Monday, April 7, 2014

Corporations have Souls

Harry Truman was endowed with great common sense. Truman often remarked that how humans acted in the past, given a certain set of circumstances, was the best predictor of how these same folks would act in the future. Other presidents in history have given us stern warnings that, unfortunately, our country appears to be ignoring. Dwight Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman and Woodrow Wilson all warned America to beware and be watchful of the military industrial complex in this nation.

One only has to review the lessons deriving from the Rise and Fall of the ThirdReich to observe the influence that such a cabal can bring about. Hitler would not have had the power or backing to invade his neighboring countries and launch the world into one of the most horrific wars in the history of mankind without the influence of Krupp Industries and other backers of the Third Reich.

To me, one of the most chilling events in our modern times is the Supreme Court’s disastrous adventure in holding that corporations are people, and thus entitled to all of the constitutional privileges of humans in our country. The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United was nothing more than the conservative Supreme Court’s way of allowing corporations to have greater influence in the selection of our leaders. Holding that corporations are people with the right of free speech, and then illogically reasoning free speech and spending moneyare one and the same, opens the door for the allowance of purchased results in Democratic elections.

The law often speaks of legal fictions. Among those fictions is the one that corporations are to be treated as entities, separate and apart from individuals. Corporations are generally used to amass capital and to protect individuals from liability emanating from the functions and activities performed by corporations. The ultimate legal fiction is to hold that corporations are, in fact, people entitled to the same benefits as real, live, breathing humans.

The Supreme Court is now dealing with some of the aftermath created by Citizens United that I expect
they did not foresee in their initial ruling. HobbyLobby and other corporations have filed suit protesting features of the Affordable Care Act that require them to offer birth control for females in their group insurance. The contention by Hobby Lobby and other corporations is that having to offer such medication to women violates their religious beliefs. The Court must now wrestle with several questions regarding or deeming corporations to be people. Can a corporation have a religious belief? Does a corporation have a soul? Where do corporations go when they die? Obviously, the answers to these questions could defy logic. Corporations cannot be drafted into the military for service to the country. Corporations cannot be sentenced to jail for committing crimes. Corporations can’t vote, per se.

The lesson to be learned from Citizens United, wherein the Supreme Court deemed corporations to be citizens with all of the constitutional rights attached thereto, is that it was based on a false premise motivated by reasons not in the interest of this country. The whole idea in Citizens United is to allow big-money corporations to have a greater say in which politicians are to be elected. Who will run this country–the citizens or money? 

Corporations are participating in the formation of giant political action groups—sometimes called charitable 501c(3) corporations and sometimes called PACS. They are not accountable. They do not allow citizens to know from whence money is coming and then where it is flowing to various politicians. It is symptomatic of what we were warned about by Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and others. With declining citizen participation in elections and increased spending by giant corporations, we in America stand at a crossroads for the soul of this country.

If we, as voting citizens, allow it to continue in this direction, we will deserve what we get. And I strongly predict that what we get, we will not like.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Koch Brothers

I continue to be amazed at why people who work for a living believe they have something in common with billionaires like the Koch brothers.  Although slightly less amazing, it surprises me that thinking people could be so influenced by the so-called Tea Party.  Unfortunately, some folks in politics have short memories.  The Tea Party has recommended people for office like Steve Stockman who, it turns out, acts like a nut and has little or no sway in Congress.

I personally know several people who ascribe to the Tea Party mentality.  In fact many of these folks are good, decent, God-fearing folks.  The mystery to me, however, is how they could ignore the signs of what some of their candidates would do--things that are diametrically opposed to these God-fearing folks' expressed beliefs.  A glaring example of this from the recent election is the fact that Dan Patrick led the Republican primary election for Lt. Governor.  

Most of the folks I know who claim to be members of the Tea Party express the belief that they are concerned about having better education in Texas.  Patrick is one of those leading the charge not only to cut substantial funding from public education, but trying to convince the world that Texas’ school system is currently over funded.  Guys like him, I know from experience, would dismantle the whole system of public education if they had the choice.  They fail to realize the future of Texas’ prosperity is education and educating some other people’s children is a key to that, particularly when we have a growing minority population which is clearly being under educated at the present time.

