February 1, 2018

Free the Weed

By Glenn

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Profits come from perceived scarcity. Products get their value when consumers think they are rare. For example, Tea was relatively abundant in ancient China. It was an inexpensive, everyday household drink.  Europeans, however, couldn’t grow it and paid top dollar to buy this luxury item.  The natural scarcity made European merchants a fortune until others learned how to grow it.

Cannabis, better known as marijuana, is just the opposite; it is a weed.  It will grow almost anywhere.  It is a profitable crop because government prohibition creates an artificial scarcity.  Criminals use the profits to fund their illegal activities and spark turf wars.  Take away the profits, and the criminal element dries up.  It’s high time we free the weed.

The paranoia surrounding cannabis can be traced back to propaganda films like “Reefer Madness.”   The movie falsely portrayed consumers of cannabis as violent madmen.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  In most people, cannabis works in much the same way as alcohol. It is a depressant and about as harmful to the body.  The scare tactics worked.  Instead of treating it like alcohol, the government treats it like heroin and cocaine.

This big government solution worked about as well as prohibition of alcohol did.  The government drove the manufacture and sale of cannabis into the hands of criminals.  On Tuesday President Donald Trump infamously used Mexican drug cartels as an excuse for American taxpayers to build an ineffective, expensive wall.   With planes, boats, tunnels and even submarines, the criminals will simply find another route to profitability.

A better solution is small government.  Free the weed.  Lifting the paranoid prohibition placed on cannabis would destroy the profitability used to fuel crime.  Legitimate businesses would step up to fill the demand.  Just as alcohol companies filled the demand after prohibition.  These companies create jobs and pay taxes.

This process is already under way in Colorado, Washington, and California.  Each has experimented with different approaches to the growing, sale and distribution of cannabis, but the results are the same.  New jobs in agriculture and retail make a positive contribution to their communities.  New tax revenues fund schools not turf wars.

Just like alcohol and tobacco there still could, and should, be responsible regulations.  This production should not be sold to minors nor should it be consumed in bars and restaurants.  Decriminalization would mean that individuals could use it in the privacy of their own homes without fear.  Our criminal justice system and law enforcement could then concentrate on criminals who deal deadly drugs like heroin and cocaine.

The prohibition of alcohol lasted a short thirteen years.   American voters recognized quickly that the restrictive law created the criminal profits.  They saw the changes right before their eyes and didn’t like it.  With freedom came relief.  Legitimate jobs returned, and governments collected a tax on the sale.  We have no reason to doubt that decriminalization of marijuana will have the same results.  It’s time to free the weed.

January 26, 2018

Donald’s Deals

By Glenn

Growing up I’d love to spend summers at my maw maw’s house. One of the daily rituals was watching game shows including “Let’s Make a Deal.” We got a chuckle when someone picked a Zonk, one of the meaningless prizes. We are now into season 2 of Donald’s deals in Washington. Behind every door and in every box, his deals offer the American public a Zonk.

How many times on the campaign trail did we hear Donald Trump say Mexico’s going to pay for the wall. Now the deal-making has started, and we know that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall. He is insisting that American taxpayers pay for the wall. Donald’s wall is a Zonk.

The overwhelming majority of people come to the United States in planes. Planes simply fly over walls.  This means that they enter the US legally.  Most have a green card, giving them access to gainful employment or educational opportunities.  Once their permit expires, they simply stay and continue working, shopping and paying taxes.  A Zonk wall does nothing about visa overstays.

You’ve probably heard about Donald’s latest Zonk.  He revoked DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals).  DACA instructed immigration agents to prioritize deporting undocumented immigrants with a criminal record.  On the campaign trail Trump told the public he would focus on “bad hombres.”  The children and young adults in the DACA program had to maintain a good school record and avoid any run-ins with the law.

Without any warning President Trump pulled the rug out from under them.  He told immigration officials to deport these young people on sight and blocked their access to education and work.  America has been their only real home.  They’ve been working hard, playing by the rules and even joining the military.  We’ve invested in their education, and they have chosen the American dream.  Trump broke his promise to concentrate on criminals. By going after children and young adults, Donald has turned DACA into a Zonk.

Donald’s Wall and DACA are now linked together in a budget battle.  There is bipartisan opposition to the Wall and bipartisan support for DACA.  This situation seemed like a welcome break from the back and forth between Republicans and Democrats.  All they had to do is vote their position to reinstate DACA and spend money on real immigration security, not Donald’s wall.

