Forrest for the Trees

Mayor Julián Castro
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Outgoing San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro convinced voters to pass a tax increase in 2012 to help fund full-day pre-K.

Rick Perry is fond of saying that the 50 states are “laboratories of innovation” where the real work of democracy occurs.

Quick—name one innovation the Texas Legislature has produced in the last, say, three sessions. Name one big idea of Rick Perry’s during his 14 years in office. And no, colossal failures like the Trans-Texas Corridor and HPV vaccinations for teen girls don’t count.

But Perry does have a point: The descent of the Congress into a depressing burlesque of corruption and gridlock has made state government more important than ever. But in Texas, state government is increasingly suffering from the same malaise we see in Washington, D.C.: small-mindedness, ideological extremism on the right and a toxic anti-government strain that ricochets between a steadfast unwillingness to use the public sector to solve problems and an active campaign to dismantle successful programs. The list of things the Texas Legislature ought to address, but doesn’t, could occupy many column inches. If anything, it’s going to get worse before it gets better (if it gets better), due to the tea party takeover of the Texas GOP.

Perry wants to wage a war of state vs. state and state vs. fed, but in Texas it is our cities—especially the big six of Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio—that are left to seriously grapple with citizens’ most urgent needs. While Texas cities are by and large run by Democrats, their leadership tends to be—by necessity and by tradition—progressive but pragmatic. Think Julian Castro of San Antonio or Annise Parker of Houston.

In city government, the corrupting influence of corporate dollars doesn’t have the same reach, and citizens are simply more engaged. You go to a city council hearing and it’s packed with ordinary folks; you go to a legislative hearing and often you can’t find a seat not taken by a lobbyist.

And city government is about more than potholes and trash service. Cities are increasingly taking on the tasks that state and federal government won’t. A few examples:

The Texas Legislature is so overrun by money from predatory payday lenders that it refuses to impose even the most cursory of regulations to deal with runaway interest rates and a vicious cycle of debt. So this arcane area of consumer finance has fallen to the cities to deal with. At least 18 Texas cities have passed payday loan ordinances over the past three years, including conservative strongholds such as Midland. Unlike at the Legislature, the lenders’ arguments about tampering with the free market were unpersuasive compared to the outcry of faith groups, community activists and borrowers.

Also, the Lege has taken a completely laissez-faire attitude toward fracking, ignoring the complaints of residents around the state that drilling in sensitive and populated areas may have downsides that need to be addressed. Cities have tried to step up. In Denton, city leaders and a bunch of pissed-off citizens are considering desperate measures—including a total ban—to deal with the glut of fracking activity in the area. The City Council, which is mixed on the ban, has nonetheless imposed a moratorium on new drilling until September.

In San Antonio, Mayor Julian Castro, who is stepping down to become President Obama’s Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary, convinced voters to pass a bona fide tax increase in 2012 to help fund full-day pre-K—a response, in part, to cuts the Legislature made to its pre-K funding.

And in Austin, city and county officials are dealing with the thorny issue of how to finance the infrastructure needs of a boomtown without pricing working people out of the city. Property values are soaring, but wages aren’t keeping up. The lack of a state income tax and the stinginess of state budget writers means local governments must rely overwhelmingly on property taxes to pay for services, infrastructure and public schools. It’s never been a particularly equitable system, but cities like Austin, which are transforming from regional hubs to major-city status, are groaning under the burden. State lawmakers have designed a system that allows commercial property owners to wriggle out of paying their fair share, pushing more and more of the load onto homeowners.

Texas’ other big cities face similar problems with the state’s dysfunctional tax system. This is one that local government can’t solve without help from the Legislature.

“Local control”—a long-standing Texas tradition—shouldn’t mean “you’re on your own.”  

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Beto O'Rourke
Beto O'Rourke

A lot of Texas politicians are having a political pachanga with the influx of child refugees fleeing Central America.

Rick Perry has practically lived in front of a TV camera over the last month, talking tough about a border crackdown, bashing Obama for not visiting the Rio Grande Valley, and posing with Sean Hannity on a DPS gunboat. On Monday, the governor—joined by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott—announced that he was dispatching 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, part of a Texas-led border surge costing $12 million a month. Ted Cruz is floating a proposal to roll back modest protections afforded by President Obama to DREAMers. Wendy Davis keeps calling on Perry to declare a state of emergency and hold a special session on immigration at the Texas Legislature—for reasons even her most ardent supporters have struggled to articulate.

Sen. John Cornyn and Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat, are sponsoring the hopefully named HUMANE Act, which would undo rewrite a 2008 anti-trafficking law that allowed children from countries other than Mexico and Canada to be released to family members in the U.S. while their cases are processed. Under the proposed legislation, Central American kids—six, seven, eight years old—would have to convince a Border Patrol agent that they should be allowed to stay in the U.S. long enough to plead their case, and then would have just seven days, probably unassisted by an attorney, to make a case for asylum, or other protections, in front of an immigration judge. The effect—and one assumes, the intent—would most likely be to greatly diminish the number of children and families receiving asylum and refugee protections.

The most powerful politicos in the state pretty much agree: the border is in crisis, the Central American children are a sad case but, alas, must be deported and the federal government is all to blame. Unspoken: The border crisis makes for great election-year politics.

For Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), it’s all sickeningly out of touch with reality. There is no border crisis, he told me in an interview on Tuesday. Apprehensions are at historic lows. El Paso, and other border cities, are among the safest in the nation. In any case, the U.S. bears much responsibility for the conditions in Central America driving the exodus. And we should be expanding protections for refugees, not gutting them. The HUMANE Act—or as he calls it, “the quote-unquote HUMANE Act”—is a “very short-sighted, inhumane, irrational response” to a flood of refugees that deserve compassion, not neglect or opprobrium, O’Rourke said.

It’s not exactly the message you’re hearing from Texas elected officials. But O’Rourke, who grew up in El Paso and speaks fluent Spanish, brings a border sensibility to the issue, tempered by a wide-angle internationalism that’s a rarity among Texas pols. He’s more Open Veins of Latin America than Fox News.

O’Rourke is but a freshman congressman in a Republican-controlled House, so his ability to craft policy in Washington is admittedly limited. But he’s pledging to work within the Democratic caucus to torpedo the HUMANE Act, especially if it’s tied to the president’s $3.7 billion request for funding to pay for handling the surge of child refugees.

