Friday, May 31, 2013

The Rise of the Unelected Bureaucrat

My "All In Perspective" Column for the Georgetown Advocate, Hill Country News, and Jarrell Star-Ledger.  Since my editor's deadlines, it has become even more apparent that no-one will be held accountable for the IRS scandals.  One aspect I did not include in the original column is the part played by the NTEU- the National Treasury Employees' Union.  Most Americans are unaware that the IRS is largely controlled by the NTEU, and that the union's leaders have a cozy relationship with President Barack Obama.  Once again, the 'unholy alliance' between public sector unions and government is thwarting the democratic process.  (Read more.)

Original Column:

In his classic work Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens mocked the inefficiencies of government with references to the “Office of Circumlocution.”  This fictional government office had “its finger in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart.”  Those seeking justice for matters large and small were utterly at the mercy of bureaucrats who insisted on endless paper submissions and re-submissions, and who created a “sea of obfuscation that could not be navigated.”  Neither the elected Members of Parliament, nor even the Prime Minister could overcome the power of the Office of Circumlocution.

It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to compare today’s IRS with the Office of Circumlocution.  Most Americans took a dim view of IRS machinations prior to the recent scandals and now only the most partisan of partisan hacks express any confidence in the office.  In the past few weeks the public has been inundated with stories of delayed applications, lengthy and inappropriate questionnaires, and targeted tax audits.  Certainly members of the various Tea Party groups, pro-life organizations, and any group critical of the Obama administration would readily agree with the Dickensian comparison.

While the U.S. Constitution provided for a limited government that protected individual freedoms, the truth is that unelected bureaucrats wield an inordinate level of power over American lives.  Yes, we elect the members of Congress, city councils, and school boards to theoretically create policy.  However, those policies are heavily influenced and completely implemented by appointees and employees.  As in the case of the Affordable Care Act, countless unelected government employees crafted the 2,700-page bill, and many congressmen and women voted for the measure without even reading it.  Likewise, appointees and employees in the Department of Health and Human Services have already released 700 pages of new regulations related to ACA.

Although the recent IRS and Department of Justice scandals have at least temporarily restrained some bureaucratic power, it appears that once again the buck stops nowhere.  The President and his top men and women plead ignorance and merely feign benign disgust over the ‘incompetence’ of low-level employees.  A few of those employees have been reassigned, and one department head has resigned a few weeks ahead of schedule.  Once the dust settles, in all likelihood the IRS will be back to business as usual.
Of course, the power of the bureaucrat is not limited to the federal government, but extends to local actors as well.  In the recent investigations of CSCOPE, it has been difficult to determine which elected body has jurisdiction over the curriculum, and the bureaucrats at Texas Education Service Centers seem to have been using the program to implement the Obama Common Core standards that were firmly rejected by Texas.  In some cases local officials have completely abandoned any pretense of answering to elected representatives, like the Round Rock ISD Superintendent who told the Board of Trustees he had the right to determine what information they could have about the district.
An unfortunate number of Americans have unwarranted faith in government to cure all of society’s ills.  As Jonah Goldberg recently stated, people tend to believe in the ‘omnicompetency’ of government officials, and choose to ignore the real nature of mere mortals.  Government bureaucrats at their best will err, but in some cases will be utterly corrupt.  Now the same IRS officials who have allegedly harassed and intimidated American citizens will be in charge of implementing Obamacare and will wield even greater power over our daily lives.  Our big government solutions will always be hampered by inefficiency, incompetence, and at times outright corruption.  It is only by limiting the power of government that we can escape the tyranny of the unelected bureaucrat. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Governor Perry Vetoes So-Called Disclosure Bill That Exempted Unions

Yesterday Governor Rick Perry vetoed Senate Bill 346, the 'disclosure' bill that exempted unions

The Governor's statement:
Freedom of association and freedom of speech are two of our most important rights enshrined in the Constitution. My fear is that SB 346 would have a chilling effect on both of those rights in our democratic political process. While regulation is necessary in the administration of Texas political finance laws, no regulation is tolerable that puts anyone's participation at risk or that can be used by any government, organization or individual to intimidate those who choose to participate in our process through financial means.
At a time when our federal government is assaulting the rights of Americans by using the tools of government to squelch dissent it is unconscionable to expose more Texans to the risk of such harassment, regardless of political, organizational or party affiliation. I therefore veto SB 346.

