Monday, October 17, 2011

Who is benefited by the New Deal and its “safety net”?

It has been almost 80 years since the New Deal legislation was first enacted, and conservative advocates speak largely of the New Deal in negative terms. However, these critics frankly misunderstand all whom are protected by these programs. The “safety” provided is not just the middle class and poor. The New Deal provides safety for the elite wealthy because its program deters the masses from physically harming them. Dispute this? Such historical violence occurs all too frequently when there becomes too great a disparity of wealth between the top 1% and the remaining 99%. The safety net further ensures the vitality of the middle class, which is required for any democracy to survive. A functioning democracy, in turn, ensures that the masses believe their complaints have a method of redress outside of physical violence. Whether the elite wealthy will admit it, or not, they need the safety net of the New Deal. It provides social stability. While additional cuts to the safety net may be mandated by our current economic climate, the personal security of the elite wealthy might be undermined by too much austerity. For that reason, the elite wealthy ought to accept fair taxes on themselves, and show that they too stand with the 99%.

How do we define “elite wealthy”? Given the times, we can simply define it as the top 1% (in current times they earn $1 million per year or more, many of whom have increased their wealth since 2008). While some 1% may argue that they have lost more wealth themselves (by citing that their stock worth fell dramatically in the 2008-2009 period – for instance Warren Buffett lost $25 billion in that period), their actual spending power is likely higher than before. Why? – because few people have spending power and there are deals all around for the few that do. For instance, as an extreme example, a billionaire heiress recently bought Aaron Spellings’ mansion [see photo below], which was originally priced at $150 million, for $85 million. While almost no one could afford that price, she could. Plus, when the market returns, she can sell the house and make a nice profit. Generally such elite wealthy can buy fixed or intangible assets, or even services, in a market where few have the cash or financing to buy them, and then sell these assets when the next boom occurs and make a profit on the bust.

This scenario also existed in the Great Depression. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (the father of President John F. Kennedy) pulled out of the stock market before it collapsed, and had significant assets throughout the period. In 1929, Kennedy's fortune was estimated to be $4 million (equivalent to $51.3 million today); by 1935, in the depth of the Depression, Kennedy’s wealth had increased to $180 million (equivalent to $2.88 billion today). While the Kennedy family were “new rich” then, many 1% of the time got their wealth from the “Gilded Age” at end of the 19th Century. Most Gilded Age “Captains of Industry” had opulent lives – helped in large part because there was no income tax prior to the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1913, and the inheritance tax was only established in 1916.

The period of the Gilded Age showed this same paradigm. Although many say the Gilded Age ended with the “Panic of 1893” (a deep depression which lasted until 1897), many were able to ride out that depression, keep their aggregate wealth protected, and continue to grow it. For instance, one of the wealthiest men in 19th Century Ohio was Lake Erie shipper, Captain Alva Bradley (Thomas Alva Edison was named in honor of him). Although his fortune was generated solely in the 19th Century, Captain Bradley left such a large fortune to his heirs that his grandson owned the Cleveland Indians from 1927-1946, and the Bradley family still had enough wealth in the Great Depression to regularly travel to Europe in large numbers (15 people at a time) for several months at a time.

Additionally, many of the greatest “America’s Castles” were built during the Gilded Age, including The Breakers (1893-1895, at the price of $12 million (approximately $310 million in today's dollars adjusted for inflation)), and the Biltmore (1889-1895, which is still the largest privately-owned home in the U.S. at 135,000 square feet) [see photo below].

Much as the current times, if not more so, the 1% from the Gilded Age had dramatic wealth, lived in incredible comfort and luxury, even under current standards (let alone 19th Century and early 20th Century standards). For instance, when the Breakers was completed in 1895, it had electricity off a generator (when the surrounding town had no electricity), hot and cold running fresh and sea water (when most homes had outhouses and no indoor plumbing), in-laid marble, gold, silver and other fine materials (when most homes were shacks by all measures). These houses are still opulent, and could not be built as nicely even now.

The Breakers is a perfect example of why the 1% need the New Deal safety net for their own security. I noticed this when I visited the Breakers many years ago. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, its owner, ensured the Breakers had a 20-30 foot fence around the entire property except for the ocean side. To see the gate and fence, it was not strictly decorative. It was massive, strong, secure. It was defensive in nature, not unlike the walls of European castles of old. This can be clearly seen in the photos of the wall, with people in the distance for perspective of size. [See top three photos below].

In contrast, the Spelling Mansion that just sold has a more modern, smaller gate [See photo immediately above] - that is designed mainly to prevent vehicles and small groups of people from entering the property at will, but is not designed to prevent a mob from storming the house. Unlike current times for the 1% in the U.S., few houses now days would have such a MASSIVE wall. Why? - because now if someone were to attack the 1%, they would call 911 and SWAT can be present within 10 minutes. In the LA riots, LAPD Chief Gates drew criticism because he had all the available officers form a line to protect the wealthy parts of the city, and let East LA rip itself apart. [See photos below].

However, in 1895, Newport, RI provided little security even for the 1%. Few towns had any significant police force, related to the fact that there was no income tax to support such services. It is likely that many would have looked on the shining mansion at the Breakers as something to rob. I have no doubt the 1% knew their danger was on the edge of a cliff, if the “mob” were to riot. There might be little to stop the mob … but a 20 foot stone, concrete and steel fence, that might slow them down long enough for the family to flee into the sea. When Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor referred to the Occupy Wall Street crowd as “the growing mob,” at some basic level he probably knows this old danger could ignite at any time. World reports show that in some areas the mob is turning to violence.

The other aspect that the current 1% forget is that the New Deal safety net was equally a response to world events. The lack of any safety net worldwide often led desperate people to follow desperate measures. The 20th Century began with the Russian Revolutions, leading to the ousting and killing of the Russian Czar and his royal family. Although the Roaring Twenties seemed to provide apparent opportunity, much like the last decade, when the Great Depression started, without a safety net, many found hard times too hard to bear.
Take, for instance, the US “Bonus Army,” [see photos above], an assemblage of some 43,000 marchers—17,000 WWI veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who gathered in Washington, D.C., in the spring and summer of 1932 to demand immediate cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. To quell the effort, President Hoover sent in Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur with the Army infantry and cavalry, supported by six tanks commanded by then Major George Patton. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned. The fact that U.S. military veterans would turn on Washington D.C. would be disconcerting, to say the least.

At the same time, Nazi Germany was on the rise and Hitler was named Chancellor in 1933. The Spanish Civil War began on July 17, 1936, between the monarchist and the fascists. Italy also fell to the fascists, and much of the world was becoming entangled in the dangers of communists on the left and fascists on the right, or straight out anarchy. A common thread in each danger was the rise of the underclass, against the privileged elite. In all of these conflicts, the mob was either killed or killing others brutally for little reason. Thus enters the New Deal. Some historians wonder how President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a patrician whose ancestors included New England elite, would have lead the effort to establish the New Deal. At least some of those historians postulate that Roosevelt’s effort was not at the expense of the privileged class, but a conservative move to save the 1%.

A corollary to this concept is that the New Deal is essential for a robust middle class, which in turn is needed for a true democracy to flourish. Just look into Latin American history. In many Latin American countries, few democracies have succeeded when the population is made up of the 1-5% landed Patrons, who own the great majority of wealth, but are served by a poor underclass with no individual political power or assets. Such political systems are inherently unstable, with shifts between dictators with backing of the military, the landed wealthy, and populists/communists. If the U.S. political experiment is seeking to model themselves off of these “American democracies,” the best first step is to cut the cords on the safety net and let laissez faire principles run amok. In such environments, the poor and powerless learn that “might is right” and their only available tools (from their perspective – whether the 1% would agree or not) are guns, bombs, and violence.

For instance, former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, who ruled from 1976 to 1981, is alleged to have causes mass killings, which are now being investigated by archeologists.
[See photo below].

Finally, let the above statements not overly embolden the left wing, either. This shows why the 1% must understand their need to compromise and find balance. They must come to the table and be an equal partner, showing willingness to increase their taxes so that there is fairness and equity. If the 1% want to call themselves “job creators,” then they better be prepared to show the jobs that they have ACTUALLY created, in this country, and not solely complain about “too much regulation,” given some of that regulation is intended to prevent CDOs and other Ponzi schemes that got us into this mess. However, there is still a need to reduce the national deficit/debt, and contrary to the left wing, things are not free and the costs have to be carefully balanced, too. Some austerity may be required, balanced with some tax increases on the 1%. Everyone needs skin in the game. All things should be on the table, and the 1% need to see that if they are not part of the compromises, then they better wall themselves off … and the walls better be thick, tall and strong, like the ones outside the Breakers, because without the safety net,- someday the “mob” will come to get them, and when that happens, there may be no middle class to stop the revolution from occurring.

This is what history would teach those willing to learn from it.

It should be noted, however, that some of the 1% do get it. Warren Buffett, cited above, is top of them all. Additionally, a website has generated that shows others in the 1% who stand with the 99%.

However, at the current time it seems like too few of the 1% do.

NOTE ON THE AUTHOR: My undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin is in Government (1991), with a minor in political philosophy. In my major, my G.P.A was a perfect 4.0, with an overall G.P.A of 3.97 and the vast majority of the hours were in classes associated either with the era of the Great Depression/WWII, or comparative government with a focus on Latin America. Additionally, many of my electives were on classes relating to American and World history between WWI and WWII.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rachel Beckwith's Message of Love

The image above has become iconic in the last month, globally, and it can be found in most languages spoken in the world. The particular articles cannot be understood if you don't speak the particularly language, but the name of "Rachel Beckwith" is clear and the face of a sweet young girl. Through her pure spirit and heart, Rachel continues to impact the world, maybe as much, if not more than, any other current living figure. In her death, she has achieved a level of global impact that most of us will never know.

In searching foreign language news sites, I have found her story and her cause (in no particular order) in Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Indonesia, India, Pakastan, Italy, Greece, Germany, Switzerland, France, UK, Norway, Romania, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, .... and countless other countries. While Rachel and her family are Christians and the initial effort started with their church, not only Christians have been touched by this story - for every Faith have responded - maybe showing that while we all seem different and our beliefs may be different in some aspects, there is a fundamental notion of goodness that is in us all. That aspect wants peace, love, respect and hope to live openly in the world. Rachel has shown us a small glimpse of that Glory at the worst time of her short life. Each article that tells her story consistently shows that this little girl has changed us, somehow, and we all see that as something for the better.

Her life reminds me of the song from the Broadway show, WICKED ("For Good"), where the lyrics go, "It well may be that we will never meet again, in this lifetime, so let me say before we part, so much of me is made from what I learned from you, you'll be with me like a handprint on my heart." Elsewhere the song says, "But because I knew you, I have been changed for good." Because of the tragic death of Rachel, for which we all share our greatest sympathies with her family and friends, we nonetheless have been changed - as a world - for good.

Only time will reveal how this evolves. But what we do know is that Rachel had some sort of impact on literally millions, if not billions of people - from every corner of the world. At the moment while I was writing this blog, Rachel's fund is at $1,187,624 in under one month after her accident, much of this from other children.

The actual figure changes so consistently, though, that it will be as old news as any other post that notes a figure for her. Who knows where the figure will end, either. Only time will tell that, too.

Charity: Water's founder Scott Harrison talks with excitement about his plans to take Rachel's mother, Samantha Paul, to Africa in a year, so she can see the impact that her daughter's life is having. Currently Rachel will ensure that 60,000+ (and likely many, many more) people will be provided clean water and have their lives allowed to bloom. For countries that take basics for granted, there will be "Rachel's wells" in countless communities who don't have the basics - whose beneficiaries will likely know the significance of Rachel's life, and death, even before the well team shows up and reveals the gift to them. Rachel apparently planted a garden that exists not only of the lives she will save, but also the spirit of all those who watch the change. We all can believe that if a small child in Seattle can impact the world, we all can. For other children, Rachel showed that they can and should make a difference, no matter how "small." For adults, Rachel inspired us to believe that with alittle watering, too, our optimism can also rebloom.

What I have also noticed is that the impact of Rachel's story is as much an aspect of her mother's heart. If we all know inherently that Rachel was an angel no longer with us, my true sense of her mother is that Samantha is an angel still with us. In the aftermath when many who grieve would wall themselves off to the world, and cry to Heaven, "Why did you take her!! God!!," Samantha instead wanted to ensure that Rachel's wish is fulfilled, and works tirelessly to achieve as much as possible for Rachel. Even recently, Sam put out a call to the world to encourage children to help other children, by saying this on Facebook:

"Special request to all kids returning to school in the next few weeks: If you see someone who is struggling to make friends or being bullied because he/she doesn't have many friends, because they are shy, or not as pretty or not dressed in the most "in" clothes .. PLEASE step up. Say hi or at least smile at them in the hallway. You never know what that person might be facing outside of school. Your kindness might just make a BIG difference in someone's life! PARENTS PLEASE REPOST THIS!!!" Samantha Paul.

I hope everyone who finds this blog will forward this message along the same pathways that took Rachel's original story to every corner of the globe. Rachel and her mother, Samantha, were clearly intended to do something profound, for which we should follow. I do not know where it will all lead, but I do sense we are supposed to go with them. I hope you will come, too.

Lastly, I write this entry in equal memory to my friend Lori Tullos Barta, who died a year ago on August 19, 2010, when her life support was removed following complications from heart surgery; Lori was 39 and was survived by a husband, Adam, and three young children, one with special needs. Lori sent out her own message to the world many years ago upon the birth of her daughter, Hannah, who has Down Syndrome:

"Bottom line, [the expert] said, is that there is no cure and Hannah will never be ‘normal.’ We walked into the meeting with hope and came out feeling numb and apprehensive about the future. Well, I refuse to accept that .... What is ‘normal’ anyway and why is that something to strive for? What is it that I really want for my children?
"When I strip away all the misplaced expectations and get down to basics, my wish for [my children] is this: (1) That they will be HAPPY; (2) That they will know they are LOVED and love others; and (3) That this world will be a better place because they are a part of it. So here I take the first step in trying to ensure that others love and value our children (and all children) as much as we do . .
"When it comes to the TRULY important things in life, we need to start valuing individuals – with all their assets and limitations – and stop placing labels on our children! It has to start somewhere if we want this world to be a better place for them.”
Lori Tullos Barta.

I believe that our Lori in Heaven will look for Rachel. While we don't know why such good people have to die, we can ask ourselves how can we honor their memories and make the world a place, worthy of their time in it. Whether it is Rachel or Lori, or countless other wonderful people whose deaths were tragic, the job is left to the living. I only ask, "what will you do?"

UPDATE: Sept 1, 2011. Today a donation was made to Rachel's fund, from a person who was a recipient of her kidney. I thought it was good to note:

The comment states, "On July 24th, I received a phone call that a kidney had become available for me and was being flown down from Bellevue Washington to Sacramento California and that it was from a 9 year old child who died in a car accident. At 10pm that night I was wheeled into surgery for a transplant operation. I am so profoundly touched by the gererousity and kindness of Rachaels family to donate her organs that day. I am now the proud owner and care giver of one of Rachaels kidneys. My health has done a complete 180 degree turn around since the operation. I am off dialysis and feel just fantastic. I had my life returned to me and as repayment to Rachael, I plan to carry her charitable torch for the rest of my life. Thank you to the Beckwith family, you have a friend for life. Mark J"

UPDATE: Sept 7, 2011. Today Rachel's other kidney recipient also posted on her fund and made a donation.

The comment states: "I also received a kidney from a nine year old girl on July 24th. I did not realize at the time that the gift was from an actual angel. I know the loss suffered by Rachel's family can never be healed, but I would at least like them to know that from the day of the operation, my life and that of my family has changed dramatically by the change in my health. Please know that Rachel lives on in the live's of those of us who have received the gift of life from her. I will always honor her memory and her support the charity in her name. Dave"

Friday, January 14, 2011

Know the Danger of Sepsis!

Recently, because of my post last week which made a reference to septic shock, I was contacted by the Sepsis Alliance, a non-profit that is trying to help people understand and avoid the danger of sepsis. A google alert highlighted me to them - that I am a survivor of sepsis (going up right to the verge of severe sepsis/septic shock but did not go fully into either).

Since that time, I have become connected to the non-profit, and the physician, Dr. James O'Brien, M.D., who leads many of their medical efforts. Surprisingly, what the Septic Alliance will tell you is that a recent Harris Poll study showed that only 1 in 3 Americans have heard the term "Sepsis," and even fewer understood how extremely dangerous it is. The non-profit is geared toward changing that, since sepsis is a condition that a little education will go a VERY long way.

ANSWER THESE THREE QUESTIONS: While you might know sepsis by another name, "blood poisoning," that might still not get your attention to appreciate the danger of sepsis. Instead, what if I described it with three questions:

QUESTION NO. 1: If you knew there was a very horrible carnival ride that you could go on called septic shock/severe sepsis, that 40% who went on it would die a pretty horrible death after being in an ICU for 3-4 days, and of those that survived, a VAST majority of the remaining people would loose your kidneys, fingers, legs, arms or other organs, would you volunteer to go?

QUESTION NO. 2: What if I told you that any sort of infection you might have (post surgery wound, strep, H1N1/flu, appendicitis, pneumonia, scratch, whatever), at some point if it is left unaddressed long-enough without proper treatment, could fester, go septic, and once septic, at some point it could slide - in a matter of moments - from sepsis into septic shock or severe sepsis, would you feel lucky? What if I also told you that there is not a real scientific way to know at what point people might go from infection into sepsis, then into severe sepsis, in each individual. Would you gamble your life?

QUESTION NO. 3: What if I finally told you that if it is caught early enough and treated properly - all infections can be cured without sepsis. Even septic infections, like mine, if treated quickly enough with IV antibiotics, fluids, and careful monitoring, are survivable without consequences that are so horrible. If you could never go on the ride in Question No. 1 above, would you want that detour instead?

Yes, of course you would. Sepsis does not have to kill or disfigure. You just need to seek medical attention for any infection that is at all bad, make an appointment with your regular doctor when it first seems to arise. If you are at all fearful or suspect sepsis, voice that concern to your doctor, to the ER, to any other medical professional that sees you, so they can rule it out. Sepsis does not have to kill 215,000 Americans each year. It is a medical emergency, but with early detection and treatment, your outcome can be like mine - survival without organ loss or amputations. For those wanting more details, I provide more below.

In a nutshell sepsis is your body's response to a severe infection; once the body believes it is sufficiently endanger, it will cause a series of events that leads to cascading organ failure in short order, that will kill almost 1/2 those that experience it. Does everyone go septic with severe infections? I don't believe it is known, but many people will go septic in such situations at some point. For you to decide where that point is, without medical advise, if decided wrongly, puts you into Question No. 1 above. Once you enter the ride, though, and you won't know when it begins, it is one of the most deadly things you can face.

Clinically speaking, patients are given a diagnosis of sepsis when they develop clinical signs of infections or systemic inflammation; sepsis is not diagnosed based on the location of the infection or by the name of the causative microbe. Physicians draw from a list of signs and symptoms in order to make a diagnosis of sepsis, including abnormalities of body temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, and white blood cell count. I was septic with a localized, severe pain, a fever that started to show at around 100, a high blood pressure, an extremely high white cell count (13,100), and a high pulse. Sepsis may be diagnosed in a 72-year-old man with pneumonia, fever, and a high white blood count, and in a 3-month-old with appendicitis, low body temperature, and a low white count.

Sepsis is defined as "severe" when these findings occur in association with signs of organ dysfunction, such as hypoxemia, oliguria, lactic acidosis, elevated liver enzymes, and altered cerebral function. Nearly all victims of severe sepsis require treatment in an intensive care unit for several days or weeks. While most cases of sepsis are associated with disease or injury, many events follow routine, even elective surgery. While some patients may enter severe sepsis by shock, not necessarily all do. More frightening is that sepsis can rage in response to incidents as seemingly benign as a playground scrape or a nicked cuticle from the beauty parlor. American hospitals spend approximately $20 billion each year combating sepsis, 40% of patients diagnosed with severe sepsis do not survive. Until a cure for sepsis is found, EARLY DETECTION is the surest hope for survival. If these stats frighten you, and they should get your attention, consider watching the videos on the Sepsis Alliance website at:

For stories of people less fortunate than me, see: Their website provides a lot of great things to look for so you are better informed about sepsis, to save your life and those of people close to you. If you see why I feel lucky surviving sepsis, share this blog with your friends so they know how to be lucky and wise, too.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Catherine Wicker: You Are My Hero!

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became [an adult], I gave up childish ways.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 The quote above speaks to most of us, regardless of our religious beliefs. For most of us the quote reminds us of the carefree nature of our own childhood. Frankly, most of us become “grown-ups” when we first fully understand the complexities of life and the uncertainty of it all, when we are no longer able to live relatively carefree. Many children do not get such an experience, though. For some of these children, as with many extremely special things in life, they are like diamonds and other precious metals and gems – by the force of great pressure, their most precious light might shine brightly and provide a beacon to the world. One such beacon and star is Catherine Wicker. Catherine is a 14 year old freshman at Westwood High School, in Austin, Texas. If you were not paying attention, Catherine might appear at first blush like most young people. She is not.

Since the tender age of 5, Catherine had to give up her “childish ways,” and at the age of 10, Catherine had her colon surgically removed because of her health condition. Ulcerative colitis is an auto-immune disease and is caused by an abnormal response of the body’s immune system. The disease is marked by inflammation and ulceration of the colon, symptoms can include bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal pain. In severe cases, patients may in fact have their colons removed; most often, though, the condition only strikes adults this badly and not children so young as Catherine.

While such a condition itself would cause most adults many decades older than Catherine to lose heart in life because of the complexities that it can bring, Catherine at such a young age did not. Catherine simply dug in deeper and became more determined to show that her life had significant meaning and found the joys remaining to her. She has achieved that result. As a poet I could offer words capable of expressing things as beautiful as Catherine’s spirit, but as a lawyer I know that overly worked words do little in comparison to the facts.

Not too many years ago, many may know that I experienced diverticulitis and was on the verge of septic shock in an Austin ER at the age of 39. I was highly fortunate in surviving since septic shock kills a majority of those that suffer it. For many that do survive, they often may lose their kidneys or other organs; I did not but did develop IBS and have other recurrent health problems since that time. I came to understand better that life is fragile and the thought of losing organs was very scary even for me. I had, at least, enjoyed many opportunities up to that point without as much concern. I cannot imagine the weight that more expansive conditions could cause to a person so much younger.

Imagine your own life with such difficulties! Imagine being limited in activities that others enjoy, such as a basic party or a carefree vacation as a child. At such an age, if you are limited, your peers also cannot easily understand why you cannot join them, or how your life must be! Imagine the fear of standing out in such bright light and the desire that most would have to hide in the shadows and suffer silently. Catherine has stood strong and tall, even at her small stature.

In 2004, when Catherine was in the second grade, she stood in the halls of Congress to lobby for the efforts of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. The foundation chose her as one of its two national Local Heroes (now called the Comeback Kids Award) several months later. In 2006, Catherine returned to Congress with her dad, Paul, to again lobby for legislation needed by adults and children with her condition. The following year, Catherine then set her sights on the Texas Legislature, initiating efforts for the Restroom Access Act, HB 416 of the 80th Regular Session, which became law in 2007.

For a bill that was hotly contested by businesses concerned about its effects, Catherine made sure to bear witness on how the bill impacted the needs of children, like herself, and adults, who have a health condition that can, without accommodation, be debilitating. On April 10, 2007, Catherine testified before the House Committee on Public Health for the Restroom Access Act. Catherine later also testified before the Texas Senate. How many of us have taken on the legislative process to help others with such courage? Anyone? I asked Rep. Mark Strama, the author of HB 416, for his thoughts on Catherine. With deep respect and admiration for her, he relayed this to me:

"When I give speeches to students about the government process and how a bill becomes a law, I tell them the story of how Catherine Wicker, while a fifth grader at Caraway Elementary in my district, convinced me to file legislation to help people who, like her suffer from intestinal illnesses. She then testified for the bill in both the House and Senate committee hearings on the bill, lobbied the bill through both houses of the Legislature, and stood next to the Governor as he affixed his signature to the newly created law. She changed the law in Texas to the benefit of 35,000 Texans who suffer these illnesses, and she did it when she was 10 years old. She has since lobbied me to buy Girl Scout cookies for troops overseas and to pass a resolution honoring her favorite teacher. She never stops.
"When she began working with my staff on the legislation we passed together, I remember someone asking her what she wanted to be when she grew up (as if she wasn't already grown up), and she said, 'I want to be chief of staff to a member of the House of Representatives.' Made my chief of staff happy! I remember when we attended the bill signing together 6 months later, and the Governor asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She didn't hesitate: 'Governor.'"
Mark Strama, Member, Texas House of Representives, Dist. 50.

Catherine heart and brilliance is, however, not limited to only governmental affairs in her afternoons after elementary, middle school, and now the ninth grade. While she was at Canyon Vista Middle School, Catherine was selected as its volunteer of the year from Round Rock Independent School District. Although the school district stated that she collected 5,000 letters, Catherine would make sure to correct the report so we know she only collected about 3,000 and then she did a cookie pack of 1,000 c-rats for Operation Cookie. Catherine, after all, is a leader in the Girl Scouts and honesty and integrity are important to her. Catherine has been a Girl Scout for 9 years and has earned the highest award as a Junior Scout (Bronze Award) and as a Cadette Scout (Silver Award). Catherine is currently working on prerequisites for the Gold Award which is the highest award in Girl Scouting.

Over the years, Catherine has also been active in Austin Adoption Day, an annual event of the Austin Bar Association, Child Protective Services, CASA of Travis County, and other affiliated organizations. Being a proud “big sister” to Anna who was adopted, Catherine helped collect toys for several years for the children being adopted at Austin Adoption Day, as well as throughout the year in Austin. The Austin Bar Association recognized Catherine in its February 2006 edition of the Austin Lawyer for her efforts. Another year, Catherine selected Austin Adoption Day to receive gifts at her birthday party. Catherine’s family has a tradition that if she or her sister want a large group of friends to come to a birthday party, they choose a charity to receive the gifts. Catherine and her sister love the idea and the charities are certainly happy, as well, because Catherine and Anna know they have received a lot of blessings already. Catherine would likely tell you that she wants to help children who are less fortunate than herself. With Catherine now in high school, her leadership is growing in the community.

Catherine was selected to be a member of the Youth Advisory Council at Dell Children’s Hospital. Catherine is also a part of Girls Giving Grants, where each girl donates $100 and the group pools all the money together and awards one grant to a charity. This is her age group's equivalent of Impact Austin. Catherine earned her $100 by babysitting last summer. She is also a manager for the Sun Dancers at Westwood and is in the school choir.

Life continues to be much harder for Catherine then most adults, let alone children, regardless of their age. Catherine's serious health problems continue even now, with other complications are on her horizon and even more surgeries likely. She misses school frequently for her illnesses, and for more visits to specialists than can be remembered, who are either trying to address her known issues without certain resolution, or trying to solve other issues also causing her problems still unknown or identified. For Catherine, there may not be a "magic pill" that many of us grew up expecting and wanting - that when you take it, you feel good the next day or next week, and get to go back to playing for weeks, or months, or years. For Catherine, her life will likely always be much harder than most others.

My own health struggles over the last several years have taken a toll, not from simply any individual condition, but the lack of those long periods where I could simply relax, enjoy life, and be. The mental toll on myself has been tough at time, and my struggles has been relatively short term and less serious when compared to Catherine's. However, I try to take courage and strength from knowing that there is a young woman out there, who since the age of 5, has carried more struggles than I may ever know. I also hope that she understands that the world is cheering her on, sending her love, and that she is not alone for she dwells in the hearts and hopes of not only those who knows her, but also those that read this story, or otherwise hear about her amazing courage and spirit.

Catherine, I think I speak for countless people beyond the boundaries I can easily describe, who would tell you, in the words of Bette Midler, "Did you ever know that you're my hero?" You are.

UPDATE:  In 2012, Catherine was recognized by President Barack Obama for her volunteer activities.  For the President's Volunteer Service Award, she performed 284 volunteer hours.   She also participated in Mark Strama's Leadership Academy and was able to meet Sarah Weddington, with whom Catherine is photographed above.  Through her activities, she continues to be increasingly known in Austin and elsewhere for her exceptional character, leadership and intelligence.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Remembering Lori Tullos Barta (ABA)

Lori Tullos Barta (Posthumous)
2011 David H. Walters Community Excellence Award
Austin Bar Foundation
To be awarded Jan. 29, 2011
Four Seasons Hotel, Austin

For those who might like to know, my friend Lori will receive the above award from the Austin Bar Association posthumously on January 29, 2011. For people who would like to read the nomination that was submitted by so many, I have found a way to post it here. For more information about the event, see The text is small, but if you click on the individual pages, they become a little easier to read. Laura Sharp is entitled to a large portion of the credit for organizing and drafting this eloquent nomination. Thank you, Laura. Shannon Meroney also helped a lot with the nominations, so thank you, Shannon, as well. When Lori was transferred to Seton Main, Shannon was a huge help in making sure that the Seton staff gave her extra special care.

Addendum: I have posted an additional tribute email to Lori at Additionally, I will be posting a video from the Austin Bar Foundation Gala on YouTube so check back here for that, as well.

Addendum: The Austin Bar Foundation Gala video is at:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ways to Honor Lori Tullos Barta - "Lori's Wish" Issue #1

Because Lori Tullos Barta was so loved by so many, there will be many efforts to honor Lori and to sustain and spread her mission in life. Since I want an easy place for people to check as a central spot, I will be periodically posting information that is forwarded to me for that purpose.

I will call this "Lori's Wish" in reference to the statement that she made when Hannah was born. Lori wrote, "When I strip away all the misplaced expectations and get down to basics, my wish for [my children] is this: (1) That they will be HAPPY; (2) That they will know they are LOVED and love others; and (3) That this world will be a better place because they are a part of it. So here I take the first step in trying to ensure that others love and value our children (and all children) as much as we do . . . When it comes to the TRULY important things in life, we need to start valuing individuals – with all their assets and limitations – and stop placing labels on our children! It has to start somewhere if we want this world to be a better place for them." (See my prior post on August 26, 2010 for her complete message in her homily).

From my last conversation with Lori, I also know that Lori's concern for Hannah's long-term care was a paramount issue with her at the time of her death. By helping DSACT, you honor her wish and you ensure that Hannah and children like her will have the best advocates for their cause, now that Lori is no longer with us. Adam Barta and the Tullos family have both consistently directed people to DSACT as a way to honor Lori, so you can be confident that the family would appreciate these efforts.

There are three areas currently that you can plug in to DSACT:

1). the DSACT Calendar event this weekend (Sept 11th),
2). Volunteer fair information (Sept 14th),and
3). the Buddy Walk Team for Lori and Hannah (Walk is on Oct 24)
(More details on each below)

I will tell you that the volunteer leaders, parents and families of those at the DSACT loved Lori as much as anyone did, and will be people you can share and hear great stories about Lori. You probably will create great new memories of Lori that you will cherish from those stories, and find great new friends, as well. I know I have.


We wanted to invite you to our Down Syndrome Calendar Gala
Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010 from 5:30 to 8:30pm
La Paloma Event Center (off RR 620 in Lakeway)
Free event, drinks, appetizers, musical entertainment

It's our Red carpet Gala that kicks off our Celebrity Calendar, which features Downs children with Jeff Bridges and other notable celebrities this year. Please consider buying the calendar for yourself and it makes a great gift for people. The event will also be having a small speech about Lori. Terri Gruca, KVUE news anchor will be hosting. I'm hoping you can attend on Saturday. Please invite your friends and family.

Stefanie Visnich Martinez
Down Syndrome Association

VOLUNTEER FAIR in Honor of Lori Tullos Barta

Tuesday, September 14th, at 7pm
McFadden Auditorium (back half),
Seton Medical Center
1201 W. 38th Street
(Enter Ground Floor from the Parking Garage)

For our new and old friends inside and outside of DSACT who want to help DSACT and honor Lori Tullos Barta –

Please come and learn about our areas of need: Open positions, Critical tasks, Short-term and long-term projects, Buddy walk teams in honor of Lori

DSACT needs more hands and hearts to sustain our organization and to lead and continue our current programs, especially those built by Lori. If your family benefits from these programs, if you are Lori's friend and want to be part of her legacy, please come by and sign up! Thank you! Questions? Email

Suzanne Shepherd
President, Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas

"BANANAS FOR HANNAH AND LORI" Buddy Walk team 2010

Below is the link for "Bananas for Hannah and Lori" Buddy Walk 2010. This year's Buddy Walk will be dedicated in memory of Lori Tullos Barta on October 24, 2010 @ the Reunion Ranch in Georgetown, TX, from 12noon - 4pm. We will be working on T-shirts for our team (more info to follow). If you cannot come out to walk with us, please support our team with an online donation.

Cyndi Tullos Russell
Lori's Cousin

Note on Buddy Walk: For those that are interested in making an order of the shirt that Cyndi is doing separately for Lori's family and friends for those attending the Buddy Walk, you will want to contact me at and I can determine the best way for you to obtain a shirt that is designed for Lori's team. James.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How to Better Integrate New Dogs in a Home.

I had previously posted this in Serena's adoption page, but figured it was worth posting separately as well. These are tips of integrating dogs from the "Parsons Dog Handbook." My family has adopted many dogs over the years and these are some thoughts that might help others be more successful at that.

If you are determining whether a dog will accept a new household with existing dogs and vice versa, consider trying the following steps. While these are not exhaustive tips on integrating dogs, they really helped with Ginger when my parents took her. Please consult dog behavior books for further instruction or consult with dog professionals in your area for assistance if there is any doubt. Special care should always be applied so that none of the humans, dogs or other pets are injured.

1). Let them meet in neutral territory - take them for a walk.

Let the dogs meet for the first time near the final home but where neither sees it as their "territory." Have the current masters walk each dog, and then start walking side-by-side toward the final destination (the new home, or even the new owner's car, if in different cities). If there are multiple dogs in the new home, a separate person should walk each dog.

The goal is to walk them until they are all just really tired and end up at the new home/new car. Let them sniff briefly initially, greet, and then repeatedly for brief periods along the walk, but keep them moving on the walk - which is their common task.

Let the environment be casual as possible, "non-eventful" since that will tell the dogs they can be relaxed too and enjoy the walk. As they start sniffing stuff together they might begin seeings themselves as a pack - and dogs are naturally pack animals. If they get too assertive with each other on any of the greetings on the walk, pull them apart for a few feet, keep walking forward, and then try to see how they later walk together. Let them greet again later, each time briefly and casually, with each master having strong control over their own dog.

Any inappropriate actions can be met with a strong, "No!", but then forgotten and keep them walking. This will help the dogs develop familiarity with each other, and allow the masters to determine if the dogs can ultimately live together. If the walk goes well, then the end result is that the dogs end up at their new home/car. All the dogs should be "dog tired" at the end and then give the dogs all water. They most likely will simply lay by each other and that will show some how they will interact - and if they will accept each other.

2). At the new home or the new owner's car, let it be casual with the existing owners/"parents" so that the dogs still get signals that everything is causal and fine.

If everyone is at the new home, have the old owner come in as well, so their dog doesn't understand at this point there is a shift in ownership and will feel more comfortable with the home. During this process, the owners may at times shift leases so they are holding the other's dog and that will also tend to convey to the dogs that everyone is friendly and there is no need for concern.

If these efforts don't allow the dogs to be relaxed and there is any consistent, high level of aggression between them - particularly when they are tired, then it may show that the effort may not work - or needs professional efforts to try to start the integration of the dogs. Each person holding a dog's lease should be comfortable exercising dominance over the dogs so that the true "alphas" are understood to be the people.

3). The Dirty clothes 'trick' can help with a crate.

Once the old owner leaves their dog, one idea that can help their dog transition into its new home is to also give a bag of dirty t-shirts/towels that belong to the old owners and have not been washed. They will have the scent of the old owner on them and can help comfort a dog if the pet seems sad/lonely when the old owner is not around. It can often be helpful for a crate also to be used as a place for the new dog to sleep, so he/she may sleep apart from the other dogs. Ideally, the crate door should be left open initially so the dog does not develop a negative impression of the crate. The old master's dirty clothes can be put in the crate as bedding, and allow the dog to feel safer as they adjust to their new home.

If the crate with old clothes is used, the new dog may be territorial of it if the other dogs enter the crate since the old master's scent is in it. In such instances, take care when other dogs are allowed in the area. The crate might be placed in a separate room, with the crate door left open for a long while. Once the dog goes in there, and the dog often will feel safe, so the door can be shut later on. In time, the clothes can be taken out in a day or two so that the dog starts bonding with the new family.

4). Separate at feeding/sleeping/alone times.

Food aggression is one of the most common reasons for flare-ups with a new dog and the existing pack. The dogs should be separated at feeding time until the pack's roles are clearly defined and accepted. Dogs should also be separated in a similar fashion when they sleep or are alone without supervision.
Over time, allowing the dogs with supervision to interact can allow the roles to be defined. Care should also be shown when dogs enter buildings, if one is allowed on furniture or in special places, and when loaded into a vehicle. These are all things that show alpha status and the dogs will have to work out these issues somewhat among themselves - with parents around to ensure it is done safely for all pets.

5). Special care with particularly smaller pets and cats.

With a new dog in a home, special care should be taken to determine if prey aggression will impact birds, cats, and other smaller animals, even small dogs. With such size differentials, it can be dangerous since the smaller animals will not be able to fend off an assault. If the new dog attempts to show any aggression with the smaller "prey," then likely the owners need to understand that this may never stop. For at least small dogs that are sufficiently aggressive themselves (many terriers), the danger may be less since they may be able to protect themselves.

However, with cats specifically, they may not be safe with any prey aggression. If the cat is declawed, then the cat must be protected at all times. Understand that the cat's only remaining defense of biting is INSUFFICIENT since cat jaws are very delicate and that the cat is at serious risk of a jaw fracture if they have to defend themselves against a dog.

Again, these are not exhaustive tips, but can be helpful.