Beyond the legislation, O’Rourke offers a remarkably different perspective on border and immigration realities than the hysteria that’s taken hold in some quarters. Here are some highlights of our interview:

 

On the HUMANE Act:

“I’m trying to find polite words, quotable comments. It’s terrible legislation, I find nothing redeeming in it. It will rush these kids back to the communities from which they fled, which in many cases will almost certainly mean death, will mean suffering, and adding to the workforce of these criminal syndicates that are pressing them into service in cities like San Pedro Sula in Honduras.”

“One of the terrible bargains that whoever was here in 2008 made was in order to treat child refugees or child asylum-seekers from other countries humanely we will not treat asylum seekers from Mexico humanely, so we’ll reduce the level of due process that they get. So what Cornyn, Cuellar and [Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ)] want to do is take that reduced level and apply it to everyone else, and obviously that means the kids from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

“The HUMANE Act changes the [asylum] framework and accelerates it so that within seven days—and I’ve got three little kids and I can only imagine them having to struggle with this—within a week they have to prove to a judge in a language that’s not their own, without the assistance of an attorney, that they should qualify for an asylum process, a trafficking visa or some other legitimate reason to stay. If they can’t, they are deported—that’s so wrong on so many levels. And we can see the evidence from how we’ve treated children from Mexico: This almost certainly guarantees that the vast majority—I think in the case of Mexican children it’s been well over 90 percent—will be returned to their country of origin. And we know what’s going to happen to those kids.

“I’m confident, absolutely confident that once my colleagues have the facts and realize what this will do to kids they will also vote against it.”

 

On why Cuellar would sponsor the HUMANE Act:

“That is what has been so hard to understand for me… You’re asking a really good question. Why these kind of—I don’t know what the right word for them is—these proposals that just really don’t make any sense and aren’t responsive to what we’re seeing and what we know about the border. That I don’t know.

“It is not helpful when you have Democrats who traditionally have been the party that would want to see due process, especially for kids fleeing violence, who I feel like have upheld some of the best humanitarian traditions of this country, it makes it tough when you have Democrats sponsoring bills like the the HUMANE Act, which for all the talk and attention could become part of this deal, then it becomes much harder to say any one party is responding appropriately.”

 

On the notion of a border “crisis”:

“We really don’t have a crisis. You look at total apprehensions this year, last year, the year before, the year before that, we’re at an all-time historical low. If you compare the data as of June this year and compare it to 1999, you’re down about 68 percent in terms of apprehensions at the southern border. It’s not a law enforcement problem. Cities like El Paso are safer than any other city in the country. The U.S. side of the U.S.—Mexico border is safer than the average American city.”

 

On the root causes of the exodus from Central America:

“You look at these three countries and the enormous stresses that are placed on them right now, whether it’s the volume of drugs being trafficked through them, whether it’s our drug interdiction efforts that are further destabilizing civil society there.

“A much more difficult, but probably much more fundamental issue, is just the very long history of U.S. involvement in Central America to the detriment of the people who live there going back to Jacobo Arbenz to the military strongmen who succeeded him to the tens of thousands who were killed to our involvement in the civil wars in the 1980s to the kids—and you’ve probably seen this in the [Observer] archives—you look at the reporting in the mid-’80s, kids are fleeing Central America for the United States, many of them because we had no process then to accept them.

“There was no trafficking victims law, so they weren’t sent over to [U.S. Health and Human Services]. Many of them ended up in jails and became hardened criminals, got involved in gangs and then upon release from jail are deported back to the countries where they haven’t spent the majority of their lives in, and end up organizing gang cells, essentially, in those countries and helping to contribute to the problem we see today.

“We’ve tried our best to ignore Central America, prioritizing Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel—all for good reasons, it seemed at the time, but we neglected [Central America] and the consequence is that there are now literally tens of thousands of kids literally knocking on our door, saying ‘Hey, what about us?’ And we’ve got to do something about it. And I think the very short-sighted, inhumane, irrational response is embodied in the HUMANE Act. You can deport those kids back and some of them are going to be killed, many of them are going to be hurt and live worse lives for being deported, but those problems aren’t going away.”

 

On what should be done:

“No. 1, let’s get these kids attorneys. Anyone who has children can put themselves in the place of the parents of the children who are now in this process. When you can do that, when you can empathize, you immediately understand that those kids need an attorney. These are really complex laws, these are frightening situations and to put a child before an immigration judge at age 7, 8, 10, 11, 12 without an attorney is just wrong and on the flip side to give that child counsel allows them to tell their story, to make a legitimate application for asylum. And we will find in some cases that there is not a legitimate case, that they have not passed the credible fear bar and they should be sent back to their country of origin. That’s a very difficult thing to say but that’s going to have to happen in some cases. But I think we will find in quite a number of these cases, and I would argue in the great majority of them, that we have legitimate asylum requests and they should be honored. That’s just the right thing to do…

“The most important, most difficult and long term answer, is to help get these countries back on the right track. We know that kids and families leaving these three countries are not just going to the U.S. Asylum applications in neighboring countries are up 700 percent over the last five years. So let’s work with Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and join them with these three countries—Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala—and come up with a truly regional response. Part of which is just gonna be let’s acknowledge that we need to take some of these children and families. They are legitimately refugees.

“And then we need to address the civil society, rule of law, governance, corruption issues in these three countries that have made life so unbearable and so unsafe. And that’s why I say it’s so difficult. That’s a many years process. There are sovereignty issues, there’s a lot of history with the U.S. in these countries that’s not necessarily positive. So it’s going to take a lot of doing. But if we are so bold to think we can solve the impasse between Israel and Palestine, if we think we can build nations in Iraq and Afghanistan, all of which may or may not be the right thing for us to be involved in, certainly these countries in our own hemisphere whose citizens are literally knocking on our door right now, that deserves our attention. I think it’s going to be very difficult to do, but very doable once we decide we want to do it.”

Correction: The original version of this story stated that the HUMANE Act would “undo” the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act. It is more accurately described as rewriting that 2008 law. The story has been corrected.

They just keep coming, the little buggers. Day after day, the child alien invaders—too old to be anchor babies, too young to be put to work mowing our lawns and building our homes—arrive on our sovereign Texas soil from their Central American hellscapes. They want water. They want food. They want to not die before their 18th birthday.

