Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why I don't post much about Texas any more

Just a few of the latest reasons.

-- The three loons in contention for Secretary of the Department of Agriculture: Elsa Murano, Sid Miller, and Susan Combs (let me know in the comments if this Chron link and others below aren't giving you the full article).

Murano is a former president of TAMU, where she crossed swords with Rick Perry's buddy.

The Cuba-born Murano, a food safety expert who worked in the administration of President George W. Bush, is considered the least controversial of the three Texans, although she has rattled consumer advocates as well as top administrators in College Station.


Murano's more pressing political problem may be her short and stormy tenure at the helm of Texas A&M, where she clashed with then-Chancellor Mike McKinney, former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry, now Trump's choice for energy secretary.

Though Murano may have the heftiest food science resume among a slew of contenders in and out of Texas, her forced resignation after 18 months leading Texas A&M, Perry's alma mater, could make her an odd fit in the Trump White House.

Should I rehash the disadvantages of "romance novel/comptroller data breach" Combs and "Jesus shot/C-word/cupcake amnesty" Miller, in previous (and current) office?  No, I shouldn't.

The main reason I shouldn't is because it makes no difference as to whether these foul Texas Republicans get elected and re-elected.  The challenge may lie elsewhere, as Texas Democrats can't seem to come up with a way to defeat them.  It is no longer sensible to simply mock or deride or even point out their flaws as politicians and human beings without noting the vast ineptitude of their opposition.  See, in Texas we've been having to choose between Trump and Clinton in nearly every single statewide race for a couple of decades.  We keep waiting and hoping for the electorate to figure out which is the worst and then are shocked when they don't.  Logic and facts seems to be less and less useful in this regard.  The true fallacy of lesser evilism has been on display here in Deep-In-The-Hearta for a generation now; maybe there's a better choice beyond continuing to hold porcine singing lessons.

Here's more of the same, court room version.

A federal judge Wednesday ordered the Texas prison system to disclose the number of heat-related deaths among inmates statewide since 1990, sharply questioning why its lawyers had not provided the information sooner.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison gave the state 30 days to provide the details or face the consequences.

"We are not talking about how many widgets were sold out of a given factory," Ellison said during a hearing Wednesday in Houston. "We are talking about human lives, and I would be very distressed if the answer is the TDCJ does not even keep count of how many people died of heat-related illness."

What is there of value -- distress, disgust, outrage, snark, or otherwise -- to add to Judge Ellison's?  Here's more, tangentially, with respect to the Texas criminal "justice" (sic) system.

"Texas has the largest prison population of any state in the country. Nearly 145,000 are incarcerated, and a significant percentage of those are low-level offenders. People who are being held for violating parole or minor drug crimes," (Texas Association of Business President Bill) Hammond said. "Violent criminals, rapists and sexual offenders do belong in prison. However, there are some people whom we do not think belong in prison because of the cost."

Texas spends about $3 billion a year on prisons. Keeping someone behind bars costs about $50 a day, compared with $3 a day for supervised probation. With Texas lawmakers facing an $8 billion shortfall to maintain the current level of government services in 2018-2019, they need to find savings, and criminal justice is overdue for an overhaul.

Do you think posting a word like "good", or "wow", or something similar followed by an excerpt followed by an original sentence or two (generally containing the words 'see here for the background', with a link to some mention of the topic in the past), perhaps a paragraph of dishwater-flavored opinion, is making much of a difference in how Texans think about how they have been governed for the past twenty-five years?  Texas progressivism doesn't need more than one person on that beat.

Bill Hammond has been the solitary conservative in this state who has consistently tried to bridge the bipartisan divide in Austin by talking sense at Republican legislators, and you can see how successful he's been.  (Please don't assume that I'm giving Hammond credit for anything but a modicum of intelligence here.)

Hammond explained at an Austin news conference that it's not just about saving taxpayer money, though. It's about keeping nonviolent offenders employed and providing for their families while making restitution. Diversion programs and alternative sentencing can also force offenders to get treatment for drug addiction and mental health problems that underlie most crimes today.

"You are talking about individuals who are working, who are paying taxes, who are paying child support. They should be part of the community and part of the workforce instead of rotting in some prison at a high cost to taxpayers," Hammond said.

Indeed, this effort at rehabilitation is bipartisan.

Prison reform has long been a priority for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin. The group notes that politicians rely too much on incarceration, with one of every 100 American adults in prison today, compared with one in every 400 in 1970.

The group wants rehabilitation programs that reduce recidivism, such as mandatory job training, drug counseling and mental health care for the 7,000 Texans who are going to prison every year for simple drug possession.

The left-leaning Texas Criminal Justice Coalition couldn't agree more, calling for new ways to address possession of a controlled substance.

"There is no evidence that harsh penalties will discourage someone from continuing to use drugs, and therefore it is no surprise, then, that of the thousands of people who we send to state jail each year, 62 percent of them will be rearrested within three years," said Douglas Smith, a policy analyst with the group. "We can't arrest our way out of addiction."

We'd better stop there, as this gets way too deep for your average Trump voter/TeaBagger.  Appealing to the greater good in the souls of Lone Star conservatives only works if they're admonishing their lessers about the use of bootstraps.  If ill and impoverished Texans who have died because Rick Perry and Greg Abbott refused to expand Medicaid didn't graze their conscience, it's impossible to see how the lives of those incarcerated for drug "offenses" would.

At some point, again, you have to ask: is trying to make progress worth the effort in Texas?  There's always hope, but how bright does that little candle flicker?

One very minor example of the point I'm trying to make here.

Wouldn't it be grand if that vision above became reality?  Yet the elected managers of this region -- this modern, forward-looking, wealthy metropolis, with all of its spectacular diversity of arts, culture, food, and more -- cannot seem to overcome the troglodytes among their base who would rather tear down a piece of history, a legacy symbol related to the past when we dreamed big and executed big.

Nothing, in my opinion, demonstrates the abject failure of Texas conservatism more than the Astrodome in its current condition.  It's a metaphor for the crumbling, abandoned, deteriorating waste that is a long-term consequence of Texas Republican governance, as far and wide and clearly as the eye can see.

And yet the Democratic Latina county commissioner in 2012 -- now state Sen. Sylvia Garcia -- who represented a redistricted precinct that was 52.5% Latin@ VAP but only 38% CVAP, was subsequently shoved off commissioners' court by the Anglo Republicans on the east side of Houston.  Dr. Reynaldo Guerra at Dos Centavos explained this clearly at the time.  He invoked another quaint relic of a bygone era which has been steadily eroded by the GOP, the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  (Aside: boy, do I miss that kind of blogging.)

Harris County Democrats -- who stood out across the country as a shining example of how to take back their courthouse in last month's election -- need to show the rest of Texas outside the urban city limits how to replicate the feat in two years at the statehouse.  And in the US Congress, when we will have evidence of the destructive force of Trump's presidency staring us all in the face.  I'll be watching and assessing the Democrats' performance, but I won't be helping them any more. I like to have more options than just Coke or Pepsi, and I'm going to see to making that happen for everybody who can bothered to do their civic duty on a regular basis and cast a ballot.

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