Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Grayson County Burning

Copyright May 1, 1990 (klw) The day Grayson County burned by Kathy Williams On May 9, 1930, an angry mob became the law in Sherman The corner of Mulberry and Branch streets is still ugly -- a profusion of railroad tracks, ramshackle buildings and ragweed. Sixty-five years ago the intersection was the scene of Sherman's most horrifying and shameful episode. There the body of George Hughes was sexually mutilated, hung on a tree and burned in a bonfire. Two days earlier Hughes, a 41-year-old black man, had confessed to raping a white woman. The tragedy of May 9, 1930 extended far beyond the initial crimes. The enraged mob destroyed the thriving three-block black business district. The fuel to fire Hughes' funeral pyre was gathered from the ruins. Sherman's black community has never regained the wherewithal to rebuild. Except for restaurants and clubs, beauty shops and janitorial services, there are few black-owned businesses in Sherman today. Lawyer Charles Chatman is Sherman's only black professional in private practice. Dr. Wayne Bell, who works for Wilson N. Jones Hospital, is the only black physician. The Sherman Daily Democrat's 1930 account said, "Short work was made of the furnishings of the drug store and the kindling wood into which they were reduced was used for starting and keeping aglow the fire which mutely but forcefully evidenced the penalty the inexorable law of racial separation exacts on its violators." White residents also sustained heavy losses. Rioters burned and dynamited the Grayson County Court House. County officials and workers risked their lives to stave off the crowd. Gov. Dan Moody declared martial law. The Texas Rangers and the National Guard moved in to protect the city from looters and further mob violence. Even the London Times reported the horror in Sherman. The incident itself was not unusual. In May of 1930, three black men in North Texas and southern Oklahoma, charged with similar crimes, were killed by raving mobs. In each case, riotous whites whipped themselves into frenzies of destruction. They all inflicted post-mortem mayhem on their victims. What was different about the Sherman events was the quality of life the city's black community had built for itself. In 1930, most black businesses here were located in the two-story, brick Andrews Building in the 200 block of East Mulberry. The building was owned by a successful black farmer from Bells. A.J. Lawrence owned a grocery store. E.M. Barrier was a shoemaker. N.S. Everett & Brother was a transfer company. The Andrews Theater was next door to Walker & Tellie and J.A. Sims, tailors. Mrs. Hollie Robinson's Restaurant was down the way. Fraternal Funeral Home was in the Andrews Building as was a dance hall. J.D. Goodson had a drugstore downstairs from brother Samuel Goodson's doctor's office. Blanche Crowe put her dressmaker's shop next to R.L. Crowe's tailor shop. J.P. Hampton had his shoemaker shop in the same building as did J.E. Richardson. The Williams Hotel stood just across the street. Sherman's black community had its own Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias and Masonic Lodge. Many black professionals made their ways to Sherman. Dr. R.L. Stinnet and another black dentist practiced here. A funeral home competed with Fraternal. Blacks practiced law and engineering in the town, There was also another black physician. Alexander Bate, a retired science teacher and coach, was 22 years old the night George Hughes body was dragged through East Sherman and burned. Bate and his wife Peaches live only three doors down from his family home on Montgomery Street. In 1930, he witnessed the tragedy from his roof top. The following is his account: "Oh yes, I saw it. They set that (Andrews Building) on fire. I got up on top of my house with a bucket of water. There were big old sparks raining down from the fire. Just about everybody in the 600 block of Montgomery left. They were just scared to death. "Now my mother had her leg amputated and she didn't have her wooden leg yet. We didn't have any transportation. My dad said, 'Son, we'll have to stay here.' He gave me the shotgun and I had only five shells for it. But he had a .32-20 pistol and a whole box of shells. "He walked from our house down to the Masonic Lodge and some old guys came out with 20 gallons of gas and were going to burn down Masonic Lodge. He drew down with that .32-20 and they got out of there so fast, I believe they broke just about every spring in that old car of theirs trying to get away from my papa. "Late that night, they were working on the Court House with dynamite, trying to get him (George Hughes) out of there. They drug him right down this street (Brockett.) It was the most disgusting thing I have ever seen. "There were two pregnant ladies, so big you'd have thought they were about to have those babies right then. They were right behind where they were dragging him. They were hopping up and down and squealing and laughing. The whole street was full of people. They all went down to the Union Station. "A lot of people kept hogs in town in those days and the black people went and