Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Republicans offer no real alternative to the Affordable Care Act

The vast majority of Americans believe something should be done about the spiraling costs of health care in the United States.  The only real reform in medical care would be reforms which reduce the cost for citizens of this country.

Republicans continue to demand the repeal of Obamacare without offering any real reforms calculated to reduce the cost of medical care to Americans.  The first argument generally made by Republicans is completely phoney.  Republicans argue Obamacare somehow places government between the patient and their physician.  The real barrier between patients and their doctors are insurance companies–not the government.  Most health policies contain an approved list of doctors and those not approved.  If your doctor is not approved, tough.  You just have to go with the ones the insurance company picks for you.

The second most often offered “solution” is that insurance should be sold across the borders of the state.  The trouble with this proposal is there is no guarantee that insurance carriers in one area of the country would sell insurance much cheaper than others.  Additionally, some states have very strict requirements on insurance carriers to ensure they will not go broke, leaving patients holding the bag with worthless insurance.  Unless Congress is ready to have a new regulatory agency control the creation and running of insurance companies, this idea would simply create more questions than answers.

The third solution offered is an old favorite of most Republicans.  Blame it on lawyers! The claim is that, because they are afraid of being sued, doctors practice defensive medicine, calling for unnecessary tests just to make sure they don’t get sued for malpractice.  Texas is a good example of what happens when legislatures buy the argument that malpractice is driving the cost of medical care.  In Texas now, since the so-called reforms, it is difficult if not impossible to sue a doctor for malpractice.  Texas has as many hurdles to cross in filing a malpractice suit as any state in the nation.  Several studies done by independent groups, as in prestigious universities, have absolutely demonstrated that tort reform--as to medical malpractice in Texas--has not lowered costs to patients one penny.  It has, in fact, increased the profitsof insurance companies and done very little to lower the cost of malpracticeinsurance to doctors.  As an example, even though the maximum one can get for non-economic losses, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, etc. is $200,000, still malpractice carriers insist doctors carry a minimum of $400,000 to $500,000 before they will insure them.

Last but not least is the phony claim that no one, even the uninsured, suffer for lack of quality medical care. Rick Perry continues to insist that all Texans have great medical care available to them.  If you want to test this theory, report to an emergency room where you can get emergency care and tell them you need a hip transplant or continuing care for diabetes and see how far that will get you without cash or insurance.  The answer is nowhere. 

Unfortunately, health care in America is still controlled by for-profit, health care providers.  The Affordable Care Act is only a small step in the direction of controlling these costs, but we are left with little or no options by those who would like to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  In the meantime, those of us who pay for medical care are carrying the burden of public hospitals and charity hospitals which do offer some modicum of health care to the needy.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Federal money for health care ...

As I make my rounds and talk politics with Southeast Texas citizens, I am regularly reminded of the Beaumont Independent School Board refusing the opportunity to recoup $2 million when the district’s electrician, as a part of a criminal plea bargain, agreed to forfeit $3 million--and the U.S. Attorney’s Office made it rather clear that $2 million of the three was the BISD’s for the asking.  Most people I talk to about the subject say that the choice to forego the $2 million was mind-boggling at best and irresponsible at worst.  Citizens and patrons of the school district are left with only the frustration of seeing their hard earned tax dollars spent elsewhere.

But BISD’s outlandish fiasco is “chump” change compared to what has happened in this state in health care.  Our governor and other leaders have turned their back on the opportunity to recoup $10 billion in tax dollars, which certainly could be used in Texas.  The Affordable Care Act provision would have provided the state with $9.6 billion to provide health care for needy Texans.  Perry and others turned the significant amount down and requested a like amount be furnished to Texas to be spent at the discretion of our governor.  Perry even turned down an effort by a few Republican legislators to work a compromise whereby Texas would have received the $9.6 billion with fewer strings attached.  Perry seems to maintain even yet that Texans have great health care options.

The facts are that Texas ranks 36 out of the 50 states in health care opportunities.  There are more Texans without health care than citizens of any other state.  It is estimated that over two million people living in Texas do not have adequate health care.  The sad part of this is that most of the two million are children.  The unfathomable option of turning our backs on $10 billion worth of tax money, only to see it spent in other states, does not make sense to me.  It appears irresponsible where there is such a need that Texas’ leadership refuses to take advantage of an opportunity to provide adequate health care for many Texans.

Refusing to accept the federal funds also will have an adverse impact on the economy of Texas.  Even a majority of health care providers in Texas urged the governor to accept the federal funds.  Without some adequate provision for health care to be furnished to needy Texans, those of us who provide insurance for our needs, or pay at the cash window at the hospital, will continue to bear the burden of uninsured health care furnished for many Texans.

It appears that what Governor Perry alluded to in making the outlandish statement that Texas has a great health care system is health care at the emergency room.  Hospitals are required to not turn away people in serious need of immediate health care when they appear at emergency rooms.  However, this cannot be considered an adequate health care option.  If your child happens to suffer from something like juvenile diabetes and has an episode launching him or her into a diabetic coma, the emergency room would handle the immediate effects of such an emergency; but you can forget long-term care which would improve the quality of life for such a child.  It is a fact that the emergency room is the most expensive location for health care and in the long run does not provide adequate health care.

As I have stated before in this column, Texas--with all of its medical resources--does represent the Cadillac of advanced technology and medical care.  Unfortunately, too many Texans are not allowed to take the ride.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Having lived a long life, there are certain things which remain an inscrutable mystery to me.  Why, for example, no matter how careful I am in picking up and hanging up the receiver on my phone, the cord always twists up.

It is really difficult for me to understand why I have such bad luck at the supermarket.  No matter which line I take, it seems the person ahead of me has trouble writing a check for the $2.00 purchase, or has picked up an item not marked with the price, and we must wait for someone to go ascertain what to charge the customer.

