profit coming out of your pocket--but some are more egregious than others.  As an example, if you as a homeowner file a claim which mistakenly overstates your loss, you can be indicted under the new act and branded a criminal. On the other hand, if an insurance agent or adjuster cheats you, they are totally immune from being sued. If the roof blows off your house, you can wait forever for a replacement with no penalty to the insurance company who is re-investing and using the money you paid in premiums for coverage. 

Senate Bill 1628 now pending in the House of Representatives does away with most consumer protections afforded by the Texas Consumer Protection Act and shortens the time an injured consumer has to provide his or her claim.


You should call or email your state representative and senator and ask that this bill be stopped or seriously amended to protect  the rights of consumers. Don’t buy the old excuse that if we are too hard on insurance companies they will quit writing insurance in Texas. Texas is the second most populous state and a huge insurance market which no insurance company wants to give up. 

It’s time for our elected representatives to get a little backbone and stand up to the hundreds of lobbyists and big money insurance companies.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Abbott Aversion

I can’t imagine in my wildest dreams that a mother in her right mind would trust someone who hated children to care for their child. Why on earth, then, would rational citizens choose groups such as the Tea Party which hates government to be in charge of government? Recent events demonstrate our current Governor mistrusts not only the United States government, but also local governments within our state. These recent actions show not only hypocrisy but bring into question whether or not Governor Abbott has what it takes to lead our state successfully into the twenty-first century.

In a recent speech, Governor Abbott stated that Texas should lead the way in combating the United States government, as well as local governments. In the past week our Governor had the opportunity to speak for sanity and rational government by denouncing the wackos who were promoting the rumor that the United States Army was moving into Texas for the purpose of declaring marshal law and confiscating Texans’ guns. Instead of having the courage to denounce such an outlandish scenario, the Governor simply wrote a letter to our state guard instructing them to keep an eye on the United StatesArmy.

Who can believe that loyal Americans who join our armed forces, putting their lives on the line to protect us all, could be a party to a mass conspiracy whereby the U.S. Army would move into Texas for the purpose of imposing marshal law?

The level of hypocrisy further extends to local government. While conservative Republicans have for many years preached that government that governs best is that closest to the people.  Now, with the Governor’s seeming acquiescence, the Republican Legislature has passed bills which would prevent cities and the voters in those cities to enact ordinances which would protect them from invasive oil drilling activities.  

On the theory of creating uniformity in state law, our Legislature has bowed to big oil by denying cities the right to put limits on activities which have led to earthquakes, toxic pollution and contamination of local water supplies.  While pushing more and more responsibility for funding onto local school districts and cities, numerous bills have been introduced to limit the ability of local taxpayers to allocate what they consider adequate money to pave streets, improve education and provide health facilities for city residents.

While promoting the idea that the United States government is the enemy of the people, Abbott and others ignore the fact that thousands of Texas children go without adequate medical care, educational opportunities or health services.  Even though Texas leads the nation in worker deaths, almost nothing is done or said about workplace safety in this state.  In fact, Abbott and his army of so-called tort reformers have made it almost impossible for an injured worker to seek redress through the court system.  While Abbott continues to enjoy his almost $10 million lawsuit settlement, he supports measures to make it more difficult for citizens injured by others to receive adequate compensation for their injuries. 

Public schools in Texas are clearly underfunded. Roads and bridges have serious needs while our leadership turns down billions of dollars in federal funds which could provide medical help to needy Texans, and the $5 billion robbed from public education remains unrestored. 

In spite of all of these needs, our Governor and Lt. Governor seem absolutely locked in on the proposal to take $4 billion+ dollars out of the Texas budget in order to be able to say that they gave a tax break.  Such a break to each individual Texan would amount to somewhere between $160 to $200 a year.  

To me, a $200 a year tax break in exchange for the opportunity to have better roads and a better education for my grandchildren is not good. 

It makes me angry that these folks continue to refer to the government of the United States of America as the enemy and also attack local government--both levels of government are making serious and valid attempts to address some of the real needs of citizens. I find little resemblance between some of these folks who call themselves patriots and our ancestors who dumped the tea in Boston Harbor.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Three ideas to improve government

I have been looking at government since I was a teenager–both from the inside and outside. I  pride myself on the fact that I have given a great deal of consideration and thought to how to make our government, both federal and state, better. I have three ideas which would lend greater efficiency to our government and allow us to meet our needs on a regular basis without moving from tax crisis to tax crisis. 

The bad news is I am confident I will not see any of these enacted in my lifetime.

First of all, it seems Texas politicians would rather walk barefoot through a room full of rattlesnakes than to say the word tax. I always thought this aversion to talk about tax harmful to our state in that the lifeblood of democracy is free and open debate about ideas. Unfortunately, the words income tax also scare the “bejeezus” out of ordinary citizens who conjure up the idea of a state taking as much of their paycheck as the federal government now does. 

