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.