SocraticGadfly: 8/14/11 - 8/21/11

August 20, 2011

#RickPerry'sTexasMiracle part 3: new schools, no teachers

Yep, you read that right. In Leander, an exurb of Austin, two brand new schools sit vacant because the district doesn't have the money for teachers for them.

And why is that?

Because of Texas' draconian budget cuts, abetted and augmented by Gov. Tricky Ricky Perry's failed business franchise tax that his fellow GOP yahoos in the Legislature again refused (not just failed but refused) to fix this year. It all seems deliberate, not just in the name of austerity, but to starve one of the few institutions that may still harbor enemies of Perry and other GOP wingnuts.
In Leander, about 27 miles north of Austin, one of the most visible signs of the cuts will be two new schools — a middle school and an elementary — sitting vacant.

“We've got these big beautiful buildings ready to open but we can't afford the teachers to put in them,” said district spokeswoman Veronica V. Sopher, who adds that the buildings were built with bonds approved by voters.
That's the stupidest, but there's plenty more.
Lamar High School Principal James McSwain said his school has eliminated about 29 positions — from clerical to teaching staff. Class sizes for core subjects such as math and English will increase by about 10 students, to about 38 per class. In computer and art, class sizes will surpass 40 students.
Yeah, try teaching a computer class with 40 students in it.

Here's another goodie:
In Keller, about 20 miles north of Fort Worth, students paying to ride the bus will save the district $2 million a year. A district official says they had warned residents of a “pay-to-ride” system if voters in June didn't approve an increase in property taxes to help make up for some of the state cuts to the 32,000-student district.

“We've had over 3,000 phone calls. Many were upset and justifiably so,” said Mark Youngs, Keller's deputy superintendent of finance. “Folks don't pay attention until it touches their front door.”
The story notes that many parents without kids may have led opposition. The fraying of social bonds ... another accidental, or perhaps Social Darwinist-deliberate, effect of the budget cuts.

And, yes, I don't have a problem calling it Social Darwinism. The conservative Christian success gospel, which, sadly, is entrapping too many minorities, too, is Social Darwinism in a garish Christian drag costume.

Anyway, how bad is it? The cuts are even, indirectly, affecting FOOTBALL in places:
Carrollton-Farmers Branch District spokeswoman Angela Shelley says that the cut for this upcoming school year that most people are talking about is one that saves $50,000 in transportation costs: The district's bands will no longer travel to away football games.
But wait. It gets worse next year.
This school year, districts will see a cut of about 6 percent across-the-board. Next school year, there will be a $2 billion reduction that cuts funding for some schools more than others.

Next year may be even harsher for many schools because the cuts were softened a bit by a one-time payout of $830 million in public education funds this spring. School finance expert Lynn Moak of Moak, Casey & Associates said those federal funds helped offset this year's cuts by about a third.
And, let's not forget those cuts are happening to the fastest-growing set of public schools in the nation.

Factor in student population growth, as in the Leander vacant school buildings, and per-pupil cuts are more like 10 percent.

Everybody knows yet another school districts' lawsuit against the state is needed. The problem is (and perhaps that was a deliberate intent of those GOP yahoos), not many districts have the money for that now.

Let's not wait, Texas ISDs. Let's start suing, and start puncturing Rick Perry's national stage balloon more.

August 19, 2011

#RickPerry and the 8.4 pct unemployment miracle

Ripped from the AP headlines:
The unemployment rate in Texas jumped to 8.4 percent in July, hitting the highest level since 1987 while climbing at the fastest pace since the state was still stuck in a recession two years ago, according to employment figures released Friday.
Let's see Tricky Ricky try to spin away this baby.

Well, a flunky already is:
"Texas continues to feel the effects of a stagnant national economy," Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken said in a statement.
(Pauken, for the information of non-Texans, is a former state GOP chair, amongst other things.)

And, here are more details that show this isn't just a blip:
The jobless rate in Texas increased from 8.2 percent in June, and after being at 8.0 in May, the rate has now risen 0.2 in consecutive months for the first time since the recession in 2009.

