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Op Ed

Cowboy Economics

It’s always nice to get a compliment—but it’s even nicer when the compliment is true. Texas continues to be lauded as one of the only states with a booming economy. CNBC recently ranked ours as the best state nationwide for business, prompting the New York Daily News to say “Entrepreneurs, saddle up—it may be time to move to Texas.” On the conservative Web site FrumForum.com, Jeb Golinkin writes that “As bad as the economy is nationwide, Texas continues to thrive.”

If only it were true. We can see where they went wrong. National reporters looked at states’ upcoming budgets for 2011 and noted that Texas’ $4.6 billion budget deficit wasn’t so bad in comparison with other states. It seems like a sensible comparison, since most states have one year budget cycles. But here in Texas we do things a little bit differently. We have two-year fiscal cycles, meaning we wrote our 2011 budget back in 2009. In fact, if you hang around the Capitol these days, the budget deficit you’ll hear about isn’t $4.6 billion for 2011. It’s the projected $18 billion for our 2012-2013 cycle—which is double the annual deficit that the national media has been bandying about as evidence of Texas’ supposedly robust economy.

The skewed coverage offered Gov. Rick Perry a soapbox from which to tout his economic governing principles. By not getting their facts straight, reporters have made it that much harder for legislators to take new approaches to our fiscal Gordian knot. People may ask, why do we have to raise revenues through taxes and new fees if our economy is so good? Instead legislators will likely rely on cutting services and hope no one notices.

But rather than engage in the complexities, journalists stuck to their narratives. Fortune magazine decided to simply offer “4 reasons why Texas beats California in a recession.” It’s just so much fun (ask Gov. Perry!) to perpetuate the myth that while lefty California struggles to pay bloated pensions, conservative Texas soldiers on with low taxes and a can-do attitude. That simply isn’t the whole truth.

Texas may have the most Fortune 500 companies thanks to our low tax, business-friendly climate, but that political philosophy comes with a cost: high sales and property taxes, lax environmental regulations and woefully underfunded schools and social services. Our economy may be one of the largest in the United States, but that’s not helping us close our budget hole or find a way to raise revenues.

But, still, thanks for the compliment.

BP’s Toll on Texas

Forget the Gulf oil spill for a moment (if that’s possible). If you want to understand the depth of BP’s venality—and the uselessness of state regulators—go back two weeks before the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon. On April 6, an enormous, invisible cloud of toxic chemicals began pouring out of BP’s Texas City refinery. An estimated 538,000 pounds of benzene, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide poisoned the Texas sky the next 40 days and 40 nights. It was one of the worst toxic releases in Texas in a decade.

The emissions, amazingly, weren’t discovered for weeks. How is this possible? The answer, it seems, is that Texas doesn’t require polluters like BP to test what’s coming out of their stacks. Instead the state requires only fence-line monitors. In April, those monitors failed to detect a half-million-pound release of dangerous chemicals.

Only when the company took a closer look did it discover the problem. When state regulators found out, they evidently kept it to themselves. The BP air spill might have been lost to history if not for a Galveston Daily News story that caught the attention of ProPublica and Frontline, which launched a three-part investigation of BP’s Texas City refinery.

As the two news organizations discovered, BP’s promises to change after a 2005 refinery explosion killed 15 workers in Texas City were hollow. Since then, another four workers have died at the Texas City refinery in electrocutions, heavy-machinery accidents and explosions. Last year, OSHA fined BP $87 million—the largest in history—for failing to fix safety deficiencies. With the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon, BP’s death toll in Texas and Louisiana alone since 2005 is at least 30 workers.

Outside of some nutty Republicans like Texas Congressman Joe Barton, BP has few defenders. But political leaders, President Barack Obama included, have yet to recognize the depth of this company’s irresponsibility: the worker deaths, the enormous air spill, the ecological and economic disaster in the Gulf. Since the Supreme Court considers corporations to have personhood, maybe it’s time we see BP for what it is: an unreformed criminal.

“Record OSHA fines, all these hearings, going to criminal court, all these civil cases—it’s had zero impact,” said one former BP employee. The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a criminal probe  into the Gulf disaster. That’s promising, but given the death and destruction BP has brought to the state it’s time the Texas Attorney General launches his own criminal investigation.  

Texas Tea: Eight Republicans Join the TP Caucus

Texas's Congressional Delegation Falls Behind Michelle Bachman

Minnesota Republican Michelle Bachman stood on the Congressional steps on Wednesday and announced the formation of the Tea Party Caucus, and guess which state contributed the most members? Well, Texas of course.

