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.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Affordable Care Act…leaving money on the table

Suppose you learned your neighbor had won $3.1 billion in the lottery, and yet refused to go turn in his ticket. Surely, you would think he had lost his senses. Our state leaders are currently doing the exact same thing by refusing to accept $3.1 billion from the federal government for the purpose of expanding Medical Care for Texans. Right-wingers are fond of saying—mistakenly--that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) creates a set of “death panels.”

The real death panels created by the current system are those politicians who stand shoulder to shoulder and refuse to accept the benefits of the Affordable Care Act while millions of Texans go without adequate health care. Failing to improve our current system of medical delivery will cause catastrophic medical expenses for countless families, untold suffering, and countless deaths in Texas alone. Our senior citizens and children will be among the most numerous victims.

Ninety-three percent of the cost of expanding Medicare for Texans would be borne by the federal government for the next nine years. For three years, 100% of those newly enrolled in Medicare would be supported 100% by federal funds. To accept this largesse from the federal program would cost our state a mere 2.8% increase in our budget for state-supported health care.

It is amazing that conservative politicians blindly continue to attack Obamacare while purporting to want to save taxpayers money. The fact is that failure to adopt the Affordable Care Act, employing the current system, or no system, costs local taxpayers in Texas $2.3 billion in increased costs because health care has been largely pushed off on local governments.

Because of political games and posturing of our ex-governor and others, Texans are being forced to pay not once but three times. First, currently, Texas taxpayers are contributing to federal taxes which are going to benefit other states. Second, we are paying for locally supported health care through our cities and counties. Third, we are paying the price of ever increasing insurance costs when we purchase our own health insurance.

There is approximately $20 billion a year that occurs in uncompensated health care--mostly occurring at emergency rooms--which ex-governor Perry says are the places that are furnishing adequate medical care to the uninsured in our state. The billions of dollars of costs of care at emergency rooms are not eaten by hospitals. They simply add it to their overall charges when you or I enter the hospital on our insurance carriers …or it comes out of our hip pocket. This is to say nothing of the fact that emergency room care may prevent your death for a moment, but does little or nothing if you have some chronic disease that could be easily treated at a fairly low cost with regular care at a health clinic supported by the Affordable Care Act. 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently published an analysis of what happened in Massachusetts. A plan similar to the current Affordable Care Act was implemented several years ago in that state which has reduced the cost of health insurance immeasurably and has reduced the cost of uncompensated health care by approximately 38%. This would mean a savings in Texas by approximately $6 billion. Imagine what we could do with $6 billion. Our leadership’s claim of refunding us taxes to the tune of $200 a year pales in comparison to what could be saved by the effective use of the Affordable Care Act in Texas.



Most politicians who scream Obamacare is the biggest job killer devised by any Democrat in many years are simply not telling the truth. Business leaders throughout Texas have urged our leadership to accept the $3.1 billion that is there for the asking. It will mean expansion of medical facilities throughout this state, better care, and more higher paying jobs in Texas.

While America has the best technology, better trained physicians, and the capability of delivering the best medical care in the world, our delivery system is flawed. If you are neither wealthy nor fortunate enough to have employer paid health insurance, our current delivery system of health care could kill you or destroy you financially.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Blind Search

Do you remember the old joke about the guy who was observed by another combing the ground under the corner street light?  “What are you looking for?”  “I dropped my wallet up the street, and I’m searching for it,” replied the searcher.  “If you dropped it up the street, why are you looking here on the corner?”  “Because it’s dark down there and it’s lighter here.”

Our Legislature, as well as Congress, has spent billions of our tax dollars searching for something yet to be defined.  This is similar to the time of the Crusades when a great deal of effort was devoted to looking for the Holy Grail.  Even though there was great effort to find it, no one knew what it looked like.  Our Congress and Legislature are off on a similar quest before anyone has defined what quality education or securing the border look like.

Almost every politician who comments on it refers to the great need to secure our border before we do anything else.  To my knowledge, not a single politician has yet to tell us how we will know when the border is secure.  The Communists built a great wall separating East Berlin from West Berlin staffed by armed guards who would shoot to kill. And yet, it did not completely secure that border.  Our Lt. Governor’s budget for securing the border appears to be about 800 million dollars.  To me it seems foolish to spend that much money on something not yet defined when there are so many other needs of the state.  

