Archive for March, 2011

Oh, Mexico

When James Taylor sang about our southern neighbor in 1975, Mexico sounded “so sweet with the sun sinking low / Moon’s so bright like to light up the night / Make everything all right.” Today, everything is not all right.

A recent University of San Diego Trans-Border Institute report confirms increasing violence. Organized crime-driven killings grew from 2,800 in 2007 to more than 15,000 last year. Nearly half of last year’s homicides were in the four Mexican states that border Texas.

The turmoil is driving many Mexicans of means to transfer wealth and family to San Antonio.

Mexicans account for many high end retail and real estate purchases in north and northwest San Antonio. How much of the activity is prompted by the violence is debatable, but it clearly falls between some and significant.

The boost to our local economy is bittersweet. Long-term, we would be better off with a stable, healthy and economically growing Mexico. We are naive to think the violence will automatically restrain itself at the border.

The desire for a strong southern neighbor moved Congress to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) almost two decades ago. Unfortunately, one provision of the treaty has yet to implemented: long-haul, cross-border trucking.

Currently, U.S. and Mexican cargo trucks cannot move quickly across the border or travel on each other’s highways. Union-driven safety concerns stalled the initiative for years before the Bush Administration instituted a program in 2007 to move the provision forward.

Mysteriously, President Obama nixed the program when he took office. As a result, Mexico instituted tariffs on a list of of American exports. Sales of those products in Mexico dropped 81%, forcing Mr. Obama to reconsider. Big Labor is still opposed.

Ed Sills with the Texas AFL-CIO: “We are against the NAFTA trucking provision. [It] will eventually eliminate solid middle-class jobs in trucking and ports.”

Such classic protectionism will only help keep Mexico in the third world. Doing what we said we’d do 17 years ago will help bring it out.

A serendipity: long-haul trucking will strengthen San Antonio’s industrial real estate market. Companies will be able to locate distribution centers here instead of along the border since Monterrey can be reached in a day if cargo doesn’t have to change trucks or wait in long lines.

Immigration reform – defined as a better, faster method of documenting Mexican citizens for manual service in the U.S. – will also strengthen Mexico and relieve pressure at the border. It will reduce human trafficking and payments to organized crime rings.

Reform would make it safer and simpler for workers to return more often to Mexico, a society that needs the positive influence of as many honest, hardworking people as possible. Presently, every trip back and forth is a life-threatening proposition.

Mexico provides a labor supply that our economy demands. We need a focused, limited system that meets the needs of all parties involved while taking advantage of none. Immigration reform, along with long-haul trucking, are two steps to make our neighbor safer and stronger.

Is it raining yet?

Like most of us, all of us have a savings account. You may call yours an emergency fund or a bond portfolio. The State of Texas calls its the Economic Stabilization Fund.

Founded in 1987 for surplus oil and gas taxes, Texas’ “Rainy Day Fund,” as it is commonly known, has nearly $10 billion in it. State lawmakers are currently deciding whether to spend it. They are determining whether the weather is rainy.

Predicting the weather is not unlike legislating. Both meteorologists and politicians are mistake-prone. Both inspire unintended consequences.

The weatherman says cloudy with a high of 50 and I wear a sweater. Soon, I’m sweating under 70 degree blue skies. Likewise, politicians make housing more accessible for people with credit blemishes and soon our economy melts down to the brink.

Texas’ economic weather lady, Comptroller Susan Combs, has given her prediction of how much revenue the state will collect in the next two years. Her estimate is $27 billion less than what “experts” say we need to continue existing state services at their current levels.

The $27 billion figure is on top of $4 billion needed to fill a gap in the current budget that ends August 31.

What’s a legislature to do? Raise taxes? Cut spending? Expand revenue sources (e.g., gambling)? Or dip into the state savings account?

A November 2010 wave sent 100 Republicans to the 150-member Texas House. Their mandate: Live within your means. But in March, the voices of those dependent on state funding easily drown out October’s austerity applause lines.

At this point, it doesn’t hurt to remember that we would be $6 billion less in the red now if we hadn’t spent Washington’s stimulus dollars two years ago. It also doesn’t hurt to remember that the state budget has grown by 65% in the last 10 years, from $114 billion to $188 billion.

It also may be helpful to recall that only within the last 60 years has the state provided any health services.

Public education services are mandated by the Texas Constitution, not health services. Yet, health and human services spending comprises ⅓ of Texas’ total budget or a full $30 billion a year.

A vicious cycle occurs by default: Economy grows. Revenues rise. Government spends. Economy falters. Revenues fall. Government taxes more to stay even. Government spends. Repeat.

Programs are easily added. They are hardly axed.

So, is it raining in Texas? If it is, it’s just a drizzle, not a hurricane, a massive terrorist attack, a statewide disease outbreak or 25% unemployment.

Let’s not just leave the Rainy Day Fund alone, let’s endow it and add to it. Any financial planner will tell you: capital gains are the secret to long lasting economic stability.

Temporary hardships don’t last forever. And we Texans of all people should know just how quickly the weather can change.

Safe, legal and never?

The sonogram bill hit the floor of the Texas House this week. House Bill (HB) 15 would require abortion seekers to receive an ultrasound, listen to the fetal heartbeat and hear a verbal description of both prior to aborting a pregnancy.

Under Texas’ existing informed consent law, abortion providers already must communicate abortion’s risks, the gestational age of the fetus, and that printed materials describing the unborn child are available from the Department of State Health Services. HB 15 goes a step further. It leverages technology to bring such information to life.

A common line among pro-choice Democrats is that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” Politicians named Clinton have used the phrase for years.

As for “safe,” we still have work to do, as demonstrated by the January raid of a Philadelphia abortion clinic run by Dr. Kermit Gosnell. The grand jury report called his operation a “house of horrors.” The report will make the staunchest stomach stir.

By wanting abortion “rare,” the Democrat mantra tacitly acknowledges that there is something innately ugly about ending life in a womb.

Rare, taken to its logical end, means never. The surgeon general who aims to make cigarette smoking rare sets a noble goal. The general who sets out to make smoking extinct sets a goal more lofty, not less.

If both sides of the abortion debate want abortion rare to never, how do we get there? A combination of pre-conception and post-conception measures is in order.

As for pre-pregnancy, birth control usually gets the nod from the left. But condom dispensers in locker rooms and morning after pills in vending machines seems so savage. An emphasis on personal responsibility and thoughtful choices has a more dignified, more uniquely human feel.

For post-pregnancy, education can help. Lifelike sonogram images and heartbeat pulses will inevitably lead to more live births. Better informing mothers that redemption opportunities exist for their children will, too. Every day, pregnancy care centers guide young women through the medical side of pregnancy to the practical side of adoption.

In a society where infertility frustrates many older couples, expanding the quality and quantity of adoption experiences is a win-win solution.

No one likes being in a surprising, lonely and oftentimes regretful situation. But easy way outs never provide the relief they advertise. HB 15 will steer some women away from a quick fix that will leave them with long-lasting brokenness. Seeing sonograms and hearing heartbeats will add gravity to situations that desperately need it.

HB 15 will achieve what both sides of the Roe v. Wade debate supposedly want. It will make abortion more rare.

Aside: My limited government side regrets the necessity of such a law. It surely has a “big brother” aspect to it. But the Supreme Court reneged on its obligation to protect the littlest brothers four decades ago. Therefore, we who value the miracle of the development of human life fight incrementally – with the power of the people – toward a culture of life.


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