Government and construction were down. The 9,400 government jobs lost last month was the sharpest monthly drop since September, with Central Texas taking the brunt of those losses.
In other words, this is a trend, not an aberration. Two consecutive months of two-tenths increase means Texas' economy (sadly for those of us who live here and know that Perry, and much of the state GOP, are nuts) is in trouble.

The second quoted paragraph? The drop is government jobs is primarily, I think, school districts already cutting jobs due to the GOP-passed austerity budget of June. Look for more of that in the next month or two. The construction jobs drop? That's more worrisome yet. It heralds, perhaps, a more general economic slowing. It may also indicate homeowners are more worried about buying houses, among other things.

Sadly, between Comptroller Susan Combs refusing to tell voters last October just how bad the state budget was shaping up to be, and the general "Perry luck" in elections, he's again dodged a bullet that could and should have prevented him from continuing to run Texas into the ground while boasting about his gubernatorial greatness.

America: Land of the cheap, home of the chintzy

I've been having this idea run through the back of my head for some time. It's not just about conservatives who think the private sector can about always do things cheaper than the public sector, or that when government is necessary, it can always be run cheaper than it is now.

I think many liberals may think that America can be run cheaply in some ways, too.

And, beyond political ideologies, I think this idea stretches further, and goes beyond just monetary cheapness. We think, and hope, many things can be done on the temporal cheap. Perhaps, on the hope side, that's because we get worked more at our our jobs, on average, than in any other developed nation in the world, and with less paid vacation time at the same time.

But, let's go back to monetary issues, and a great bipartisan example of this. For years, long before the current recession and talk that Obama should make infrastructure repairs and upgrades part of his stimulus policy more than he did, political pundits, leaders of governments from local through federal level, think tank and policy analysts, and John/Jane Does have all talked about America's infrastructure needs. They often mentioned roads and bridges, but many older cities in the Northeast, especially, can tick off aging water and sewer pipes, mixed storm/sanitary sewer systems and other infrastructure problems that rank up there with decaying bridges. (Update: I didn't specifically list all infrastructure, but natural-gas, oil and gasoline pipelines would also certainly qualify.)

And yet, setting aside Obama's refusal to spend more stimulus money on this, plus his either neglect of the idea, or refusal to implement, direct jobs creation and retraining for this type of work, Americans simply don't want to talk about the costs of what's seriously needed. (Costs that could, nonetheless, easily be financed with defense spending cuts.)

People don't want to talk about the costs of truly getting safer food.

They don't want to talk about the costs of having adequate police numbers to do quality policing without violating both the spirit and the letter of the Fourth Amendment.

They don't want to talk about the costs of the 200- or 210-plus-day school year that we really need to be on a level playing field with those other developed nations. (Note: While the performance problem is the worst at poverty-affected urban schools, even suburban and exurban ones aren't great. And, in comparisons to other "developed" nations, don't forget that suburban Paris has its banlieus, London has its slums, etc., that affect its school ranks. On the longer school year, I have had superintendents of school districts agree with me, too.)

And so on, and so on.

But why?

I think there are multiple main reasons.

One is American exceptionalism. We believe, or many of us do, that we Americans can do on the cheap as well as other nations even when they spend more. Well, from automobiles to many other things, that's just bullshit.

Two is self-delusion. We talk about infrastructure problems, for example, but we don't really think they're THAT bad. We talk about school problems, but think it's just uppity minorities in inner cities, rather than going-through-the-motions people in suburbs or privilege/entitlement mentality persons in the exurbs. (Note: I can't remember the name of the psychological phenomenon, but the issue of most people believing themselves to be more skilled than they actually are certainly, IMO, applies to suburban and exurban schools.)

Three is what I call salvific technologism. Many Americans believe that some new item of good old technology will ride over the hill like the cavalry, delivering us in the end.

Four is a riff on that, combined with religion, and taking from the first point. It's a religious version of American exceptionalism, believing that the Christian God will ride over the Calvary to deliver America, should it just humble itself enough or whatever.

That's just a sampling. But, all of those ideas, to some degree or another, look beyond the need to spend money.