A common theme of many of my Republican friends is that they are tired of seeing “welfare queens” in line at K-Mart with finely manicured nails buying groceries, using part of the tax money my friends say they have paid.  I, too, would not approve of any able-bodied person resting in the so-called welfare hammock that many conservative Republicans speak of.  Unfortunately, it is very difficult to cut off single mothers from welfare without punishing innocent children--but the amount paid, such as for Aid For Dependent Children, pales in comparison to giveaways to greedy corporate entities.  

As an example, in Texas alone, oil companies which now are reaping record profits–not gross income, but profits–are still receiving approximately $25 million dollars of your tax money each biennium.  Putting this back in the pot to assist improving education in Texas, or to lower the tuition you have to pay for your child’s college, would not make even a 1% difference in the profit of major oil companies getting rich off of Texas’ natural resources.

On the subject of the Koch brothers, they, too, are as large as any hypocrites in the Republican movement.  The Koch brothers have spent $30 million dollars through the organization called Americans for Prosperity to defeat Democrats nationwide.  The Koch brothers hold regular conclaves and conferences in an effort to further their national agenda of anti-government, anti-labor, anti-people programs.  The newspaper Mother Jones, as well as a publication called Center for Effective Government, recently revealed that one of the Koch brothers’ lieutenants, Mr. Haworth, who owns Haworth, Inc., in between his ranting about doing away with big government and government spending, has managed to land for his company a $100 million dollar+ contract to furnish the government with office equipment!  

This is the same Mr. Haworth who is a trustee for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.  This right-wing, think-tank exists strictly as an anti-labor organization in Michigan.  Mr. Haworth is a regular speaker on behalf of the Koch brothers and one of the big money sponsors of the Tea Party.  Principally, this is one of the reasons it amazes me that a laboring guy would support a Tea Party sponsored by people who are avowedly anti-labor, anti-union and anti-people.  

Nonetheless, I keep hoping that one day working folks in Southeast Texas will wake up and quit voting against their own best interests.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Criticism of our President

I have seldom, if ever, gone to an athletic contest that—when the home team was losing—I did not hear comments all around me from those who could have done better than the coach. They should have called a pass instead of a run, or they should have punted instead of trying on fourth down, etc. etc. Criticism such as this always carries the implication that the critic could have done better had he been in the shoes of the person being criticized. Being a Monday-morning quarterback is not only large in athletic endeavors, it is also extremely large in politics and government. Equally large is the little word “if.” “If I could have been there, I could have done better” is always the implication.

All of this reminds me of a story attributed to Jack Dempsey. A little fellow of about 130 pounds walked up to Dempsey, looked up at him and said, “If I were as big as you, I could have been heavy-weight champion of the world.” Dempsey looked down at him and said, “Well, why aren’t you the light-weight champion of the world?”

All of this brings to mind the current criticism of our President; particularly, related to foreign policy. We are saddled with an opposition party that at the outset—from the beginning of President Obama’s first administration—listed as their number one objective to see that he was not re-elected and to defeat any of his proposals. Now they lament the fact our President is less respected throughout the world. I recall a better time when it was almost un-American andconsidered disloyal to condemn or criticize our President with regard to foreign policy decisions, particularly when we were facing possible armed intervention.

The sad part about the Republican Party’s continued attacks on the President is that the attacks simply are criticism with little or no offered alternative. We have to look first at the response of the Republican Party’s criticism of the Affordable Care Act. This has consisted of over 50 GOP efforts to repeal it and never any alternative offered to deal with the suffering or spiraling costs, which if not curbed will eventually wreck our national economy. They simply criticize what was done—and much of what was done was an effort to compromise and meet criticisms of the Republican Party during its passage.

Benghazi now is being used by Republicans as the factor contributing to the inability to end the Syrian Civil War or prevent the invasion of the Ukraine. If only our President had been stronger and brought to justice those responsible, he would look so tough that other rogue nations would fear challenging us in other situations around the world—or at least so says the Republican Senator from South Carolina. Many of the allegations—such as the one that there was a task forceready to intervene on behalf of our beleaguered citizens in the Benghazi StateDepartment facility and were told to stand down—have been completely disproven by a bi-partisan, select committee of the U.S. Senate.

