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.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Whose Lawyer Is He?

Once again Attorney General Greg Abbott, following in the footsteps of his mentor Rick Perry, has proven that the general public cannot be trusted, particularly with sensitive information.  It seems much of the state media has been doing their best to get the Attorney General’s Office to reveal the location and extent of hazardous dump sites or sites where things dangerous to their neighbors are stored or kept.  Our Attorney General, Mr. Abbott, has steadfastly considered this information not public and apparently believes the public does not need to know whether or not they are living on top of a cesspool or not, or beside something likely to blow them to smithereens on any given evening.

Just as an example, there are dump sites along the Trinity River which have been there for years and continually seep such carcinogenics into the river as dioxin, mercury or worse.

It boggles my mind that our Attorney General and current Republican nominee for Governor boasts about thwarting federal efforts to regulate such things as storage of dangerous explosives, cancer laden fumes and poisonous substances going into our drinking water.  While I understand his political reasoning, I believe most of the Attorney General’s lawsuits have been for the purpose of simply pleasing special interests in Texas and showing how conservative he is.  While I understand the political reasoning behind Attorney General Abbott’s reluctance to blow the whistle on industrial polluters in this state, I resent him spending my tax money to file lawsuits against the federal agencies which are trying to protect the citizens of Texas. 

I doubt very seriously that even the most conservative resident of Jefferson County would love to go back to the good old days when we all enjoyed the full stench of the local refineries’ output.  Some of my fellow citizens of Jefferson County would probably be surprised to learn a facility exists right here in our county very similar to the plant which blew up and leveled the town of West, Texas. 

I have always thought of the Attorney General of Texas as the people’s lawyer.  Being the people’s lawyer, it seems to me, he should be doing everything he can to protect the public.  It seems that full knowledge of where dangerous commercial activities are taking place would certainly be in the interest of everyday citizens.  We get a glimpse into Greg Abbott’s Republican-candidate-for-governor mindset by simply reading his brags.  Abbott brags he goes to work, sues the federal government and goes home.  I firmly believe I would rather have an Attorney General that goes to work, sues bad guys, protects my environment and fights criminal behavior in Texas than one who simply sues the federal government.

Like my conservative friends, I abhor the waste of public funds.  It appears to me to be a waste of our tax dollars for our state’s lawyer to continue filing lawsuits against our own government. As a matter of fact most of the lawsuits against the federal government of which Abbott is so proud have been lost at great expense to Texas taxpayers.  I don’t know about you, but for me I don’t believe I’d hire a lawyer who loses more lawsuits than he wins.