Monday, January 24, 2011

Texas Depended Most On Federal Stimulus Of Any State

Gov. Perry has been a consistent critic of government spending, frequently pointing to Texas as proof that conservative budget austerity -- spending cuts coupled with low taxes -- works.

Gov. Perry raised his national profile by repeatedly criticizing the Obama administration’s support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (i.e. federal stimulus) in response to a near collapse of the American economy during Pres. Bush's administration.

In contrast to Perry's criticism of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Texas legislature used federal stimulus funds to fill almost the entire budget deficit for fiscal 2009-2010, even as Perry scored political points grandstanding against the Federal Government. According to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures released Monday, Texas relied more heavily on stimulus funding to patch over its structural budget deficit problem than any other state:
Turns out Texas was the state that depended the most on those very stimulus funds to plug nearly 97% of its shortfall for fiscal 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Texas, which crafts a budget every two years, was facing a $6.6 billion shortfall for its 2010-2011 fiscal years. It plugged nearly all of that deficit with $6.4 billion in Recovery Act money, allowing it to leave its $9.1 billion rainy day fund untouched.
As Texas grappled with its 2009-2010 state budget deficit during the 2009 legislative session Gov. Perry made headlines for months proclaiming that President Obama’s economic stimulus plan was unneeded and unwelcome in Texas and "we can take care of ourselves.”

Perry, speaking in support of conservative fiscal ideology, said that federal money from Washington is so onerous to "all" Texans that we may rise up in revolt and secede from the United States by invoking the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Yet, Gov. Perry wrote a letter to President Obama accepting all of Texas' $17 billion share of the federal stimulus money made available by the stimulus legislation signed into law by Obama. (Read Perry's letter to President Obama) On the same day Perry asked Pres. Obama for the bailout money, he started a petition called "No Government Bailouts."
"Join our fight and add your voice to a growing list of several thousand Americans who are fed up with this irresponsible spending that threatens our future," Perry wrote on his blog on Feb. 18, 2009.
Texas used Recovery Act stimulus money not only to fill the state's 2009-2010 budget gap, but also to fund billions of dollars in infrastructure projects over the past two years.

After nearly two years of criticizing the fiscal policies of the Obama administration and touting “the hard work that Texas and states like ours have done to make prudent fiscal decisions,” Texas faces a budget fiasco on par with that in California.

Gov. Perry says the state's conservative budget austerity yields "fertile ground for job growth," yet in 2010 the state created only new 230,800 jobs to replace the 359,000 jobs lost in 2009. The Texas Workforce Commission reports the unemployment rate in Texas was 8.3 percent in December, up from 8.2 percent in November. As unemployment continues to deepen Texas'unemployment rate remains near 22-year highs.

While tax revenues have steadily declined due to a sluggish economy and job cuts across Texas, Gov. Perry has continually dismissed the idea that Texas has a growing structural budget deficit problem.

With the economy still sluggish the state comptroller estimated that tax revenues will further decline in fiscal 2012-2013. But, now, the Federal stimulus money to make up the difference is running out. The state comptroller now projects Texas has a $27 billion deficit for fiscal 2012-2013. State lawmakers last week released an austere budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal years that cuts $31 billion in spending. Public schools, colleges, collage students, Medicaid and social services, public safety (police and prisons) and transportation will all be hit hard.

If Texas can not produce a well educated workforce, or build and maintain roads, or keep crime off the streets, how does that make "fertile ground for job growth?"

President Obama: JFK On The 50th Anniversary Of His Inauguration

President Obama celebrates the
50th anniversary of JFK's Inauguration
Kennedy Center
President Barack Obama last Thursday paid tribute to President John F. Kennedy on the anniversary of his inauguration 50 years ago.

"We are the heirs of this president, who showed us what is possible," Obama said. "Because of his vision, more people prospered, more people served, our union was made more perfect. Because of that vision I can stand here tonight as president of the United States."

He said Kennedy led a "volatile America, in this tinderbox of a world," with a steady hand, "defusing the most perilous crisis since the Cold War without firing a single shot."

Pres. Obama also noted Kennedy's work to help blacks attend their choice of college, launch the Peace Corps of goodwill ambassadors around the world and set America's sights on landing on the moon. "He knew that we, as a people, can do big things. We can reach great heights. We can rise to any challenge, so long as we're willing to ask what we can do for our country," Obama said, recreating one of the more memorable lines from Kennedy's inaugural address.

As President Obama prepares to give his State of the Union address before Congress on Tuesday, I hope he remembers some more of JFK's words:

John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
September 14, 1960 - From JFK Library Archive

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

But first, I would like to say what I understand the word "Liberal" to mean and explain in the process why I consider myself to be a "Liberal," and what it means in the presidential election of 1960.

In short, having set forth my view -- I hope for all time -- two nights ago in Houston, on the proper relationship between church and state, I want to take the opportunity to set forth my views on the proper relationship between the state and the citizen. This is my political credo:

I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas. It is, I believe, the faith in our fellow citizens as individuals and as people that lies at the heart of the liberal faith. For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man's ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves.

I believe also in the United States of America, in the promise that it contains and has contained throughout our history of producing a society so abundant and creative and so free and responsible that it cannot only fulfill the aspirations of its citizens, but serve equally well as a beacon for all mankind. I do not believe in a superstate. I see no magic in tax dollars which are sent to Washington and then returned. I abhor the waste and incompetence of large-scale federal bureaucracies in this administration as well as in others. I do not favor state compulsion when voluntary individual effort can do the job and do it well. But I believe in a government which acts, which exercises its full powers and full responsibilities. Government is an art and a precious obligation; and when it has a job to do, I believe it should do it. And this requires not only great ends but that we propose concrete means of achieving them.

Our responsibility is not discharged by announcement of virtuous ends. Our responsibility is to achieve these objectives with social invention, with political skill, and executive vigor. I believe for these reasons that liberalism is our best and only hope in the world today. For the liberal society is a free society, and it is at the same time and for that reason a strong society. Its strength is drawn from the will of free people committed to great ends and peacefully striving to meet them. Only liberalism, in short, can repair our national power, restore our national purpose, and liberate our national energies. And the only basic issue in the 1960 campaign is whether our government will fall in a conservative rut and die there, or whether we will move ahead in the liberal spirit of daring, of breaking new ground, of doing in our generation what Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Adlai Stevenson did in their time of influence and responsibility.

