Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Incarcerating debt in Harris County

(Open Source Dem contributes the following as my business continues to slow my own posting. If you wish to comment send me an e-mail ... that contact data is in my profile. For reading on background consult these two posts from Scott Henson's Grits for Breakfast, "Incarceration rate is a dysfunction indicator" at Informed.org  -- enjoy its TeaBagger slant; this from John Floyd and this from Tom Kirkendall.)

The high incarceration rate is more an executive or legislative than a judicial issue. More immediately, it is the other side of the coin from the low and biased political participation rate which could blow Democrats away this fall. Other than full employment for lawyers, what will our entire ticket be running on in November?

What one concrete platform plank will deliver Harris County Demnocrats a majority in county government despite opposition from the other party in county or, for that matter, city government?

Building and staffing jails is the main focus of county government after roads and bridges, before even providing public financing private development of commercial real estate, entertainment venues, or mega-churches. Buying vehicles, and recently computers, is in fourth place. The only technical proficiency we exhibit in any of this is paying for it with debt, serviced by regressive and indirect taxes.

Our core competency in government appears to be “press”, “clerical”, “optics” or “cosmetics” -- nothing like public health, public works, public safety, or public finance. These are all in the hands of private consultants or public employee unions.

Moreover, our involvement in all of this is little more than deals. Not plans, not standards ... deals.  No Democrat in county or city office is against any deal that benefits the main contributors to both parties. We cannot even exploit a “bidding war”.  Annise Parker made some noises about the 'one jail/two arenas' deal, but capitulated in the end. I sort of thought maybe we would get a dog bone out of that deal in the form of a public defender program, but I see no sign of that now.

What did we get? Chump change, I expect.

Once Democratic and Republican office-holders are all “read-in” and “bought-off” every deal goes through unanimously.

This is epitomized by the unusable jail ($68 MM) at the intersection of Commerce and Austin. Tilman Fertitta’s rumored amusement park may set a new record for absurdity in government, beyond even Bob Lanier’s Giant Sewage Pump.

Nobody in jail over any of that; both parties utterly complicit.

Politically, the problem with this bipartisan concession-tending and collusive bargaining is that it leaves the dominant party in Harris County free to raise money as the ruling party while running as the opposition party. We are left on the sidewalk holding the bag, wringing our hands, and apologizing for a government we are no more than decoration in.

I fail to see how we rouse the “new base” or “surge” voters by telling them we are smarter and nicer than the other candidates, mailing out the same sort of family portraits, and promising to do precisely nothing in return for their straight-ticket votes.

We are furnishing little more than a racial medley of groundskeepers and paper-shufflers for the bond lawyers, land developers, slumlords, and car dealers who literally own our debt-driven county and city government. The debt and derivative book -- a secret hiding in plain sight -- drives everything.

If the Tea Party/GOP runs on repudiating public debt, don’t be surprised if they win. Democrats did exactly that here in 1874. I am not for that today, but only because the IMF has other third-world regimes to worry about.

The Tea Party/GOP program makes no sense fiscally at any echelon of government. But, then neither does ours, assuming we even have a program other than whatever the usual suspects push past the Chamber of Commerce and onto our office-squatters.

At least the Chamber gets dues. We have a “brand”, but they have a lien.

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