Thursday, May 29, 2014

Texas, The Epicenter Of the Tea Party

First Published in DelawareLiberal on 5/29/2014 by ProgressivePopulist
Graphic from Madeline Kerwick, Corpus Christi, Texas
Always has been.  Or, at least from the day Dick Armey became chair of Citizens For A Sound Economy in 2003.  That's Dick Armey, Republican from north Texas.  CSE was a pretty nondescript political funding vehicle for the anti-tax movement when founded by the Koch brothers from nearby Kansas in 1984.  But Army gave it brainy fire and brimstone, however plain spoken.

His plain speech hid his PhD pretty well and worked great with Tea Party types. And Armey quickly worked out a pretty brainy scheme to gain better funding as the 501c4 arm of the Koch operation a year later when he created the subsidiary organization, FreedomWorks.   Koch managed the Americans For Prosperity Foundation.   Thus the early launch of the Tea Party in 2004 in a Texas where a confluence of influences he readily recognized as a favorable climate for hard right ideology existed.  And both Armey and Koch built alliances across the country as well.

A native libertarianism prevails  among white, born and bred Texans....the don't fence me in mentality.  As well as a  native and non-native racism among Texas anglos....against both black and hispanic Texans.  Rural Texas white populists  built great animus against railroads seizing their cattle land in west Texas and New York banks foreclosing on their cotton and timber land when they could no longer handle outlandish interest rates. The federal government supported both the rail and bank barons so they got a hate on for the feds too.  A laissez faire capitalism is  appreciated by both the oil industry and white transplants from places like Michigan and other rust belt states rushing to Texas to begin anew when the plants closed up there.
And then you have in the mix the conversion of previously pretty moderate southern baptists (the very people who gave Texas to Jimmy Carter in '76), who among other things, once favored abortion theologically, to a more hard edged conservatism when the right took over their church/seminary leadership.  Big churches became mega-churches preaching prosperity theology.

Add to that a Perot like populism, making money off the federal government but talking against it, just like the oil industry.

Armey began building their Koch funded/grassroots appearing movement and soon regional Texas anti-tax/government leaders emerged in places like Houston in the form of the King Street Patriots and True The Vote, whose racist agenda sold well in ex-urban and suburban Texas who resented the more ethnically diverse cities like Houston, Austin and Dallas where minorities and liberals  dominated elections and city hall.  As they refined their voter suppression tactics, they exported them with training and national organizers.
In 5  short years,  the Tea Party was introduced nationally and the the stage was set nationally for the 2010 sweep of congressional seats and statehouses, after much field testing of the Tea Party idea with school board, county, city and state legislature elections.   The defining event?  The election of our first African American President.  Was he raising taxes?  No.  Was he pushing a Black agenda? No.  He was too busy saving the collapsed economy and trying to stem massive unemployment and bring home their kid's broken bodies from stupid wars?  Yes. 

All they saw was a Black man saving their sorry asses.  This was simply somehow  too much to take.  An insult to the white people "who built this country".

Then, in 2012, the Texas Tea Party elected Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate, the Tea Party's wet dream.  No, and it doesn't end there.  Virtually all the Texas state office and congressional candidates in the Republican party ran on harder right Tea Party planks  and they took over most of the significant Republican Party offices at state and county levels.  This includes the Harris County (Houston) Republican Party Chair seat, one of the biggest in the nation. And he is from my home precinct, where I kicked his ass for about ten years.

Have they peaked yet.  Nope.  This past Tuesday the Texas Tea Party won the nominations for their candidates for Governor, mentored by Ted Cruz, Lt. Governor and Attorney General.  Cruz is flying high in Texas and Senator Cornyn, the senior Senator is sounding just like him.   By the way, the whackiest of these, the Lt. Governor candidate, Dan Patrick is originally from Maryland and worked in Pennsylvania before migrating to Houston as a sportscaster and sports bar owner.

This Tea Party saga is far from over.  Especially in Texas.  I doubt it's over nationally anytime soon as well.  Texas is pretty good at exporting political ideas and creating national leaders.  And their gun culture.  Remember the book depository?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Teabaggers Keep Your Shitty Hands Off My VA

Reprinted from DelawareLiberal, appearing on 5/22, 2014 by ProgressivePopulist

The current uproar over wait times and probable malfeasance and maybe criminal cover ups at some VA facilities being investigated has caused a call for  privatization of the VA health system.  This demand is mostly heard from teabagger Republicans  in Congress.
Some want the VA chief's head on a platter.  Have you really looked at our private health system in the U.S.?  If you have, you'd not be calling for this absurd "solution" to current scheduling and service demand issues.
These same clowns were huge supporters of an unfunded war in Iraq and the travesty in Afghanistan which caused demand for healthcare services to increase from 400,000 to 918,000 veterans, just during President Obama's tenure as our commander in chief.  They've chosen to ignore possible funding needs at the VA just as they chose to ignore paying for Iraq.  Now it's coming back to haunt them.  Or more correctly, haunt our recent veterans and their families who deserve the best our nation has to give.
True, President Obama has succeeded in shoehorning in a 50% VA budget increase, but not without a bloody, shitstorm fight with the congressional teabagger Republicans.   I am not arguing for a one to one increase in the VA budget based on this lopsided demand growth curve.  I am arguing that budget may play a role and must be at the center of solutions discussions.
My own VA experience has not seen this scheduling problem either in Houston or Wilmington.  But, I've got pretty routine aging health issues not requiring much secondary, specialty clinical care like many vets require.  But for sure, compared to my many decades of private health care and career as a hospital marketing consultant prior to my use of the VA for the past 10 years, I can tell you I'm never going back to that three ring circus.
It was and is a circular firing squad consisting of doctors, insurance companies and hospitals.   All fighting for their piece of the profit pie at the patient's expense, literally and figuratively.
When this scandal broke, I took a look at the senior VA leadership in DC.  What I found, not surprisingly, were resume's heavy with military experience.  This is not surprising being the agency serving military veterans.  I found a couple of medical/public health resume's , but shocking to me, no resume's of  senior level leaders with hospital/medical clinic administration backgrounds.  There have been graduate level degrees granted in that field since the 1960's.
This may be a possible explanation for an absence of this type of skilled management oversight from the top and may figure heavily into future solutions to better management at the local, VA hospital/clinic level.   Budget may be a comparatively small part of the solution.
There may be hospital/clinic administration consultants somewhere in the mix at maybe even a senior level, but that is no substitute for in house management expertise and experience to drive operational accountability, particularly in the scheduling and demand management areas of health care.
These are smart and well motivated people at all levels of the VA.  I have confidence they'll sort out the problems and find the right solutions.  They may need a smart congress to help them, at least with funding.  Smart congress?  We can only hope.  And we can send new people there with a few brain cells and in November, I hope we clean up the congressional  shit hole and oust the teabaggers.  That looks to me to be heavier lifting that cleaning up the VA.
(graphic compliments Madeline Kerwick, Corpus Christi, Texas)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Celebrating 60 More Years Of School Segregation?

As first published in DelawareLiberal by Progressive Populist on 5/16/2014

Much is being written and broadcast this week about the U.S.A. celebrating 60 years of school desegregation by way of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.  This was the year I graduated from my mostly segregated high school.

I say mostly because I was one of a busload of army brats transported daily to a nearby civilian high school.  The only reason there were a few black kids in my school was I guess the local school board couldn't find a way to prohibit my fellow army brat kids who were black from attending their otherwise all white school.

But to my point.  No, we no longer have de jure school segregation.  But Americans have found a way to maintain this stupid practice by simply boycotting and fleeing inner city public schools mostly populated by low income black and hispanic kids.  Result?  De facto segregation and very much separate and unequal educations.

Further, while the separate but equal doctrine is no longer applies legally, it applies in practical application in the way many if not most public schools are funded to provide middle and upper class public schools with enrichment tools the affluent parents fork out extra money to get for their kids while less affluent parents are powerless to provide such things as gyms, computer labs,  ball fields, art and music classes, band uniforms and instruments and great field trips.
So, 60 years later, little or no change?  Not much really to celebrate.  Post racial America?  that's a cruel joke.