Nicely done, Governor, nicely done.  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ask Governor Perry to Veto SB 346

Call Governor Perry's office at (512) 463-2000 to ask for a veto of Senate Bill 346.

In case you are only now tuning in, Senate Bill 346 subjects private non-profit organizations engaging in issue advocacy etc., to new reporting requirements.  Although the IRS is in hot water for illegally releasing the names of donors to such groups, SB 346 would make such disclosures legal and requisite.  To make matters worse, SB 346 specifically exempts unions from the new rules and restrictions.  The bill is so problematic that national voices such as Red State's Erick Erickson and even the Wall Street Journal have piped in to urge a Perry veto. 

In reaction to the strong push to veto SB 346, Representative Charlie Geren has added a revised version of the SB 346 language to the Ethics Commission Sunset bill, SB219.  While Geren's new language removes the explicit union exemption, he indicates that the real goal all along was to hamper conservative input into any future speaker's race.  Furthermore, as political law attorney Jerad Najvar notes on Lex Politico, the SB 219 language seems to include some rather unreasonable compliance requirements.

SB 219 now also includes a requirement that any “electioneering communications” by a nonprofit “disclose in the communication the source of the funds used to pay for the communication.”  See amendment 19 (Johnson).  This is unconstitutionally vague, and is also cumbersome without some serious narrowing and explanation by the Ethics Commission.  Is a nonprofit supposed to list the names of all its contributors “in the communication”? That’s not feasible and it would destroy the ability to send an advertisement at all in certain media.
(Read the full Lex Politico analysis here.)  

Governor Perry must decide by tomorrow whether to veto or sign SB 346.  If he does so, the SB 219 language could be revised or removed.  Call (512) 463-2000.

Update:  Here's a list of those who registered against SB 346 in the House State Affairs Committee.  It includes names from Texas Right to Life, Women's Wellness Coalition of Texas, and Texas Values.  These are the folks who will be hampered by this bill.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Texas Legislature Confirms Democratic Process: School Superintendents DO Answer to Elected Trustees

In a unanimous vote yesterday, the Texas Senate approved House Bill 628Relating to the right of a member of the board of trustees of a school district to obtain information, documents, and records.  The bill had already passed the House, and is now headed to the Governor's desk.  A bi-partisan group of legislators including Williamson County's own Tony Dale crafted the measure in response to the rising number of Texas school superintendents refusing to cooperate with elected trustees.  The most extreme example of superintendent mischief stems from the El Paso ISD, where Lorenzo Garcia hid fraudulent activity from the school board for quite some time (Garcia has been convicted and incarcerated, and the EPISD Board has been removed for failing to complete their oversight duties.)

Locally, Round Rock ISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez stunned the community last November when he insisted he had the right to determine what information elected trustees could have about the district.  Chavez has repeatedly refused to release information to trustees regarding his declining district; a factor which likely contributed to the RRISD Board approval of a $25 million dollar campus for a program that serves an average of 42 students a day.  Chavez has also been reluctant to release information regarding no-bid construction contracts awarded by the district. 

Unfortunately, Chavez and many of his cohorts around the state have operated more like petty dictators than public servants, but now the Legislature has spoken clearly- these superintendents must answer to the elected board.

Interestingly enough, one Round Rock trustee lobbied very, very hard to prevent passage of this bill:  Diane Cox.  Apparently Cox spent a great deal of time and energy desperately trying to convince legislators to oppose HB 628.  Cox has an unusually close relationship with the RRISD superintendent, and even vacations with Chavez and his wife.  Cox and several other trustees are known to attend "board appreciation dinners" hosted by Chavez in his private home.  Of course these dinners are 'off the record' and there is no way to know if there are further violations of the open meetings laws.    Observers are hoping that Paul Tisch, who was appointed to replace beleaguered Trustee Glenn Colby, will have a more objective view of board-superintendent relations.  

