Monday, November 24, 2014

The Legislature is Upon Us

As provided for by our Texas Constitution, the Legislature will convene in regular session at high
noon on the second Tuesday of January in the coming odd-numbered year.  The Secretary of State will open the session.  The House will then proceed to select a Speaker, and we're off on another legislative adventure.

The Tea Party and far right-wing members of the House have threatened to try to overturn speaker Straus.  It appears, however, that Straus' reelection as Speaker of the House is safe. Numerous conservative Republicans have denounced the effort to field a Tea Party candidate against him on the grounds there is not enough support to do so, and they do not want to alienate the Speaker the first thing in a session.  Speaker Straus will proceed then, after his election, to name committees and committee chairs.  The power of the Speaker, once elected, is statutory--and he is given the right to control the flow of legislation through his committees and committee chairs.

Straus has a reputation for an evenhanded method of presiding over the House and is expected to continue in that posture.  The unusual thing about this session, however, is that, normally, the Senate is the more pliable body, softening often radical views. This time it appears there will be a role reversal in this respect.

On the Senate side this session things will be somewhat delayed.  The incoming Lt. Governor-elect will not be sworn in until 10 days after the session begins.  Out-going Lt. Governor Dewhurst will preside opening day.  The Senate will probably adopt rules early, but committee assignments will wait on the new Lt. Governor.

The Lt. Governor traditionally presides over the Texas Senate.  Texas is somewhat different from most other states in that the office of Lt. Governor in most states is generally ceremonial.  There is no statutory provision that the Lt. Governor will preside, name committees, or control the flow of legislation.  In most states the presiding officer is the person who is leader of the majority.  Texas' Lt. Governor fills this position only as a result of the rules of the Senate which can be changed at any time by a majority vote. There is some talk that if Dan Patrick, incoming Lt. Governor-elect, gets too heavy handed, there are those who would propose relegating him to the ceremonial role of Lt. Governor and hand the power of a presiding officer to some senator representing the majority party in the Senate.

One big fight which for a while seemed to be brewing was a fight over whether or not to abolish the two-thirds rule which has been prevalent in the Senate for almost 100 years.  This rule simply provides that some nominal bill is placed at the head of the calendar and any other bill must survive a motion to take it up out of the regular order which requires a 2/3 vote.  In the past the Senate has departed from this tradition, but only one or two times.  Lately, the observers in Austin feel that the incoming Lt. Governor has backed off from his position about abolishing this rule.  Although I once believed the two-thirds rule to be somewhat un-democratic, after serving in the Senate for a few years, I deemed it a good and workable provision in that it requires rational and cooperative conduct among the members of that body.

Education is always one of the hot issues in the Legislature because of it being a big-money issue.  The Legislature will be particularly focused on it this session in lieu of the court decision finding the Texas system of funding public education unconstitutional.  While the Legislature will meet for the first time in recent years with a surplus, the surplus will not be near enough to cure the funding problems of public education.

Water and highways will be two other huge issues.  In order to keep the pledge of no new taxes, recent legislators have conned the people into voting for a constitutional amendment allowing the state to go in debt for highways.  We currently owe about $29 billion for bonds issued for highways in Texas.  Although a recent constitutional amendment, Proposition One, has passed which would provide about a $1.5 billion dollars be placed into the highway fund from the Rainy Day Fund, it is not nearly enough money to even keep up with maintenance of the Texas highway system, let alone provide money for new projects.

This will keep the Legislature in somewhat of a bind in view of a public dissatisfaction with construction of toll roads--not the least of which is the fact that Texas law currently gives the right of eminent domain (taking your property whether you want to sell it or not) to foreign corporations to build profitable toll roads throughout Texas.

Legislation about guns is always a headline grabber in the state Legislature.  The big battle this session will be whether or not there can be open carry of guns.  Most police forces oppose the measure.  The NRA and other gun groups are somewhat less than united behind the measure--but it would be surprising if the measure did not pass the gun-conscious Texas Legislature.

For those of us who are political junkies, the coming legislative session will offer interesting reading in the newspaper and sometimes even amusing scenarios.  There have been over 1,500 bills introduced and more to come. Some bills are serious and need consideration.  Others are frivolous, and many are introduced merely for publicity.  Representative Four Price from West Texas has introduced 31 measures, most of which do little or nothing for the state.  A good example of bad legislation is Price's resolution to create a commemorative Ronald Reagan Day in Texas.

