Saturday, June 18, 2011

Imagine, if you will, a business selling “thingamabobs.”  It has been in business for several generations, owned by the same family.  Recently, a new manager of the business has been selected.  The business produces very reliable and well-made “thingamabobs,” and they sell at a lower rate per “thingamabob” than 90% of their competitors.  The workforce of the business works at an hourly rate at or below the rest of their competitors, and sales are fairly good.  The business then gets its annual report that due to increasing supply costs and lagging sales, in the coming year the company will not have enough money to pay its overhead, utilities, salaries or other necessary expenses to keep the business going.

Even though the business could easily slightly increase the cost of their product  and still remain competitive, the board of directors, under the leadership of its recently appointed manager, decides this is not an option.  No increase under any circumstances of their products.  The board also, under its recent leadership, decides not to use any of the money in an emergency savings account which would take care of at least half of the shortfall of the company’s income.  The board of directors makes a decision to stick with the same old price, no matter what the consequences; and, in order to accommodate the shortfall of income of the company, they layoff half the workforce.

As a shareholder in the above company, you would have the opportunity to vote your shares to retain the current management or seek new leadership, what would you do?

Unfortunately, the above scenario appears to be the course chosen to follow by our governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and our board of directors, the Texas Legislature.

We often hear from conservatives that government should be run like a business.  I cannot imagine any owners of a business tolerating such a ridiculous course of action as described above.  Yet, that is exactly what our Legislature, with the influence of the newly elected Tea Party candidates, has chosen to do.

Texas ranks in the bottom five of taxes per capita taken from its citizens.  We rank at the very bottom in expenditures per capita on state government in Texas.  Unfortunately, although we appear to be gaining jobs, they are jobs of the lowest pay in the nation.  

We lead the United States in minimum wage jobs.  

We started this session with over 10 billion dollars in a rainy day fund to be spent in a time of need; and if only our Legislature would look, there are at least 20 billion dollars in unjustified tax breaks and loop holes for rich folks who do not need or deserve them.  

Rather than even explore tax reform or the relative option of seriously damaging the future of this state by cutting educational opportunity, our Legislature appears to want to sacrifice the future of this state on the altar of “no new taxes.”

One could easily argue that by doing little or nothing the owners of this large business known as Texas will have to pay the price for tolerating such inept management.  Unfortunately, that’s not exactly true.  It will be the children and grandchildren of the Texas shareholders who will pay the ultimate price in a future not much better than some third-world countries.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Ask any freshman state representative and he will assure you being elected makes you much smarter overnight.  I can assure you of this fact because of my personal experience.  As I went to Austin in 1963 freshly elected, there was hardly any problem too knotty for me to solve, or any question I didn’t know the answer to or couldn't quickly find out.  After 32 years in the state Legislature, I felt I got dumber each session.

The above may be somewhat facetious, but I am absolutely convinced of one cogent fact.  The Texas Legislature is a poor place to attempt to run institutions of education.  

The farsightedness of politicians was demonstrated in the early 1900's when several members of Congress proposed the patent office be closed.  They argued everything worth inventing had already been invented, so why spend money keeping the patent office open.  The fact is that since the time these forward-thinking politicians wanted to close the patent office, there have been more things invented than all things invented prior thereto.

Some of this same kind of mind set may be observed with our current governor who continues to meddle with our institutions of higher learning.  Perry has appointed his cronies to all the Boards of Regents, but what is worse, they have been pushed, by the governor, to listen to recommendations of the Texas Policy Foundation which is a right-wing think tank which would exert even more political control over the University of Texas and Texas A&M.  

Unfortunately, too many of Perry’s hand-picked regents have chosen to follow these wrong-headed moves and are rapidly destroying the efforts of the past several years to make higher education institutions in Texas world class.  They carp about educational institutions doing research.  They are proposing faculty members be compensated on the basis of how many students they have in their classes.  They would, if they had their way, be rid of professors who spend more time doing research than actual time spent in the classroom.  

Just how wrong-headed these so-called “know-it-alls” about education can be is demonstrated very poignantly by the story of research concerning the sex life of a fly.  Unless quickly treated and stopped the screw worm flies would literally eat the flesh off of livestock, costing Texas’ farmers and ranchers millions and millions of dollars.  