Congratulations to Tony Dale on passage of this important bill. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

WSJ, Conservatives Urge Veto of Ill-Conceived Disclosure Bill: Updated: Vetoed!

Update:  On Saturday, May 25, Governor Perry vetoed SB 346.  His statement is here.

While I have focused on the outrageous union exemption in SB 346, it seems other more-learned folks are suggesting the proposed Texas “disclosure” has even more troubling implications.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, editors noted that SB 346 reporting requirements for social welfare and non-profit groups are very similar to several federal proposals that have been vehemently opposed by Republicans in Congress.  WSJ further indicates that SB 346 might be more about incumbent protection than transparency, and goes so far as to label Representative Charlie Geren’s comments as straight from “the Lee Kuan Yew school of free political speech.”  Ouch.  WSJ is urging Governor Perry to veto SB346.

Eric Erickson at Red State is also supporting a Perry veto.  Yesterday he summoned up the force to cry out, “Help me, Obi Wan Perry.”  Erickson expresses shock that some Texas Republicans would jump on a misguided effort to ‘get’ Michael Quinn Sullivan at the same time that the country is reeling over the recent IRS scandals.  With the party in power working to intimidate and stifle voices of opposition at the national level, it is hard to imagine Texans codifying such techniques.
Neither article mentions the union exemption, but it is hardly necessary at this point.  It’s no secret that threatened incumbent ‘Republicans’ like Ken Seliger and Charlie Geren are so determined to silence Michael Quinn Sullivan that they are willing to strike a Faustian bargain with Democrats by exempting unions from the bill.
Governor Perry should veto this bill; he has until Saturday to do so.

Update:  It seems that Representative Charlie Geren successfully added the SB 346 language as amendments to SB 219, the "Ethics" reform bill.  Even the Texas Public Policy Foundation is calling for Governor Perry to veto both bills.

From TPPF:
  • America has a long tradition of anonymous political speech with the Federalist Papers being among the most prominent.
  • Without anonymity of donors, and anonymity of members, Americans banding together for a cause are susceptible to harassment, intimidation, or worse.
  • What is billed as transparency in SB 346 and SB 219 is instead an effort to silence Texans who dare speak up to their elected officials.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has frequently observed – most notably in NAACP v. Alabama – that forcing organizations to identify their donors and members violates their constitutional rights.
  • We are seeing the effects of similar IRS policy coming out of Washington D.C., so we cannot allow the Texas government to tread the same path.
  • Once the precedent is established that a 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) must disclose its members and supporters, it will only be a matter of time before other groups who displease the government are compelled to do the same. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Truth & Lies About the Birds and the Bees

Pardon the interruption to "Scandalpalooza 2013" and a highly contentious state legislative session, but this is an issue that every parent in America needs to understand.  In light of the push to revamp sexual education in the state, I began to conduct some research and was utterly horrified by what I learned.  I summed up some of my findings in a column for local news media last week (re-published below,) but 650 words is not nearly enough to explain this issue.  I hope to write more about this in the coming months. 

Original column:

Are you ready for the sexual rights of the child?   According to a recent United Nations “Right to Education” report, children must be taught about their right to “pleasurable sexual experiences,” from the outset of their schooling.  Under the guise of promoting health, UN activists at UNICEF and the World Health Organization are working to provide a “comprehensive sexual education” (CSE) to the children of the world.  The problem is that while this education is certainly expansive, it is dangerously far from comprehensive.

According to these “CSE” advocates, we must provide children with ample information so that they can engage in ‘safer sex.’  CSE programs include information on every imaginable way humans could engage in sexual activity, and students are referred to websites that provide images and detailed descriptions.  Through such efforts children learn about every possible thing they could do to themselves or others sexually.  This, according to CSE advocates, is a healthy human right for children.