Our liberalism has its roots in our diverse origins. Most of us are descended from that segment of the American population, which was once called an immigrant minority. Today, along with our children and grandchildren, we do not feel minor. We feel proud of our origins and we are not second to any group in our sense of national purpose. For many years New York represented the new frontier to all those who came from the ends of the earth to find new opportunity and new freedom, generations of men and women who fled from the despotism of the czars, the horrors of the Nazis, the tyranny of hunger, who came here to the new frontier in the State of New York. These men and women, a living cross section of American history, indeed, a cross section of the entire world's history of pain and hope, made of this city not only a new world of opportunity, but a new world of the spirit as well.

But in 1960 the cause of liberalism cannot content itself with carrying on the fight for human justice and economic liberalism here at home. For here and around the world the fear of war hangs over us every morning and every night. It lies, expressed or silent, in the minds of every American. We cannot banish it by repeating that we are economically first or that we are militarily first, for saying so doesn't make it so. More will be needed than goodwill missions or talking back to Soviet politicians or increasing the tempo of the arms race. More will be needed than good intentions, for we know where that paving leads.

In Winston Churchill's words, "We cannot escape our dangers by recoiling from them. We dare not pretend such dangers do not exist."

This is an important election -- in many ways as important as any this century -- and I think that the Democratic Party and those who believe in progress all over the United States, should be associated with us in this great effort. The reason that Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Adlai Stevenson had influence abroad, and the United States in their time had it, was because they moved this country here at home, because they stood for something here in the United States, for expanding the benefits of our society to our own people, and the people around the world looked to us as a symbol of hope.

I think it is our task to re-create the same atmosphere in our own time. Our national elections have often proved to be the turning point in the course of our country. I am proposing that [this time] be another turning point in the history of the great Republic.

I say this is the great opportunity that we will have in our time to move our people and this country and the people of the free world beyond the new frontiers...

John F. Kennedy Democratic National Convention
Nomination Acceptance Address
15 July 1960, Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles


President John F. Kennedy's Inauguration Speech
January 20, 1961
Other Speeches by JFK

Texas Economy Struggling Under Republicans

Posted at Jobsanger

The following headline appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Texas added 230,800 jobs in December, Workforce Commission says

[But, the first paragraph of the Star-Telegram story says, "Texas employers added 20,000 jobs in December for a total of 230,800 for all of 2010, the Texas Workforce Commission said Friday.]

That 230,800 jobs did not come close to making up for the 359,000 jobs lost in the state. And the number of jobs created in December did not even keep up with the number of people entering the work force. The unemployment rate actually climbed by 0.1% in December and now sits at 8.3% (not counting the people who's benefits have run out, who have given up looking for work, or who are working part-time because they can't find full-time work).

And that doesn't count what the Republican legislature is fixing to do to the Texas economy. The House's Legislative Budget Board has recommended massive cuts to the state budget (and the Senate's recommendations are expected to be as bad). These cuts would eliminate around 10,000 state jobs and make huge cuts to education -- cuts that some think could result in the lay-off of 100,000 teachers and other school employees statewide.

[These cuts in employment will ripple through the state economy causing additional lay-offs across other private businesses. That will result in a further hit to the state's sales tax revenue and create another state budget deficit which will result in future rounds budget cuts and lay-offs ad infinitum.] In spite of all this, our governor continues to brag about the state's economy. He's not just wrong -- he's a fool.

The Texas economy is not doing well at all, and when the legislature finishes there work this session it will be doing even worse. We are probably looking at another year where job losses outnumber job creations. As usual, the Republicans have taken a booming economy and thrown it in the dumper.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Departure Of Keith Olbermann From MSNBC

Juan Cole says it best:

People are blaming the abrupt departure of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC on that company’s merger with Comcast and Olbermann’s loss of the protection and patronage of Jeff Zucker, the former head of NBC programming. MSNBC says that the issue has nothing to do with Comcast.

Whether Comcast is the villain of the piece directly, things like the Comcast merger with MSNBC are responsible for there being very few voices on American television (and despite the proliferation of channels) like Olbermann’s. And for there being relatively little news on the “news” programs. Time Warner, General Electric and Comcast (partners in NBC), Viacom, Disney, and Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp own almost all television news. In other words, six big corporations determine what you will hear about the world if you get your news from television. There are fewer and fewer t.v. news outlets that do not belong to one of these six, a process called media consolidation.

For reasons of profit-seeking, when Disney acquired ABC, it looted the company’s news divisions. Profits are not to be had in hard news, but rather in tabloid news. It used to be that human interest stories would be ‘dessert,’ but they have become the main meal.

Ironically,former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw was one of Olbermann’s biggest critics, afraid that the latter’s flamboyant and polarizing style would tarnish the reputation of regular NBC newsmen for objectivity.

What Brokaw seems not to have noticed is that NBC and MSNBC did, like most television news, a miserable job of covering the Iraq issue in 2002-2003–mainly buying White House propaganda. The powerful bias toward the point of view of the rich and powerful and well-connected in Washington demonstrated by all the major tv news outlets in 2002-2003 makes Olbermann look like a staid centrist.

We’ll miss Keith. But it isn’t about him. It is about the ever-narrowing character of public comment in the US, about the few having most of everything. It is about media consolidation.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TX House Budget Proposal Slashes $9.8 Billion From Education

More about the proposed budget:

The state comptroller has calculated that a continuation of state services at current levels of would result in a $27 billion budget shortfall.

About $7 billion in federal government stimulus funds could reduce that budget shortfall to about $20 billion. The state could then use its $9.4 billion "rainy day fund" to lower the budget deficit to about $11 billion. Broadening the sales tax base slightly could eliminate most of that remaining $11 billion shortfall, without any further tax increase. This strategy would maintain the current level of state services.

Republicans, however, are sticking with their new new taxes and no federal stimulus money pledges, and then some. The Legislative Budget Board sent a proposed budget to House members Tuesday night that cuts $31.1 billion from current spending.

In education the proposed budget slashes public school funding, cuts at least 60,000 college students from financial aid, closes at least four community colleges and likely raise college tuition fees. College education has already been priced out of the reach of many working and middle class students and the high tuition fees will price even more young Texans out of a higher education.

The proposed budget drafted by the Legislative Budget Board will slash an additional $9.8 billion from public school funding, while the student population is projected to grow by at least 80,000 students each year. Further, an estimated 109,000 children will be cut from Pre-Kindergarten early start programs and 83,000 children will be cut from the Early Childhood School Ready program. Under current funding levels, Texas ranks 44th nationally in education funding per pupil, is last in the percentage of adults obtaining a high school diploma with a school dropout rate of 30 percent.

In the Medicaid program, the proposed budget slashes overall spending by nearly 30 percent, cut services for adults that federal law doesn’t require states to offer and cut 10 percent, in addition to last spring’s 1 percent cut, from reimbursements to doctors, dentists, hospitals and nursing homes. The proposed budget also cut Nursing Facility payments by $1.57 billion dollars, which will have a tremendous impact on residents in Texas’ nursing homes.

In public safety and corrections programs, the proposed budget closes a correctional facility in Sugar Land, three Texas Youth Commission correctional facility and 2,000 private prison beds, a move that could close at least two additional correctional facilities and cut 1,562 prison jobs. Probation programs would see funding cut by 20 percent, parole supervision would be cut by almost 9 percent, and the construction and public safety and correctional facility maintenance funding will be cut by 83 percent, along with 90 jobs. And, the Victims Services Division would be eliminated.

The proposed budget does not cut any of the state's corporate welfare programs. Many claim the corporate welfare programs, advertised as “business incentives to create jobs," throw wads of taxpayer cash to Republican campaign donors, who actually deliver few jobs.

State Senator Wendy Davis
(D-10 Fort Worth)
State Senator Wendy Davis (D-10 Fort Worth) said late Tuesday night, after the budget draft was delivered, that the budget draft by the Legislative Budget Board released earlier was wrong for Texas. Full Article at Capitol Annex:

Senator Wendy Davis said the first draft of Texas’ 2012-13 budget is wrong for Texas.

The Legislative Budget Board’s budget proposal released to House members last night will cut $31.1 billion from current spending, even before accounting for population growth.

The budget, drafted for House leadership, will slash education funding by $9.8 billion, while the student population is projected to grow by 80,000 students each year.

Several primary and secondary education programs are recommended for elimination, including: pre-k early start grants; Texas reading, math and science initiatives; criminal history background reviews; and science labs. Higher education is slated to lose $1.7 billion in funding including significant cuts to the Texas Equalization Grants and Texas Grants programs –state-funded financial aid.

Other budget recommendations include reducing prison populations through early release of prisoners, cutting Medicaid reimbursements to doctors, hospitals and nursing home by 10 percent, and eliminating family practice and rural public health physician rotations.

”With such a dramatic budget shortfall, cuts must be made,” Davis said. “But education funding should be our highest priority. We need to ensure that Texans are adequately educated so that we do not lose competitive ground at a critical time in our nation’s economic recovery.”

Under current funding levels, Texas is already near the bottom in education funding per pupil (Texas ranks 44th nationally), is last nationally in the percentage of adults with a high school diploma, and is among the bottom in high school completion rates across the country.

“While other states are competing for dollars to race to the top in education funding, Texas, under this budget recommendation, will be sprinting to the bottom,” Davis said.

Davis said that any proposed budget that does not address the structural deficit in education funding, created in 2005 when lawmakers turned to an under-performing business franchise tax, will push the current biennial shortfall in public education funding of about $7 billion into future budgets indefinitely.

”We have to have an honest and transparent conversation about the education funding shortfall, which is cheating our schoolchildren while simultaneously overburdening small and medium sized businesses in Texas,” Davis said.

Davis said that as cuts are proposed to strip critical services to educate our children and to address some of the state’s most vulnerable, lawmakers should do what they can to lessen that burden in other ways.

Protecting Texans’ pocketbooks through lowering homeowners insurance rates, lowering residential electricity rates and by establishing fair rules to prevent the devastating impacts of predatory lending should also be considered, Davis said.

Regardless of the bleak budget picture, Davis called on fellow lawmakers to work to positively change course for future Texas families and to address other issues that will have a very real impact on their household finances and their quality of life.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lt Gov. Dewhurst: 8,000 State Jobs Could Be Cut On $27 Billion Deficit

Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune reports
thousands of jobs cuts due to the looming $27 billion
Texas state budget deficit.
With some top state leaders warning that Texas' dire fiscal situation will lead to the loss of several thousand state jobs, House budget writers will release their first draft budget today. Some state leaders have begun to warn that the state’s dire fiscal situation will lead to the loss of several thousand state jobs.

House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts didn’t pull any punches when it came to his assessment of job losses. He spoke last week with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune. “There will be less state employees when we’re completed with this budget process. Because we’re gonna have a whole lot less money to spend,” said Pitts.

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst went a step further and put a number to the cuts. He thinks about 8,000 state jobs could be eliminated. But there are thousands of other jobs dependent on state funds that fall outside of those projections. Cuts to Medicaid and Medicare provider reimbursement rates could lead to health care job losses. Teachers could also face layoffs.

Linda Bridges is president of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. She says it won’t be clear how many education jobs would disappear until after legislative action and money begins to work its way back to the local school districts. From there, it will be up to school boards to figure out a way to make it work.

“Are they looking at eliminating positions through attrition?” asked Bridges. “Are they looking at eliminating programs? We just don’t have a handle on that yet. A lot of it’s speculation.”

And there’s still another especially hard jobs equation to still figure out. A recent report by state Comptroller Susan Combs suggests getting rid of the cap on elementary class size as a way to trim the budget.

“If you do that math on that it comes up to about 12,000 elementary school teachers could be laid off,” said Bridges.

Another thing to consider is these kinds of cuts don’t happen in a vacuum. Economist Ray Perryman says there’s the “multiplier effect”. He says public sector layoffs will have a multiplier effect of about two and a half.

“What that basically means is that in addition to the direct job that’s lost you have one and a half additional jobs in the economy that are lost,” said Perryman. “Because it impacts suppliers. It impacts – the payroll not there. It impacts spending on food, clothing, shelter other items that are made in the state.”

Republican budget writers haven’t said the cuts will be easy. But they have argued that making cuts is a better solution than raising taxes. Because they say increasing taxes slows the state’s economy by limiting private sector spending…which can also lead to layoffs. Perryman says cutting state jobs could even help bolster the economy.

“If it’s something the state’s doing that’s inefficient that they could effectively do with fewer people, then society is better off if we take that resource and use it somewhere else that’s more productive. Either the public sector somewhere else or the private sector,” said Perryman.

But this budget isn’t about reshuffling resources. Money cut from one state program won’t be going to pay for another. It will simply be cut.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MLK: I Have A Dream

Click here for "I Have a Dream" Speech Text

Internet Users Are More Likely To Volunteer With Political and Service Organizations

Pew Internet & American Life Project: The internet is now deeply embedded in group and organizational life in America. A new national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has found that 75% of all American adults are active in some kind of voluntary group or organization and internet users are more likely than others to be active: 80% of internet users participate in groups, compared with 56% of non-internet users. And social media users are even more likely to be active: 82% of social network users and 85% of Twitter users are group participants. Read the complete report at: Pew Internet & American Life Project

Internet Is Now Main News Source For Adults Under 30

In 2010, for the first time, the internet surpassed television as the main source of national and international news for people younger than 30. (chart right)

Since 2007, the number of 18 to 29 year old adults citing the internet as their main source has nearly doubled, from 34% to 65%.

Over this period, the number of young people citing television as their main news source has dropped from 68% to 52%.

The internet is slowly closing in on television as Americans’ main source of national and international news.

Television remains the most widely used source for national and international news – 66% of Americans say it is their main source of news – but that is down from 74% three years ago and 82% as recently as 2002.

The national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Dec. 1-5, 2010 among 1,500 adults reached on cell phones and landlines, finds that more people continue to cite the internet than newspapers as their main source of news.

This reflects both the growth of the internet, and the gradual decline in newspaper readership (from 34% in 2007 to 31% now).

Currently, 41% of all adults say they get most of their news about national and international news from the internet, which is little changed over the past two years but up 17 points since 2007.

The proportion citing radio as their main source of national and international news has remained relatively stable in recent years; currently, 16% say it is their main source.

Among those 30 to 49, the internet is on track to equal, or perhaps surpass, television as the main source of national and international news within the next few years. Currently, 48% say the internet is their main source – up 16 points from 2007 – and 63% cite television – down eight points.

The decline in the share of Americans who cite television as their main source of national and international news crosses all age groups. Over the past three years, the number saying TV is their main source has fallen 16 points among 18-29 year-olds, eight points among those 30 to 49, and six points among those age 50 and older.

Reflecting the slow decline in the proportion of people getting most of their national and international news from television, the numbers specifically citing cable news outlets or broadcast networks as their main news source has fallen. When asked where on television they get most of their news, 36% name a cable network such as CNN, the Fox News Channel or MSNBC; 22% name ABC News, CBS News or NBC News; and 16% say they get most of their national and international news from local news programming.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Seven Democratic Message Frames

Op-Ed: Sudhir Joshi

I am an average Democratic voter in Texas. When I watch the news and political talk shows, I notice that the language has decidedly turned to the advantage of Republicans. That is because what is said is just as important as how it is said when it comes to influencing voters. Just as framing a picture focuses attention on what is enclosed within that frame, framing a message focuses a reader's or listener's attention on the idea within the frame.

A sizable body of research supports the notion that emotion often plays a central role in impacting individuals’ political decision-making processes. It is not surprising, then, that conservative political organizations and candidates seek to influence opinion and garner public support by using the emotion of fear to frame public debate on a range of political issues to shape media and public opinion. Conservative operatives, like Frank Luntz and Alex Castellanos, have skillfully framed Republican talking points to end Social Security, block health insurance industry reform, block financial industry reforms, and much more.

The conservative message factory coins phrases like ‘family values,‘ ‘death tax,’ and ‘Obama death panels’ and then distributes them throughout the Republican messaging channels to be parroted non-stop by Republican operatives, candidates and pundits, starting with Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck. These framed conservative messages permeate the national dialog on TV and, eventually, the national media concludes America is a center-right nation. For example, most media pundits consistently repeat the conservative talking point that raising taxes will kill job creation, even though historical experience shows the exact opposite; After the TV viewing pubic hears such framed conservative messages often enough, they begin to accept them as fact.

Why does the subtle conservative message framing work? Because people are busy. They have kids to raise, mortgages to pay, and so on. Very few people research key political issues to any depth. They make their decision based on their surface knowledge of issues. And their surface knowledge of issues is very much affected by the language used by traditional media journalists and pundits who simply parrot the carefully framed conservative talking points.

If the Democrats are going to make a comeback in the 2012 election, we must stop letting Republicans frame every issue message to their advantage. Democrats must start framing messages with the same skill as conservative operatives like Frank Lutz to successfully compete in the debate of ideas.

So here are some suggestions on phrases Democrats should use consistently in 2011:
“Bush-Debt” With the rise of the Tea Party, the national debate has shifted to how we can reduce the growing US debt. However, the Republicans have successfully removed from the discussion that they created the debt. George Bush was handed an annual surplus by Bill Clinton. The National Debt Clock in New York was running backwards as the debt was being reduced each year. With a conservative, ‘fiscally responsible’ Republican majority in both the House and Senate for his first six years, George Bush promptly eliminated the annual surplus created the largest debt in US history.

So the next time someone says, ‘we’ve got to do something about the national debt and get our country back, ‘your response should be, ‘Yes, the Bush-debt is a major problem.’

“Government Responsibilities” If you watch political talk shows discuss the Bush-debt, the conversation immediately turns to what to do about ‘entitlements.’ Entitlements refer to Social Security and Medicare. Entitlements make the issue sound like the government is giving out charity. It is not! Social Security and Medicare are paid for payroll taxes. The benefits are not charity. They are earned by recipient and a contract of the federal government.

I don’t know about you but when I go to Starbuck and pay for a latte, I want what I paid for – a latte. When I put money in the bank at an agreed upon interest rate, I expect to get paid the interest owed to me. And, when I pay Social Security payroll taxes for over 50 years of my working life, I expect the benefits promised to me. It is not an ‘entitlement.’ It’s a contract. It’s a “Government Responsibility.”

So the next time some says, “we need to do something about entitlements.’ Your response should be, “The US government must honor its responsibilities to its citizens.”

”Global Defense Burden” Staying on the discussion of the Bush-debt, one item that is rarely discussed is the defense budget. The US spends more on defense than all other countries combined. Do we really need that much defense? Do we really need bases in Germany and Japan anymore? Do we really need over a dozen types of jet fighters?

We cannot let the discussion of the Bush-debt be only about changing government obligations. We also need to add the defense budget to the discussion. For that we need to refer to it as the ‘Global Defense Burden.’ Why should the US police the world at our expense while other countries do not contribute. The US defense budget is $623B. The next largest budget, according to the CIA is China at $65B – one-tenth the size of the US. Do we really need 10 times the defense of China?

So the next time some says, “we need to do something about debt.’ Your response should be, “One place we can start to reduce the Bush-debt is by reducing our global defense burden.”

“World Trade Center Attacks in 2001” Related to the topic of defense are the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. If you took a poll of what year the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred, I imaging many people would guess wrong. This is because we use the phrase 9/11 to describe the date of those attacks. The problem with using the phrase, “9/11” is that the year is forgotten. So psychologically, it seems they occurred more recently than they really did. This allows the Republicans to continue to scare us into thinking we need more defense spending than we really do.

So the next time someone says, “we’ve got make sure we don’t have another 9/11;’ your response should be, “We’ve been at war for 9 years since the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 and Obama bin Laden is still free. We’ve got to try a different approach.”

“Party of the Rich” During a light office discussion once, I mentioned that I’m a Democrat – a rarity in the suburb I live in. I got the strangest response. The lady said, “So you want everything for free?” Now there is so much wrong with that statement but there’s not enough room to write about it here. But it shows the impact of language in the media on the perceptions of a gullible public. Republicans have successfully labeled Democrats as ‘tax and spend liberals who support handouts (entitlements).’ We need to re-label the Republican party the same way. The Republican’s are the party for the wealthy, not the every day working person. Their recent move to stop all Senate activities until the richest 600 families got a tax break proves it.

So the next time someone says, “I’m Republican are you?” Your response should be, “No, I’m not a member of the party that takes from the average working person and gives it to the ultra-rich -- I’m a Democrat.

Yeah right, and there’s WMD in Iraq” We all know that the Republican Party simply makes up carefully framed messages and consistently repeats them to attack the character of their opponent. Some recent examples are the ads Mike Huckabee is running to repeal the Health Care Reform act. Huckabee’s ads parrot the Republican claim that the Health Care Act was written, ‘behind closed doors’ and no one was allowed to read it’s ‘2500 pages.’ Of course that’s not true. Other examples are the swift-boat ads regarding John Kerry and constant claims that Obama was not born in the US by the ‘birthers.’ Republicans hope to send the national talk shows off in these tangential issues so that public can be fooled into not discussing real issues and the Republican Party’s record. It works and we’ve got to stop them from doing it. Just point out it’s a lie by bringing back memories of the biggest deception in recent history.

So the next time some says, “Obama isn’t qualified to be president because he wasn’t born in the US,” respond, “Yeah right, and Pres. Bush started a $1 trillion war claiming there were WMD's in Iraq and that was also a false claim. But right now, let’s discuss the real issue why you think we can reduce the Bush-debt and reduce taxes at the same time.”

Ignore and talk about the issues: This is not a phrase but a linguistic tactic. I read once that Al Franken sent a copy of his book, ”Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” to Rush Limbaugh to comment on his TV show. Rush had a TV show at that time. Rush never commented on it and never mentioned it. That was smart.

In contrast, Democrats and the media comment on every controversial thing that Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Fox New do. This plays right into the hands of the Republican Party because the more we discuss the made up, but well framed, Republican talking points the more people are exposed to the right’s ideology and some buy into their lies. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to completely ignore the opposition.
So the next time some says, “What do you think of Glen Beck?” Your response should be, “Let’s discuss how to stop corporations from exporting jobs overseas and getting America back to work.”

Let’s win back the language frame and the Congress in 2012.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Real Problem With The GOP

proleft graphic blue and white.jpgJanuary 14, 2011 - One-year anniversary of the Internet radio program with Driftglass and Bluegal!

Download the MP3 (39:25)

Anniversary program - The real problem with the GOP, why mere civility and facts are not enough to move the dialogue forward, and a historical explanation of why "blood libel" is a perfect motif for conservative political discourse.
You can listen to the archives at

New Therapies for Prevention and Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease Identified

Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of severe memory loss late in life and the fourth leading cause of death in adults, after heart disease, cancer and stroke. The National Institute on Aging estimates that over 4 million people in the United States suffer from the disease.

For too long there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, no known way to prevent the illness, and the benefits of current treatments are modest at best. Those afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and their families, lacking effective treatments, must deal with the grueling realities of the disease over time. Alzheimer's disease is called the disease of the "long goodbye" because as it steals memory, cognitive function, and even personality over a period of five to eight years, it is as though the person dies several times over. One day a parent with Alzheimer's disease may recognize their child and next day treat the child as suspicious stranger. Families face only frank acknowledgment of the difficult choices the about the value and the quality of life for a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease during the "long goodbye."

Perhaps, finally, there is now a glimmer of hope that medical researchers may have found the true path of understanding and curing this dread disease:

ScienceDaily (Jan. 14, 2011) — A Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute (BRNI) study published in the Journal of Neuroscience reveals underlying causes for the degeneration of synapses in Alzheimer's Disease and identifies promising pharmaceutical solutions for the devastating condition that affects more than 5 million people in the United States. The BRNI study is the first to achieve fundamental molecular understanding of how synapses are lost in Alzheimer's Disease before the plaques and tangles develop. At the same time, it is the first study to demonstrate the comprehensive benefits of synaptogenic compounds in treating Alzheimer's Disease.

The BRNI study marks an important shift in our understanding of how Alzheimer's Disease is caused and should be treated. Previous autopsy-based studies have shown the critical role of synaptic loss in producing dementia (though, not the reason behind the degeneration), yet for decades scientists and pharmaceutical companies have focused on ways to target the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles thought to play a role in causing Alzheimer's Disease. By preventing the loss of synapses, BRNI's new therapeutics prevent the progressive symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease.

"Alzheimer's Disease is not primarily a disease of plaques and tangles as many had previously concluded, it is most importantly a disease of synapses," said Dr. Daniel Alkon, the scientific director of BRNI and co-author of the study, "This study found that treatments that target the loss of synapses in the Alzheimer's brain, can virtually eliminate all other elements of the disease -- elevation of the toxic protein, A Beta, the loss of neurons, the appearance of plaques, and loss of cognitive function; the animals' brains were normalized."

The study utilized mice genetically engineered to express the symptoms and pathology of human Alzheimer's Disease in two different strains. BRNI used a difficult training regimen for the mice in order to reveal that significant cognitive deficits occurred five months before plaques were detected in their brains, providing evidence that plaques and tangles are not at the root of the disease.

Treatments of Bryostatin and similar compounds synthesized at BRNI that target the enzyme PKCε, which controls the creation of synapses at the molecular level, were administered for twelve weeks during the study. While the compounds promoted the growth of new synapses and preservation of existing synapses, they also stopped the decrease of PKCε and the increase of soluble β amyloid, meaning that the treatments could be used to prevent the familiar hallmarks of Alzheimer's Disease, the plaques and tangles. BRNI has received approval to move forward with Phase II clinical testing for Bryostatin to treat Alzheimer's Disease, which is set to begin within the next several months.

The synaptogenic BRNI drugs have also shown potential for the treatment of traumatic brain injury (TBI), as recently reported in the journal Neurobiology of Disease, and stroke described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2008 and 2009.

The target of the synaptogenic compounds is the same molecule identified as a biomarker for early diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease in clinical trials conducted by BRNI and published in Neurobiology of Aging in 2010. As a result of that study, researchers at the Institute are now working to develop a skin test for identifying Alzheimer's Disease in its early stages before significant progression.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

TX-Sen: Kay Bailey Hutchison Announces She Won't Run for Re-Election in 2012

From the Dallas Morning News:
“I have known since 2006 that I wouldn’t seek another term,” the senator said in a telephone interview. “I wanted to announce it on my own terms and in my own way."

Hutchison, first elected to the Senate in 1993, said the swearing-in of the new Congress, among other things, made her feel it was the right moment to announce her resignation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Obama's Arizona Speech: 'I Want America To Be As Good As She Imagined It'

President Barack Obama implored Americans to honor those slain and injured in the Arizona shootings by becoming better people, telling a polarized citizenry that it is time to talk with each other "in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds."

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MOMocrats Blog Talk Radio - 01/12/2011

Listen to MOMocrats talk about the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. from Arizona Gabrielle Giffords Jan 12 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Texas Budget Deficit at $27 Billion, Says Texas Comptroller Susan Combs

Texas is expected to collect $72.2 billion in taxes, fees and other general revenue during the 2012-13 budget, down from the $87 billion used in the current two-year budget, Comptroller Susan Combs announced Monday.

That puts the shortfall at $27 billion given that maintaining services would run $99 billion for biennium.

Combs’ estimate dictates how much the Legislature will have to spend in the upcoming budget on education, prisons, health and human services and a slew of other state functions.

Even with the $9.4 billion rainy day fund, the state would still not have enough to maintain services at their current levels, which would run $99 billion according to agency budget requests.

Though Texas is facing a budget shortfall of roughly the same magnitude as California, it has gotten nearly no notice in the mainstream press, and at this point, there’s practically nothing left in the state’s budget to cut besides public safety, education and health care spending (while Texas already has some of the lowest per-pupil spending rates and the highest number of those without health insurance).

In September, Gov. Rick Perry guessed the state was facing a $10-11 billion budget shortfall for its fiscal 2012-2013 budget, and refused serious comment on reports that his budget gap might be larger. Not only did Perry severely underestimate the depth of his state’s budget woes, but he has also spent the last few years lecturing Washington D.C. on its supposed fiscal improprieties, giving speech after speech in which he held up Texas as the economic model for the nation to follow. Just last week, he said that Congress needs to propose a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, or else “the hard work that Texas and states like ours have done to make prudent fiscal decisions will be washed away by Washington’s growing avalanche of excess”:
“I am convinced that a constitutional limit on Washington’s spending sprees and irresponsible borrowing is the only boundary they will understand and heed. Otherwise, the hard work that Texas and states like ours have done to make prudent fiscal decisions will be washed away by Washington’s growing avalanche of excess.” [Source]

“Americans are growing ever more aware of this spending explosion, and increasingly interested in grabbing the throttle, so they can slow down Washington’s runaway train. I’m convinced that the hardworking citizens of our state and country simply want government to handle the basics, then get out of the way, as we have done here in Texas.” [Source]

“I don’t suspect I’m the only person in this room who is concerned about a national debt that has blown past $11 trillion and a federal deficit that is well over $1 trillion… Fortunately, we have taken the opposite approach here in Texas.” [Source]

“In Texas and South Carolina, we’ve focused on improving “soil conditions” for businesses by cutting taxes, reforming our legal system and our workers’ compensation system. We’d humbly suggest that Congress take a page from those playbooks by focusing on targeted tax relief paid for by cutting spending, not by borrowing.” [Source]
As Paul Krugman wrote in a NYTime OpEd, “Texas is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting — the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending — has been implemented most completely. If the theory can’t make it in Texas were Republicans have dominated state government for more than a decade, it can’t make it anywhere.” And it seems the theory can’t make it there.

Click here to read the comptroller’s report (PDF)

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Cross post from the West Texas Jobsanger blog
by Ted McLaughlin

The building pictured right is the capitol building of the State of Texas. It will once again be a bustling place starting on Tuesday, January 11th, when the legislature meets for its biennial session (unlike most other states, the Texas legislature only meets once every two years -- on the second Tuesday of each odd-numbered year).

This is also the week that the state's comptroller gives her official verdict on what the state's budget looks like for the next two years. And it is expected that the legislature will find themselves, as my grandmother used to say, between a rock and a hard place. The comptroller is expected to announce that the state will have a budget shortfall of between $21 and $25 billion dollars -- a huge deficit for a total budget of around $95 billion dollars.

Even knowing they would have a huge budget shortfall to face in this legislative session the Republicans campaigned on a platform of no new taxes. They promised voters that they could fix the deficit with cuts to government services alone -- cuts that would not damage the necessary services delivered by government. It was a promise that will be impossible to keep, but the voters fell for it and gave the Republicans huge majorities in both houses of the legislature.

To keep their promise the Republicans would have to cut all state agencies and other state outlays by about 26%. This is in addition to a couple of 10% cuts that have already been done and a 5% cut that is currently underway. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that there is no way the services delivered by the state's agencies can survive such a massive cut (on top of the cuts already done). Services will suffer, and in some cases may disappear altogether. In addition, the state's schools would be in serious trouble if the state contribution to education was cut by such a massive amount.

The three biggest items in the state budget are criminal justice (Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Youth Commission, Department of Public Safety, etc.), education (elementary & high schools, higher education, etc.) and human services (AFDC, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Child Protective Services, Adult Protective Services, etc.). Since these are the biggest items in the budget, then it makes sense that they would have to suffer the biggest cuts.

That's not going to be easy though. Cuts to criminal justice is not going to be popular with the public. It will mean thousands of criminals being dumped back into the communities with little or no supervision and no help to find jobs (which don't exist anyway) or programs to help with drug and alcohol problems (also severely cut by the state). A Republican legislature is not going to like the public uproar this will create.

Cuts to human services will also be hard to do. Cuts to programs partially funded by the federal government, like Medicaid or Food Stamps, would result in a loss of federal funds and put the state in an even bigger financial bind. And cuts to programs like Child or Adult Protective Services will just result in more children and elderly Texans being abused and mistreated (the kind of things guaranteed to make negative headlines and public outrage).

Education is even tougher. Texas already ranks near the bottom of all states in the amount of money it provides for education per pupil. And considering that the dropout rate is near 30% for Texas high schools, it would seem outrageous that cuts to education would be on the table for legislative consideration -- but they are. It would seem that tax cuts for wealthy Texans is more important than the education of Texas students.

Making matters even worse for the Republican legislature is the fact that although they were elected on a platform of not raising taxes, a new newspaper poll shows significant majorities of Texas citizens are opposed to cuts in education and human services. The survey, conducted by Blum & Weprin Associates for several newspapers, shows that 70% of the public opposes any cuts to education (high schools and elementary schools). Although 53% would allow cuts to higher education, only 11% would approve of large cuts even there.

And Texans are not much more responsive to cuts in human services. About 62% of Texans oppose cuts in health care to children or low-to-moderate-income families.

This definitely puts the legislature in a difficult predicament. Although elected on a promise not to raise taxes, the public definitely opposes significant cuts in the parts of the budget that contains the most spending. They can either make the public mad by raising taxes or make the public mad by cutting necessary and popular programs. And either way, the Republicans must shoulder the blame since they have the governor's office and huge majorities in both houses.

I suspect they will do a little of both -- cut the budget and raise taxes. But they will raise taxes in a sneaky way so they can have some deniability -- such as broadening the sales tax base to include items now exempt instead of raising the tax rate, and raising the fees for many services like driver's licenses, marriage licenses and hunting licenses. They will then claim they kept their word since a fee is not a tax. It's not true of course, but that's what they'll claim anyway. There's only one thing we can be sure of -- taxes and fees on corporations and the rich will not be raised. Texas has the most regressive taxes in the nation and that will stay the same.

This dog-and-pony show will start on Tuesday, and it should be interesting to see how the Republicans get themselves out of the mess they have created with their past actions. The only good thing is that this time they can't blame the Democrats for their own actions.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Political World Stunned By AZ Congresswoman's Shooting

TUCSON, Ariz. – Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona was shot in the head Saturday by a gunman who opened fire outside a grocery store during a meeting with voters, killing a federal judge and five others, including one 9 year old child who was born on 9/11/2001. Giffords was reportedly shot in the head after a man approached the event and began firing, also hitting 18 other people, including three of Giffords staffers. Rep. Giffords is one of 20 Democratic lawmakers targeted with gun cross hairs on Sarah Palin's political action committee map of the US.

In Sheriff Clarence Dupnik’s press conference tonight, he said that law enforcement are “actively in pursuit” of a second suspect in the shooting.

President Obama called the shooting an "unspeakable tragedy." "We do not yet have all the answers," he said in a statement. "What we do know is that such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society."

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Giffords was the target of a gunman whom he described as mentally unstable and possibly acting along with an accomplice. He said Giffords was among 13 people wounded in the melee that killed six people, including Arizona's chief federal judge, a 9-year-old girl and an aide for the Democratic lawmaker. He said the rampage ended only after two people tackled the gunman.

Doctors were optimistic about Giffords surviving as she was responding to commands from doctors despite having a bullet go through her head. "With guarded optimism, I hope she will survive, but this is a very devastating wound," said Dr. Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general who lives in Tucson.

The sheriff pointed to the vitriolic political rhetoric that has consumed the country as he denounced the shooting that claimed several of his friends as victims, including U.S. District Judge John Roll. The judge celebrated Mass on Saturday morning like he does every day before stopping by to say hello to his good friend Giffords.

"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," the sheriff said. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

After Giffords voted in favor of the health-care overhaul in March, she said that vandals had broken the glass door of her Tucson office. "The rhetoric is incredibly heated, not just the calls but the emails, the slurs," she told MSNBC at the time. "Things have really gotten spun up." She added: "We do have these polarized parts of our parties that really get excited, and that's where ... all of us have to come together and say, 'OK, there's a fine line here.' "

That same month, Sarah Palin's political action committee posted a map of the US, showing the locations of the 20 Democratic members of Congress, including Giffords, it was targeting for defeat. Each location was marked by an image of a gun cross hairs.
Palin's camp dismissed charges that she was encouraging acts of violence, saying she had spoken out against violence. But Giffords herself was one of many who spoke out against the image, telling MSNBC: "When people do that, they've gotta realize there's consequences to that action."

Palin, who has never publicly advocated violence against fellow US politicians, has often employed "lock and load" rhetorical attacks that leverage imagery and terminology familiar to gun owners and evocative of firearms. She said last March that her supporters should "reload" and "aim for" Democrats, ostensibly with their votes.

Jesse Kelly, Giffords' Republican opponent in the 2010 mid-term elections, similarly employed guns in a campaign event. He staged an event in July asking supporters to "get on target" and "remove Gabrielle Giffords from office" -- all while shooting "a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly."
Huffingtonpost: Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who represents a district adjacent to Gabrielle Giffords's, said that Saturday's shooting is a consequence of the vitriolic rhetoric that has arisen over the past few years among extreme elements of the Tea Party. "The climate has gotten so toxic in our political discourse, setting up for this kind of reaction for too long. It's unfortunate to say that. I hate to say that," Grijalva said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "If you're an opponent, you're a deadly enemy," Grijalva said of the mindset among Arizona extremists. "Anybody who contributed to feeding this monster had better step back and realize they're threatening our form of government."

Keith Olbermann Issues Special Comment On Arizona Shooting:
'Violence Has No Place In Democracy'

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Texas Omen

NYTimes Op-Ed
Published: January 6, 2011

These are tough times for state governments. Huge deficits loom almost everywhere, from California to New York, from New Jersey to Texas.

Wait — Texas? Wasn’t Texas supposed to be thriving even as the rest of America suffered? Didn’t its governor declare, during his re-election campaign, that “we have billions in surplus”? Yes, it was, and yes, he did. But reality has now intruded, in the form of a deficit expected to run as high as $25 billion over the next two years.

And that reality has implications for the nation as a whole. For Texas is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting — the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending — has been implemented most completely. If the theory can’t make it there, it can’t make it anywhere.

How bad is the Texas deficit?
--- Click here for REST OF STORY!... ---

MOMocrats Blog Talk Radio - 01/05/2011

Listen to internet radio with
MOMocrats on Blog Talk Radio
Freewheeling discussion by a
panel of MOMocrats and special
guests - This week talking about
how conservatives have taken
over Internet social media
channels to promote their
propaganda about health care,
liberals and more...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Texas Welcomes Nuclear Waste Dump Over The Ogallala Aquifer

The Ogallala Aquifer holds as much water as Lake
Huron, but spreads over an area seven times the
area. The Ogallala aquifer, one of the most vital
water sources for American agriculture, is the
single water source for residential and agricultural
communities across eight Midwestern states.
The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (TLLRWDCC), which manages the state's radioactive-waste dump, voted 5-2 on Tuesday to approve rules governing the process for accepting the out-of-state material.

The new rules pave the way for another 35 states states to export low-level radioactive waste to a remote 1,340-acre Andrews County landfill in West Texas along the Texas-New Mexico border. The landfill is owned by Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists, LLC.

Under the new rules the site will permanently store low-level radioactive waste—contaminated materials and equipment from nuclear plants, research laboratories and hospitals. The material includes everything from parts from dismantled nuclear-energy plants to booties worn by scientists working in labs where radioactive materials are present.

In 2007, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) staff recommended denying the radioactive waste license, saying that "groundwater is likely to intrude into the proposed disposal units and contact the waste from either or both of two water tables near the proposed facility." Radioactive contamination of water could result.

The West Texas dump, which will be the fourth such storage site in the US, is mired in controversy, in part because the dump, set to open by year's end, was conceived and built to take waste from only two states—Texas and Vermont, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Texas Commissioner Bob Wilson has opposed the radioactive waste dumping plans and the rules for some time. He voted against the rules on Tuesday, but largely because he fears the commission is unprepared to deal with the enormity of the task once the 1,340-acre site begins accepting waste from other states. The commission, he said, is largely unfunded, getting $25,000 a year from Vermont and money from Texas only to cover meeting and travel costs. In addition, he fears expanding the importation of waste will interfere with the site's capacity. He also questions whether it will be as profitable as is being predicted. "I thought it was premature," Wilson said.

Trevor Lovell, a spokesman for Public Citizen, one of the most outspoken opponents of the plan, said his group will meet Wednesday to decide the next step, but he said a lawsuit was possible. "The commission that is moving forward on this has no staff, has no bylaws, and yet they are attempting to make very substantial changes and rules that would allow in radioactive waste from the entire country," Lovell said.

Lovell also noted that the landfill is over the Ogallala aquifer that provides water to one-quarter of the country's irrigated land as well as drinking water to thousands of people. "We don't feel that it's been demonstrated that the landfill is safe," Lovell said. Critics of the new radioactive waste dumping rule say that while Simmons will rake billions of dollars from the waste dump operation over the next 15 years, Texans will get the financial burden of managing dump for 10,000 years.

Opponents charge the TLLRWDCC's rule change process and vote to allow Waste Control Specialists to dump radioactive waste from 36 states at the West Texas landfill demonstrates a conflict of interest between the TLLRWDCC, most of whose members were appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and the site's owner, Waste Control Specialists LLC, whose main investor, Harold Simmons, is a Governor Perry's 2nd largest individual donor at almost $900,000. The Commission is comprised of 8 members, 6 of whom are Perry appointees. Opponents also charge the commission rigged the 30 day comment period to transpire during the holidays, when most people are too busy to pay much attention to matters of civic engagement, to avoid a repeat of the 2,000 comments from Texans opposed to the rule that the commission received when the rule was first proposed in 2010.

Gov. Perry nuke waste "czar" appointee Michael Ford, chairman of the TLLRWDCC, first proposed a new rule making Texas a 36 state radioactive waste dump site nearly a year ago, but polls showed a majority of Texans didn’t like the proposal. When Bill White made it an election issue, accusing Governor Perry of making the state a radioactive waste dump to benefit his donor, Waste Control Specialists owner Harold Simmons, Ford tabled the proposal.

The day after election day the TLLRWDCC voted 5-2 to repost a rule allowing out-of-state radioactive waste generators – primarily nuclear power plants from 36 states on the coasts and in the Midwest – to dump their waste at the West Texas landfill. The TLLRWDCC officially reposted the 36 state radioactive waste dumping rule the day after Thanksgiving, ensuring the 30 day comment would end the day after Christmas day.

Waste Control Specialists owner Harold Simmons stands to earn billions of dollars from his radioactive waste business at his 1,340-acre Andrews County landfill. After Simmons lost $1.4 billion from 2008 to 2009 he told Forbes he was “planning to make it back with Valhi’s [parent of Waste Control Specialists] radioactive waste disposal license.” Simmons is listed as #176 on the 2010 Forbes list of richest people on the planet, and the 55th richest in the US, with a net worth of $5 billion.

Simmons said in a February 2010 D Magazine interview, “It took us six years to get legislation on this passed in Austin, but now we’ve got it all passed. We first had to change the law to where a private company can own a license [to handle radioactive waste], and we did that. Then we got another law passed that said they can only issue one license. Of course, we were the only ones that applied.”

The D Magazine story observed: “If things go as planned, Simmons’ nuclear waste dump in West Texas will exist on a scale that is hard to imagine. Waste Control Specialists is currently licensed by the state of Texas to accept up to 57 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste from federal sources. Waste Control Specialists has the space to expand its facility to more than 20 square miles.”

Gov. Rick Perry's big donors fare well in Texas; Many of his mega-donors have won hefty contracts or appointments.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

One Huge State Budget Crisis That Everyone Refuses To Talk About

You know the conservative storyline that "liberal states" like Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and California are supposed to be in huge financial trouble thanks to bloated governments, business-unfriendly regulations, and strong public sector unions.

But there's one state, which is high up on the list of financially troubled states, that neither conservatives nor the "liberally biased press" are talking about. The reason no one is talking about it is that it doesn't fit the conservative storyline.

The state is Texas.

A budget shortfall as high as $25 billion is projected for the $95 billion 2012-2013 state budget as lawmakers head into the 2011 biennial legislative session, according to estimates from economists and the comptroller's office.

Leadership in the Texas Legislature, which has been dominated by conservative Republicans for a decade, is not expected to support any discussion about raising taxes to fill the multi-billion dollar hole. The state's Republican leadership has already ordered state agencies to cut their budgets by 5%-10% several several years running, and those agencies are currently under a new order to cut their budgets one more time. Most state agencies are already operating on a bare bones budget and if much more is cut from their budgets they will not be able to deliver the services they are mandated to deliver.

Gov. Perry and some conservative Texas lawmakers have advocated "opting out" of Medicaid altogether and closing or privatizing state schools to save money. If you think the cost of sending your kids to a state college is high now, think what "privatized" colleges will cost. Or, if mom suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs to be in an Alzheimer's care home, the kids will have to pay mom's entire $6,000 per month care bill out of their own pocket, because there will be no Medicaid. (Opting out of Medicaid would actually be a one-two punch to Texas' economy -- Medicaid and the Lege: Throw 'Em in the Street)

So why haven't we heard more about Texas, one of the most important economy's in America? Well, it's because it doesn't fit the conservative script; It's a pro-business, lean-spending, low tax, no-union state, so the state government's budget should be in great shape.

But if you want to make comparisons between US states and ailing European countries, think of Texas as being like America's Ireland. Ireland was once praised as a model for economic growth: conservatives loved it for its pro-business, anti-tax, low-spending strategy, and hailed it as the way forward for all of Europe. Then it blew up.

This is the sleeper state budget crisis of 2011, and it conservatives will continue to praise the state's conservative government, right up until the moment before it blows up.

Read more: