Monday, June 22, 2015


Governor Greg Abbott is still a neophyte on the job as governor. He just gave us all a glimpse into his philosophy of being governor. He recently closed out the Legislative Session by vetoing 42 separate bills–some good; more bad.

Probably the Governor’s greatest failing was that he made a big show of wanting to create better ethics for state government. He had a good start when he dismantled several of Rick Perry’s slush funds which doled out almost a billion dollars in tax money--mostly to Perry’s campaign contributors.  He also has gotten a pretty good handle on non-bid contracts by requiring extensive review before such contracts are granted.

Unfortunately, some of Abbott’s rhetoric concerning ethics did not ring true.  He left undone anything about “dark” money whereby people are not required to let the public know where millions of dollars, if not billions, come from when spent on electing or defeating public officials.  On the plus side, Governor Abbott vetoed an attempt by some members of the Legislature to avoid having to fully disclose millions of dollars worth of property in which they have an interest claiming it belonged to their spouse. 

Then again, on the minus side, our Governor signed a bill removing jurisdiction of investigation of public official crime from the long-standing public integrity unit residing in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.  By doing this, Governor Abbott has assured there will be no thorough investigation of a no-bid contract done by an official of the Department of Public Safety.  This is true because the responsibility for investigating the Department of Public Safety now lies with the Texas Rangers--a subdivision of the Department of Public Safety.   If the Rangers (not a citizen jury) find just cause to suspect a crime by a public official, they must send the matter to the official's home courts for trial or dismissal.  Even worse, the head of DPS says he does not have funds to conduct such an investigation and the Travis County grand jury can't.  Consequently, another one of Perry’s appointees will go with no investigation for his possible wrongdoing. 

On the finance side, the Governor let stand some added money to colleges and universities, particularly for building, and did a little to shore up teacher retirement and retirement for other state employees. But, he failed miserably in restoring millions and millions of dollars robbed from the schools of Texas in the preceding Republican legislative  sessions.

Again, on the plus side, however, the Governor signed the bill doing away with the “pick-a-pal” selection of grand juries and allowed the law requiring grand juries be randomly selected from citizens much the same as other juries are selected.

Our Governor Abbott gave a little assistance to school districts by vetoing a bill which would have created a giant loophole in the area of property taxes mainly benefiting giant oil corporations such as Conoco/Phillips.  On the other side, however, he signed a bill making it impossible for cities and local governments to stop bad practices of oil companies within the borders of their cities. This means that "fracking", which causes drinking water pollution and possibly earthquakes, will continue virtually unabated in portions of North Texas.

Unfortunately, the Governor’s bad experience of being subjected to a tragic accident leaving him without the use of his lower extremities did not do much for his empathy of others in Texas suffering from medical problems and accidents.  The Governor did absolutely nothing to try to relieve the fact that Texas has more uninsured citizens than any other state of the union, leaving many children within our borders to suffer without adequate medical care.  He also vetoed a bill which could have been life saving to people caught in the grip of drug addition.  He did so by vetoing the bill which would have given immunity from prosecution to someone who calls in to report someone possibly dying because of an overdose of drugs.  

I suppose there is some hope in the fact that if our new Governor truly considers education and ethics his high-priority items,  he should have plenty of  challenges in future sessions.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why have disclosure of money?

Recent events have brought about interesting thoughts concerning attitudes about race relations in the South.  All of a sudden it seems conservative Republican leaders are giving serious thought to removing the Rebel battle flag from the top of public buildings--not only in South Carolina, but elsewhere in the Ol'e South.  Clearly, this change of heart was brought about by all of the adverse publicity concerning racial hatred involved in the slaughter of nine people as they worshiped in an old African American church in South Carolina.

The lesson to be learned from the shameful tragedy of the church in South Carolina is that now some of our Republican politicians are stumbling over themselves to hurry and return money which has been revealed to have come from Earl Holt, III.  Holt is a leader in a white supremacy group known as the Council of Conservative Citizens.  Ted Cruz, it was discovered, had accepted $11,000; Ran Paul an undisclosed amount; and Greg Abbott $1,000.  As soon as word got out they had received campaign money from this group, all suddenly had a pang of conscience to the extent that Ted Cruz wants to donate his to the victims of the killing.  My question is, if their hearts were in the right place and truly believed all Americans were brothers, at least in the eyes of God, why did they not consider giving the money back or not accepting it in the first place?  It seems pretty clear the motivation for these politicians returning the tainted money was the public revelation of from whence it came.  Voters, however, should know the source of hate speech, or speech contrary to the voter’s personal interest.

To me the scenario of politicians giving campaign money back once it is disclosed makes the very point that they do not want the public to know that many of their supporters are among tainted, unacceptable groups to a majority of Americans.  Why then should we continue to allow secret donors to buy our elections?  Even worse, we don’t even know who the buyers are, or what the ultimate price of the sale could be.

I’m appalled at good union members, workers and retirees, who do not see the dangers of letting folks like the Koch brothers spend almost a billion dollars to elect their choice of the next president of the United States.

Benefits such as the right to collective bargaining--in order to demand safer working conditions, to not be summarily discharged from your livelihood because someone didn’t like the way you parted your hair this morning--are important issues the Koch brothers and their followers do not like.  They would like to have the ultimate authority and make working people just one step away from being slaves.

It is far better for all of us if we could be protected against such occurrences--which are nothing more than buying elections, but even worse are elections bought when we don’t even have an idea who the buyers are!  We should not allow democracy to be for sale!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Politicians want full disclosure from poor people, but not themselves...

Once again it appears the Legislature has taken two steps backward on ethics as it applies to them.  

