Sunday, September 30, 2012

Educational Trends in Texas

Bill Hammond, the Executive Director of the Texas Association of Business issued a prediction this week that by 2040, if current trends continue in Texas, one-third of Texas’ adults will not have a high school diploma. Hammond’s concern strikes me as being very similar to the little boy who killed his parents and then pled for mercy before the judge on the grounds he was an orphan.

Hammond, and most other members of the Texas Association of Business, have been complicit in the Texas political strategy led by Rick Perry to denigrate education at almost every level.  Unfortunately, what Texas politicians such as Perry tout as a great business climate is no more than a dumbing down of our Texas potential workforce.

With little outcry from the Texas Association of Business, Texas Republican leadership has cut funding for public education by over 5-billion dollars, requiring larger classrooms and lower paid teachers, as well as higher local property taxes. The Republican dominated State Board of Education appears to give more attention to religious belief and fundamentalist concepts than to the teaching of science-based curriculums.

Presently Texas has the most minimum wage paid workers in the United States. There has been an unrelenting effort in Texas to deny injured workers access to the courthouse; and most of our Republican leaders consider the right of workers to organize themselves into unions as un-American.  At a time when most developing nations of the world have doubled-down on high-tech jobs fostered by forward-looking programs in education, Texas has continued in the mistaken belief that we can have decent education in our state “on-the-cheap.”

While our state political leaders at election time claim great concern for education, they continue to support such things as voucher programs which detract from funds available to our public education system.  They have supported the abolition of pre-school programs and at the same time failed to adequately provide for growth in our public system of education. College tuition has continued to rise while student aid is lessened each legislative session.

While I agree with Hammond’s assessment that if present trends continue Texas will look more like a third-world country than a progressive, forward-looking, modern state with high-paying, high-skilled jobs, I call on Mr. Hammond and his fellow members of the Texas Association of Business to quit giving lip service to those who seek public office in Texas in the belief we can have a Cadillac system on a Model-T budget.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Free" Speech

One of the things that sets America apart from most other countries is the freedom we enjoy to give our opinions and basically say what we want to say. The importance of this right was reflected in numerous quotes of Thomas Jefferson who placed freedom of speech and freedom of the press at the highest level of our constitutionally guaranteed liberties. The right to speak one’s mind was further reinforced by a revolutionary new concept in America when early on our Supreme Court ruled that truth was a defense to libel and slander. Such a defense had not existed in the old world, or in most countries of the world ruled by despotic sovereigns.

Even the Bible comments on how damaging false statements and gossip can be, labeling the tongue a lethal weapon. Long ago, however, American jurisprudence made the decision that the freedom to express oneself and the freedom of the written word is so sacred in our culture that, even if a false statement is made, the person who made it should not necessarily be held accountable. In the case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court set the standard--at least for public figures--such that even though a statement is proved to be false, unless the alleged victim can show not only that it was false but that it was made with malice, such a statement would not support damages. The theory that follows this standard is that we should not put any restraint on those who report the news and facts to the general public. Thus news reporters may be basically unrestrained, at least when it comes to publication of facts and events related to public figures.
Although public figures certainly bear the greatest burden of slanderous and libelous statements made about them in the press, we as citizens of a free nation also bear a burden in support of free speech. Recent events in the Near East--where a 14-minute video sparked demonstrations, riots and attacks on our embassies--were proven to be not the handiwork of our government but the handiwork of a person alleged to be part of a fringe group. Citizens of other countries of the world not familiar with how sacred we hold the individual’s right to express himself or herself cannot understand fully a country such as America allowing false or libelous statements to be made, particularly about beliefs they hold sacred in their own countries and cultures.
Another example of how harmful and hurtful false press can be is known in recorded history as the Boxer Rebellion. The Boxer Rebellion was never a real rebellion, but was a story made up by a group of newspaper reporters in Chicago on a rainy day who had nothing better to do. As a result of their false and fictitious story, dozens of missionaries were slaughtered in China. 

