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.