Saturday, July 28, 2012


Ive been struck lately by how quickly each presidential campaign attacks the other for the slightest misstatement.  A most recent attack on President Obama grew out of his remark that none of us got to be successful on our own. 

The statement reminds me a little bit of a quote by Alex Haley--a famous Pulitzer prize winning author whose writings often depicted the strivings of African Americans--who once said every time you see a turtle on a fence post you know he had some help getting there. Im certain that what President Obama meant, and I subscribe 100% to the theory, was that all of us who have had any modicum of success are in part indebted to the country in which we live and the government which provides us so many things.

Imagine for a moment the hardest worker in the world who seeks to make a living by transporting goods across the country by truck.  How well would he or she fare without the interstate system? The argument can be made that these folks paid for the system via their motor fuel tax; however, that argument would not stand up to close scrutiny. One of the facts concerning the motor fuel tax is that there is probably as much, or more, tax paid on the gasoline consumed on city streets which goes to maintain and build the state and interstate highways.

In a recent article, Cal Thomas ridiculed the statement made by Obama and pointed to the newscaster icons Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite as great successes on their own with absolutely no help from government. Unfortunately, this shows a woeful lack of knowledge about the regulation of the broadcast media by government. Imagine for a moment if there were no Federal Communications Commission and anyone could broadcast on any frequency they chose thereby creating a system where the most powerful station with the most wattage would be the station most listened to, to the exclusion of others.  It is a basic principle in our present capitalistic and democratic system that the airwaves in America belong to the people. That ownership of the people is protected by healthy regulations concerning the use of public airwaves.

I am equally amused by successful doctors, engineers, and even lawyers, who boast of being self-made with absolutely no help from anyone. However, the majority of us have graduated from public schools where taxpayers have paid the lions share of the cost of our education which enables us to pursue our professions to a successful end.

And there's more. Doctors generally practice their trade in hospitals they didnt pay for. Lawyers make money at the courthouse they didnt pay for. Owners of airlines fly on airways made safe by the Federal Aviation Commission. And, passengers should and do take comfort from the fact that only qualified persons sit at the controls of airliners as required by our government.

How would the successful shipowner, no matter how hard he might work, or how clever and smart he may be, succeed without the Corps of Engineers paid for by the daily working taxpayers to keep the waterways of our nation open and properly dredged?

The successful person who continually boasts of  totally being responsible for his or her success, no matter how hard they worked, is a braggart with an empty boast. They somewhat remind me of a quarterback who, no matter how talented, would claim he is responsible for all of the touchdowns made by his team. But a quarterback without the blocking of his linemen will never be a star. Similarly, capitalists investing in a refinery will never be successful without the teamwork of pumpers, gaugers, steel men, welders, metalworkers and ordinary laborers.

Of course, hard work and perseverance is to be appreciated and even revered in our society.  Unfortunately, under our current system, many things do not speak to that end. The earnings of  ordinary men and women who work as hard as they can work, day and night, contribute more to support our government than does the money earned by inherited wealth, investment, economic ventures in foreign countries, or suppliers of military goods who are chosen because of their political connections rather than their low prices or quality products.

Speaking as a former elected official, it is an actual fact that successful politicians do not elect themselves. And neither would successful businessmen get anywhere without the assistance of faithful employees and loyal customers--all the while being protected by their government in numerous ways as well.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Theres an old, old adage which goes, A rose by any other name smells as sweet.  And, no doubt a tax by any other name is still a tax. Conservative columnist, Cal Thomas, a chief apologist for the Republican Party, finally uttered something I agree with.  Thomas, in a recent article commenting on the Supreme Courts ruling on the Affordable Care Act, said that any time you take money from the people and give it to the government, its a tax.

Obviously, Mr. Thomas is out of step with Rick Perry and the other Republican leaders in Texas who have told us for the past 10 years that what they have done in Austin amounts to budgeting with no new tax.  Space prevents me from listing them all but, in short, the Texas Legislature--while smugly claiming no new tax--has raised almost every fee conceived by past legislatures and known to Texas citizens.