The old statement about rich folks dancing while poor folks pay the fiddler couldn’t be truer than our system in Texas. Perhaps this is one of the reasons politicians in our state cater to the very rich when they keep talking about no new taxes. If only middle class and poor Texans would take a pen or a calculator and add it up, probably a modest state income tax would gain instant popularity.  

Take a look at what money goes out of your pocket every year to the government. After federal income tax, probably the largest bite out of your income is for school taxes.  You pay greatly on what you have already sacrificed to purchase–your home.  For most Texans, it is the biggest investment they will make during their lifetime.  Even with a tax which has grown from being one of the lowest property taxes in the nation to now one of the highest, we still run short on enough money to provide a first-class education system.  We are beset with lawsuits and complaints that our funding from the Legislature does not satisfy our constitutional mandate to provide an efficient system of public education.

Should Texas introduce a measure to repeal all school property taxes with the possible exception of paying all bonded indebtedness and then enact an income tax on all income over $50,000 a year of probably not more than 2% or 3%, we would have more money than we need to provide for public education in this state.  It is a function which our forefathers envisioned to be the burden and responsibility of state government. Unfortunately, since the 1940's when the state supported about 80% of public education, we have backslid--mainly because of no new taxes at the state level--to where local governments now furnish about 80% of the cost of education and the state about 20%. 

Should we replace the ad valorem tax on homes and businesses in Texas with the income tax I have described above, the average Texan would save untold amounts of money in the process.

The second idea I would push forward is to quit exporting our suckers--gamblers. We’d take in probably a couple of billion a year if we authorized casino gambling in Texas. Without a doubt this would be a win/win situation in view of the fact I don’t believe in gambling, but I do have to pay property taxes on my home.

The final idea I have does not involve raising money. At my age I had the misfortune of being confined to a nursing home for a week. It was not a shabby facility--in fact, it is reputedly one of the best in the area where I live. However, I can describe it in one word–awful. Currently, the Medicaid allowance for care of elderly persons who cannot afford to pay out of their own pocket is about $6.  That’s not even minimum wage. I submit to you that adequate care for the elderly cannot be accomplished at such a low rate. 

My idea for curing this is to require each member of the Legislature–House and Senate–to spend one week in a nursing home. I promise you that would fix the problem.

I suppose I’m living in reverse in conjuring up innovative ideas the same as I did when I was very young. At least it gives me something to dream about in my old age.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Limping into the 21st century...

Everyone knows it would be difficult, if not impossible, to win a Nascar race in a horse and buggy. Unfortunately, many of our leadership in Texas think it’s worth a try.

We operate under a constitution designed in the 1870's. Most of the legislators back then traveled from broadly diverse parts of Texas as far as El Paso by horseback or horse and buggy. There were no telephones, televisions, or twitter and very few paved roads. Our outmoded constitution requires that legislators work virtually for free ($600 a month). They are expected to write a budget in 140 days which will accommodate the needs of our state for two full years. 

In the 1870's our budget was a small fraction of what it is now, and federal funds stemming from Washington, D.C. were unheard of as a part of our state’s budget.

While no business would try to run its financial affairs by budgeting two years at a time, Texas tries. Without adequate opportunity to make adjustments, changes or accommodate special needs,  we are in constant crisis mode. The only bill which must be passed in order for the state to continue to operate is the appropriations bill which, it seems, always comes late in the Session.

The appropriations bill must be passed by both houses and signed by the governor--and additionally must be certified by our state comptroller, Glenn Hager--as being within the boundaries of expected revenue to come in the coming two fiscal years. This year, Hager's estimate is higher than usual but is not being used wisely.

Recently, our state comptroller issued a cautionary note to the Legislature pointing out that--in this era of searching for $4.5 billion dollars worth of tax cuts--our future could be imperiled by lack of attention to several things. Among those items he listed were a retirement fund for teachers, a state employee pension system, health care, and transportation. Unmentioned were critical issues involving water, declining state facilities which are in bad need of repair, and our public education funding. While Hager was, in my opinion, doing his duty with this warning, he failed to have the courage to tell our leadership that these serious issues should be handled before we start giving back tax money. 

One Legislative quirk has to do with why the spending bill always sits until near the end of the Session before it achieves passage. First, all those who do the appropriations want to make sure they have every penny available to design their spending plan. The other motive is somewhat ulterior in that there is a rule in both the House and Senate prohibiting the passage of any measure which calls for expenditure of state dollars until after the appropriations bill has been passed. This leaves a lot of dead bills on the junk pile at the end of the Session. Another quirk about the Legislature is it seems no Session passes without some controversy between the House and the Senate about who is killing whose bills. This also causes many measures, some good, some bad, to remain un-passed.


The reason I say it is difficult to win a serious race in a horse and buggy in modern times is that, only meeting every other year, plus limiting the days and refusing to address a budget every year, makes it difficult for the Texas Legislature to take into consideration declining or new needs of the state, new sources of revenue, and a sensible budget that fits the time. 

Another false hope is that the State of Texas can operate on a tax system created 50 or more years in the past. The old mantra of no new taxes or giving tax breaks every session causes fear among politicians about even discussing taxes. Lack of discussion means lack of consideration. Therefore, I fear our state will limp into the twenty-first century with a system of taxes that is not only unfair but is also not up to the task of making Texas a modern, forward-thrusting engine for economic prosperity.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Gambling

Former Lt. Governor Bill Hobby once said each session is about money--everything else is merely poetry. 

The current session of the Legislature, as most in the past, is struggling with how to keep their campaign promises of taking less tax from the people, while at the same time doing something about our crumbling infrastructure such as highways and bridges, providing decent educational opportunities for our children, and doing something about the millions of uninsured folks that are having to choose between putting food on the table and providing healthcare for their families.  Most of these needs are coming in far behind other actions being taken--just so elected folks can claim they have honored their campaign pledge of cutting taxes.

The recent article which caught my eye in a local paper concerning casino gambling talked about casinos just across our eastern border raking in $61.4 million in the past month.  Without a doubt about 80% to 90% was donated to the casino industry and to the tax coffers of Louisiana by Texans. 

I will say without fear of contradiction that I am not a gambler–casino or otherwise.  It seems when I lost my lunch money matching pennies in the 6th grade, gambling lost its allure for me which has never been rekindled.  I have visited one of the big casinos in Lake Charles for a function to which I was invited and managed to escape without letting them have any of my money. 


While I believe casino gambling to be a sucker’s game in which an individual would seldom if ever win, it is a fact that it does draw thousands of people who are willing to donate their money in the vain hope they will strike at rich at the crap table or hit the jackpot on a slot machine.  The point to my observation is that I really don’t think much of gambling of any form.  That would include the Texas lottery in which your chance of winning is about the same as getting struck by lightening tomorrow.  

While one might make a decent argument--and I could argue against the folly of wasting your money on gambling or risking addiction to a pastime which could lead to family bankruptcy--our current law simply does not prevent gambling. What Texas does in its moral indignity is simply to require people to give their money to Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma or Mexico.  We clearly have not prevented anyone in Texas, unless they are without transportation at all, from gambling.  

My point is, if Texans are going to gamble and waste their money, why shouldn’t we fix it so that their wastefulness can be beneficial to the rest of their fellow Texans who could use the money to help our schools, highways, or poor folks in need of medical care. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Open Carry

I have a very vivid memory of growing up under the tutelage of a strict, Baptist mother. Our weekly family religious activities included Sunday morning and evening church, Wednesday night prayer meeting, occasional revival services, and various other special events at the church. It also included daily Bible readings during which I read the “Good Book” cover to cover at least two times, plowing even through the early chapters containing all of the begats. My recent observation of the Legislature has made me realize, however, that perhaps I have a gap in my religious training because I don’t remember ever having carried the U.S. Constitution to Sunday school. 

Although I have yet to find it in scripture, my observation of the Legislature tells me many gun laws stemming from the Constitution are mandates from God.  There are only a couple of cases I believe could be interpreted in the Bible to justify or mandate open carrying of weapons–the first being David’s slingshot.  However, that obviously was part of a military operation and not intended for civilian open carry.  The other was the fact that disciple Peter was obviously armed in the Garden of Gethsemane when he whacked off the ear of the Roman soldier; but that occasion was quietly not condoned as Jesus replaced the ear and reprimanded Peter.

I get a little nervous when our political leaders mount a great effort to try to combine religious teaching with legislation.  It reminds me too much of ISIS, the Taliban and other radical, Islamic sects that would govern according to Sharia Law.

I’m usually confronted by folks who argue that obviously our U.S. Constitution was based on Judeo-Christian principles and thereby inspired by God through its writers.  Unfortunately, through the years politicians have used the Bible to justify their own position--probably beginning with the Crusades in which good Christian soldiers slaughtered thousands in the Near East in the name of Christ, on down to the provisions in our Constitution in which people of color were counted only as 3/5ths human, and other politicians used the scripture to justify slavery. It gives me pause.

Do not let it be said I am anti-gun, however, in that I own more guns than most of the average citizens in Texas.  I have owned a gun and have been shooting as long as I can remember.  In addition to my hunting weapons, of which there are many, I own about a dozen which I have as keepsakes from murder trials where I have defended folks for the use of these weapons.  I don’t really have a problem with open carry, which I believe to be no worse than any carry.  As a matter of fact, I can see one advantage to open carry in that you will be well aware that the person you are confronting is well armed and will do well not to engage him in any serious confrontation. 


What I suggest as hypocritical conduct is that of claiming for political purposes that God has mandated this or that.  I suspect, if we really examined the issues closely, God would strongly favor children in Texas being well-fed, not have to go to bed hungry, being well-educated, and having decent medical care.  

This whole business reminds me of what I read about an incident with Abraham Lincoln.  Someone was assuring Lincoln to continue the fight during the Civil War on the grounds that God was on the Union’s side.  Lincoln looked at the person and replied that he was not so much concerned about that as he was about who was on God’s side.