09.13.13

Absurd?

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Right Wing Lies at 10:00 am by wcnews

Paul Burka called this statement, by a tea party candidate for the Texas House, absurd.

“The increase in spending in Texas is just astronomical.”

No matter how absurd – and wrong – it may be, the reality in Texas is much different. The last several election cycles show that the vast majority of those who turnout to vote in Texas don’t see that statement as absurd.  They see it as a fact.  Not only as fact, but as the main reason to turnout. Why do so many Texans believe a falsehood, (whether it’s absurd or not well leave to Burka)?

That mistaken belief allows elected representatives in our state to legislate as if it is the truth.  Here’s what former state Rep. Lanham Lyne (R-Wichita Falls) had to say back in 2011 on why voters believe things that aren’t true (tip to comment @ Burkablog).

Lyne was arguing on behalf of the budget, which cuts billions, yet he seemed ambivalent, and in his impassioned soliloquy he managed to sum up the challenges of this session. He argued that his voters didn’t understand what they were doing when they demanded state budget cuts, but since they elected him he was obliged to give them what they want.

[...]

So it was with fascination Saturday evening that I watched Lyne plead for passage of the available revenue budget with a speech that sounded like he was against it. He frankly recounted his own ignorance as a candidate—and that of his voters too.

“Everywhere I went, the people said: Cut the budget, cut the budget, cut the budget. I’m not sure they knew Texas was not Washington, D.C., that we don’t spend money like Washington, D.C.,” [Emphasis added] said Lyne. “I did what the people sent me here to do from my district. But I guarantee you there are a lot of angry, unhappy people in my district because they didn’t want us to cut theirs, and they didn’t want us to raise taxes either. This is what the people who voted for the majority of the people here want to see, but I promise you they don’t know what gets spent in our Texas Legislature.”

He ran, and was elected, on a falsehood.  Figured out he was wrong, but decided to do what’s wrong anyway.  Instead of leading and trying to educate his misguided constituents.  Unable to continue serving he decided, for whatever reason, not to run for reelection.

Soon to be former state Rep., and now candidate for Comptroller, Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville) had this to say in the same article.

But more than a few Republican House members have told me that they believe their voters misunderstood the difference between state government and federal government; or that hard-right, anti-spending groups had proven to have the vastly superior political messaging skills than anyone else. [Emphasis added] Ways and Means Chairman Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, said he had favored tapping the Rainy Day Fund to mitigate public education cuts, but the spin machine had made that impossible. “There are certain groups that are leaders here in Austin who were not part of the Tea Party, but they co-opted it and became the resource that sent them information and emails. They are framing the perception of the people who are the grassroots. They decided early to unfairly … they equated using the Rainy Day Fund with raising taxes. That influenced the governor. It influenced some of the members. The rainy day fund is already collected revenue. That’s not new taxes.”

So if  these two elected GOP members of the Texas House are to be believed this is the current state of things in our state.  Voters and our elected representatives have little or no idea how our state government actually works. They don’t understand the difference between the state and federal governments.  And there are anti-spending groups telling tall tales to voters, and made them and some elected officials even more ignorant of how the state government works.  Golly gee shucks buckaroos, what’s a good ‘ol Texas politician who hates the federal gument s’posed to do?

Yes it’s hard to believe why anyone would think that! It’s not like every member of the Texas GOP in 2010 ran against President Barack Obama, Obamacare, and the evil federal government. Where forever would voters have gotten such an idea? And, of course, if you’ve seen any of the GOP statewide introductory campaign informercials thus far, they’re ginning up the same BS for 2014.  Here’s Burka from the same link above on 2014.

I think the upcoming election cycle will be a repeat of 2010, which brought a large contingent of tea party members into the Legislature, few of whom showed any affinity for governing. It is conceivable that the tea party could absorb the Republican Party by the time the 84th Legislature convenes.

He’s already resigned to the fact that the same lies of 2010 will prevail again in 2014.  Yep, tall tales of the evil federal government and overspending in Texas will be the GOP strategy again in 2014.  Work must be done to make sure the sequel is not as good as the original.

What’s left to see is if the media will hold the candidates to account for what’s going on in Texas, not what’s going with the federal government.  Will the media again allow these candidates to run on falsehoods and nonsense?  And whether or not Democrats in Texas will finally run candidates, and have a message, that offers a clear alternative to the GOP.  One that puts poor, working, and middle class Texans first.  One that will tell Texans that we must head in a different direction if we want to fix the problems created in the last 14 or so years.

08.29.13

First Carter, now Cornyn angers tea party

Posted in Around The State, Right Wing Lies at 3:57 pm by wcnews

Last week EOW posted on Rep. John Carter’s falling out with the tea party in his district, Tea party Blowback in Salado. He also warned of consequences of agovernment shutdown to defund Obamacare.  And now Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is having his own issues with the tea party, How The Uber-Conservative John Cornyn Ticked Off The Tea Party.

Tea Party groups have begun directing their fire in recent weeks at a counterintuitive target: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

On paper, the Republican minority whip is an unusual target for Tea Party guns. Cornyn has been one of the most conservative members of the Senate since he was first elected to the chamber in 2002. National Journal ranks Cornyn the second most conservative member of the Senate. He has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, has won multiple awards from the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, has a 0 percent rating from the pro-choice NARAL and a 100 percent rating from the National Right To Life Committee.

That’s not good enough for some Tea Partiers now.

Tea Party groups’ ire centers on Cornyn’s decision in late July to remove his signature from a letter by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) expressing strong support to defund Obamacare in any debt limit or government funding bill. Cornyn was one of a number of senators who had originally signed the letter a few days before he changed his mind and removed his signature.

At the time, Cornyn’s office said the senator supports defunding Obamacare but not at the risk of a government shutdown. Cornyn’s office maintains that he has been fighting “tooth and nail” against Obamacare. Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie noted that the senator was one of the original cosponsors of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) original bill to defund Obamacare.

But that’s not enough for the tea party crowd.

I wish I could say I felt sorry for these guys. But they used the tea party when it benefitted them, and now that they don’t want to shutdown the government, (which would likely hurt their investment portfolios), they don’t know how to get rid of them. For Cornyn’s part, at this time, he doesn’t appear to have a scary primary opponent like David Dewhurst did.

08.23.13

The RWNM cranks up on misleading study

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Commentary, Right Wing Lies at 12:45 pm by wcnews

(RWNM = Right Wing Noise Machine)

The KOCH Cato Institute cranked up it’s misinformation machine this week.  Complete with a pretty nasty piece from the bow tie’s wing nut media shop that showed up on local Austin TV.  EPI does a great job of breaking down what’s wrong with the sutdy, Cato Study Distorts the Truth on Welfare and Work.

The Cato Institute recently released a wildly misleading report by Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes, which essentially claims that what low-wage workers and their families can expect to receive from “welfare” dwarfs the wages they can expect from working.

[...]

So what makes this so misleading?

For one, Tanner and Hughes make the assumption that these families receive simultaneous assistance from all of the following programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, Housing Assistance Payments, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC), and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). It is this simultaneous assistance from multiple sources that lets the entire “welfare benefits package” identified by Cato add up to serious money. But it’s absurd to assume that someone would receive every one of these benefits, simultaneously.

What’s more, their report carries the clear implication that welfare is (or should be expected to be) pulling low-wage workers out of the labor market by making life on welfare so attractive. In actuality, many low-income working families receive assistance through these programs.

And we know what happens when someone assumes. One glaring part is that when looking at the charts in the study, Texas is not one of the states that is even close to generous to welfare recipients. But EPI wraps up their debunking this way.

Tanner and Hughes are not telling a realistic story about the lives of low income Americans and the income provided to them by transfer programs. Where they have a point is how poorly work pays for too many American families, particularly low-wage workers. If they want to insure that work pays well for single mothers with two kids, it would seem more worthwhile to push for increases in the minimum wage and affordable child care. Cato’s view instead seems to be that since work alone is failing to provide secure living standards for many Americans, we should take away other sources of income from them, too.

A bogus study, presented as factual news on your local TV news, without any mention of Cato being a right wing group, and no one to rebut the study.   Here’s more debunking of this unrealistic report:
Cato Gets It Very Wrong: The Safety Net Supports, Rather Than Discourages, Work.
Right-Wing Media Have No Clue How Anti-Poverty Programs Work.
There’s A New Study That Says Welfare Pays Better Than Work — Here’s Why It’s Total Nonsense.

08.15.13

There is nothing new under the wingnut sun

Posted in Around The Nation, Had Enough Yet?, Right Wing Lies at 11:23 am by wcnews

The title of this post is how Rick Perlstein ends his article Growing Up in the John Birch Society.

Claire Conner was about 13 years old when her parents handed her a John Birch Society membership form and told her, “You are old enough to take part in saving the nation.” For Claire that meant getting her dollar-a-month dues automatically subtracted from her allowance—and doing a whole lot of cringing.

The crux of the article is that while the Birchers may not be seen, they are still extremely active.

But it also bears a political argument we need to absorb. Explained Conner in Chicago, “The John Birch Society built the most effective, best-funded right-wing populist organization in the United States of America. Now, not all my friends on the left want to hear this. It’s so easy to say, ‘These people were crackpots.” But Robert Welch “was a brilliant man. That doesn’t mean he was correct about anything. But he was a brilliant man. And he loved to sell.” And what comes through strikingly in the book is that, even as Welch and his organization were excoriated, the stories they told, frequently through carefully disguised front groups with pleasant-sounding names—say, the one from the 1960s about how sexual education was teaching children how to be sexually promiscuous; or the one in the early 1990s promoting the impeachment of Bill Clinton—were sold quite effectively to the broader political culture. They achieved things.

We really, really don’t want to believe this. Even Claire Conner did not want to believe this. She writes, remembering the Kennedy assassination, blamed in the wider political culture as a product of just the sort of extremism Birchers were promoting, “the whole right wing is kaput. My parents and the Birchers just became ancient history.” Less than eight months later, of course, Barry Goldwater was the Republican presidential nominee. She writes of her conviction of how the miserable failures of the Bush years were “killing America’s appetite for right-wing Republicans.”

And yet now we have thirty states with Republican majorities, many of them veto-proof.

And at that point, in Chicago, Claire Conner concluded in thunder. “These people are at the point of changing our government. If you want to see how, look at Texas, look at Florida. Look at Ohio. Look at Wisconsin, for God’s sake—my state. Look at Michigan, for heaven’s sake: they think they elected a moderate, but they elected a right-wing radical. That’s how this game is played. They’re changing the policy. And the whole thing is so deep that when they vote them out of office, number one, half of them won’t be able to vote. And number two, we will have years of problems to fix…. We were so happy that we won the popular vote, but they’re buying the place….they’ve virtually stopped the government for five years.”

Claire Conner knows of what she speaks. She was there at the inception—as a sad-eyed, vulnerable adolescent—then watched as the machine was put together: a machine whose deceptively smooth surface has always only barely hid the corrosive ugliness and cunning anti-democratic cleverness underneath, convincing too many liberals, too many times, that the ugliness could not but fade away in the fulness of time—convincing them wrong. Read her, and listen well: there is nothing new under the wingnut sun.

The bolded part speaks to what’s been going on with voting rights, Bigotry for the right reasons, and the sequester, Sequestration Ushers In A Dark Age For Science In America.  And If those are reversed tomorrow, the ramifications are going to last for years. But this did not just come out of thin air.  It’s always been there, and as long as there’s billionaires like the Koch’s are willing to bankroll it, it always will be around.

It’s also why things like this will never end, The Real Reason for the GOP’s All-Out War on Obamacare.

At its core, the Republicans’ scorched-earth opposition to Obamacare has never been so much about “freedom” or “limited government” or any other right-wing ideological buzzword as it has been about political power, pure and simple. Now as for the past 20 years, Republicans have feared not that health care reform would fail the American people, but that it would succeed. Along with Social Security and Medicare, successful health care reform would provide the third and final pillar of Americans’ social safety net, all brought you by the Democratic Party. To put it another way, the GOP was never really concerned about a “government takeover of health care”, “rationing”, “the doctor-patient relationship” or mythical “death panels,” but that an American public grateful for access to health care could provide Democrats with an enduring majority for years to come.

The only way to stop it is to make sure that they’re marginalized to the minority as they were from FDR to Reagan. And it’s why Democrats must learn to fight, the right way, for Obamacare and other things that help the American people.

All of which leads back to how this all will play politically. Democrats can continue to stand behind the law’s general goals — expanding coverage to the uninsured; protecting consumers; reining in insurance industry abuse — while signaling a willingness to fix the law as we go along. Indeed, the expert in House races told me Dems must signal this flexibility or put themselves at risk. But he also notes that the GOP position — pushing for full repeal without proposing a meaningful alternative — is also risky, because it could make Republicans look unwilling to solve people’s problems, a potentially toxic position among less partisan voters.

Drew Altman, the president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has done sophisticated polling on Obamacare for years, agrees. Dems, he told me, “can stand on the benefits of the law, which are popular, and talk about improving the law. That’s a position which will be popular with the public.”

This isn’t to say Dems will win the battle over Obamacare. The law remains unpopular and implementation is a big unknown. Rather, the point is that the GOP position is not a clear winner either. Republicans know this, which is why they are claiming yet againthat they will roll out an alternative to Obamacare this fall. But herein lies the Obamacare Trap. If that effort crashes and burns under conservative criticism — as itdid last time — it will reveal yet again that Republicans simply have no vision for a meaningful role for government to play in fixing the health care system, whether it comes to the consumer protections that are being debated today or anywhere else.

The Birch wing of the GOP is showing too much right now and it’s hurting them. But it needs to be taken on by an alternative that offers what we once had between FDR and Reagan. A country that produced prosperity for its people. And that change won’t come without a struggle.

Further Reading:
ALEC’s Unwelcome Party in Chicago.
Why Is Inequality So Much Higher in the U.S. Than in France?
If You’re Wondering What’s Wrong With America, Look At These Four Charts.

05.29.13

Compassionless conservatism and spite

Posted in 83rd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Health Care, Right Wing Lies at 10:58 am by wcnews

Remember the canard of Bush years, compassionate conservatism?  Well if there ever was such a thing, it is no more in Texas. The original need for the term was for framing purposes because “conservatism” is inherently mean, or compassionless.  In Texas we know that compassionate conservatism in an oxymoron.  Thankfully no everyone is taking the budget the Texas legislature passed sitting down, Groups blast Texas lawmakers over budget deal.

A group of unions, education groups, disability rights activists, social-justice interfaith groups and health care providers and advocates said Monday that lawmakers at best deserve middling to poor marks for their two-year, $197 billion state budget.

Spokesmen for the Texas Forward coalition denounced the budget package for its tax “giveaways” and for not putting back enough of the $12 billion in spending cuts approved by lawmakers in 2011.

Among the casualties are expanded and full-day prekindergarten programs, remedial instruction for failing students and formula funding of public schools, none of which were funded at pre-recession levels, they said.

“There’s a lot of celebration of mediocrity around this budget,” said Phillip Martin, political director of Progress Texas. The group advocated for Medicaid expansion, election reform, more education funding and an end to what it called Gov. Rick Perry’s “corporate gifts” to political donors through the state’s economic development and cancer research funds.

Martin noted that at least $8 billion of the nearly $12 billion in available state savings would be left unspent under the budget measures reaching the Republican governor’s desk.

There will be an $8 billion rainy-day balance, even if voters this fall approve a constitutional amendment that would trigger use of $2 billion for a water infrastructure fund. Under the budget package, an additional $1.9 billion of rainy day money would be used to reverse a school payment delay and pay for recovery from the 2011 wildfires and last month’s fertilizer plant explosion in West.

Eva DeLuna Castro, senior budget analyst at the center-left think tank the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said lawmakers could have spent billions more to undo last session’s cuts. Instead, she said, they obsessed over holding back most of the rainy day money and were afraid to vote to exceed a constitutional limit on spending growth of non-dedicated state taxes.

“This doesn’t get us back to where we used to be, and we could have gotten there,” she said.

She said lawmakers have budgeted too little for Medicaid by up to $2 billion. Between that and the hoarding of rainy day dollars “it’s like a middle-aged person trying to fit into the clothes they wore in high school,” she said.
Eric Hartman, director of governmental relations for the teacher union AFT Texas, said lawmakers undid $3.4 billion of the $4 billion cut in 2011 from the state’s main school aid program but left “expansion grants” for pre-k programs in the ditch. They put back only $30 million, after cutting $200 million last time, he said.

As EOW has said before it is cruel that a state with so much wealth can continue to let so many suffer unnecessarily. But jus as bad or worse is why they won’t join with business and local governments and try and find a way to expand Medicaid. Their hate for President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have so overwhelmed them that they can’t find a way to work out a solution to help those in need. Health Officials Decry Texas’ Snubbing Of Medicaid Billions, (click here to listen).

The state of Texas is turning down billions of federal dollars that would have paid for health care coverage for 1.5 million poor Texans.

By refusing to participate in Medicaid expansion, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, the state will leave on the table an estimated $100 billion over the next decade.

Texas’ share of the cost would have been just 7 percent of the total, but for Gov. Rick Perry and the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature, even $1 in the name of “Obamacare” was a dollar too much.

In other words they’re doing it out of spite.

If your country has no national health insurance but your citizens don’t have the stomach to watch the uninsured die on the hospital sidewalk, something’s got to give. So there’s a national expectation that doctors and hospitals will provide these uninsured populations mostly uncompensated care — and so they do. But few in the industry think this is the way to operate.

Tom Banning, chief executive officer of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, lobbied hard but unsuccessfully for Medicaid expansion. He’s beside himself with frustration.

“These people don’t choose to get sick. When they do, they’re going to access our health care system at the most inefficient and expensive point, which is the emergency room,” Banning says. “And it’s going to cost the taxpayers, and it’s going to cost employers a lot of money to care for them. And we’re going to be forgoing billions of dollars that the feds have set aside for the state to pay for and provide this care.”

This is not about money — if it were, Texas would be taking it. This is about Obamacare. It’s widely believed in Austin that Perry is seriously considering another run for president — this time without the “oops.” His base is Tea Party Republicans across the country. While it might cost $100 billion for the privilege, Perry is going to be able to stand in front of them and say, “I said no to Obama when he tried to bribe my state with health care coverage for the poor.”

And since it’s widely believed that these would-be Medicaid recipients probably don’t vote or, if they do vote, they vote for Democrats, there’s no political price to pay for snubbing them.

Still, there are some Republican legislators who feel bad about not taking the money.

Rep. John Zerwas tried to craft some sort of compromise that never mentioned Medicaid expansion, but he couldn’t get it out of committee — because for Texas Republicans, the very words “health care” now carry the stink of Obamacare.

Zerwas points to “the political realities of having to run for office again in two years, and how much explaining would I have to do as a candidate around a vote that could very easily be framed as a supporter of promoting Obamacare.”

Texas Republicans aren’t worried about the reaction from the left for voting down Medicaid expansion; they’re worried they might get a primary challenge from a Tea Party candidate if the words “health care” pass their lips on the floor of the Legislature. That is, if they’re not already a Tea Party candidate, which many are.

For at least the next two years and probably longer, Medicaid expansion in Texas is dead. What this all means is that more than a million Texans who might have received health care coverage will remain one serious illness or one bad accident away from bankruptcy. And an estimated $100 billion that would have been spent buying health care in Texas will now go somewhere else.

Because of ideology there can be no compromise on an issue that almost everyone, except for those on the extreme right, agree should happen. It certainly seems that compassionless conservatism and spite will keep government in Texas cruel for the foreseeable future.

02.27.13

The wing nuts and Medicaid Expansion

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Health Care, Right Wing Lies at 1:13 pm by wcnews

From the Texas Tribune, GOP Lawmakers to Stick With Perry on Medicaid Expansion.

Two key Republicans legislators — both of them doctors — say they’re sticking with Gov. Rick Perry’s position that Texas will reject the Medicaid expansion provision of federal health reform, despite a rising tide of Republican governors who are embracing it.

During a Texas Tribune Triblive conversation on Wednesday, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, and Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, both spoke against expanding Medicaid, which they called a “broken system.” But they left the door open to working with the Obama administration if it provides more flexibility to let Texas operate the program as it sees fit.

There are many falsehoods that the wing nuts spout about Medicaid. They believe their oft spouted mythology government is reality, but it’s not. The fact is Medicaid is not broken, and is much, much more efficient then private insurance. Here’s one of the Ten Myths About Medicaid.

* Myth 9—The Medicaid program is inefficient.
* FACT: Medicaid compares favorably to other parts of the American health system when measuring administrative efficiency and per enrollee costs.

Compared to private health programs, Medicaid has lower administrative costs per claims paid when compared to private sector plans. Medicaid per capita growth has been consistently about half the rate of growth in private insurance premiums. Both of these factors show that despite program growth, Medicaid is an efficient program.

And, of course, there’s much more about the problems with Medicaid are more the fault of Congress then anything else, Steve Brill: The Health Care Moochers Are Providers, Not Consumers.

Steven Brill has written a must-read article for this week’s Time magazine about health care costs and why we really do have to be concerned about them. Following on that, he made an appearance on the round table segment of This Week to discuss those costs and why he’s sounding the alarm.

Anyone who has spent even a day in the hospital knows what the problem is. When one over-the-counter pain reliever administered in the hospital costs as much as an entire bottle at the pharmacy, there’s a very, very big problem.

Brill correctly points out that Medicare is an efficient program that Congress has managed to hog-tie into some ridiculous costly measures:

And it actually that bears on the conversation we’re having, because a chunk of that money is paid by Medicare. Medicare is I point out in the article is very efficient at most things. It buys health care really efficiently, which is a great irony, because it’s supposed to be the big government of bureaucracy.

Where Medicare is not efficient is where Congress, because of lobbyists have handcuffed Medicare. Medicare can’t negotiate what it pays for any kind of drugs. It can’t negotiate what it pays for wheelchairs, diabetes testing equipment. And if Congress took those handcuffs off of Medicare, you could get about half of the spending cuts that we’re sitting around here talking about.

Yes, this. Of course, that assumes anyone in Congress is brave enough to stand up to the mighty PhRMA lobby, which seems to have as deep a lock on Washington as the gun lobby. Brill also makes the compelling argument for lowering the Medicare eligibility age, which I have argued over and over again here at C&L. The single biggest cost-saver for Medicare would be to drop the eligibility age, let people buy in until they actually reach retirement age, and then they would drop to the levels under the Social Security law.

The problem with Medicaid for Perry and the wing nuts,like Schwertner and Zerwas, is that it’s a government run, not for profit system, that works well. And that’s an affront to everything they believe. They would much rather the federal government give them a chunk of money they could then give the the for profit system, which funds their campaigns. But we all know how that would turn out.

02.05.13

Mendacious demagoguery at its finest

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Right Wing Lies at 12:47 pm by wcnews

This critique of Ted Cruz in Think Progress is devastating, VIEWPOINT: How A Very Smart Senator Showed Us Everything Wrong With The Modern GOP In One Week. The article is largely about the mistruths Ted Cruz used in two Senate hearings last week (one on guns and the other for Chuck Hagel).

Judged kindly, Cruz’ performance in each of these two hearings was aggressively inaccurate. Judged more harshly (and accurately), it was mendacious demagoguery at its finest.

The broader point I got from it is that Cruz may just be playing a part. That he’s too smart to actually believe what he’s saying, but it’s what got him elected so he’s just going to keep doing it.

It shouldn’t have been this way.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is an undeniably smart man. Cruz is by all accounts a brilliant litigator, one talented enough in the courtroom to clerk for a Supreme Court justice and win a number of difficult cases as Texas’ Solicitor General. It wouldn’t have been crazy to expect that Cruz would bring a degree of argumentative rigor into the Senate after his victory in the 2012 election.

Well, Cruz had two golden opportunities to showcase his keen analytical mind, as he sits on both Senate committees that held high profile hearings last week, one on gun violence prevention, the other on Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense. And Cruz distinguished himself alright. Just not in the way one might have hoped.

[...]

Guns and Israel are two issues of paramount importance to staple GOP voting blocs. These voters don’t want mealy-mouthed, hedged defenses of their positions — as evidenced by the Great RINO Purge of the past few election cycles. Rather, these voters want Republicans who see the world as they do: President Obama and the Democrats are attempting to attack their fundamental liberties and eliminate America’s “exceptional” global role, most prominently by “throwing Israel under the bus.” For these voters, the Assault Weapons Ban isn’t just bad policy; it’s a nefarious, unconstitutional gun grab that strikes at the heart of American liberty. Chuck Hagel hasn’t been more qualified in his support for Israel than Republicans would like; he’s an anti-Semite.

Cruz rode this apocalyptic mood to power, pairing a worldview extreme enough to please the base with packaging just well enough to make him acceptable to more establishment folks. As Mother Jones‘ Tim Murphy writes in a profile of the Senator, “Cruz’s greatest asset is that he lives in both worlds;” he’s “an intellectual face on a movement and ideology that have long simmered beneath the Republican mainstream.” Cruz pioneered a marriage between extreme ideas with a manner of expression that allows the party’s “respectable” thought leaders to support it.

Understanding the central dynamic of Cruz’ political strategy is the key to unlocking his intellectually abysmal outings at the Senate last week. His base wants the fireworks, but straight-up calling Hagel an anti-Semite on the Senate floor might be a bit much. So Cruz wraps up more extreme versions of his arguments in intellectual-sounding garb, citing studies and TV clips that are just good enough to justify his firebreathing.

[...]

This adulation illustrates just how deeply rooted GOP dysfunction is. The Republican base elects someone like Cruz, who’s extreme enough to have suggested the United Nations was coming for America’s golf courses. Cruz, who’s not only a ideological member of the base but beholden to it, brings its unsupportable ideas and implacably hostile attitude to the center of the Republican party. And he’s rewarded not just by adulation from his supporters, but widespread praise from the ostensibly serious conservative commentariat. There’s just no incentive for any Republican to speak out against the party’s descent into paranoia, and every reason to believe you’ll be rewarded by giving into it.

So if you want to know why the Republican Party will remain broken for the foreseeable future, go watch the Ted Cruz game tape from this week. And try to think how it could have been otherwise.

What the national media doesn’t understand in a story like this is that, at least for now, Texas is different. Cruz is setting quite a standard so far in his short career time in the Senate. What Ted Cruz is doing shouldn’t surprise anyone, this is exactly why Karl Rove is starting a new front group to, as Digby says, kill the Frankenmonster.

Further Reading:
Ted Cruz Makes Indefensible Vote.
Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz hits the ground running.

01.10.13

Wealth creation not cancer research

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Cronyism, Right Wing Lies at 3:03 pm by wcnews

Rick Perry’s recent comments regarding the mission of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) are despicable. Perry calls creating wealth an intent of cancer agency.

Texas legislators used the noblest of language to tout the 2007 bill that created the state’s taxpayer-funded, $3 billion assault on cancer, but Gov. Rick Perry now says creating wealth is a key mission of the cancer agency.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle this week, Perry said the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas must regain public trust so it can carry out its dual mission of cure discovery and commercialization.

“The way that the Legislature intended it was to get cures into the public’s arena as soon as possible and at the same time create economic avenues (from) which wealth can be created,” said Perry. “Basic research takes a long time and may or may not ever create wealth.”

Perry made the remarks in response to questions about the scrutiny CPRIT is facing as a result of two grants, totaling more than $30 million, that were awarded without proper review. The problems, both involving grants to commercialize discoveries, have prompted numerous investigations.

Perry has been championing the agency’s commercialization side. In the midst of the controversy, Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus sent CPRIT a letter urging it to move beyond the research foundation already laid and expedite treatment delivery within three to five years.

His remarks to the Chronicle Tuesday marked the first time the governor has publicly said creating wealth should be an important agency goal.

