Wednesday, February 24, 2016


I’m quite sure the vast majority of citizens in Southeast Texas can do basic arithmetic, including the multiplication tables as well as simple addition and subtraction.  Unfortunately, when considering candidates for public office, it appears to me too many of my fellow citizens forget to do some basic math.

A great example is the current and surprising support for Donald Trump.  Mr. Trump has succeeded in gathering a large following through vague promises to build a wall without telling us how to make Mexico pay for it and a whole series of other boastful predictions of what he can do.  Unfortunately, when basic arithmetic is applied to most of Trump’s promises, they simply don’t add up.

First of all, Trump kowtows to older voters by pledging not to touch entitlements—basically, Social Security and Medicare. Apparently, Trump once supported raising the age limit for Social Security recipients, but he has now backed off from that commitment and promises to continue Social Security as it is with billionaires receiving a cost of living adjustment every year.

Even worse, Trump claims to be a great negotiator and would change the law passed by Congress prohibiting Medicare to negotiate for savings on prescription drugs.  He claims he could save 300 billion dollars by negotiating for drug price.  However, the total amount spent by Medicare for prescription drugs was only 78 billion.  I doubt seriously if Mr. Trump, even with his negotiation skills, could persuade the pharmaceutical industry to contribute to the national deficit.

Closer to home, however, are the promises made by the current ruling party in Texas.  We’ve been promised no new taxes, conservative government and doing away with waste.  At the same time, we’ve been promised quality education, good highways, great law enforcement and most recently a termination of the influx of uninvited guests (illegal aliens).  Recently we have learned one of our great fiscal conservatives, Rick Perry, donated a quarter million dollars to his outgoing staff in appreciation for their service.  He engineered a 5 billion dollar reduction in school funding which caused your property taxes to go up significantly while we had 12 billion dollars in the savings account for Texas.

While Texas politicians boast of no new taxes, without hesitation they force middle America to spend more and more.  Recent studies have shown that in our urban areas people are spending thousands of dollars each year idling their vehicles in traffic jams in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.  While we have not raised the gasoline tax since the 90's, everything else has gone up, the quality of our roads and bridges have gone down substantially.  You should know this if you’ve recently driven on a no-new-tax washboard which passes for a decent highway.

Conservative politicians, like our Governor Abbott, speak of the American dream and how they want our children do better than we did in school—and yet, they have made access to our high-quality institutions of higher learning almost impossible because of the continuing rise in tuition.  A&M and UT currently have substantial tuition increases on the table for consideration by their boards of regents. 

While I’m railing about my conservative Republican friends, I do not leave out some crazy Democratic promises as well.  Who really believes Bernie Sanders when he says a single-payer health system could be bought for $500 a citizen and return $5,000 in benefits?  I’m given to wonder—with so many people believing these outlandish political promises, where is our common sense and ability to calculate?  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Like most—watching skiers gliding with ease down beautiful, snow-covered slopes—it appears to me to be something a well-coordinated, young man could easily master.  What’s complicated about strapping on a pair of boards and pointing them downhill?  The experience of first-time skiing is very likely to be somewhat different.  The first time I managed to get my rented boots fixed in a pair of skis I felt like the biggest klutz in Colorado.  And, after winding up in a local first aid station, I decided there was substantially more to it than what it appeared when I watched it on Wide World of Sports.

Similarly, watching the current political shows, you'd know there's more to it if you've ever strapped on political boots as I did for many years.  If you listen to and believe folks like Donald Trump, political problems like immigration, health care, the ISIS crisis, and foreign trade can be easily solved.  His answers include few, if any, details.  Usually, his response is, “I am rich, smart, and I will provide the best health care you’ve ever seen.”  To the terrorist threat he simply says, “I’ll knock ‘em out right away—so fast they’ll disappear.” 

Why then are so many people seemingly so gullible as to support such nonsense?  I believe the answer is for the same reason Americans spend millions each year on phony shortcuts to lose weight or obtain a model body without effort.  “If you take this miracle pill,” says the ad, “weight will fall off without any effort.”  “If you buy and use these stretch tubes for exercise, in a few weeks you can look like Beyonce.”  Fad diet claims abound on television, books and other sources.  Most, however, do not work.  

There are seldom easy shortcuts which will result in serious weight loss or good health. Just talking about your weight or health will not add strength to your body or lose you one single pound. There's more to it—like dieting and exercise.  Cutting calories and regular exercise are true answers to better health—however, most are generally unpleasant for most of us couch potatoes to accept. 

Likewise, in politics and government, there's more to it than simple solutions to complicated problems. Just bragging about how tough you are won’t do anything for world peace.  Ask yourself this question: would you hire someone to build you a house who simply claimed to be a great craftsman, but cannot or will not show you a set of plans?  Why, then should we trust someone who merely says they can lead our country, improve our economy, keep us safe and be in charge of a nuclear arsenal that could destroy half the world?