While I would not change the protections of a free press in America, I do believe it is time for us to take a look at the standards by which we hold people accountable. This is particularly true with the technological advances made today whereby anyone with a computer can instantly communicate all the way around the world. I’m not sure bloggers with no credentials and no restraint should be afforded the same protections as what we generally refer to collectively as “the media.”
I know of local bloggers who have poor writing skills and typify little in-depth knowledge of how we govern ourselves and even less regard for the truth who have published things on their blogs which are complete figments of their imagination, and in some instances are hurtful to people.
I’ve always believed that if we, as a government, choose to protect free speech, we should not necessarily protect a lie. Perhaps, at least with individual bloggers, we should adopt a slightly different standard than laid down by the aforementioned Supreme Court case. Perhaps a new standard should be: a) is it true; b) was there any effort made to ascertain the truthfulness of the statement; and, c) was it harmful to the person about whom it was published or written.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Government and Corporations

Recently, prompted by a Republican rant about how America’s economy and the world would be better off if we would only get government off the backs of corporations, I engaged in a sometimes dangerous exercise–I started thinking about it. Almost every speech Romney or his surrogates  make contains the same philosophy. They talk about how--if we simply gave tax breaks to corporations and rich people, and did away with the oppressive regulations--we would free up the job creators to produce untold numbers of jobs and we would all once again be prosperous, rolling in dough.
Mostly, the regulations which corporations cite as being oppressive are first and foremost regulations dealing with environmental concerns. In fact, Rick Perry, our governor--who jumps every time the big money boys say “frog!”--even had the State of Texas sue the federal government to avoid implementing regulations to keep our air clean. 

Second, usually on the list of complaints is that we should not be taxing corporations at all--and if so, only a small amount.  And of late we’ve been hearing about unreasonable safety regulations, and the fact the government system since Taft Hartley has allowed labor unions--particularly in the private sector--to enjoy benefits such as vacation time, hospitalization, and other luxuries which corporations deem too expensive, making it undesirable for them to do business with American workers.

Suppose we had a free society of unregulated and untaxed corporations. What do you think would happen in regard to the areas now regulated by our national government? What about the safety of workers? Suppose we let corporations operate their refineries, for example, in any manner they chose, free from regulation having to do with pollution. Could any mother feel comfortable living in a community where emissions carrying carcinogens were exposing her children to such diseases as asthma, leukemia, or even cancer? 

Suppose we didn’t have OSHA to regulate safety in the workplace? Could any family feel comfortable sending their breadwinner into a place where safety was ignored in favor of higher profits? Do you think the good ol’ boys who love to fish on weekends could afford bass boats and places on the lake if corporations were allowed to repudiate union contracts which guarantee decent wages, dignified treatment and benefits? How about taxes? Should we allow corporations to pay only what they volunteer to pay to support their communities? Do you really believe corporations would ‘pony-up’ enough to help keep our schools open and provide police and fire protection?
I agree that without regulations business would certainly be more profitable.  However, there must be a balance between the quality of life we all desire while maintaining an environment where businesses can make a profit. I cite as an example the major oil companies who operate in countries outside of the United States of America. Without having to pay all of the so-called ‘onerous’ union contracts, government oversight, safety and environmental regulations, for the past few years oil companies have made huge multi-billion dollar profits. 

At a time when America needs more revenue, Big Oil is fighting to hold on to these multi-billion corporate welfare payments.

Current Republican plans for adding jobs are simply to curtail spending on such things as social security and medicare while cutting the corporate tax rate and lowering the taxes on invested money to zero. In interviews, Romney and Ryan claim that the cost associated with giving corporations and the mega-rich folks further tax breaks will be more than made up for by reforming the tax code and closing loopholes. 

Very few specifics have leaked out concerning what kind of loopholes Republicans intend to close--however, there has been some indication that items under consideration would include taxing workers’ health care benefits furnished by employers and disallowing the deductions of interest payments on home mortgages. 

Every working American should ask themselves, “Would it be better for America to tax my health benefits--which are furnished by my employer--and yet not allow my interest payment deductions on my home, while at the same time we continue multi-million dollar subsidies to Big Oil companies, which have now set gasoline prices at record heights while Big Oil is also enjoying multi-billion dollar profits?”