Donald’s deal making style is blocking the parties from coming together.   Senator Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said that no one knows what the President wants.  Trump says that he wants a deal on DACA but will not take a deal unless American tax payers waste money on his wall.  Here, two Zonks are rolled into one.  Dreamers risk losing the only country they have known and loved, while Americans, not Mexicans will have to pay for Donald’s wall.

Sometimes I long for the summer days of maw maw’s house.  Back then Zonks were harmless.  The game show contestants really didn’t lose anything. Now, as an adult, I can’t laugh as Donald’s Deals turn into Zonks.  Real people’s lives are ruined by his political games.

January 19, 2018

Remember Texas Education

By Glenn

Long ago, coal miners learned to take a canary with them into the dark.  Digging for coal released methane, a silent killer.  The small canaries suffered the negative effects of the gas much faster than the miners.  Seeing the dead canary prompted the miners to survive a near certain death.  If you value public education today, look around and see the canaries before it’s too late.

Last session the Texas legislature tried to quietly defund the health insurance for retired teachers.  Teachers often work for long hours and poor pay in exchange for retirement security.  It came as a surprise when the legislature broke its promise to retired teachers, raising premiums and out of pocket expenses.  Fearing a wave of angry voters, the legislature delayed the price increase for health insurance.

These “cost saving” gimmicks have directly impacted students too.   Last week the Department of Education ruled that the Texas Education Agency illegally denied children with disabilities an education.  Mike Morath, appointed by Governor Greg Abbott, placed a capped on the number of children served.  This change forced local school districts to deny services to children who needed help.

If Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick get his way, this situation will get worse.  Patrick is pushing the Texas Legislature to approve a voucher scheme.  Vouchers would divert public funding away from our schools to private investors.  Private investors would be free to cut pay, restrict retirement benefits and, most importantly, deny an education to all students.

All of these measures are done in the name of saving money and cutting red tape.  Abbott and Patrick refuse, however, to consider the one thing that will actually save money and improve Texas public education. Stop wasting money on standardized tests. Texans pay over $90 million a year to terrorize teachers and students.  Indirectly, the Legislature forces every Independent School District to prepare and administer these bubbling exercises.

Each of these canaries should warn us of dangers ahead.  The conservatives in the Texas Legislature are determined to follow the lead of Kansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.  Each of these states cut taxes, creating a funding crisis in public education.  Governor Abbot wants to take away our local ISDs ability to fund themselves by capping the overall revenue collected in each district.  This change would impose a one size fits all across Texas.

The results in Texas will be no different than in Kansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.   Class sizes would increase.  Art and music programs would suffer.  Teachers would face furloughs and job losses.  Parents might even find themselves paying extra for daycare on Fridays as school districts shift to four day weeks.

The carnies are dropping all around us.  The survivability of Texas public education depends upon us seeing the dying canaries and taking action.  Our Texas founding fathers had the foresight to guarantee public education in our constitution.  They wrote, “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”   Do we defend this right, or do we forget the sacrifices of the Alamo?

January 11, 2018

A Tale of Two Amendments

By Glenn

How often have you heard people say, “We respect our teachers”?  When the Teacher of the Year from Vermillion Parish Louisiana spoke her mind, however, we saw with our own eyes how meaningless this statement has become.  On January 8th Deyshia Hargrave stood up to exercise her First Amendment rights during a School Board Meeting.  She was polite.  She was focused.  Moments later, Mrs. Hargrave found herself face down in handcuffs.

The First Amendment is the lynch pin of limited government.  Our Founding Fathers knew that it was the key to maintaining a free society.  Well known are protections for speech and religion, but often overlooked is the freedom of petition for redress of grievances.   Each individual has a right to complain to the government and demand a fix.

Hargrave’s complaint was not unusual.  Over the years she saw few pay raises but frequent increases in class sizes and work load.  During the School Board meeting she raised her hand and asked a simple question.  How could the School Board vote to give the Superintendent a raise, increasing his salary from approximately $110,000 to more than $140,000?

The School Board President dismissed her question, stating the floor was open for comments not a question.  Who in the room didn’t understand her “comment”?  How can public officials claim to value teachers when they only reward Superintendents? She was stating clearly that the School Board did not in fact value teachers.  She said, “It’s basically taking our money.”

