May 20, 2016

My semi-personal connection to the Wyly Brothers

Now that they've been convicted (well, one of them, the other being dead) of tax evasion, let me explain.

A Midlothian, Texas-based antipollution group called Downwinders at Risk has long fought against TXI and other cement makers in that area, and against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, for cleaner air in southern exurban Dallas.

As a fundraising mechanism, at least years and years ago, they got a small cut of the money from each person they signed up to use renewable electric energy source Green Mountain. Green Mountain was founded by Sam Wyly, and owned by him, Charles, other relatives and third parties until he sold it, at least the Wyly share, to NRG Energy for $350 million in 2010. 

I more than once asked Katie Hubener of Downwinders if she didn't think they were dancing with the devil, and she said no, even knowing (whether beforehand or from my pointing it out) the Wyly background of stronglyconservative politics and donations

She said no.

And responded like she didn't even get the ethics issues involved.

Katie Hubener ... interesting, at least.

Now Sam may have believed in renewables as a tech-libertarian, or as an entrepreneur, or both. But, with Downwinders at Risk, he also clearly believed in greenwashing. And, given his political stances otherwise, he did NOT believe in the reality of global warming and climate change.


May 18, 2016

Why $12 an hour, or $15 an hour, isn't enough for workers

Whether or not you agree with me that a $15/hour minimum wage, whether in the "flyover" heartland or in small towns in even "rich" coastal states, might be too much, I hope we all agree the minimum wage needs to be increased.

But, that's just one small thing.

When the Democrats in Congress got a minimum wage increase back in 2007, I said it needed a COLA provision as part of it. No, it wouldn't be $12 an hour now, with that, but it might at least be around $9 an hour instead of $7.25. It's still needed, no matter what the next minimum wage hike is. It provides assurance to employees and stability to business owners and managers alike for this.

But, minimum wage increases, even with COLAs, are just a drop in the bucket.

Bernie Sanders has raised a bit of one or two other employee issues in his Democratic campaign, but he's taken a pass on most of these.

Let's look at what else is needed.

1. Paid time off for family emergencies. We're talking more than the five sick days — if that — that your employer gives you. We're talking about taking the 1992 Family and Medical Leave Act's unpaid time and making it paid.

The US is one of just three nations in the world that offers zero paid leave. The others? Oman and Papua New Guinea. Nice company, eh?

Now, the Bern has talked a bit about this.

The following issues? Not at all.

2. Guaranteed vacation. Now, we're in a slightly larger pool than just three, but still. The US is the ONLY nation in the G-20 group not to have guaranteed vacation time every year. Nearly one-quarter of private sector employees in the US get no paid vacation time. Even those of us who do start with two weeks, and have to stay with the same company to extend that; the average for US employees is behind 19 other countries.

And, in most the advanced world, just as true national health care makes health insurance portable, not only do you get more paid vacation days than in the US, you don't go back to square one when you change jobs.

Sanders hasn't really talked about this. Probably not on his radar screen.

But, that's still not the biggie. That would be ...

3. Guaranteed annual income. This starts us thinking more and more outside the capitalism box, though a few libertarians past and present have favored the idea, too. Bernie's probably too good a Democrat to bring up a really socialist idea like this, though.

But this trio, combined with Western lifestyle offerings in general, is probably why many Western Europeans, not just Scandinavians, are happier than in the US, despite weather that, especially in those Scandinavian areas, often is abysmal.

That said, part of this, per Pogo? The enemy is us.

The "get no paid vacation time" link reports, accurately, I'm sure, that US employees have been so hypnotized by hypercapitalism as to value money over time off, even when they've got enough money for at least a bit of income security.

Having taught adjunct college classes to UAW workers in Michigan, I can anecdotally attest to the truth of this.

I'm no rich Democratic "liberal" elitist looking down at workers; I'm a left-liberal, nowhere near rich myself, shaking my head at many Americans.

May 17, 2016

Dallas Morning News needs to read the Constitution on the #FirstAmendment

The Snooze's Trailblazers Blog has a puff piece, and I mean a huge puff piece, on a seminary program.