There are myriad other mysteries, many of which involve the thinking of people from the past.  Just as an example, I wonder what our forefathers were thinking when designing the criminal law.  In Texas, it is perfectly legal to walk around the streets with an AK47 or other high-powered weapon which will hold up to 30 rounds of ammunition.  On the other hand, it is considered a jailable offense to carry a club, brass knuckles, or a knife with a blade exceeding 5.5 inches.  It seems we would all be better off if we allowed people to carry clubs instead of assault rifles because at least it would take longer to injure people with a club than it would with the semi-automatic weapon. 

Another mystery to me is why so many legislators who abhor raising taxes refuse to allow the people of Texas to vote on whether or not we should allow casino gambling.  It would obviously be about a 2 billion dollar a year stream of income for the state.  Another thing to consider is the fact that our present laws against gambling do not prevent Texans from gambling.  It simply requires them to take their money to Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Mexico, or  Las Vegas.

Overlooking another great source of revenue is also a mystery. Even though several states have recognized the reality of marijuana use and legalized it thereby gleaning tremendous amounts of revenue, it seems no member of the Texas Legislature has even thought to discuss it.  Apparently, marijuana does not make people any crazier than alcohol, and its legalization could not only fill the Texas coffers but could also be a cost saving from incarcerating people who have been found guilty of possessing pot.  Laws against marijuana smoking have been a dismal failure, and we are wasting space in our prisons on possessors of pot and having policemen catch and incarcerate the folks for dealing with it.  Legalization would regulate it, raise a magnificent amount of income and save Texans money in the long run.

Finally, I must admit in my partisan spirit, why in the world would poor folks or working folks vote Republican? Too many believe the “trickle-down theory” works.  It does not!  The theory is that if we take care of the very rich, they will invest and become job creators allowing much of the money they amass to trickle down to working folks.  One only needs to look at the economic history of the past 10 years in America.  Or, even better, look at the period of time which has passed since Ronald Reagan first advanced the idea of trickle-down economics.  Trickle-down economics has become “drip-down” economics.  Generally, the folks favoring such an economic policy claim to revere and respect hard work--except all of their policies tend to reward the people who work less than the people who work the longest and the hardest.  Look at enterprises like Walmart or your local hospital.  Administrators, managers, owners, or executives are being paid virtually millions of dollars while too many workers are stuck into $10-$12 jobs.  It makes no sense for the people at the top of the economic pyramid to make $4,000,000 a year while the average worker makes considerably less than $20 an hour.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid I will be unable to divine the answer to all these quandaries during what time I have left on earth. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bills for Money

 Some have said I am cursed with a long memory.  One of my memories is a scandal which took place in the Texas Legislature in the 1950's.  A group of naturopaths uncovered a scam which had been going on for several years.  The way the scam worked is that each session, someone would introduce a bill to make the practice of naturopathy illegal in Texas.  Naturopaths would gather together, get a satchel full of money, travel to Austin and meet with the sponsor of the bill, give him the money... and strangely enough the bill would never see the light of day.

In the 1950's a representative from Conroe named Cox was proceeding to rake in some extra dough by introducing the bi-annual bill to abolish naturopaths’ practice in Texas when he got caught.  The naturopaths, being tired of the routine, proceeded to take a suitcase full of money to the Driskill Hotel, and also took a wire recorder, which they hid under the bed in the room where the money change was to take place.  Unfortunately for Mr. Cox, his whole bargain to trade his bill for money was uncovered, and that was the end of the naturopath scam and also the end of Mr. Cox’ political career.  Mr. Cox ended up being a guest of the Texas Department of Corrections for a couple of years following the scandal.

I recently called this incident to mind because of an article I read in one of the daily newspapers by an editorial writer pointing out that some bills are still being introduced for the purpose of acquiring money.

It is a fact that some bills are actually introduced because of the author’s legitimate concern that the bill introduced could address.  And it is a fact that others are introduced merely for educational purposes–to raise issues and bring about a public discussion of various things encompassed by the bills as introduced.  Unfortunately, the practice of introducing bills for money reasons also still exists--and yet too many legislators have become more sophisticated in avoiding criminal liability because they never author bills to deep-six in exchange for payments.

Most savvy politicians understand that introduction of a bill will attract the attention of the people interested in the subject matter of the bill.  Unfortunately, even observers of the legislative process, both in Congress and the state Legislature, are usually not quite sophisticated enough to understand at the outset whether or not the bill has a real chance of becoming law.  In any case, almost every bill which touches a special interest group in the Legislature will attract money either to support the bill or kill the bill.

There have been recent discussions on why the House of Representatives in the United States Congress would introduce a bill to de-fund or repeal the Affordable Care Act some 40 times knowing full well that any effort to do so was futile.  They all know in advance that such a bill would need to be passed by the Senate and be signed by the President.  Even the rankest, newest politician in Washington would know that neither event could happen as long as Democrats controlled the Senate and occupied the presidential office.  Nonetheless, bill after bill was introduced attempting to thwart Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act.  Primarily, in this instance, it was to solidify support, raise money and establish the ultraconservative credentials of those supporting the measure.

I would invite you to sift through the some 5,000 to 6,000 bills introduced last session in the Texas Legislature.  It would not take you very long to find several hundred of them which obviously had no chance of ever being seriously considered.  As a matter of fact, you would probably find a majority of the bills never made it through the hearing process of committees.  Moreover, several never even reached the stage of having a committee hearing.  It would not take an intelligent person very long to ferret out those introduced purely for political purposes to establish the politician’s credentials as a liberal or conservative, or to alert a special interest group which would be willing to raise money to support a bill’s sponsor of a bill favored by that group.  Sad to say, but it is fact that there are still bills being introduced for the money.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Big oil tax breaks, toll roads ...smell just like taxes

The biggest lie told by Austin politicians is that Texas has a policy of no new tax.  As I recall, the no new tax mantra began with the governorship of Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde, Texas.  This was in the early 70's, and it appears to have taken hold as the mantra of every new Texas politician.  Unfortunately, it is the big lie propagated on voting citizens of this state and has been for many years. 

