Monday, December 27, 2010


With the impending session of the Texas Legislature, there is a great deal of conversation about sacrifice.  One of our statewide leaders recently said the people of Texas are going to have to “tighten their belts” in order for the state to survive the coming session with no new taxes.  The big question that comes to mind, “Who will be sacrificing?” or “Who will be sacrificed?” as a result of the hole of 25 billion plus Texas finds itself in. I doubt any measurable personal sacrifice will be found among our state’s top leaders.  

Our governor has become a multi-millionaire since coming to the Legislature as a West Texas poor boy, and he is currently living in a rented, multi-million dollar mansion at the state’s expense.  Our lieutenant governor is one of the wealthiest people of the state; and our speaker of the House is the son of an old-money family from San Antonio.  I seriously doubt that any sacrifices on their part will compare to those felt by the average, middle-income Texan; and certainly will not compare to the sacrifices felt by the poorest Texans.

If you work for a living, you are the one whose belt will most likely be tightened the most.  Even worse, all of the sacrifice won’t be yours.  The future of your children and grandchildren will be sacrificed on the altar of short-sighted, no-vision, no-new-taxes at-any-cost philosophy.

Since the early 1960's, Texas has launched a program of contributing less and less to the greater needs of public education, pushing off the responsibility on local school districts and local property owners.  The attention to quality education in Texas began its decline in the late 1960's until the Legislature, in an act of courage, passed in the 1970’s, the Education Reform Act. The Perot Committee traveled far and wide studying not only education systems in the United States, but throughout the world; and made a set of recommendations, many of which were incorporated into Texas law.

The evaluation of teachers was improved.  Attention to classroom work and learning was brought a step closer to parity with extracurricular activities through “No Pass, No Play.”  Research clearly indicated that children in the early grades did much better with a teacher/pupil ratio of 15:1.  As a major compromise, mainly to accommodate spending less money, 22:1 was adopted rather than 15:1.  Even though the 22:1 teacher/pupil ratio was not ideal, it was a substantial improvement to the 30 to 35:1 teacher/pupil ratio which existed at the time throughout the state.  

Already, leadership of the Texas Legislature is saying one way to help meet the deficit is by abolishing the requirement of a 22:1 teacher/pupil ratio.

Higher education is yet another area being mentioned as a source for slashing our state’s budget.  At a time when India, China and other developing nations are emphasizing education and training their young for high-tech jobs in a vibrant, growing economy, Texas, apparently without vision, is talking about making it harder and harder for middle class and poor children to obtain a quality higher education–a wrongheaded policy which will not serve us well in future international competition for the high-paying jobs.  

This lack of vision on the part of the leadership of Texas will condemn our state to continue to lead the nation in the number of minimum wage jobs of any state in the union.  It will also mean higher tuition for those struggling to educate themselves.

Our “no new tax” policy, even to the extent of indexing our tax which provides maintenance of our roads, bridges and highways to maintain the same level of support, is causing us to suffer with crumbling bridges and pothole filled state highways.  The current solution, apparently on the part of many of our leaders, is simply to give away our highway right-of-ways to foreign corporations to create toll roads and suck more Texas dollars out of our state.

Although many of our legislators boast of never voting for a new tax, each session for the past 10 years, they have blindly voted for increased fees on everything which carries a fee in Texas, including hunting and fishing licenses, admissions to state parks and renewal of almost every kind of license imaginable.  Call it a fee, if you will.  It is in fact nothing more than a thinly disguised tax.

The “no new tax” mantra which so pervades conservative thought in Texas brings with it a consequence, possibly unintended, which forestalls any conversation about tax reform.  Simply because a tax is new does not necessarily mean it would better serve the people of Texas and be more efficient or fairer than many of the old taxes.  In all probability, special interest groups who have an unwarranted tax break because of the old structure are among those who shout the loudest about no new taxes.  I doubt very seriously giving multi-million dollar country clubs an agricultural exemption from their property taxes serves us well.

Many of the newly elected members of the Texas Legislature, who have never served in an elected office, paint themselves as deeply devoted Christians.  Some have even suggested the Legislature is so bent toward Christianity they would not favor allowing a Jewish speaker to preside over it.  