Standing behind Bachman at the press conference were exactly who you might expect: Joe Barton of Arlington, Michael Burgess of Lewisville, Pete Sessions of Dallas, John Carter of Round Rock, John Culberson of Houston, Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock and Lamar Smith of San Antonio. The Dallas Morning News has a nice story from Washington. Talking Points Memo has a slideshow of the press conference.

Is it any surprise that Texas Republicans would make up the largest delegation – almost 25 percent – of the most right-wing caucus in the House of Representatives? Not really. Gov. Rick Perry has courted Tea Party activists for over a year, and he seems to be betting his reelection on them. The only real surprise was to see Sessions join up. A Tea Party activist challenged him in the Republican primary. But apparently the lesson here is that even if you beat them, you better go ahead and join them too. As the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, he apparently believes Tea Partiers will play a big role in the November elections.

His fellow Texans were full of piss and vinegar at Wednesday’s press conference. Culberson promised that the Tea Party would “sweep out these extremists that are governing the Congress.”

The most interesting part of the announcement, though, was Bachman’s preemptive denial of any responsibility for anything the Tea Party might do. She denied being a Tea Party leader, said she had nothing to do with any Tea Party organization and refused responsibility for anything a Tea Party activist might say or write on a sign. Instead, the said the caucus would be a “receptacle” for Tea Party ideas. With that kind of distancing, you’ve got to wonder if the Tea Party base are really feeling the love from these professional, incumbent politicians in Washington.

Rigging The Rules

There’s one grassroots way that workaday folks can create more fairness in our country’s plutocratic, corporate-controlled economy: unite in unions. Some 60 million workers say they’d join a union if they could.

Well … why can’t they?

Because corporate chieftains and Wall Street financiers don’t want us hoi polloi having any say over such things as offshoring, downsizing, wages, benefits and working conditions. So for decades, they have deployed their lawyers, lobbyists and politicians to rig the rules of unionization to keep people from joining.

For example, the Railway Labor Act, which sets union rules for railroads and airlines, has a tricky little provision to sidetrack nearly all new unionizing efforts. When workers vote to decide whether they want a union, employees who do not vote are counted as “no.” In every other American election, people who don’t vote aren’t counted.

The Obama administration has repealed this absurdity, and—whoa, Nellie!—the airlines have gone bonkers. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican and well-funded attack dog for Delta Airlines, stood on his hind legs to declare that deleting nonvoters from the “no” column was an “assault on employee rights.”

Really Johnny? How would you like playing by such rigged rules for your own elections? In his last run, 79 percent of eligible Georgians either voted against Isakson or did not vote—so nonvoters would’ve soundly defeated him.

Hmmm … if it would get rid of all the Isaksons, maybe the nonvoter system might be a good thing after all.

 

Find more information on Jim Hightower’s work–and subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown–at www.jimhightower.com

Has anyone read the Texas Republican Party’s Platform lately?  If you haven’t, you should. Everyone who lives in Texas should be concerned about the wide range of planks in this document, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll concentrate on what’s specifically directed at the LGBT community.

To get a clear picture of the Platform’s message to the LGBT community, take a look at “Celebrating Traditional Marriage” where the document states, “We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases…” families should not be “redefined to include homosexual “couples.”

Some of the other ‘low lights’ in their Platform call for making it a felony to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and denying homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. To cap this, anyone who “opposes homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values” would do so with impunity.

As citizens of America and residents of the State of Texas, ask yourself a few questions:  What does a “platform” mean? Is it the place where voters are told what the party stands for? Do you stand by your platform? Do you believe in it enough to stand UP for it? If what’s written in this document are the values of the Republican Party, then those of us who believe in equality for all families need to stand up and say very loudly, “These are not our values. These beliefs discriminate against people we love and children we hold dear. These beliefs discriminate against humanity.”

If we want to be active about standing up for  our values, we should call on our Republican friends to disavow the parts of their Platform that are blatantly discriminatory, and ask them to vow to change it the next time around. Real Texans believe families come in many shapes and sizes. Real Texans believe in equal rights for all citizens regardless of who you love, and that equality denied to one human being affects you, me and everybody around us.  Real families are based on love, not on discrimination.

Waterworld 2011

When we consider whether creatures live on other planets, the first question is always the same: Is there water? In poor countries, people fight and die over it. In America, we too often take water for granted. Early Texans knew better and jealously conserved water. We should be reminded of their frugality and wisdom when the Legislature convenes next year with water management near the top of the agenda.

Lawmakers will need courage to take politically perilous steps. They need to do away with the archaic Rule of Capture that gives ownership of groundwater to those who own the property above. This will mean taking away valuable water rights many powerful landowners consider sacrosanct. Legislators need to separate the business and conservation duties currently assigned to river authorities that serve industry more than citizens. Finally, they need to make sure water treatment addresses all of the chemicals in our water.

Accomplishing all this is plausible thanks to the sunset review process. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Water Development Board, and the Soil and Water Conservation Board all will be under the microscope in 2011. These reviews give the Legislature an opportunity to refocus the agencies on providing clean water to all Texans—instead of acting as servants to powerful, wasteful interests.

The Water Development Board desperately needs rehab as it prepares to finalize the State Water Plan by January 2012. The plan is intended to make sure we have enough water for the next 50 years. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources is taking a close look at the draft plan. Sadly, it’s looking for misguided savings by cutting water conservation programs. The committee’s machinations provide a preview of the 82nd legislative session: Lawmakers will likely cut regulations and conservation programs under the guise of balancing the budget.

Luckily, President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency has already taken some dramatic steps to protect Texas’ natural resources. Savvy lawmakers can, and should, tell lobbyists that now is the time to compromise, or the feds will impose even more severe restrictions. History teaches us that such threats are often the only way to get the job done.
Early Texans cherished every drop of water they could capture, and many fought and died for it on the Great Plains. Perhaps we can muster half as much passion.

Surely I’m dreaming. This is beyond fantasy. It’s got to be a hallucination. I don’t know whether to weep, shout hallelujah or just pass out in disbelief.

But there it is in the official record: ninety-six to zero. That was the shocking vote in the U.S. Senate on May 11 to subject the secretive, imperious, all-powerful Federal Reserve System to a tiny ray of democratic sunlight. This had never happened before. Weak-kneed leaders of both parties have been more frightened of the Fed than the Cowardly Lion was of the Wizard of Oz. The Fed, a convoluted and anti-democratic fabrication that allows private banks to wield government authority over our nation’s financial system, has long asserted that it must work its wonders with complete independence from the people’s will and should never have its actions scrutinized by common Congress critters.

But that was before the recent Wall Street collapse caused our current economic catastrophe. As this crisis unfolded, the Fed’s coziness with the powerhouse banks it’s supposed to regulate was exposed, and Fed officials were caught funneling some $2 trillion in public funds to Wall Street. Worse, they refused to tell the public or Congress how much was given to whom or what was done with our money!

The giveaway reeked of such deep institutional corruption that even the Senate gagged. Under the shrewd legislative guidance of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the members have now voted unanimously to open the Fed’s books to a public audit of its backdoor bailout. This is only a start, since the audit is likely to reveal a whole nest of nastiness. At long last we may be headed toward democratic reform of this plutocratic system.
Stay tuned!

 

Find more information on Jim Hightower’s work–and subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown–at www.jimhightower.com

When they cut budgets, Texas legislators start talking like Jenny Craig. They’re not slashing programs. They’re “belt-tightening” or “trimming the fat.” If next year’s budget deficit is as high as experts predict, we’ll need better analogies. Gastric bypass would be more accurate. Or maybe liposuction.

We won’t know the size of the budget gap until the legislative session starts next January. Estimates range as high as $18 billion. How big is that? In the 2009 budget, lawmakers allocated $80 billion in state funds. An $18 billion deficit would represent 23 percent of the current budget—double the deficit lawmakers faced in 2003, when they made cuts the state is still reeling from.

Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican leaders have signaled that they intend to reduce spending rather than raise taxes. Which begs a question: Can Texas—which already spends less per citizen than any state in the country—slice 23 percent from its budget? Can you perform liposuction on an anorexic?

Most news reports and punditry have blamed the massive deficit on a weak economy that has lowered sales tax revenues. That’s only part of the story. At least half the projected deficit can be linked to Perry and legislators. In 2006, the Legislature passed a school finance reform plan, largely devised by Perry with former Comptroller John Sharp. The idea was to cut property taxes and replace the lost revenue with a new business tax.

Problem is, the business tax doesn’t bring in enough money to cover the loss in property taxes. Texas’ budget has a built-in shortfall of several billion dollars a year. Here’s the key point: Perry and the Legislature knew this was going to happen. The state’s own analysts at the Legislative Budget Board told lawmakers at the time that the plan would create an annual $5 billion deficit. That adds up to $10 billion per biennium—more than half of next session’s estimated $18 billion gap.

Perry and the legislators intentionally created a $10 billion hole in the budget. That was bad enough, but when the recession hit, the budget became a bigger mess. In 2011, it’s going to catch up with Texas in a potentially devastating way.

The state’s fiscal disaster—and how to fix it—needs to be the top issue in this fall’s elections. Perry and the Legislature acted recklessly. Now they need to be held accountable.

Summer Of Tarballs

Anyone who visited Texas’ beaches in the 1970s is familiar with the tarball. Ranging in size from a penny to a basketball, these dough-like masses of raw petroleum stained our skin and swimsuits with an unfortunate brown smear. They also made handy projectiles to throw at crabs, seagulls and friends. Tarballs seemed like just another hazard of playing in the waves, like jellyfish—the price paid for living in an oil-producing state.

Tarballs—and the oil spills that released them—were common before serious environmental regulations were adopted. One reason Texas got tough was a massive spill in 1979. A Mexican deepwater rig spilled 140 million gallons in an accident eerily similar to the Deepwater Horizon disaster now unfolding off the coast of Louisiana. The floating Pemex rig had a blowout almost two miles beneath the surface. Crude flowed for nine months. The slick drifted 600 miles before washing up on South Padre Island.

Since then, a lot of effort has gone into safer drilling, and the beaches are cleaner for it. Rigs off the Texas coast are in easier-to-drill shallow water, and the General Land Office monitors them closely. But while Texas doesn’t have risky deepwater rigs, that doesn’t mean our coast is not in danger. The Pemex disaster, and now the Deepwater Horizon blowout, prove otherwise.

This summer billions and billions of tarballs will wash up in Texas. While the damage will pale next to what is happening to other Gulf states, the tarballs will kill, choke and disfigure many sea turtles, dolphins and birds. Our fisheries will suffer.

Coincidentally, the spill struck within weeks of the Obama administration’s loosening restrictions on offshore drilling. The attack of the toxic blob should remind us of the risks of hubris and our lack of preparation for when plans go horribly wrong.

If experts are to be believed, Texas has an excellent emergency plan to respond to a major spill. But it remains untested, and we’d like to make sure it stays that way. Rather than allow more drilling, as the Obama administration has proposed, we wish other states would follow Texas in planning to convert oilrigs to offshore wind platforms and drill less. The best way to encourage that is to reduce the demand for oil.

Texas is a leader in renewable energy, and we hope that this latest disaster will inspire lawmakers to pass legislation to give the renewable energy industry at least the same legal advantages the oil industry currently enjoys. Beachgoers will not be the only ones who will be grateful.

The meeting is called to order at 9:30 a.m., after the traditional Friday morning student musical performance.

The invocation was read by Cynthia Dunbar, who gave an incredibly divisive and exclusionary defense of Christian America, explicitly saying that the country was founded on Christian and Biblical principles and that we are “a Christian land governed by Christian principles.” “I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses.” She closed by invoking “my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Invocations like this–blatant sectarian prayers–at the beginning of state agency meetings by public officials are, in my opinion, terribly bigoted in addition to being nonsense. By her remarks, Dunbar disenfranchised all in the audience who follow different faiths or no faith. How does she think Lawrence Allen felt listening to her invocation? Dunbar certainly felt nothing for him or she wouldn’t have given such an aggressive Christian invocation. Mr. Allen is a serious, dignified Board member who, unlike the radical religious right members, typically has informed comments and understands the responsibilities of his office to be considerate of Texans of all religious and philosophical beliefs. Not a Christian, Mr. Allen must have felt discriminated all over again (he is an African-American Moslem). The bigotry never ends in this state. Ms. Dunbar could have presented a traditional invocation that most monotheistic religionists could accept, invoking the God of Civil Religion that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson believed in, or even a secular invocation that doesn”t even exclude non-believers, who typically are excluded in invocations. But no–she desires to exclude everyone except Christians in her description of the founding and meaning of the United States. Dunbar represents the most intolerant, aggressive, and exclusionary type of Christian, one who thinks her beliefs are the only truth and everyone else is either a target for proselytization or going to Hell, so she can and does ignore them. She is an inconsiderate Christian Fundamentalist who has shown many times she wants to push her extreme religious and divisive political values onto Texas school children using the power of her elected office, a despicable goal. Ms. Dunbar is an affront to society’s principles of fair treatment and common decency. Texas Freedom Network informs me that they have posted a video of Dunbar’s egregious invocation so one can judge for one’s self. It is also available on YouTube:

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Note added, 8:15 p.m., May 21: Well, this is rich. I just read that Cynthia Dunbar’s invocation this morning, viewable in the YouTube video above, was originally written by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.This was apparently discovered by Abby Rapoport, a writer for the Texas Observer who spent the day sending brief reports about today’s State Board of Education meeting on Twitter. It is quite a discovery. When I heard Dunbar read her invocation, I admit I wondered if she wrote it since its prose was much better than that in her book, One Nation Under God. But I wasn’t sure and I certainly did not know who really wrote it.

Dunbar played a fast one. She undoubtedly expected criticism of her over-the-top Christian invocation and wanted to show critics that individuals respected by liberals can be ultra-Christian, too. Or else she deliberately plagiarized Earl Warren’s address without noting its source and without expecting to be caught. But is Warren a liberal? While governor of California, Warren was an extremely popular moderate to conservative Republican. He supported the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, for example. When President Dwight Eisenhower appointed him to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice, most thought he became more liberal. To the contrary, I have always seen Warren as a consistent conservative Constitutionalist quite like John Paul Stevens, who was also appointed to the court as a conservative. As with Warren, others thought Stevens became a liberal once he became a justice, but in fact Stevens always maintained, and I agree, that he was consistently conservative and the Supreme Court simply moved further to the right. I never thought that either Earl Warren or John Paul Stevens betrayed their conservative roots. They are great Constitutionalists who appeared to be liberal because they believed in Constitutional liberties, just as liberals do. True conservatives have this in common with liberals, who support liberty much like libertarians except that we don’t turn a blind eye to the excesses of capitalism.

I have to explain that individuals such as Cynthia Dunbar and her six religious right colleagues on the State Board are not conservatives no matter how they define themselves. They are radicals. Unlike true conservatives such as Warren and Stevens who believe in liberty, radicals such as Dunbar, Bradley, McLeroy, Mercer, Leo, and Cargill are authoritarians. In my writings I have always characterized them as radicals and authoritarians, not conservatives and advocates of liberty. They call themselves conservative because the term has a more favorable appeal than the term radical, but that’s just their framing. They also call themselves “conservative” rather than “fundamentalist” Christians for the same reason. Let me also make clear that it is their extreme fundamentalist religious views make them such radicals, not their politics. If they were mainstream Protestants, they would probably be mainstream conservatives who cherish liberty, much as Bob Craig and Tincy Miller do. Authoritarianism and radicalism go hand in hand with religious fundamentalism.

The next factor is that Earl Warren was apparently extremely religious, a fact previously unknown to me. His words–“a Christian land governed by Christian principles. I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it: freedom of belief, of expression, of assembly, of petition, the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the home, equal justice under law, and the reservation of powers to the people I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion”–are really extreme, historically unsupported, and certainly unsuitable for an invocation in a secular public meeting because they are divisive, exclusionary, and most importantly, completely untrue. I have read many books about the origin of the United States and our Constitution, and historians all report that our Founders were motivated by Enlightenment philosophical principles of life, liberty, reason, human emancipation from authoritarian monarchs and clerical religions, private property rights, and other rights consistent with human freedom from tyranny, and not at all by traditional Christian principles (which frankly almost always oppose Enlightenment principles).

For the Founders, these assumed “inalienable” rights come from nature, which in their minds were certainly an expression of divine natural law, but not from the Christian religion which they universally despised (for its clericalism, conformity of thought, mindless faith, cruelty, scriptural dogma, and motivator of base emotions in humans leading to endless wars, bloodthirstiness, and torture). The Founders were obligated to appeal to a higher law than the divine right of kings to ethically justify their opposition to a king and submit instead to a series of democratically- and cooperatively-formulated political charters, the last of which is our Constitution. The higher law they appealed to was natural law, as described in the Declaration of Independence. Once they won their freedoms, they ignored natural law because it was useless to create a new country. That’s why the Constitution is free of natural law, natural rights, and Nature’s God.