And, the First Amendment issue?

The program is behind state prison walls, with a captive audience of inmates.

Unless all Christian denominations, let alone other world religious traditions, have the same opportunity to run a similar program — AND a secular humanist group has a similar opportunity for a humanist equivalent — this is clearly a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The piece is worse from there. It talks about a program at the Angola State Pen in Louisiana as if it were all sweetness and light.

The truth is, as Atlantic notes, that it's not even close to that.

The Atlantic wrote in response to a New York Times puff piece, and a later AP puff piece. And, it found many problems. The two most relevant to this?

1. The warden made punishments, or lack of them, conditional to adherence to Christian principles.
2. Even though he proclaimed the Bible college "open to all religions," it taught Southern Baptist Christianity.

Related, this blog post has a story that was on the Ethics and Religious Liberty Convention site within the Southern Baptist Convention, but has now been scrubbed, apparently, that a judge in 2011 ruled such a program in a Midwestern prison unconstitutional. I found the story on the NYT ... written before its Angola puff piece.

Beyond that, the bible college itself was not found to be much of a contributor to any decline in violence at Angola.

It's bad enough for a religious section of the general public to ignore the First Amendment, but for a major media company? We'll see if the author, the editor of the Trailblazers blog Twitter feed or anybody else responds, both to that issue and the fact that Angola's program isn't really doing what they think it is.

Given the fact that prisoners are prisoners, plus factual details I mentioned above, the idea that they have true free choice in any of this is laughable. And that's true even if the Supreme Court has eventually ruled some of these constitutional.

After all, legal precedent doesn't mean everything. Besides, as Plessy and Dred Scott show, not to mention Buckley and the much later Citizens United, the Supremes get plenty of stuff wrong.

This leads to a sidebar of sorts, as it's about time to kick the Snooze again.

For my Texas blogging friends, I often compare Houston to Dallas, as some of them know, and do so to show how Houston usually comes up short.

But, despite the imperfections of the Houston Chronicle, this is one place where the coastal city is still ahead of Big D.

I think that's primarily due to luck and timing. It starts with local newspaper competition.

The Dallas Times Herald folded in 1991, fueled in part by losing an antitrust suit to the Snooze (shock me) and in part by being slow in shifting to morning publication.

Then, not too long thereafter, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's then owners made the decision to stop circulating west of Abilene. The Snooze rushed in to fill the vacancy, as nothing more than a local/locally-regional medium-small seven-day daily paper existed west of Fort Worth all the way out to El Paso. When I lived in Hobbs, N.M., in the late 1990s, I could get a three-star edition of the Snooze out there.

In Houston, the Post lasted four years longer. (Both it and the Times-Herald, late in their lives, were owned by the original "Chainsaw Al" of modern newspapers, Dean Singleton.)

The year 1995 puts us closer to the rise of the Internet, for one thing. For another, the San Antonio Express-News and the Austin American-Statesman didn't decide to stop circulating west of Junction, Texas, or something. (Weirdly, it seems like a longer gap between the two papers' closures, too. That said, other than eliminating newspaper competition in Houston, I don't think the demise of the Post was mourned nearly as much as that of the Times-Herald.)

However, in recent years, as in, within the last decade, the Snooze, which once had an edge, compared to size of the home market, vs. the Chron, has seen that evaporate.

The American public prefers #singlepayer to #Obamacare

It's probably due in part to the mix of massive, ongoing clusterfucks that are part and parcel of Obamacare, and the fact that many people with "bronze" Obamacare plans can't use them anyway because they can't afford the massive deductibles, but ... no matter.

Survey says ...

We want single payer!

And, it's not just me, a dirty old socialist, saying that.

It's We the People, per a Gallup poll.

And, even a substantial minority of Republicans feels that way, per the screen grab!

And yet, and yet ...

Hillary Clinton is still in the tank for the insurers that love her and her hubby, if anything, even more than Dear Leader.

So, you're not going to hear Word One about this from her from now through November.

May 16, 2016

Texas Progressives bloggers discuss schools and bathrooms

The Texas Progressive Alliance would like for everyone to be able to pee in peace as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff is encouraged by a surge in voter registration from people who can't wait to vote against Donald Trump.

Libby Shaw at a Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick roast at Daily Kos received a fair share of  push back when she suggested GOP primary voters defaulted to Trump because most get it that theyíve been conned by the GOP establishment. They lost because they serve billionaires. Voters finally figured it out.

SocraticGadfly looks at the Texas Supreme Court's school finance ruling and says Texas GOP voters have reaped what they have sown.

The difference between murder and manslaughter is "I didn't mean to", observes PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

Neil at All People Have Value sees a lot of value in everyday life. You should as well. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

Dos Centavos expresses outrage about the latest round of the Obama Administration's immigration raids. (They seem to be the domestic version of his endless war.)

Texas Sharon says that a new report finds fracking distance setback requirements in Texas are inadequate.

Egoberto Willies reports how Newt Gingrich is whoring to be Trump's Veep.

Texas Vox says that if you're worried about another West-type explosion, write the EPA, not state officials.


======================

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Grits for Breakfast wonders what an Austin cop has to do to get charged with official oppression.

Lone Star Ma highlights the 10th of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):  "Reduce inequality within and among countries."

Space City Weather salutes the Addicks and Barker reservoirs for their stalwart flood mitigation.

The Great God Pan Is Dead updates us on the Rokudenashiko case.

Phyllis Randolph Frye explains what the law really says about bathrooms.

John  Nova Lomax questions Houston ISD's school renamings.

BOR frets that the combination of Zika virus and anti-abortion laws could have a large and negative effect on public health in Texas.

Chris Hooks looks at the untrusTED Cruz.

Cody Pogue would like us all to get over our bathroom issues already.

Taking a wrong turn after Brown vs Board of Education

Silent Covenants: Brown V. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial ReformSilent Covenants: Brown V. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform by Derrick A. Bell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, very good, but a few definite "issues" at the same time, which I'll note at the end.

That said, I largely agree with Bell, and with other authors who have also raised some of the same points.

"Equal" is about more than just physical integration, to the degree that was ever possible. It's also about equality in financial and other resources, and within integrated classrooms, equality of student treatment by teachers. None of that comes easily, and much of it hasn't come much further than physical integration.

He (as do other authors) note that much of the problem lies with the Supreme Court's "Brown II" ruling, which imposed no timetables and led to Southern behavior dilatory at best, intransigent at worst. (It's interesting as a historical counterfactual to wonder what would have happened if Warren had junked the desire for unanimity in remedy on Brown II, and even dropped hints that 7 votes were fine and he'd accept 6. Frankfurter would have either become more truculent, or let himself be drug along into something more than "all deliberate speed," and other holdouts might have taken note.)

From here, Bell looks at alternatives, such as African-American specific charter schools and even homeschooling. He notes both their promises and perils while encouraging an open mind to all alternatives.

That said, I did have a few "issues" with the book, generally related to Bell's Critical Race Theory background.

1. In things like Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, he seems to almost always treat improvements in racial issues in American life, when offered by white Americans, as a zero-sum game, namely that they're always done for white self interest. Why can't something be seen as, say 85 percent white self interest but yet 15 percent true benevolence.

2. "Privilege" and related issues, which have spilled into today's "social justice warrior" world. It's a relatively useful generalization, and generalizations, as compared to stereotypes, are of real value. But, generalizations can be pushed too far, and even way too far, to the point of becoming stereotypes. Plus, when dealing with individuals as individuals, it's usually better to try to remove generalization lenses.

3. Bell at one point in the book, in discussing reparations (an issue that is "fraught" among many African-Americans as well as liberal whites) claims that American Indians have received reparations. Other than small reparations to small individual tribes that don't stick out on my radar screen, this is definitely news to me — and, I venture, to millions of American Indians.


View all my reviews

(I'm in the process of reading another book, also critical of the Brown II decision and beyond, but from a somewhat different viewpoint.)