Saturday, January 25, 2014

Corporate Chemical Spills

On Jan. 9, the US House of Representatives passed HR 2279, which would gut the nation’s hazardous waste regulations. This bill, called the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act, would amend both the Solid Waste Disposal Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (commonly known as Superfund). It would remove requirements that the Environmental Protection Agency periodically update and review solid waste disposal regulations, and would make it harder for the government to require companies that deal with hazardous substances to carry enough insurance to cover cleanup. The bill would also require more consultation with states before the government imposes cleanup requirements for Superfund sites — places where hazardous waste is located and could be affecting local people or ecosystems, Kate Sheppard reported at

The bill passed by a vote of 225 to 188, largely along party lines. Four Republicans voted against it, and five Dems voted for it. It was one of many bills the House passed in nearly party-line votes that seek to reduce environmental regulation and it stands virtually no chance of getting through the Democrat-majority Senate.

The environmental group Earthjustice said the bill would gut the Superfund program, which was created in 1980 to ensure that polluting industries pay to clean up hazardous sites. There are currently more than 1,300 sites around the country listed as priority Superfund cleanup sites. Critics say the House bill would delay those efforts and put taxpayers on the hook for future cleanups. A group of 129 environmental and local citizens groups have written to Congress urging the defeat of the bill. The White House already has issued a veto threat.

The same day the Republicans passed that bill gutting federal hazardous waste regs, a chemical spill from Freedom Industries’ tank farm into the Elk River contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people, including the state capital, Charleston, and nine surrounding counties.

Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post columnist with family members who had to flee Charleston, noted that there was little outrage from officials in Washington, who seem to expect West Virginians to take the whole thing in stride. “The bipartisan consensus in the state seems to be: Move along folks, nothing to see here. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, told CNN that he is ‘not going to cast guilt on anybody’ and defended the coal industry. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, told the [Charleston] Gazette she still believes the Environmental Protection Agency is guilty of ‘overreaching.’”

The case began when a poisonous but unregulated chemical leaked out of a Freedom tank and a containment area and into the ground, through which it entered the Elk River just a mile upstream from the intake to the water plant that provides drinking water for Charleston.

“Remarkably, the political elite haven’t taken to heart the most obvious lesson from the spill, which is that vastly tighter oversight of chemical manufacturing and storage is warranted in the public interest,” Michael Hiltzig noted in the Los Angeles Times. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who got $5,000 from a Freedom Industries executive last year, dismissed the very idea of more regulations. “We have enough regulations on the books,” Boehner said. “What the administration ought to be doing is actually doing their jobs. Why wasn’t this plant inspected since 1991?”

That’s a good question, Hiltzig noted, though one that hardly implicates the current administration alone, considering that during the 23 years since plant was last inspected the White House has been in the hands of two Republicans and two Democrats. Boehner, by the way, was first elected to Congress 24 years ago and has been a member of the leadership since 2006.

In fact, federal law leaves much of the responsibility to inspect chemical plants, tank farms and pipelines with state environmental agencies. State regulators last inspected the tank that leaked in 1991, but a state environmental inspector visited the site in 2010 after a complaint about an odor, and found nothing that would cause concern, Randy Huffman, head of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection told CNN Jan. 13.

Inspectors visited the plant again in 2012 to determine whether any processes had changed that would require the company to obtain additional air quality permits, Huffman said. The inspectors decided no new permits were needed, and they wouldn’t have inspected the tanks where the MCHM leak occurred, he said.

State environmental officials told CNN the facility had the only permit it was required to have: an industrial storm water permit.

Hiltzig added that the Charleston case is also a reminder of the imbalance in bankruptcy rights created by the bankruptcy “reform” of 2005, when Congress harshly tightened the rights of individual debtors (under pressure from the creditor lobby), while leaving the rules for corporate bankruptcies in place, or even liberalizing them. “The result for the individual victims of the Charleston spill may well be, from Freedom’s standpoint, heads we win, tails you lose,” he wrote.

This is what the “free market” gets you: water that smells like licorice, but you can’t drink, cook or wash your hands with it. And after the corporate polluters ruin your water supply, either by dumping chemicals into your river or injecting chemicals into your groundwater or running chemicals through a pipeline that ruptures over your aquifer, then the corporate owners can run to bankruptcy court to protect their assets and leave the cleanup costs to the state and federal authorities and aggrieved residents holding the bag.

