Monday, May 27, 2013


There is good news for the Southeast Texas area, as well as the world climate.  Everyone, except the dwindling membership of the Flat Earth Society, acknowledges there is global warming, in some measure caused by emission of CO2. CO2 is a serious by-product of crude oil refining.

More and more, scientific knowledge is documenting that CO2 has a harmful effect on the ozone layer which provides protection against the harmful radiation of the sun’s rays.

There have been some hot political debates which have become more and more acrimonious between industry and environmentalists as to whether or not there should be more regulation of CO2 emissions. High emissions from our various oil refining and chemical plants in this area have caused Southeast Texas to be labeled as a “non-attainment” area and serves as a chilling impediment to the location of new industries in this area.  

A project launched by Air Products and Chemical at the Valero refinery is good news for several reasons. The project plan is to capture CO2, compress it and pipeline it to West Texas--which means more jobs and an economic stimulus for the Gulf Coast area. Even better, their effort represents an economic payoff in developing a way to turn what has been considered unwanted waste into something profitable.

Almost everyone acknowledges that CO2 captured during a refining process--and not simply discharged into the air we breathe--is a good thing. The problem is that it is expensive to develop a process in connection with refining that allows the capture of CO2, and even when captured there's been a dilemma as to what to do with it. 

There have been several scientific findings and proposals, some of which do not find favor even with environmentalists. For example, science tells us that if we could simply discharge CO2 into the ocean deeps at greater than 5,000 feet, it would remain there in a semi-solid state and not hurt anything. I can only imagine the uproar caused should any company propose we begin pumping more CO2 into the deepest part of the Gulf of Mexico. There would be howls of protest from fishermen and other guardians of our seas.

Yet, while the debate rages in Congress and the State Legislature about creating government standards for  COemissions, it's good to see that responsible industry, on its own, is making progress in this regard.

It is a true win-win when an aggravating waste can be used to turn a profit. And, it turns out, industry and science in conjunction with federal government scientific projects have determined that CO2 is an extremely good way to extract oil from played out oil and gas wells...which, in West Texas, are possibly in good supply. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013


When I think about our current Texas governor, I’m reminded of the old saying that where leaders have no vision the people perish. It takes very little research to document that Rick Perry and his right wing followers are leading Texas down the wrong path.

In an era where it is clear to almost everyone the future of this state and this nation lies in hi-tech jobs, a well-educated workforce and a modernized, efficient infrastructure for our states, Texas is headed in the opposite direction. While Perry can travel to the other states of the union boasting of low taxes and low regulation in this state, low taxes and low regulations are not helping the vast majority of Texas’ citizens.

Perry’s faulty leadership has led us down the wrong path more than once. If people will recall, he is the one who condemned a former corporate tax system and sucessfully advocated the current unsuccessful and unpopular business tax. Perry opined it would produce even more money and be more palatable to small business in Texas. The comptroller of the state at that time, Carol Keaton Rylander, predicted the state would suffer about a $5 billion loss each two-year period. Perry “poo-pooed” and ignored the comptroller’s prediction saying that economic growth would more than make up the loss. As it turned out, Rylander was right, Perry was wrong, and now almost all small businesses are unhappy with the new tax system, and it is not raising enough money to replace the corporate franchise tax which was repealed. 

The stubbornness of our political leaders to cling to a no new tax pledge has led us to a situation where our elected officials in Austin will not even discuss modernizing our revenue system to respond to modern-day needs. As a result we are 49th of all of the states in the amount the state allocates per pupil for our public education system. We are deeply in debt having borrowed money to try to balance our budget and maintain our roads and bridges throughout the state. We lead the nation in lo-tech jobs having more minimum-wage workers than any other state in the union. And now, purely for politics, our governor is posturing, demanding that the Legislature find a way to refund $1.2 billion to business interests in Texas. 

Conservatives often compare our state government to a family and mistakenly avow that a family that loses income must simply tighten its belt. This metaphor does not resonate well with the current situation--our state would be better compared to a family that had an ample savings account in the bank and let their children go hungry in order to maintain the status of their savings. 