They also look beyond the need to spend on human capital.

Better schools, especially with a longer school year, is going to involve a mix of more teachers and more aides or professional assistants.

Better policing, as I already said, involves more cops. It also involves better-trained cops, not just on police training but civil liberties training.

Better bridges involves not just repairing the decrepit ones, but making more maintenance investments on ones not yet decrepit. That is, more inspectors.

Better food safety and other regulatory service also involves expenditure on the human capital of inspectors, analysts, etc.

To the degree America is exceptional in any way, it is not innate. It is not, certainly, "god-given." Rather, it's the product of that human capital.

Let's not be cheap. Let's not be chintzy.

August 18, 2011

The latest in #GMO lying

I've busted the chops of Nina Federoff before, with briefs on FB for her lying on NPR about genetically modified organisms, including her claims that she'd never seen "spillover" or that she'd never seen the Monsantos of the world be heavy-handed about such allegedly nonexistent spillovers.

Now, the former science and technology adviser to the secretary of state is at it again. (I assume that as part of her 2007-2010 title, she probably tried to browbeat the EU over its GMO regulations.)

OK, the latest GMO Orwellianism? Current draconian regulations hurt "the little guy" of the GMO world. No, really:
Only big companies can muster the money necessary to navigate the regulatory thicket woven by the government’s three oversight agencies: the E.P.A., the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
The truth is that only big companies have the money necessary to engage in GMO research. GMO research is not just about lab work, unlike splicing a gene into a bacterium. You have to have test fields to grow GMO crops in theoretically real-world conditions, among other things.

Beyond that, it's the usual half-story.
The rapid adoption of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant soybeans has made it easier for farmers to park their plows and forgo tilling for weed control. No-till farming is more sustainable and environmentally benign because it decreases soil erosion and shrinks agriculture’s carbon footprint.
She ignores that Roundup-Ready type GMO crops ultimately just decrease the lifecycle time for weeds to develop resistance. She also doesn't tell the truth that no-till farming can be done perfectly well without GMO crops.
Myths about the dire effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment abound, but they have not held up to scientific scrutiny.
She ignores that allergenic properties have cross-migrated, as when a Brazil nut gene was transposed into certain GMO soybeans.

And, her food alarmism that we need GMO crops to feed more people wanting more affluent food lifestyles ignores other things.

1. That such affluence has its downside, like Type II diabetes.
2. That GMO agriculture could be part of the downside of increasing monocrop agriculture.
3. Per the resistance issues above, that increased GMO reliance could have other deleterious effects.

I don't hate GMO crops. I don't oppose their wise use.

I do oppose lying about them.

Update: That includes a Scientific American blogger who, if not lying, at least was engaging in deck-stacking against organics, including touting GMOs uncritically as part of that. Thank doorknob SciAm invited a guest blogger, Jason Mark of Earth Island Journal, who thoroughly refuted most the other blogger's claims, including with insights just like mine on increased weed resistance, increased monocultures, etc.

And, if the first blogger, Ms. Willcox, really is a master chef, she should know that organics taste better, per the more flavor-related chemicals, etc. She should also know about the allergen transfer per the Brazil nut-modified soybeans, if she doesn't want to get sued over any commercial cooking.

2012 election: Total reversal for Prez, Senate AND House ... i.e., no change?

If there's anything the last three presidential elections, plus the last three Congressional elections, should have shown America, it's this:

We are in as volatile a political period as that between presidents Grant and McKinley from 1876 to 1896. So, try this thought out. A 2012 election that sees a non-tea party GOP presidential candidate win, while the GOP also takes back the Senate, but Dems win back the House.

Ridiculous? Not at all.

A large part of this all depends on the tea party's degree of being a factor in elections, given that it's now rated as more unfavorable than Muslims or atheists.

With Obama's poll numbers now starting to edge into the upper 30s, unless he has a jobs program that truly creates jobs and fast, and doesn't just try to wrong-foot the Republicans, he's in big trouble next year. If the GOP nominates a non-nutbar candidate (with Dull-Lenty of Minn. out, that leaves Romney and Huntsman right now), Obama loses the election.

