Monday, March 28, 2016

Higher Ed

I usually read 2-3 papers as a daily routine.  I find it amazing what you can find in a daily newspaper.  Sometimes I’m amazed that other people have not discovered the same source of information.

Recently, two of the newspapers reported our state leadership, governor, lieutenant governor and members of the Legislature have awakened to the fact that the cost of college has dramatically risen.

When I was chairman of the Senate Education Committee, I am proud of the fact I resisted efforts to have the Legislature release restraints on college tuition.  Unfortunately, after my departure, in 2003 the Legislature decided—in their infinite wisdom—to get the Lege out of the business of setting college tuition and passed the buck to boards of regents of individual colleges. Apparently now some of the legislative leadership have regrets.  Recently, Lt. Governor Patrick wrote college boards around the state urging them to not increase tuition.  Apparently these boards didn’t get the letter, or they ignored it completely.

After turning college tuition costs over to the individual colleges, these same legislative and state leaders seem shocked by the fact college tuition in Texas has reached near the point where college is unaffordable to most middle-class Texas families.  Between 2003, when the Legislature made this mistake, and 2012 college costs increased nationally by a 55%.  In Texas, the growth in costs is 65%.  During this same period of time, while the cost to students was rapidly escalating, the state Legislature reduced their contribution to college funding by 27%.  Governor Abbott is so shocked that he now wants to have a study committee address rising costs of college.  I have news for Governor Abbott, you don’t need a committee, call me—I’ll tell you why.  It’s basic reasoning ... the Texas Legislature has cut Texans short on providing quality higher education for its citizens.

Encouraging and allowing young Texans, or Texans of any age, to better themselves with a college degree should not be considered an expense.  It’s certainly not a wasteful exercise and should be considered an investment.  As a matter of fact, if we do not invest in education, it can easily be said that we, as a state, care little about investing in our future.  As quality higher education diminishes, it will only encourage more low-paying jobs throughout our state, and we already lead the nation in that category.  It does not bode well for young high school graduates who would like to stay in this state, contribute their talents and help gin up our economy.

As the Legislature of late usually does, its leadership continues to look for gimmicks to cure the problem.  Rather than pony-up and spend what is necessary to make college affordable, they continue to waste 800 million dollars on sending state troopers to the border to chase illegal aliens whom the troopers have no authority to even arrest.  Current chairman of the Senate Education Committee Senator Seliger's only proposal, at least published, is that he intends to put pressure on the colleges to graduate college students sooner.  This seems to me to be a counterproductive solution.  The only way to graduate college students sooner is to teach them less.

If the State of Texas invested an adequate amount in developing a highly skilled and educated workforce, forward thinking companies would be more inclined to come to Texas to establish their new enterprises.  It is certainly not very encouraging to read what Representative Zerwas, House Higher Education Chairman, had to say about the solution to the problem.  He said, “I think we will have a much more serious conversation about it.” 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


One of the primary definitions of a myth is “A widely held but false belief or idea or a misrepresentation of the truth.  A factitious or imaginary person or thing, or an exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing.”  In my opinion, the most recent and biggest myths in politics are the following:

1.  The first big myth in recent history was the one propagated by George W. Bush that there were weapons of mass destruction being gathered in Iraq.  This myth led us to spend almost a trillion dollars of tax money (off the books) and cost approximately 4,000 American lives and an untold number of physical and emotional problems for thousands of our servicemen.

2.  The second big myth that I believe to have been perpetrated in Texas concerns the Republican effort and law which was passed requiring voter identification, claiming it was solely for the purpose of preventing voter fraud.  Numerous scholarly investigations and testimonies in court have pretty well established there was little or no voter fraud in Texas, and particularly none based on mis-identification of voters.  The idea was born at an ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) gathering which was comprised of mainly conservative state legislators and sponsored by the Koch brothers.  Numerous conversations and utterances from Republican leaders after the deal was passed clearly indicate it was their hope it would adversely impact the number of minority voters going to the polls and would favor Republicans in upcoming elections.  Some Republicans still look at you with a straight face and say it was only for the purpose of stopping voter fraud ... none of which they can document.

3. The third current big fairy tale is almost amusing, as well as somewhat sickening—that our legislative leaders in Austin can look the public in the eye and say the only purpose for draconian restrictions on abortion clinics in Texas was for ensuring the health of women.  This is after the same leaders have traversed the state vowing to end abortion.  While I’ve never been keen on abortion, it strikes me as grossly hypocritical to stack so many requirements on what the court has determined to be a constitutional right by using the phoney excuse they are trying to help women.  That’s almost as ludicrous as the old saying, “I’m the tax man.  I’m here to help you.” 