I am struck by a quote from the book entitled, God’s Politics by Jim Wallis, in which he wrote, “You can tell whether or not an officeholder is truly Christian by looking at his budget.”  Time will tell in the very near future as to the level of Good Will -- Christian or otherwise -- of our Legislature.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


As most states of the union, Texas will face a monumental challenge in dealing with its budget, or lack thereof.  Depending on whom you believe Texas will face a deficit of between 14-28 billion dollars.  According to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, everything is potentially on the chopping block.  In addition to the budgetary issues, we will have issues related to law and order and immigration.  Bills have already been filed ranging from abolishing the death penalty to authorizing a new crime for driving while drinking, whether you are intoxicated or not.  Our governor has already made mention of the fact there is a real possibility of opting out of federally mandated or sponsored medical programs.  He in fact mentioned Medicare.

There are some ways many of these same issues have been dealt with by other states which I would certainly hope Texas will not emulate.  First of all, opting out of Medicare has been tried by the state of Arizona.  If Governor Sara Palin fears real death panels, she needs to cast her eye on the Legislature and the Republican government of Arizona.  There are people in Arizona actually at death’s door and will die because of Arizona’s policy of opting out of most of the federally funded medical programs.  Specifically, people who need transplants have been informed they will no longer be able to obtain a transplant paid for by a government-sponsored medical program.  If they want to continue to live, they will just have to figure out some way to pay the huge costs associated with medical organ transplants.  This sounds like a real death panel to me.  Texas already has a modified version in that private insurance companies can make the decision that they have spent enough on you no matter how long you have paid for your medical policy; and in effect condemn you to die, if you don’t happen to have lots of cash in the bank.

Immigration is another area where Arizona has taken the conservative lead, and, again,  I hope Texas will not follow that lead.  Several ultra-conservative members of the House have already introduced Arizona-type bills which would give police authority to simply stop you on the suspicion you are not a bonafide citizen of the United States.  I  seriously doubt they will be stopping blonde-haired, blue-eyed people who speak good English.  This is not only a bad idea from the standpoint of abusing civil rights of real citizens, but it doesn’t make sense in a down economic year because it is costly to the economy of the state.  Independent studies have already reflected that because of lost conventions and tourism in Arizona, millions have been lost directly attributable to the Arizona law to fight illegal immigrants.

The third area where Arizona and Texas seem to be on the same track is in the area of handling prisoners.  In one sense Texas is slightly ahead because Texas incarcerates more of its citizens than most nations in the world.  Arizona, proportionately, has a pretty good record of locking up people as a solution to solving crimes and other social problems.  Unfortunately, Arizona has gone overboard in attempting to cut costs by employing privately run state jails.  Based on my personal past experience in the Legislature, state jails seem to pop up more as a result of lobby efforts by the private prison lobby than based on real need or social efficiency in fighting crime.  Texas already has a large number of private jails, and I will almost promise you that in the coming tight budget session there will be enormous pressure to relieve the state of the cost of building any more jails by simply turning it over to private enterprise.  In the long run, such a strategy will cost the taxpayers of this state millions, if not billions.

Aside from the waste of money in yielding to big-time lobby interests, private prisons and increased jail facilities are a mistake.  We pursue this out of two mis-begotten beliefs.  One is the longer you sentence someone, the more likely it is that person will not commit another crime.  The second is probation and parole is simply not punishment.  The reason both of these arguments are flawed is that study after study demonstrates the likelihood of being apprehended and placed in the criminal system is a greater deterrent than the length of sentence.  Most people studying criminal behavior and punishment agree 3-4 months behind bars is as effective as 3-4 years as a deterrent.  If the person is going to be deterred from a life of crime, simply seeing the inside is generally as effective as a longer sentence.  If 3-4 months won’t do it, probably 3-4 years will not do it either. 