hid in the hog pens for safety. The people were afraid. They went to stay with families in other towns and with the white people they worked for. I worked for the Marks brothers and they told me I could bring papa and mama out there to stay with them, but by then things were getting better so we stayed. "Then the governor, who was one of the most popular governors ever, sent in the troops and said don't shed no blood. They came and the rain came and everything cooled down." The crowd required a considerable amount of cooling down. Its temper had simmered for five days, fueled by newspaper accounts of the crimes. The event of Hughes' trial attracted a crowd of 5,000 people from all over North Texas and southern Oklahoma. Eventually Moody dispatched two Texas National Guard units and at least three Texas Rangers. Most people in the area learned of the crimes when they read their Sunday papers May 4, 1930. A banner headline said, "NEGRO HELD FOR ASSAULT NEAR LUELLA, White Woman Victim Alone in Farm Home, Bart Shipp Fired on Twice in Taking Negro." The story detailed the incident, including Hughes' apprehension. The newspaper erred in saying Hughes was under guard in the Grayson County Jail. That error drew the crowd that posted an increasingly rowdy vigil on the Court House lawn for five days. George Hughes was from Honey Grove in Fannin County. Before the assault, he had worked at several farms, including the place near Luella. The Sherman Daily Democrat, May 5, 1930, reported from the victim's statement, "(Hughes) had come to the house about 10 o'clock (a.m.) inquiring for her husband. He said he wanted to collect a sum of money he claimed to be owed him by her husband. Told that he was in Sherman, (Hughes) left. He returned shortly afterward with a double-barreled shotgun, finding the woman in the kitchen of the home. "Ordering her hands in the air (Hughes) forced her into a bedroom where the alleged assault occurred. Part of her clothing was torn off before she was overcome. Following the assault and with a piece of telephone or electric light cord, her hands were bound about her head and tied to a post of the bed. One foot also was tied to the post of the bed and the woman left in that position." Hughes fled the house, the account said. He went to a nearby barn to search for the woman's little boy who had run from the house shortly before Hughes entered. Two men neighbors walking along the road were alerted by the boy's and the woman's screams, the statement said. Hughes saw them coming and ran into a terraced field near Choctaw Creek. Hughes fired a shot at them, but missed. The woman succeeded in untying herself and ran to a neighbor's house. Hughes fired twice at Deputy Bart Shipp's car as he and another man chased the suspect across a field. The shot missed both men, but broke the windshield and sprayed the front seat between them. The suspect was disarmed and handcuffed without further problems. The next day's headlines promised swift justice. The complaint was filed Monday May 6 in a special session of the 15th state District Court. Four witnesses testified. The county attorney read the victim's statement and another from the suspect. The two accounts coincided. Hughes was charged with three counts of assault and two counts of attempted murder. The crowd outside the Court House grew. A white man who asked to remain anonymous described the scene on Friday morning May 9, 1930. "I was working in a drug store across the street from the Court House. Two Texas Rangers brought in a Negro. He had chains on his hands and legs. Both Rangers had rifles. They took him into the street and motioned him into the Court House. "He was to be tried that morning in the Court House on the southwest corner. There were so many people outside. Young people, 14, 15, 16. They came from Whitesboro, Gunter, Oklahoma, Whitewright, Pottsboro." The newspaper account said the trial began at 10 a.m., but only the first witness was able to testify. The crowd outside was more than noisy -- it was angry, violent and armed. "They started using dynamite," the drug store clerk said. "They came in to get something to drink like a soda water. They had a stick of dynamite in their hand. People I'd never seen before. Everything was going off, shotguns, dynamite, everything. They wanted to get this (black) fellow and hang him, that's what they wanted to do. "They (prosecutors) wanted to bring this woman in -- she was in the hospital -- that he had raped so she could identify him. They shouldn't have done that because that made everybody mad." The Sherman Daily Democrat said the woman did testify. She went to the Court House by ambulance and left the same way -- overcome by tear gas detonated by Texas Rangers to push back the now savage crowd. "The Court House had those big, open windows," The clerk said. "People would come in with these 10-gallon cans of gas and throw them into the window and onto the floor." Judge R.M. Carter, realizing the building was ablaze, ordered a change of venue "to prevent bloodshed." The judge, court officers, sheriff, deputies and Rangers found the stairway blocked by fire. Firefighters extended a ladder to the second floor and