Thursday, April 24, 2014

A recent discussion at the court house...

The other day at the Courthouse, I was discussing the upcoming governor’s race with two of my female associates of the bar. I expressed some surprise at the fact that they were, as lawyers, supporting Greg Abbott who has been in the forefront of the Republican war on lawyers and on women

Both explained to me that while they didn’t particularly appreciate Abbott’s anti-woman position they were concerned about their tax dollars being given to well coiffed manicured ladies they see regularly at Walmart and grocery stores using food stamps. I asked both if they had taken a look at the bigger give-away going to people who didn’t need it. It seemed neither had any idea what I was talking about.

While I, too, am concerned--and have been for a long time—about giving taxpayer dollars to able-bodied people, while in the Texas Legislature I fretted over this but could never figure out a way to deny assistance to families having able-bodied members without punishing children or the elderly. 

A close examination of what or who is getting the larger give-away of our tax dollars once again reveals the hypocrisy of conservatives’ concern about the “welfare Cadillac.” They should be concerned about the welfare yacht, jet airplane and million dollar beach house.

One thing held in common by Teddy Roosevelt and Karl Marx was concern about the continuing concentration of wealth in the very few. Statistical studies have shown the top 1% of the top 1% have doubled their wealth since the 1980's. Even worse, conservatives who claim to revere hard work apparently have completely lost sight of the fact that the majority of the most wealthy in America did not hit a tap for their great wealth, but simply were lucky enough to have inherited it. They don’t create jobs, they just clip coupons or live on interest of the money and/or property they inherited.

Anyone who believes our current system does not give away more to the wealthy than to the poor needs only to review the Internal Revenue Code. While the working man gets little assistance from the government for his pickup truck he drives to work, the very wealthy get to write off as a necessary business expense their $40,000,000 jet airplane. Most folks receiving food stamps generally do not own their own homes. The Revenue Code, however, gives a generous deduction for those lucky enough to get bank financing on their $1,000,000 lake house. Go read the advantage the super-rich get when they seek to buy a multi-million dollar yacht with which to cruise the Mediterranean while they are sipping champagne and lamenting government give-aways to out-of-work construction workers.

This brief glimpse of whose getting what and what kind of free ride some are getting on our tax dollar makes me wonder how hard-working, union guys and gals or those enjoying their retirement that union contracts brought them can continue to ignore the give away to people like our Governor, Rick Perry, who has riddenthe taxpayer dollar to the tune of $2.9 million dollars for assistance in histravels seeking the Republican nomination for president.

Money Talks

There’s an old saying among the boys that money talks and BS walks. This somewhat crude adage has been given full status as a truism now by the current Supreme Court of the United States.

The Supreme Court seems to continue headlong into trying to make it more and more possible to buy elections rather than win them at the ballot box. Beginning with their decision that corporations are people and denying free speech by not being able to spend money, the SC is now re-enforcing these with the current ruling that state laws limiting amounts people can contribute to campaigns is unconstitutional. Holding that spending money in unlimited sums is constitutional, or that the restriction thereof is a denial of free speech, appears to me to be completely insane. It makes no more sense than declaring that corporations are people.

Having run a few campaigns myself, I can assure you having a right to say whatever you want to say in a campaign is very important, but it makes little difference if you do not have the wherewithal to make that message heard. Many years ago people on the campaign trail would merely announce that all of the candidates would meet, they would back up a pickup truck to use as a stage and have an old-fashioned so-called stump speaking. People would listen to the candidates, make up their minds and vote for the one they thought reflected the best idea, or the one who best favored the voter’s point of view. In today’s world, you cannot put on a viable campaign of any consequence without being able to afford printed  material, yard signs, billboards, television time, radio time, a website, twitter, telephone facilities and a staff to help with your own and the opposition's research. 

Interest groups from liberal Democrats to conservative Tea Partiers should take offense to the recent decisions making money the prime mover in politics. If anyone believes that he or she could be elected, say, to a state representative job without money, while the opponent spends $50,000, they are in a dream world. If anyone believes they would have as much sway with a gubernatorial or presidential candidate as someone who had contributed $1,000,000 taking the opposite view then they, too, are in a dream world.

While the definition of bribery is paying someone in "quid pro quo"fashion--that is, money or favor that alters the other person's behavior in return--there has always been at least a perception by some that political contributions are no more than a thinly veiled bribe. While I concede readily that it is difficult for an officeholder to overlook the fact that one group provided a substantial part of their campaign wherewithal, it is somewhat controlled if the amounts that persons or groups can contribute is limited. Hopefully, the theory holds that if a politician receives numerous, smaller contributions, he would be less inclined to favor one person or group over the other. I also readily concede that campaign contributions can be an expression of support and should not be outlawed. But, what they should only be able to do is buy access to the officeholder and not to unduly influence the officeholder’s opinions or votes. It is a very thin line which can or should be balanced by active voter participation and education. 

Unfortunately, voter participation is on the decline and allowing the money to be of greater influence will only exacerbate this problem. One only has to observe the statistics of the last elections whereby there are fewer and fewer voters participating and more and more money being spent. Only a blind person could not see the relationship between these phenomena.

It is time for the people to rise up–conservatives, liberals, and moderates alike--and demand a constitutional amendment to undo the recent ridiculous findings and holdings of our Supreme Court.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Corporations have Souls

Harry Truman was endowed with great common sense. Truman often remarked that how humans acted in the past, given a certain set of circumstances, was the best predictor of how these same folks would act in the future. Other presidents in history have given us stern warnings that, unfortunately, our country appears to be ignoring. Dwight Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman and Woodrow Wilson all warned America to beware and be watchful of the military industrial complex in this nation.