Since the late 19th century, populists have believed that government should protect working people, small businesses and family farmers and ranchers from predatory corporations. Right-wing business executives such as the Koch Brothers founded FreedomWorks and other organizations that have tried to turn that populist tradition on its head in organizing the Tea Party movement to protect corporations like Freedom Industries from government regulation. (FreedomWorks and Freedom Industries apparently are unrelated, though the Koch Brothers’ Georgia-Pacific Chemicals supplies mining reagents to Freedom Industries, reported. Eastman Chemical Co. was manufacturer of the crude MCHM and has been named as a defendant in lawsuits relating to the spill, which allege that the company failed to warn adequately of MCHM’s hazards, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported.)

The plutocrats have been working since Franklin Roosevelt died 70 years ago to repeal the New Deal and reduce the government so that it no longer could stand up to the corporations. They finally made headway with the Reagan Administration in the 1980s as right wingers vilified labor unions and government regulations that interfered with the fictional free market and the “job creators” who turned out actually to be “job movers.”

One of the weapons in the plutocrats’ arsenal is the “free trade” scam that makes labor and health standards subordinate to corporate profits. In the past 30 years the plutocrats have succeeded in exporting manufacturing jobs overseas, maintaining the profits from those operations offshore, just beyond the reach of the Internal Revenue Service, and forcing industrial unions to accept concessions in wages and benefits to avoid further job outsourcing.

The latest manifestation is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is being negotiated in secret by trade representatives from the US and 11 nations in the Pacific region. According to reports leaked from the negotiations, the pact would allow international tribunals to overrule federal, state and local regulations that interfere with trade — or else the government would have to reimburse corporations for profits that are lost because of the regulations. The pact is expected to be presented to Congress on a rushed, take-it-or-leave-it “fast track” basis this spring. Tell your congressional representative and senators to say no to “fast track” for the Trans Pacific Partnership. For more information see Don’t wait ’til your tap water smells like licorice (or catches fire). — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2014
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Selections from the February 15, 2014 issue

Obamacare hater now thinks it’s a godsend;
Medicaid enrollment soars;
McAuliffe seeks to expand Medicaid in Virginia;
GOP panic over Christie troubles; passes security test;
Schweitzer as ‘anti-Obama’;
DeVos clan plans to defund Left;
Republicans see Senate opportunities;
Supreme Court may deal another blow to workers;
Chemical company ducks regs and responsibility;
Things fall down, things blow up;
Nebraska Dems get Senate candidate;
'Blue slip' is new barricade in GOP judicial obstruction;
Four years after 'Citizens United,' move to take big money out of politics;
Voter rights compromise has good and bad;
Bipartisan commission: early voting prevents chaos;
James Lankford: wrong on everything;
Supreme Court denies organic farmers defense against GMO suits

Disagree with military brass? How dare he?

West Virginia’s toxic waters just another slight

Choose the economy that works for you

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mass media gets high on stories about marijuana

By Marc Jampole

Marijuana, lauded, rued and feared as an appetite stimulant, is causing the news media to get a major case of the munchies.  A pot-crazed mass media is chowing down on the devil weed as if it were a bottomless bowl of Toll House chocolate chip cookies.

A media feeding frenzy occurs when a story becomes so big that every media outlet looks for a new and different angle for covering it. News junkies begin to feel as if they are drowning in stories about the topic, as everywhere they turn another media outlet is blasting or reblasting a story. It can leave one dizzy, disoriented, maybe feeling a little stoned.

Some media feeding frenzies last a few days or weeks, like the recent outbreak of Cyrus-twerking. Others last the length of a trial or a campaign. Others like Watergate—and perhaps now Bridgegate—go on far longer than anyone suspected they would when they first emerged.  In my lifetime, the longest feeding frenzy was the coverage of the emergence of AIDS: the mass media literally produced at least one new story about some aspect of AIDS every day during the 1990s.

A year and even six months ago, gay marriage dominated feature news coverage. Now it’s marijuana.