The second misdirected belief is that parole or probation is not punishment.  Wrong!  It is in fact punishment, and it is in many cases more effective than simple incarceration.  We spend more money locking up young people for minor crimes than it would take to put them in a highly successful educational program in one of our colleges or universities.  Most people end up being incarcerated because they do not know how to deal with society.  They make poor choices which could be avoided were they assigned to a person to monitor their behavior and direct them on better paths to success.  Parole and probation operate, if adequately staffed, more successfully as a deterrent most of the time than incarceration; and at a fraction of the cost.  Texas’ problem is mainly that the Legislature generally will not deal with prevention, but only the consequences of bad acts and have never adequately funded probation departments or the parole officers of this state.

Another area where I believe Texas to be off on the wrong foot is the attack on our 200-year tradition of open and free beaches.  We have had for as long as memory serves open beaches in this state where people cannot claim ownership.  It is even embodied in our constitution.  Unfortunately, our all-Republican Supreme Court has put private property concerns ahead of public concerns about our state’s beaches.  In a recent decision our Supreme Court ruled that even if the mean high tide marker passes where a structure is built and the structure is right in the middle of the beach, it still is private property; and the state cannot force its owner to move it.

It seems to me the next logical step in this bad decision is that people may now claim, based on this Supreme Court ruling, that they have a right to fence off certain areas of the beaches.  Florida and some other so called resort states are famous for allowing big, plush resorts and hotels to claim ownership of the prime beaches.  Get ready because Texas appears to be headed in that direction under the influence of our free enterprise conservative judges.

The last bit of insanity which appears to be heading for popular acceptance in our coming crises year is the decision of our leaders not to use Texas’ rainy day fund.

Apparently over the past several years we have had enough money coming in from tax revenue to create a savings account. This being the case, we should have been paying less taxes instead of putting it in the bank.  Nonetheless, if we have in fact created a savings account of Texas’ taxpayer money, I doubt there will be in the near future a year any worse for our financial status than the one coming up.  It seems as silly to not dip into the state savings fund for absolute necessities as it would for a family to go hungry with a big CD in the bank.

Well, as I’ve often said, being right is too often the consolation prize in the world of politics.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Article 3, Section 9 (b) of the Texas Constitution says: “The House of Representatives shall, when it first assembles, organize temporarily, and thereupon proceed to the election of a Speaker from its own members.”  

Speakers’ races in the Texas Legislature have always been colorful--most of the time controversial--and generally influence the course of the legislative session.  The Legislative Session of 2011 will meet all of those criteria.

Past speakers’ races generally provide great entertainment for those of us who thrive on watching politics.  The coming year’s speaker’s race demonstrates clearly once again that Democrats and Republicans have one thing in common.  Once they obtain power by defeating the other side, they generally turn to fighting with one another for who will get to exercise the recently gained power.  

The 2008 election produced a closely divided Texas House of Representatives. Only 2-3 votes separated the number of Democrats and Republicans.  There was a good deal of bitterness over Speaker Craddick, who used the Tom DeLay School of hard-nosed politics, and who exercised dictatorial powers over the House to the extent that he offended many Republicans.  There was a House revolt of moderate Republicans who joined with a large number of Democrats and proceeded to elect a moderate Republican, Joe Straus, III, of San Antonio, speaker of the House.  Most people throughout the 2009 Session found Straus laid back and judged him to rule the House evenhandedly.  Apparently, evenhandedness and openness does not suit the new Republican majority of 99 in the Texas House of Representatives.  

No sooner had it become evident that Republicans had obtained a near super-majority in the Texas House of Representatives than the clamor arose for a more conservative type of Republican to be speaker.  Before all of the votes were counted, Representative Christian of Center, Texas, chairman of the Republican caucus, started contacting new members and informing them that the Republican Party expected them to toe the Republican conservative line and that non-conservative Republicans would not be tolerated.  Further, Christian and others began running up the trial balloon that the Texas House, like the United States House of Representatives, should elect its leader by caucus.  

In other words, if the Republican caucus were to meet with its 99 new members and 46 of them decide that someone other than Straus should be speaker, the Republican leadership proposes that person should be the speaker.  It doesn’t seem to matter that, by that method, 104 members of the House would be disenfranchised from having any say in their own presiding officer.