The most glaring hypocrisy of criticism about the President’s foreign policy comes in regard to Syria. Trying to figure out what to do in Syria is an almost unsolvable dilemma. Clearly, the tyrant who rules Syria and who is killing his own people with abandon should be held accountable. Yet, when President Obama yielded to criticism and asked the Congress to join with him in a tough stancewhich possibly could have led to some armed intervention, they ran from the issue like scared rabbits. Not a single Republican member of Congress has comeforth with a clearly defined proposal of how to end the conflict and save thecivilians of Syria—at least not one they are willing to endorse and advocate on the floor of the House or Senate.

Currently the President is using economic sanctions to persuade Russia, an obvious international bully, to withdraw from an invasion of the Ukraine, and the same old criticism pops up again by those brilliant world leaders like Sarah Palin, who couldn’t even serve out her elected term as Governor of Alaska, plus a host of very loud critics at the conservative based CPAC meeting in Washington last week. Not a single one, after the rough criticism of our President, offered one solution. They seem to opine that, had they been president, Russia would not have dared to cross the borders of Ukraine.

They all seem to have forgotten the lessons we should have learned from Bush’s phony war, invading Iraq, where we lost thousands of young American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. Very similarly to Jack Dempsey’s little antagonist who wasn’t the light-weight champion of the world and wasn’t about to be, neither are any of these naysayers about to be world leaders who could do a better job than our current President.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

THE ELECTION RUNOFFS...and why I think the Democrats have a chance for statewide office in the coming election

Well, the recent election did not bear many surprises as far as I was concerned, with perhaps one possible exception.  I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the reason or purpose for the Legislature delaying a runoff election until the end of May.  Such a delay causes a real strain on candidates who will virtually have to mobilize their campaign teams twice in a short period of time.  This is to say nothing about what they’ll have to do after the runoff election in May in getting ready for the November general election. 

Runoff elections, contrary to popular belief, generally are like a completely new election, particularly when they are as far apart as the first primary and the runoff election for this cycle.   Too often political pundits try to add up those who voted for the losing candidates and figure where they will go in the runoff.  The fact is the runoff is a completely separate election, oftentimes made up of different participants.  Not everybody who votes in the initial primary will vote in the runoff election.  And often, even though the leading candidate in the first primary appears to have a big edge in the number of votes, people lose sight of the fact that the “also rans” are voting against the person leading in the first primary, which generally leads to upsets or the number two person winning the runoff election.

I’m still constantly amazed at the people who choose not to participate in elections--second only to those who do not take the trouble to at least get some information about the candidates available.

I’m particularly concerned about judicial elections.  While I confess to being a highly partisan Democrat, I could be persuaded to support judicial elections without labels.  People should look carefully at the qualifications of candidates for the office of judge.  A classic example of inattention of voters to a judicial race was Don Yarbrough, who got himself elected to the Texas Supreme Court and who was an out-and-out crook.  People should check as to whether or not a lawyer’s clients were satisfied with the representation they received from a candidate for judicial office.  It’s easy enough to check the recordsof the State Bar Association to see, for example, whether or not a candidatefor office has ever been disciplined for unethical or unprofessionalconduct.  Should you learn a candidate has been suspended for unethical practice or has not treated their clients right, it would logically follow that they probably would not make a very good judge. 

I was a little surprised at the Republican race for Lt. Governor.  Obviously, the incumbent Lt. Governor Dewhurst did not handle the situation very well.  He tried to out-conservative Dan Patrick instead of concentrating on material and important issues to the state.  In my opinion, Lt. Governor Dewhurst could have overcome his incumbency problems by simply pointing out the phoniness and far-right “wingism” of Dan Patrick.  If I were running against Patrick, I would begin with the fact that he’s so phoney that his name really wasn’t Dan Patrick until he had it changed for publicity purposes. 

The true test of whether or not Texas shall return to a two party state will be the Governor and Lt. Governor’s race.  Wendy Davis will be adequately financed to be competitive against Abbott, whose hypocrisy will show through.  The real issue is whether or not Davis can attract enough women to move from voting Republican to voting Democrat in the Texas general election.  Leticia Van de Putte is a savy politician, having served some time in the Texas House and Senate, and has the ability to stir folks with an inspirational speech--particularly when she is speaking to fellow Hispanics.  