There are numerous ways the average Texas citizen can keep informed of what is happening in the Legislature.  All of us should take full advantage of these resources.  Just remember.  While the Legislature is in session what you don't know can certainly hurt you.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Fortunately or unfortunately I’m cursed with a long memory.  I remember growing up as a child in Port Arthur, Texas, at a time when newcomers to our town were repelled by the awful smell emanating from the various plants around Port Arthur.  Most grownups would simply pass it off as saying it’s the smell of money.  Some odors were intolerable such as that drifting in from the pogie plant near Sabine Pass.  It was literally so bad it would make you throw up if you had to endure it for very long.  

Also, in the early history of Port Arthur, we were the cancer capitol of Texas. And, there were more children's leukemia cases in Jefferson County than any other county in the state. 

I have a vivid recollection of two of my first cousins, who lived in the shadow of one of our major refineries, suffering asthma attacks.  As a young child, it was horrifying to me because at times it appeared that my cousins would die before my very eyes.  It is hard for me to believe that any parent who would witness such an attack in one of his or her children could favor deregulation of industry.  Eventually, my cousins moved away from Port Arthur to the country where one of them enjoyed such good health that he became an all-state basketball player.

When I listen to politicians complaining about governmental regulations, I wonder how many of them would rather have cancer than regulatory mechanisms which wouldhelp clean up our atmosphere.  I wonder how many of our hourly workers, who have voted Republican, would like to do away with the regulations which forced many of the industries to keep them safe on their jobs.  Perhaps had strict regulations been adhered to, the people who recently died of the gas exposure at the DuPont plant here in Texas would not have died.

I had a close relative die of leukemia from exposure to Benzine at one of the plants.  Another uncle died needlessly in an explosion which easily could have been prevented by a few regulations.  My father died of cancer after 40 years in one of the refineries.  I would like to ask these politicians who carp about regulations and wanting to deregulate various industries whether or not they would like to go back to the good old days.  

I’m sure being able to dispose industrial waste by simply dumping it into our rivers was quite profitable for the companies at that time--but it also made the fish in the Neches and Sabine inedible.  It killed the oyster beds which had been growing on the North end of Sabine Lake for many, many years.  Now, because of regulations, the Neches and Sabine are fairly poison free, and the oyster beds in Lake Sabine have returned.

I doubt seriously if the average Texan has ever been intimately acquainted with the air quality permitting process of an industry.  Many environmentalists in Texas refer to the process as licensing pollutants.  The air quality permits in fact determine the number of tons of harmful material which can be released into the atmosphere.  Most of the Republican squawking about over-regulation relates to environmental quality and workplace safety.

Opposition to government regulation in most cases is simply about money.  Unfortunately, too many money-hungry folks would pay no heed whatsoever to a clean environment--nor to what a dirty one does to us all--if it meant making a bigger profit.  So most of the squawking about over-regulation is not about bad government; it’s really about money. 

Were I completely in charge of the world, I would allow some companies to operate wholly without any environmental regulation whatsoever, but I would require their owners and managers to live within the perimeters of the company workplace.  I wonder why more big-wigs of national companies do not choose to live next door to their plants?  

In fact, if the truth be known, I would bet few, if any, of the local plant mangers live next door to the plants they manage. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Money Talks

If according to the United States Supreme Court, money is speech, it speaks very loudly.  In fact, it probably speaks at a greater volume than any human voice can muster.  Tip O'Neill, a former Speaker of the United States Congress, once said that money is the mother's milk of politics.  If anyone doubts that money is a large factor in elections, and growing, one only needs to view the most recent election, both nationally and statewide. 

When I ran for office in 1962, I ran a primary election, a run-off election in the primary and a general election and spent less than $5,000 in a county-wide race in Jefferson County.  Even at that time, I was outspent about three to one by my opponents.  Luckily for me, I could muster about 100 volunteers on short notice to go out and put up signs and campaign for me.  Apparently the role of volunteers is diminishing and the role of money is increasing.  If you examine the recent Governor's race in Texas, Democrats allegedly had about 3,400 volunteers on the ground working diligently, attempting to get out the vote.  Wendy Davis, Democratic nominee, although able to raise a considerable amount of money, was outspent more than two to one and was defeated by a rather large margin.

