States of Denial

Gail Collins messed with Texas today. I’m rather glad she did because it shows exactly how much Texas seems to exist in a vacuum of its own making.  The head denier of reality is its wacko Governor who appears to get elected by saying the right things and doing very little.  The state that forces its antiquated views through textbooks onto the rest of the nation has a huge problem in the numbers of children having children.  This leads to all kinds of social problems that I probably don’t have to discuss here.

But, let’s just see how bad it gets down there with the denier-in-chief who seems to think abstinence education works and the Texas education system works when Texas’ own statistics show that they don’t work at all.  Republicans get elected spewing untruths and he’s a prime case in point.   The state’s out of money and like my governor Bobby Jindal, the first place Republican governors look  is for cuts to education rather than look for new revenue sources. What is worse, they talk about improving  children’s future while doing draconian cuts to children’s schools.  How do they get away with it?

“In Austin, I’ve got half-a-dozen or more schools on a list to be closed — one of which I presented a federal blue-ribbon award to for excellence,” said Representative Lloyd Doggett. “And several hundred school personnel on the list for possible terminations.”

So the first choice is what to do. You may not be surprised to hear that Governor Perry has rejected new taxes. He’s also currently refusing $830 million in federal aid to education because the Democratic members of Congress from Texas — ticked off because Perry used $3.2 billion in stimulus dollars for schools to plug other holes in his budget — put in special language requiring that this time Texas actually use the money for the kids.

“If I have to cast very tough votes, criticized by every Republican as too much federal spending, at least it ought to go to the purpose we voted for it,” said Doggett.

Nobody wants to see underperforming, overcrowded schools being deprived of more resources anywhere. But when it happens in Texas, it’s a national crisis. The birth rate there is the highest in the country, and if it continues that way, Texas will be educating about a tenth of the future population. It ranks third in teen pregnancies — always the children most likely to be in need of extra help. And it is No. 1 in repeat teen pregnancies.

Which brings us to choice two. Besides reducing services to children, Texas is doing as little as possible to help women — especially young women — avoid unwanted pregnancy.

For one thing, it’s extremely tough for teenagers to get contraceptives in Texas. “If you are a kid, even in college, if it’s state-funded you have to have parental consent,” said Susan Tortolero, director of the Prevention Research Center at the University of Texas in Houston.

Plus, the Perry government is a huge fan of the deeply ineffective abstinence-only sex education. Texas gobbles up more federal funds than any other state for the purpose of teaching kids that the only way to avoid unwanted pregnancies is to avoid sex entirely. (Who knew that the health care reform bill included $250 million for abstinence-only sex ed? Thank you, Senator Orrin Hatch!) But the state refused to accept federal money for more expansive, “evidence-based” programs.

“Abstinence works,” said Governor Perry during a televised interview with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune.

“But we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate among all states in the country,” Smith responded.

“It works,” insisted Perry.

“Can you give me a statistic suggesting it works?” asked Smith.

“I’m just going to tell you from my own personal life. Abstinence works,” said Perry, doggedly.

There is a high cost to a state to living in this kind of denial.  Teen moms and children of teen moms are generally not a productive group of citizens.  You pay to prevent this realistically or you pay for their and your mistake to do so throughout their entire lives.  But, this seems to be the way of the new brand of Republican governor.  These guys start running for president the minute they hit the mansion.  They do so by following a litmus test of Republican items–regardless of the consequences to their states–that will make them sound like purity experts when they hit Iowa and New Hampshire.  They will undoubtedly leave their state in ruins, but that won’t be the story by the time they’re on the lecture and talking heads circuit for higher offices.

The Governor of New Jersey is doing the same thing.  He can read off a litmus list for the republican inquisition while at the same time ensuring the people of the state he governs languish.  Again, he screams about the importance of the future of the children while simultaneously downsizing it.

In a clear shot at congressional Republicans over calls for curbing entitlement programs, he said, “Here’s the truth that nobody’s talking about. You’re going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security. Woo hoo! I just said it, and I’m still standing here. I did not vaporize into the carpet.

“And I said we have to reform Medicare because it costs too much and it is going bankrupt us,” he continued, later comparing those programs to pensions and benefits for state workers that he’s been looking to reel back.

“Once again, lightning did not come through the windows and strike me dead. And we have to fix Medicaid because it’s not only bankrupting the federal government but it’s bankrupting every state government. There you go.”

Clearly looking to blunt criticism of his famously combative style, the former federal prosecutor said there is a method to the battles he picks, insisting, “I am not fighting for the sake of fighting. I fight for the things that matter.”

The speech was titled “It’s Time to do the Big Things,” and Christie suggested the items that Obama called for as “investments” in his State of the Union address were “not the big things” that need Washington’s focus.

“Ladies and gentlemen, that is the candy of American politics,” Christie declared, adding that it appeared to be a “political strategy” – or game of budgetary chicken – that both Republicans and Democrats are playing.

“My children’s future and your children’s future is more important than some political strategy,” he said. “What I was looking for that night was for my president to challenge me … and it was a disappointment that he didn’t.

It’s difficult not to scream when you hear these folks talk about our children’s futures while cutting education, telling children abstinence fairy tales, turning down money for infrastructure improvements —like the nitwit Republican Governor Rick Scott in Florida–that will likely create better environments for business and jobs, and refusing to look at their tainted tax systems that usually punish the poor and flagrantly ignore the assets and the incomes of the rich.  It is clear whose children they have in mind.  It is not yours or mine or the majority of the people who live in their states.

These guys seem intent on turning their states into third world countries.  Many people seem more intent on letting them do it as long it doesn’t cost them anything immediate. Our fellow citizens appear beguiled by fairy tale promises and bribes of low taxes.  They should not be surprised then by a future where they and their adult children live in rented shacks together with few available public services.  They better just hope they don’t get robbed, the shack doesn’t catch fire, and there are no grandchildren needing public education.  They’re voting to downsize these things into extinction.

Another example is Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker who is attacking the rights of firefighters, teachers, police,  and state workers to organize.   A similar attempt is unfolding down here.  At the moment, the attacks are only on teachers and clerical unions which appear to be a safer bet than attacking those of state troopers, firefighters, and police.

Saying those who didn’t see it coming must have been in a “coma,” Gov. Scott Walker unveiled sweeping legislation that would severely curtail public employee rights and dramatically change the way Wisconsin negotiates with unions going forward.

Officials alerted the Wisconsin State Employees Union on Friday that expired collective bargaining agreements would be canceled March 13. State unions have been operating under the terms of their previous contracts, an arrangement that can be terminated with 30 days notice.

The news came on the same day the governor unveiled a budget repair bill that would remove nearly all collective bargaining rights for nearly all public employees in the state and make it easier for employers to fire workers that engage in some form of labor unrest.

To union leaders, and many Democratic lawmakers, the governor’s moves represent an all-out effort to end the influence of organized labor in Wisconsin.

WSEU executive director Marty Beil, whose union represents about 22,000 state employees, did not return calls Friday. But AFT-Wisconsin President Bryan Kennedy said Walker’s move is part of a nationwide effort to kill labor unions.

“It is a power grab, a coordinated effort to kill the union here,” said Kennedy, whose organization represents 17,000 state employees. “This is essentially the governor saying, ‘Sit down, shut up and do what you are told.'”

The majority of people seem blissfully unaware that unions play an important role in setting the level of every one’s employment benefits.  Unions frequently set the standards for what other businesses must offer to attract employees in key cities.  The more you water down collective bargaining rights, the more you water down the chances that any one in any private business will see similar benefits.  This is also something that points to a worse future for our future workers. This means our children will likely face a future with jobs that pay lower wages and provide less benefits.  It also means that the states will be willing to defund any commitment made to their parents’ pension plans.  Children should be ready for mom and dad to move in with them in the future because the programs they’ve spent a life time contributing to are being threatened.

There are already municipalities that are not paying a dime to retired police and firefighters who are now homeless. Many municipalities are struggling to meet those obligations and its creating tensions.  It also impacts other workers. Many states and municipalities are not offering new workers similar plans. Last year, the State lowered its contributions to my optional retirement plan to refill the coffers of the defined pension plan that had gone to unacceptably low levels due to the financial crisis and its impact on the return on their assets. It essentially amounted to a 6% decrease in salary for me and others in my situation.  They took it from fellow state employees rather than make the rest of the state chip in or decrease the rainy day fund.

Republican governors seem eager to join a race to the bottom.  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal tells state legislators that Louisiana graduates far too many four year graduates while bragging about creating great jobs like bringing a chicken evisceration plant to Bastrop. This appears to be the type of jobs he considers progress for Louisiana.  Let’s see how this price tag sounds for 317 jobs paying about $7 an hour.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said the state economic development agency had been working to attract new business to Morehouse Parish since the IP closure. “Today is a big step in the right direction for Bastrop, but our work is not done and we will continue to work aggressively to pursue more job opportunities for the people of this community.”

DG Foods is receiving a $700,000 state loan for the building and a forgivable $2.85 million loan for building improvements and is eligible for state industrial tax exemptions and work force training programs. State officials said both loans are based on the company following through on its plan and reaching hiring goals. The city of Bastrop has committed to infrastructure improvements and sewer upgrades.

These types of deals draw down state coffers and does not refill them for years.  Why is that type of expenditure preferred to taking out of work workers and retraining them for better jobs or just doing road improvements in the area and hiring them directly? States and municipalities make these Faustian bargains all the time.  They give away state funds to attract really bad businesses and really bad jobs.  This does not even include the costs to the environment and health of people in the area who will now have a chicken slaughtering plant in their back yard.  It is also unlikely to enhance property values which impact property tax revenues.   Those things aren’t cheap and are rarely considered or factored into these deals.

I consulted for a number of years at a chicken processing plant in South Eastern Nebraska on the state dime to help stop it from closing.  The  jobs I was saving were not what you’d consider great job opportunities.  The majority of people that worked there, by the time I’d left, were several small communities of Hmong Cambodians (not a freely available populace any more) and Mexicans who did not speak English and who were in the state on limited work visas.  It was not revitalizing the small town or hiring locals. I won’t waste time with the stories I heard and saw but let’s just say these kinds of jobs are not the kinds of jobs you want your children to do for a living either.

I’m not exactly sure why people around these states keep electing and re-electing Governors that are really not doing anything to improve their state.  They just seem to be running pre-presidential campaigns.  I’ve also doing consulting work for a state department of economic development–under then Governor Ben Nelson in Nebraska–and I’m not completely unaware of what it takes to revitalize communities even though I’m not a planning professional.  I’m not exactly sure why Governor Jindal is investing billions of dollars building a high tech medical complex while gutting the budgets of  feeder institutions that would provide the employees and researchers of the kinds of businesses the state hopes to attract to down town New Orleans.  Who is going to set up business in a community where the schools can’t get operating funds?  By this time, however, the issue won’t be Jindal’s to solve.  He’s building the talking points of his campaign for national office while the reality of dealing with the aftermath of bad decisions will fall on the locals that inherit the scheme.  Of course, that reality will never reach the ears of any one outside of Louisiana dealing with the aftermath of his short-sighted decisions.

I’m equally unsure on how we go about educating the populace on why these moves are going to create more problems than they solve.  The general populace does not seem to understand that the among the biggest problems they face in life that any one is unlikely to be related to unreasonably high taxes.   I’m not really sure they understand that if you create an economy with shrinking numbers of jobs and jobs with shrinking wages, you only exacerbate the state revenue problem.

Education is perhaps the best example of where unequal revenues plays a part in the type of education a child will receive.  The golden ticket education happens where the parents are willing to pay top dollar either in taxes or tuition.  The Department of Education has tried mightily to even the educational standards across states but fails because whenever there’s a Republican in office; the efforts stop.  The type of education you receive is still very much a function of geography and district revenues. That doesn’t have to be the case and it should’t be the case.

There used to be this old saying “you have to spend, money to make money” that seems to have gone by the wayside these days.  I will say that the President has brought that conversation up by suggesting we do have to invest in infrastructure and certain key items to provide a future where people can thrive.  How this message fits with the idea that you embrace austerity because you don’t want to extend the payments like you would a mortgage is beyond me.  We’re just finishing up paying for World War 2 and I doubt any one would consider that an unbearable debt on any of us.

Nearly every one in the country will take on debt for items they find create a secure personal future if you want to play that silly game of a government should be run like a household.  Most people these days hold mortgages and they have student loans.  They do so because they know those two things will enhance their lives.  They also pay for insurance for just-in-case-disasters. But, these are the same people that don’t want to pay for light rails, better schools, and good public health and public safety institutions. The deal is that you can invest in a house, but what if the streets are bad  and the neighborhood goes down hill?  Is that a good deal?  You can invest in student loans and an education, but if there are no jobs to graduate into, how much good does this do you?  How do you repay a student loan with unemployment benefits or a minimum wage job?  Also, you can buy insurance, but what happens if no hospital will locate near you because it’s not profitable or the number of firefighters is so low and they’re so untrained, that when your house does catch fire, it still burns down?  There has to be a certain basic level of commitment to public goods and I really don’t understand why people are buying the rhetoric of these snake selling Republican governors.


25 Comments on “States of Denial”

  1. Pat Johnson says:

    It seems that we no longer look to “the best and the brightest” to lead but to “the loudest and most ignorant” instead.

    In my entire life I never thought I would be living through a time when the “Lunatic Fringe” from all corners of the map have now been handed the keys of governance. These are the same folks we used to delegate to the sidelines and chuckle at their absurdity. They now seem to be at the front of the parade while the rest of us struggle to make sense of this phenomenon.

    What they seek is a curriculum that consists of Creationism absurdities and a rewritten national history that denies facts. Slavery wasn’t all that bad, the Founding Fathers were all Christians, and all wars were blessed by God.

    Like you, I fear for this nation under the leadership of fools who have no interest in education beyond the “good” it will do for business. Just by denying science and climate change. they have handed a blank check to the industries who will pollute and destroy even more of the planet just to enrich the bottom line.

    Preparing our children for the future is being gutted in favor of fanatical religionists supported by corporate interests.

    I honestly do not wish to live in a society that bases its foundation on biblical make believe. Yet I fear that this is where we are heading when the leadership of this nation is being placed into the hands of intellectually stunted men and women.

    • dakinikat says:

      I don’t see how we can stop it, either. It just makes me want to leave the country. I’d rather go to a country on its way up then stay in one on its way down. To think, we fought a huge costly war to get rid of fascism, only to see fascism redefined to the public as socialism so they could enact real fascism in the name of capitalism and no one would know the difference. I just wish we could stop it, but I’m just not seeing how that’s going to happen.

      • Pat Johnson says:

        Sadly I agree. And this is what is eating away at my heart.

        To be perfectly frank, and as much as some of us protest, we are essentially helpless in this face of this egregiousness.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      @Pat

      It seems that we no longer look to “the best and the brightest” to lead but to “the loudest and most ignorant” instead.

      Thank you…yes.

      To be perfectly frank, and as much as some of us protest, we are essentially helpless in this face of this egregiousness.

      I agree as well, exactly what can we do?

      • Beata says:

        What can we do? Refuse to act helpless? Fight peaceably? Go down swinging ( metaphorically speaking )?

        I come from immigrant, pioneer, and Native American stock. My Choctaw grandmother left the Oklahoma dirt farm where she was raised on the day after she graduated from high school. She got on a train to NYC and began nurses’ training at Bellevue Hospital. In her lifetime, she survived TB, scarlet fever, and four cesareans ( back in the 1920’s ) – among many other things. She was still a fighter until the day she died at age 97.

        Her DNA is part of me. I refuse to give up or give in.

    • Owen says:

      And they want this form of ‘education’ to be free of charge….

      I’m reminded more and more lately of the movie Idiocracy

  2. Tim says:

    It is difficult to understand how illogical policies remain popular until you realize that it takes critical thinking to get there. Look at your blog post: thousands of words to explain your position. Probably 95% of voters will not read such a detailed analysis. They want their politics as they want their entertainment and food: hot, fast and cheap. This is the only explanation that makes sense to me. Most Americans simply believe what they get from the 6-second sound bite. Why else, as you ask, would they support politicians who really offer no solutions, or worse, offer terrible solutions?

    That said, I appreciated your detailed analysis. There’s more common sense in what you wrote than there is in an hour’s worth of country music! Perhaps one day common sense will be more common.

    Peace,

    Tim

  3. Pat Johnson says:

    I am sounding too much lately like a “Debbie Downer”.

    This usually is a signal to get offline for awhile to “refresh” my attitude.

    I mean how many times can I say “depressed” without infecting an entire blog?

    Even to myself I am saying “give it a rest”.

    And Tim is absolutely correct in his assertion. This is a nation enthralled by Twitter and Facebook which indicates a pretty low attention span for anything above 140 characters.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      And I used to think the MTV mindset, that limited focus on anything in the music video, could ever get more sparse. 140 characters is targeting way lower, as far as attention spans go, sets of population than those quick shot MTV targets.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      Oh, and Pat…I hear ya about the “Debbie Downer” thing. I am seriously trying to adjust my own attitude. I have started reading about Bob Marley. Hopefully his outlook on life will help my own.

      • Pat Johnson says:

        I have used up my Christmas gift certificates and have ordered a pile of books online.

        Our book club just did a Churchill biography as a diversion from fiction this month.

        When I find myself looking to the Kardashian’s for relief from the current state of affairs you know I am dangling off a short pier.

    • dakinikat says:

      I started worrying when I found out people liked to read People Magazine and then there’s that abomination called USA today.

      I’m reminded by that Jeff Goldblum character’s comment in the big chill about no article can be longer than the average time spent at one time on a toilet stool

      • Minkoff Minx says:

        Yeah, that Big Chill quote is so funny.

        Now, the time spent on anything has to be at least equal to the time spent reading 140 characters. Cause you know paper copy is becoming a thing of the past, and most people now get there news via the tweet.

  4. Owen says:

    “Abstinence works,” said Perry, doggedly.

    Of course it does.. just think without this program Texas would be #1 in the country instead of #3….

    /snark

    • TheRock says:

      I am ashamed of my fellow citizens here that he was re-elected to another term. I voted for Bill White. And told a bunch of other people to do the same…..

  5. TheRock says:

    Great post Dak! What you see from government officials is mirrored all the way down to the students. The sense about education in this society is that it isn’t valued. There is a HUGE difference in the attitudes of the average students in this country versus the average students in Africa (my laboratory). This is statistically echoed in our students’ ranking versus students from other parts of the world in key subjects like Math and Science.

    The deal is that you can invest in a house, but what if the streets are bad and the neighborhood goes down hill? Is that a good deal? You can invest in student loans and an education, but if there are no jobs to graduate into, how much good does this do you? Also, you can buy insurance, but what happens if no hospital will locate near you because it’s not profitable or the number of firefighters is so low and they’re so untrained, that when your house does catch fire, it still burns down?

    THESE are the basis of the solutions our ‘leaders’ need to tackle. The fact that more regular Americans don’t realize this baffles the mind….

    Hillary 2012

  6. paper doll says:

    The majority of people seem blissfully unaware that unions play an important role in setting the level of every one’s employment benefits….

    Ain’t that the truth…people think , for example, the five day work week just “happened ” out the kindness of bosses heart and is written in stone. HA!

    It was paid for in blood and is like a flame…subjected to prevailing winds. However I’m encouraged by the crowds showing up in WI…the problem is , in most cases ,the union front office is in bed with capital and has been for 20 years, over seeing the give backs…sigh…

    All durning that time, the bosses kept saying the give backs would be ” remembered” and then they are quickly forgotten of course as the drum beat for more give backs gins up. When they can’t take anything back, they simply fire you

    But people have to understand, and they seem to be starting to do so : That the lessening of anyone’s safety net means the lowering of everyone’s safety net. Period.

    • dakinikat says:

      yup, and you notice all that fox networks and right wing blogs can talk about is how they canceled classes so evil public school teachers could go to the protests?

  7. Minkoff Minx says:

    I think we will be getting even more opportunity to post more threads about GOP Governors, as those newly elected ones get started on their own state of denial.

  8. Beata says:

    Today’s Noam Chomsky interview on Democracy Now about the protests in Wisconsin is excellent:

    http://www.democracynow.org/2011/2/17/democracy_uprising_in_the_usa_noam

  9. bostonboomer says:

    Dak,

    This is an excellent post. Thank you.

    I have to believe that if politicians, bankers, and the superrich keep overreaching, Americans will rise up just as the Egyptians did. How long that will take, I don’t know.

  10. bostonboomer says:

    I can’t either. Thanks so much for pulling all this together.

  11. Sima says:

    Like Pat, I get more and more depressed and overwhelmed when I listen to right wing stupidity and see right wing lies parroted by my unthinking friends and acquaintances. “Well it was said on TV, so it MUST be true.” I want to slap them all.

    Watched a new channel on my Mom’s tv today. It had Al Jazeera, Democracy Now and several other alternative news sources. It was very interesting, and even uplifting. I watch all these shows on the ‘net, but it was neat to see them on ‘real’ tv as well. Now, to get my liberal parents to watch what is the only liberal channel for news that they receive.

    Also, Tim’s right. We need a short, pithy slogan. I like, as was suggested before, ‘It takes money to make money’.