The United States Supreme Court recently held that Congress has the right to tax and thereby held, as a matter of law, that the Affordable Care Act was justified based on Congress’ constitutional right to levy taxes.  This certainly squares with my opinion that anytime the government extracts money from its citizens it is, in fact, a tax.  To alter the old saying that a rose by any other name smells as sweet, I would say that a tax by any other name smells as bad. 

A simple examination of actions by the Legislature to keep the state’s coffers filled with money would reveal the truth of my allegation that the popular motto of no new taxes is a big lie.  Any inquiry into the truth of this statement needs to begin with an examination of property taxes--taxes on your home and your business.  During the time Texas’ government went through the trauma of adopting, for the first time, a sales tax, Texas property owner's taxes went from near the bottom of all 50 states to the top 10.  Additionally, considering the cost of living in your own home, Texans consider as a hidden tax homeowners’ insurance.  A recent study demonstrated that Texas is among the top 2 or 3 states in the nation in the cost of homeowners’ insurance.

Although our gasoline tax has not increased, Texans should be mindful of a new tax in the form of costs to drive on roads built with our tax dollars.  Governor Perry proceeded to form a partnership between Omega Building Corporation in San Antonio and a Spanish-owned company granting them exclusive rights to much of our highway right-of-way.  The amount of tolls Texans have to pay to drive on roads that we built is now partly in the hands of a foreign country.

Laws cooked up by special interest lobbyists and imposed on Texans are another form of tax burden borne by Texans.  To begin with, for years there has been a give-a-way of $25 million in tax breaks to big oil.  At a time when many homeowners are struggling to pay their school and city taxes, big oil companies which operate out of Texas benefit from the largesse of Texas’ taxpayers while enjoying the highest profits in history.

College tuition at one time was regulated and set by the Legislature and in the early 50's one could go a full year of college paying only $50 a semester in tuition fees.  In the early 1970s, the state still paid approximately 85% of the cost of higher education. However, while maintaining their poker face denial, legislators then and now have contended they favored and implemented no new taxes, but they relinquished the setting of college tuition to individual boards of regents.  Thereafter, tuition has increased a hundred-fold--today, for example, the estimated undergraduate flat-rate tuition and fees for 2013-14 for a Texas resident attending UTAustin is approximately $5,000 a semester.

Daily activities have borne the burden of taxes in the form of assessments or fees.  Deregulation of electrical utilities, for example, has generally caused  a huge increase in the cost of your electric bill.  Hunting and fishing licenses, and access to state parks, have more than doubled in the past 40 years; and the Legislature has imposed a surcharge on traffic fines which has hit a substantial number of Texas’ drivers.

There are other hidden costs which land on us Texans because of our stingy social policy.  The lack of adequate protection for industrial workers has resulted in Texas leading the nation in workers killed in industrial endeavors in this state.  Health care is another area of a hidden tax imposed by the fact that, because Texas is avoiding its responsibility to help with health care, we have more uninsured Texans than any other state.  This has resulted in exorbitant costs passed on to us by hospitals which have to absorb costs of uninsured and indigent people who seek and receive treatment at the emergency rooms throughout this state.  The inordinately high number of teenage pregnancies and the fact that Texas leads the nation in minimum wage workers also contribute hidden costs picked up by us, the taxpayers, in the form of prison costs, welfare costs, aid to dependent children and school dropouts.

I will say once again–while no new taxes may be a great political motto for those seeking public office–someone needs to address whether new taxes would be better than some of the unfair old taxes.  It is past time that we Texans and our Texas’ government take an in-depth look at a rational plan for raising revenue to meet Texas' needs.  Failure to do so will continue the non-fiscal policy of this state, lurching from crisis to crisis.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to end welfare

Just a few months ago, my wife and I had occasion to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  And, recently, I had read a book which chronicled the history of the slave trade emerging from France to Africa to the West Indies.  Both experiences left me wondering how it was that any human being could act so inhumanely to a fellow human being.  The whole thought process leaves me wondering how good people, who speak so passionately about the brutality of abortion, tolerate little children being left without adequate nourishment or health care.  Or, how can decent people, who are concerned with human suffering of their fellow citizens, rise up in arms against efforts to raise the minimum wage to give some relief to hardworking people who work 40-50 hours a week and still cannot provide enough to meet their families daily needs. 

I hear rants and watch long discourses on conservative television expressing concern about Americas headlong plunge into socialism by embracing programs like food stamps, school lunches and aid to dependent children, and by attempting to extend the status quo of health care to all Americans.  The thought then occurs to me that even if half of American people acted in accord with their own religious beliefs, whether Christian, Jew or Islamic, there would be no need for government programs to alleviate the suffering of our fellow human beings in this nation.

At least one root of our problem lies with our leaders, such as our current governor of Texas. He talks a good game, but doesnt walk the talk.  I recall our governor launching his aborted attempt to run for president with a big prayer vigil in a football stadium in Houston.  Mr. Perry proceeded to wear his Christianity on his sleeve like a badge of honor, but his conduct belies his true commitment to such laudable values.  Only a short time back it was revealed that, even though Governor Perry has increased his net worth --on a governors salary, yet-- by a couple of million, the last records of his charitable concern revealed he had donated only $200 to his church.  And some of that was in the form of secondhand clothing which he and his wife donated!  His and other similar right-wing phonies who attempt to use religion as a political stepping stone remind me of the sage observation that what you do speaks so much louder than what you say.  

It seems to me the best way to eliminate costly social programs so detested by right wingers is for us all to adhere to our religious beliefs by showing concern for our fellow man. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tom, say it ain't so...

Prior to reading the morning news about our district attorney resigning before his term is up, I had been informed by local political wonks that there’s been a plot afoot originating at the Jefferson County Courthouse.  The story goes like this: Judge Bob Wortham, who intends to seek the office of district attorney, apparently will be opposed by the current assistant district attorney as a Republican.  Once a judge announces for another office in which he is opposed, he is required to resign, leaving his seat vacant.  Supposedly, the plan is for Tom Maness, current district attorney, to resign early leaving the district attorney’s seat vacant.  Rick Perry would then appoint Tom Rugg to the vacant judgeship currently held by Judge Wortham and appoint an assistant district attorney of the Republicans’ choice to be acting district attorney, thereby giving two Republicans a head start on the next general election.

Tom Maness, you’ve been an honorable person and established good credentials as such in your long tenure in office in Jefferson County.  You accepted and ran, after having been honored by Democrats, to be the Democratic nominee for at least two offices in this county.  You should not, at this point, dishonor the folks who trusted you in the capacity as their nominee with such a cheap trick as to hand over the selection of two important offices in Jefferson County to Rick Perry.  Rick Perry should not select our local offices–the people of Jefferson County should.  Such a cheap trick is beneath you, and you should not be a party to such a scheme.

Tom, do you seriously think you would have been re-elected a few years ago had you announced to the people that you intended to run for a while as a Democrat, but at the first opportunity you would be a party to a scheme to relinquish your office and deny the people of Jefferson County a say in who takes you place–turning it over to Rick “Good Hair” Perry?  Do you really think the people of Jefferson County would have bought that scenario when you ran before?  You took the place of a former district attorney who had something less than a sterling reputation as an honorable man.  To your credit you restored a lot of dignity to the office of district attorney; and you willingly accepted the mantle as a Democrat, running unopposed in the Democratic Primary.  Maybe I’m old fashioned but, deep down, I believe once a person accepts a party label, he or she owes some obligation and respect to that honor bestowed.  It is an honor to be selected by either party as a nominee of that party in a general election, but in my opinion with that honor goes a reciprocal obligation to not betray that honor by treating it as though it were nothing.

If the people of Jefferson County have decided to follow the lead of Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and right-wing crazies who would like to rob citizens of their right to trial by jury, so be it; but let the voters of this County have the choice, not Rick Perry.  So, once again I say, say it ain’t so, Tom.  Don’t be a party to such a cheap trick.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Right Wing-nuts Don't Trust People

I have always held a theory that when people in public office get too comfortable in office and continue to talk they sometimes, to their detriment, tell the truth about how they feel about things.  Recently, at a Republican debate between contestants for the lieutenant governorship, two of the candidates let the cat out of the bag providing further evidence that right-wing conservatives do not trust the people.  Dan Patrick, a right-wing radio host, is among four candidates running for lieutenant governor.  The debate centered mostly around who could prove that he was the most conservative candidate in the race. 

To offer convincing proof, both Dan Patrick and current Lt. Governor David Dewhurst allowed as how they would prefer to repeal the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  For those of you who do not carry a Constitution around in your vest pocket, the 17th Amendment granted the right of citizens to directly elect their United States senator from their various states.  Both Patrick and Dewhurst proclaimed it would be much preferable to allow a state legislature to select the U.S. Senators from Texas, taking that right away from everyday, ordinary citizens.

This sort of attitude among those who consider themselves elite leaders of the people is nothing new.  In the many squabbles over forming our United States government, there were several who advocated that no one should be able to participate in the selection of our leaders unless they possessed a certain level of wealth.  At the very least, it was proposed, those doing the selecting should have been property owners.  It doesn’t surprise me, therefore, for a ultra-conservative state senator and the Republican lieutenant governor to now advocate that a body they are now a member of should be entrusted with the election of our United States senator rather than the people.  This is not the only evidence that some members of our Texas Legislature do not trust the people.

One needs to look no further than to the great efforts of our state legislature--led by our governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general--to in effect close the door to access to jury trials.  The whole theory of tort reform, which has been embraced wholeheartedly by the conservative wing of the Republican Party, is based on lack of trust of jurors.  One only needs to think about this for about thirty seconds to see what a screwy system this has created.  Believing as they do in "tort reform" and statutory limits on what can be recovered by an injured party in our court system simply says that Republicans think 150 politicians in the House and 31 in the Texas Senate have a better handle on how to bring justice to a litigant rather than 12 citizens seated in a jury box who hear the evidence.  Republican courts, including our state supreme court, are in lock-step with that thought.  A recent survey of the appeal of jury verdicts reaching the Texas Supreme Court demonstrated that of approximately 23 jury verdicts appealed to the Supreme Court, 19 of them had been reversed in favor of the insurance carriers.

Turning the selection of our United States senator over to the Legislature is not the only thing this right-wing state government we now endure has done to lessen the effect of ordinary citizens having a say in government.  Voter identification is another example of the right-wing’s mistrust of ordinary, hard-working citizens making a selection at the ballot box.  Voter identification has been based on the premise there is a great deal of voter fraud which must be stamped out in Texas.  Fewer than a half dozen cases of voter fraud involving voter misrepresentation on identity have been located--out of about ten million votes cast.

Another clear indication of the right wing’s Fascist like attitude of having us governed by the wealthy elite is the constant attack on the people’s choice for president of the United States.  What happened to the good old days when, once an election was decided, there was a spirit of patriotism and pride in America which dictated we all pull together behind our leader in an attempt to make him the most powerful leader in the world.  Contrary to that longstanding tradition, the current right-wing opposition to President Obama has declared as their number one goal to make him fail as a president.  Obviously, they didn’t believe the rest of us had sense enough to make a decent selection of our president. And now they want to deprive us of the right to select our United States senator!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Ted Cruz Flat-Earth T Party

Current events in Washington DC demonstrate clearly the Tea (T) Party has chosen the wrong letter to head their name.  They should change it to the “H” Party–H for hypocrite.  As the recent article in the Beaumont Enterprise pointed out, Ted Cruz has the unmitigated gall to stand and berate a public worker for putting a barricade up at a war memorial which was closed because of the Ted Cruz strategy.  Anyone who can read or has a television set knows full well the whole strategy of shutting down the government in order to get his way was originated and espoused by Ted Cruz.  It is nothing but sheer hypocrisy now for the author of that plan to confront federal workers who are on duty without pay to protect national shrines or parks.