If you don’t believe me, go to Google News and key in one word: marijuana. More than 41.3 million stories will pop up. The following sample of story topics come from the first few pages of the search, and all have appeared within the past 72 hours. Many stories on this list appeared multiple times, as the news media consists largely of reprints and repackagings of other stories, with very little original content reported:

What distinguishes a media feeding frenzy from normal news coverage is the great lengths that journalists will go to find or create a connection that involves the target of the frenzy. For example, we see just about every approach to feature news coverage in this list: Legislation, personality profiles, business aspects, dueling politicians, celebrity interest, law enforcement, health and the bizarre and quirky. All that’s missing are consumer features, such as comparisons of cooking recipes, quality of pot strains (brands) and where and what the hip people imbibe; what I call “sell” journalism: stories dedicated to helping someone sell a good or service. But these will come, just as we are now seeing stories on goods and service related to gay courtship and marriage

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

NY Times reviewer feels he has to remind us that anyone who watches serious theater is a snob

By Marc Jampole

As New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff details in “To See or Not to See? A Season for High Art,” New York City theaters—Broadway and off—are currently offering an unusually large number of productions of what many call “serious” drama, which means plays that tackle serious subjects in nonconventional or experimental styles or belong to the “canon” of classic world literature.

The language of serious theater is often elevated, sometimes strange. The characters portray both positive and negative traits. The endings are often unhappy or ambiguous. Serious theater tends to make viewers think about deep philosophical or social issues. Among playwrights considered to be authors of serious works are Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Tennessee Williams and Berthold Brecht, all of whose works are in production in New York City at this time.  

And how does Itzkoff describe this amazing cornucopia of high dramatic art? The current theater season has been a veritable snob’s paradise.”

A snob’s paradise!!

To understand just how anti-intellectual this statement is, we have to review all three meanings of the word “snob” given in Merriam-Webster’s (or any other standard) dictionary:
1.      “Someone who tends to criticize, reject, or ignore people who come from a lower social class, have less education, etc.”
2.      One who blatantly imitates, fawningly admires, or vulgarly seeks association with those regarded as social superiors”
3.      “A) One who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior; B) One who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste”

Snobs criticize those they think beneath them. Snobs fawningly imitate and chase those considered socially superior. Snobs have an offensive air of superiority. Snobs are thus among the most distasteful and despicable people in the world.

Who would want to be a snob? Yet “snob” is the first word that comes to mind to a writer about culture when describing those who like serious theater.

Admittedly, serious theater engages our intellectual faculties more than light theater or most musicals do. Sometimes serious theater is hard to understand. To call serious theater an intellectual pursuit is accurate.

But why is someone a snob by virtue of liking serious theater or preferring it to light theater?

It’s just another of the almost daily examples of mainstream media criticizing intellectual pursuits.  Reporters and pundits go out of their way to say denigrating things about intellectual activities.

That it’s a cultural reporter who should find excitement in Beckett and Shakespeare who is delivering the blow against these authors, and by implication against intellectualism, is also nothing new.  In the recent past we have seen a sciencewriter imply that brilliant people have no common sense and an education expert say people don’t need algebra. Mass media editors like nothing more than finding and then funding a self-flagellating expert who will denigrate his or her intellectual discipline.

Calling serious theatergoers snobs is a throwaway line in an article which focuses primarily on the business aspects of having so many productions of serious theater in town over a short time frame. For example, he discusses the marketing challenges of the Pig Iron theater’s production of “Twelfth Night,” which follows by a few weeks the closing of the acclaimed Elizabethan-style version imported from London with Tony-winner Mark Rylance. 

Itzkoff, the culture critic, does not consider the cultural implications of the seemingly sudden return to serious theater—that audiences may be tired of the flash and glitz of Broadway musicals or that a new generation of theatergoers is now discovering the joys of Odets, Albee and Ibsen (three other “serious” playwrights whose work has popped up on New York stages in the recent past). Did the trend start in the hinterland or has New York become the last American bastion of classic drama, much as it has for serious post-bop jazz?  There are so many approaches that Itzkoff could have taken to exploring this sudden and wonderful outcrop of serious theater. But he decided to write about the one topic held above all others by mass culture— making money.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NY Review author details extent of government financing crisis & a centrist way out

By Marc Jampole

If you read one article this month—change that to this year—make it Jeffrey D. Sachs’ “Our Dangerous Budget and What to Do About It” in the New York Review of Books. 

Sachs, Director of Columbia University’s The Earth Institute, takes a look at the federal budget and tax revenues as percentages of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and compares the numbers to historic patterns and what the numbers are in other countries. He then makes assumptions about future inflation and concludes that within 10 years the federal government will be spending money on the military, interests payments on debt, mandatory social programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and nothing else. No aid to education. No construction or repair of bridges, roads and dams. No support of alternative energy. No national parks. No federal support of medical or scientific research. No National Science Foundation. No weather satellites. We will cease investing in the future of the United States and the result will be that we enter a rapid decline.