 Nationally, many pundits attribute the drubbing of the Democrats to the fact that billions of dollars was spent on behalf of Republican candidates who created an incessant television and radio message that all the ills of American Democracy should be laid at the foot of Barack Obama--along with the cry that the Democratic nominee for the Senate or House of Representatives was simply a clone for Obama.  Unlimited spending unleashed by the United States Supreme Court has made campaign spending obscene.  In some areas, so many TV spots were purchased that ordinary advertisers could not get their business advertising aired on local television stations.

Unlimited spending coupled with voter apathy in my opinion is a real danger to the democratic process.  In Texas, less than a third of the registered voters have decided who will make the laws which we will all be subject to in the next two to four years.  The vast majority of the winners in this election were supported with contributions in the millions.  What is worse, due to the Republican United States Supreme Court, we have no idea who donated most of this money. 

If you really believe that money does not make a difference, and if you have never given a contribution to a candidate for the US Senate, try picking up the phone and calling your United States senator and ask for a call back.  It will amaze me if you are able to speak to that official.  On the other hand, I would wager the fellow who gave a $100,000 contribution in the recent election to support that U.S. Senator, either Cruz or Cornyn, would get a call back before the sun goes down.  The point is--money makes a difference and unfortunately, of late, money seems to mean more than volunteer political operatives on the ground.

I believe it to be a pending tragedy for our Republic that 60% of registered voters in the State of Texas fail to vote.  Even fewer of our concerned citizens took the time to get out and campaign for a candidate of their choice.  There are two things we, as citizens, should do.  First we should shame our fellow citizens who didn't vote, and who are apparently contemptuous of the precious right to vote and select our leaders.  Second, we should demand our elected officials to provide at least transparency in political contributions.  If, because of the Citizens United decision of our US Supreme Court, we cannot limit the amount of money that the ultra-rich contribute to buy the election, at least we could have a provision which provides the names of the purchasers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

No New Taxes Is Not Working For Texas

The top priorities of state government, at least in Texas, are education, medical care for children, medical care for the elderly and poor, highways and law enforcement.

The no new tax strategy in place in Texas since the early 90's is not serving us well. Education in Texas has suffered, along with taxpayers, as a result of our state leadership’s aversion to even discussing taxes. One of the biggest pieces of evidence of how Texans have been hurt was the recent reduction in funding of education by $5.4 billion dollars. This cut, to avoid even discussing taxes, cost us the loss of thousands of teachers, creation of crowded classrooms for our children, and the second worst scores on college entrance exams by Texans in a decade. Tuition, paid by students and their parents in Texas, has more than tripled in the last few years preventing many talented Texans from reaching their potential.

Obstinacy in the health care field is costing Texas taxpayers in many ways. A prime example of how ignoring health care in Texas costs taxpayers can be demonstrated by the effects of diabetes. An aggressive program of examination, recognition and care could have many years ago saved Texas untold millions. Ignoring the effects of diabetes alone has caused taxpayers to pay for blindness, amputations, and kidney dialysis to the point that the cost for these items has more than quadrupled in the past two decades. To make matters worse, our governor has caused us to leave billions for health care on the table, probably only to burnish his credentials as a leading conservative on which to run for governor. The use of emergency rooms by uninsured poor continues to drive up our hospital costs.

Before Republicans took the helm of our ship of state under its control, Texas had highways among the best in the nation and no debt. Now, about two decades later, under the no new tax mantra, Texas has highway infrastructure which can’t be maintained, bridges that are in danger of falling, Texans wasting millions if not billions sitting in traffic jams throughout the state and about $30 billion in debt. Adding insult to injury, Texas now has hundreds of miles of highways for which Texans must pay to travel while foreign corporations reap financial rewards for the Texas toll roads brought about by no new taxes. The proposed proposition on the ballot will help, but it is about like putting a band aid on a bleeding artery.

Even law enforcement has taken the hickey because of our legislature’s desperate attempts to avoid the subject of taxes and yet make provision for essential services of state government. At one time, retired state troopers had an adequately funded retirement by the use of the funds earned by placing a new kind of sticker on your windshield. Those funds now have been swallowed up by the general fund, leaving inadequate retirement benefits for many of our state law enforcement.