There are other signs of Ted Cruz’ demagoguery and hypocrisy.  

He rails about giving up freedom and went on in one of his recent speeches that our generation would in the future have to explain to our grandchildren about the time where there once was freedom in the United States of America.  The thought is not even original with Ted Cruz.  It was a quote of Ronald Reagan, when he was on the payroll of General Electric, cruising around the United States making right-wing speeches against government.  Ronald Reagan, at the time, was predicting the end of America as we know it, and that America was being taken over by pure socialism.  What Reagan was referring to was the legislation creating Medicare.  

Were Ronald Reagan alive today and in office, I doubt seriously if he would have the guts to advocate doing away with Medicare as we know it today.  Medicare did not spell the doom of American medicine and has provided comfort to millions of Americans in need of health care.  Ted Cruz’ railing against the Affordable Care Act is equally as ridiculous as the predictions made 'way back then by Ronald Reagan about Medicare.

People who follow the likes of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who seem to prefer anarchy over government by consensus or compromise, should stop and imagine what life would be like in these United States without the federal government.  
  • Airline safety would go wanting.  
  • Any oversight to stop polluters from poisoning our air and water would be non-existent.  
  • Federal parks and monuments would close.  Children would go hungry without food stamps.
  • The anti-terrorism effort through the CIA and FBI would be harmed, putting us all at risk.  
  • Social Security and Medicare would disappear, and America would be reduced to the likes of a third-world nation.  
People who would destroy our national government seem to forget that our government is an institution created by a contract between us--the free citizens of the United States--and the leaders of this nation.  There is a role to play for individuals in a free society, as well as a role for government, which according to the Constitution is to function for the public good.

People who insist on believing that the earth is still flat, like Ted Cruz, should be rejected out of hand and run out of office.

Monday, October 7, 2013

How did we get in this shape?

Currently, all you hear on radio and television or read in the newspapers is about the shutdown in Washington, D.C.  Almost universally citizens are condemning members of the U.S. government for being unable to compromise.  Using Texas as an example, only a brief inquiry sheds some light on how we got where we are with our national government.

Tom DeLay, who rose to prominence as a great leader in the Republican Party, added to his stroke with his ability to raise and distribute money.  DeLay was able to raise tubs and tubs of money because of his strategy in which movers and shakers in Washington--i.e., lobbyists--were persona non grata and unable to exercise any influence unless they paid allegiance to the Republican Party via DeLay.  DeLay got in trouble in Texas for laundering $190,000 in corporate money and using it to elect a wholly Republican House of Representatives. In spite of DeLay’s recent claim that he has been fully vindicated for his conduct, one must look askance at the overturning of his conviction since it was largely based on the fact that he only manipulated corporate checks and not "cash money."  Nonetheless, DeLay was successful in persuading a newly elected Republican majority in both Houses to reapportion the state into legislative districts which clearly tilted the state further to the right.

DeLay’s redistricting plan came not the session after a census but a couple of years later, which is completely out of step with what had been the tradition in Texas.

The apportioning of legislative and congressional districts, according to long-standing case law, requires that districts, insofar as is possible, be equal in number to assure one man one vote, be compact, and be considerate of a community of interest for each district.  The Republican reapportionment of the State of Texas into congressional and legislative districts mainly concerned itself with packing minorities and Democrats into districts--creating even larger majorities for Democrats in those districts--and assuring more, safe Republican districts throughout the state.  The problem is that this means each district no longer is a microcosm of the population of Texas; instead, each district is simply a conglomeration of ideology, left or right.  Having such districts offers no incentive whatsoever for the persons elected from those districts to consider any ideology but one.

Again, the result of those redistricting efforts prior to the court intervention clearly demonstrated a gigantic effort to assure a political outcome in each district, not to assure fair representation for a geographic area.  Senate District 4 was emasculated when Port Arthur was attached to a district which began on the Northwest side of Houston, stretched to the coast, ran across an area of Chambers County with no people in it, and then reached up and took in Port Arthur.  The picture of Port Arthur’s new Senatorial District under that plan could serve as a definition by picture rather than word in the dictionary of gerrymandering. Another word for it, coined in an article on the redistricting mess a couple of years ago, might be "perrymandering."

A second reason for gridlock and the lack of compromise is the increasing phenomenon of lower voter turnout.  While minorities notoriously have a low turnout, it appears from recent elections that the remaining voters are less inclined to vote than in past elections.  If you combine this with the Republican efforts to discourage voting through such means as shortening times for absentee voting, requiring voter I.D. and similar provisions, it appears lower voter turnouts will be the rule rather than the exception.  It is not conducive to consideration of the broad population when approximately 10% of the population is making the decision about who the elected representatives are in Congress and our legislatures.

Unfortunately, lack of concern on the part of the average citizen has left us with a governor who appears to be more in tune with the Koch brothers than the men and women of this state.  We continue to lead the nation in low-wage workers and the number of citizens without adequate health care.  In spite of this, it seems our current leadership would rather buy into the theory that there is no such thing as global warming in order to avoid having to face the possible regulation of the Koch brothers’ refineries which spit poison into the atmosphere on a daily basis.  We are also faced with a state administration which believes that no new taxes is much better than decent public education, having slashed the funds for public education while keeping several million dollars in the bank.

I hear many people complaining that government is not working.  Unfortunately, one of the big reasons it is not working as most citizens would like is that too many simply don’t care enough to inform themselves and cast educated votes at the proper time.  Political prognosticators and pollsters have reached the point where they count on you not to appear at the polls.  It’s time for more of us to wake up and actively participate in every election in which we have a God-given opportunity to do so.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What Ted Cruz didn't tell you in his 21-hour rant...