The Librul media, and the kids themselves, would have you believe they are refugees, victims of circumstances beyond their control seeking solace in a land of immigrants. But We Patriots, We Band of Bros, know better. We are not fooled by those wet brown eyes or those stories of persecution, poverty and violence. We know these pobrecitos come bearing gifts of Ebola and TB. We know many of them aren’t even kids, and most of the actual minors are, it must be noted, well past potty-training age. Just ask JoAnn Fleming, leader of Grassroots America and Pearl Burras understudy. Said Fleming at a press conference this week [~8:40]:

“For some reason some people are focused on what represents 20 percent of the problem: the children… Those are horrible circumstances and for those small children it’s heartbreaking. But you know the federal government calls a child somewhere up to like 17 or 18 years old. And I have friends in law enforcement that are on the border who tell me that they have people that are training themselves to be 14, 15 years old… We’re not talking about the cute little kids in diapers. We’re talking about older children.”

And we know they come because of The Magnets (how do they work again?): the ObamaPhones, the free health care, the extended stay at McAllen’s Palm Aire Hotel and its luxurious “green pool” and stained sheets.

It’s just like that scene in Breaking Bad.

And you know what to do… STOP THE MAGNET.

As an invading force, these li’l Ill Eagles are a peculiar one; after a treacherous 1,000-mile journey plagued by murderous cartels, the risk of death in the desert or onboard a limb-lopping choo-choo train pleasantly nicknamed La Bestia and the presence of Rick Perry and Sean Hannity posing with .50 caliber boat-mounted machine guns, they choose to turn themselves in to our Border Patrol. Thank God the tea party and some very brave, very H.U.M.A.N.E. politicians are on the case.

Let’s remember who we are dealing with here. Says Christian pastor and state Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands):

And you know what we do with people who have no right to be on our land?
round em upNow that might seem kind of harsh when you’re dealing with frightened kids. But Americans for Legal Immigration PAC wants you to know, that it’s all about peace, love and civil rights.

 “Our protests are modeled after the successful civil rights effort of Martin Luther King and Ghandi. While civil disobedience and infractions of minor laws may be required to save America and protect our rights please only use passive resistance strategies.”

Hey, ALIPAC, what part of ILLEGAL don’t you understand? Now, to get yourself in the right frame of mind for Solving the Border Crisis, let us go to Breitbart Texas, which Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says uses the “time-tested techniques of investigative reporting.”

BspCZq3CcAAGPIg

Apparently unsatisfied with how much attention the story received, Breitbart Texas went full-on Faces of Death, changing the headline to:

animals prey

 

 

 

 

Mission accomplished:

You scared yet, bro?

Good.

Rick Perry, version 2.0 (eye-wear-equipped, fully Metrosexual-ized), has a plan: Immediate deportation of all the kids—”round ‘em up and ship ‘em out”!—and an amassing of National Guard troops on the border. But the plan has its critics: Eyebrows have been raised and questions have been asked. Such as Fox News’ Brit Hume, who asked Perry what exactly would these troops be doing since soldiers can’t make immigration arrests.

The best Perry could come up with: “…it’s the visual that I think is the most important…” The National Guard: One Weekend a Month, Two Weeks a Year… Unless We Need You to Intimidate Kids Down on the Rio Grande.”

But Perry’s plan—get Obama to use his presidential authority to active the National Guard—falls far, far short for some of Texas’ tea partiers.

“We have all reached the conclusion that Governor Perry needs to stop asking Washington to come save us,” said Grassroots America Executive Director JoAnn Fleming in her opening remarks. “Washington is not on its way to save us. We’re asking Governor Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott…to work together to invoke Article I, Section 10, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution; that gives states rights to declare an ‘imminent danger’…and to call up the Texas National Guard.”

Sorry, kids, there’s no more room in the insane asylum.

Rick Perry at a press conference in Weslaco
Office of the Governor
Rick Perry at a press conference in Weslaco

Rick Perry has a plan for the thousands of refugee children streaming across the border from Mexico and Central America: Deport them at once. At a congressional hearing in McAllen today, the governor did his best to sound compassionate while calling on Congress and President Obama to further militarize the border and enact mass deportations of children despite laws and rights protecting refugees and asylum-seekers.

“People think allowing them to stay in the U.S. is doing them a favor,” he said. “It is not. Allowing them to remain here will only encourage the next group of individuals.”
Perry downplayed the deteriorating situation in Honduras (presidential coup in 2009, homicide capital of the world), Guatemala and El Salvador—the source of most of the unaccompanied minors—instead blaming Obama and drug cartels for the exodus of kids.  And he nodded, ever so slightly, at some of the wilder notions of what’s driving the surge in child refugees.

“I truly believe this is manufactured to some degree by the drug cartels,” Perry said.

He went on to suggest that U.S. policy toward the influx of unaccompanied minors should be a response to the drug cartels’ “change in tactics.”

As with many things border- and drug war-related, Perry’s glib solutions had a perverse, ironic logic. By most published accounts, including hundreds of interviews with unaccompanied minors conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the child refugees are fleeing abuse and extreme violence, much of it cartel-related, in their home countries. (Many of them, it’s important to note, are seeking asylum in countries other than the U.S.; according to the UN, Mexico and more stable Central American nations registered a 435 percent increase in asylum claims from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras between 2009 and 2012.) Is the best way to fight the cartels to deport kids back to the cartel-plagued communities they just fled?

Experts contend that deporting them back to their homes could lead to certain death or conscription by the cartels. “This expedited deportation thing will kill children,” said Amy Thompson, a social work Ph.D. student at the University of Texas who authored a 2008 report on unaccompanied minors. “Children will die because of this.”

Thompson said that U.S. policy on how to treat unaccompanied minors largely takes a law enforcement approach that emphasizes deportation and not the safe repatriation of kids following child welfare standards. The U.S. does little to ensure that when children are sent home that their return is coordinated and safe.

Still, minors from countries other than Mexico have some extra protections under the 2008 reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Today, congressmen at the hearing suggested that the law needed to be overhauled by making it easier to deport the Central American kids without looking closely at their situation. Children, some as young as four or five, would have to convince border agents that they deserve to have a chance to stay. Such a change would be along the lines of what Obama is asking from Congress. Gutting it would mean reversing decades of work by child welfare advocates to secure additional consideration for the most vulnerable immigrants.