As she stood waiting for a response from the Board, a law enforcement officer paid by the Board told her she had to leave.  She stood her ground and waited for an answer.  The officer then grabbed her and escorted her out of the meeting.  In the hall, she turned and asked what she done wrong.  The officer forced her to the ground and handcuffed her.

Now contrast that with the events in 2014 at the Clive Bundy Ranch in Nevada.   Mr. Bundy had repeatedly refused to pay his rent to the American people.  When Federal law enforcement officers arrived to evict him, Bundy’s supporters drew their weapons.  Cameras from around the world capture images of these criminals pointing guns at our men and women in uniform.  Federal agents backed off and the Bundys walked free.

Their supporter claimed to be exercising their Second Amendment Rights.  They made clear they had the right to shoot tyrannical local, state and federal officials.  At the time they were not taken into custody.  They were not throw face down nor were they handcuffed.  Even though they threatened the lives of the “Men in Blue” they walked free.

Here we have Two Amendments side by side.  In the first case a teacher politely demanded respect during a school board meeting and found herself in handcuffs.  In the second case armed vigilantes pointed weapons at sworn defenders of the law and walked free.  Something is radically wrong with a country that punishes speech but praising violent insurrection.

January 4, 2018

Merry Christmas

By Glenn

The commercial Christmas ended at Midnight December 25 as retailers switched to Easter candy.  Believers, however, have had the rest of the Twelve Days of Christmas to reflect.  Christians and non-Christians alike celebrate at the darkest time of the year to remember the light.  It’s no wonder then that light plays an integral part of the festivities.  We light up our homes, but we should also light up our hearts.

For Christians, Jesus knew service brings light into the world.  He entered the world as a servant, not a warrior.  Saint Paul tells us “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

Being a light in a world then requires following Christ’s example.  Instead of focusing on the cruel and judgmental parts of scripture, Jesus focused on the merciful and kind aspects.  When people were hungry, Jesus fed them.  When they were strangers, Jesus welcomed them.  When they were sick, Jesus healed them.  These actions and themes are the Gospel.  Kindness and mercy are the Good News.

Jesus faced opposition even from his closest followers.  According to the Gospel of Matthew, a multitude, drawn by his compassion, followed Jesus to a remote place.  His disciples complained that they could not feed the crowd.  Jesus ordered them to give their only food supply to the people.  I can just imagine how those disciples felt giving away their last fish and bread. Instead of going hungry, however, all ate well.

This behavior is quite a contrast with the story of the “rich man” who neglects Lazarus. Every day the rich man saw Lazarus outside, full of sores and without food.  Lazarus begged for mercy, but the rich man refused to hear the cry of the poor.  Did the rich man feel blessed?  Did he feel Lazarus deserved his poverty? We don’t know.  We do know Lazarus enjoyed God’s mercy, while the rich man suffered his judgment.

It’s all too clear that Christians ought to be a light for their neighbors, especially the least among us and the stranger.  We ought to be like the despised Samaritan.  In the Gospel of Luke Jesus contrast the Good Samaritan’s behavior with the temple priests.  The priests couldn’t even stop to help a brutally beaten man.  It was left to a Samaritan, a foreigner, to care for the injuries and pay for his health care.  The foreigner was the best neighbor.

This message was not popular.  Cruelty and bigotry had a more immediate sense of satisfaction.  The political and religious leaders of the day knew it.  According to the Gospels, they constantly tried to trick Jesus.  One day they brought an adulteress to him, knowing the law required a public stoning.  Jesus showed mercy and asked the “person without sin” to cast the first stone.  The crowd walked away.

Christmas is about bringing light into a dark world.  It’s not about shopping or saying “Merry Christmas.”  It’s about letting your light shine.  Let it shine for the hungry.  Let is shine for the sick.  Let it shine for the accused.  Our neighbors need mercy and kindness, all of them, not just the ones who look and think like us.  Merry Christmas.

December 21, 2017

Gifts for Christ or Herod?

By Glenn

Christmas time teaches a lot about our priorities. In my house growing up it was all about the kids. Our families would all gather at my grandmother’s house, later my dad’s, to celebrate. The highlight was the kid’s opening presents. Giving to the “least of these” was the reason for the season. It brought out the best in all of us.