An even nastier aspect of hard-nosed politics has arisen in the current speaker’s race.  Apparently right-wing Republicans are sending out robo-calls and mass mailings to conservative members’ districts urging them to vote for a “Christian” speaker and urging them to support one of the two ultra-conservatives running for speaker.  Straus is Jewish.  Even nastier comments have been posted on blogs urging members not to vote to let “Jewish Bosses” take over the Texas House of Representatives.  As one House member said, “It’s so distasteful, it could give Christianity a bad name.”

These instances provide evidence that we have not advanced much beyond the worst elements of our civilization when policymakers are unable to see, much less eradicate, either ignorance or antisemitism from their own ranks.

Thus far it appears Straus is holding onto approximately 100 votes to re-elect him speaker.  To their credit, all but three or four Republicans have not yielded to the right-wing, bigotry pressure to vote against Straus because of his religion or because he is a moderate influencing the House.  I predict Straus will succeed in being re-elected speaker for at least one other term.  

In the late 1950's the selection of the speaker changed slightly.  Prior to the late 50's selection of the speaker of the Texas House was largely a good ole boy, insider process.  Handshakes were used more than written pledges and personal relationships and friendships were probably more important than political philosophy at that time.  Unfortunately for liberals in Texas they developed the system that worked once, but it was better suited for special interests and big-money lobbyists.  

During the election in 1960 Jimmy Turman, a fairly liberal educator, was selected speaker.  Labor and more liberal groups campaigned by supporting various candidates for election based on their commitment to vote for Turman as speaker.  It was the first time that a speaker’s race had become involved in the election of individual members.  The so-called Texas liberals soon learned they had made a bad mistake.  This was a process tailor-made for special interests and lobbyists who were able to fund large sums of money in the election of House members.  After the election of Turman, conservatives used the same technique to elect Byron Tunnell, Ben Barnes and Gus Mutcher.  Then, for the first time, a scandal brought some reform to the way speakers were selected.  It came in the form of Sharpstown.

Speaker Mutcher was convicted of accepting a bribe.  Over 60 new members were elected to the House and Price Daniel, Jr. was elected speaker as the reformed leader of the Texas House.  Although Daniel refused to accept or solicit written pledges for speaker, he would accept a commitment for a vote of a member during election time by that member holding a press conference and pledging to vote for reform in the form of electing Price Daniel, Jr. speaker.  Daniel was elected and brought to the office with him several needed reforms.  Accountability of money solicited and spent in the effort to elect a speaker was required for the first time; openness in the process was required.  Unfortunately, although many of the Daniel reforms stayed, pretty much the same old system of getting written pledges became the norm after Daniel.

Allowing the Democratic or Republican caucus to select the speaker of the House would be a giant step backwards.  In fact, the current pledge system means many of the members of the House have little or no say in naming their presiding officer.  A much needed reform in the selection of speaker would require that no written commitment could be asked for or given prior to the general election which immediately preceded the regular session.   The penalty for doing so should be a small fine and a disqualification from holding public office.  It would be enough deterrent that no sane member of the House would risk forfeiting his right to hold office in order to try to get a pledge card from a member.  

This reform would also remove the specter of withholding campaign funds from a candidate for the House of Representatives unless he committed to a certain speaker.  It would also allow everyone in the House to be on equal footing and have an equal say in who their presiding officer would be during the period of time between the November elections and the January Regular Session.  

I doubt seriously if this idea will gain any more traction than it did when I introduced this reform in the late 1970's in the House of Representatives.  But as I have frequently said, being right is too often the consolation prize in politics.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Texas is rapidly gaining more prominence for the wrong kinds of things.  It is emerging as the leading state in the union for having wrongly convicted people and sentenced them to life in prison or death.  An example was revealed recently in Washington County where a man had spent 18 years for being an accomplice to a murder he did not commit.  The account in daily newspapers reporting on the subject described egregious misconduct on the part of prosecutors from covering up evidence to hiding witnesses and intimidating possible defense witnesses.  A substantial portion of the Texas population, although not a majority, opposes the death penalty for these very reasons.  The death penalty is a final result being delivered by an obviously imperfect system.

Almost everything in a democratic society has political overtones; and for the most part, in representative government, elected officials should represent the people.  However, if any part of American government should be held to an imminently higher standard, it should be our judiciary.  Unfortunately, Texas seems to lead in another shameful category.  The institutions supposedly acting as "watchdogs" for our judiciary are obviously becoming both political and partisan. 

A recent example of blatant politics in which wrongdoing is not only overlooked but actively covered up has occurred with the handling of the case against Judge Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.  The quality ascribed as judicial temperament should include, above all, a basic concept of fairness.  In our criminal system as rife with flaws and shortcomings as it is, judges should at all cost bend over backwards to give true meaning to "innocent until proven guilty."  Judge Keller obviously gave in to her basic instincts favoring the death penalty while showing a callous disregard for the possibility that an accused might be innocent.

Traditionally, a single judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals is assigned responsibility for handling special appeals, particularly emergency appeals in death sentence cases.  Judge Keller had been assigned this duty in the case of Michael Wayne Richard, a man facing death by injection, on an appeal of a 2007 murder case.  

Texas legal scholars for the most part agree that Judge Keller  callously disregarded traditional handling of death penalty appeals.  Many even advocated that her conduct was such that it possibly merited removal from office; and at the very least, a formal reprimand for misconduct.  After a full hearing conducted by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Judge Keller was found in violation of ethical rules for judges.  Judge Keller was issued what was considered by most a simple slap on the wrist in the form of a warning.  Not even satisfied by that mild result, Judge Keller brazenly appealed to the all-Republican Supreme Court of Texas asking them to sit as a special court of review.  They did, and they set aside the simple warning on the theory that although the Commission had authority to issue a formal reprimand, removal or suspension, they did not have authority to issue a lesser punishment in the form of a warning.  Therefore, Judge Keller escaped any punishment for her misconduct.  To most observers the ruling of the Supreme Court defied logic as well as common sense.  

It seems that this Republican-favoring ruling ranks up there with the recent ruling of the Texas Ethics Commission which ruled during the investigation of the Tom DeLay money laundering episode that failure to report a check did not amount to a violation of our political contribution rule since it was not in the form of cash.  If you will recall, this is the incident where a large check was given; the Commission held that simply reporting the recipient received "a check" was adequate to obey the law of disclosure of political contributions. Covering up misconduct and ethical violations solely to protect one’s party member is not only wrong, it is dangerous and makes a mockery of the principle of equality under the law.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


If you ask yourself who’s running the country today the short answer is those with the most money.  I am reminded of what I consider to be a great ad of yesteryear.  Babe Schwartz, the then Senator from Galveston, was running for re-election; his opponent was a handsome young man from a well-to-do family with a long history of business in Schwartz’ district.  Schwartz’ opponent had very deep pockets and was outspending Schwartz approximately 4:1.  Schwartz came up with what I considered to be one of the best political ads of all time.  

Schwartz appeared in a television commercial with his son.  They were standing in the chamber of the Texas Senate.  Schwartz’ young son, with his hand on Schwartz’ Senate chair, looked up at his dad and said, “Dad would you buy me a chair like this?”  Schwartz put on his most serious look, looked down at his son and said, “Son, a seat in the Texas Senate is not for sale.”  

I’m not so sure Schwartz’ ad would have the same ring of truth today as it did then.  If you do a survey on elections throughout the country, I am certain you would find that in the vast majority of cases the candidate having the most money won.  

Two years ago it was estimated there was about 160 billion dollars spent on elections nationwide.  When it’s finally totaled up for the 2010 election cycle, an estimated 400 billion dollars will have been spent collectively on various election contests throughout the country.

There are many troubling signs that do not portend well for thinking people to select the leaders of this country.  Television, the most expensive media outlet available to candidates, has become the source of information to the vast majority of voters.  Statistically, the newspapers that have had the ability to give thoughtful and incisive information about the candidates are definitely on the decline.  

Rick Perry recently proved the ineffectiveness of the newspapers in Texas.  Once powerful endorsements of newspapers was a factor to be reckoned with by any candidate, particularly a statewide candidate.  Perry has successfully thumbed his nose at the newspapers of Texas collectively by refusing even to be interviewed by their editorial boards.  This affront, I suspect, was a major part of motivation for the daily newspapers of Texas to endorse Bill White.  The election results demonstrate the effectiveness and power, or lack thereof, of our daily newspapers in the election process today.  

Other studies show that in America, because of recent conservative policies and tax structures, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the gap is getting ever wider.  While conservative candidates tout the fact that Americans have turned their back on the recent medical and healthcare reform, no one seems to notice that special interests were spending over a million dollars a day on lobbyists and PR firms to convince the American public that reformed healthcare was bad for them. 

The net result is that rich folks like Bob Perry, a homebuilder in Texas who has given 60-70 million dollars in recent elections, influence the outcome.  Add on to this fact that less than one-half of qualified Americans bothered to register to vote and then less than half of those who have taken the time to register bothered to visit the polls on Election Day. 
Less than 10% of Texans have selected our leadership.   It is appalling to me that the 90% who did not take the trouble to exercise the right that our forefathers bled for have not figured out that Bob Perry’s goal of not allowing you to complain in court of a shoddily built house does not comport with your best interests. 

They most certainly and obviously have not figured out that his 60 million dollars in political contributions means considerably more to some of our elected officials than your paltry little vote that you didn’t bother to go cast.  

Yes, it is my considered opinion that money is running this country right now and that it will only get worse in large measure because of the recent Bush Supreme Court ruling that corporations, even foreign corporations, can spend as much money as they want to influence elections in America.  And they don’t even have to reveal who is putting up the money.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


You can almost never get the Tea-Partiers to tell you their definition of waste.  The problem you see is that ferreting out waste in government is sort of like shopping for antiques.  One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.  No politician wants to offend a potential voter who might believe that all day kindergarten is an absolute necessity for future generations of Texas while another believes it is wasteful and an intrusion into family responsibility of training children at home.  It seems that not having learned from past experience on this point, Americans are buying wholesale into the Tea Party line that we can balance the budget and cut taxes all at the same time.  

When challenged to define what they would cut, the best you will get out of any of them is the old saw about putting everything on the table, looking it over and then making the decision about what to cut.  Although I cannot predict the future, I can promise you without fear of being proven wrong that if sufficient cuts are made in Texas’ budget to balance it without any new revenue measures, you will be unhappy with the results.

Buying into the Tea Party line that we can balance the budget and cut taxes is sort of like buying an automobile based solely on its low cost.  Imagine for a moment that you go to the Tea Party Automobile dealership, attracted by the advertisement that the lowest cost transportation is available.  While shopping for autos you discover that accessories for the automobile are an unknown factor. 

What if you didn’t know, for example, whether or not the automobile had air bags, a spare tire, mileage estimate, a radio, CD player, heat or air conditioning, electronic turn signals, a gas gauge, windshield wipers, cruise control, adjustable seats, power steering, power brakes, a sun roof, windshield washers, 8 cylinders, 6 cylinders, 4 cylinders or two, a warranty?--How about trunk space for luggage, or outside rearview mirrors.

In today’s climate, most Americans would not seriously consider buying an automobile not knowing whether any of the above-listed items came with the car. And yet it seems several million of our fellow citizens are quite willing to buy into the Tea Party line of eliminating all waste in government without knowing what the Tea Partiers consider wasteful.  
Trusting a car salesman who only a short time ago sold you a lemon is very much akin to trusting the Republicans/Tea Partiers who financed two wars off the books, kowtowed to special interests, drove up our deficit by tax breaks for the very rich and now say “trust us; we will define waste as we go along.”  
While I would consider maintaining social security at my age a necessity, I’m not sure a 35 year old healthy Republican would take the same view.  Cancer research to a victim of breast cancer might be a necessity, but to a healthy young man, it could quite well be an expenditure we don’t need to make right now.  
Isn’t it strange how quiet George Bush supporters are now about his attempts to privatize social security.  Unfortunately, they are the same individuals who now want to criticize our president and Democrats in Congress for putting consumer protections on Wall Street.  How strange that the same advocates for free enterprise who demanded  the government do something to stop the free fall on Wall Street now consider the very same implementation of regulations on the banking industry socialistic.  

It really needles me to see people list as a qualification for holding office that they are not schooled in the art of politics, have never held an office and have never really participated in the functions of government.  Trusting a person who makes such boasts with important leadership positions is like shopping for a car, or buying a car, from a fellow who doesn’t know a carburetor from a transmission.  To buy a car from a fellow who professes to love horses and buggies better than automobiles is much the same as putting a guy in charge of government who expresses hatred for the institution. 

We, as voters, should never forget that while good motives, honesty are essential qualifications for leadership in a democratic society, we should not overlook  the importance of selecting well educated, visionary and compassionate individuals to guide our local governments, state and nation.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


It appears there is a good likelihood that the new Golden Rule is taking over the elective process in America.  The new Golden Rule, of course, is he who has the gold, rules.

Two significant events in American history move us closer and closer to having our elections unduly influenced by money and wealth.  First, under Ronald Reagan, we abolished the fairness doctrine.  The fairness doctrine required that a television or radio outlet holding a federal permit to broadcast was required to balance political rhetoric by the various sides. 

In other words, if a Republican message was allowed to be published by the station, a Democratic message was required to follow.  The fairness concept was repealed by Congress under the leadership of Ronald Reagan in a Republican Congress.  Media owners argued they had invested and created the facilities for broadcast, therefore, they should enjoy the right of free speech to broadcast what they chose when they chose without regard to an equal opportunity or fairness approach in matters politically. 

Apparently, Congress and the media owners have forgotten that while the equipment used to broadcast is privately owned, the airways belong to the people of the United States.  The owners of Fox News and other ‘right-wingers’ often complain about government interference and heavy-handed regulations from the United States government.  They would be the first to complain were communications, regulations, and licenses for broadcast facilities left to free enterprise.  Can you imagine the chaos if anyone were free to broadcast anytime and anywhere they chose and the one with the most powerful broadcast station would be the one to dominate the airways.

Television has become the principle source of news for the majority of Americans.  It has become the focal point of the family room.  It has become an essential outlet for political discourse in the United States.  It seems dangerous to me to allow Rupert Murdock who has given millions to the Republican Party to have a non-stop news station which appears bent on carrying the Republican message 24 hours a day.  And remember, it’s on the public airways!

Anytime a person is considering whether or not to enter a race for political office in a serious manner, among the first questions to be answered is whether or not that person has the ability to raise the required amount of money to be a credible candidate.  Anyone who believes a major race can be won without money is living in a make-believe world.  Although, on occasion, a candidate will spark such a reaction from voters he can overcome outspending by his opponent through hard work by individual citizens in a grass-root campaign.

Those instances are few and far between, and are becoming more rare in today’s world.  On the infrequent occasions when one can overcome large sums of money being spent against one in a race, it is often tied to the adverse reaction of the public upon learning that some special interest is trying to buy the election.  Unfortunately, with recent events put in place by our Supreme Court, huge sums of corporate money can be spent in an election.  What’s worse, the general public is not privy to the source of the money or motivation for giving it.

The genesis of the restriction against corporate giving was two-fold.  First of all corporate directors do not own the money; and yet they can choose to give away money invested by shareholders, without the consent of those shareholders.  The choice is only that of the directors of the corporation.  In the 19th century railroads, when being opposed by local politicians, would gather huge sums of money, sponsor a candidate and elect their own official and then do as they please.

The general public, thinking this was too much power in the hands of corporate America, reacted by passing laws against corporate money being invested in political races.  That has stood as a basic principle of politics until the recent ruling of the Roberts Supreme Court.  Our current Supreme Court decided corporations were being deprived of free speech by not having the ability to drown anyone who opposed their special-interest agendas with corporate money.

Imagine what would happen if all of the local gas and oil interests decided they were angry at our county judge, a particular county commissioner or city councilman and gathered together 4-5 million dollars to spend in a local race.  What elected official in Southeast Texas do you know who would be popular enough to withstand such an onslaught?

What if local TV stations could choose to allow only one candidate in a race to buy television time?  What if the same entity owned all of the television stations?

A perfect recent example of the power of money in influencing voter opinion is that of the health care reform.  It is not because of anything other than politics that the health care reform has been dubbed “Obamacare.”  The current unpopularity of health care reform is not because of careful research done by grass roots citizens, but by hype from the lobbyists paid approximately a million dollars a day to oppose medical care on behalf of the medical industry’s special interests.  It is mind boggling to me that so many American citizens do not see the clear and present danger of the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country and the blatant catering to wealth in making political decisions.

I’ve often heard it is foolish for one to get into an argument with the newspaper because the newspaper buys paper by the ream and ink by the barrel.  Just imagine for a moment how successful one might be arguing with corporate power with unlimited money and control of all media outlets they care to buy.

Friday, October 22, 2010


At one time I believed I was an expert at politics.  Of late I have had serious doubts about my political intuition.  Either my thinking has slipped a bit, or my current Democratic companions have gone off the chart. It appears to me that Nancy Pelosi, in her leadership role, has simply lost it.

At the end of 2008 Democrats took control of Congress and, in my estimation, had a golden opportunity to showcase the radical differences between the Democratic leadership and what the country had endured for eight years.  

Unfortunately, too many of the Democrats under Pelosi's leadership started doing the same things the nation had criticized the Republican Congress for doing.

Under the new Democratic leadership Congress did not curtail wasteful spending, failed to adopt a really strict ethics code, and did not end either the war in Iraq or Afghanistan promptly.

They fiddled around trying to get Republicans on board for compromises on health care and several other major proposals.  The Democratic effort resulted in delay and in watering down what would have been a decent health care bill had the Democrats had the guts to go on with their majority and pass it more closely aligned to what was originally introduced. 

The final political ploy by Pelosi and her leadership, which has made me wonder what in the world they were thinking, was to delay a vote on maintaining tax cuts for middle-class Americans until after the election.  It appears to me that forcing Republicans who wanted to preserve tax breaks for people making $7,000,000 a year at the expense of those making less than $250,000 a year is politically a “can’t lose” proposition.

It has been obvious for some time that Republicans have employed better political strategists and PR people than Democrats.  Prior to George Bush’s first election, you would have had a hard time convincing me that the American people could be persuaded to opt for a guy who fought the Vietnam War part time in Alabama over a fellow who actually got shot while serving in Vietnam.  The “Swift Boat” fraud clearly demonstrates that unlimited amounts of money can persuade gullible voters of almost anything. 

The current Texas governor’s race is another good example.  From the polls, it appears a guy who has had a government paycheck for over 25 years and yet has managed to become a multi-millionaire is being favored over a fellow who spent most of his life in business and earned a decent financial statement.  I guess Governor Perry and his friends recognize better business opportunities and investments than Democrats.  

An examination of the investigation by the Dallas Morning News as to the Texas Emerging Technology Fund reveals just how smart many Republican investors are. 
  • Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio invested $264,000 in Rick Perry’s campaign and was rewarded with 1.7 million to Gradalis, Inc., a firm that he controls.  
  • A fellow named David G. Nance, a former Perry appointee, invested $80,000 in Perry’s campaign and walked off with 4.5 million for his company, Convergen Live Sciences, Inc.  
  • Nance
  • One of Perry’s old college buddies, Phil Adams, gave Perry’s campaign $314,000 and was rewarded with 2.75 million of tax funds for his company. 

All in all, Perry’s buddies invested around $2,000,000 to Perry and gleaned 16 million from the tax supported Emerging Technology Fund.  What a deal!  I only wish I could find such a profitable investment. 

One can only dream of getting an eight-fold return on an investment.  But again, what do I know about politics, public relations or investments?  

To me, the real mystery is how a governor and a party so wise in all of these financial investments could allow our state to wind up 18 million dollars in the hole.