Of course all of the exposure to sexual deviancy is presented to the public as an effort to provide safe sex.  Supporters claim that CSE programs are based on science, implying that abstinence lessons are non-scientific.  However, according to pediatrician and psychiatrist Dr. Miriam Grossman, CSE materials are based on outdated information from the 1970’s, and ignore the latest research on human sexuality.
Dr. Grossman points out that while CSE advocates are teaching children that they can have ‘safe sex’ by using condoms, sound science shows that condoms do not prevent transmission of a whole slew of diseases, some of which are deadly.  Shockingly, the previously mentioned UN Report decries the “erroneous association between sexuality and disease,” since the goal is to “abolish guilt feelings about eroticism.”  While teaching kids that ‘alternate’ sexual activity won’t result in pregnancy, CSE programs fail to emphasize that serious diseases are still transmitted through such behavior.  (And that some 'non-traditional' activities are far, far more dangerous.)
In addition to dismissing the seriousness of sexually transmitted diseases, CSE programs completely ignore decades of advance in our understanding of neurobiology.  Contrary to the 1970’s meme that men and women are essentially the same except for a few body parts, neuroscience has demonstrated that male and female brains differentiate eight weeks after conception.  The hormones released by seemingly benign actions like hugging trigger notable changes in the human brain and turn off certain decision-making faculties.  More intense activities cause girls in particular to bond to a sexual partner- even one who is abusive and exploitative.  Furthermore, both neuroscience and psychiatry have demonstrated that early sexual activity has long-term emotional and psychological impact.

But these aspects of human sexuality are not mentioned in so-called “comprehensive” sex education lessons.  Instead, much of the new-old approach to sex education is based on the discredited Kinsey Report of 1948.  Although entomologist Alfred Kinsey was a horrific sexual deviant whose published ‘research’ was largely based on studies of prison inmates, organizations like Planned Parenthood still celebrate his work and perpetuate his assertion that human life is primarily about sexual pleasure- from birth to death.  As Dr. Grossman asserts, in CSE, real science is ignored in favor of an agenda.

While Texas has largely embraced abstinence-based instruction, there is now a well-concerted effort underway to change sex education.  The Texas Freedom Network, founded by Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, is training volunteers in every school district in the state.  These volunteers seek appointment to School Health Advisory Councils and claim that local teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are due to ‘inadequate’ sexual education. The door is then opened for a new ‘comprehensive’ curriculum.
According to the UN “Right to Education” report, there is one significant obstacle to the sex education agenda: parents.  While leftists like MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry might believe children belong to the “Collective,” we still have strong parental rights in this country.  Parents need to be aware of the agenda and pseudo-science that is endangering children under the guise of sexual health.  Stay informed and know that, at least for now, you have the right to opt out.

Suggested reading:  You’re Teaching My Child What? and World Youth Alliance’s “New York City Sexuality Education Report,” both by Miriam Grossman, M.D. (

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Look For the Union Exemption: Update

I'm afraid I've been remiss again in posting my print columns.  "All In Perspective" is a bi-weekly column that runs in the Hill Country News, the Georgetown Advocate, and the Jarrell Star-Ledger.  To update this topic, the Texas House passed SB 346 this week without amendments.  Apparently, Representative Charlie Geren did not want to risk sending the bill back to the Senate, and so even though supporters of SB 346 have acknowledged the union exemption problem, they refused to amend.  Sadly, the answer I was given on why the union exemption was there in the first place was because "the Dems wouldn't vote for it without the exemption."

Well, duh. 

I support appropriate transparency measures, as long as they apply to everyone equally.

Please note that Williamson County Representatives Larry Gonzales and Tony Dale both voted yes on an amendment to remove the union exemption.  Unfortunately, the amendment failed, and the bill still gives unions a free pass.

SB 346 was sent to the Governor yesterday, but he has not yet signed it.  There are rumors of a veto, but we shall see. 

Original Column: 

Contrary to popular belief, labor union power is on the rise in Texas.  Few Texans realize that our "right to work" status merely prohibits compulsory union membership.  Not only do we have a wide variety of private and public sector unions in Texas, union membership in the state increased by 65,000 members last year.  It is no secret that the Democrat strategy to 'turn Texas Blue' is heavily reliant on burgeoning union power. 