With my own eyes and ears I saw stonewalling up close and personal in a Texas city.  By 1970, 16 years post Brown v. Board, our huge urban school district was totally segregated, save a few scattered middle class black kids populating suburban schools.  So, a highly motivated group of white liberal, black and hispanic urban residing parents banded together, got organized and in a year tossed out most of a segregationist white school school board and integrated our school district.

But, concerned about white flight, our group, of which I was privileged to be involved with my wife and kids, our board and new superintendent created the first magnet school program outside of NYC, including our own High School For Performing and Visual Arts (yes, we even put that on a very long bumpersticker !).  And our integration program mostly left neighborhood elementary schools alone and concentrated the magnets in middle schools and high schools, to limit the busing of the little ones.

In a few short years, all these programs,  designed to ease the angst of white families and create imaginative new opportunities for all kids, utterly failed to stem white flight.  White "christian academies" sprung up, suburban Catholic schools flourished and new suburban school districts sprouted up all over the region, all touting their educational excellence. People knew what those code words meant.  White.  in a decade or two the integrated urban district went from 60 % anglo to 91% black and hispanic.

Ok, this was so called conservative Texas.  But what of Blue and liberal areas?  Well, my home of origin, marvelous Marin County in northern California doesn't look a whole lot better, known to be a liberal elite bastion.  Nor does the very Blue Delaware in which I am now residing.  And from what I read, most of the liberal Blue areas, north, south, east and west look pretty much the same,  school segregation wise.

Yes, I know, this is economic segregation where  the people across the tracks so to speak just have to work harder to break out, the conservatives tell us.  Apparently all good things just take time in America.  60 years was simply not  enough time to change attitudes about "those people".

I'm waiting.  Not much time left in my opinion.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Incarceration Nation

This blog first appeared on May 5, 2014 in DelawareLiberal by ProgressivePopulist.

Much is being written recently about the appalling status of incarceration rates in the U.S.A.  Not much is being done.  All sorts of causal factors are cited: the War on Drugs, poverty, moral breakdown, the economy, mental illness, demise of the social contract.....the list is endless.

Solutions don't seem to be endless. International comparisons are shocking.  We're number one in rate of incarceration world-wide.

Something in excess of 2 million of our citizens languish in federal and state prisons and local jails.  One telling piece of data suggests that 2 of 3 prisoners will be jailed again in three years post-release.   State prison numbers tell us about 53% of convictions are for violent acts, 18.3 % property issues, 16.8% drug convictions and 10.6% public order issues such as illegal weapons.  Obviously many crimes involve several of these categories together.

Little Delaware figures prominently in position # 6 for violent crime and # 13 for property charges.  Most shocking to me was 86.8 % of Delaware drug convictions involve African Americans.  The numbers indicate locally and nationally that drug use rates are comparable between African Americans and Anglo Americans.   What's up here?  I'll  leave the assessment up to you, dear readers.

Overall, though accounting for 13% of the U.S. population,  African Americans comprise about 39% of the prison population; the ratio is similar in Delaware, so no slack is cut here locally.
These numbers are causing a much needed national conversation and criminal justice reform activism is heating up, but way too slowly by my observation.  Reforms are all over the lot; some focus on our absurd commercial bail bond system; other on pre-trial detention, the small number of convictions via jury and bench trials vs. plea bargains,  better representation for the poor population with public defenders, sentencing guidelines.  The most explosive growth in the past 30 years ties to drug convictions. So drug policy is being revisited.

We as a nation seem not to have resolved our philosophy regarding incarceration; ie: rehabilitation vs. punishment.  That debate rages on.  Endlessly.

I find it ironic that much of the reform movement in the criminal justice system lately to reduce the prison population comes from the right.  They are focused on the cost issues.   The right is also taking the initiative regarding the stunning statistic that something in the area of 25% of the prison population suffer severe mental illness.  Further, some of that population is  getting in-prison treatment and the imprisoned mentally ill outnumber the hospitalized mentally ill.

I would have expected that Democrats have seen the error of their ways in defensively reacting to charges of being "soft on crime" back in the 70's and 80's and tolerant of drug use by putting the hammer down on offenders.  But I do not see and hear from my fellow Democrats a major embrace of criminal justice reform.  We appear to me to be the advocates of the status quo in the criminal justice world, though much of our coalition is severely impacted by injustice in our criminal justice system.

Solutions, anyone?