It seems the Legislature wants full disclosure about whether or not poor people took advantage of Obama Care in a way similar to ancient history where wrongdoers were branded with an “S” on their foreheads which became known as the “scarlet letter.”  The Legislature overwhelmingly passed a requirement that people who were furnished coverage through Obama Care would have a set of numbers placed on their health cards identifying them as “Obama Care” recipients.  Ostensibly, this is so doctors would know whether or not to take that insurance.  I wonder if this measure was passed hoping doctors would refuse the insurance so acquired as the state has turned down the several billion dollars we could have gotten for implementing a decent program for poor people.

During this same session, the Legislature quickly killed any measure which would have required identification of secret groups which might have given money to slush funds for the members of the Legislature or other politicians—better known as “dark money.”  

Senator Huffman, Chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, pushed through two anti-ethics measures through her committee this session.  First of all, Senator Huffman decided she couldn't trust the public integrity unit of the Travis County District Attorney, so she passed legislation handing off investigation of any wrongdoing of an Austin politician to the Texas Rangers.  It’s doubtful any powerful senator or member of the Legislature, or even governor, would worry a lot about being investigated by an entity which wholly depends on legislative appropriations for the salaries of its members.  Even worse, if the Rangers find wrongdoing, they have to refer it to the politician’s home prosecutor to decide whether or not to prosecute.  Most of the senators, representatives and governors I have known in the past have a cozy relationship with their local folks back home.  It sure seems to me such a procedural scam will not lead to many indictments or convictions.

Currently, Texas law requires that officeholders file an annual financial report.  One purpose of this requirement is to tell voters whether or not there is a potential conflict of interest when acting in an official capacity. Senator Huffman passed a bill which is a step backwards in transparency of government.  Her bill provides that if property is in the spouse's name, it is not necessary to include that property on a politician's financial disclosure.  Texas being a community property state, no matter which spouse's name appears on the title of property, it is community property unless it is inherited or the result of a gift.  Therefore, even if property is in a spouse's name, one-half of it belongs to the politician.  Even if the property in question is the separate property of the non-serving spouse, income from it becomes communal and thereby benefits the officeholder.  This bill robs citizens of the ability to know whether or not the officeholder has a potential conflict of interest or receives benefit from a business not favored by voters. 

I suspect this legislation was prompted by the fact that a couple of our state officials have conveniently forgotten to list community property on their financial disclosure and were reprimanded by the state’s ethics commission.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Health Care

Our junior senator, Rafael Ted Cruz, is at least on target about one thing. In fighting the Affordable Care Act which has been dubbed Obama Care, Senator Cruz feared that if not repealed very soon the people would start growing to like it. That certainly has happened for millions and millions of formerly under-insured Americans who were suffering without adequate medical care. Obama Care is in fact working. 

Those who are detractors of Obama's program have yet to offer a single alternative. Americans should look at the very weak response from Republicans who claim we could do better. Rick Perry simply said we had plenty of coverage for poor people in Texas--they could go to the emergency room. Going to the emergency room may be a fine idea of good medical care for some folks, but it is sorely lacking in facilities for long-term ailments. And, those of us who pay for medical treatment, or our insurance carriers, are stuck with the bill. 

 America is said to have the best medical technology in the world, and is a place where--if you are well off--you can obtain the best medical care in the world. Unfortunately, however, the same cannot be said for people living from payday to payday or unable to work. Medical bills are the leading cause of individual bankruptcies. Today medical care takes an average of 16% from family income.  When Blue Cross started, only 6% of the family income was adequate  for medical care for the whole family.

Our conservative friends, and many in the medical profession, like to boast about how great medical care is in the United States. Yet, we rank 28th in the world of all nations concerning infant mortality.  Much of the blame for this situation goes to many of our politicians. They claim we should leave it alone and let free enterprise take care of it.  

As one writer has sarcastically said, “It’s very difficult to negotiate price when you’re on the gurney heading into the surgery room to have open heart surgery.” Market forces simply do not work. If you are told to take these pills, you do not stop to argue when offered a “take the pill or die” proposition. 

There’s often talk that fraud and phony ailments drive up our medical costs. Those are not the primary forces helping to destroy our economy. The primary cause of ever-increasing medical costs is fairly simple. It’s greed. Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and manufacturers of medical equipment combined probably have more lobbyists in Washington than all other interests combined. 

For those of you who do not believe money makes a difference in politics, look at the successful lobbying that has been accomplished by medical care lobbyists. As an example, statutorily, Medicaid is prohibited from negotiating price with pharmaceutical companies. Also, so-called charity hospitals have grown like topsy and are paying their top managers millions of dollars. M.D. Anderson has two top administrators, each receiving $2 million a year. 

To make matters worse, in Texas--purely for political reasons--Rick Perry, who is trying to position himself as an ultra-conservative to run for president, has led our state in turning down billions of federal dollars which not only denies access to good medical care to millions of Texans, but also hurts the state in other ways. Hypocritically, conservative Republicans mouth that Obama Care is the biggest job killer ever passed. Unfortunately for conservative Republicans, this claim does not square with facts. 

A recognized economist in Texas, Ray Perryman, has calculated that accepting the money and wisely spending it for health care in Texas would create 60,000 new jobs in Harris County alone. Our current governor just gave away about a million five in tax payer dollars to lure a company building tractors to Texas that would give us less than 400 new employees. Compare that to accepting the $920 million on the table for Texas to provide health care that would help create 60,000 new jobs in one county alone.  

The next time you hear someone belittling the efforts of our current president to provide better medical coverage for Americans, ask them what alternative they would propose.