The Declaration Project

For the past year, I have had the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors for Democracy Cafe, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to facilitating “grassroots democracy” through conversations about current events, the U.S. Constitution, and philosophy.

The Declaration Project is in a Democracy Cafe initiative inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which states as a matter of moral principle:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

MyDeclaration gives everyone the opportunity to compose and post his or her own declaration, and for others to respond to it.

My declaration is entitled A Declaration of Liberty & Order. Here it is in its entirety:

The primary responsibility of a government is to provide for the common defense, maintain social order, promote liberty, provide for the equal treatment and protection under the law, and to ensure economic and social opportunity for its citizens. These rights extend to all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, or medical condition. Transparency and democratic accountability are the pillars that protect those fundamental rights, and every measure should be taken to strengthen those pillars.

The consolidation of decision-making power in the political and economic spheres will inevitably lead to tyranny by a ruling class that will become increasingly unaccountable. Institutions should be structured in such a way to disperse decision-making power to the extent feasible to maintain social order. The ultimate destiny of a culture will be dictated not by measures adopted by the government; but by evolving social norms that will ultimately influence the measures adopted by the government.

In matters of military and foreign affairs, decision-making power should be consolidated in such a manner to prevent cursory factionalism from usurping international order. This consolidated decision-making authority, however, must remain ultimately accountable to the citizens.

Advertisements

The Importance of Green Space

The following is a transcript of the remarks I prepared for this morning’s Constitution Cafe event about green space in American life at East Central High School:

I know that many of you- in your Social Studies classes- have learned about “Manifest 12524102_682124118597294_4396878881265881789_nDestiny.” At the founding of the American republic, our ancestors believed that it was America’s destiny to settle the entire continent- from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. At the time, our natural resources seemed inexhaustible.

But over 100 years later- after explorers settled the west and our economy underwent an Industrial Revolution- it was becoming more and more clear that a commitment to conservation would be necessary to protect not only our natural resources, but some of our national treasures.

By the time he took office at the beginning of the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt was a committed conservationist. He wanted to leave pristine American land for posterity. So during his presidency, he protected more than 200 million acres of public land and dedicated or expanded six national parks.

In 1916- one hundred years ago this August- President Wilson created the National Park Service when he signed the National Park Service Organic Act.

I understand that a group of students was able to see the wonder of Big Bend National Park for the first time just last month. And there are many many other natural treasures I would encourage you to visit: from Shenandoah to Yellowstone to Yosemite to Redwood.

The National Park Service oversees 59 national parks, which will be preserved in their natural beauty forever. And I hope that each of you has the opportunity to enjoy one or more of them in the coming years.

I know that- at times- it seems like politicians can’t get much done. But protecting our green spaces is a priority for officeholders at all levels. And we are actually making a lot of progress.

The Let’s Move Outside campaign over at the U.S. Department of the Interior is committed to ensuring that all of our youth has an opportunity to play, learn, serve, and work outside. I know that there are some representatives from Let’s Move Outside here and hope each of you can get engaged with this worthy effort.

At the state level- just this past year- the Texas Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Bexar County State Rep. Lyle Larson that will increase funding at state parks.

And here locally there is a whole lot going on. Over the past decade, Bexar County, the San Antonio River Authority, and others came together and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the Riverwalk’s reach for miles to the north and to the south. This year, the City of San Antonio is spending $100 million on its Parks and Recreation Department. And last May, San Antonio residents approved $80 million to expand our citywide trail system by dozens of miles.

Why are we doing this? What makes citizens and representatives at each level of government so eager to invest heavily in stewardship and our park infrastructure?

One reason could be to improve our quality of life. Who among us doesn’t feel more at peace emotionally, intellectually and spiritually when we are with nature? I am sure that the students who visited Big Bend know what I am talking about.

Another reason could be to improve our health. In the past four years, I have been fortunate to lose a significant amount of weight. I attribute this weight loss to the investment our community has made in the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails and Riverwalk expansion projects.

Mayor Taylor is committed to the SA2020 goal of San Antonio being one of the healthiest communities in the nation and it now leading “Walk with the Mayor” events as part of her Fit City SA initiative. My boss, Councilman Nirenberg, shares her commitment.

But aside from improving quality of life and public health, there seems to be something deeply ingrained in us as humans. Do we feel a connection to the land around us? Do we feel that we have a responsibility to leave the natural wonders around us pristine for the generations that follow?

And this leads to even more questions. What is the role of stewardship? What can young people do to get involved?

There are no right answers to these questions. And before we get started on our conversations, I want to close with President Roosevelt’s observation that our “great central task” is leaving this land even better for our descendants than it is for us.”

 

Municipal Broadband

One of Councilman Nirenberg’s pressing agenda items is a comprehensive digital strategy for the City of San Antonio and, particularly, the expansion of the City’s municipal fiber network. Here is an article that recently appeared in The Rivard Report outlining his views. Below is testimony he delivered to the Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on an issue that has the opportunity to transform our community.

The digital revolution—driven largely by broadband and mobile data deployment—touches every aspect of our lives. As the international economy evolves, so too must our commitment to evolve with it.

Last month, Judge Wolff laid out an aggressive agenda for expanding our burgeoning technology sector, with a commitment to public investment and to helping the private sector create a digital ecosystem.

Last June, I initiated a comprehensive digital strategy for the City of San Antonio in that same spirit. This digital strategy will include specific recommendations on:

  • Accelerating private investment in digital infrastructure;
  • Bridging the digital divide;
  • Expanding mobile data capacity; and, most importantly,
  • Utilizing our municipal fiber network.

Communities nationwide are using publicly owned fiber networks to meet their specific needs. We have unique assets that give our community a unique opportunity. Two decades ago, CPS Energy invested in strands of fiber lining our community. Many of these strands have lain dormant ever since. While state law prohibits the residential sale of broadband service by municipalities, we can provide such service to public institutions.

Imagine connections between our pillar institutions: Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, UHS, UTSA, UTHSCSA, the Alamo Colleges, and our school districts. Such connections have the potential to expand our education and workforce development efforts, improve health care, and attract the bioscience, advanced manufacturing, and cybersecurity companies central to our economic development strategy.

This is within our grasp. Minor capital investments will allow us to upgrade the municipal network so that it can provide the support that institutions would expect of commercial grade broadband carriers. We have made substantial progress in obtaining those investments.

Last week, the City Council approved an agreement that I believe will create a revenue stream that we can dedicate to making technology make government more effective and efficient, including municipal broadband. On Thursday, I will be asking City Council to support additional investment as a line item in the City of San Antonio FY2016 budget.

I share this Court’s commitment to a digitally vibrant community and look forward to forging a long-term partnership so that this dream can become a reality.

I thank you for your consideration of this resolution and urge its passage. Thank you.

Constitution Day Remarks

Last night I had the privilege of giving the introductory remarks at A Conversation with the Constitution, a Constitution Day event at KLRN Studios sponsored by East Central Independent School District, Gemini Ink, and the San Antonio Public Library Foundation.

The text of the remarks:

Our American Constitution set the stage for an ongoing debate about what our democracy should be. There is no better way to honor that spirit than an examination 10666015_10102627616292848_5113669244400168228_nof the recent groundbreaking Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC, which we will be discussing tonight.

The seeds of this case were sowed over a century ago, when the United States faced many problems that might be familiar to some of you. There was unrest throughout Europe and the Middle East. At home, the gap between the richest and poorest was widening. Enormous corporations were exerting their influence over the American political system to protect their monopoly power.

A group of Progressive Era reformers led by President Theodore Roosevelt were able to minimize the political influence of corporations by prohibiting direct corporate contributions to political candidates. While this law has stood the test of time, you still meet people every day who feel that the deck is stacked in favor of corporations and lobbyists and against folks like you and me. A lot of them will cite the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decision in Citizens United v. FEC as evidence of this.

Just as 100 years ago, folks are beginning to lose faith in the basic American bargain: that if you work hard and play by the rules, you will have a shot at success.But there is reason for optimism and a light at the end of the tunnel because the students in this room will solve our challenges just as the Progressive reformers addressed theirs.

The Citizens United case started with, of all things, a movie. Seven years ago, Senator Hillary Clinton was the front-runner over Senator Barack Obama to become the next President of the United States. In fact, many believed her to be “inevitable.” A small nonprofit group with funding from corporations called Citizens United wanted to release what they called a “documentary” film- one that was very critical of Senator Clinton.

Unfortunately for Citizens United, there was a law on the books that prohibited corporations from engaging in “electioneering communications.” This meant that corporations were not allowed to independently spend money to put an ad on TV or in a newspaper that was meant to endorse or oppose a political candidate.

The Supreme Court was asked to answer a simple question: Was the documentary an electioneering communication? As the court considered this, the issues became deeper and cut to the heart of our First Amendment. We’ve all learned that we are guaranteed free speech, but questions remain about what that actually means:

  • Does the First Amendment guarantee free, unlimited speech in all contexts?
  • Do corporations get the same constitutional protection that you and I do?
  • Should the First Amendment guarantee equal access to free speech?

There are those who believe that the law prohibiting corporate electioneering prevented corporations from exercising free speech rights. There are others who believe that too much corporate influence in our political system will corrupt it- and that this is a compelling reason to prevent corporate expenditures.

The Court decided that corporations can independently spend as much money as they want to support or oppose candidates, as long as it is independent. Corporations still can’t give money directly to the candidates themselves.

There is an old saying- “money in politics is like water on pavement- it will find its way into every crack and crevice.” Think about it, it’s true. Tonight, we will be discussing what role the government should have in regulating the flow of money into our elections.

We will not answer these questions tonight. In fact, we will likely walk out that door with more questions than we had when we walked in. That is the brilliance of the American Constitution. Happy Constitution Day.

Thoughts on Uber

Yesterday, my boss came out in favor of a deregulated vehicle-for-hire industry which would allow companies like Uber to operate in San Antonio. The San Antonio Express-News ran a B1 story on his proposal this morning. This is from his post on D8 Dialogues blog on the subject:

Currently, San Antonio lacks the regulatory flexibility needed to unleash innovation in the transportation industry. Even though City Council recently amended Chapter 33 of the City Code, which regulates vehicle-for-hire services, progress and marketplace disruption demand that we revisit its contents.

To open the doors for innovation in the transportation-for-hire industry, the City Council should adopt policies that: 1) level the playing field; 2) encourage competition; 3) ensure public safety and consumer protection; and 4) provide access for all of our residents.

Two years ago, I wrote an op-ed for a political commentary site outlining my views on the subject:

Uber exists as a mechanism to streamline processes, making urban transportation more convenient for every party involved. Uber has even used market forces to protect the public (a novel concept!) because consumers know more about a driver because of information available about each driver on the app.

Critics of Uber are ostensibly attempting to “protect the public,” but are actually just safeguarding their own…oligopolies of urban transportation. 

My time working for Councilman Nirenberg has changed my perspective slightly, but I wholeheartedly support his proposal.