Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Monday, April 25, 2011

ANN: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards

We went to the 1894 Opera House Saturday to see Holland Taylor in her one-woman play of Governor Ann Richards. It was well received by a full house of folks who were no doubt grateful to remember a time when this state had leadership, not the cynical pandering and cronyism we’ve suffered lately. (Can you imagine people cueing up to see a show about Rick Perry?)

It must be a thrill for Holland to inhabit such a larger-than-life character and she made the most of it, reminding us of the charm and wit that made Richards a Texas treasure and national figure. Speechmaking, working the phone and needling her staff, friends and family, Holland’s Richards delivered well-known lines with the candor and humor she was known for, and the audience was with her all the way. Holland must have been thinking of this role when she quoted Richards once saying “Do you believe we get to do this?”

Richards became Governor amidst a severe economic downturn. She put Texas on a path to growth even as we learned that oil revenues could no longer carry the state. She took on the heavy lifting required to address the school finance system and worked to bring the prison system into the twentieth century. Her veto of a concealed carry bill probably cost her a second term. That was ten thousand shooting deaths ago.

Someday Texans will again elect honest and able leadership. When we do, Ann Richards “will be very near.”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Keep Your Sunny Side Up

My brother is one of the few, (maybe none) optomists left I know of. There are bunches of phoney optimists, that are really just cynics deep down, that don't want to admit this place we call home is in a shitstorm of bad mojo. Of course, there are morons, too.

But my bubba is a true-believer of the sort who is convinced that humanity can whup any trouble once we get our collective mind to it. Incidently, where the President's quality of positive outlook lies on this human scale is anybody's guess. I have a feeling he has a box of canned goods, macaroni and a flashlight stored somewhere in the house. After all, he was vigorously hawking Volts yesterday with an earnest smile.

With all the gloom around; made that much worse from the hazey smoke of burning Abilene suburbs, I was cheered a little to see this week that the Senate found a little bit of money to save state athletic programs and slightly weaken cuts to HHS, ironically, from the "Rainy Day Fund." Of little note, a local court did temporarily enjoin further spending on an unpopular flood control program, but since Nature obviously never intens to let it rain again, such measures fail to generate much excitement.

Anyway, mi hermano allows himself little patience for Henny Penny's telling him to wear a helmet. Finally, we both agreed that at our age, hiding with a shotgun in the Hill Country, nervously clutching our gold coins and un-engineered seed corn is petty silly. If a Strangelovian underground compound stocked with a 100 to 1 babes was offered up, that's different; but, I don't think Newt Gingrich has me on his list.

It's the children that need the help. We don't seem to be helping much. And the conviction that humanity will wake up soon to realize that the time to pull together is slipping away might come too late.

There's a guy who has kids that are relying on them to be strong, optimistic and hopeful that needs us to think positively about his current struggle. If you know him, you can affirm that he always gives and never complains, and in that sense, is the real optimist.

Gary Raymon "Beat-O" Spring survived complicated heart valve surgery in Houston on Thursday, and is recovering at home. I, and all of the ZDD tribe wish him God's Speed.

I will forward him any messages, but feel free to say hello.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chupacabra Report: News that Gets My Goat

Today Juanita linked to a Texas Observer story about my State Representative John Davis. He has introduced a bill, HB2187, to cap the sales tax on yacht sales at $15,625; that is the usual 6.25% sales tax on a yacht costing $250,000. So if you’re in the market for a million dollar boat, this could be good news for you.

Proponents say that this measure would keep rich Texans from buying and docking in Florida, which passed a similar measure last year. Poopdeck. In a state facing a $27 billion budget shortfall, laying off schoolteachers, cutting children’s health insurance and closing nursing homes, this just sounds too Louis the Sixteenth. If the state of Florida wants to give away the store to millionaires, (and they do: last year they elected a governor, Rick Scott, who lead insurance giant Colombia/HCA to commit 14 felony crimes involving overbilling Medicare and paying kickbacks to doctors. Colombia/HCA paid $600 million in fines, and Scott resigned with $350 million in stock) they are free to do so. But I would hope that even our smarmy legislators would be ashamed to vote for a bill like this.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

IPeanuts With That?

With folks water in Japan being tainted with nuke material, along with the milk, I wonder at what point mom's might consider beer as a delicious substitute for their thirsty tots. Kind of like up-grading from bread to cake. This is an old concept that never quite took off in times past as the official government respnse to shortages, and the like. Heck, disasters and revolution can be fun, from a certain point of view.

"Hey, what kind of society let's babies and children stay drunk all the time?"

The kind that doesn't seem to care very much about things that used to matter, or in which information about the truth becomes so perverted that no one can make a good choice anymore.

My sympathy for Japanese moms is deeper and more profound than I can put into words here. But at least this sad plight visited on them resulted from relatively accidental consequences. However, the public health emergency imposed by such circumstances can be measured and dealt with based on known facts, (which are demonstrably in short supply from the sheepish Japanese authroities who seem to revise their estimates of the danger as they go along) and efforts can be made to repair the harm. In the case of the public health catastrophy underway here made real by misguided public policy based on ig norance, greed and hate - not so much.

It appears likely to me that the state and federal budgets are going to be balanced on the backs of the poor, and little can be done to change this apparent reality. This is a decision we have made collectively and it is bound to run its course in terms of immediate and lasting consequences to public health.

For instance, children alive today because of treatment covered under Medicaid, who require regular therapy and other services currently covered under Medicaid can expect this to end. CF kids will choke and die, CP kids will never function independently, MD kids will wither away and expire, hungry kids will goo without food, MR kids will go into state institutions; premies will be still-born. Moms will suffer mal-nutrition and sub-standard prenatal care. I could go on, but I won't. Instead, I will endeavor to report what I see, and hope for the best.

Pop a top for the fools that born you, junior.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Chupacabra Report

News that Gets My Goat..

Does anybody remember the Great recession that crashed down on us in 2007? You know, the one where millions of Americans (and millions more around the world) lost their jobs, homes, savings, benefits; that one?

You remember don’t you? The Bush and Obama administrations, along with the Congress had to enact Keynesian emergency stimulus measures to keep financial institutions afloat so we didn’t go into an actual depression like Grandma used to tell us about. Yeah, the bailouts and stimulus that drove so many teabaggers crazy as if they’d prefer to live in a Mad Max movie than the society and economy that we’ve built together since the Great Depression and World War II.

As all this went down, I read up on the Great Depression and how the Federal government responded (or in the case of the Hoover administration, didn’t respond.) In a trial and error process that took some years, FDR and Jessie Jones spent $50 billion (about $700 billion in today’s money) salvaging the banking system, lending to communities and companies, and even directly putting people to work building projects like the Hoover Dam, parks, roads and public buildings through the National Recovery Administration, the Works Progress Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

At this time the congress created the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and passed the Glass-Steagall Act. These and other reforms worked to prevent unhealthy speculation, abuses, and the boom and bust cycles that plagued our country since its inception.

In the 1990’s Congress passed and Clinton signed the Commodities Futures Modernization Act and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act, instituting a booming market in Collateralized Debt Obligations, Credit Default Swaps, Mortgage Backed Securities and Sub-Prime Mortgages; the instruments of an economic destruction that the world has yet to recover from.

So, where am I going with all this? Today I read an AP report that the SEC is considering whether to ease rules on private companies that issue shares. SEC Chair Mary Shapiro, a career financial insider (and friend of the Madoff family) informed Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Chairman of the House Oversight and government Reform Committee, that her staff is reviewing the rules in order to allow private companies to raise money by issuing stock while avoiding reporting requirements that public companies must follow. This from someone who as a SEC Commissioner in 1993 advocated “financial innovation” through removal of unnecessary and inappropriate regulatory supervision of securities firms and derivative markets. We should all remember how well that worked out.

Chupacabra Report

Road trip last weekend, Mrs. Hoarse and I drove to San Antonio where we saw Jokahontas win the steeplechase at the Tiger Relays. Saturday I dropped the Missus off in Brenham to do a funrun with her friends the library ladies, and I drove back to The Bakery to join the collective, conspiring to commit music in the ArtCar Parade next month. It was nice trip, much of it on two-lane blacktop through the hills of central Texas. Sunday I got home to read The Chronicle and of course, saw some news that got my goat..

-A story by the Bloomberg News’ David Lynch reports that “The jobs and housing boom promised by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan relies upon an economic theory that has been rejected by both the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and the International Monetary Fund.” Their new dogma is called the “theory of expansional fiscal contraction;” not everybody is buying it. “The idea that cutting government spending will so improve business and consumer confidence as to cause an immediate upswing in growth finds little support on Wall Street. Realistically, most of the evidence leans toward an adverse impact on growth in the near term, said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan Securities in New York” How convenient, this is just the latest version of ‘trickle-down economics’ with the added benefit of an immediate economic downturn that could hurt Obama’s re-election prospects. Country be damned; party first, is it?

-Carl Hulse of the New York Times reports that “the budget compromise late Friday that narrowly averted a government shutdown calls for increasing Pentagon spending while imposing significant cuts on a wide range of domestic federal programs.” Figures; for all the cries of “we’re broke! we’re broke!,” the gravy caissons are still the most sacred of cows.

-Shay Totten at The New England Center for Investigative Reporting writes that “Internal government watchdogs and outside experts alike say the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is too lenient on the industry it is charged with regulating, often making decisions based on the industry's profit margins rather than public safety. “The charges are similar to complaints leveled against the Mine Health Safety Administration and the Minerals Management Service over the past year, after high-profile tragedies -- the Upper Big Branch Mine collapse and the Deepwater Horizon spill -- in the industries they are responsible for regulating.”

This isn’t really news either, as demonstrated by drilling contractor Transocean recently trying to award bonuses to top executives for their “exemplary statistical safety record.” Transocean, of course was the company operating the Deepwater Horizon rig when it exploded, killing eleven people.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Town Hall in Clear Lake

Congressman Pete Olson hosted a town hall meeting in Clear Lake Saturday morning and I attended, joining a couple of hundred of my neighbors at a local intermediate school. The mostly older crowd signed in and found seats, clutching the printouts of the slide presentation we were to see, some filling out questions for the promised Q&A session.

I was surprised to see a young lady in front of me wearing a crown, and struggled to remember where in the Constitution it forbids royal titles. This was Rachael Turner, Miss Houston, here to lead us in the pledge to the flag and the national anthem. After that newly-elected Harris County Precinct Two Commissioner Jack Mormon introduced the congressman. I’d never seen Commissioner Mormon before; I don’t think anybody had before he tagged Sylvia Garcia with the distinction of being the first county commissioner since reconstruction to be defeated in an election. Was it her gender or her Spanish surname that did her in? A low turnout by the usual voters? Or maybe a big get-out-the-vote effort by bicycle-peddling LDS missionaries, who can tell?

Congressman Olson announced that this meeting was going to be all about the deficit and the National Debt, and then he put up the ‘glossary’ slide to make sure everybody knew the difference. He went on with his talking points about the “Tidal Wave of Debt.” One audience member interrupted, indignant at the bogus numbers on the screen, and asked Olson where he was when Bush was doubling the debt? Olson side-stepped this challenge and asked the audience to show respect for those in attendance by holding his remarks for the Q&A session. I felt that the audience was being disrespected by being fed phony numbers straight from the GOP think tanks. Nobody asked him why, if balancing the budget is their goal, their first priority was to extend the Bush tax cuts for top-earners. No doubt his response would be that tax cuts and de-regulation spur the economy and create jobs, though there was little evidence of this during the Bush years.

For example, his pie chart showed the 2010 Defense outlay at $692 billion, roughly equal to the cost of Social Security that year. However, adding in Defense-related spending for Federal law enforcement, NASA, the Energy Department (for atomic weapons,) Homeland Security, the State Department, Veterans Affairs and the interest costs on all this, the total almost doubles to $1.2 trillion.

Olson deplored the recent ban on Gulf drilling, but of course didn’t mention the decades of lax regulation that led to disaster there, and didn’t note that domestic crude production has been rising in recent years, ban notwithstanding. He spoke of energy independence, like we could replace the 70% imported crude we use every year by drilling in Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Fracking is no threat to groundwater in this alternate reality, the EPA is part of an environmentalist conspiracy, climate change a hoax, and nuclear power our future.

If nuclear power is such a great deal, why doesn’t the private sector build it, and private underwriters insure it? If taxpayer subsidies were available for green power like they go to nuclear plants, we’d all have windmills and solar panels at our homes!

The Teabaggers in attendance were all for ‘drill baby drill,’ one calling for Congress to de-fund the EPA. Olson said that the House was working on legislation to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, and that he wanted to stop NASA from doing climate science, “because fifteen other Federal agencies were already doing it.”

Despite their ire at interruptions from folks they didn’t agree with, this crowd was rowdy at times, no more so than when the subject of immigration came up, proof of the success of the GOP’s divide-and-conquer scapegoating strategy. The other red meat for this crowd was the prospect of shutting down government operations when the current Continuing Resolution runs out. “Shut it down” people called out, making me wonder how these folks will feel when their Social Security and Medicare payments are interrupted. Some in the crowd barked about General Electric not paying any taxes last year, but Olson sympathized with GE, saying they need consideration because our tax system put them at a disadvantage when operating overseas. He must have learned that while GE lobbyists were convincing him to vote for their alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter.

Congressman Olson, while trying to lay the blame for our troubles at the feet of President Obama and the Democrats in Congress, couldn’t really deny that the economy ran into the ditch under President Bush. He did praise him for going to war to make us safe, noting that there had been no successful attacks on us since 2001. He did not go on to claim that Bush kept us safe from volcanoes and asteroid strikes, though those claims would be equally logical.

In answer to a question, the congressman said that he was in favor of term limits, but he qualified that saying that he didn’t want them for just his party, claiming that Joe Barton lost the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee because of time served as ranking minority member. This was a whopper; the GOP dumped Barton because he’d become an embarrassment.

A funny thing, at least twice when discussing Senate politics, I heard him use the word “we;” Is this just a hang-over from his days as aide to Senators Phil Gramm and John Cornyn? Or does Pete Olson have dreams of higher office? Frankly, I don’t think he has the chops to hold the one he’s got. He was re-elected over an unknown candidate from the Lyndon LaRouche cult. His mainstream republican positions will leave him open to sniping from the right-wing nuts that vote in the GOP primaries, and the next change in the mood of the electorate, or a big draw at the top of the ticket, could make him vulnerable to a Democratic candidate.

Meanwhile Speaker Boehner has a reliable vote from District 22. And what is their agenda? Here’s the Republican budget plan I was handed Saturday morning:

-No changes for those in or near retirement
-Fulfill the mission of health and retirement security
-Lift the crushing burden of debt
-Spur economic growth and a path to prosperity

A little light on specifics isn’t it? I would say the real plan is to run the country into the ground and hope the voters turn to them in 2012. Cynical.