He starts with the fact that federal, state and local tax revenues are now a mere 30% of GDP, much less than before what he rightfully calls “Ronald Reagan’s successful assault on government beginning in 1981,” and much lower than Canada’s 38%, Germany’s 45% and Denmark’s 55%.  We average a mere 18-20% a year of GDP in federal taxes.

Sachs takes a look at the federal spending pie and finds that mandatory programs accounted for 9.6% of GDP in 1980, but have soared to 13.6%. The aging of the population and the fact that people are living longer has a lot to do with that increase, but so does medical inflation. Sachs tell us that we spend 18% of GDP on health care, compared to 12% in other high income countries, although he forgets to mention that these other countries all have longer life spans and lower infant mortality.

Adding the 5% of the GDP that we spend on military and that adds up to almost 19% of GDP, or just about all of our federal revenues. That doesn’t leave much for all that other stuff I listed above.

But wait, it gets worse! Thanks to the Federal Reserve Board’s program of quantitative easing, interest rates have been historically low. Quantitative easing has to end and it looks as if it may end sooner than later. When the Fed does pull the plug on bond buying, interest rates will return to what Sachs expects will be an historically normal 4%. At that point, interest on the national debt will account for 3.1% of GDP. By 2023, if we do nothing, we will have absolutely no money to spend on anything but guns, health care, retirement and interest.

Sachs lists four ways out of this untenable situation, three of which he rejects:
1.      Continue on the current course, which will doom us to a backwards economy with unskilled people in a degraded environment.
2.      Fund more of what the beltway crowd label discretionary spending through borrowing more money.  Sachs worries about the increase in the debt to GDP ratio. I worry more about the fact that borrowing money to fund government spending transfers money from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, even when the money is spent on these less financially secure groups. Here’s why: Instead of raising taxes on the wealthy, we borrow money from them, giving them a rock solid investment. The loan and all interest are eventually paid back by all of us.
3.      Cut spending on Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and other “mandatory programs” (which essentially means programs for which spending levels are voted into law not subject to annual budgeting) to fund the discretionary programs like education, environmental protection, infrastructure improvement and research. As Sachs points out, the Republicans like this approach, but he forgets to mention why: because it takes from the undeserving (read: minority) poor.

Sachs’ approach is the right one: Raise taxes and cut military and healthcare costs. He proposes a one percent wealth tax on any individual with a net worth of $5 million and more, a tax on financial transactions and the end of preferential tax treatment of multi-national corporations and hedge fund owners.  His military cuts leave the United States as the preeminent military power in the world, with offensive capabilities much greater than any other nation.  His medical cuts do not bring our medical costs down to European levels and involve changing how we pay for health care from a fee-for-service model to one price for every patient.

With this combination of cuts and tax increases, Sachs is able to squeeze out 5% of GDP to invest in education, technology, infrastructure, jobs, mass transit and everything else in which we currently need to invest.

Sachs plan is too centrist, if you ask me. A lot of damage has been done over the last 30 years by privatizing money—taking it out of the public coffers where it was used for public ends and giving it to the wealthy, thin sliver of the  population who didn’t really need it. I would also propose lifting the cap on income assessed the Social Security tax and end the capital gains tax for any investment in the secondary market (as opposed to buying an initial stock or bond offering). I would also raise the basic tax rate on just about everyone making more than $150,000 a year. I would cut the military even more than Sachs proposes. I would use these additional revenues and cost savings to ratchet up investment in education, mass transit and the environment.

These differences are more than minor quibbles—they represent the difference between a pre-Reagan American centrist and a European-style social democrat. But Sachs’ proposal is a good start, and it seems to be considerably to the left of our supposedly progressive President.

Sachs ends with the hope that there is truth in Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s well-known statement that we have 30-year cycles of private greed followed by 30-year periods of public service.  He sees the election of Bill De Blasio as Mayor of New York City as a possible harbinger of a swing leftward.  Judging from the many surveys by Pew and others, Sachs may be a little too optimistic. The country has been tilting left for years, but even as it does our politicians have driven the conversation right and one of our two major parties has attempted to disenfranchise those voters most likely to vote for progressive candidates. Days after De Blasio’s inauguration, the Governor of New York state—a Democrat—came out with a plan to cut taxes in that state further.