 First of all, Ted Cruz and the Tea Party have no alternative other than “let private industry take care of health care.”  Insurance companies could care less about your health or health care for the nation.  An insurance company's game is to insure well people who won't make claims.  Big hospital corporations do not want you butting into their practice of charging $1,000 for a procedure that medical experts value at $100.  They do not want anyone, including the government, to question whether or not it's right for them to charge 1/3 of the cost of an expensive machine for one person's use of it.  The big pharmaceutical companies do not want to be required to negotiate the cost of drugs for the citizens of this country with any regulatory body that could diminish the cost of drugs.  The big pharmaceuticals want to keep charging you $100 for a pill you can buy in Canada for $10.  

The Affordable Care Act would change many of these abuses.

Ted Cruz will not mention the fact that the Affordable Care Act--“Obamacare”--forces insurance companies to sell you insurance even though you or your child have a pre-existing condition.  A host of highly-paid special interest lobbyists, being defended by Ted Cruz, would like to continue pushing their policy to drop you from insurance coverage should you have the audacity to actually use it.  Few others than Cruz would even attempt to make the argument that it is fair for you to pay health insurance for 20-30 years, and then when you have a serious illness, the company should be able to drop you from coverage.  Many parents who have good coverage would like their children to remain covered under the parents' plan so the children have time to obtain, for example, a graduate degree in college.  Ted Cruz would take that option away.

Cruz and company seem to think it is a great system for those without any other alternative simply to go to the emergency room for any type of care, particularly for children who need attention.  They won't tell you this is the most expensive method of health care ever conceived in the mind of man--and you pay for it out of your pocket, if you pay for your health care as you go along, or have insurance to cover your needs.  Cruz and his billionaire backers want to create a fog of lies and cloud over the truth about the Affordable Care Act.  If one can pierce this fog, "Obamacare"--the Affordable Care Act--will be revealed as having a solid basis.  The cost of health care, particularly in the form of medical insurance, is out of control.  Decent health care is beyond the reach of millions of Americans--with Texas leading the U.S. in the number of citizens uninsured and without adequate medical care.  Uncompensated health care at emergency rooms in Texas alone this past year exceeded $15 billion.  Hospitals do not pay this bill.  They simply add it to the cost of your insurance or to the cost of your visit to the emergency room when you pay cash.

Getting everyone covered will increase the pool of people paying for health care in this country; and, ultimately, it will reduce the cost for us all.  Mandatory health care coverage demands personal responsibility to pay when we are in need of care and not palm off the cost onto our fellow citizens.  The spiraling cost of health care adds virtually nothing to our gross national product and will eventually cause serious damage to our country's economy.  It is already causing serious damage to many households in the United States.  

Hardworking American families should not have to face bankruptcy when misfortune falls and causes them to suffer devastating illnesses, death and desperation. 

Our current health care delivery system makes me think of those pickup trucks I see on the road where the owners have raised the level of the truck so that the running board is about chest high on a full-grown man.  Auto companies have spent billions of dollars designing automobiles and trucks to be comfortable and user friendly to the greatest number of people.  I do not dispute that a big, brawny pickup truck with a strong engine and the ability to go perhaps where other vehicles cannot go can be a powerful thing to behold--just as our technical machinations and medical achievements in this country may be so bold as to inspire wonder.  Unfortunately, like the jacked-up pickup truck, not everyone can climb into the cab.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lamar University and Lamar State Colleges

Lamar University, Beaumont

Sometimes many of us get so focused on things we consider wrong that we lose sight of those things which are right.  A case in point is the way many of us spend time criticizing our government--including federal, state and local.  But if asked, we would still allow as how this is the best place in the world to live and raise a family.

The greatest thing about America and Southeast Texas is that both can and do inspire hope and expectations.  It has been proven that the key to success in education is to raise the level of hope and expectation of those engaged in our educational system.  A great example of this was the case of the multimillionaire who, when addressing the entire 6th grade class in his old elementary school in New York, guaranteed that he would provide a college education for all students in that class who completed their studies in good fashion and graduated from high school.  This inspiration was enough that almost 95%--48 out of 51--of the class not only graduated but saved the millionaire a great deal of money because the majority of the class earned college scholarships.

Institutions which inspire hope and expectation in Southeast Texas must be Lamar University and Lamar Institute of Technology in Beaumont, Lamar State Colleges in Port Arthur and Orange.  Lamar

University not only offers a gateway of opportunity for people seeking to better themselves with higher education, it raises the level of learning, research, and economic development as well as the cultural level of our entire Southeast Texas community.

I was reminded of this recently when I had the opportunity to address some of the faculty and students on the campus.  It had been a while since I had visited the core of Lamar’s campus, having visited only specific functions in designated places.  As I meandered around the campus for the first time in two or three years, I became aware of the ideal setting of the Lamar campus.  It could easily serve as a picture definition of what a college campus is or should look like.  The buildings and grounds are well kept.  The trees throughout the campus have matured creating a shady atmosphere for visitors, faculty and students. The whole of it creates an ambiance of a pleasant center of learning and opportunity.  Not only was I impressed by the physical surroundings as I visited the campus, but I was especially impressed by the students.

First of all I was invited to address a group to commemorate 9/11 and the heroes who emerged out of that tragedy.  I was impressed by the fact one of the campus fraternities took the time and trouble to put together such a program.  The program was well planned, fairly well attended and included various patriotic themes in the center of the campus under the shadow of the Mirabeau B. Lamar statute.  As a very talented young lady delivered a wonderful rendition of our national anthem, I was impressed to note that students busy coming and going from their classes throughout the area paused in recognition of our nation’s anthem.

We are truly blessed to have an institution of higher learning with its counterparts in the form of the Lamar Institute of Technology, Lamar State College of Port Arthur and Lamar State College of Orange.  As I pointed out in my address, wonderful institutions such as Lamar are a lot like wives not adequately appreciated.  We should be mindful of all the Lamar institutions and their value to our area.  We should give them our support and urge our elected officials to do the same.

Watchdog vs Lapdog

Texas’ current Ethics Commission, the watchdog of ethics in Texas elections and for politicians, is a joke.  The sad news is our current Governor seems determined to keep it that way.