It seems even worse when a good chunk of those tax dollars are being spent sending our state guardsmen to the border, most of whom don’t want to be there, and there is great debate about whether or not they are effective.  It has been pointed out more than once that state guard troops cannot even arrest anyone.  I, along with others, strongly suspect sending our state guard to the border has more to do with burnishing Rick Perry’s image as tough on immigration than it has to do with anything else.  Even the law enforcement officers along the border claim it is pretty much a waste and that the money could better be spent shoring up the local law enforcement or even increasing the number of Department of Public Safety troopers on the border.  

If we are to seek a secure border, it seems to me the politicians owe us taxpayers a definition of what is meant by a secure border.  Does it mean no illegal aliens can cross?  Only a few?  Half as many as have been crossing the border?  If securing the border were defined, at least we could make an informed judgment about whether or not our tax money is being well spent, and when we needed to increase it or decrease it.

Border security is not the only fruitless blind search being undertaken by Texas politicians.  How about the phrase “quality education”?  Everybody is for it. Nobody seems to know what it looks like.  I think the truth is that too many of our elected officials really do not want to engage in the exercise of trying to determine what quality education is.  There are too many, particularly in our Legislature, who still cling to the faint hope that some sort of gimmick or trick could deliver to us a constitutional and adequate public education in our state.  It also seems clear too many of our legislators fear that included in quality education would be adequate pay for teachers, less dependence on testing, and not diverting tax funds from public education to private schools.


Unfortunately, instead of sitting down and mapping out the road to quality education, many of our legislators want to engage in lectures about how it is the fault of parents, how we need merit pay for teachers, how we need better discipline, and how we need school choice.  These same folks appear to ignore the fact our public schools have had more and more responsibility heaped upon them with more and more students coming into the system and less and less financing made available for them.  

Perhaps what we really need is for those of us who vote to spend more time in defining good representatives of the people.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Women's Equal Rights

Of late, there has been much talk stemming from Congress, as well as our State Legislature, concerning women’s rights.  It is inconceivable to me that anyone could make a rational argument against paying females a lesser rate of pay for doing the same work that males are doing.  The arguments offered by politicians, mostly by so-called conservatives, really hold no water.  The argument against equal pay for equal work generally centers around a fear that such a law interferes with business decisions, dictates to business owners, and would bring about numerous lawsuits.

It seems some things remain pretty much the same no matter how long they are at the forefront of hot, political issues.

I recall in the early 1960's when I was a young member of the Texas Legislature, I was one of the prime sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment known as the Equal Rights Amendment.  At that time, Texas was still in the dark ages with regard to married women.  Married women, according to our constitution, were classified in the same category as minors and mental incompetents.  A married women could not even sell her own property without the consent of her husband.  A married woman in the early 1960's in Texas could not sign a binding contract--even a contract having to do with her home.  The proposed constitutional amendment was supported by numerous women’s groups but was vigorously opposed by the conservatives in the Legislature.

Back then, during the fight over equal legal rights, arguments which were completely silly were offered in defense of maintaining the archaic provisions of our Texas constitution.  One I particularly recall was the argument that if we had equal legal rights, we could no longer have restrooms labeled men and women.  All of them would suddenly have to be labeled unisex.


After a long battle which lasted for two sessions of the Legislature, the amendment was finally submitted to the public and overwhelmingly passed.  Since that time, none of the terrible results predicted by the opponents have come to pass, and restrooms are still properly labeled.  I strongly suspect that should the Congress of the United States, or even Texas, pass a provision requiring equal pay for equal work that within six months few people, if anyone, would suffer any detrimental consequences--with the possible exception of some tightfisted business owners who have enjoyed a few pennies’ profit at the expense of our women citizens.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Making NO Deal is Better Than Making a BAD Deal

In the recently famous words of Prime Minister Netanyahu, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”  Unfortunately, our Legislature appears to be headed headlong into what I consider a bad deal for Texas.  Both our Governor and Lt. Governor made glorious campaign promises to cut taxes.  While it is a noble goal, the proposals currently being touted in Austin would be a bad deal for the future of Texas.  It would be like the head of a household, whose children are poorly clothed and poorly fed, taking a big portion of his income and donating it to his fraternity.  Even though his fraternity may do good works, and his donation gives him status and standing with his fraternity brothers, he’s not doing the right thing for the needs of his family.