But Republicans at the committee hearing today went even further, trying to conflate the child refugee crisis with a larger narrative about sealing the borders from terrorists and cartels.

Perry struck what might be termed a “si se puede!” (yes we can) tone, repeatedly telling the committee that he “truly believes” the border can be sealed.

“You can secure the border,” Perry said. ” We can do this…We’ve got the resources.”

That line was echoed by other Texans on the committee, including chairman Michael McCaul (R-Austin), who said, “Now’s the time to finally secure the border.”

No matter that apprehensions of those crossing illegally are at historic lows or that refugees are a protected class different from immigrants.

Immigrant advocates and some Democrats on the committee tried to make that distinction.

“These children have been forcibly displaced,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Houston). “A massive deportation or detention policy for children is not a humane thing to do.”

But Perry’s solution has a seductive simplicity. The talisman of sealing the border—just like winning the War on Drugs or defeating terrorism—is so powerful because it can never be accomplished; the militaristic tools to achieve the elusive 100-percent security often exacerbate the problem; and every failure to achieve the goal only leads to a doubling-down. Even a child can understand that.

Rick Perry at a press conference in Weslaco
Office of the Governor
Rick Perry at a press conference in Weslaco

Beneath the compassion expressed by Texas’ top elected leaders for the Central American kids pouring over the border lurk some dangerously uninformed, untenable and inhumane proposals.

Rick Perry, for example, has mixed empathy for the kids with calls to action that could lead to even worse suffering for the unaccompanied children and their families. Wendy Davis has inexplicably called for a special session of the Texas Legislature to deal with the situation, which would probably be as productive as those special sessions on abortion.

By treating what is arguably a refugee crisis like a national security threat—with the attendant calls for sealing the border and ratcheting up exaggerated fears of disease and “Amnesty!”—it’s inevitable that we’d end up with a martial approach.

Following a visit to a Border Patrol detention facility in McAllen, Rick Perry penned an op-ed this week that is uncharacteristically interested in human suffering but ultimately amounts to so many crocodile tears:

The first thing I saw was a boy crying. Terrified and sobbing against the window of the holding cell, he couldn’t have been more than 12 or 13. The room was full of other young boys, their curious eyes peering out at us as we walked by. These were the ones who made the trip alone.

[...]

The very real human consequences of our country’s lax border security and muddled immigration policies huddled right there, under an open shelter in the stifling Texas heat.

Anyone with a heart, including Perry, would be moved by the sight of some very brave, and one assumes, very scared kids, who’ve just made a dangerous trek thousands of miles to a foreign country, only to find their lives as precarious as ever.

The governor also struck a thoughtful, if vague, note on the general outlines of the problem:

This is a complex situation and a growing humanitarian crisis that will require a multifaceted solution.

All well and good. But what does Perry propose?

The U.S. needs to act decisively. First off, the federal government needs to make it crystal clear that attempting to cross our border illegally simply isn’t worth the considerable risk. People in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and elsewhere who are considering making the trip need to know that they will be immediately sent back to their country of origin when they’re detained, not sent to various locations across the United States or placed in the care of loved ones.

[Emphasis mine]

Although the context does not make it entirely clear, it appears that Perry is proposing that immigrants from Central America be immediately deported back to their home countries. According to immigration attorneys, this would be illegal, untenable and reverse this nation’s recognition of the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and others who have a legitimate claim to remain in the U.S.

“That’s just flat wrong,” said Dan Kowalski, an immigration attorney in Austin. “The only people who are being sent back immediately are those who agree to be sent back. … That can’t happen under federal law. You’d have to get Congress to change the statutes. We also have one or two treaty obligations.”

Typically, unauthorized immigrants caught at the border—if they’re not prosecuted first—are put into deportation proceedings and will, if they stick it out, be ordered to appear before an immigration judge. No attorney is provided to them. There are a number of reasons why a judge might allow an immigrant to stay: She’s a bona fide asylum-seeker, she’s a victim of violence and can help U.S. authorities solve a crime, she’s a refugee, etc.

The unaccompanied kids from Central America, in particular, could have compelling claims. A recent United Nations report, based on interviews with 404 minors who entered the U.S. in the past few years, found that 58 percent “were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection.”

Barbara Hines, who directs the immigration law clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote in an email that the Central American children are afforded “special protections under the law and may qualify for reunification with family in the U.S., special immigrant juvenile status or asylum, depending on their circumstances. Second, under our international law obligations, incorporated into the immigration statute, a person fleeing persecution may not be returned to his or her own country if he/she establishes a fear of persecution. So clearly not everyone can be sent ‘immediately back’ as Perry claims.”

There’s also the glibness of Perry’s solution. If you care about these kids, then you have to care about what would happen to them if you booted them back over the border. Melissa del Bosque reported extensively in 2010—where was Rick Perry then?—on the fate of Mexican minors who are deported back to Mexico. Some of them, abandoned, become victims of violence or rape, fall into the hands of cartels, or meet fates we’ll never know. Others, desperate to flee the violence and poverty of their homes or eager to reunify with family members in the U.S., will attempt to cross over and over again. “Where I come from,” one 15-year-old Mexican boy told Melissa, “we’re not afraid to die.”

And what does Wendy Davis have to say about the “humanitarian crisis” at the border?

In a letter to Rick Perry, she mostly echoed the Republican-led effort, including the deployment of Texas law enforcement to the border. She did suggest that “adequate food, shelter, clothing and healthcare are equally important” but proposed a special session of the Legislature to take up how to pay for it—an idea that was roundly condemned and mocked by immigrant advocates. John-Michael Torres, an activist in Mission in the Valley, wrote on his blog that a “special session would open the legislature to a flood of anti immigrant bills. We’d see a repeat of 2011, when more than 90 anti immigrant bills were introduced.”

Davis also called on Obama to provide “a sufficient number of [immigration] judges” to provide for “immediate hearing[s]” for the Central Americans. How such judges could be found, trained, deployed to the border and provide due process in adjudicating complex claims “immediately” she didn’t explain.

This also didn’t sit well with activists. “So basically a call for more immigration judges without a call for additional legal aid means a faster deportation process,” wrote Torres, who helped organize a “Facebook bomb” of Davis’ Facebook page in response. “So she wants to deport them back to the extreme violence they’re fleeing. WTF.”