Voters, wake up.  You probably wouldn't waste a check on a TV evangelist who claimed he can pray and make you skinny.  Similarly, please don’t waste your vote on politicians whose claims are equally as phony. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Rick Perry and those like him have long been fond of touting Texas’ great business climate.  Of course as a proud Texan, I’m happy to brag about any Texas quality—including our business climate.  However, in my opinion, there are ways in which we should not continue to measure a great business climate for our state.

As a first-term legislator, I learned a different definition of “a great business climate.”  The definition I learned in the House of Representatives was that whatever special interests with big bucks and big lobbyists wanted, they get.

A close examination of the history of how policy "happens" in the Texas Legislature will support my theory concerning the definition of a great business climate.

Among leading special interests in Texas since the 50's is the insurance industry.  State government in Texas has done little if anything to protect consumers, or to see that Texans get fair value for their insurance premiums.  Auto rates in our state have consistently been among the highest insurance rates in the United States.  Homeowners, especially those of us who live on the coast, have long suffered unfair discrimination for protection of our homesteads.

 Rick Perry, Abbott and Dan Patrick, the current Lt. Governor, appear to be dedicated to continue serving special interests while ignoring the people’s needs.  Health care is a prime example.

Perry—supported by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott—turned down about $9 billion dollars or more for health care for Texans.  Their decision was not made with concern for the best interests of our people or their health, but for their own political standing among rightwing conservative groups.  They wanted to show how conservative Mr. Perry was in his quest for the presidency of the United States.

Those of you who have chosen to vote Republican here in Southeast Texas should be aware of part of the price you are paying for the Abbott-Perry-Patrick definition of a good business climate.  Opting our state out of the Affordable Care Act has cost Orange County its Memorial Hospital and Port Arthur its St. Mary Hospital.  And the conservative Republican stance on health care has denied millions of Texas children adequate health care in Texas alone.

Even the health care and insurance we do have is poorly regulated.  A recent example of our state’s failure to protect citizens can be seen in a case where Preferred Provider, aka Texas Blue, terminated individual health plans without prior notice.  Their stated cause was that the plan was losing money.  The prompt closing left thousands of Texans without any coverage.  Examination of the company revealed they had collected over $28 billion dollars in premiums, and their own financial report revealed they had paid their chief executive a 10 million dollar bonus over his very generous salary.  At the same time, the company’s financial report showed $10 billion dollars in reserve.  Think about whether or not you consider a state policy that allows this kind of profiteering to occur at the expense of its citizens to be a great business climate for Texas.

Currently, rightwing candidates for president continue to babble about repeal of the Affordable Care Act with no specific plan to provide healthcare for United States citizens.  The yammering crowd who hates Obamacare, and anything else he did, continue to argue that healthcare should be left to the free market and not to interfere with the relationship between patients and their doctors.  They never seem to discuss the fact there is no clear, easy relationship between you and your doctor when it's always interfered with by which doctor your insurance carrier (if you have insurance) will choose to pay or not.  

The free market is not “free” when it comes to health care.  Generally, the free market occurs when buyers and sellers are free to deal at arm’s length to negotiate price and terms of whatever product or service is being bought or sold.  Imagine yourself on the hospital gurney about to be subjected to surgery.  Do you really think you have any standing to negotiate price when your doctor says, “Take these pills or die.”  Have you ever said, “Wait a minute.  I want to negotiate and see if I can get a better deal somewhere else.”  Our current conservative Congress has even seen fit to prohibit us as a country from even negotiating the price of drugs, particularly for those of us on Medicare. 

It seems to me these kinds of attitudes—particularly as promoted by our own state government—follow the wrong definition of "a great business climate."

Monday, February 1, 2016


I have observed the public backlash of late over political correctness that seems to have been set off by Donald Trump and his devotees.  Although political correctness is rooted in good will toward others, apparently even a good thing—when taken to extreme—can get a bad rap.

No doubt some interest groups have been taking political correctness to extreme.  I know a feminist, for example, who wanted to change the name of Dallas’ football team to the Dallas “Cow-persons.”  It seemed to me that was overreaching just a bit, the same as when politically correct individuals get wrought up over whether or not to call a server in a restaurant a waiter or waitress a "waitperson."

One of my current doctors (of which I have several at my age) told me part of my problem was I was “deconditioned.”  She could have simply reminded me that I am now old and fat.  Though I appreciate the kindness, the facts would not have offended me.

In defense of public correctness, there is still much to be said for it.  What’s wrong with all of us being polite to one another?  With growing acceptance of the concept of political correctness, I believe many worthwhile things have evolved.  In conversation in recent years, I have observed a notable decline in racial epithets.  Unsavory and insulting references to persons of a different gender no longer seem to be so much in use, even by the good old boys.  Even derogatory references to those of a different sexual orientation seem to have become less popular. 

If we can continue a rational use of the concept of political correctness, in the sense of just being respectful of one another’s differences, we will be better for it as a people.  Being united has been the strength of America.  To insult our fellow citizens is not the way to stay united.  Political correctness is something we should continue to observe, and we should remind many of our current candidates for office to do the same.