The Senate? Democrats have long known that this year stacks up badly against them. Anybody who gives them a 40 percent chance, even, of holding on, is whistling past the graveyard.

The House? Due to bungling and overplaying of hands by Midwestern GOP governors Snyder in Michigan, Walker in Wisconsin and Kasich in Ohio, and how that may play out in House races, the Democrats have a chance to pick up several Midwestern seats. Add in a few others here and there, and I will put Democrats' chances of regaining the House at at least 50 percent. Here, more than in the Senate, beyond running against those three GOP governors, they also will in many cases have specific tea party candidates to run against.

It won't be easy, but I'd say two seats in Michigan, three or even four in Ohio, and at least one in Wisconsin are there. Pennsylvania, outside the three-state area, could be easy picking for a couple of seats at least. Democrats should have more than six seats they now have in Florida; local-based campaigns could do well there.

Besides, the latest Gallup poll shows Dems have a 7-point lead in a generic ballot for Congress.

Given that Democrats need less than 20 seats to regain control of the House, this isn't out of the realm of possible.

Now, what would this mean?

Probably not a lot different than now.

I'll assume the Democrats have at least 41 senators, and that a couple of conservative Democrats who would be "defectors" too often have lost their seats. I'll also make the less warranted assumption that Senate Democrats are finally willing to practice at least a degree of GOP-style filibustering. Combine that with a Democratic House majority and a Romney-type GOP president, and we really will have little change from today in a number of ways. Don't ask, don't tell will stay disappeared. Romney probably will have about the same degree of activity, or inactivity, on DOMA. Big corporations might find Romney moderately more friendly than Obama, but much of their anti-Obama bluster right now is for show, not reality, and they know it. Besides, many of the issues there are to some degree SCOTUS-informed legal issues.

Foreign policy? Again, not much difference. Romney won't re-escalate Afghanistan, will use any excuse possible, just like Obama, to keep some troops in Iraq, and probably will be "venturesome" in Arabia and the Horn of Africa. Again, no difference.

More truth on Rick Perry's jobs

First, let's compare apples to apples on state-by-state job creation. When we do, Massachusetts, among other states, is ahead of Texas in the past three years.

Second, as Texans know, Tricky Ricky is bragging about his jobs creation because .... unemployment in the state's been going up the past two years.

Third, in something that will end with the new draconian Texas budget, many of the jobs the Tricker has seen created in Texas have been government jobs. And that has been aided in part by federal stimulus money.

So, in short:
1. Perry's not created many jobs;
2. He's lost a lot of jobs;
3. The jobs he has created have been "socialist" government ones.

Clear enough?

Of course it is. That's why he has to lie about it.

And, if that's not clear, note that Big Oil, illegal immigration and drug trafficking have also been important!

(Hat tips to Think Progress, Talking Points Memo.)

S&P, Team Obama and "coincidences"

Sure, the administration's investigation of S&P's CDO ratings started before S&P issued its U.S. credit rating downgrade.

Nonetheless, the Department of Justice's look-see at the top credit rating agency's contribution to the financial sector implosion should be fun, at least.

DOJ: Now, Mr. S&P rater, why did you give CDO group X a AAA rating?
S&P: Because Goldman Sachs said it was that good.
DOJ: And why didn't you continue to give the U.S. debt a AAA rating, when we've not only shown it's good so far, but we pointed out your $2 trillion math error?
S&P: Er, that's, .... I mean to say .... er, that is .... can we make a contribution to the Obama 2012 campaign?

More seriously, as the story notes, it's only a civil investigation, as most such Team Obama actions have been. And, many of them haven't even produced civil case results.

The only hope is that perhaps it would push to move our country's financial system away from a pay-to-play system of paying for a financial rating. Rather, businesses who have paid in the past would dump money in a pool, and, based on past expertise, one of the major ratings agencies would be chosen by lot. Or, as one person quoted in the story suggests, charge investors who use the ratings for them, not the people marketing the products who are seeking ratings.

August 17, 2011

More of what's wrong with "core inflation"

Core inflation, as opposed to overall inflation, eliminates energy and food prices from calculations because they're too "volatile."

Well, this is the real world. We eat every day, we heat and cool our residences and workplaces every day, most of us drive some place every day, and so forth. It's ridiculous to exclude these things.

But, tobacco products and pickups ARE part of core inflation. That's when just 25 percent of adults use tobacco products and even less own a pickup (not counting SUVs).

This is just another way in which the "economy" of ivory towers and DC Villagers is disconnected from the real, actual economy.

#RickPerry: GOP buyers' remorse?

If GOP "insiders" are still calling, or calling again, for either Paul Ryan or Doug Christie to run, then the bloom is clearly off the Rick Perry rose.
Well, per the story linked above, Perry saying that Ben Bernanke would be near "treasonous "if he printed more money, something not even goldbug and fiat money nut Ron Paul has said, is a good starting point. (Here's the truth about the Fed's transparency, overall.)

Second, Perry's Texas macho posturing, like W. Bush on anxiety-laced steroids, is probably already wearing a bit thin. And, in light of statements above, if it combines with a relative ignorance of national policy issues, he may come off sounding like Sarah Palin.

Third, as far as election playout, Perry probably has too late a start to win Iowa; I don't think he can overtake Bachmann, and I think Romney will maintain enough of a backdoor presence to finish No. 2. In New Hampshire? It's possible Perry will play about as poorly as Phil Gramm. Yes, for every W. and Bush Senior coming out of Texas to win a nomination, there's a Gramm, a John Connally, even a John Tower who falls flat on his face.

Besides, and related to that, as Nate Silver reminds non-Texans, Perry's "never lost a campaign" claim is not all he cracks it up to be. He has NEVER "led" his party's ticket. Period. As far as margin of victory among statewide candidates, he's never been more than middle of the pack, at best.

So, James Moore is full of it in predicting a Perry win, no matter how many years he's spent here in Tejas. And, a Perry-Palin ticket? Besides guaranteeing Obama's re-election, Palin would NEVER take the No. 2 spot again.

I wish I could get CNN money for being so asshat stupid. And, for being paid to write a book with asshat stupidity in that, as Moore has done.

Meanwhile, Tricky Ricky, contra tough-talking book, tough-walking boots, and tough-shooting sidearm, shows himself to be just another politician, pandering ever more for tea party votes by announcing he was wrong on his decision to try to force HPV vaccines on young girls.

Of course, the real story is that Perry's initial push was a big campaign favor for big donor Merck. That's just one of many big favors for big donors, something that will get raised more by GOP opponents, and of course in the general, should Perry get the nomination.

On the other hand, if you're "just folks," then Texas is Ross Perot's Mexico, as Harold Meyerson notes.

Meanwhile, Perry the Secessionist has a hot potato over Confederate license plates. Does he pander more to tea partiers and risk opening the secessionist label, or not? This one could really be fun.

At the same time, Ryan, Christie (and Marco Rubio) all have their own issues.

Bus politrical campaigns no longer populist

Proof of that? President Obama's $1.1M, made-in-Canada to boot, Darth Vader bus. Don't laugh, though, you conservatives; the story says the GOP nominee will likely use something similar. It's all more faux "branding" as U.S. politics gets more fake by the day.

August 14, 2011

Will Texas wreck the Big 12?

As Texas A&M makes more serious noises about joining the Southeastern Conference, it sure seems a possibility.

It's all over UT's TV network. That's the same network that sank its move to the Pac-10 earlier this year. If A&M does leave, that leaves it a two-team football conference, albeit still a bigger basketball conference. Would Oklahoma then entertain an SEC offer of its own? Or a Pac-10 offer?

UT's either going to have share that TV network money, or, if it really wants to go down this road, wind up becoming an independent.

And, in an update with several angles, the SEC said it's staying at 12 -- for now. It also said A&M approached it, not the other way around.

Meanwhile, Dan Branch and the rest of the Texas Lege can STFU. It's no business of theirs, really, if A&M and UT part athletic ways.