We should remember lessons of history. I remember a time when tuberculosis was epidemic in the United States. At that time the subject of tuberculosis could not be discussed in polite company. The word was taboo just as any discussion of taxes is now taboo for Texas politicians. Tuberculosis was only conquered once it was brought from the shadows for a reasonable and rational discussion. The same problem persists in Texas. No new taxes has become such a mantra for some segments of our population that we can’t even talk about taxes during election time. It seems that so long as you stick taxpayers without calling it a tax, it’s okay. There have been increases in almost every fee that exists in our state from hunting licenses to court costs.

By ignoring the state’s responsibility to form an efficient system of public education, our legislature has pushed off on homeowners and business owners higher and higher property taxes. Our property tax has gone from near the bottom in the 1960's to second from the top today. We are faced with a court decision that our system of funding public education is unconstitutional, and we lead the nation in citizens without adequate medical insurance.

Essential services cannot be delivered without tax support. It is about time in Texas we had a frank public discussion about what type of tax would serve Texas best. As I have said before, while no new taxes may be a great political slogan, it says nothing about the bad old taxes that don't work anymore.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


There is ample evidence the claims of our current Governor, Attorney General and Chairman of the Senate Education Committee about education are absolutely not true.  Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick claim slashing funds for public education by 5 billion dollars did not harm education in Texas.  In fact they claim Texas actually had an increase in funding in the past two legislative sessions.

Between the miserliness of our state-wide elected leaders and misplaced concern by our State Board of Education, children’s education in Texas is being shortchanged.  There is ample evidence of Texas children falling behind the nation and the world in educational excellence.

Recently, both The Dallas Morning News and Austin American Statesman reported the findings of the National College Board concerning SAT scores to be alarming. Texas students’ scores on the SAT, a recognized college entrance exam, dropped to the second lowest point in two decades.  The national average of an adequate score was 42.6%.  The state score recently was 33.9%.  For a long time responsible educators have widely viewed the SAT scores as one of the most valuable measures of whether or not students are receiving quality education prior to college entrance.

The massive slashing of public education funds by the state Legislature resulted in the loss of 11,000 teachers, many of whom left the profession.  Balancing the budget on the backs of Texas’ school children not only was callous, but showed a woeful lack of vision for the future.  Five billion dollars was slashed from public education while we had nine billion in a bank account for Texas emergencies.  If continuing to furnish a decent education to our children is not an emergency, I would like to hear what is.

One of the favorite standard sayings of right-wing conservatives is that you can’t fix education by throwing money at it.  My immediate response is how do you know?  We have never tried. 

While I agree money in order to deliver a decent education is not the only factor, quality education cannot be delivered without it.  For about fifteen years Republican conservatives in the state Legislature have maintained that gimmicks and quirks could fix education and deliver quality schooling which would benefit future economic growth and prosperity for Texans.  It obviously has not proven true.  

Unfortunately, our State Board continues to be more preoccupied with politics, religion, and their own private agendas–even in choosing textbooks–than in delivering a quality product for future generations of Texans.  The Republican-dominated Board has failed miserably to be a force for advocating quality education and has never advocated adequate funding.  A judge in Austin has recently ruled the level of funding for public education has reached the point of making the entire system unconstitutional.  This is not a federal mandate, but a requirement of Texas’ own constitution put in place by our forefathers who had the vision to revere education.

If you think money for teachers is not that important, consider a study done in the mid-nineties by the Senate Education Committee staff.  A broad range of school districts–small, large, rural, urban– were surveyed, personally contacting the top ten graduates from a high school in each type of district.  They were questioned as to whether or not they would consider a career in teaching.  Fewer than 1 in 10 said they would even consider it, primarily because their options for better pay lay elsewhere.  

And consider the findings of the Perot Committee.  After a nationwide study it became very evident that class size had a dramatic impact on the learning of students being taught.  Even though it was determined a 15:1 teacher/pupil ratio was ideal, money required a compromise of 22:1 as a teacher/pupil ratio to be mandated by Texas.  Even the compromise number has been further compromised by politicians who care more about bragging about "no new taxes" than ensuring a bright future for the Texas economy and our children.  