Currently, any opinion or penalty assessed by the Ethics Commission can be appealed to a court wherein the person dissatisfied with the Ethics Commission ruling may enjoy a trial de novo.  In plain English this means the court can try the entire matter all over again without regard to the findings of the Ethics Commission.  Almost every other state agency has a different standard.  The standard is “substantial evidence.”  Under this rule, the person appealing the ruling of a state agency must show there was no substantial evidence upon which the agency could have based their ruling. 

In the recent session of the Legislature, one reform effort was contained in a bill vetoed by Governor Perry.  Another free-standing effort at reform changing the de novo appeal to a substantial evidence rule was killed by Tea Party member, Van Taylor of Plano, before it ever got to the Governor.

The recalcitrance of the Governor and fellow travelers to reform our ethics watchdog in Texas allows some very stupid decisions to remain untouched.  One of the most appalling decisions was made by a former panel of the Ethics Commission in which an ex-member of the Legislature was alleged to have accepted unauthorized payments.  The ethics complaint was thrown out because the alleged unauthorized payments were only in the form of a check and not cash. 

More recently, Republican Judge Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the state's highest criminal court--whose conduct very likely allowed a possibly innocent man to go to his death because she refused to allow a clerk to remain on the job to receive a last-minute appeal--had her $100,000 fine from the Ethics Commission reduced to only $25,000 by another sitting district judge.

Judge Nathan Hecht, who sits on our Supreme Court, and who as a judge should be as pure as Caesar’s wife, has kept a substantial fine for his misdeeds tied up in court.  Judge Hecht, who was sited for having unlawfully participated in a partisan election, was the beneficiary of a large law firm's services. The firm  which regularly has cases before his court wrote off most of a $168,000 legal bill.  A gift of services should be the same as a gift of money or other valuable things.  In all probability, our fine Republican Judge Hecht will manage to escape payment of the fine levied by the Ethics Commission because his case is being reviewed by a district judge whose future opinions will be reviewed by Judge Hecht and other members of the Supreme Court.

Texans should remember at election time and hold our elected officials to a higher standard of ethical conduct.  We need a better system of enforcing ethics in our state.

More Hypocrisy

I have written often in this column concerning the hypocrisy of various politicians.  My definition of hypocrisy is the act of saying one thing and doing another.  For example, a religious hypocrite is one who professes to be adherent to godly principles in public, and yet ignores those principles in private.

Another fine example of political hypocrisy has emerged.  Governor Perry appoints the Texas Commission on Transportation which recently has been fairly open about the fact that revenue dedicated to Texas’ highways is insufficient to sustain an aggressive program of good roads throughout the state.  In fact, the Commission has made it known that the current revenue stemming from the motor fuel tax is wholly inadequate to even maintain all of our roads and bridges at the current level of quality.

Senator Eltife from Tyler, a Republican, has even proposed the motor fuel tax in Texas be raised and indexed to the cost of living so that it would increase as does inflation.  Senator Eltife, as well as Senator Carona from Dallas, and others have pointed out the fact that Texas has more and more maintenance requirements of our highway system while the motor fuel tax has not been increased in years to keep pace with the need.  Even worse, federal law and improved technology in automobiles have seriously reduced the amount of motor fuel being required of Texas drivers. Consumers using fewer gallons of fuel decreases the amount of revenue raised because the motor fuel tax is based on a per-gallon charge.

Governor Perry has steadfastly refused to even consider any increase in any revenue matter which could remotely be called a tax at the state level.  Furthermore, he has indicated to members of the Legislature that should they pass such an increase in tax, it would be vetoed.

The Perry boast, joined in by a chorus of Republican politicians is that they have managed to run state government in Texas with no increase in taxes.  This is the part that is grossly hypocritical. 

Reductions in the appropriations for public school has caused large increases in the burden of local homeowner and business taxes.  A recent strategy currently being employed as to highways in Texas is a blatant effort to increase taxes at the local level, shifting the burden from the state to counties and cities.  Texas Department of Transportation has proposed that Port Arthur assume responsibility for maintenance of 30 miles of highways and roads which lie within the city limits.  The Department has made a similar proposal to the City of Beaumont which includes in excess of 30 miles of state highways.  These include Highway 105, Highway 90, and several others.

Should the Texas Department of Transportation be allowed to pawn off the responsibility for these miles of state highways, it would include maintenance, repair, signage and anything else related to these miles of road.  All of this would almost assuredly result in a local tax increase to the people of Port Arthur and Beaumont.  Fortunately, officials of cities and counties throughout the state were alerted by their lobby organizations and managed to mount an effective protest of this grand scheme.  At least for the time being, the Department of Transportation has backed off of this ill-intentioned plot.  

In the Navy we had a saying about naval officers.  The saying went that there are two kinds of officers:  Do as I do officers, and do as I say officers.  There obviously are two kinds of politicians which fit in the same adage.  For me, I would prefer “do as I do” politicians, provided they would do the right thing the majority of the time.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day

We’re Sticking by Our Union: The Battle for Baytown
Most historians credit the industrial revolution for bringing the world out of the dark ages.  While the industrial revolution in all probability brought a better way of life to the world at large, it brought nothing but misery to the working class in Europe and even the United States.  Anyone who has read its history is familiar with child labor sweat shops and deplorable conditions for workers in factories, which rose slightly above the level of slave labor.  Workers had few, if any, rights and were rebuffed with laws which protected the rich and powerful.

The book Unions Before the Bar  by Elias Lieberman is a good history of the organized labor movement in the United States.  The book begins with an account of Philadelphia shoe makers who attempted to unite to demand an increased price for their piece-work done on behalf of sellers of shoes.  Instead of succeeding in obtaining a higher price, they were met with an indictment for a conspiracy to restrain trade, convicted and almost sent to prison.