Considering our current political alignment, Sachs plan looks pretty good. I suggest that everyone copy it and send it to all their elected officials with a note that if they want the vote and donations, they have to come out explicitly and loudly for the Sachs plan.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

How Did Texas Get Into This Mess and Who Will Lead Us Out?


(from a speech to the First Unitarian Church of Austin, Jan. 19, 2014, a revision and updating of "What's the Matter with Texas")

When I moved to Texas 42 years ago to attend the University of Dallas, you could tell when you were entering the Lone Star State because the quality of the pavement improved.

Since then the state's dedication to highway quality has deteriorated along with its road surfaces, to the point where the American Society of Civil Engineers last year found that 38% of Texas roads are in poor or mediocre condition. The state has not raised fuel taxes from the 20 cents a gallon dedicated to roads since 1991, so the Texas Department of Transportation under Republican Gov. Rick Perry has had to contract with foreign financiers to put the cash up front to build and operate state tollways and the state has floated plans to convert at least 80 miles of paved roads in South and East Texas to gravel because it lacks the funds to repair damage done by oilfield vehicles. 

The Texas economy grew by 13% from 2009 to 2012, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reported last June. Much of the state’s job growth came due to the revival of the state's oil fields with the environmentally dangerous fracking process, but the state also saw large gains in service jobs, which tend to be relatively low-paid and less likely to offer insurance benefits. The state’s jobless rate topped out at 8.5% in August 2011, when the national unemployment rate was 9%, but by November 2013 the Texas unemployment rate had dropped to 6.1%, compared with 7% nationally.

Austin has led the high-tech economic boom, which was due to the state’s investments in the University of Texas and high-tech research centers in the 1980s. It's important to remember that Texans used to be proud that university costs were kept low enough that the children of working-class parents could pursue a college education. In 1970, when Rick Perry attended Texas A&M, the state paid 85% of the cost of running the state's institutions of higher learning.

A student in those days could get a bachelor’s degree while accumulating little or no debt. Tuition and fees for the regular workload of 15 hours was $104 per semester for Texas residents in 1970. (A student could work that off in just 65 hours at the minimum wage of $1.60 per hour.) Tuition and fees rose to $2,357 a semester by 2002 (that works out to 458 hours at the $5.15 minimum wage). But a student could still pay tuition and fees at a Texas university by working 20 hours a week, not counting room and board.

After Republicans gained control of the Texas Legislature in 2003, with Rick Perry as governor, the Legislature “deregulated” tuition. Since then the Legislature has cut appropriations for the state’s universities to less than 15% of the costs, the opposite of its share in the '70s, with students picking up most of the balance. In 2012, the average cost for a semester for a state resident was $7,533, an increase of 55% since deregulation. (That’s the equivalent of 1,039 hours at the minimum wage of $7.25.) The estimated cost of undergraduate education at the University of Texas in 2013, including campus housing, was at least $25,704. 

The Texas Legislature should step up to restore the state's share of the cost of higher education and make it affordable to students working no more than 20 hours a week. At the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, that means tuition should be no more than $3,625 a semester (or $7,250 a year).

Instead, Texas legislators in 2011 cut $5 billion from public schools and $1 billion from universities, choosing not to draw from the state's $8 billion "Rainy Day Fund" to support education during the Great Recession. Instead, the state's public schools lost 21,000 teachers and staff while Texas universities also faced cutbacks. The Legislature restored most of those cuts in the 2013 session, but the indifference to education as a budget priority could make it harder to find qualified teachers and professors in the next decade.

The proportion of adults without a high school diploma is projected to increase from 12% today to 30% in 2040, if current trends continue, the state Comptroller’s office reported. That report also predicted another 30% of the 2040 labor force will have only a high school diploma and no training for high-tech jobs.

Rick Perry also brags that Texas has generated 37% of the country’s new jobs since 2009, but he is less forthcoming about the 25% of Texas residents who lack health insurance. That ranks Texas dead last among the states in the percentage of insured residents. Texas has a high number of retail and service jobs, as well as a large agricultural sector, and those are industries that are less likely to offer health benefits. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 71% of Texas uninsured are part of a family that includes a full-time worker. Put another way, 63% of uninsured, working-age Texans have a job — they just don't have a job that provides insurance.

Texas' 25% uninsured compares with a national average of 17% uninsured. Those 6.3 million uninsured Texans amount to a population nearly equal to the entire state of Massachusetts.