Texas has a savings account called the Rainy Day Fund. It contains approximately $8 billion, with a projected $11.8 billion by the end of the 2015. Yet, our leadership has slashed over $5 billion from public education and still searches for ways to take even more money from those funds allocated to public education and give it to charter schools or vouchers. Shortchanging our public education system will never lead us to a workforce prepared for the increasingly technical, high-paying jobs of the future.

Another potential disaster looming on the horizon has been brought about by conservatives who refuse, because of partisanship, to take a realistic look at the future needs of this state. Citizens and our leaders had best wake up to the fact that we might be able to live without oil, but we will not be able to live without water. 

There is no doubt our state is suffering from severe drought. State Representative Allan Ritter and his staff have worked diligently for two sessions on a comprehensive water plan. For generations our water resources have been wasted and there has been little or no state regulation or oversight. Representative Ritter's plan has been considered reasonable by a vast majority in Austin. Unfortunately, the Legislature has not seen fit to provide funding to assure an adequate supply of water for the future. With almost $12 billion projected in the Rainy Day Fund, the idea evolved to make a two billion dollar loan from that fund to various governmental entities around the state which would be repaid. Objections were raised by the Tea Party advocates that the money should not be spent. Democrats objected because they had unsuccessfully advocated using this fund to restore draconian cuts in public education. As a result, the measure failed to achieve a 2/3 vote necessary for passage. Ritter and others then attempted an end-run by providing a different mechanism of funding which was killed by a simple point of order.

Finally, a longstanding rule of the House provides that no spending bill can be adopted prior to the adoption of the general appropriations act. This is a reasonable and good rule in that nickel and dime projects passed before the general appropriations bill could rob the state of adequate funding to carry on essential government services. Additionally, if you allow small appropriations throughout the session, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the comptroller of the state to predict the amount of money available to run the state.

The only consolation I see for the future is that if Republicans and Democrats truly get thirsty enough they will put aside their political bickering and join in the search for something to drink.

Corporations v People

It is somewhat heartening to see Senator Kel Seliger and Representative Charlie Geren wake up to the fact that some features of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling are not good for the country. Since the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that corporations are people, and that corporations and labor unions can contribute unlimited amounts of money to candidates for public office, there has been a proliferation of 501c(4) non-profit organizations which apparently exist solely for the purpose of laundering money. 

These organizations may receive money from anyone–even a foreign corporation–and keep that source secret. They can also keep secret the sources of money they contribute to candidates for  public office. Another bad feature of this system is that the creators of the 501c(4) organizations can pay themselves unlimited amounts as administrators or operators of the non-profit corporation without any government oversight.

While the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people, and thus not preventing corporations from spending their money to elect or defeat various candidates, voting citizens should have the right to know from whence came the money supporting the different candidates. No one can deny that knowing where the money came from to elect a candidate would say a lot about the future conduct of that candidate should he or she be elected to public office.  

For example, if a candidate receives $100,000 from a pharmaceutical corporation, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure that that particular candidate will not be voting for transparency or price controls on pharmaceuticals. What’s even worse about the Citizens United ruling is that corporations and unions are made up of individuals who may or may not have a say in which candidate gets supported with a portion of their dues or stock investments. It appears the decision of which candidate to support or oppose reposes only in the management of corporations or the leadership of labor unions. Looked at logically, none of it makes any sense. It is certainly not an improvement or contribution toward open government.

Senator Seliger passed through the Senate in Texas a provision which would require any such organization spending $25,000 or more to reveal its sources and report more accurately its contributions. Representative Charlie Geren picked the bill up; and after a rather hot and lengthy debate, the bill has passed the House on second reading. The news media often refers to the people’s right to know. What could be a greater need to know than where the money comes from for various political candidates. It is somewhat refreshing to see two Republicans weigh in on the issue of open government and transparency in politics.

Another revealing situation is on the horizon for this particular bill.  If finally passed by the House, it will go to the desk of Governor Rick Perry. It is the opinion of most insiders around Austin that Perry will, in fact, run again for President. An obvious fact from the past Republican Primary election is that Rick Perry was blessed with support from multi-billionaires and millionaires and would expect to be supported again. Some in Austin have even speculated that one of the reasons for Perry again seeking the presidency is to enable some of his closest buddies to assemble one of these 501c(4) corporations and reap huge rewards–in the millions.

In this arena the old statement “follow the money” could never be more true.  Let’s wait and watch.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Private Sector v Government

I am a strong believer in free enterprise.  I would never universally condemn it, or even the huge corporate conglomerates which, I believe, sometimes have too great an influence on our way of life.  There is a popular belief among conservatives/Republicans that in all cases the private sector is much more efficient and produces better results than are accomplished by any form of government. Arguably this mindset has had a great influence on the current paralysis which afflicts our national government.  Too many adhere to the belief of Mr. Grover Norquist--who has extracted a promise from too many members of Congress never to vote for any type of increase in revenues--whose goal is to make national government so small it can be drowned in a bath tub.

There are glaring examples of the private sector not working as well as government’s efforts—even here in Texas.  A few years back, under the leadership of George W. Bush while he was governor, Texas attempted to privatize our human resource efforts by employing a private group to process the checks made to our elderly and disabled. The effort was launched with great expectations, even to the extent that numerous state employees were retired early or given incentives to quit their jobs, as they were being replaced by the new private sector effort. After a very short time, it became apparent the effort was a failure, resulting in a holy mess--which required the state to hire back most of the workers who had been encouraged to leave, and at even greater expense to the state.  That effort has since been aborted.

Another example of the great failure of the private sector lies in the deregulation of utility companies, particularly electric utility companies.  The problem is, the private sector works well where there is adequate competition to give consumers a free choice, and to encourage those who offer such goods or services to be efficient and provide the goods or service at the most reasonable competitive cost.  Unfortunately, supplying electrical power to Texas consumers is not one of those areas where competition works to serve consumers well.

Look in the phone book.  See if you can find a group of numbers in the Yellow Pages to call for electric service to your home. Never mind! You won’t find it. The Legislature was persuaded by the multitude of lobbyists for the big power companies to deregulate power. It took cities and city governments, and thereby the consumers, out of the loop of control of what we all were paying for.  The Legislature said they did it because that is what the people wanted. Unfortunately, ordinary folks testifying in fav or of such deregulation were seldom found in the halls of the Capitol speaking for deregulation of the giant power utilities.  It was mainly shiny-shod lobbyists and special interest groups who lobbied through the measure, promising Texans that the competition for customers of electric power would more than protect consumers and assure them of constant and uninterrupted service at the very lowest cost.

Texas consumers--you and I--were sold a bill of goods. Deregulation of electrical power has resulted in an average of almost a 50% increase in cost for electricity. Our grid system is no more reliable now than it was in 2002, and not likely to improve in the foreseeable future. And most certainly, we are not assured of any decrease in our electric bills in the near future. 

With these two examples firmly in mind, we should take great care to inform our state representatives and senators of our attitude the next time someone comes along and promises us great results by taking government out of the loop to protect us, the consumers of this state.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Greg Abbott

One of life’s unsolved mysteries to me is why reasonably intelligent people would choose to select a candidate for office in government who hates government. A prime example of the root cause for such contentiousness presently existing between various factions of party loyalists in government--as well as the disregard for what I call “Americanism” in Texas--is our current Attorney General Greg Abbott.

In addition to being one of the world’s great hypocrites, Greg Abbott continues to fan the flames of dissension between Republicans and Democrats with his rhetoric designed only to mislead and to stigmatize anyone in disagreement with him as an enemy of the state, or worse.

In a Monday April 15th speech to a Republican meeting in Waco, our illustrious Attorney General allowed as how Democrats attempting to turn “Texas Blue” were a greater danger to America than the leaders of North Korea. Being a former member of the Legislature of 32 years, plus having received an honorable discharge from the United States Naval Reserve, and being in possession of two top-secret clearances by the U.S. government, I was somewhat taken aback by General Abbott’s characterization of those of us with Democratic Party leanings. Apparently, since Attorney General Abbott did not serve in the military, he is unaware of the requirement that you take an oath of loyalty to the United States Government--an oath which I gladly took and have not recanted. 

I say that our Attorney General is a hypocrite for many reasons, the main one of which is that he reaped huge economic benefits from a personal injury lawsuit after which, both as a judge and as Attorney General, he has done all he could to prevent other folks from having access to the courts for the same purpose.

It seems to me there is plenty of work for a conscientious Attorney General to do, particularly protecting the people from unscrupulous lenders, fraudulent contractors, and sorry, non-paying parents who refuse to support their children. I would dare say our Attorney General, however, has spent more time suing the federal government than attending to other more pressing matters of the State.

Instead of zealously attacking polluters in our state, our Attorney General has spent more time trying to do away with environmental regulations mandated by our federal government. And instead of being an advocate for adequate funding for public education as required by our own state constitution, he has chosen to appeal the recent decision of the state district court that declared our current level of funding as not meeting constitutional requirements. Moreover, instead of protecting voters’ rights in Texas, he has supported voter ID and now is proceeding with an action to rob minorities of protections under the Federal Voting Rights Act. Finally, no rational attorney could look at recent Republican efforts to reapportion the state’s districts for state representatives and senators and declare them compact, constitutional and reflecting communities of interest.

It is obvious Attorney General Abbott is more dedicated to republicanism than fairness.  One only has to look at what General Abbott defended as a fair and reasonable reapportionment of senatorial districts in Texas. Port Arthur was given a senatorial district beginning North of Interstate 10, on the West side of Houston, snaking down through Galveston County and across Chambers County where not one soul lived, and then reaching up and plucking Port Arthur thereby separating it from the rest of Jefferson County. I do not recall one word of protest from General Abbott about such shenanigans taking place in the reapportionment of our state. Greg Abbott, according to our state’s constitution, is supposed to be the lawyer for the people. I dare say any lawyer in private practice who allowed the misuse of his clients in such a manner would soon be found guilty of malpractice.

I’ve often heard it said voters are too often faced with the choice of the lesser of two evils at election time. Given a choice between Rick Perry, our current Governor, and Greg Abbott, our current Attorney General, it would seem that old saying is certainly holding true. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Follow the money

In a recent edition of the New York Times results of an investigation revealed that lobbyists in Washington are spending over $3 billion per year lobbying Congress. A recent analysis conducted by former Ag Commissioner Jim Hightower identified amounts of money spent on lobbying in campaign contributions by category--financial institutions, pro sports, radio, television and publishing companies. But the most interesting to me were the contributions of health care corporations. The top 13 health care companies donated a little over $9 million in the last election cycle. Ninety-five percent of all of this went to Republicans.

Oil and gas interests, clothing manufacturers, food processors and paper companies, along with coal miners and insurance companies, contributed far more than $9 million each in the last election cycle.  Again, the vast majority of their contributions went to Republicans.

Before you decide that listening to Fox News, writing an occasional letter to your congressman, and standing up for patriotism and free enterprise makes you a great and informed citizen–think again.  And follow the money.

What do you think special interests gained by their $3 billion worth of lobbying and an ungodly amount of political contributions? They got freedom from regulation, for one thing, which very likely was one of the root causes of the disaster at West, Texas--blowing up half a small community right outside Waco. And health care companies such as rich pharmaceutical firms managed to stave off competition, maintained unbelievable prices for their products, and even prohibited the federal government from negotiating prices of pharmaceuticals for American consumers.

If we decide to talk patriotism, there’s more to it than wearing a tri-cornered hat and dressing up like Paul Revere.  

Citizens should take an in-depth look at corporations and at their ownership  and loyalties. Many of the corporations which spent the $3 billion on lobbying Congress, and the massive donations to Republican candidates, are in many instances owned in significant part by foreign interests. If you ask a high-paid executive of almost any of those publicly traded corporations what their main goal is for their company, it will not be supporting America, Americanism or looking out for American citizens. It will be producing a profit they can report to their board. Their loyalty is not necessarily to any country, but to the bottom line.  

It boggles my mind that too many middle-class Americans, particularly those working for an hourly wage, have not figured out their own interests when it comes to a contest between the big-money boys and their $3 billion lobbyists--working every day and passing out hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions--who comes in first, and who comes in second. 

Do you really believe if you have a small business making $250,000 a year or less, or working out at one of the plants for even a top-dollar wage, that you would be heard before the lobbyists passing out the big bucks in Congress or Austin? Think again.