This Christmas, President Trump and the conservative controlled Congress decided to give presents. The American people received a $1.5 trillion deficit increase while wealthiest among us received tax cut. Instead of joy, 9 million children and their families found a lump of coal under the tree as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) died.

CHIP serves uninsured children under age 19 and pregnant women. Until this year it was a bi-partisan program. CHIP had all the features conservatives demand: state run, state flexibility and participant co-pays. It also had some pretty liberal features. The cut off for eligibility was 200% of poverty or $ 48,600 (family of four), opening it to thousands of North Texas families.

In other words, the vast majority of CHIP eligible families have jobs, pay taxes and play by the rules. They simply do not earn enough to afford private insurance. Insurance means the difference between seeking medical care and suffering without.

Suffering is not a Christmas virtue. Suffering keeps kids out of schools and creates a whole host of problems. The ripple effects include more than academic and social losses. Mothers and fathers lose money or jobs when they stay at home to care for a sick child. Healthy children mean low income parents can work and take care of their own families. CHIP is money well spent.

The money doesn’t actually go to the families, however. The money is a job creator. Doctors, dentists, nurses and lab technicians earn a living off these federal and state tax dollars. When small towns lose this money, how many well-paying jobs will also leave? We’ve already seen rural hospitals close in states that refused to expand Medicaid.

Letting CHIP die also seems awfully strange for conservatives who claim to be “Pro-Life.” Texas already has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. Cutting CHIP will make it worse. Prenatal care is an essential part of a healthy life. Early childhood care is an essential feature of a healthy life. Every pregnant woman should have access to health care before and after her child is born. CHIP is Pro-Life.

Cutting funding for CHIP, Medicare, Social Security and public schools is the real “War on Christmas.” Christ came as a child. The Wise men brought gifts, not for Herod, but a babe lying in a manger. Are we a people who bring gifts to Herod or the children? What are your priorities this Christmas?

December 15, 2017

Roy Moore’s Conservative Values

By Glenn

Tuesday sure was exciting.  Doug Jones won a US Senate seat in the “Red State” of Alabama as a Democrat.  His opponent, Roy Moore, had the backing of President Donald Trump.  Moore also claimed to have the backing of God, but after his loss, I’m not so sure.  What could possibly have gone wrong?

Much of the media attention has been focused on accusations of Roy Moore’s taste for young girls.  While credible, these accusations were never proven in a court of law, and many Alabama voters refused to believe them.  Instead, Moore’s supporters pointed to his conservative values.

What were these values?

Roy Moore was no stranger to politics or the law.  Twice Alabama had removed him from the state’s Supreme Court.  Moore had refused to obey a Federal Court order.  It required him to remove a religious display on government property.  His violation of the First Amendment was strange because Moore favored the first ten amendments to the constitution, but he wanted to get rid of all the rest.  He blamed America’s current problems on those additional amendments.

Moore’s conservative values then included getting rid of the anti-slavery amendment, the voting rights amendment and the equal rights amendment.  I know conservative politicians often talk about rolling back federal regulations, but do we really want to allow the return of the “good old days”?  From my professional experience, I can tell you that they weren’t so good for blacks, women or the poor.   There wasn’t even a real middle class back then.

Moore didn’t hide these positions.  They were central to his political identity.  While trying to deflect pedophilia charges, Moore laid out his conservative version of history.  He said America started going downhill in 1965 when America created “new rights.”  In 1964 the Federal government passed the Civil Rights Act and then followed the next year with the Voting Rights Act.

These laws radically changed the county, opening up economic and political opportunities for women and other minorities.  Do conservatives really believe these laws hurt America?  Are we really worse off as a nation because women and minorities now have equal rights?

It shouldn’t surprise anyone then that the majority of Alabama voters refused to support him based on his conservative values.  Hopefully, we can all agree, liberal or conservative, that the Federal Government did the right thing by adding these amendments.  All men and women are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.   Returning to the “Original Intent” of the Constitution is not an option.  Liberty and justice is for all of us, nor a chosen few.

December 7, 2017

The Conservative Deficit Creation Strategy

By Glenn

The conservative deficit creation strategy is clearer every day.  Not long ago we heard conservatives scream that deficits were bad.  Now conservatives control the United States House of Representatives, the Senate and Presidency, and they are eagerly creating $1.5 trillion dollars in deficit spending.  Why would they do that?