And Perry and state Attorney General Greg Abbott have done worse than nothing to make health insurance more affordable for working Texans. They promoted a 2003 law that caps medical malpractice awards, making it harder for injured patients to recover damages from negligent physicians. That arbitrary $250,000 limit on punitive damages gives lawyers little incentive to take malpractice cases. But so-called “tort reform” has not controlled health care costs — since 2003, Texas Medicare reimbursements have actually been rising faster than the rest of the country, Public Citizen reported in December 2009.

It's ironic, to say the least, that Abbott, who is now running for governor, supports these limits on damage awards. He got a $9 million settlement in 1986 from a property owner and a tree service in Houston after a tree fell on him, paralyzing him and requiring him to use a wheelchair. 

Perry and Abbott also have taken the lead in opposing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that Texas has 22 of the 30 counties in the United States that would benefit most from implementation of the health reform. Perry has refused billions of dollars the federal government is offering to pay nearly the entire cost of expanding Medicaid to cover the working poor — that's up to 133% of the poverty level — for the first three years. A study done for the Commonwealth Fund reported in December that Texas would pass up $9.6 billion in federal matching funds in 2022 if it continues to refuse Medicaid expansion.  As attorney general, Abbott led the efforts to block the health reform law in the courts. Now he is working to block “navigators,” many of whom work for non-profit organizations, from helping potential customers find the insurance plan and federal subsidy that’s right for them.

Texas always has been stingy in its Medicaid program. Texas Medicaid in 2012 covered 3.6 million Texans, mainly children, pregnant women, seniors in long-term care and disabled Texans, mainly sticking with the federally mandated minimums. And Perry would like to do away with those requirements. Now he and Abbott are trying to prevent as many as 1.5 million people earning poverty wages from getting health coverage paid by the federal government.

As if to add a cruel twist to the obstruction, the Republican-dominated Legislature in 2011 cut $73.6 million from family health services. The cuts were supposed to be targeted at Planned Parenthood abortion services, but they ended up defunding 22 public health clinics that provide a broad range of services in Texas and they have reduced health care options for low-income Texas women.

Rick Perry boasted that the state had targeted Planned Parenthood. “There are 12 abortion clinics that aren’t open in the state of Texas today because our members of the Legislature had the courage, the wisdom to do that,” he said, referring to the defunding.

Jordan Smith noted in the Austin Chronicle that Perry’s bragging may have pleased his hardcore base, but it was false. In fact, 11 Planned Parenthood clinics had folded operations in Texas because of the budget cuts — including six near the Mexican border, where the need is great and there are few other options for care — but none of those clinics provided abortions. Instead, those clinics provided health exams to 20,565 clients, including screenings for cervical cancer; screenings for breast cancer; and screenings and treatments for sexually transmitted infections. But not any more.

The Legislature in 2013 appropriated $71 million for family planning services, nearly reinstating the money the Legislature had cut in 2011, but the state also lost $60 million from the federal government because it defunded the clinics that were affiliated with abortion providers, reported. The state Family Planning Services Program is expected to serve 100,000 women in 2014, down from 220,000 women before the 2011 cuts, the Dallas Morning News reported.

The state has low tax rates, as the average Texan spends just 7.9% of his income on state and local taxes, compared with 9.8% nationally, according to the Tax Foundation. That 7.9% is up from 7.1% when Perry became governor in 2001. But only five states have lower tax burdens. And you get what you pay for.

Texas has relatively low housing costs, ranking 40th in median home prices. Texas was not hit as hard by the collapse in housing prices as other states where housing prices were inflated by speculators. A large part of the credit goes to Texas' relatively strict regulation of home equity loans. The state limits “cash out” refinancing, where homeowners could take advantage of higher house prices to refinance their homes and pocket the difference. 

Texas had a populist mistrust of bankers since the days of the Republic. The state did not allow home equity loans until 1997 and then Democrats, in one of their last populist stands before the Republicans took over, insisted on limits that made it harder for bankers to misuse home equity loans. (Perry was agriculture commissioner at the time and was not a leader in the home equity debate.) In Texas, cash-outs and home equity loans cannot total more than 80% of a home’s appraised value and borrowers cannot use the refinance to pay other debts.

Many people confuse the demagoguery of politicians such as Perry, Sen. Ted Cruz and the Tea Party movement with populism. These faux populists have turned the definition of populism on its head and it’s time that progressives reclaim the good name of populism.