they escaped. Although accounts vary, Hughes evidently was offered the choice of staying in a sealed steel vault or climbing down the ladder to the waiting mob. He decided to stay and was locked in the room with a bucket of water. "That was about 5 p.m.," the drug store clerk said. "The wall had fallen down and had cooled off enough. A man came up with a welding truck and carried a torch up the ladder and cut down through the lock. We walked up there and said "Hey I got him!'" Some reports from the time say Hughes was alive when he was pulled from the vault. Others say he suffocated from the intense heat of the fireproof room. The most credible accounts said Hughes died when shrapnel from the dynamited vault struck him in the head. Judge R.C. Vaughan, retired from the 15th state District Court, was 14 and in the ninth grade in Denison at the time of the events. "A friend of mine and I actually slipped off in my parents' car to come to Sherman," Vaughan said. "The Court House was pretty much burned then. We managed to get even with the east entrance on Travis Street. The steel vault's shell was apparently intact. "Someone climbed up and put goggles on and torched the vault. Then an explosion blew a hole in something. The man on the ladder got this defendant's body out and threw it down the ladder. I could see movement in a group of men to the north and west. I was aware that a car was going east on Houston Street. I can't say I saw the body, but people were following the car. We followed the mob on Mulberry. They strung his body on a tree and lit a bonfire. I think I could feel heat and hear flesh sizzle. Someone hollered 'Police' and we broke and ran." Many of the people in that crowd were young boys. What seemed to horrify people all over the world who read accounts was that women, some pregnant, some holding small children, stood at the scene and urged the men on to greater violence. Most accounts say that no local people were involved. Of the 39 men eventually arrested for the riot, arson and attempted murder, 18 were from Sherman. Fourteen were indicted but newspapers of the time have been robbed of information about where those indicted lived. The only editions on file at the Sherman Democrat were mutilated long ago. William Hill also lived in Sherman at the time of the tragedy. "I don't know why we never built it (the black business district) back up," Hill said. "I kind of think some of the people never felt like putting their money back into it. I guess that they were scared that the climate was so bad and they could lose it all again. Andrews was probably the most qualified to rebuild, but he was killed two years before. His family just never seemed interested." Hill said the gap in services was filled by white practitioners. "Many went to the white doctors and dentists," Hill said. “You could shop in grocery stores and clothing stores as long as you had money. There never was any discrimination in spending money." An accomplishment in Sherman years later helped heal many wounds. Because of cooperation among white and black leaders, the city became integrated with few angry and no violent scenes. "I worked with a group to get job opportunities for black people in Sherman," said Bate. "The first group came from Austin College. Dr. Kline, Dr. Frank Edwards and his wife Melva, Dean Nusbaum. They organized a group at AC with me and my wife and William Hill, with Rev. McGruder and his wife and P.W. Neblett and his wife." The group met for covered dish dinners and would rotate as hosts. Later the city, under mayors Josh Stephens' and Herman Baker's leadership would form similar groups. They met with law enforcement officials. They were invited to morning coffee klatches with the white businessmen in "whites only" restaurants. Sherman lawyer David Brown set the pace for desegregating hiring practices and lunch bars in Sherman businesses. When Brown discovered Bates' Fred Douglass football team couldn't use the Bearcat Stadium field house and locker room, he ended the practice with one phone call. "But Charlie Spears (late president of Grayson County State Bank) made the giant step," Bate said. "We had never been in a position before to get the experience and qualifications we needed. He took a janitor and sent him to Grayson County College and made him a teller. We had never had the opportunity before. Whenever a teacher was in need of $75 or $100, he never turned them down, he just trusted us." In 1984, Sherman formed a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. One of its goals now is to help the black community thrive. To move toward that goal, the organization awards scholarships to promising young students. It recognizes those who have made significant contributions. Bate, while talking of the 1930 tragedy, lamented the loss of the black business district. Sherman's black community, he said, was just never the same. However, he added, although blacks lost a lot at the hands of an angry white mob, many other whites extended their hands in genuine friendship.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Open Letter to Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz
Dec. 30, 2019
Dear Senators:

It’s time to stand up for America. It’s time to be a patriot. It’s time to do the job we elected you to do. It’s time to obey the oath you swore to the Constitution.

Only you and the other 98 members of the Senate can save this nation. It might well be the most perilous moment in our history. An amoral, and possibly insane, president has perverted our government. He has exhorted elements of our society to attend to their worst, most violent and self-interested instincts. Inept, and at times corrupt, elements of the media propelled him to power and continue false narratives to keep him there. Personal and corporate greed fueled his rise. They have installed all the elements needed for a totalitarian takeover of our democracy. Members of Congress including you, who value power of office and re-election above all else, have perverted our government. You have become a sycophant branch, parroting his every lie and minimizing his every traitorous act.

Some Senators, including you Sen. Cornyn, have said you don’t need to hear evidence from witnesses or see documents relevant to the articles of impeachment. We do. We deserve to know the full extent of what has been done in our name and with our treasure. Few Republican Senators have shown any indication they will obey the oath they must take to sit as jurors in the impeachment trial. Please do not perjure yourself. That betrays the Constitution and is a crime against the nation and our people.

There is time to save the United States of America. You have a chance to redeem yourself. New, incriminating facts come to light every day. Seize that as a reason to change your mind to allow a fair process in the president’s trial. Read Matthew 6:6 and do the right thing.

Your Constituent,

Kathy Williams

Friday, November 22, 2019

Leter to Rep. Michael McCaul on articles of impeachment 11.22.2019

Note: This is a letter to my Congressional representative sent 11.22.2019, and not a traditional blog post.

Dear Rep.Michael McCaul:
I have watched every minute of the U. S. House impeachment investigation hearings, some of it several times. I have taken notes and compared earlier testimony and later testimony, one witness in context with another. I have listened to opening and closing statements by Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Ranking Member Devin Nunes. I have listened carefully to each round of questioning. I considered all this information in the context of being equivalent to a grand jury investigation, not as a trial.
It is my fervent prayer that you have done the same. I believe that as ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and representative of a large and varied district in Texas, that was your duty. I see in your biography that you are a parent, and I assume you are as I am, a grandparent. Your duty to their future is at least as great as your duty to your current constituents. Your duty to both of those and to your oath to faithfully defend the Constitution is far, FAR greater than to any political party.
My conclusion, after such extensive due diligence, is that there is more than enough evidence to charge the president with at least three high crimes and misdemeanors: Bribery (in the Constitutional sense), abuse of power in attempting to corrupt our election process with foreign interference; and obstruction or contempt of Congress. There also may be more charges arising from the other committees and from Robert Mueller’s investigation that should be included in the Articles of Impeachment. As your constituent, I ask you to vote in favor of adopting these Articles of Impeachment and send them to the Senate for trial.
What played out before the nation over the last two weeks concerns me greatly. The nastiness and casual regard for the truth displayed, particularly by representatives Nunes and Jordan, and at times my former representative John Ratcliffe, horrified me. While issues of Joe and Hunter Biden and Burisma might be legitimate fodder for further investigation, they have absolutely NOTHING to do with the president’s guilt or innocence of the charges I have stated. And any such investigation should be performed by the U.S. justice system, not a foreign country. Please show the sophistication of thought I believe you as a lawyer are capable and separate these red herrings from the very real Constitutional issues currently before the U.S. House of Representatives.
Kathy Williams

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dear Democrats and other Thinking Americans

     Let's be crystal clear. Our collective future depends on an understanding of two concepts.
     First: Two factors threaten our survival as a democratic nation. One, a movement now flourishes that calls itself “Christian” and wishes to establish a sharia-like law, based on corrupt interpretation of the Christian Bible. Two, an oligarchy supports the mission of these freaks of the far right because they serve as an effective distraction to the oligarchs' real purpose: To complete their full control over our economy and political process. Second: The only action that can prevent the subjugation of democracy to religious crazies and corporate control are to elect either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.
     For all that you hold dear, please realize that the vital debate that must now happen to determine our presidential nominee must never devolve into ugliness, vitriol and name calling. This is just the distraction neo-Republicans need to hide the terrifying reality that all their candidates, even those whose smiles aren't creepy, are far to the right of 90-95 percent of us. Not one GOP candidate holds values common even among most Republicans. But if our political discourse becomes one, loud hate and fear filled shouting match, those really evil guys sound more mainstream. So tone it down. Employ the Golden Rule. Check out what you write before you post it.
     This takeover of all that we hold dear has been happening for decades. But the process is intensifying and nearing completion. This fact puts us simultaneously in the most danger ever to lose our country to the forces of fear, hatred and corruption and in position to grab our greatest opportunity to reclaim it as a powerful tool to achieve common good and a bright future for us all. 
     In the past week, two events starkly demonstrate what is at stake. A strip mall preacher defined some of what “Christian” sharia law might include. The Southern Poverty Law Center did not declare the Republican Party a hate group as some media outlets have. However, it cited in its annual report “Year in Hate and Extremism” racist rants and hate speech aimed at inflaming violent extremists from every remaining Republican presidential candidate. That second point is the more important, but let's start with the the preacher because it demonstrates the set up that blocks us from seeing the stark, immoral behavior of the neo-GOP.
     In Tempe, Arizona, Baptist preacher Steven L. Anderson declared from the pulpit, “What do you think they mean by women’s rights? You know what they mean? The right to divorce your husband is what they mean. ...The right to rebel and disobey your husband, the right to divorce him, the right to go out and get a job and make your own money, the right to tell him what to do, the right to go vote for our leaders as if women should have any say in how our country is run, when the Bible says that “I suffer not a woman to teach, not to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence”?
This same man has prayed for President Obama's assassination, for the death penalty for all gay people. He's pretty effective, it seems one of his congregation showed up at an Obama rally with an AR-15 and a handgun.
     And of course it's not this one guy. In the same month, similar, softer expressions came from a female panelist on “The View”; a guy in England scheduled a series of events in America aimed at legalizing rape. So when we hear this din, we tend to be less shocked, less inclined to act against news like Gov. Abbott vowing to continue investigating Planned Parenthood. We might miss deeper assaults on access to birth control and health care; the right to vote; renewed attacks on the environments; ability to earn a fair and living wage. That's why we need to stop shouting at each other, so we can hear the deadly plotting whispers uttered daily.
     That's also why the SPLC's condemnation of neo-GOP presidential contenders for their role in escalating violence becomes the most important news of the year. SPLC has, since 1971, studied, reported and fought against extremism and hatred. It worships no sacred cows and will call out any entity of any race or persuasion who threatens another with harm. They are brave, bold and largely unshockable. When SPLC says pay attention, that this is quantitatively and qualitatively different, we better pay attention.
     After remarking on a year of extraordinary violence from domestic extremists and a 14-percent increase in radical, right-wing hate groups, SPLC wrote, “The armed violence was accompanied by rabid and often racist denunciations of Muslims, LGBT activists and others — incendiary rhetoric led by a number of mainstream political figures and amplified by a lowing herd of their enablers in the right-wing media.”
     While the most odious culprit was, of course, Donald Trump, SPLC listed each current GOP candidate as either espousing violence and discrimination against ethnic, political or religious entities or promoting others within their own organizations who do so.
     We are faced then with the scariest threats to the safe and peaceful conduct of our lives since at least 1968. And it is into this turmoil that the oligarchs advance to vanquish our remaining ability as a democracy to protect ourselves from their greed and power. Since the 1980s, Congress and presidents have removed almost every protection for individuals, as well as small and mediums sized businesses from corporate overreach. Those, in some cases, have been replaced with new, but much less potent laws (for example, Glass-Steagall with Dodd-Frank). The Supreme Court has defined corporations as persons and money as speech, perverting the basic documents of our democracy. Reaganomics has trickled down to drown our middle and lower income families in debt and poverty. NAFTA and CAFTA and other trade agreements have sent our jobs overseas and strengthened grinding poverty in third world countries leaving our desperately poor neighbors to cross our borders for survival funds. You know the litany.
     The only solution, then, is to win this election. And to win it big. Up and down the ballot, as far as we can go. Every race from State Board of Education and district judges to the Texas Supreme Court, Railroad Commission and every single member of Congress we can eek out. Shock and awe at the ballot box.
     For either Bernie or Hillary to be effective once in office will require us to create the political revolution that Bernie has been talking about since the beginning. WE are the people who still believe we, and not mega-wealthy private interests or corrupt clerics, should control our government and personal destinies. The political revolution means we show up at the polls in amazing numbers. It means we start being involved now with demanding (firmly but politely) the Democratic National Committee stop taking lobbyists' money, as President Obama asked. The political revolution means committing to finding the money to replace that (and volunteering lots and lots of time to make up for any shortfall.) More than all of that, it means saying to our elected officials at all levels, “Have spine. Have the courage of your convictions. Live up to your promises. Listen to me because my voice is what matters. Use my money to make a difference in people's lives; in my life. Invest in the American future.” Political revolution means holding our elected officials responsible every day and supporting them every day.
     Only two candidates can fend off the oligarchs in the short run and the racists, misogynists, hate mongers at our door today. However, only Bernie Sanders offers a way to a long-term solution, a more perfect democracy, because Secretary Clinton is too much a part of the system that holds the oligarchy, the corporatist world in place. If she is nominated, vote for Hillary as a place saver for someone who can truly bring about a political revolution in the years to come. I will advocate ceaselessly for polite and intelligent political dialogue in the nomination process. And I will work like a dog, a yellow dog, to get every Democratic candidate elected in 2016. Please join me.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

An Open Letter to the U.S. Congress about gun-related deaths

I'd like to say this is not about blame. But it is. And the vast portion of that blame lies with the United States Congress, the remainder goes to our state legislatures and the president. Job One is to make us feel secure in our daily lives. Remember the Constitution? Way, way before the Second Amendment, four years before it in the Preamble to be exact, we set out our intentions in creating these United States to “insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” At minimum, these promises should mean we can send our loved ones off to school or work, the front porch or their bedrooms confident that they are safer than if we sent them off to war. Congress talks a lot about national security, but the worst threat to our national security is not at the hands of jihadists, but in the hands of our neighbors, friends and relatives.

As horrifying and tragic as it is, I'd like to say it's just about the nine innocents who were shot and killed Thursday or the 20 sweet souls that were lost in Sandy Hook elementary school. Or the 135 school shootings since Sandy Hook, less than three years ago. But it's not. It's about the day-in, day-out carnage by firearms in America: 88 a day; 33,200 in 2013 in the “greatest country on earth.” Drive-by shootings, police shootings; police being shot, domestic violence shootings, crime-related shootings, suicides, accidental shootings. More Americans have died from firearms-related deaths since 1968 (1,516,863) than in all of the wars we have fought since the Revolution (1,396,773).

Why is that? What can we do about it? How do we staunch the epidemic of bloodletting? Is there a member of Congress (or state legislatures, county commissioners courts or city councils) out there willing to say, “America can't fix this.” or “We can fix this, but we won't.”? If not, there simply are no excuses. Fix it. Work hard. Do not commit another official act until you can promise yourself and us that protecting domestic tranquility is more important than getting re-elected. Do not adjourn until you at least gain a consensus that you have the will to commit your best thought, your best cooperation, your most altruistic, ethical, moral leadership, every resource at your disposal to making America safe from gun deaths.
How have we approached other threats to the life and safety of Americans?

In 2014, just eight days after the first of two Ebola deaths in the United States, the U.S Congress convened hearings on how everyone – from private health organizations, the Centers for Disease Control and others in U.S. Government – handled the case and a handful of subsequent cases. They called in experts: Medical doctors and other scientists; disease vector specialists; infection control experts. They looked at protocols that worked well. They held the feet of government agencies to the fire about how they had gone about doing their jobs. They held private companies and individuals accountable for their actions.

Everyone got the message: You are expected to rise to the challenge in whatever piece of the puzzle is yours to figure out. Because of that we have new protocols and resources, not just for handling Ebola, but a huge array of known and even unknown infectious diseases. Dallas is soon to complete both an adult and a pediatric unit capable of treating Ebola or pandemic flu victims without exposing health care workers or other patients to disease.

Because we took intelligent action, all of our communities are safer today.

So the question is, why don't we apply the same information-driven, problem-solving, responsibility- accepting approach to dramatically reducing firearms related deaths in this country? It is a much harder and more complicated issue and we are far advanced into the epidemic. Is our country so paralyzed by partisanship it can no longer solve complex problems?

If we are to prevent more than 32,000 senseless deaths a year, we have to stop being greedy, posturing, simplistic or nonsensical. To solve a problem, we must honestly assess what we know as fact. More people are killed by civilian owned firearms in the U.S. every year than in any other country in the world. In 2013, guns killed twice as many people in the U.S. than terrorists killed worldwide. The U.S. gun murder rate is 20 times the average of the other 31 developed countries of the world. The United States has lax laws governing gun ownership, possession and purchase, and no laws assigning financial responsibility for consequences of gun violence or requiring gun owner insurance to cover such death and mayhem. Although the U.S. crime rate is not much higher than that of other developed countries, the lethality of that crime is much higher. The U.S. system of health care delivery and access, particularly mental health, care lags behind that of most other developed nations.

Figures from gun control advocates and the NRA agree that there are upwards of 310 million civilian owned guns in the U.S., with about 10 million added per year. Thus, getting rid of all guns – whether you're in favor of it or fear it – is no more possible than deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants. But there is so much we can do to control what happens with those weapons and the ammunition that feeds them.

Proposals with merit on the gun control side including requiring titles or licenses, user safety training, inspections with periodic renewals, a level of health (criminal and mental health background checks) and liability insurance for each gun. Similar measures of background checks and proof of liability could be applied to ammunition. We should ban sales of handguns, semi-automatic assault weapons, large-capacity magazines, the latter two of which were banned between 1994 and 2004. Other countries require some or all of these measures. Add to that criminal and civil sanctions for giving a gun to someone who can't pass muster on the controls and for parents of minors who allow their children unsupervised access to guns. Repeal the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, that created the gun show loophole in background checks and include all sales from any source, including online.