Reportedly, the total tax savings to a median-income Texan would be about $200 a year.  Personally, I would gladly pay $200 a year to be assured my grandchildren would receive a first class education here in the Lone Star State.  Senator Eltife of Tyler was the sole Republican to vote against the recent appropriations bill which allegedly gives Texas homeowners a $200 a year tax break at a cost to the state of 4 billion dollars.  Senator Eltife correctly pointed out that we should first take care of the primary obligations of the state, the most important of which is restoring public education to an adequate level to prepare Texas students to be a part of a productive economy and workforce. 

School districts in Texas are now receiving about $500 less per student than they were 4 years ago.  If Texas, one of the fastest growing states in the nation, is to keep pace with a vibrant, growing economy, it is absolutely essential that we have a prepared, educated workforce--not necessarily all college graduates, but young people with a good grasp on the basic principles of math, science and the ability to effectively communicate.  Clearly, money alone is not the answer, but a quality education system cannot become a reality without adequate funding.

Not only this Legislature but also past Legislatures have given too much attention to smoke and mirror games to make it appear they are giving priority to the needs of the State along with trying to show they have prioritized their campaign promises.  Unfortunately, the smoke and mirrors do not mean progress in our state.  A good example is a current boast emanating from the Legislature that the people have been saved once again by legislation which will constitutionally prohibit a tax on real estate transactions.  What is not said is that Texas does not have, nor has it ever had, a tax on real estate transactions.  Many other states require a tax stamp indicating the value of the real estate transaction to be affixed to deeds when filed for record with the county filing agency.  I suppose, we, the taxpayers, are supposed to find great comfort in protection from a tax no one has proposed, nor has the Legislature ever seriously considered.  It reminds me of politicians in Texas who have been saving us from a state income tax which is constitutionally prohibited in our state.


It seems penny-wise and pound-foolish for our Legislature to jump through hoops to give the average homeowner a $200 a year break while our highways and bridges are crumbling, our state buildings are shamefully in need of repair, the cost of higher education is going out the ceiling, and Texas has more uninsured people needing health care than any state in the union. 

Scripture tells us that where the leaders have no vision the people perish.  I doubt seriously that mistakes of our Legislature will cause us to all perish. However, there is a real chance the quality of our future will be seriously diminished if our leaders do not use vision for the future in place of politics during this Session.




Monday, March 2, 2015

What Rick Perry Is Bragging About

Rick Perry, in his quest to become the next President of the United States, is boasting that Texas has been a leader in almost everything under his watch as Governor. Many of his boasts have been determined to be untrue at least in part or whole. For example, he claims Texas is responsible for 1/3rd of the entire job growth in the United States. A recent article published by the wire services has rated that one with two Pinocchios.

The big thing Rick is not telling is the financial shape he has left Texas in. While Rick and other right-wingers decry Democrats as drunken sailors taxing and spending, what Mr. Perry did was probably worse. He borrowed and spent. About the time Rick Perry took office as a Republican, our state was almost debt free. Unfortunately, in a recent local news publication called County Citizen, it is revealed that Texas leads all states in the nation in the rate of increase in state and local debt. Between 2007-2012, spending in our state has increased 18.2% while revenue on the no new tax policy of Perry and others is down 1.1%.

Between March, 2010, when Perry took office, until 2013, Texas’ state debt had more than doubled. Statistics from the Texas Bond Review Board, a state agency, show that from December, 2000, about the time Bush and Perry took control of our state, our state debt was approximately $13.7 billion. Today it is more than $34 billion. A huge chunk of this went on the Perry program of building toll roads instead of maintaining the highway system which once was the pride of America. In 2001, partially with Rick Perry’s leadership, Texans were convinced to authorize a bond issue allowing the state to issue bonds for highways. The reason a statewide constitutional amendment was necessary is that since about 1877 our state has had a constitutional provision to pay-as-you-go and not allow the state to become indebted.