The Legislature has increased the cost of hunting and fishing licenses, created toll roads which we must pay to drive on, tripled college tuition, created fees in the form of surcharges on traffic tickets and even created an additional sticker to go on the windshield of your car for a fee (not a tax).  

Applications for most  licenses granted by the State of Texas have been increased.  Special funds for specific purposes have been raided and diverted for other purposes by the Legislature so that they can claim adequate income to meet the spend-as-you-go provision of the states constitutionall in the name of no new taxes.

Unfortunately, Republicans and Democrats alike are engaged in a senseless debate of whether or not the Obama Affordable Healthcare Act is a tax--or whether or not the Romney-sponsored healthcare system in Massachusetts constituted a tax. Both seem to ignore the fact that there are millions of Americans, many of them children, who die every year because we do not have adequate healthcare delivery in the United States. The issue of healthcare, and the need, therefore makes the debate over whether it is or is not a tax pale by comparison. 

The fact is, the healthcare act itself is not a tax. Its justification was based on the fact that the Congress of the United States has the power to tax. The ultimate thrust of the bill is that those citizens who do not choose to bear their own responsibility for providing themselves with healthcare will pay a penalty, or tax, or whatever you choose to call it.  It is no more a tax than are the fines or penalties required when one is discovered driving the roads of Texas without providing liability insurance to protect his or her fellow citizens.

There is no doubt the Affordable Healthcare Act can and should be improved. What we have is the result of a president including measures for the sake of compromise and to induce members of the other party to join with him in an effort to attack the lack of adequate health coverage for Americans.  The problem is the inducements didnt work; and after demanding the concessions, which lessened the effect and made the bill less efficient, those the president sought to recruit in his efforts abandoned ship and now condemn the whole ball of wax.             

The hypocrisy and fallacies in the Republican arguments are well demonstrated by the recent television comments of Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. When asked what plan the Republicans had for providing healthcare for citizens, Jindal argued that the best plan was to provide a great economy, which in turn would allow citizens to provide for their own healthcare and not depend on institutions of government. Governor Jindal then went on to boast about how much greater the economies were in Texas, Louisiana, and other Republican states. Unemployment was lower, investment was higher, and taxes lowest with Spartan-type budgets. 

Texans, who care little about the suffering of their fellow citizens, should at least take a look at the dollars and cents implications of poor healthcare delivery.  When we fail to provide pre-natal care, for example, to young, poor expectant mothers, were entering a crap shoot by which we are very likely to have infants with severe health problems for life, and to care for them on the public dole.  When we refuse to invest in screening and early detection of ailments such as diabetes, we continue to almost double every few years the number of patients for which the state pays for their blindness, kidney dialysis, and amputations.

Under the guise of defending the constitution, apparently Governor Perry is willing to condemn about two million Texans to inferior healthcare and the risk of dying, or at least the risk of bankruptcy-- should their families face catastrophic illnesses. 

The attitude on the part of our illustrious governor is shocking to me when you consider the emphasis put on individual responsibility and self-reliance touted by our governor. Of interest, this is the same governor who has charged us over two million dollars for his travel expenses while running for president.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


There was once a farmer who decided he would save money, so instead of buying the full sack of seed corn, he bought only 2/3 of the amount he had purchased the year before. After sowing the seeds on his field, he eventually harvested the crop. To his great surprise, the crop had only yielded 2/3 of the bounty of the season before.

The farmer is much like some of our elected leaders who will express shock, surprise and dismay at the recent reports that 9th grade test results show that only 34% of our statewide 9th graders can demonstrate proficiency in writing. Even worse, only 41% of our 9th graders are proficient in English. Why should we be surprised? Our state legislature, under statewide leadership, has caused layoffs of over 15,000 teachers in the state, mandated larger classes, and ended many programs that were calculated to enhance learning.

Classroom size does, in fact, make a difference. [Read summary discussions of class size research here and here.] Despite a bogus study or two touted by Mitt Romney, the multitude of other experts have demonstrated time and time again, by monitored results, that class size of 15:1 in the lower 3 grades can produce spectacular results. 

Eliminating over 15,000 teaching spots is not calculated to lure the best and brightest to the teaching profession, and comes at a time when teachers are so critically needed for America to compete in the worldwide arena.

The first retort of conservatives to information such as enumerated above is that, You cant throw money at education and fix it.  I certainly agree. The flip side of that coin, however, is you cant fix and create a wonderful system of education without spending an adequate amount money.

The State of Texas could better spend its time in the Legislature and the State Board of Education by concentrating on evaluation of the efficiency of school districtsperhaps to determine whether or not they are top heavy in administration with overblown and overpaid superintendents and assistant superintendents and their fellow travelers. An audit of charter schools funded by tax money should inquire intently on whether or not taxpayers are getting their moneys worth in improved education in these facilities, or whether they are simply gold mines for those who create these private entities.

Far-right wingers who express such great concern for having English only in the State of Texas would be far better off, as would the State, if they were more concerned about whether or not their own children and the children of Texas parents are proficient in our predominant languageEnglish. 

While I suspect the electronic age of texting and twittering is somewhat responsible for our young Texans lagging in communication skills in writing and using English, it still needs to be addressed through our school system. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A proposed solution to the nation's deficit

Of late, I have been giving serious thought to simply giving up. It occurs to me that I could be wrong about my philosophy of life and economic policy of the United States. I’ve always thought that if you infused enough money into the lower end of the economic spectrum, rich folks would figure out a way to end up with most of it. Alas, perhaps there is some chance that the Koch brothers, right-wing nuts and other Republicans are right. Maybe, if we take care of the very, very rich, the multibillionaires, they will somehow allow enough to trickle down to take care of all the poor folks in the country.

Further, adopting the thinking of the current Republican establishment, including the nation’s Supreme Court, I’ve thought of an idea that would allow us to be more realistic in the current Supreme Court approach to politics and at the same time eliminate the nation’s deficit.

First of all we would need to create a new agency of government called the USA National Lottery Commission--not for having anything like a state lottery, but in order to create a draft similar to the nation’s NFL, NBA or baseball. The lottery would gather all who had wealth enough to participate in the new system and allow them to draft particular players based on a drawing which would assign each billionaire a standing by chance. Each billionaire would then have the right to purchase an office holder outright. The money would be used to defray the national debt, and billionaires could, upfront, own a politician. This would at least do away with the current myth that politicians who accept millions from billionaires are still their own man or woman, as the case may be.

Instead of wasting money on TV ads, newsprint, robo-calls and such, these billionaires would own the politician outright, and the money would go directly into the treasury to pay off our national debt. I would think United States Senators would be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $2-3 million dollars each; U.S. Representatives, at least $1 million; state senators, somewhere in the neighborhood of $600-700,000, and state reps would be evaluated based on the size of the budget they help control in their particular states. New York, California and Texas state reps, for example, should be worth at least half a million. Montana? may be only $100,000.

Aside from helping the national debt, this would completely remove hypocrisy from the current system in which our nation’s Supreme Court has declared that corporations are people and that spending money in elections is the same thing as free speech.

I recognize the danger in offering such an innovative program, and there are people who will ridicule the idea or even think I am serious. This brings to mind the words of Bob Eckhardt to me when, once, while serving in the Texas House, I defeated an idiotic bill by the use of satire. The senator from El Paso had actually passed a bill through the Senate making it a crime to show or display the U.N. flag anywhere in, on or around a public building and accompanied the prohibition with a mandatory $50 fine. I laid one amendment on the speaker’s desk and the House sponsors then fled from sponsoring the measure. My amendment simply provided that instead of a $50 fine it carried a mandatory death sentence. My thought was that if flying a U.N. flag was considered treasonous to the United States, the punishment should be appropriate to accompany the crime. State Representative Eckhardt, later to become congressman, warned me that he was certain that in the time of Jonathan Swift, who wrote Gulliver’s Travels, some people took Swift seriously when he suggested that in order to alleviate the famine in Ireland Irish babies should be served up for dinner. 


With that in mind, hopefully, this scenario will be food for thought–at least for thinking people.