On the people side of the equation, we need community best practices in how to recognize and help those who show signs of psychological distress. We need states, counties and cities to invest in public mental health, mental health officers and mental health courts; community policing. We need to ensure information sharing among law enforcement on the local level and between federal, state and local agencies. Rather than schools teaching kids how to hide or teachers how to shoot, we can train older kids in peer counseling; how to safely get help for their troubled friends. We can improve options for those in danger of family violence. We can reach out to bullied, marginalized and lonely kids. We can invest in healthy families.

So Congress, get it together. Stop distracting with ridiculous stunts like shutting down the government, holding endless hearings on the deaths of four people in 2012 and votes to give Americans less health care. There are several private groups, like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, that are developing reliable information and strategies. Start listening to them as representative of the vast majority of Americans who want sensible gun control. Stop listening to those who have a financial interest in keeping gun and ammo sales high. You are responsible. Stop the bloodshed now.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

2012 elections, acting on political lessons

I am surprised when I hear pundits express surprise about A: The absence of top GOP names like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie in the 2012 primary race; and B: The acute rancor of Republican candidates' attacks on one another.

The answer to both seems pretty obvious to me. Republicans are more interested in keeping and extending their power in Congress and weakening President Obama's influence over policy than in gaining the presidency. They've learned from George H.W. Bush's daunting task of economic recovery post Reaganomics and Barack Obama's unprecedented challenges in cleaning up George W. Bush's legacy of near total economic disaster. The cleaning crew that comes in after a parade of elephants gets little credit for holding down the stink. It doesn't matter whether the uniforms are red or blue.

One key to control of Congressional politics, particularly in the House, is to energize as many mini-constituencies as possible. That's more easily accomplished in a mid-term election with no presidential coattails involved for good or ill. In 2010, when Republicans took control of the House, they did so with two million fewer votes than Obama garnered to win the presidency in 2008. To sustain that success, the GOP needs to ensure the Tea Party as well "moderates" go back to the polls in November. Unified allegiance to a presidential candidate is not as likely to accomplish that as is the rough and tumble Republican candidates are now experiencing. None of this means their big money guns won't be trained on Obama or that the GOP wouldn't take a presidential victory, just that faced with a choice, they'll take Congressional might.

Many Democrats secretly breathed a sigh of relief when they lost the presidential race in 1988. Someone was going to have to take the fall for the costs of rescuing the economy from the S&L crisis and other "supply side" economic craziness. That someone was "Read My Lips" George H.W. Bush, who was forced to suck up the blame and approve new taxes to counter recession in the early 1990's.

The Democrats' 1988 primary field ranged from Klansman David Duke to solidly liberal Paul Simon and perennial Democratic nut-case candidate Lyndon Larouche with Michael Dukakis as the eventual nominee. Ted Kennedy and Mario Cuomo, (Sr.), who both gained considerable political coinage after their national convention speeches in 1984, sat out the '88 presidential primary. Notably, so did the party's rising star, Bill Clinton. Thus Clinton avoided a loss to the elder Bush that likely would have significantly weakened the Democrat's chances of claiming victory in 1992. With the fallout of economic decline solidly tagged to a Republican administration, Clinton was able to work with both Democratic and a Republican Congresses to craft an economic recovery complete with tax breaks and eventually, a budget surplus.

Democrats had taken back the Senate in 1986. They already had a significant majority in the House. With such as diverse field of candidates at the top of the ballot, they held, and made small gains in both houses in 1988. And with that power over George H.W. Bush's policy objectives, the Democratic Party was poised to take the whole ball game in 1992.
Defending against a takeover of the Senate and continued GOP power in the House in 2012 will require Democrats to mount a deep, broad and costly campaign in every state. With some of the shine off Obama's message, deserved or not, stimulating the kind of grass-roots, social-media movement for the Democratic message will be much more difficult this time around. Although drawing a well-financed liberal third party opponent could spell disaster for the president, an in-party leftward leaning challenger would help Obama articulate his message. Such a development also would invigorate the national debate over how to proceed with fixing the many things that ail us. Otherwise, we're stuck with a Republican dialog that ranges from radical right to reactionary right vs US.

So, for the time being, the likes of Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are keeping their powder dry, watching the melee, making safe choices and stockpiling their political capital for 2016.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dear Legislature: Great care needed for budget

Dear Texas Legislature,

As Texas music icon Stevie Ray Vaughan laid it out, "It's raining down in Texas and all the telephone lines are down." Heck, it's storming; a hurricane's hit; blizzards and ice storms are raging through. The bridges are down; cities and school districts are sinking. We are at the bottom of so many important indexes of civilized society and global competition we have to reach up to touch Mississippi and maybe even Guatemala. We're $16 billion to $27 billion off the budget mark for 2012-2013.