But after Torres and his group, La Union del Pueblo Entero, targeted Davis, her campaign pointed them to a letter she had sent Obama on June 23rd. The letter is very similar to the one that she sent Rick Perry but with one key difference: She asked Obama to provide for attorneys ad litem for the kids in addition to more immigration judges. I’ve asked the Davis campaign for clarification on why this wasn’t included in her widely touted letter to Perry.

Kids crossing the border alone is not a new issue. Folks on the front lines have been struggling with this vexing phenomenon for years. Politicians who show up during a crisis moment proffering quick-fix solutions will do more harm than good. It’s easy to express some cheap form of empathy. It’s much harder to come up with real solutions. On that thought, I’ll leave you with what Melissa wrote in 2010:

If government leaders could rise above the divisive politics, they could stop this humanitarian crisis. Mexico and the United States have binational accords and a repatriation program to protect migrant children, yet neither country ensures they’re safely returned home. The U.S. Border Patrol and the DIF could set up a database to monitor children at risk to prevent them from ending up on the streets. The U.S. Congress could pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a family reunification process to prevent children from being dumped in Mexican shelters. The Border Patrol already has a congressional mandate to screen for vulnerable kids and refer them to U.S. agencies that can help, yet advocates say it’s not being done. One thing is for certain: Until politicians on both sides of the river eradicate the poverty that uproots these families, children won’t stop coming. Even if the United States puts soldiers on the border and spends billions on fences and high-tech equipment, they’re not going to stop the exodus.

Texas GOP Convention 2014
Timothy Faust
Texas GOP Convention 2014

For connoisseurs of WTF—I’m looking at you trolls—there is but one ur-text, the guiding document from which all others emanate, and are compared to. And though it is based on immutable laws of nature and God, it is nevertheless a living document too, revised every couple years by a gathering of wise men and women, who puzzle and debate over the text with the passion and intensity of a gathering of Talmudic scholars. I am of course referring to the Texas Republican Party platform.

The Texas GOP convention is meeting this week in Fort Worth and one of the most important items of business is revising the Platform—a task that is taken very, very seriously by many of the delegates. The Platform isn’t binding on Republican elected officials (though some in the grassroots would like it to be) but it matters for symbolic reasons. It’s also a fascinating glimpse into the id of conservatism. The folks who write it are the true believers and this is their wish list, their vision of a world that conforms to their ideals and beliefs. The Platform (I’m capitalizing “platform” in honor of The Platform’s RANDOM use of Capital Letters) is also contested ground: the turf on which the GOP’s various factions fight, usually over brown people and immigration.

This year’s Platform debate features a reprise of sorts from last year, when less xenophobic, more practical GOP-ers jettisoned a part of the platform that ranted at length against amnesty and undocumented immigrants. The reformers instead fashioned something grandiosely named the “Texas Solution,” a rather vague and untenable guest worker program that was nevertheless widely praised in the media because it seemed at least somewhat tethered to reality.

The anti-amnesty crowd this year wants to delete the “Texas Solution”—an updated version of which cleared the temporary Platform committee—and that fight is likely headed to the floor of the convention for a public fight.

Meanwhile, what’s in the Platform at this point? Here are some of the items that caught my eye in an early draft that leaked Wednesday.

Unlike the 2012 Platform, this year’s Platform takes on climate change—or what the GOP calls “climate change”—that international, multi-decade conspiracy among thousands of scientists and governments to artificially increase the planet’s temperature in order to secure that sweet, sweet grant money.

While we all strive to be good stewards of the earth, “climate change” is a political agenda which attempts to control every aspect of our lives. We urge government at all levels to ignore any plea for money to fund global climate change or “climate justice” initiatives.

The Platform committee has left in its unequivocal opposition to the United Nations’ diabolical Agenda 21.

The Republican Party of Texas should expose all United Nations Agenda 21 treaty policies and its supporting organizations, agreements and contracts.

They also are freaked out about various international commie plots to control the kiddos: CSCOPE, Common Core and “UN Inclusion.”

We oppose use of a national or international core curricula in the State of Texas (i.e. Common Core, CSCOPE, UN Inclusion, etc.)

They like the 10th Amendment (God-given states’ rights) and the 2nd Amendment (God-given gun rights). But the GOP is not too happy with the pesky 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of senators, like, say, Ted Cruz.

The draft Platform calls for the “full repeal” of the 17th.

Return the appointment of U.S. Senators by the State Legislatures.

The Platform addresses socialism: It’s bad. Against it.

Socialism breeds mediocrity. America is exceptional. Therefore,
the Republican Party of Texas opposes socialism, in all of its
forms.

Note: If America is exceptional and socialism isn’t (since it’s mediocre) therefore Barack Obama has not plunged America into socialism. QED.

The Platform has arguably gone backwards on The Gay Issue, at least in one respect. The draft actually endorses the wholly discredited, cruel and laughable-if-it-wasn’t-so-damaging “reparative therapy” racket that attempts to turn gay people straight.

Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin.

Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values. We recognize the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.

Oh, wow, The Platform endorses “a woman’s right to choose…”

We strongly support a women’s [sic] right to choose to devote her life to her family and children.

The UN Treaty on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every nation on the planet except for Somalia, South Sudan and the United States.

We unequivocally oppose the United States Senate’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Well, it goes on like this for 40 pages. The copy I have does not appear to be written in crayon but you can look for yourself.

WA Parish coal plant
The W.A. Parish coal plant in Ft. Bend County

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its long-awaited carbon pollution rules targeting coal plants. For President Obama and those increasingly concerned about the threat of climate change, the proposal could not be more welcome. It finally tackles global warming by proposing fairly concrete greenhouse gas reductions and pushes carbon kingdoms like Texas—the nation’s top carbon dioxide emitter—to build on successes with renewable power, energy efficiency and conservation.

Texas will have to come up with a plan to cut the rate of greenhouse gas emissions by 39 percent by 2030, relative to 2012 levels. Nationally, EPA expects a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from electricity generation by 2030, compared to pre-Recession 2005 levels. (Yes, the figures are confusing… more on that later.)

Although the 645-page proposal goes to great lengths to describe the flexibility and generous timeline granted to the states, Texas industry and political leaders are unlikely to play nice. When it comes to the Obama EPA and Texas, nothing is easy.