Democrats in Texas have their work cut out for them as anyone can plainly see from noting that Abbott received over 1,000,000 votes to only slightly over 300,000 who cast votes in the Democratic primary.  As usual, the Democrats’ problem is not anti-votes, but no-votes.  Too many people choose to stay home and gripe about the antics of Rick Perry and his fellow travelers.  We can only hope this election cycle will produce more than a smattering of people interested enough in their government to exercise their right to vote. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014


For the life of me I cannot understand how people ignore an assault on their livelihood and join the very people who are attacking it.  For the most part, lawyers are well-educated;  most of them seem to have some modicum of commonsense.  I’ve often said a lawyer being a Republican, however, makes as much sense to me as a Jewish person joining the Nazi Party.  In the last two decades the Republican Party has continually attacked lawyers, blaming them for every ill befalling the nation.  The latest nonsensical  allegation is that Republicans couldn’t vote for equal pay for women because that would empower lawyers to file lawsuits.

Equally not understandable is how 3 million Hispanics who are qualified to vote in this state could stay home during election time and allow people who have a proven record of disrespect, if not outright slander, for Mexican-Americans in this state get elected.

One only has to look to legislation introduced in recent sessions to get a flavor of how conservatives feel about Hispanics’ place in Texas’ society.  A bill was actually introduced increasing severe penalties on illegal immigrants with exceptions for those who were brought in to Texas to serve as maids or yard men.  This should give any Hispanic an idea of how they are regarded by the right-wing conservatives in the Texas Legislature.

Other clues of how Hispanic Texans are viewed was revealed recently by Dan Patrick, one of the leading candidates for Lt. Governor and a leader of the Tea Party in Texas.  If one only listened to Patrick, you’d have to believe the only Hispanics crossing the Mexican border into Texas are akin to John Dillinger or criminals of the same stripe.  Patrick in his rant ascribed a majority of murders, rapes, robberies and other heinous crimes in Texas to Hispanics.  He failed in his litanyof crimes committed by Hispanics to state that his statistics were over alengthy period of years and was far less than crimes committed by non-Hispanicsin this state.

Greg Abbott, our current Attorney General and leading Republican candidate for Governor, has joined the chorus equating immigration from Mexico as an invasion of our state.  Abbott, who is defending the state Legislature’s reducing public education by $5.2 billion dollars, and a great advocate of no new taxes, and conservative government wants to spend $300 million dollars supposedly securing our border.  Abbott wants to spend $13 million dollars putting 500 DPS Troopers on the border, $8.4 million to buy a high-altitude airplane to monitor Rio Grande crossings, and a couple million on new boats to go up and down the Rio Grande.  Abbott and other Republicans who wail about securing our border seem to have forgotten the simplest of all solutions.  If they would take those folks whom they continue to refer to as “job creators” and put draconian penalties on them for hiring undocumented workers, the problem would quickly go away.  You can bet, however, they’re not going to put the onus on anybody likely to give large contributions to the Republican Party in this state.

It simply makes sense that we should not punish people who come to this country wanting only to work hard, feed their families, or be educated.  It especially does not make sense that after educating these folks we force them to go elsewhere to create jobs, invent and benefit the economy of the place they are sent.  Hispanics who are good American citizens should put an end to the insulting comments by conservatives.  You only have to vote!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lyndon Olson and Rattlesnakes

Eric Timaeus does not use gasoline to flush out snakes. Here
he uses a mirror to reflect light into a possible snake den.
There have been several stories related to snakes in the newspapers recently, particularly on poisonous snakes. One feature article was about the rattlesnake roundup sponsored by theTexas Jaycees in Sweetwater, in North Central Texas. Apparently, they gather snakes by pouring gasoline down likely rattlesnake dens and catch the rattlers as they crawl out. They then gather them all in one arena and throw them in a big pit for the amusement of spectators who come to the festival. I am told there is a charity element to this in that they donate the snakes to those who milk the venom which is used thereafter as anti-venom to treat snake bites and other ailments.
The other was an extensive article about religious snake handling at some back wood churches in Kentucky. The upshot of the story was that a preacher who handled snakes on a regular basis as part of his worship ceremony got bitten and died on the way to the hospital. 

In reading the snake stories I was reminded of a story connected with some political shenanigans of one of my old colleagues. Lyndon Olson, with whom I served in the House of Representatives, represented Waco. Lyndon, as a child, had a terrible accident which resulted in amputation of both of his legs slightly above the knee. He was fitted with artificial limbs which, to his credit, he learned to use rather well. As a matter of fact, most casual observers would not know he was not walking on God-given legs but artificial limbs.