Now it seems that the Texas Legislature is poised to pass legislation that would exempt labor unions from new political disclosure rules.  Recently the Senate approved a bill expanding the definition of a 'political committee' and requiring more activists to report contributions used for political purposes.  (Senate Bill 346)  The vagueness of the proposed law is leaving many political ethics lawyers scratching their heads about who will be covered.  But one thing is certain; the proposed law specifically exempts labor unions. 

If this political disclosure law is passed as written, Texas will be joining a slew of ‘blue’ states that exempt labor unions from rules that apply to Joe Citizen. 
Last year the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a study entitled “Sabotage, Stalking & Stealth Exemptions:  Special State Laws for Labor Unions.”  The report describes little noticed state laws that exclude unions from prosecution for “conduct that would otherwise be considered criminal activity.” While many of the union exemptions apply to what we might consider ‘white collar crime,’ others involve more serious and physically violent behavior.

For example, while every state in the nation prohibits stalking, Pennsylvania’s prohibitions specifically exclude those involved in a labor dispute.  Other strong labor states (California, Nevada, Illinois, etc.,) also exempt unions from stalking measures. These union exemptions are unfortunate considering the history of violent tactics often employed by union activists.  The U.S. Chamber report includes the story of a non-union shop owner who had rocks thrown through his store windows, his tires slashed, and was shot in the arm, but Ohio labor unions defended these “monitoring” tactics as perfectly legal.

Likewise, California’s trespassing laws, designed to protect individuals and property, exclude “labor union activities.”  Such laws have permitted union members not only to picket, but to actively harass and intimidate customers of non-union businesses, business owners, and their respective families.  California also permits union activists to “willfully (block) the free movement of another person” in a public transit system facility or vehicle. 
Other state laws around the nation exclude unions from prosecution for sabotage and threats of bodily injury, but many of the non-violent exclusions are equally as troubling.  For example, in some states labor activists have been permitted to unionize anyone who accepts state funds for child care.  In Michigan, parents who accepted Medicaid to care for their own disabled child in their own home have been forcibly enrolled in and forced to pay dues to the SEIU. 
Texas already has a few laws that give advantage to organized labor, such as those governing formation of public sector unions.  The proposed political disclosure bill requires transparency for everyone except those who funnel campaign funds through organized labor.  And contrary to what supporters of the exemption have claimed, labor unions are not required to disclose contributions from non-members, even for political activity.
With its union exemption measure, the proposed disclosure law as written should be unacceptable to Texans who would like to keep this a “right to work” state.  Giving unions even the slightest advantage increases their political power and does not bode well for the future of the Lone Star State. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Texas House Passes Fiscally Conservative Spending Limit

During the Texas House deliberations today, legislators approved an amendment to HB 7 that limits state spending growth to population growth plus inflation.  This is a very positive development that will prevent state government from gobbling up too much of the economy.  I'm happy to report that all three of Williamson County's elected representatives voted for HB 7 as amended.  (Larry Gonzales, Tony Dale, and Marsha Farney.)  Kudos to these Reps for taking a stand for fiscal restraint. 

Too bad we can't do something about the federal government, or even some local governments

Press release from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
“Reining in the overgrowth of Texas state government has been one of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s top legislative priorities for many years. Between 1990 and 2012, total state spending increased at 2.5 times the rate of population growth plus inflation. When government spending increases faster than population growth plus inflation, that means the cost of government per person goes up, the footprint of government gets bigger, and the ability of families and businesses to meet their own needs while covering the cost of government comes under greater strain.

“Over the last few years, Texas voters have sent a clear message that the footprint of state government is as big as we want to see it get, and that we wanted our elected leaders to be more rigorous and thoughtful about setting spending priorities going forward. TPPF appreciates the efforts of State Representatives Phil King, John Otto, Drew Darby, and the 103 legislators in total who yesterday approved an amendment to HB 7 that adds a population growth plus inflation measurement to the state spending limit.

“Now it is the Senate’s time to act.  Sen. Dan Patrick’s SB 101 and SJR 10 await a Senate floor debate, and we encourage all senators to support these vital measures.”
The Honorable Arlene Wohlgemuth is the executive director and director of the Center for Health Care Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. She served 10 years in the Texas House of Representatives, specializing in health care issues.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin.