Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Monday, March 25, 2013
Today’s Chronicle has a column by Peggy Fikac where she tells of more money bringing a kinder tone to this year’s legislature.
“They’ve stayed away from the issues that divided the last legislative session,” “Even Gov. Rick Perry didn’t find anything controversial to declare an emergency item.”
She quotes Senate Finance vice chair Juan Hinojosa who says “First of all we have money. More importantly, we have really stayed away from the divisive issues. I think the last election had consequences.”
Well, when a solid majority in the statehouse insists on living in an imaginary past, any current issue is “divisive.” Such issues include public health, infrastructure and education funding.
The legislature has ignored the pleas of city and county officials and hospital administrators across the state to join in a medicaid expansion that would bring ten billion dollars a year in federal money to provide affordable health coverage to the 25% of Texans without it.
With most of the state seeing another year of drought conditions, this legislature has yet to make a realistic effort to fund a state water plan that gets more expensive with every year of inaction.
They have failed to address a school funding crisis caused by the last session’s budget cuts, again leaving the issue in the hands of the Federal Court system, while school districts lay off staff and classrooms bulge.
The Lege also considered legislation to regulate payday and auto title lenders in Texas, who can charge 600% interest on small loans to broke and desperate Texans. The industry weighed in, spending $4 million to influence lawmakers and now the bill is so watered-down that even the sponsors won’t support it. Worse, the bill would nullify local laws passed by the city of San Antonio and others. As one lawmaker put it, the law as written now would legitimize usury in Texas.
So, all is groovy in Austin this session, and the legislature is doing a heck of a job, if you ask the right people.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Those Rice guys always good for a quote..
Thursday, March 21, 2013
News that Gets My Goat
News today from Washington that Congress has passed the first gun–related measures since the Newtown schoolhouse massacre that killed twenty elementary school children three months ago.
The Congress passed a spending bill to continue funding government operations and attached two measures to make permanent a pair of often-renewed NRA-inspired rules that first; forbid the use of any Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms gun data by social scientists or public health professionals to study the cause and effects of gun violence in America, and second; prohibit the ATF from requiring licensed gun dealers to take inventory of their stock.
Let’s take these separately; first, consider this common event. Somewhere in America, a proud owner of a new automatic pistol is showing it off to an acquaintance. Being safety-minded, he removes the magazine before handing it to his friend to admire, unmindful that he’s already jacked a round from the magazine into the tube. His friend then pulls the trigger, firing that forgotten round god-knows-where. This probably happens at least once a day in America. Now; if some concerned doctor, say at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center has decided to study such incidents, he has to do it working from scattered reports from law enforcement agencies all across the country because Federal authorities are prohibited from sharing any data they may have. This would be an impediment to doctors or scientists who might lobby legislators to require that such firearms sold in this country be designed to indicate to the user when a round is in the chamber or that it not fire when the magazine is removed.
And secondly; imagine some day in the future. In this future, President Justin Bieber is attacked by a cell of heavily-armed bi-polar ex-cons from North Korea. Law enforcement authorities trace the automatic weapons used in the attack to a gun dealer in the Rio Grande Valley, and Congress and citizens ask who is responsible for selling these guns to the international cell of deranged criminals. Well, Mr. Jimmy Bob Inbrid, proprietor of Valley View Guns and Liquor need only say that the weapons in question were ‘lost or stolen’ from his extensive inventory, which is ‘too durn big to count or keep track of anyways’ and he is home-free.
Such legislative ham-stringing of law enforcement belies the oft-heard line from the NRA that “we don’t need more gun laws; we just need to enforce the ones already on the books.” The ATF has not had a permanent director since 2006, when at the behest of the NRA, Congress decreed that the ATF Director would thereafter be confirmed by the Senate. The ATF today has the same number of agents that it had in the 1970’s, when the US population was just over 200 million. Now we have half again as many people and twice as many guns.Such is what we’ve come to expect from the sausage factory that is Congress, where the will of the people is of little note to legislators in the sway of the gun manufacturer’s lobby; the NRA, which spent $15 million last year on campaign contributions and lobbying. Despite all that spending, the NRA actually had a losing record in races they tried to influence last year; and there lies the answer to this problem of democracy. “Gun Rights” legislators are going to have to have their asses handed to them by ‘voters for gun sanity’ before they stop bowing to the increasingly bizarre demands of the gun lobby. Let’s do it.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
News that Gets My Goat
I’ve just read a story by BBC reporter David Taylor about candidate Richard Nixon sabotaging the Paris Peace Talks in 1968. Seems that in 1968, Nixon sent campaign advisor Anna Chenault to the South Vietnamese embassy to ask them to withdraw from the peace talks, saying that they would get a better deal under a president Nixon. At that time North Vietnam was making concessions such that President Johnson was preparing to cease bombing of the north.
And Johnson knew what Nixon was doing. White House tapes record Johnson speaking to Senators Richard Russell and Everett Dirkson about Nixon’s treacherous actions. But Johnson couldn’t go public with the story, which surely would have ensured the election of Vice President Hubert Humphrey, because the information came through FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal wiretaps of South Vietnamese Embassy phones, and Johnson himself was complicit neck-deep in Hoover’s decades-long reliance on illegal break-ins and wiretaps.
These revelations move this story from the conspiracy theory to the solid history column, and will no doubt change the way the history is written and taught; finally driving a stake through the heart of Nixon’s rehabilitation. Makes me wish we could bring Nixon back again for violating the Logan Act and the Espionage Act, if not for treason. At least I can hope we’ve seen the end of Republicans praising him before friendly audiences, or love-fests such as the centennial of Nixon’s birthday this year at the Nixon Library.
Friday, March 15, 2013
I don't get it; does the crazy float uphill or down?
In Washington this week the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out a bill to require universal background checks for gun sales. It did so without a single vote from any of the Republicans on the committee, including Texas Senators John Cornyn and Rafael Cruz.
Meanwhile in Austin legislators are considering bills that would nullify any federal gun control measures, by exempting any Texas-made firearms or even jailing any law enforcement officers that attempt to enforce new federal laws.
Legislators heard testimony from Pastor Aubrey Vaughn of the Beulah Land Baptist Church near Conroe Texas who said "It's not just a constitutional right, God has given us a basic right to bear arms." Pastor Vaughn has fought before for our "God-given rights" by going to jail for driving without a license because the Texas Department of Safety requires a Social Security number on drivers license applications, or; as Pastor Vaughn describes it, "the mark of the beast."
So are Cornyn and Cruz callously disregarding the safety and wishes of their constituents by opposing reasonable restrictions on gun sales? Or are they merely in the sway of the powerful gun lobby, fearful of being primaried by well-financed gun-waving Second Amendment zealots? Or are they simply reflecting the wishes of a minority of the state's citizens, however deranged?
What's the difference? This is just another case where citizens of Texas will be waiting for Federal law, demographic attrition, or other glacially-paced cultural change to drag them kicking and screaming into the current century.
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
News today that the Texas Legislature’s GOP House Caucus voted overwhelmingly against Medicaid expansion, that is, against spending fifteen billion dollars over the next ten years to draw down over one hundred billion dollars in federal money to cover millions of uninsured Texans. Legislators of course are interested in the money, but Medicaid expansion goes against their ideology of screwing people and getting a piece of the action. Governor Perry rails against Medicaid as “a broken system.” Broken compared to what? Texas leads the nation in uninsured, with 24% of the population having no coverage.
Paul Krugman wrote on this subject this week, here’s some:
“Now, in the end most states will probably go along with the expansion because of the huge financial incentives: the federal government will pay the full cost of the expansion for the first three years, and the additional spending will benefit hospitals and doctors as well as patients. Still, some of the states grudgingly allowing the federal government to help their neediest citizens are placing a condition on this aid, insisting that it must be run through private insurance companies. And that tells you a lot about what conservative politicians really want.
“Consider the case of Florida, whose governor, Rick Scott, made his personal fortune in the health industry. At one point, by the way, the company he built pleaded guilty to criminal charges, and paid $1.7 billion in fines related to Medicare fraud. Anyway, Mr. Scott got elected as a fierce opponent of Obamacare, and Florida participated in the suit asking the Supreme Court to declare the whole plan unconstitutional. Nonetheless, Mr. Scott recently shocked Tea Party activists by announcing his support for the Medicaid expansion.
“But his support came with a condition: he was willing to cover more of the uninsured only after receiving a waiver that would let him run Medicaid through private insurance companies. Now, why would he want to do that?
“Don’t tell me about free markets. This is all about spending taxpayer money, and the question is whether that money should be spent directly to help people or run through a set of private middlemen.
“And despite some feeble claims to the contrary, privatizing Medicaid will end up requiring more, not less, government spending, because there’s overwhelming evidence that Medicaid is much cheaper than private insurance. Partly this reflects lower administrative costs, because Medicaid neither advertises nor spends money trying to avoid covering people. But a lot of it reflects the government’s bargaining power, its ability to prevent price gouging by hospitals, drug companies and other parts of the medical-industrial complex.”
“You might ask why, in that case, much of Obamacare will run through private insurers. The answer is, raw political power. Letting the medical-industrial complex continue to get away with a lot of overcharging was, in effect, a price President Obama had to pay to get health reform passed. And since the reward was that tens of millions more Americans would gain insurance, it was a price worth paying.
“But why would you insist on privatizing a health program that is already public, and that does a much better job than the private sector of controlling costs? The answer is pretty obvious: the flip side of higher taxpayer costs is higher medical-industry profits.
“So ignore all the talk about too much government spending and too much aid to moochers who don’t deserve it. As long as the spending ends up lining the right pockets, and the undeserving beneficiaries of public largess are politically connected corporations, conservatives with actual power seem to like Big Government just fine.”