Lyndon, being extroverted as most politicians are, told the story about attending one of the rattlesnake roundups somewhere in his district. At the time he was opposed by a minor candidate seeking to turn him out of office, so Lyndon was making the rounds of all of the festivals and gatherings campaigning for re-election. While attending the rattlesnake festival--apparently there was a pit full of vipers which in and of itself is a rather scary sight--Lyndon boasted that he had more courage than his would-be opponent. With that brag, Lyndon strode into the pit full of vipers walking and kicking rattlesnakes right and left, wholly without fear of them biting his artificial limbs. Most of the crowd did not realize Lyndon was fitted with such appliances and stood in awe while he bravely strode through the pile of rattlesnakes in the pit. Of course his opponent did not rise to the challenge and do the same thing. Lyndon was still laughing about it six months after the occurrence.

I suppose you could say that, if there is any moral to the story, it is sometimes true that a clever politician will even out-snake a rattlesnake to get re-elected.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

In Defense of the Legal Profession

I entered the legal profession because of my strong belief that it was a noble profession and could do much to defend the weak from the powerful and fight against injustice. After more than 50 years in this profession I have not changed my mind but get a little weary of the legal profession being blamed for a multitude of sins—especially by the right-wing elements that seem to speak so loudly today. 

The Tea Party, in particular, seems to have bought into the Republican strategy of demonizing lawyers. Those who attack the legal profession need to expand their study of American History beyond the Boston Tea Party.  History will show that lawyers, more than members of any other profession, were leaders in creating a nation of free men.  At the writing of the Constitution dubbed “the miracle in Philadelphia,” there were more lawyers present and participating at the risk of being hanged than any other profession.  Had the conservatives in the 1700s had their way, America would still be under the rule of Great Britain.

While lawyers are vilified as greedy ambulance chasers who add nothing to the good of society, history proves this characterization absolutely wrong. 

Lawyers were in the forefront of fighting to protect the right of working men and women to organize themselves into unions and try to secure better wages and working conditions.  Lawyers fought the brave fight when companies such as those owned by Rockefeller and other billionaires were actually shooting union members for daring to form picket lines around their businesses.

Lawyers were blamed for the high costs of medical care when the Republican conservatives in Texas passed so-called medical tort reform on the theory it would lessen the costs of medical care.  This has proven to be a lie.  If you don’t believe this, simply check the last bill you received from a medical provider.  While it may have increased the profits for hospitals and other medical providers, it’s done little to lessen your medical bills.

Were it not for lawyers, working men and women in industry would still be contracting asbestosis and other industrial diseases.  While industry covered up this horrendous attack on working people, lawyers, to their credit, uncovered it and sought justice for those condemned to an agonizing death caused by some greedy industrialists simply wanting a better profit.

Lawyers have led the fight for justice, for minorities, women, safer automobiles, and the efforts to stop environmental poisoning by various industrial plants throughout the nation.

Conservatives, particularly in Texas, have continued their unrelenting attack to make it harder for injured workers to receive a fair jury trial. And, most recently, the Republican Supreme Court has ruled that arbitration agreements forced bypowerful companies against individual workers are okay.  All of this is done in the guise of trying to provide a cheaper method of resolving disputes when, in fact, all it does is empower the rich and powerful at the expense of individual workers and ignores the mandate of the United States Constitution that American citizens should have access to jury trials.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Education Over Corporate Welfare

Rick Perry has spent almost 4 million dollars of tax money on his security detail whilee traipsing across the United States running for president--oftentimes under the guise of trying to promote economic growth for the state of Texas.  He tends to boast that Texas has a good business climate because of lack of regulation, lack of lawsuits and low wages.  Unfortunately, if examined closely, Perry’s boasting of what a vibrant state Texas is and will be has a hollow ring.  Our lack of regulation is clearly in part responsible for the tragic explosion in a small town in central Texas which virtually leveled the city.  Lack of motivation of threatened lawsuits has made Texas’ workplace one of the most unsafe in the nation, for the past several years, leading the country in job deaths almost every year.  While low-wage workers may attract some businesses, it attracts only those greedy employers who want to get rich on the back of labor.  None of these factors bode well for the future of our state.  Low-wage jobs are not the future of the state of Texas, and have thus far brought us more poverty, more hungry children, fewer people with adequate medical coverage, and a multitude of other problems which nobody in their right mind would view as a firm foundation for a good future for our state.

Perry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, dolling out through such gimmicks as his Emerging Technology Fund, mostly to his pals who donated money to his various campaigns.   He points to this as a way to stimulate a growing economy in our state, but of the several businesses which have been helped with an investment of over 300 million dollars, 16 of these have filed for bankruptcy and have shut down. 

While Perry and his fellow travelers always come up with the old adage that you can’t fix education by throwing money at it, they apparently believe the same is not true about fixing the economy.  While they don’t seem to have any problem pouring money into a program where a substantial number of the recipients of the state’s largess went bankrupt, they seem to have no problem robbing the school children of Texas of over 5 billion dollars.

I would submit to the people of Texas that a vision for the future of this state should include more emphasis on providing high quality education and preparing for high paying jobs for future generations rather than doling out corporate welfare to investors who are big donors to our top government officials.

Friday, February 14, 2014

On Public Education

I have a theory that people who love the Constitution enough to carry it in their breast pocket sometimes fail to read it all.  Likewise, those that thump the Bible and parade their Christianity before the public for political reasons probably have never read the Bible from cover to cover.  Whether you are religious or not, the Bible contains a great deal of good advice and wisdom.  Proverbs 29:18 says in part, “Where there is no vision the people perish...”  Unfortunately, it seems to me there is a good deal of shortage of vision among our current legislature.  The most glaring example is failure of our entire system to look forward to the next two to three generations of Texas schoolchildren with regard to an educated population.

A recent editorial by Bill King, syndicated columnist in The Houston Chronicle, reminded me of the problem with blurred vision as it relates to education.

While I was serving on the Perot Committee in preparation for our major overhaul of public education in the 1980's, we took a look at other systems throughout the world.  Most Asian countries are beating the socks off of American students, particularly  in math and science.  As a matter of fact, American students do not even rank in the top 10 worldwide in academic achievement.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that part of the problem is that every developed nation of the world, except us, devotes considerably more time to schooling its children.  As Bill King pointed out in his recent article, the Texas system of education, along with many other states, grew up when America was an agrarian, farm-oriented country.  Children were needed, particularly at harvest time, to help bring in the crops and provide a living for the family.  In the 1800's Texas legislators were very mindful of this and patterned the requirement for free public education around this agrarian system.  The reason for the system has long since departed, but other special interest factors are causing us to cling to a shorter school year than most any other nation. 

The old adage that money talks could never be truer than in the area of public education in Texas.  Disneyland and “Camp Wahoo” have consistently, since I was in the Legislature, won out when the argument arises about why we should devote more time to teaching our children.  Every time there is an effort to increase the school year from 180 days to something more, those people with special interests who run fancy camps throughout Texas and the travel industry come out of the woodwork to oppose the measure with their army of lobbyists.  Thus far, it’s been a one-sided battle with the money folks winning out over a vision for an educated population. 

The sad part of it all is that every logical factor speaks loudly in favor of shortening summer vacation and increasing the school year for learning.  First of all, research has shown that with a long summer vacation children forget a lot they were taught at the beginning of the school year.  Secondly, it does not make sense to have a multi-billion dollar investment in school buildings throughout the state of Texas sit idle for almost 1/4 of the year.  I suspect also that teachers would fare better with their quest for better pay should they take away the argument that teachers only work 9 months of the year--which of course is false, and the accusation is particularly rich coming from a part-time biennial legislature. 

When my conservative friends get through with my recommended Bible reading--which in full reads "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."-- I strongly further suggest they read again the provision in the Texas Constitution that’s been there for almost 150 years.  It says, “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to thepreservation of liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of theLegislature of the state to establish and make suitable provisions for thesupport and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”  Anyone who believes our current system of public education in Texas is an efficient system of free public schools may be dreaming--but without vision, and without the benefit of compliance with the law.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Pox on Democrats and Republicans Alike

A recent article by a syndicated columnist, Gene Lyons, pointed out that neither Republicans nor Democrats were doing very much to create jobs or lay a lasting foundation for the future economic prosperity of America.  The current hot issue in Congress centers around extending unemployment benefits.  Democrats advocate a longer extension of benefits for the longtime unemployed, while the Republicans advocate cutting them off to incentivize those not working to redouble their efforts to find a productive slot in the American economy. Neither solution does very much for the long-term economic growth of our nation.

While I am certainly a fan of capitalism, I still subscribe to the thought of one of my old economic professors from college.  ProfessorRobert Montgomery in his lecture entitled “Socialists’ Control of Industry” pointed out there are some needs of our society which cannot be met by the motivations of capitalism and investment alone. Some endeavors do not lend themselves to competition and are not well-motivated by profit alone for the social good.  Several glaring examples of where government needs to step in and provide an orderly operation of things are transmission of the airwaves--radio and television, control of air travel and our air space, flood control and medical treatment.  While some capitalistic purists believe private enterprise will eventually take care of our ever-increasing medical care costs, experience proves otherwise.  America is the only developed countryin the world with no government program to control the cost of health caredelivery.  As a result, our system places adequate healthcare out of reach for many of our citizens with serious health care needs.

Another example of the need for government participation in the best interest of our country and communities is right here in Southeast Texas.  If our refining industry is to continue receiving its life blood of crude oil and other raw materials necessary for refining, then government involvement is absolutely imperative.  Private industry would never be able to afford or be motivated to give us an adequate waterway leading from the Gulf of Mexico to Beaumont.  A classic example of partisanship and lack of vision can be related to this phenomenon by viewing the fact that both of our United States Senators from Texas voted against the measure to give Southeast Texas a waterway which could accommodate supertankers of the future.

While not claiming to be a national economist, I do believe common sense suggests at least three things which would enhance our present economy and lay a good foundation for the future.  First, increase the minimum wage in the United States to at least $10.  I doubt seriously if doing so would injure the viability or profitability of mega-corporations such as Walmart, the major oil companies, or even Papa John’s pizza.  All of these entities are reaping record profits in the millions, if not billions.  It seems 2-3% less in their profits could mean a great deal to their employees should they increase their pay from $7.50 or $8.00 an hour to $10.  I’ve had experience in a low-wage service job myself.  My first hourly employment was as a dishwasher at a drive-in for $.35 an hour when I was 15.  Like others stuck in such low-wage endeavors, I generally would spend every penny I made.  At the very least, Henry Ford had it right.  He had the vision to see that paying record wages to his Ford Motor Company employees would enable them to become better consumers and able to afford buying one of his Model-Ts.  It is a fact: low wage earners by necessity spend everything they make.  It takes little imagination to understand that a minimum wage increase would at thevery least help the sales of goods and services throughout our country.

The second thing I would do is have our country as well as states individually begin to make giant investments in our declining infrastructure.  Thousands of bridges across the nation, for example, are in serious decline--some to the point of becoming a danger to transportation.  Massive investments in roads, bridges, schools and even national parks would serve us well in the future and create jobs which are presently so needed.  This should be done, even at the risk of borrowing more money at the state and federal levels.  Money has never been so cheap, and the future benefits of economic stimulation would more than allow our states and federal government to make up for the deficit spending for future generations. 

Third, and probably most important, throughout the country, both at the state and federal levels, a greater effort should be made to make education more easily accessible.  There has been a trend in the last 20 years to privatize public education and make it more out of reach for the average, middle class American.  Too many of our elected officials continue to believe gimmicks can solve our educational shortcomings, and such an attitude continues to be proven wrong time after time.  Our nation willreap huge benefits for every investment we make in education--particularly investment geared to technology and trends of the future.  To make this happen, however, we must make adequate investment and adjust our attitude to more highly revere those who choose the career of educating our fellow citizens.

Political partisanship and gridlock are not solving our present problems, nor do they provide visionary leadership for the future for our country.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

…on Freedom of Speech

 My mother, who turned 99 last month, is quite naturally a throwback to old school ways of doing things.  She believes all people should be civil to one another.  One of her favorite clich├ęs is that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.

We are fortunate to live in a nation where we have unbridled free speech; and while it is a wonderful privilege, I think we are gradually reaching a point to where it is misused.  Many nations of the world provide harsh penalties for criticizing their leaders.  Imagine what would happen in North Korea should a commentator on television, or even a comedy program, refer to its current leader as a little short, fat, frump. He would probably meet the same fate the North Korean leader’s uncle met recently.

In general, Americans, Texans in particular, feel very comfortable saying most anything to their elected officials.  “They work for me,” they say, “why shouldn’t I be able to tell them anything I want,” no matter how demeaning or insulting.  I will forever defend the right of citizens to criticize their elected leaders, but there are ways it can be done without being hurtful, mean and too often non-productive.

Another reason elected officials are the target of unkind and even slanderous accusations is the state of the law relating to libel and slander in America.  In order to assure a free press without inhibition, the Supreme Court of the United States has decreed that in order for a public figure (most elected officials are considered public figures) to be successful in a suit for libel or slander, he or she must prove not only that the statement made about them is false and slanderous, but it was made intentionally with the motive to harm.  Recent  cases have decreed that the statement itself could not be used as proof of intentioned harm.  This, as a practical matter, in most cases makes it almost impossible for an elected official to win a lawsuit for libel or slander.

Adding to the long-suffering of public officials who have to undergo insulting, slanderous or ugly things said about them is the explosion of the electronic media.  Unfortunately, even bloggers are covered by the same protections as described above which are enjoyed by major news outlets such as television or newspapers.  Anyone with a computer can, in most instances, enjoy the protection granted to all media on the theory of full disclosure to the public of what elected officials are doing or not doing. 

As an elected official, I developed a fairly thick skin and paid little attention to stupid comments like, “All politicians are just in it for what they can get”  “All elected officials are crooks”  “Most people who are elected to office are stupid;” and on and on to ad nauseam.   I and other elected officials develop various defense mechanisms to deal with these kinds of stupid confrontations.  For example, one of my pet peeves was the person who would walk up to you, get into my face and say, “You don’t remember my name, do you?”  I would generally, if there was an audience, reply, “How could I forget someone who I got out of jail.”  Usually it would amuse the onlookers but not the perpetrator of the stupid question.  I probably was not as politically correct as Barbara Jordan whose response to such a question was more politic.  When confronted with the one among several thousand constituents demanding to know whether or not she remembered their name, when asked, “Do you remember my name?” Barbara would glare at them with her dark countenance and respond, “Should I?”

It would be a good thing if constituents would remember that elected officials are people too and deserving of some modicum of respect.  In the event you approach your elected representative with a barb that makes you feel good, you shouldn’t take offense if he or she responds in kind.  We would all be better off if all of us could remember what my mother said: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.”

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Patriot's Call to Arms

Of late I have noticed that members of groups claiming to be great patriots--even to the extent of dressing like Paul Revere--are all about following the Constitution of the United States.  Many of them even boast of carrying a copy of the Constitution in their pocket.  This is a call to arms to those who really advocate preserving the ideals embodied in our Constitution and its amendments.

I specifically call attention to Article VII which reads as follows:

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, 
the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, 
and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined 
in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.[1]

For the last several years Republican judges and Republican state legislators, particularly in Texas, have carried on a relentless war against this particular article of the Constitution.  While they lack the courage to admit they wish to diminish justice served up by a jury of one’s peers, they disguise their attack with "good" sounding phrases like "tort reform."  An even more subtle attack is clothed in the piously phrased goal of reducing costs and making justice more accessible to the poor. 

Jury trials, contingent fees, provisions against forced arbitration and consumer protection laws which assure attorneys’ fees and costs against wrongdoers for years in this country have been provisions which allow the weak to stand on an even par, at least for a time, with the wealthy and powerful.  If you take stock of conservative legislators and Republican justices you can easily document the on-going attack against juries.

I offer as evidence the accounting of jury trials which have withstood attacks from insurance companies and super-rich corporations.  At last count, of 23 jury trials which have been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, approximately 19 of them were reversed, substituting the 9 justices’ opinions for the opinion of 12 citizens who actually heard the facts and saw the witnesses in the case.  A recent case in the Supreme Court of the United States has approved mandating arbitration requirements in employment contracts.  For many years these have been prohibited on public policy grounds.  An individual seeking to be employed by a multi-billion dollar corporation has little standing to object if required to surrender his access to a jury trial for wrongdoing to the prospective employers’ demand that arbitration be substituted for access to the court.  Conservative court opinions have steadily encouraged more and more arbitration in lieu of access to the courthouse.  

Actions under the heading of tort reform and alternate dispute resolution in fact have undermined Article VII of our Constitution.  It demonstrates corporate America's mistrust of American citizens who might serve on juries.  I can only hope that those who love our nation’s Constitution will raise their voices in protest at this outrageous attack on the foundation of our judicial system.