I Guess Facts Are Just a Matter of Opinion…

The things I learn at Juanita Jean’s (the World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon)! Juanita Jean writes from Texas, a state that is definitely in a league of its own (for which I am incredibly grateful…), so no matter how crazy any given story seems, you just know it’s true.

I am pleased to report, however, that even the most ridiculous agencies in the Great State of Texas evidently have their limits. As Juanita writes,

The Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition (formerly known as the Let’s All Drool Consortium) has submitted 469 pages identifying more than 1,500 “factual errors, omission of facts, half-truths and agenda biases” in proposed materials. The material was submitted a month after public comments ended on proposed changes to Texas textbooks.

Among its objections: A passage on coal mining should say it has “minimal effect on the environment”; a chapter on Spanish colonization of Latin America should point out the “continuous discrimination and oppression practiced by the native American peoples on each other”; and a statement that Shariah law requires religious tolerance of non-Muslims should be removed.

You will be gratified to learn that the Texas Board of Education–long an embarrassment–did not look kindly on these proposed changes. Not because they are ridiculous, but because they weren’t offered in a timely manner.

When you are creating an alternate reality in Texas, you really do need to do so in accordance with the official timetable.

Predatory Municipal Finance

Every once in a while, I come across a study that “connects dots”–that makes previously disparate bits of information tell a new and different story.

I had one of these “aha” moments when I came across a Roosevelt Institute report titled “Dirty Deals: How Wall Street’s Predatory Deals Hurt Taxpayers and What We Can Do About It.”

According to the report, Wall Street and several major financial corporations have “engaged in a systemic effort to suppress taxes.” My first reaction to this was disbelief–not because I harbor any illusions about the business practices of Wall Street, but because I didn’t understand why they’d bother to lobby for generalized tax cuts. What would motivate such efforts? What’s in it for them?

Here’s the missing piece: when it is difficult for cities and states to fund even basic public services–let alone ambitious but necessary projects– out of tax revenues, banks can take advantage of that situation by offering state and local governments “creative” (albeit predatory) municipal financing “deals.”

Predatory financing deals prey upon the weaknesses of borrowers, are characterized by high costs and high risks, are typically overly complex, and are often designed to fail.

Ironically, the money that flows to Wall Street and its partners in these transactions often ends up costing taxpayers more than they’d pay by way of a responsible tax rate imposed by elected officials–and elected officials are accountable to voters in ways that Wall Street wheeler-dealers are not. (The report notes that taxpayers “do trillions of dollars of business with Wall Street every year.)

We have a perfect example of the way this works right here and now: Indianapolis’ proposed Justice Center. I’m in favor of the project, but as I’ve noted previously, I’m extremely leery of the “creative” and highly privatized way in which the city proposes to finance it. The terms “high costs,” “high risks”, and “overly complex” certainly seem apt.

The predatory practices highlighted in the Roosevelt report are made possible by voters’ stubborn belief in a free lunch. We want public services, but we don’t like paying for them.  So “creative” politicians work with Wall Street to give us “creative financing” that allows us to pretend we’re getting a bargain.

It’s easy to con people who lie to themselves.


Short-Term, Long-Term

A post-election article from the Houston Chronicle begins with a provocative projection that will comfort people depressed about the midterms:

Few things are as dangerous to a long term strategy as a short-term victory. Republicans this week scored the kind of win that sets one up for spectacular, catastrophic failure and no one is talking about it.

What emerges from the numbers is the continuation of a trend that has been in place for almost two decades. Once again, Republicans are disappearing from the competitive landscape at the national level across the most heavily populated sections of the country while intensifying their hold on a declining electoral bloc of aging, white, rural voters. The 2014 election not only continued that doomed pattern, it doubled down on it. As a result, it became apparent from the numbers last week that no Republican candidate has a credible shot at the White House in 2016, and the chance of the GOP holding the Senate for longer than two years is precisely zero.(emphasis mine)

The article follows this declaration with a matter-of-fact rundown of the electoral college votes–where they are and what a winner will need. His bottom line:

The next Presidential election, and all subsequent ones until a future party realignment, will be decided in the Democratic primary. Only by sweeping all nine of the states that remain in contention AND also flipping one impossibly Democratic state can a Republican candidate win the White House. What are the odds that a Republican candidate capable of passing muster with 2016 GOP primary voters can accomplish that feat? You do the math.

The key to understanding that paragraph (not to mention our toxic political environment),  is “What are the odds that a Republican candidate capable of passing muster with GOP primary voters”….

As the article convincingly demonstrates, the crazies who appeal to the GOP’s current base  are winning in bright red, frequently gerrymandered, mostly rural districts. The problem is, those crazies have now become the (embarrassing) face of the Republican party nationally–making it impossible for the party to win national elections.

We ought not take too much comfort from that.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again–this country needs two adult, sane political parties. Right now, the GOP is controlled by a base that is neither adult nor sane. Unless the remaining Republican grown-ups (whose ranks are thinning) can reassert control, there will be no rational “loyal opposition” to keep Democrats focused and honest, no healthy competition to ensure that all ideas get thoroughly vetted, and no place to go–no alternative to vote for– for the disaffected.

America needs a rational GOP. We had one once, and I miss it.





Play Politics Much?

Every so often, I use this space to share the perspectives of my cousin, a scientist and cardiologist.

Like so many medical professionals, he used to be a reliable Republican; he’s now appalled by the way in which the Grand Old Party has deserted science and especially by its total capitulation to politics over sound medicine. In a recent post to his own blog, he addressed the GOP’s refusal to confirm a stellar candidate to the post of Surgeon General.

In March of this year, President Obama nominated a highly qualified candidate, Vivek Murthy, to be the nation’s next Surgeon General, but the nomination was not advanced to a confirmation vote in the Senate because conservative lawmakers and the National Rifle Association found his reasonable views on firearm regulation unacceptable. Thus a highly respected physician with impressive credentials who would have been an outstanding Surgeon General was rejected solely for political reasons. Although I, for one, believe that the regulation of firearms does indeed qualify as being a health/medical issue (see my post of May 30, 2013), it certainly should not constitute a “litmus test” for qualification for such a position.

Ya think?

Bottom line: The office of Surgeon General is vacant because a highly qualified doctor has pissed off the NRA by saying something that every sentient being understands to be true: gun violence is a public health issue.

No one in the GOP–and damn few Democrats–are willing to stand up to an organization so far out of the mainstream of public opinion that its own members think it is too extreme.

Our political system is so broken, it may be beyond repair.

Can We Ever Lance This Boil?

One of the people whose writing I very much admire is Phil Gulley. I first encountered his essays in The Indianapolis Monthly, but I subsequently learned that he contributes to a number of other venues, and recently I came across a really profound piece he wrote for Salon.

These paragraphs, particularly, struck me:

The merit of a position can be gauged by the temperament of its supporters, and these days the NRA reminds me of the folks who packed the courtroom of the Scopes monkey trial, fighting to preserve a worldview no thoughtful person espoused. This worship of guns grows more ridiculous, more difficult to sustain, and they know it, hence their theatrics, their parading through Home Depot and Target, rifles slung over shoulders. Defending themselves, they say. From what, from whom? I have whiled away many an hour at Home Depots and Targets and never once come under attack.

What drives this fanaticism? Can I venture a guess? Have you noticed the simultaneous increase in gun sales and the decline of the white majority? After the 2010 census, when social scientists predicted a white minority in America by the year 2043, we began to hear talk of “taking back our country.” Gun shops popped up like mushrooms, mostly in the white enclaves of America’s suburbs and small towns. One can’t help wondering if the zeal for weaponry has been fueled by the same dismal racism that has propelled so many social ills.

Although I agree with Gulley about guns, I think I responded so strongly to these  paragraphs because I have become increasingly despondent about the unbelievable (at least to me) resurgence in overt racism since the election of Barack Obama.

Let me get a couple of caveats out of the way first: yes, it is perfectly possible to disagree with President Obama without being a racist. Not every such disagreement, or strong criticism, is fueled by racist animus. And although the election of a black President is not, unfortunately, a sign that we are a post-racial society, it is a sign that America has made progress.

That said, after Obama’s election, and before he even took office, the rocks lifted and what crawled out should shame us all.

It began with internet “jokes” about watermelons and “uppity” African-Americans, with Fox News “commentators” charging that Obama was the “real racist” and vast amounts of similar garbage that fed the accusations of the “birthers” (a black man by definition couldn’t be a “real American”). Long-time bigots like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck had a field day, as we might have expected, but the pushback we also should have expected wasn’t exactly resounding.

It has become acceptable again to share racist sentiments in “polite company”–to tell “jokes” or make aspersions that had previously (and thankfully) gone underground.

And so here we are.

A California man claims he was defending himself last year when he ran over a black man, killing him, following an altercation outside McDonalds.

Joseph Paul Leonard Jr. burned rubber for 23 feet before crashing into 34-year-old Toussaint Harrison during the June 6, 2013 incident, reported the Sacramento Bee.

Leonard, now 62, got out of his pickup and kicked Harrison several times in the head with his steel-toed work boots, authorities said.

“Just because we got Obama for a president, these people think they are real special,” Leonard said after his arrest.

These people.

When the President nominated Loretta Lynch to succeed Eric Holder, twitter feeds exploded with racist comments. White supremacists recently rallied outside Dallas, “to protect the American way of life.” George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missiouri.  A noose around the neck of a statue of a famous civil rights figure at the University of Mississippi. The list could go on for pages–indeed, examples routinely dot my Facebook feed, as friends post everything from insensitive behaviors to horrifying incidents–most accompanied by sentiments like “words fail.”

Words do fail.

I understand that people resent losing privilege and hegemony. I recognize that social change can be profoundly disorienting, and that the gun-toting, race-baiting bullies are frightened and lost. But ultimately, the bullies aren’t the problem. The “nice” people who forward the emails, who chuckle approvingly at the “jokes,” who claim to hate the President because he’s an unAmerican Nazi-socialist and not because he’s black, the elected officials who have made it their sole mission is to keep this President from achieving anything, no matter how good for the country, no matter that their party thought of it first–those people are the problem.

And Houston, we really, really have a problem.