Gov. Perry has long been an ally of the Texas coal industry. In 2006, he issued a rare executive order—later struck down by a judge—”fast-tracking” 11 coal plants that were being delayed by grassroots opposition and legal challenges. In mid-May, Perry accused Obama of waging a “war on coal” and labeled the EPA a “den of activists.”

When, in May, the White House released an alarming scientific survey of global warming ravages already underway, the state environmental agency’s official response was to worry about how responding to climate change would “result in greatly reduced use of coal,” and to declare that purported higher energy costs were “the true environmental impact of the war on coal.”

And 29 members of Texas’ congressional delegation, including five of the 12 Democrats, signed a letter arguing that “climate change policy should be directed by Congress.” (That policy appears to be “do nothing.”)

The Texas Association of Business took a Chicken Little approach today. “This plan will also cause the cost of electricity to skyrocket, so, if you manage to keep your job you may not be able to afford to keep the lights on,” said the association’s CEO, Bill Hammond, in a statement.

The Clean Power Plan, as EPA has dubbed the proposed carbon rules, would give states two to three years to draft a plan, and largely leaves the details of how to achieve the reductions in greenhouse gases to the states. States could focus on building out renewable energy, making fossil fuel plants more efficient, setting up a regional cap-and-trade system, reducing energy consumption through energy efficiency and conservation, or, more likely, a combination of methods.

Still, the rule is expected to fall heavily on the embattled coal industry.

“The interesting thing about this rule is that it’s very targeted,” said Al Armendariz, a former regional EPA administrator in Texas who’s now with the Sierra Club. “It’s not going to affect our refineries; it’s not going to affect the chemical plants along the Gulf; it’s not going to affect the oil and gas fields. … It’s focused on the largest, most polluting sources of electricity, which in Texas are our coal-fired power plants and in particular those that burn lignite.”

Armendariz calculates that the six dirtiest power plants in Texas—all of them coal—account for more than 30 percent of all the carbon emitted, about 83.8 million tons, in Texas’ electricity sector. The Martin Lake plant in East Texas, owned by TXU, alone emits almost 7 percent of carbon emissions, out of the 118 power plants in the state.

“I suspect that what’s going to happen is that a small number of power plants are going to be phased out and be replaced with renewable energy,” Armendariz says.

But the reductions wouldn’t all have to come from directly cutting pollution from power plants. For example, Texas could get credit for cuts from energy efficiency improvements on homes, like weatherizing or more efficient appliances, or rolling out “demand response” measures such as programs that idle big power producers during those hot summer days.

Texas could also benefit from trends already powering a partial decarbonization in the utility sector.

For all the talk of a “war on coal,” regulations attacking the fuel source for its outsized contribution to mercury, smog, soot and greenhouse gases have only been a partial reason for the industry’s decline. Increasing competition from renewables—and in Texas, that means largely wind power—and the dramatic drop in natural gas prices have been perhaps an even bigger factor. There’s no better illustration of that than the colossally bad bet made by private equity firms when they purchased Energy Future Holdings (previously TXU) in 2007. Their bet was on the price of natural gas remaining high, which would have made profitability of that company’s fleet of coal and nuclear plants a very attractive investment. Instead, natural gas prices plummeted and EFH is now in bankruptcy proceedings.

San Antonio’s city-owned CPS Energy decided in 2011 to shutter one of its coal plants years ahead of schedule, making up the difference with wind, solar and energy efficiency—a decision the utility is now crowing about. Austin Energy is considering if, and how, to wind down its own coal plant.

And lots of coal plants are coming up for mothballing or retirement anyway. As the EPA rule points out, by 2025 the average of the coal fleet will be 49 years old and 20 percent of the plants would be more than 60 years old.

In other words, market forces are hard at work making coal obsolete, in the U.S. at least.

Michael Webber, a widely-respected energy professor at UT-Austin, told the Austin American-Statesman that the EPA rules are “a hug from Obama to Texas” because natural gas will gain so much.

In a sense, the carbon rules are pushing the energy sector in a direction it’s already headed, like a driver tapping the accelerator on a car that’s rolling downhill.

It’s also not clear how drastic the cuts would actually be. The 39 percent reduction required of Texas may sound like a huge number but it’s based on an emissions rate—pounds of carbon emitted per unit of energy—not the total tons of carbon. Texas will have to reduce its carbon intensity and experts are still puzzling out how that would translate into overall greenhouse gas reductions from the utility sector. Nationally, EPA expects carbon emissions to fall by 30 percent by 2030 but did not prescribe the exact tons of carbon per state.

Still, it’s likely that Texas officials will resist every step of the way. When the EPA ordered states to start issuing greenhouse gas permits for major industrial sources, Texas was the only state to refuse to comply, causing the feds to take over and delay the issuing of permits.

I asked a top Environmental Defense Fund attorney what she expected from Texas. She said that that greenhouse gas permitting program was instructive.

“At the end of the day industry stakeholders went to the state and said we want you to have this authority and not the EPA,” said Megan Ceronsky, EDF’s director of regulatory policy. “My assumption is that the same thing will happen here.”

Rick Perry shakes hands with a Toyota executive in 2009
RickPerry.org
Rick Perry shakes hands with a Toyota executive

Rick Perry’s office refuses to release any information about the $40 million it’s offering Toyota to relocate to Texas, despite providing the Observer with similar information last year for a $12 million grant to Chevron.

The Observer and the Houston Chronicle both filed open records requests with the governor’s office after Perry announced in April the $40 million incentive grant to Toyota from the Texas Enterprise Fund. The governor’s office promotes the Enterprise Fund as a “deal-closing” program that helps bring jobs to Texas. But in some cases evidence suggests that the fund does little but line the pockets of companies planning to move to Texas anyway. For example, the Observer reported last year Chevron already had plans to develop an office tower in downtown Houston, provided scant justification that it was considering other locations in its application and told the governor’s office that it planned to use the $12 million grant to pay for employee relocation perks.

It would be interesting to know if something similar happened with the Toyota grant. Especially since company executives have said the $40 million Texas Enterprise Fund grant had little to do with the relocation from California to Plano.

In an open records request, I asked for Toyota’s application, for the contract between Toyota and the state, and for any other related documents. The request was nearly identical to the one I filed for documents related to the Chevron deal in July. But unlike the Chevron request, the governor’s office refused to release anything other than a handful of news clips. Instead, it sought an opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office about whether it can keep the records hidden. Perry’s attorneys argue that releasing any information before the deal is finalized “would seriously disadvantage Texas by allowing other states to directly approach this entity with competing incentives.”