Since the late 19th century, populists have believed that government should protect working people, small businesses and family farmers and ranchers from predatory corporations. Right-wing business executives such as the Koch Brothers founded FreedomWorks and other organizations that have tried to turn that populist tradition on its head in organizing the Tea Party movement to protect corporations from government regulation.

The Tea Party movement, whether its members realize it or not, is largely in the service of corporate interests in its campaign against “big government” and health-care reform.

They have embraced the right-wing dogma that big government is bad and that the free market is the best regulator. That is the opposite of progressive populism, which believes that the government should protect working people, farmers and small businesses from predatory corporations.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, enacted in February 2009, provided an $800 billion stimulus to the economy. That was a good start and helped to stabilize the economy, but going forward the government needs to put people back to work building or rebuilding highways, bridges, schools and other public works. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the US needs to spend at least $3.6 trillion on rebuilding infrastructure just to get it back to code. In Texas, we don't even have a state fire code that allows fire marshals to inspect potentially explosive sites outside of city limits. The Republican Legislature didn't get off the dime to act, even after the fertilizer plant explosion that leveled much of the little town of West, Texas, on April 17.

Democrats should promote development of high-speed railways and a clean energy industry. President Obama's proposal for a $450 billion jobs act is the minimum Congress should approve, but they should also toughen regulations on Wall Street and help small businesses gain financing from the Small Business Administration if private lenders are not up to the task.

Recovery will be expensive, and this is no time to worry about the debt we’re passing onto our children. Those kids are better off if the government ensures that their parents have a good job with a living wage, health care, an affordable home and the kids have access to quality education from pre-kindergarten through college.

Texas is a cornerstone of Republican power nowadays, but that hegemony depends on suppressing the Latino electorate, which runs two-thirds Democratic when they get out to vote. Hispanics represent 38% of the Texas population, but they accounted for only 20% of Texas voters in 2012. In Texas, less than 55% of voting-eligible Hispanics registered to vote that year, the Census Bureau reported. That’s 12 points less than all eligible Texas voters and almost 19 points less than eligible Anglo voters.

If Hispanics had turned out at the same rate as whites in 2012, it would have meant an additional one million votes in Texas, where Mitt Romney defeated President Obama won by 1.2 million votes. Romney probably still would have won Texas, but he might have needed more money to secure the Lone Star State. And those million extra Latino voters might not have turned the tide in the US Senate race, where Cuban-Canadian Ted Cruz defeated East Texan Paul Sadler by 1.24 million votes, but that kind of movement might have lured some national Democratic money to help the cash-strapped Texas Democrat put up a fight.

It is hard to figure out how Republicans regain the White House without Texas’ 38 electoral votes and the numbers are starting to stack up against the GOP. Latinos make up 38% of the population while African Americans are 12%. White Texans voted 26% for Obama in 2008 but in January 32% of respondents told Public Policy Polling they were Democrats, with 43% Republican (1/30). Some of the organizers from President Obama’s campaign have relocated to Texas to try to replicate some of their grassroots organizing successes that helped turn around Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.

Meanwhile, the Republican answer is to redouble voter suppression efforts such as requiring state-issued photo IDs to vote. Just two hours after the right-wing Supreme Court majority threw out the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement in June, state Attorney General Greg Abbott said the state would go ahead and implement the controversial voter ID law that the federal courts had blocked in 2012 because the judges found it would discriminate against black and Latino voters.

Some day, this contempt for the Latino vote is bound to backlash on the Republicans. Irish Americans have been voting Democratic because of what Republicans did to their great-great grandparents 160 years ago, and Republicans, with their shocking disrespect for President Obama, have finished off most of the good will African Americans had remembered for the party of Lincoln. Today the Republican vote suppressers and DREAM deniers are doing their best to turn new generations of Mexican Americans against the GOP.

Pundits are playing down Texas Democrats’ chances of getting competitive in the next few election cycles, even with state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) making a name for herself with her much-admired filibuster against the Republican railroaders and exciting Texas women with her campaign for governor. But white Texans who have been voting Republican for the past few election cycles grew up voting Democratic and they still might be receptive to a blue streak if a candidate gave them a good reason to vote Democratic again. And if Democrats can count on teabaggers such as Congressmen Steve King of Iowa and Louie Gohmert of northeast Texas with their demeaning rhetoric about immigration reform to create a whole new generation of Latino Democrats, Texas could find itself on the fast track toward turning purple.