Even the disparity between those two numbers indicates real emergency. The first number maintains spending at the current level and the second maintains services at the current level. Neither includes about $3.3 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year, which must be addressed first, according to Center for Public Policy Priorities' senior fiscal analyst Dick Lavine. He added that the $16 million figure represents spending in 2010 and maintaining that level is just irrelevant in 2012-2013.

It's time to open up the Rainy Day Fund and it's time to raise taxes and fees in addition to making tough decisions on spending. It's time to seek the balanced approach that many organizations, including faith-based groups like Impact Texas and the broad-based coalition Texas Forward are advocating.

It's the economic policy equivalent of lambs lying with lions when F. Scott McCown of CPPP, Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business and State Sen. Florence Shapiro agree we need to open up the Rainy Day Fund. Trying to meet the state's constitutional mandate to balance its budget with cuts alone -- as Gov. Rick Perry and both your houses have proposed -- likely would collapse the economy. It certainly will cripple human services and education. And let us be clear, it is neither melodramatic nor alarmist to state that such severe cuts would cause great suffering and possibly deaths among the sick, children and the elderly.

State government and public education employees make some of the better middle class salaries in the state. Balancing the budget by cuts alone, what the Legislative Budget Board has planned in both houses' preliminary budgets, means lopping off about 25 percent of spending. To cut that much could mean a loss of nearly 9,000 state workers' jobs and nearly 100,000 public education jobs.

When economic development corporations and other entities project the benefit from creating a job, they attach a "multiplier" to each salary dollar. The estimate takes into account taxes paid, meals bought, housing purchased, all the things a person with a job buys. Multipliers range from about 1.5 to 7.

Any economic evaluation includes the point of diminishing return: That point at which cost begins to exceed benefit. What is the point of diminishing return of cutting 109,000 well-paid jobs with great benefits?

Recently Politifact, a non-partisan, economic-policy agnostic, fact-checking arm of the St. Petersburg Times evaluated Gov. Perry's statement that Texas created more jobs last year than all the other 49 states together. They looked at Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's claim that we lost 300,000 more jobs than we created last year. Both claims rang solid green "true" on Politifact's Truthometer.

Texas also is number one among the states in creating minimum wage jobs and 31st in offering jobs requiring bachelor's degrees. So what are the chances that the jobs we created paid salaries better than the ones we lost?

So please, dear legislators, think twice or 10 times before letting go of all those jobs. If Sherman's economic development guidelines were applied, creators of those 109,000 jobs would qualify for about $436 million in local incentives. Of course, Texas' economic development law doesn't allow investment in many 21st century jobs. We're still betting on 20th century manufacturing jobs and "call centers" (strong lobby?) and that's something you could change. If you truly believe that the private sector can handle all the health, education and human services responsibilities of our communities, then let us local folks decide whether to use our sales tax dollars to entice those jobs.

Hammond, although stating a belief that this budget can be balanced without raising taxes and fees, urges you not to be "penny wise and pound foolish."

Texas economist Ray Perryman, the man on whose opinion most Texas cities relied in getting local voters to pass sales taxes, has even stronger words for the legislators of the 82nd Session. He warned you in the Waco Tribune Monday, "Don't eat your seed corn foolishly." He said his firm has studied both Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, mental health and substance abuse services several times.

"Findings from these analyses have consistently shown that adequate funding can yield savings that are multiples of the state's investment," Perryman wrote.

"For Medicaid and CHIP, we found that cuts to the programs were a very inefficient way to achieve fiscal balance. Such reductions lead to loss of federal funds, higher costs to those who purchase insurance, more uncompensated care for hospitals and clinics, and reduced business activity."

In the past two sessions, you've produced all the "blue smoke and mirrors" budget razzle dazzle possible. And in so doing, you've created what Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and others have called a structural deficit. You created most of the structural deficit when you swapped new business franchise tax dollars for property tax dollars in school funding to make good on your promise to lower property taxes by a third. The franchise tax brings in about $5 billion a year less than property taxes did.

You inappropriately appropriated $14.4 billion in federal stimulus money and about $8.2 billion more of stimulus money has come into the state coffers. Most of this you used to disguise the state's budget deficits in 2009, 2010 and 2011 rather than to stimulate the economy as intended.

Not one Texas Republican in Congress voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Yet Republicans skated on that far-smoother budget picture into total control of Texas governance. Texas is at your mercy. I'm begging you: Please raise my taxes, open up my Rainy Day Fund and cut services and jobs with great care.

KATHY WILLIAMS is co-city editor of the Herald Democrat. E-mail: kwilliams@heralddemocrat.com.