Now, it’s not unusual for a Texas agency to ask the attorney general to rule on open records matters. And it’s not unusual for government agencies to try to keep government documents secret on the basis of competitive harm.

But the rationale a Perry spokesperson gave to the Houston Chronicle on Friday is peculiar.

In a similar case, details on the state’s $12 million TEF grant to Chevron, including the company’s application, were released to the Texas Observer late last year.

“It’s not uncommon for us to announce the incentive offer without a finalized contract, or prior to finalization of the local incentive package,” Nashed said. “The Chevron contract was released post AG ruling.”

That last sentence—“The Chevron contract was released post AG ruling”—is simply not true.

My Chevron request was filed on July 16, and the governor’s office released 400 pages of information to me on July 30, before any attorney general ruling on my request. (You can view the entire set here.) Among those documents were several versions of the agreement between Chevron and the state of Texas, including a “draft execution copy.” The attorney general did issue a ruling in September, and the governor’s office released additional documents, such as an economic impact analysis, but the contract had already been released.

Nashed, the Perry spokesperson, wrote in an email that she was referring to Chevron’s application, not the contract itself, in the Chronicle article. “The statement in the Houston Chronicle should have read ‘the Chevron contract application was released post AG ruling’,” she wrote.

She also said that the main difference between the Chevron and Toyota cases is that the Chevron contract was executed on the day of my July request. But in the Toyota case,  she wrote, “our office had not finalized the deal with Toyota.”

But the documents released to the Observer in the Chevron case didn’t include a finalized contract with signatures. All the contract versions were stamped “draft” and some included numerous revisions and comments in Microsoft Word.

The Chronicle also noted that officials with the city of Plano “were not concerned about releasing the details of their own local incentive offered to Toyota.”

The Toyota deal was a triumph for Perry. He scored—and then trumpeted—headlines like the AP’s from April 30: “Rick Perry Scores Big Win As Toyota Moves Headquarters To Texas.”

Toyota relocating to Texas is a big win—but it’s not clear what role, if any, Rick Perry or his Enterprise Fund played in it. The government documents that Perry’s office is refusing to release might help us answer that question out.

Bob Hall
Facebook/Bob Hall
Bob Hall

On Tuesday night, a political unknown named Bob Hall upset three-term state Sen. Bob Deuell, a conservative Republican from Greenville, in a GOP runoff. It was one of the least-followed, but most triumphant, victories for the tea party grassroots. But who’s Bob Hall and what does he believe? In speeches and interviews he’s given in the past year—many of them available on YouTube—Hall espouses far-right views, traffics in dark conspiracy theories and expresses a variety of tea-party antipathies.

He doesn’t understand “why the [immigrants] who are coming here want to turn it into a country like where they came from.” He thinks Obama is using public schools for “communist indoctrination.” He thinks bike paths are part of a United Nations plot. He believes a “confederation of states” can nullify federal laws. He thinks Bob Deuell was controlled by Satan.

Thanks to an extremely low turnout, Hall beat Deuell on Tuesday by a scant 300 votes. There’s no Democrat in the race, so come January, Hall will likely represent North Texas in the Texas Senate.

It’s a quick rise to political prominence in a state Hall has lived in for only five years. In 2009, Hall moved from Florida to East Texas, just as the tea party was bursting onto the national scene. A veteran of the Air Force and licensed pilot who’d recently sold his business helping companies secure government contracts, Hall retired with his wife to a quiet community for pilots and aviation enthusiasts near Canton that features a runway and hangars. But then he became politically active, as he’s frequently told tea party groups around the state, when Barack Obama began plunging America into a dark socialist nightmare.

Hall, 71, quickly became an adept organizer and assumed leadership of the Canton Tea Party, one of many active tea party groups in that conservative part of the state. A fan of American and Texas flag shirts, Hall combined his bona fides as a businessman and military veteran with an ability to articulate the many passions of the far right: Agenda 21, CSCOPE, an obsession with debt, anti-immigrant sentiments and a hatred of RINOs and anyone not sufficiently conservative.

Despite railing against lobbyists and special interests on the campaign trail, Hall was largely funded by two PACs loaded with special-interest money. Seventy-five percent of his $314,000 haul came from Empower Texans PAC, which is run by right-wing enforcer Michael Quinn Sullivan and his benefactor Midland oilman Tim Dunn, and the North Texas Conservative Coalition, a PAC largely funded by Carl Westcott, a Dallas developer and entrepreneur.

(Hall did not respond to requests for an interview.)

In the Senate, Hall will join a growing caucus of tea party activists—Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, Don Huffines of Dallas, Van Taylor of Plano, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and possibly Konni Burton of Fort Worth, if she beats Democrat Libby Willis this fall—who are redefining what it means to be conservative and taking the state into uncharted political territory.

If there were ever any doubst about the strength of the tea party grassroots in Texas, Hall’s victory over Deuell should lay them to rest. It proved that it’s nigh impossible to be too conservative—or too embracing of the bugaboos of the far right. It proved that it’s not a deal-killer to be accused, as Hall was, of domestic violence or have racked up $165,000 in tax liens over 20 years of unpaid federal taxes. When Deuell made an issue of Hall’s past, Hall told a tea party radio program that “Satan must have a stranglehold on [Deuell].”

Deuell was by no rational calculus a “liberal” or even a “moderate.” As The Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey has noted, he was once—just a decade or so ago—considered a “crazy right-winger,” a doctor who opposed abortion even in cases of rape or incest. But, occasionally, he took positions that evidently didn’t square with the grassroots. For example, Deuell championed legislation legalizing clean-needle exchanges for drug addicts, a public health-driven proposal that’s been embraced by at least 30 states.

Hall mocked the idea. “Do they get sick using the needles? Yes they do,” he told a group of voters in Rains County in October. “But do they also get sick by using bad drugs. So is our next step to provide them state-provided drugs so they don’t get bad drugs. The next thing to do is to hand out handguns to bank robbers.”

A bill that Deuell co-sponsored pushing the Texas Department of Transportation to adopt a “complete streets policy” that would give greater emphasis to pedestrians and bicyclists was actually part of a sweeping United Nations plot.