4. The fourth big myth is that climate change is a "myth" — it is being propagated by captains of industry that climate change, or global warming, is a myth created by radical environmentalists.  Even worse, a Republican candidate running for election to the State Board of Education has proclaimed global warming is something made up by Karl Marx to destroy Capitalism.  While I have done some research on the theories that Karl Marx espoused, I have never found such an advocacy dealing with global warming.  Political conservatives continue to deny its existence in the face of thousands of prominent worldwide scientists who have documented the effects of the continual warming of our planet.  The real opposition is not any altruistic desire to save the planet, but is simply to save profits of large fossil fuel burning power plants and corporations which continue to spew trash (carbon dioxide) into our atmosphere destroying the ozone layer around the earth which protects us.

5. The fifth and biggest myth of our time has been around for quite a while.  It is that if we cut taxes for multimillionaires and billionaires it will somehow put money into the pockets of working men and women.  Supply-side economics has never worked.  It didn’t work for Reagan.  It didn’t work for either Bush.  It won’t work in the future.  If you believe that lowering taxes on the billionaires will add one penny to your family's income, you must believe in fairy tales.  Theories espoused by the majority of the current United States Congress simply continue to widen the gap between rich and poor in America, and eventually will erode the very fabric of our nation.  

Watch carefully for myths put forth by politicians ... and do your best to vote your own interests in the upcoming elections.

Monday, March 14, 2016


Government inaction may seem benign, but actually it is costing you, the Texas taxpayer, every day. While our state leaders boast of years of no new tax, their obstinate refusal to even discuss tax policy, or how it might be streamlined or made more efficient, is costing you money.  Even worse, it is costing our state in a gross failure to meet the challenges of a modern world and economy. 

Medical costs. The government doing nothing related to medical costs is one of the worst indicators of “do nothing” government — costing us all money.  Today, the chief cause of bankruptcy among American citizens relates to medical costs.  Studies done by AARP and other authoritative consumer watchdogs indicate the cost of medicine has more than doubled in the past seven years. 

During the recent negotiations over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) there was a huge effort on the part of the advocates of this program to allow oversight and some control on the price of pharmaceuticals.  Billy Touzin, a former congressman from Louisiana, led the fight against price controls on behalf of pharmaceutical corporations and won.  Apparently, the pharmaceuticals agreed to a significant one-time reduction in the cost of drugs to Medicare and Medicaid recipients, but extracted a commitment which was ensconced in law that pharmaceutical companies would not be subject to negotiation with the government for the price of pharmaceuticals in these assistance programs.  

So, we are saddled with the situation where pharmaceutical companies charge what they want to.  Most of their charges are not based on supply and demand, but simply on availability and the fact that some super-sick Americans need the drug.   Many conservatives argue medical supply in the United States should simply be covered by supply and demand.  Unfortunately, free enterprise markets only work when buyer and seller can meet on an even planeWhen it comes to medical care, and particularly drugs, the consumer is told “buy or die.”  There is little or no negotiation over price.  Congress would do well to stop moaning about the rising cost of Medicare and Social Security and concentrate on reigning in the gouging of Americans by the big medical supplier corporations.

Property taxes. The second area where most of us are being had through inaction is with regard to our property taxes in the state of Texas.  A recent think-tank group which studied all of the states ranks Texas as the worst state for fair property taxes second only to New York.  Another group examining Texas has reported debt in Texas has risen to the level of over $250 billion dollars.  

All of this started at a time when Texas was fairly debt free and the rallying cry for politicians in Austin was “no new taxes.”  As a result, Texas has not kept pace with a growing state — particularly related to public education.  The state continues to shirk its duty of funding our public school systems, pushing off the burden on local districts which depend almost solely on the property tax.  This hardship falls on old school districts which are losing school age population — which drives the amount of state support you can receive, and new districts which are growing so fast they cannot provide adequate facilities for their burgeoning new citizens.

The inaction by the state has resulted in several lawsuits claiming the Texas system of funding for education violates our own constitution.  At least three times in recent history judges have ruled our education system is unconstitutional — particularly in the way it is supported.  In the most recent lawsuit adventure, several hundred school districts joined together and sued the state claiming unfair and unconstitutional funding for public education.  A district judge in Austin has ruled twice the system was unconstitutional.  Rather than address the problem during the past two legislative sessions, the Legislature responded on one occasion by cutting an additional $5 billion from the education budget.  Then they ignored the lawsuit and legal claim in the second session, kicking the can down the road and delaying as long as possible having the issue addressed by an all Republican Texas Supreme Court.  

It is possible the court could conceivably  affirm the ruling of the district court, but the court has little power to raise money to go into public education.  The only method of enforcement the court has available is simply to shut down public education in Texas until the Legislature provides fair and adequate funding.