If we Texans continue to elect those who are guilty of robbing our future generations of decent educational opportunities, we will reap what we sow.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Are You a Sucker?

If you work with your hands by the hour and consider yourself a member of the working middle class, and you vote Republican, you are a sucker. The Republican Party in Texas has done much harm to working class Texans.

Unfortunately, too many of my working friends have bought into the hypocritical, Republican rhetoric.  Their party line is: We are more responsible financially, keep you taxes low, keep illegal aliens from being paid for not working and stealing your jobs, and hold the line on any new taxes.

When Democrats last controlled the State Legislature, Texas had no indebtedness.  In fact our Constitution prevented borrowing money for which taxpayers would be responsible in coming years.  We now owe over 20 billion dollars just for roads mainly because Republican legislators refused to assume the responsibility of paying as we build new roads.

If you work for a living, consider the following things:

1. Texas leads the nation in workplace deaths, yet it has no safety program.

2. Although workers in Texas have the greatest exposure to injury or death, legislators have steadfastly refused to make workers’ compensation mandatory for Texas employers.

3. Caving in to big money lobbyists, the State Legislature has created a system of workers’ compensation whereby insurance companies and employers are almost always represented by lawyers; and yet it is difficult, if not impossible, for an injured worker to find legal representation. The system designed by big money interest in Texas prevents, in most cases, an attorney representing an injured worker from receiving a fee.

4. CEOs in Texas are among the highest paid corporate managers in the United States.  Several CEOs of companies in Texas receive over $50 million per year as their salary; while workers in Texas receive an average of $11,000 a year.  Texas leads the nation in lowest paid workforce.

5. The tax policy in Texas is among the most regressive in the United States.  While we boast of having no state income tax, our sales tax is near the top; our property tax on our homes is in the top five. Almost every form of license or permit is taxed; the ability to file for a divorce in Texas bears one of the heaviest taxes around.  There is even a tax on traffic fines.  The great tax policy fostered by Republican legislators gives oil companies a rebate, gives big corporations a tax break, and taxes country clubs at a lesser rate than your home is taxed.

If you think this is a policy which helps you as a working man or woman, think again.  Don’t be a sucker.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Border Problems

On a daily basis it seems all news media decry the alleged crisis on the United States’ southern border.  Efforts to reform our immigration system languish unaddressed in the Congress.  It frankly appears neither party has a clear solution acceptable to a majority of the American people for dealing with immigration. And it is costly.

We hear repeated calls from members of both parties boldly announcing that immigration reform should be addressed only after we secure our borders.  Unfortunately, to date no one has clearly defined what is meant by securing our border.  It seems to me the only way to absolutely seal off the border between the United States and Mexico is to have enough personnel within sight of each other to span over 1,000 miles of border.  Obviously, this is not a practical solution.  Uninvited guests into the United States from foreign countries have proven time and time again that they can find a chink in any supposed effort to seal our borders.  Constructing a fence along portions ofthe Mexico border has proven to be only a joke and waste of money.

It also appears Americans, particularly Texans and other citizens of border states, have  split personalities when it comes to the subject of preventing uninvited immigrants into our country.  This was reflected only recently in a session of the Texas Legislature when two Republican House members proposed we could tolerate illegal aliens so long as they were here to be housemaids or yard men.  Obviously many Texans are conflicted about the option of sealing our border or continuing to have an adequate supply of ultra-cheap labor.

All of this said, it appears the real solution to securing our border could be relatively simple.  Simply pass a federal law creating a mandatory sentence for any person found to have knowingly employed a person who is in the United States illegally.  It appears no Legislature nor Congress has had the will to pass such a law.  The reason this simple solution would probably work is the fact that what attracts people from South of the border more than anything else is the hope of having a good job.  'Stop the jobs, you stop the temptation.

A liberal guest-worker program--whereby those desiring to cross the border in order to be employed will submit to a background check, register and be issued a special work permit--would provide a record made of their presence in the United States and allow for them to pay taxes.  Currently, even receiving a lower than average wage, undocumented aliens in America generally do better than American citizens working for minimum wage.  The reason is, there is absolutely no obligation on them to pay income tax or social security.  Many work for years in the United States on a cash basis and many have managed to accumulate pots of ready cash and property.  

Unfortunately, this type of system does not benefit the United States’ productivity.

Economists have estimated that having a workable system of immigration, including guest-worker programs, could add several billion dollars to our nation’s economy.  It could relieve the shortage of workers.  It could invite and retain highly skilled scientists and entrepreneurs who would love to stay in the United States and create new businesses.  Our current system invites young, bright people from other nations to come to America, get a college education, acquire skills and then requires them to get out.  It is a clear waste of talent and entrepreneurial skills.

Clearly, outlawing the employment of those here without authorization would be a far better and extremely more beneficial solution than spending $18 million a month marching national guard troops to the border to do nothing more than get in the way of trained border patrols.  It is time politicians like Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and others stop playing politics and start applying real, beneficial solutions to our border problems.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Vision in Education for Texas

Do you want your children and grandchildren to flip burgers at McDonalds or have a well-paying, hi-tech related job?  This decision possibly is being made while we speak.  Unfortunately, it seems too many of our state’s current leaders lack the vision necessary to assure a prosperous future for coming generations.

Too many of our leaders continue to rely on the strategy of low skills and low wages, little or no regulation and a miserly effort at supporting research and development among our higher education institutions. 

Currently our governor and many of his political allies would have us turn our great universities--A&M and the University of Texas--into diploma mills or trade schools.  Of late there has been a constant drumbeat that college teachers and professors should get paid based on how many students they teach in class and that research should be de-emphasized.  This attitude along with the phenomenon of devaluing grades presents a threat to the future of not only our institutions of higher learning, but to our state’s future. 

Currently, Texas ranks dead last among developed states in state contribution for research and development.  It ranks third among all states in private research and development.  Although few, if any, of our state’s politicians would adopt as a motto at election time, “Let’s all work together to make Texas runner-up,” none appears to be overly concerned with our current status concerning research.

California and Massachusetts receive the lion’s share of government funding for upper-echelon scientific projects.  The primary cause for this is the fact California outspends Texas almost 2:1 developing new and innovative goods and products which eventually go into the economy as manufacturing.

Good evidence of the return on expenditures in research and development is the fact California, the leading contributor to higher education R&D, registered the most patents in the United States with 32,107 patents while at the same time Texas registered about 1/4th that number.  Patents for new products and procedures are the life blood of new economic ventures and venture capital infusion.  This in turn is the engine which generates high-paying jobs and a thriving economy.

When given the opportunity to speak with your lawmakers, if you care about the future of your children and grandchildren, urge them to have greater vision, particularly when it comes to encouraging and funding research and development at our state’s universities and colleges.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day

In the 19th Century the world was emerging from something much like the Dark Ages, and laboring people were only beginning to emerge from an awful period in history.  Child labor, unsafe working conditions and persecution of working folks who dared to unite to try to improve their lot still existed.  In the late 1800's organized labor was only beginning to bring about better working conditions for people who earned a living by the sweat of their brow.

The first Labor Day Parade and celebration recorded in history took place in New York City on September 5,1882.  It was led by a hard-nosed, Irish labor leader of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, Peter J. McGuire.  Celebration was held honoring the creation of the labor movement in New York and dedicated to the socioeconomic achievements of American workers.  Although the holders of the early and great fortunes of the United States contributed to the booming prosperity of America, the real backbone which gave strength to America’s well being was the American worker. 

Labor pioneers such as EugeneDebs--a leader once jailed for his labor activities, Samuel Gompers, John L.Lewis, Cesar Chavez and Philip Randolph led the fight to bring justice and respect for American labor.  They fought against sweat shops, unsafe and filthy working conditions, and for living wages. 

As we honor people who contribute to our nation’s welfare through their labor and toil, we should guard against erosion of the respect for labor.  We should not celebrate the decline of labor unions, which appears to coincide with the serious erosion of a middle class in America.

Politically, in America, the respect for hard work and labor does not appear to match the rhetoric of many politicians today.  Congress refuses to act on a minimum wage bill while our Supreme Court unleashes unlimited moves in our electoral process.  Our state Legislature ignores the fact that Texas leads the nation in worker deaths, while our governor boasts of little or no safety regulations in industry.  Texas continues to refuse to require that employers provide workers’ compensation for those injured on the job. 

While admittedly the middle class is drastically shrinking in our nation, we seem to ignore the fact that America is the most unequal of all advanced nations as to wealth.  As reported in the Huffington Post,December 2013, 75% or 3/4ths of all of the wealth in America is owned by 10% of our population.  The greatest amount of accumulated wealth is not the result of hard work.  The amount of earnings in America is down 7% since 1989 as a percentage of earned wealth in America.  

Our state of Texas ranks among the worst states in the Union in income inequality according to an NBC study.  Tax on wages earned through labor are higher than the tax earned on income from stocks, bonds, or the sale of property.  We continue to grant generous deductions for using up oil and gas wells through a depletion allowance, but pay little attention to workers whose bodies are used up producing goods and services for the American economy.

The truest and best way to honor laboring America today is to demand from our politicians that attention be paid to the growing disparity of wealth in our country.  We should support those who favor living wages, support laws demanding safety at the workplace, and support those who share the belief that a strong working middle class holds the best hope for a strong and prosperous America. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Are we returning to the bad old days?

It is no secret that throughout my life politically and otherwise I have been a friend of organized labor.  I suppose because I was inoculated by my father, Harvie Parker, who believed in organized labor almost as much as he did his religious faith.  Back in those days, "Solidarity Forever" was not only the theme song of organized labor but it was also the tenet of belief to which most members of unions ascribed.  Anti-labor conduct seldom went unnoticed, and in most cases prompted action on the part of dedicated union members.

I recall one occasion when my father was president of the big oil workers union in Port Arthur a local paper persisted with its unfavorably biased and slanted reporting on unions.  My father decided, along with others, that serious action was needed.  The union leaders in Port Arthur, in a very short period of time, gathered almost 1,000 cancellations of subscriptions to the newspaper and without comment marched into the editor’s office and plopped them on his desk.  The message did not go unheeded.  Although newspapers sell their advertising to the business community, it will do very little good for the business community to advertise if there are no readers.

Sadly, it seems to me, too much of America is returning to the bad old days for organized labor.  And, unfortunately, too many labor leaders are allowing it to happen while sitting on their hands.  A case in point is the recent upheaval taking place in Canada.  Employees of Walmart voted to unionize.  In retaliation the Walmart owners chose to close the store and fire all of the employees rather than enter into collective bargaining with their workers.  Such conduct, back when my father was a union leader, would have most certainly produced a serious boycott of non-union stores, if not a picket line to go with it.

Today, in my opinion, too many union leaders are willing to go along to get along with party switchers who run to join the Republican Party at the first sign they might have a difficult contest at election time.  “What does it hurt” they say.  “They’re good friends, good guys.  Why does it hurt for them to switch parties to preserve their tenure in office?”  

I’ll tell you why.  

Every time a democratic officeholder who professes privately to really have democratic party type beliefs switches parties, it gives aide, comfort and more legitimacy to the Republican Party.  If union leaders believe the Republican Party is on the side of labor, they need a psychological examination. 

The conduct of Walmart in firing their employees, or eliminating their jobs, is just like the bad old days when some companies were able to call out the National Guard to break strikes and otherwise intimidate those who would dare to organize a union.  The Republican Party continues to embrace such tactics and would support them fully under the guise of helping to create a good business climate. 

Union guys only need to look as far as Wisconsin where a poster boy for the Republicans, and possible candidate for president--Governor Scott Walker, led the fight to destroy pensions for working men and women and today openly opposes collective bargaining for many working class folks.  He is now being regaled at Republican gatherings as a real hero of the right.  He is not the only one.  It is typical of the hard-core leadership of the Republican Party.

You fellows in Jefferson and Orange counties should think about your vote for a Tea Party or Republican candidate the next time you cash your retirement check. In large measure, your retirement was assured because of the sacrifices and efforts of dedicated union leaders of past years.

Friday, August 22, 2014


Sometimes it appears the national media thrive on promoting conflict.  I am getting a little tired of redundant comments on transparency, loss of faith in local government and the right to protest.