Trickle-down research he should call it. Paul Burka had this to say, “He is creating this supposed legislative intent from whole cloth, years after the fact”. Far too many Texans took Perry and The Lege’s at their word back in 2007.  Looking back through the analyses of the Amendments back in 2007 (here and here), wealth creation was never mentioned.

The truly sad part is that many people thought Perry was serious about using this money to find a cure for cancer.  Instead it turns out it’s just another one of his privatization schemes to give Texas taxpayer money to his buddies. Cancer research to make money, not cure cancer….despicable! How much longer are the people of Texas, and the Texas GOP, going to put up with this guy?

01.06.13

Weekend/pre-session reading

Posted in 83rd Legislature, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Right Wing Lies, Speakers Race, The Lege, Williamson County at 3:06 pm by wcnews

What else was he going to say? Chance Dewhurst will run for re-election? ’101 percent’. If he doesn’t say that he’s a lame duck and has no power.

House freshman quickly learning that politics isn’t bean bag. House freshman: Simpson forcing floor vote he can’t win. A tea party’er that takes out an incumbent for supporting Straus is now whining becasue he will have to take a tough vote. Welcome to reality.

The Lege is thinking about more money for teachers….if they want weapons training. Senate leaders look at state funding for gun training for teachers.

Many new faces will be taking the oath on Tuesday, Texas House returns with largest contingent of new members in 40 years.

Williamson County loves giving away taxpayer money to corporations that would have come anyway, As population booms, Williamson County works to bring in businesses.

The 83rd legislature is likely to be much like the 82nd, but with different excuses because this time there will not be a shortfall, but likely a surplus – no matter what “fuzzy math” the Comptroller comes out with tomorrow.

Perry and the wing nuts will come up with every excuse imaginable not to put money back in public education, and the social safety net. All of this will likely make it a much more frustrating legislative session. And also should make it crystal clear to everyone that to change Texas to a more fair and equitable place we must change who we elect.

Stay here through Sine Die for coverage of the 83rd Legislative Session in Texas, aka The Lege.

Further Reading:
From the Texas Observer, If It Were Up To Us…

12.06.12

Texas corporate welfare

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Right Wing Lies, Taxes at 3:05 pm by wcnews

As much as “conservatives” in Texas complain about money that they believe is wasted on government, they should take a close look at the schemes that Gov. Rick Perry and his buddies have setup for corporations in Texas.  Via the NYTimes, Lines Blur as Texas Gives Industries a Bonanza.

The Preston Hollow neighborhood has been home to many of Texas’ rich and powerful — George and Laura Bush, Mark Cuban, T. Boone Pickens, Ross Perot. So it is hardly surprising that a recent political fund-raiser was held there on the back terrace of a 20,000-square-foot home overlooking lush gardens with life-size bronze statues of the host’s daughters.

The guest of honor was Gov. Rick Perry, but the man behind the event was not one of the enclave’s boldface names. He was a tax consultant named G. Brint Ryan.

Mr. Ryan’s specialty is helping clients like ExxonMobil and Neiman Marcus secure state and local tax breaks and other business incentives. It is a good line of work in Texas.

Under Mr. Perry, Texas gives out more of the incentives than any other state, around $19 billion a year, an examination by The New York Times has found. Texas justifies its largess by pointing out that it is home to half of all the private sector jobs created over the last decade nationwide. As the invitation to the fund-raiser boasted: “Texas leads the nation in job creation.”

Yet the raw numbers mask a more complicated reality behind the flood of incentives, the examination shows, and raise questions about who benefits more, the businesses or the people of Texas.

Along with the huge job growth, the state has the third-highest proportion of hourly jobs paying at or below minimum wage. And despite its low level of unemployment, Texas has the 11th-highest poverty rate among states.

“While economic development is the mantra of most officials, there’s a question of when does economic development end and corporate welfare begin,” said Dale Craymer, the president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, a group supported by business that favors incentives programs.

In a state that markets itself as “wide open for business,” the lines are often blurred between decision makers and beneficiaries, according to interviews with dozens of state and local officials and corporate representatives. The government in many instances is relying on businesses and consultants like Mr. Ryan for suggestions on what incentives to grant and which companies should receive them, as well as on other factors that directly affect public spending and budgets, the interviews show.

Mr. Ryan does not claim to be neutral on where the money should go. “It’s widely known that I represent a lot of taxpayers,” he said in an interview. “I have client relationships with people who hopefully, if they invest in Texas, they’ll receive incentives.”

Granting corporate incentives has become standard operating procedure for state and local governments across the country. The Times investigation found that the governments collectively give incentives worth at least $80 billion a year.

The free flow of tax breaks and subsidies in Texas makes it particularly fertile ground to examine these economic development deals and the fundamental trade-off behind them: the more states give to businesses, the less they have available in the short term to spend on basic services, a calculation made more stark by the recession.

[...]

The governor’s office allocates the awards, which state records show amount to millions of dollars each year. In the enterprise zone program, 82 of the 222 awards granted from March 2008 to June 2012 went to companies represented by Mr. Ryan’s firm, according to public records provided by the governor’s office. The list included General Motors, Tyson Foods and the German chemical giant BASF.

Until recently, the cash incentives were overseen in Mr. Perry’s office by a top aide, Roberto De Hoyos. In September, Mr. De Hoyos took a new job — at Ryan LLC.

The abatements have hurt Texas schools.

Lines of new students show up each August at the public schools in Manor. The town is mostly rural, with fields of hay and cattle in every direction. Some of the students’ families came to double up with relatives or friends, others were pushed outward by Austin’s gentrification.

Downtown Manor consists of a couple of blocks lined with spots like Ramos Cocina and a smoke-filled convenience store. There are few doctors and no real place to buy groceries.

About six miles away, a fabrication plant for the South Korean company Samsung looms over one of Manor’s elementary schools, a symbol of corporate interests juxtaposed with a pillar of public spending. The complex, which makes memory chips for smartphones and other products, includes some of the largest buildings in the area: one covers 1.6 million square feet, or about nine football fields.

Since Mr. Perry took office, companies have seen a drop in their school property taxes because of a special incentives program, as well as an across-the-board cut in the school tax rate. The recession has made the squeeze all the more difficult for schools.

In the Manor district, spending shrank by about $540 per student this year, according to the Equity Center, an advocacy group for Texas schools. The cuts came even as school enrollment has nearly tripled since 2000.

The cracks in financing were on display this summer, as families filled a school cafeteria to register for a prekindergarten program with shortened days. For parents like Tommy and Melissa Sifuentes, the cutback means they have to leave work early or hire a baby sitter. “It’s harder,” said Ms. Sifuentes, who is still grateful that her son will learn socialization skills at school.

Of course the relationships get even cozier when the talk turns to the GOP tax swap scheme of 2006. The scheme was hatched by Perry’s former college roommate.

In Texas, tax revenues for schools took a direct hit when Mr. Perry created a commission in 2005 to evaluate the state’s tax system. The State Supreme Court was questioning districts’ property tax rates and warned of a school shutdown if legislators did not intervene. The tax rates had been criticized for years by businesses and residents, but some districts countered that they could not afford to cut them without additional state financing.

Mr. Perry turned to John Sharp, a Democrat and former comptroller, to lead the commission. At the time, Mr. Sharp worked for Ryan LLC. The commission called for districts to cut school property taxes by around one-third. To make up for some of the lost revenue, it recommended adding a business tax, as well as increasing some sales taxes.

“I did what I thought was the best for the state of Texas,” said Mr. Sharp, adding that his position at Ryan LLC did not affect his decisions. “We saved the state of Texas from complete collapse of the school system, and I’m very proud of that.” Mr. Sharp left Ryan last year to become the chancellor of Texas A&M University.

In 2006, the Legislature largely adopted the commission’s proposals and required the state to give districts billions of dollars to allow time for the business tax to make up the difference.

Some six years later, things have not worked out as planned.

The business tax has not yielded anywhere near what Mr. Sharp’s panel projected, and the state has cut its aid to the districts by $5.4 billion. A spokeswoman for Mr. Perry noted that one of the state’s cash incentive funds was also cut back.

And finally the fox is put in charge of the hen house.

For the past few months, a commission created by the Texas Legislature has been taking a broad look at the state’s economic development efforts. It will report back in January with recommendations. Four members of the commission are specifically focused on evaluating the state’s cash grants and the school tax abatement programs. This means that companies in Texas have a lot at stake in the panel’s work.

So does at least one of the commissioners: G. Brint Ryan.

He was appointed to the commission by the state’s lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, who has received more than $150,000 in campaign donations from Mr. Ryan.

At a meeting in mid-September, the panel invited business representatives to testify. Among them was Ms. Morse, the general counsel at Samsung Austin, who urged the commission to continue the school property tax program that benefits her company in the Manor district.

During Ms. Morse’s testimony, it went unmentioned that Samsung is a Ryan client. Ryan LLC had helped the company gain designation as an enterprise zone in 2010, enabling it to receive sales tax refunds from the state on many of its purchases, according to documents obtained by The Times under a public records request.

Mr. Ryan said the commission had never asked him whom he represents.

No representatives from Texas schools spoke at the hearing. But Mr. Ryan said in an interview that school financing and poverty could best be addressed by emphasizing economic activity. He noted his own humble beginnings. “Frankly, I never got one single government handout,” he said.

There’s much more in the article including the state’s tussle with Amazon. It’s incredible what’s happening with taxpayer money in this state.

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