Following Perry’s lead, however, we, the citizens of Texas, authorized an indebtedness which was supposedly to be paid back by the increase in Texas’ economy (no new taxes). Unfortunately, our conservative leadership in Austin has ignored the debt such that now a substantial portion of our annual budget is going simply to pay interest. 

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that Rick Perry created two or three slush funds and diverted tax money to them which mostly went to his political cronies and donors. Regrettably, a substantial number of the recipients of Perry’s Business Development Funds went broke. Many were awarded millions of dollars without proper investigation or vetting. And, at the same time, most of the beneficiaries of Perry’s slush funds happened to be large contributors to his campaigns.

A big part of Texas’ indebtedness is the indebtedness of local school districts, counties and cities. While local government bears its share of the blame for deficit spending, a large part is also attributable to the fact our state leadership and Legislature are so in love with the slogan of "no new taxes" that they continue to push more of the responsibility for government onto the cities, counties and school districts. Local governments have had to pick up the slack in education, health, law enforcement, streets and roads and many other areas formerly taken care of by our state government.

Still another thing Perry won’t boast about on his trip around the country, touting his leadership of Texas, is the way he claims to have maintained a balanced budget in Texas. It was often done by cuts in essential state services.  One of these examples is the $5 billion he cut from public education while maintaining more than that in the Rainy Day Fund. The Perry budgeting system has often been referred to as the method of smoke and mirrors. Very few people outside of Austin really understand what is meant by such tactics.

A prime example of smoke and mirrors occurred  during one budgeting session of the Legislature wherein funding for schools was delayed by a few days. In other words, the school districts did not get their money on time. This delay placed funding for public education outside the fiscal year for which budgeting was taking place--therefore, the several billion dollars allocated to public education did not count in the budget. This made it easier for the State Comptroller to certify that our budget was within the range of anticipated revenue. Such tactics make a mockery out of the spend-as-you-go mandate of our state’s constitution.

Borrowing like a man with a credit card for which he thinks there will be no tomorrow is offensive and detrimental to our state.


While Perry continues to try to polish his credentials as a true conservative and great leader, I can only hope some of his Republican primary opponents will tell the truth about him and what he did in our state–or to our state.

SENIORS AND CHILDREN–-TEXAS’ SHAME

Recently the AARP, probably the largest advocacy group for senior citizens, declared Texas as having the worst nursing homes in the United States.  There are several reasons, most of which are strictly political.  The stubborn refusal of our leadership to accept the several billions of dollars offered by the federal government to provide adequate health care for our citizens is probably the biggest reason.  

In all probability, the second biggest reason our elderly in Texas are mistreated is simply that politicians are not taking the time to go take a firsthand look at how the elderly in Texas exist.  I confess I, too, have probably turned a blind eye too long to the plight of seniors in Texas.  Having a mother who recently turned 100 and dealing with her everyday problems has made me acutely aware of the sorry state of life for elderly Texans.  

If you have not visited a nursing home recently, you should.  If you or your parents live long enough, in all probability, one of you will end up in such an institution.  Most Americans--and particularly Texans--seldom have the resources to pay for first-class care and must rely on Medicaid to provide themselves with food, shelter and care in their declining years.  While some nursing home operators manage to eke out a profit, in most cases the nursing homes which rely on public assistance remain on the edge of bankruptcy. 

I doubt seriously if a majority of members of the State Legislature realize, for example, that our state does not even recognize Alzheimer’s as a disease.  Alzheimer patients do not generate any greater assistance when housed in a nursing home than someone who has simply grown old.  Unfortunately, Alzheimer patients require almost constant care which, in turn, requires a greater level of funding than for ordinary elderly patients.

At the other end of the life continuum, Texas children born into poverty suffer fates similar to our elderly.  A child advocacy group called Children At Risk recently reported that 1/4 of the children in Houston live in poverty.  Other studies have shown many poor children in Texas (in the thousands) go to bed hungry every night.  Again, the steadfast refusal of our Governor, Lt. Governor and legislative leadership to accept the benefits available under the Affordable Care Act forces Texas to remain the state with the most uninsured population.  