I have a suggestion which seems relatively simple to me.  If a man were standing beside an adequate shelter during a thunderstorm complaining about getting wet, it seems simple and logical that he would step a few steps under the shelter.  Equally apparent is the ultimate and absolute best method of protest.  If citizens do not trust or have faith in the officials of a community who select the police departments and are responsible for policies related to just and fair law enforcement, the simple remedy is to go to the polls and select someone in whom you do have faith. 

It’s been repeatedly reported that Ferguson, Missouri, is made up of 67% African Americans.  With those kinds of numbers, it seems the elected officials of Ferguson could easily reflect the ethnic makeup of the community.  All they need to do is register and vote.

Ferguson, Missouri should be a wake-up call for us.  In the recent selection of our state senator, only a minuscule portion of the electorate chose to participate.  I am certain beyond any doubt that before the next legislative session is over I will hear someone complain about what’s going on in Austin.  

The recent Port Arthur city election is another bad example of democracy in inaction.  Most  members of our city council were selected by a small minority of voters...or a majority of voters who chose not to participate.  Again, I am certain that throughout the coming year there will be complaints about garbage pickup, the condition of streets, high water bills or a thousand other things that non-voting voters choose to complain about. 

Recently someone in Ferguson chose to place portable tables around the community for the purpose of registering people to vote.  'Seems to me that is the first step in real protest of what is currently taking place within that community.  It takes a lot less energy to sign your name registering to vote and traveling to a nearby polling place than it does to stay up half the night marching, yelling and being subjected to tear gas bombing.  To say the least, I believe it is also much more productive.

We in Jefferson County and in all of Texas should resolve within ourselves to make a greater effort to participate in self-government.  If we don’t, we may find ourselves marching down the street some day and facing our own police forces arrayed in battle gear.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Corporations and Free Speech

The recent Supreme Court finding that Hobby Lobby, a for-profit corporation, can hold religious beliefs has set me to thinking about various scenarios.  First of all, if corporations, as decreed by Chief Justice Roberts, have a right to free speech as do human beings, and if they can hold religious beliefs, I would gladly invite Walmart, Mobil Oil or any other corporation to take out membership in my church.  Of course, I would expect them to tithe which would be a real boon to not only my church, but several others in the country.

I’ve also found it fascinating reading to go back occasionally and read the founding documents of our country–The Declaration of Independence, and our Constitution with all of its amendments.  Although I’ve read through both of them twice in recent days, I have failed to find any reference to corporations.  As a matter of fact, the Declaration of Independence (which I believe to be the precursor to our national Constitution) makes it perfectly clear our forefathers were concerned about the rights of human beings.

In fact the eloquent words of Thomas Jefferson speak loudly as to intent:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...”
In spite of recent Supreme Court pronouncements, God did not create corporations.  Corporations were created by the government.  They were created as a convenient way to reap profits--but in large measure, corporations are created by government on a daily basis to allow people to avoid the responsibilities and risks of dealing in the world of commerce.

Corporations have no soul.  And, unfortunately, they cannot burn in Hell for misdeeds here on earth.  (Nor, I suppose, can they go to Heaven.)  Corporations cannot be sentenced to jail for committing crimes nor be drafted for military service in times of national need.  Corporations cannot run for elective office, nor can they hold public office.  Unfortunately, if the current Supreme Court trend continues, this may change in the not too distant future.

The Supreme Court in their quest to confer “person-hood” on corporations issued the faulty decision of Citizens United in which they now pronounce that spending money is speech and that neither the Congress of the United States nor State Legislatures may interfere with corporate free speech in the form of money.  It seems to me this, too, stands logic on its head.  Money is not speech.  Money is money.  Were it to be speech, however, it seems to me it can be legitimately regulated just like other speech.  

As an example, almost every city and town I know of has ordinances prohibiting loud speakers roaming up and down residential streets proclaiming advertisements for candidates for public office, or even commercial ventures.  We have ordinances against loud music out of automobiles passing by our residences.  The classic example of a limit on free speech is that we don’t tolerate someone shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Nor do we tolerate one person speaking so loudly that no one else can be heard.  It seems to me the Koch brothers spending $100,000,000 in an election more than drowns out those of us who could maybe afford to contribute $100 to a candidate.

Unfortunately, it appears to me on the whole that the Supreme Court may not truly believe money is speech--but it could be that too many folks today believe money is God.