One only has to review the lessons deriving from the Rise and Fall of the ThirdReich to observe the influence that such a cabal can bring about. Hitler would not have had the power or backing to invade his neighboring countries and launch the world into one of the most horrific wars in the history of mankind without the influence of Krupp Industries and other backers of the Third Reich.

To me, one of the most chilling events in our modern times is the Supreme Court’s disastrous adventure in holding that corporations are people, and thus entitled to all of the constitutional privileges of humans in our country. The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United was nothing more than the conservative Supreme Court’s way of allowing corporations to have greater influence in the selection of our leaders. Holding that corporations are people with the right of free speech, and then illogically reasoning free speech and spending moneyare one and the same, opens the door for the allowance of purchased results in Democratic elections.

The law often speaks of legal fictions. Among those fictions is the one that corporations are to be treated as entities, separate and apart from individuals. Corporations are generally used to amass capital and to protect individuals from liability emanating from the functions and activities performed by corporations. The ultimate legal fiction is to hold that corporations are, in fact, people entitled to the same benefits as real, live, breathing humans.

The Supreme Court is now dealing with some of the aftermath created by Citizens United that I expect
they did not foresee in their initial ruling. HobbyLobby and other corporations have filed suit protesting features of the Affordable Care Act that require them to offer birth control for females in their group insurance. The contention by Hobby Lobby and other corporations is that having to offer such medication to women violates their religious beliefs. The Court must now wrestle with several questions regarding or deeming corporations to be people. Can a corporation have a religious belief? Does a corporation have a soul? Where do corporations go when they die? Obviously, the answers to these questions could defy logic. Corporations cannot be drafted into the military for service to the country. Corporations cannot be sentenced to jail for committing crimes. Corporations can’t vote, per se.

The lesson to be learned from Citizens United, wherein the Supreme Court deemed corporations to be citizens with all of the constitutional rights attached thereto, is that it was based on a false premise motivated by reasons not in the interest of this country. The whole idea in Citizens United is to allow big-money corporations to have a greater say in which politicians are to be elected. Who will run this country–the citizens or money? 

Corporations are participating in the formation of giant political action groups—sometimes called charitable 501c(3) corporations and sometimes called PACS. They are not accountable. They do not allow citizens to know from whence money is coming and then where it is flowing to various politicians. It is symptomatic of what we were warned about by Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and others. With declining citizen participation in elections and increased spending by giant corporations, we in America stand at a crossroads for the soul of this country.

If we, as voting citizens, allow it to continue in this direction, we will deserve what we get. And I strongly predict that what we get, we will not like.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Koch Brothers

I continue to be amazed at why people who work for a living believe they have something in common with billionaires like the Koch brothers.  Although slightly less amazing, it surprises me that thinking people could be so influenced by the so-called Tea Party.  Unfortunately, some folks in politics have short memories.  The Tea Party has recommended people for office like Steve Stockman who, it turns out, acts like a nut and has little or no sway in Congress.

I personally know several people who ascribe to the Tea Party mentality.  In fact many of these folks are good, decent, God-fearing folks.  The mystery to me, however, is how they could ignore the signs of what some of their candidates would do--things that are diametrically opposed to these God-fearing folks' expressed beliefs.  A glaring example of this from the recent election is the fact that Dan Patrick led the Republican primary election for Lt. Governor.  

Most of the folks I know who claim to be members of the Tea Party express the belief that they are concerned about having better education in Texas.  Patrick is one of those leading the charge not only to cut substantial funding from public education, but trying to convince the world that Texas’ school system is currently over funded.  Guys like him, I know from experience, would dismantle the whole system of public education if they had the choice.  They fail to realize the future of Texas’ prosperity is education and educating some other people’s children is a key to that, particularly when we have a growing minority population which is clearly being under educated at the present time.

A common theme of many of my Republican friends is that they are tired of seeing “welfare queens” in line at K-Mart with finely manicured nails buying groceries, using part of the tax money my friends say they have paid.  I, too, would not approve of any able-bodied person resting in the so-called welfare hammock that many conservative Republicans speak of.  Unfortunately, it is very difficult to cut off single mothers from welfare without punishing innocent children--but the amount paid, such as for Aid For Dependent Children, pales in comparison to giveaways to greedy corporate entities.  

As an example, in Texas alone, oil companies which now are reaping record profits–not gross income, but profits–are still receiving approximately $25 million dollars of your tax money each biennium.  Putting this back in the pot to assist improving education in Texas, or to lower the tuition you have to pay for your child’s college, would not make even a 1% difference in the profit of major oil companies getting rich off of Texas’ natural resources.

On the subject of the Koch brothers, they, too, are as large as any hypocrites in the Republican movement.  The Koch brothers have spent $30 million dollars through the organization called Americans for Prosperity to defeat Democrats nationwide.  The Koch brothers hold regular conclaves and conferences in an effort to further their national agenda of anti-government, anti-labor, anti-people programs.  The newspaper Mother Jones, as well as a publication called Center for Effective Government, recently revealed that one of the Koch brothers’ lieutenants, Mr. Haworth, who owns Haworth, Inc., in between his ranting about doing away with big government and government spending, has managed to land for his company a $100 million dollar+ contract to furnish the government with office equipment!  

This is the same Mr. Haworth who is a trustee for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.  This right-wing, think-tank exists strictly as an anti-labor organization in Michigan.  Mr. Haworth is a regular speaker on behalf of the Koch brothers and one of the big money sponsors of the Tea Party.  Principally, this is one of the reasons it amazes me that a laboring guy would support a Tea Party sponsored by people who are avowedly anti-labor, anti-union and anti-people.  

Nonetheless, I keep hoping that one day working folks in Southeast Texas will wake up and quit voting against their own best interests.