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) explained his deficit strategy.  “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit… Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt…”

Ryan knows that he can’t blame Medicare and Medicaid for our debt.  Instead he says “entitlement.”  Wage earners pay for these two popular liberal programs with every paycheck, planning for their retirement.   By creating a deficit with tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, conservatives will turn right around and demand cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.  Will they be there for you?

We don’t have to look far to see this plan in action.  Conservatives just killed Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  This life saving program provided insurance for 9 million Americans.  Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) said the federal government doesn’t have the money anymore.   Hatch said that he liked it “[b]ut I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, who won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything.”

Remember, these are children from working families.  These families are doing more than lifting a finger.  They are living pay check to pay check and simply can’t avoid health insurance.   Hatch gave this excuse the very same week he voted to create $1.5 trillion in new deficits. The strategy is clear. Cut taxes. Create a deficit. Cut services to seniors and children.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) also admitted that tax cuts will not pay for themselves.  He said, “We need to generate economic growth which generates revenue, while reducing spending. That will mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future. ”   What are “structural changes” that reduce spending?  Are you ready for cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits?

You can also look at the deficit creation strategies in Oklahoma and Kansas.  Conservatives in both states slashed taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations.  They claimed the resulting job creation would bring in new taxes.  Public school teachers and nursing homes in both states are suffering because the reality didn’t match the theory.

We know from personal and historical experience that debt is a tool.  It provides leverage to lift heavy problems. Personally, we use debt to buy cars and houses. For liberals, governments use it in an emergency to lift the economy and pay debt off once the economy is growing on it’s own.  For conservatives, the heavy problem is cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits.  Do you support creating $ 1 and $1.5 trillion in new deficits as an excuse to cut your entitlements?

December 1, 2017

We the people must hold elites accountable.

By Glenn

Power demands sacrifices.  In aristocratic societies, the elite demand sacrifices from the many.  In democratic societies, the many demand sacrifices from the elite.  The whirlwind created by charges of sexual harassment and assault are a healthy sign that our democracy continues to grow and mature. We the people must hold elites accountable.

For too long male dominated society blamed female victims of sexual aggression.   In Deuteronomy Chapter 22 God commands the Israelites to stone a rape victim if she didn’t “cry out for help though she was in a city.” This ancient form of “slut shamming” lasted well into the modern era.  Too often we hear our neighbors blame the “short skirt” or say “she was asking for it.” Society blamed the victim instead of making the man take full responsibility for his crime or abuse.

Thankfully, Modern America is much more democrat than the past.  Over the past fifty years women have earned positions of power in government and business.  At first, submission to sexual abuse was seen as the price of admission, a form of hazing.  Some people have gone as far to say that women seeking power or the spotlight bring abuse upon themselves.   These attitudes must be thrown into the dustbin of history.

Like many issues, we know how to solve the problem.  Powerful people, however, want to make it complicated to protect themselves and their positions.   We can stop the mistreatment and abuse if we listen to the legal experts.  They have spent a life time developing guidelines and standards to evaluate and enforce workplace behavior.

In 1986 the US Supreme Court addressed the problem of a hostile workplace in the case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.  Since then, the legal standard for identifying sexual misconduct has had pretty straight forward criteria.  Sexual misconduct refers to unwanted words and actions that are severe or pervasive.

Consent, or lack of, is the first criterion.  Touching co-workers without their consent or “talking dirty” to them creates a hostile work environment.  People in powerful positions, however, have an additional burden.  They can create hostility by forcing consent. The most obvious form of misconduct is an exchange of sex for a promotion or a grade, but there is any number of lesser favors required such as always asking the women to get the coffee.

The second criterion is severe misconduct.  A severe incident such as rape or grabbing another person’s genitals only needs to happen once.  There are no second chances.  Physical and verbal assaults are not acceptable.

The third criterion addresses the grey areas and is called pervasive.  These behaviors are the little things that add up over a short period of time.  Jokes about body size or physical anatomy fall into this category.  If a co-worker asks you to stop saying these things, then stop.  No means no. None of these criteria take a rocket scientist to figure out.  They simply require education.

America is no longer an aristocratic society.  Men and women are equal before the law.  They are equal in the workplace. They will be together in the workplace, school, movie sets and the halls of Congress.  Each and every one of us has a right to a safe environment, free from abuse and harassment.  When someone demands sexual sacrifices as a price for inclusion, we must protect the victim, not the powerful.