It was “an Agenda 21 issue that would’ve required bicycle paths on all of our highways in Texas,” Hall said.

(No matter that the bill would have done no such thing.)

“Now, folks we built highways for automobiles. Automobiles paid for those highways, and if you’ve been around any communities where they’ve put in the bicycle paths traffic is a nightmare.”

But Hall really took Deuell to task for sponsoring a bill that tried to sort out some very tricky end-of-life issues by balancing the medical judgment of doctors against the rights of patients and their families. The bill actually extended the period of time families could dispute a medical decision to end medical treatment and it was supported by groups like the Texas Medical Association and some pro-life groups, including the Texas Alliance for Life. But Texas Right to Life, an influential and hardline anti-abortion organization that frequently attacks Republicans, protested it as an unconscionable breach of pro-life values. Hall went even further in his campaign.

Bob Deuell
Bob Deuell

“If it had passed… it would have codified—that is, made it law in Texas—medical death panels just like you’ll find in Obamacare,” he told a group in Emory. “That’s hard to imagine but it would have.”

It’s hard to find an issue on which Hall doesn’t stake out an extreme right-wing position. But he does have a tiny bit of nuance on secession: He’s against it… but is for the old idea—last advanced during school desegregation—of nullification.

“We have the power of nullification but we don’t use it,” he said at an October candidate forum in Emory. “Instead we go with lawsuits. I think with a confederation of states agreeing to work and doing the same thing we can achieve similar goals.”

On eliminating property taxes: “I think the more we move toward a total consumption tax the fairer it becomes. I think the issue of us renting our property from the government, which is all we’re doing as long as we pay property taxes.”

On immigration: “ think we need to be looking at how we can shut down the candy stores, the attractions that bring them here.”

On immigrants: “The reason America achieved so much in such a short time period was the American exceptionalism. It was not like the countries people came from. It was no Ireland, it was not England, it was not Germany, France, Italy any of these countries. It was America, and as such it offered opportunities they did not have. I don’t understand why the people who are coming here want to turn it into a country like where they came from.”

On Common Core: “It is every bit as bad as CSCOPE or worse. It is true communist indoctrination of our kids, no question about it.”

On Wendy Davis: “The one thing we can hope for is that the message of being the baby killer will resonate with enough people that they won’t buy into it. Those are strong words but that’s exactly what it is.”

On democracy: “I think we’re sliding into Gomorrah… If we do not change what we’re doing by changing the leaders when we go to the ballot box, our children and grandchildren may be having to change their leaders with the ammo box.”

The man who said all that will—thanks to the support of a little more than 3 percent of the voting age population—represent Senate District 2 in the state Senate. He won’t come up for re-election until 2018.

Speedy Roo, the mascot of the payday loan lender Speedy Cash, in an Austin advertisement.
Jen reel
Speedy Roo, the mascot of the payday loan lender Speedy Cash, in an Austin advertisement. Staff photo.

Over the last five sessions, state lawmakers have done almost nothing to regulate payday and title loans in Texas. Legislators have allowed lenders to continue offering loans for unlimited terms at unlimited rates (often more than 500 percent APR) for an unlimited number of refinances. The one regulation the Texas Legislature managed to pass, in 2011, was a bill requiring the 3,500-odd storefronts to report statistics on the loans to a state agency, the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner. That’s at least allowed analysts, advocates and journalists to take stock of the industry in Texas. We now have a pretty good handle on its size ($4 billion), its loan volume (3 million transactions in 2013), the fees and interest paid by borrowers ($1.4 billion), the number of cars repossessed by title lenders (37,649) and plenty more.

We now have two years of data—for 2012 and 2013—and that’s allowed number-crunchers to start looking for trends in this pernicious, but evolving market.

In a report released today, the left-leaning Austin think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities found that last year lenders made fewer loans than 2012 but charged significantly more in fees. Specifically, the number of new loans fell by 4 percent, but the fees charged on payday and title loans increased by 12 percent to about $1.4 billion. What’s happening, it appears from the data, is the lenders are pushing their customers into installment loans rather than the traditional two-week single-payment payday loan or the 30-day auto-title loan. In 2012, just one out of seven loans were multiple-installment types; in 2013, that number had risen to one out of four.

Installment loans often charge consumers more money in fees. The total fees charged on these loans doubled from 2012 to 2013, to more than $500 million.

“While this type of loan appears more transparent,” CPPP writes in its report, “the average Texas borrower who takes out this type of loan ends up paying more in fees than the original loan amount.”

The average installment loan lasts 14 weeks, and at each payment term—usually two weeks—the borrower paying hefty fees. For example, a $1,500, five-month loan I took out at a Cash Store location in Austin would’ve cost me (had I not canceled it) $3,862 in fees, interest and principal by the time I paid it back—an effective APR of 612 percent.

My anecdotal experience roughly comports with statewide figures. According to CPPP, for every $1 borrowed through a multiple-payment payday loan, Texas consumers pay at least $2 in fees.

“The big issue is that it’s costing a lot more for Texans to borrow $500 than it did before, which is kinda hard to believe,” says Don Baylor, the author of the report. He says he thinks the industry is reacting to the likelihood of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “coming down hard” on single-payment payday loans, which consumers often “roll over” after two weeks when they find they can’t pay off the loan, locking them into a cycle of debt. Installment loans, despite their staggering cost, have the advantage of being arguably less deceptive.

Defenders of the payday loan industry frequently invoke the platitudes of the free market—competition, consumer demand, the inefficiency of government regulation—to explain why they should be allowed to charge whatever they please.

But it’s increasingly apparent from the numbers that the volume of loans, the staggering number of storefronts (3,500)—many located within close proximity to each other—and the maturation of the market has not lead to particularly competitive rates. If anything, as the 2013 data indicates, fees are becoming even more usurious and the whole cycle of debt problem may be deepening as longer-term, higher-fee installment loans come to dominate.

Indeed, a recent Pew study of the 36 states that allow payday lending found that the states like Texas with no rate caps have more stores and far higher prices. Texas, which is a Petri dish for unregulated consumer finance, has the highest rates of any state in the nation, according to the Pew study.

“I think that has bedeviled a lot of people in this field,” Baylor says. “You would think that more choices would mean prices would go down and that’s simply not the case.”

There is no competition, at least on prices.

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