So-called tort reform protecting doctors, hospitals, clinics and any other medical provider with immunity from suit--no matter how egregious their misconduct--has also not produced the results promised.  Medical expenses are higher than when tort reform was passed, and the supply of doctors per thousand citizens in Texas has not improved greatly.  While our ex-governor was running for president and boasted about economic victories in Texas, he ignored the fact that health care for children in Texas ranks no better than fifth from the bottom.


I would like to believe all Texans have a conscience.  It is a fact that poor health care for children will lead to greater public expenditures in the long run.  If for no other reason than humanitarian empathy for children who are less fortunate, the facts about poor health care for children should drive us into a continuous  dialogue with our Legislature to do what is necessary to see that our children and grandparents do not suffer. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

FRIVOLOUS HYPOCRISY

Critics of lawyers and proponents of tort reform have constantly decried frivolous lawsuits.  They cite as an example of a frivolous lawsuit the lady in California who had her legs and lower part of her body scalded by superheated coffee sold by McDonald’s.  Those who rant about this situation as a frivolous lawsuit fail always to disclose the fact the water was heated to about 3-4 times what is necessary to brew coffee because McDonald’s discovered that by super-heating they could save a few pennies on buying coffee grounds.

The hypocrisy in tort reform about frivolous lawsuits is that they ignore frivolous defenses.  The people of Texas were sold a bill of goods when they were told that by limiting recovery on medical malpractice claims they would lower their doctor bills.  It hasn’t happened. 

Neither have people been informed of the many impediments placed on securing a jury trial against a medical practitioner or provider.  Some have reached the point of being just plain silly.

The medical malpractice laws passed by the Legislature have included a provision that before you are able to sue a doctor, hospital or other provider of medical services, you must obtain an affidavit from a practitioner in the same field certifying that the medical misconduct complained of fails to meet the standard of care for medical services.  Some medical providers are now trying to use this dodge in what I consider an absolutely frivolous defense. 

A recent case filed in Jefferson County sued a hospital because a pastor’s wife who was visiting the hospital to call on sick parishioners slipped and fell on food dropped on the floor near a space rented from the hospital to provide food service.  The rented space and the business operating there had absolutely nothing to do with medical care.  Two witnesses who had observed the substance on the floor had called and urged housekeeping to clean it up before someone had an accident.  

Unfortunately, the lady who was visiting the hospital did slip and fall and had over $30,000 worth of medical bills.  She is now left with the bills and a bad back.  The hospital, in response to the lawsuit, claimed the lady’s case should be dismissed on the grounds she hadn’t provided an affidavit saying that maintaining a clean floor in the hospital space rented for profit did not meet the standard of care.  Unfortunately, no affidavit was filed on behalf of the lady because the lady couldn’t find a doctor who also had experience with janitorial services in a hospital. 


The silliness goes even further.  

Recently, a doctor who also raised cattle was negligent in allowing his livestock to roam free and not be adequately restrained or penned up.  A motorist collided with the doctor’s cow and now the doctor wants to have the case dismissed because the doctor claims that while attending his medical duties he didn’t have time to keep his cow in the pen.  Texas rules of procedure provide that frivolous pleadings can be sanctioned, and the court can award attorney’s fees or impose other penalties for those offering frivolous matters to the court.  

You can bet the doctor who has imposed this silly defense will not be sanctioned.  In addition, I wouldn’t take bets on whether or not the current Supreme Court of Texas will allow such a stupid defense to stand.

Friday, February 6, 2015

AMERICAN GOVERNMENT FOR SALE

Since the United States Supreme Court has ruled corporations are people and money is speech, it appears more than ever American politics is up for grabs based on money.  Several months ago I wrote an article recommending that a great investment money-wise was to give a large contribution in the range of $100,000 to $200,000 to Rick Perry.  

In hindsight, with the current scandals of multi-million dollar, no-bid contracts and other giveaways by the Perry administration of millions to supporters, it seems my financial advice was right on point.  More and more evidence is being uncovered that there was a direct connection between awards from various slush funds of taxpayer money and contributions from the beneficiaries of those awards to Perry’s various campaigns.  

The Koch brothers now have revealed they intend to spend about $900 million on the coming presidential election.  They classify their commitment of nearly a billion dollars as an investment.  Last time I checked, business folks expect a profitable return from any investment they make.  The larger the investment, the larger return they expect.

Ordinary folks, whether Republican or Democrat, should pause thoughtfully to consider whether or not the trend of more and more money that is kept more and more secret is in the interest of democracy.  More specifically, middle class working folks should consider whether or not it is in their interest.  If money talks, do you really believe if you are an “average Joe” working for an hourly wage that you can be heard as well as a $900 million contribution?

More and more hypocrisy and money are drowning out basic American values--particularly many values which are trumpeted by conservatives.  A glaring example is the case of Denton, Texas, where a grassroots movement forced the city to adopt an anti-fracking ordinance.  Earth tremors, polluting water supplies–even to the extent of being able to light a fire on water from your water well–drove citizens to demand accountability of the oil companies.  

Because of massive lobbying, expenditures and oil company largess to our state leaders, it is very likely the Legislature will push through a measure disallowing cities to protect their citizens as did the city of Denton.  Most defenders of unlimited, secret spending and favoring national and state measures over local ones are supported by big-money efforts and lobbying.  To influence elections is bad enough, but even worse is the allowance of massive spending without revealing the sources.  

Even though the Koch brothers have announced their intention to spend $900 million, it will be spent in such a way--through 501c(3) corporations or volunteer groups with high-sounding names--the average citizen will never know from whence came the massive loads of money to influence the election of their leaders.  The will of the public in this regard is pretty much being ignored. 


The Federal Election Commission has recently called for comments on proposals to put limits on secrecy and the way huge money donors can spend their money.  Even though 75% of the comments favor restrictions, openness and disclosure, I will wager that few, if any, of these measures will be adopted-- continuing the Supreme Court mandate that we offer our political leadership for sale.

Friday, January 30, 2015

LISTEN TO HARRY TRUMAN

In his oral biography, Harry Truman stated that any political leader should be a student of history so as to not continue to commit past mistakes. 

This may come as a surprise to many of you, but there is one area in which I agree with many Tea Party members. Recently Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, made the mistake of not remembering past mistakes -- to the detriment of America and its citizens.

Only a few years ago America’s entire financial system was teetering on the brink of collapse, primarily because of greed by big banks, big lenders and lack of oversight by the government. Lack of oversight allowed lenders and investors to package home loans. This was done without regard to the quality of loans and without fully vetting the borrowers. In fact, many of the packages contained loans never examined by a real bank official or regulatory investigator.  Many were phony packages included along with a few that were legitimate. 

When revealed, the perpetrators of these misadventures began the cry that the banks were too big to be allowed to fail, and that failure of our institutions would drive America into a recession or depression much like the 1920's. In all probability, we, the people of America, had little or no choice but to pony-up the billions of dollars to bail these folks out. As a result of saving Wall Street--and leaving Main Street citizens to fend for themselves--many oversight laws and regulations were re-instituted to prevent the same calamity from occurring again.

But then, on the eve of a lame-duck session of Congress about to depart for Christmas vacation, Republicans and Democrats alike yielded to lobbyists, allowing lobbyists for big firms to even write the law allowing the continuation of many of the practices which led us to the brink of disaster a few years ago. Provisions which remove the difference between banks and derivative trading banks were slipped into a “must pass” spending bill which will preserve essential government services. Mortgage giants and mega-loan companies making home loans and auto loans were allowed by these provisions to ignore formal standards about credit worthiness of would-be homeowners or big car buyers.

As an old, experienced and wise traditional banker once told me, “When you make a loan to someone who cannot afford it, you do a disservice to the borrower and to the bank.” 

In this case, Congress appears to be doing a disservice not only to the borrowers who can’t afford it, but to the future of America, and to our children and grandchildren who will receive the bill for our Congress’ folly.

Friday, January 16, 2015

TORTURE

Torture is commonly defined by a standard dictionary as inflicting severe pain or punishment in order to force the person receiving the pain to either disclose something or do something required by the person inflicting the pain. A more modern definition as found in Wikipedia describes torture as severe pain, either physical or psychological. The Archaic definition is found in Black’s Law Dictionary as “Inflicting severe or violent pain in order to secure a confession or the names of accomplices.” 

I am appalled at two things: The apparent acceptance of the use of torture by a majority of American citizens, and the fact that the former Vice-President of the United States has no shame or regard for humanity, favoring the use of torture so long as it accomplishes the ends favored by him.

Since the formation of America, torture has been considered a criminal act. Torture for thousands of years has typically been used as a method of obtaining information, whether true or false. I recall as a young man discussing the treatment of prisoners with a then-deputy sheriff. This officer of the law bragged to me that, given a slap-jack and enough time, he could make a prisoner confess to murdering Lincoln. If nothing else, this alone demonstrates why torture should not be used. Given enough pain, an ordinary person would generally admit to almost anything rather than continue to endure the infliction of pain and discomfort.

The shocking thing about Vice-President Cheney is that he seems to adopt the same attitude as adopted by the leaders of the Nazi movement prior to WWII–-that is, "the ends justify the means." Cheney, in his defensive position, argues that the perpetrators of torture should not be punished because they were basically ordered to do so by their superiors. This same argument was made in an attempt to defend misconduct by the Nazi war criminals who were tried and hanged after WWII. To me, Mr. Cheney is an evil person with no regard for humanity or the image of America if it accomplishes his purposes at the moment.

Another common argument put forth in defense of the use of torture by American operatives is that things like water-boarding are, in fact, used as a part of training on our own people.  There is, however, a vast difference in water-boarding as a part of training and water-boarding to obtain information from a prisoner. In training the person receiving the water-boarding is keenly aware that there is not an attempt to take his life. The opposite is true of a prisoner being subjected to water torture in that the whole operation is designed to make him or her believe their life is about to end via drowning.

International protocols, even for war, dictate that torture not be used. America should not use torture if Americans truly believe such policy as the Geneva Convention constitute valid, international law.

There are other problems with torture. First, the respect for humanity itself should be honored. Second, torture seldom produces valuable, reliable information. However, the third and most important reason torture should not be used on our enemies or prisoners is what it will lead to. Once Americans buy into the attitude of 'what does it matter if these people were guilty anyway,' we are one step away from approving its use in the American criminal system.  

In other words, if a person committed murder, rape, robbery or kidnapping, what does it hurt if we inflict a little pain on that person to obtain a confession?  This wholly departs from our constitutional notion that persons are innocent until proven guilty.  

The recent report on torture indicates there were multiple people tortured to no avail and later proven innocent.  As a parent, can you imagine having your child hung by his or her arms for 48 hours in order to obtain a confession?  Or water-boarding a young person to solve a suspected crime?  I wholeheartedly believe that we, as Americans, are better than that–or should be.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Citizen Input in Law Enforcement

Recent events have brought to the forefront a great nationwide debate about conduct of police officers. There have been numerous suggestions how to hold police more accountable in their role to serve and protect. These suggestions range from changing the grand jury system to requiring special prosecutors when a police officer is accused of serious misconduct to simply requiring automatic indictment and trial of any police officer accused of abusing or taking the life of a citizen.

I don’t deny there are bad actors in every profession, mine included. It has been my experience that, short of murder, the first offense punishment for a peace officer having committed some minor crime is that he must resign his job and go to work for another police agency somewhere else. While I say it somewhat tongue in cheek, too often it has proven true. I have personal knowledge, for example, of two police officers who were caught red-handed hauling liquor from a bar at 2:00 AM. They were not fired but given the opportunity to resign. They soon became employed in a city not 20 miles away from where they had formerly worked.

While a great deal of attention becomes focused on peace officers--particularly when there is serious injury or death, and it is alleged the peace officer was guilty of wrongdoing--little, if anything, comes of lesser complaints by the public. About all a citizen can do about rudeness or downright bad conduct on the part of a policeman is to complain to that policeman’s superior.  In more cases than not, it results in a slap on the wrist and nothing more.

To deal with such conduct, in the past there has been a hue and cry to create police commissions made up of lay people. Several communities and several states have such bodies. Some work and some don’t. Unfortunately, citizen oversight committees too often become highly political and divisive for the community.

I think I have a better idea. Texas has an entity known as the Texas Commission on Law
Enforcement. This agency is made up of 9 board members and a small staff. It is the agency in Texas that issues the certification allowing a person to be a peace officer. It has limited authority basically allowing only investigation of serious complaints, giving tests, determining qualifications to be certified as a peace officer, and--in rare occasions--removing the certification from a person currently serving as a peace officer. My idea would provide citizens an avenue of complaint other than simply complaining to the sheriff about his deputies, or the chief about his police officers.

My plan would allow a citizen who was offended, or who believed he or she was abused by a peace officer--even in a matter circumstance--to file a complaint with the supervising officer of that law enforcement person and give them an opportunity to resolve or remedy the situation. If a citizen were not satisfied with the result, the citizen could then file a complaint with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement who could conduct an investigation and hearing and be armed by the Legislature with authority to administer a large range of remedies--from dismissal as a peace officer to a reprimand or temporary suspension.

The Legislature would be required to grant more funding to the agency--to allow an enlarged investigatory staff and provide hearing officers--and to give the authority of the wide range of remedies available to address misconduct or bad behavior by a police officer.

This procedure could alleviate frustration of citizens who feel they have no real voice in addressing the behavior of law enforcement people. It would also remove it from local politics and take it out of the hands of a county prosecutor or district attorney who is criticized for not being fair toward the people he or she works with every day.

Current citizen frustration in being unable to have their complaints heard about the conduct of law enforcement has led to numerous frivolous lawsuits, or lawsuits with merit, which in turn costs cities and counties millions of dollars. This plan would have the effect of creating an administrative remedy to avoid misunderstandings, to weed out folks who have no business being law enforcement officers, and to empower ordinary citizens who should be the objective of a peace officer’s mission to protect and defend.


While we hear of the major allegations of misconduct such as shooting an unarmed citizen, addressing minor areas of misconduct should lead to better policing and more faith in our policing agencies on the part of citizens.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

An Idea For Productivity

Having watched the appropriations process of the state for many years, I have an idea that I believe would improve productivity and save money.  The current system of appropriation provides little incentive for managers in various positions throughout the state to save money.  Zero-based budgeting sounds great, but it encourages department heads and various institutions to spend every penny they are appropriated.  

Zero-based budgeting simply means the committee responsible for appropriations requires each entity seeking an appropriation to justify their budget from the ground up—starting with zero.  If an agency ends up with a large balance left in their budget at the end of the fiscal year, their only reward is perhaps a slight pat on the back while the balance of their budget simply disappears back into the state treasury.  It is quite likely their savings will subsequently be appropriated to some agency or entity which was not as wise with their productivity or expenditures.

Because of the fact that in Texas one Legislature can’t bind a subsequent Legislature, the budget must be appropriated every two years.  There’s no authority for any agency or department to keep unspent monies from the year before. Although not binding, a statutory policy relating to unspent appropriations (agency by agency) could provide incentive to save and to enhance productivity.

The plan would work like this.  First of all, as an example, managers or department heads would be able to reduce the number of employees with the option of granting pay raises to their remaining employees when one employee retired or was laid off.  The manager could offer the incentive of higher pay if the remaining employees could increase their productivity.  In other words, “If you’re willing to work a little harder, I can pay you a little more with the money not spent for the employee who was leaving.”  This system has proven very efficient in private industry.  Crews which work by the piece are often given the option of shouldering a little more responsibility for a little more pay rather than simply adding another employee.

Our state colleges are another example.  College administrators are encouraged to spend every penny they are appropriated because to do otherwise would indicate they didn’t need what they got.  If we would somehow allow colleges to maintain savings which they institute through better efficiency, it would encourage thriftiness, as well as allow the colleges to build up a little reserve fund for special projects which are constantly arising in the world of higher education. 

In order for the system to work, however, it would require an audit of responsibility on the part of the state assuring the spending of budget surpluses were in fact enhancing the efficiency of the institution or department.  As for colleges, this could easily be overseen by the college coordinating board which regularly audits expenditures of colleges and sets formulas for the appropriations.  The Legislative Budget Board and staff of the Senate Finance Committee and House Appropriations Committee could easily determine whether or not standards were met by department heads.