Through research scientists discovered that during the life span of a screw worm fly, which was relatively short, the female screw worm fly would only breed once during her life span.

As a result of the research which had been the object of politicians’ scorn, a program was created in an old Air Force hangar down in the Valley.  Trays and trays of freshly ground beef were provided, along with screw worm flies who would plant their eggs into the fresh ground meat which would eventually produce thousands of larvae.  As these larvae matured into pupa, they were gathered and radiated which caused them to produce sterile screw worm flies.  

Following this process, millions and millions of sterile screw worm flies were released via airplanes throughout the area of Texas where screw worms existed.  The sterile, male flies bred with the native wild screw worm flies, which caused them to lay their eggs which would never hatch.  The program resulted in complete eradication of screw worm flies in Texas, saving untold millions of dollars for ranchers and livestock producers in Texas.  

Imagine the results from just this one little vignette concerning research thought to be silly by non-visionary politicians.  Imagine what politicians may cost future generations of Texas if we allow them to impose their political will over the scholars and researchers of today. It’s as serious as the sex life of a tiny screw worm fly--and the consequences can be as costly as it gets.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


One of the beautiful things about our system of government is that our Constitution was designed not only to limit the power of government and protect the people from runaway government, but it was also designed with checks and balances to protect the minority of the moment against the majority of the moment.  

Unfortunately, all of this can be cancelled and held for naught in the Texas Legislature, at least in the House, by the Rule of 100. This means if you can muster 100 votes in the Texas House you can do anything you want to.

Even though the direction of most bills strongly favored by the majority in a legislative body will pass mostly unscathed, occasionally a little ray of light seeps in and some significant changes can be made as a result of honest debate.  Even though legislation favored by the leadership is much like a freight train on a downhill track, it can be slowed occasionally by the right kind of flag man.  This can only happen if all the members of the Legislature, or a particular body considering the bill, are fully informed and the public is given a chance in open session to listen to the debate.  Even if the minority cannot alter the course of the legislation, the minority ought to have the opportunity to air its frustrations, objections and even perhaps occasionally a better idea.  

A perfect example of a runaway majority occurred recently in the Texas House of Representatives.  Governor Perry declared the Loser-Pay Bill an emergency.  The leadership of the House took its 101 majority, suspended the rules and stifled the debate, allowing no amendments, no real public discussion of the merits or demerits of this measure.  Had the public had the opportunity to listen to a full discussion of this measure, those who cared to pay attention would have learned several things.  

First of all, the title of the bill itself is a lie.  The bill is not a loser-pay bill.  The bill is a provision for a plaintiff to be faced with the requirement of paying outrageous attorneys’ fees whereby the plaintiff who received a large judgment can be required to pay the losing side’s attorneys’ fees along with court costs.  This legislation is not to reduce frivolous suits but to intimidate ordinary citizens into not availing themselves of the American jury system.

With all the talk of nonpartisan approaches and cooperative spirits working best in the legislative process, bipartisanship is out the window. The Republican Texas Senate and Republican House has shown that if the shoe pinches just a little, they will change the rules in midstream to accommodate their ideology.  The Two-third Rule in the Senate has worked well to require collegiality and cooperation among members of the Senate for 70+ years.  When Governor Perry declared "sanctuary" cities, picture ID for voters, tort reform or required medical procedures for women emergencies, the Republican Senate could not wait to dump the traditions of many years to accommodate the Republican agenda.  

In the House, the Speaker, who decried the heavy-handed tactics of Tom DeLay via Tom Craddick, has tossed the rule book in the trash. The democratic process was bypassed because the Republican leadership became frustrated at Democrat’s insistence on following the rules of the House.  On Mother’s Day weekend, House Representatives used the Rule of 100 to pass more “tort reform” which prohibited debate on amendments.

A truly honest loser-pay law would simply require the party against whom the jury found would pay the other side’s legal cost.  What’s wrong with that?  The answer is nothing, except that the rich, fat cat, tort reformers just didn’t want it; and they’re the ones who have given Republicans more money than any other group.

As an ordinary citizen there is little you can do about this situation this time.  There is, however, and will be a time in a November soon to come when you can do something about it.  These folks are counting on you having a short memory and a blind spot about where your interest is as opposed to folks who care mostly about money.  Find out how your representative and senator voted on this.