Gasoline tax. Likely, most citizens do not count the cost of sitting for hours idling their engines in overcrowded freeways.  While under the leadership of Rick Perry, the state Legislature has stubbornly refused to consider even indexing the gasoline tax to keep pace with Texas’ rapidly growing population and transportation needs. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that automobiles today get significantly more mileage and therefore buy less gasoline and furnish less and less tax money to maintain our highways.  

Texas has not addressed an increase in the gasoline tax since 1992 — even though it is lower than most other states of the union and fails woefully to provide adequate funding to maintain a first-class highway system.  Our needs are growing; unfortunately, our wherewithal in the form of tax money to meet our needs is not. A recent engineering study found that at least 1,000 bridges in Texas are substandard. Hopefully, our Legislature will turn its attention to our highway needs before we have the tragedy of some bridge collapsing with a car full of teenagers in it.

While Governor Perry continued to condemn others for wanting to tax and spend, he launched into an even worse scenario to avoid having to face the possibility of a small increase in the gasoline tax.  Governor Perry successfully proposed a bond issue to replace needed funds for our highways.  He predicted boastfully that his policies would lead to such an economic boost in Texas that no new tax would be necessary — and that we would have plenty of money to take care of these needs.  

Unfortunately, all Governor Perry’s program has left us with is a $30 billion debt, which we are struggling to pay along with the massive interest on it.

While the motto of no new taxes sounds great on the political stump, it is doing little or nothing to meet our needs for health, education, transportation, or even economic growth.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


We hear a lot about the "war on Christianity."  Frankly, I don’t believe there is any war on Christianity in the United States.  Unfortunately, however, I think there may be a mass defection from organized religion.  It seems many churches are in trouble, and there are fewer and fewer in regular attendance in churches which represent organized religions. 

Politicians like Ted Cruz keep emphasizing and relying on the fact there are millions of Evangelical Christians out there whom he believes could unite and carry the day in almost any national election.  However,  it seems the current presidential election is revealing some startling facts about the so-called Religious Right.  It appears they may be right of center, but not so religious.  Donald Trump continues to boast about the large percentage of Evangelicals who are supporting him and helping him close in on Ted Cruz, even in Iowa.  He then bested Cruz in South Carolina where the Evangelical vote was supposed to be very close, or carry Cruz to a victory. 

The startling thing about Trump’s apparent support from those claiming to be Evangelical Christians is how they could do so and still remain true to their faith.  It seems only a short time ago that any politician with the “warts” that are on Trump would not even get out of the starting blocks in a contested race.  Trump has flouted traditional Christian standards in multiple ways, and yet still claims a substantial amount of support from so-called Christians.  Trump boasts in his autobiography of having numerous affairs with women who were married, of having a child out of wedlock, and marrying for a third time.  Even more revealing is Trump's failure to reveal his favorite passage in the Bible, which he claims he loves so dearly, on the grounds that it is very personal to him and not to be revealed.  I suppose he has overlooked all the chapters about witnessing your faith.  

The saying goes that all the world loves a righteous man but loves a repentant sinner better.  That is probably true because most of us can more readily identify with the repentant sinner than with one who parades his righteousness.  The scary thing about Trump, however, is he apparently is a sinner but not repentant.  When asked if he ever has asked God for forgiveness, Trump is evasive, and basically has said he didn’t feel the need to do so.

I confess I have written much about hypocrisy.  I will also confess there is enough hypocrisy to go around in both major political parties.  While most politicians tout their religiosity and boast of their good qualities, it looks as though many of our better individual qualities and better tendencies as a nation go unpracticed.  While it is often said we are a Judeo/Christian nation, how is it then that we continue to allow children in this nation to go to bed hungry? or allow babies to go without adequate medical care in a nation of plenty?  How can we, or a substantial portion of us, appear to flock to a candidate who has forgotten “love thy neighbor” and instead would substitute “watch thy neighbor”?  

If we are truly a nation of deep-seeded Christian beliefs, we should do better than endorse politicians who, to all appearances, confuse good policy with nasty rhetoric.  Unfortunately, both parties are reaping what they have sown–one party too dependent on government to do what we as individual caring people should do, and the other party too ready to turn their backs on those less fortunate and in need. 
It appears some so-called evangelistic people who boast of their Christianity are more dedicated to right wing politics than they are to following Christian teachings.

While I do not believe there is a threat to real Christianity in America as long as we have our constitutional protections for religion, I do fear for the Christian movement based on defections from within.  Unfortunately, the main thing that clearly comes across when assessing the large support of so called Evangelicals for Donald Trump, with all we know of him, is that there is a vast movement in this country of religious hypocrites.