Labor versus management in the United States was a one-sided fight favoring management–not by a little, but overwhelmingly.  This lasted until the advent of the Wagner Act passed by the United States Congress, which for the first time legally gave the laboring people of the United States somewhat of an equal footing to bargain for better wages and working conditions.  Even after the Wagner Act, workers were faced with goon squads whose agenda was to destroy picket lines throughout the United States.  Some workers fared even worse--such as in the Ludlow Massacre, wherein coal miners in Colorado were machine gunned by the state militia at the behest of the Rockefeller interest which owned the mines.

Labor Day should be a day to remember history.  Hourly workers who today enjoy excellent retirement benefits, medical care, fair wages and a fairly safe workplace owe a lot to those who struggled to establish those benefits through organized labor.  Even workers in non-union plants such as DuPont owe a lot to organized labor.  DuPont’s strategy over the years has been to stay one step ahead of unionized plants in order to avoid unionization of their companies.

It is somewhat disheartening to see middle-class laboring folks who have obviously forgotten the efforts of working class of people who came before them.  Multi-billionaires such as the Koch brothers have bankrolled successful efforts in state legislatures and even Congress to make it harder to make claims for industrial injuries, job discrimination, fair pay for female workers, and access to the courthouse for legitimate injuries.  Too many laboring people who are enjoying the benefits brought about by historic sacrifices are too ready to cast their lot with country-club, conservative politicians who kowtow to the corporate line which is calculated to march labor back into the dark ages.

This Labor Day celebrate by remembering the US history of labor and labor unions.

Editor's note:  For an article on Texas labor organizations, see The Handbook of Texas Online.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Party Switchers

John Montford, former district attorney and senator from Lubbock, ran throughout his career as a Democrat in spite of being urged repeatedly to switch parties because of the district which he represented.  Montford once said he considered switching parties sort of like a sex change operation...it would mess up one’s reputation for consistency.

I’ve always considered joining a political party akin to joining a church.  Once a person commits themselves to a church, they also embrace the religious tenants or beliefs of that church.  Likewise, it appears to me those switching parties and becoming Republicans now embrace the core beliefs of the Republican leadership as espoused by Rick Perry, Ted Cruz and Dick Cheney.

Those core beliefs, which have been well publicized, include abolition of social security, voting against equal pay for women, endorsing anti-union rhetoric and policies, believing government has no role in delivering health care to the citizens of this country, and believing that health care should be left to private enterprise such as insurance companies and giant pharmaceutical corporations.  

Republicans also obviously believe the Republican majority sitting in Austin can best tell what an injured citizen is entitled to rather than a jury of 12 of the injured person’s peers.  Were we to leave the trust of caring for the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the soil that produces our foodstuffs to the Koch brothers and Rush Limbaugh, that care-taking job would be left to the tender mercies of British Petroleum, Exxon and Chevron.

I strongly suspect, if you have the opportunity to meet one of these party switchers face-to-face, and ask which of these core tenets they truly believe in, they will quickly back peddle from most of them.

In plain English, these folks would rather switch than fight.  Harry Truman once said a person who would lead this country should have strong core values and beliefs.  By strong, he meant those beliefs you are willing to fight for rather than compromise.  Those folks suddenly realized they had always been Republican when it appears they will face some difficulty being re-elected as Democrats.  Had William Travis and his fellow Texans in the Alamo had the same attitude about rushing to join the majority, we would probably all be citizens of Mexico today and speaking Spanish.

My only consolation in all of this--seeing these folks suddenly realize they have been conservative Republicans all along and switch parties--was summed up by a friend of mine whom I chastised for doing the same thing in the Legislature.  He grinned a wry grin, looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to be any better Republican than I was a Democrat.”

Standardized Testing

Imagine, if you will, a track coach whose high jumpers could not clear the bar at any height other than a bare minimum.  In conference with other coaches, the coach decided since his track team in training could not clear the bar, he would simply lower the bar so they would think they were excelling in high jumping.  Imagine the results when his team competed with others who had engaged in strenuous training.  This to many would seem like a ridiculous scenario, but it is one which apparently the State of Texas has decided to follow with regard to education. 

Following the Perot committee’s nationwide study concerning how to make education in Texas better, it was determined that testing students would at least give educators a benchmark of where they needed to concentrate their efforts.  Unfortunately, members of the Legislature went overboard with required testing.

Complaints have been overwhelming from school districts, educators and administrators that the number of tests required by the Legislature was so onerous the system was spending more time teaching the test than teaching the subject matter or cognitive thinking.  Although the recent Legislature made a significant stride by reducing the number of tests to be required of students throughout their public school career, the Commissioner of Education has taken a giant step backwards in preparing Texas’ students to be competitive in the worldwide market. 

Commissioner Michael Williams--former Railroad Commissioner and candidate for several other offices in Republican primaries--recently announced that he was cutting students more slack when it comes to required standardized testing.  Apparently Texas is looking bad because too many students were in danger of not graduating from high school because they could not pass the required tests.  Commissioner Williams is much like the high school coach whose teams could not get over the high bar, so they simply lowered the bar to make them think they were excelling in the high jump.  Reducing the testing standards simply amounts to “play like” education. 
It is no better than passing students from grade to grade whether or not they met the standards for moving forward.  Unfortunately, lowering the bar will make students feel better about themselves for a short time, only to learn hard lessons when they have to compete with better educated candidates for good paying jobs in the real world. 

Having too many students fail the standardized tests should not rally a call for lower standards, but more effort in teaching and educating young Texans to be ready for the real world experience when they get out of school.

Several studies have shown that students in other countries are beating the socks off Americans in general and Texans in particular in many areas of standardized testing.  Other studies have clearly shown that you get more out of students by demanding more--particularly when they are not living up to their full potential.  Texas students are not dumber than students their age in the rest of the world.  They are capable of learning, and we should encourage our politicians to demand excellence and hope that our children will respond with a greater effort so that down the line we are not exporting high-paying jobs, and so that once again the world is beating a path to America as an innovator in technology, learning and manufacturing.

Unchallenged athletes will never excel in competitive track meets.  Unchallenged students in the Texas education system will never win the future of innovative job creation in world competition.