The major Founders were religious but not Christian, which is why Warren’s (and Dunbar’s) claim that Christianity is responsible for American values rings so false. It is true that centuries of European Christianity had some influence on American morals and values, but mainstream historians universally give Enlightenment philosophical principles greater influence in the formation of the United States. Centuries of European Christianity almost certainly had more of a negative than positive effect on the thinking of the Founders–Christians, Deists, and Unitarians alike. And what is Enlightenment? Is it the rejection of religion that Dunbar claims–the “perversion that seems to happen with Enlightenment ideas”? For Dunbar, Enlightenment means the rejection of religious beliefs, which is why she hates the concept of Enlightenment. However, as usual, she is wrong. Enlightenment intellectual and philosophical figures did not reject religion. They rejected traditional supernaturalistic and clerical religions, especially Christianity, whose bloody history they knew intimately and were disgusted by it. They usually believed in a creating higher power that could be called a Creator or Nature’s God or Providence, and this was certainly religious. But it’s the wrong religion for Dunbar who only wants her personal religion promoted. That’s why her invocation and her opposition to the inclusion of Enlightenment ideas in the standard are so bigoted. She has an irrational hatred of competing deistic and pantheistic religions, liberal religions, non-authoritarian religions, and non-religious philosophies, and used her power as a public education official to make sure they were excluded from the a standard devoted to Enlightenment by removing the term Enlightenment and inserting three advocates of traditional Christianity: Aquinas, Calvin, and Blackstone. This is a perfect example of politicizing a secular standard and turning it into a sectarian one, which is a despicable change to the social studies curriculum.

Note added, 3:20 a.m., May 22: University of Delaware professor Tony Whitson sent me a link that describes the context of Earl Warren’s original delivery of the prayer: a prayer breakfast! A group of 600 federal government officials, including the President, gathered on a day in February 1954 for a prayer breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. The presiding chaplain said, “This morning we are here to renew our faith and our commitment to God.” And that they did, with prayer after prayer. Earl Warren’s prayer was the final one. His prayer, despite its veracity being unsupported by any historical evidence, was nevertheless appropriate for the occasion. This certainly contrasts with the inappropriateness of Cynthia Dunbar’s use of the identical prayer as an invocation for the meeting of a secular state government agency.
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Two members of the public testified to the Board, including the lobbyist of the Texas State Teachers Association, neither of whom addressed social studies standards. Then a representative of a Permanent School Fund (PSF) investment firm hired by the State Board, Mr. Humphry, discussed state education monetary investment and asset allocation issues at length with the Board. As readers may know, the TEA and thus the SBOE has significant responsibilities to manage the PSF worth about $24 billion. This has long been a matter of controversy and concern since the SBOE members have frequently revealed that they have little or no knowledge of financial and investment issues, and when they do, they have evinced poor judgment. For example, the Board agreed in 2008 to invest a great deal of money in hedge funds and they lost 30-40%. However, the TEA professional PSF staff and private investment firms hired to actually manage the PSF know what they are doing and typically have done a very good job of managing and protecting this enormous amount of money. Although the SBOE manages the investments of the PSF, the Texas Legislature is responsible for actually allocating portions of this money for public school textbooks and other instructional materials and equipment. This is really an odd division of responsibilities that often creates problems. Mr. Humphry says that the fund is making a small rate of return and the risk of losing money has slightly decreased due to management reforms.

Management of the PSF is the single responsibility of the SBOE and TEA specified in the Texas Constitution. All other responsibilities, including all educational responsibilities, are specified by the Legislature. The Legislature has several times restricted what the SBOE can do about editing and rejecting textbooks due to past very public abuses and embarrassments, but activists on the SBOE have always been able to get around the restrictions, usually by simply ignoring them and daring textbook publishers to sue them and the Legislature to restrict them some more. The Legislature obviously needs to act again, this time explicitly stripping the SBOE of all responsibility for curriculum standards and textbooks, giving this responsibility to universities and the education commissioner. For standards, Texas should simply adopt the new de facto national standards rather than going through the circus of writing their own. For textbooks, school districts should be allowed to choose what they want from those available after the Commissioner assures that the books are free of factual errors. The highly centralized and authoritarian system we have now, in which eight members can control the content and adoption of both curriculum standards and textbooks, has proven to be very irresponsible and subject to abuse. I have written about the continuing abuse during the previous two days.

At 10:35, the Board moves to second reading items. The first item is adding the several CTE courses to those allowed for the fourth year science graduation requirement. This passes unanimously. The second item concerns CTE math courses allowed for the fourth year math graduation requirement. This is approved. These CTE courses are not recognized by colleges and universities on student transcripts as adequate preparation for undergraduate courses and are not counted as credits needed to be admitted, so few college-bound students will take them. Students who don’t plan to go to college or just attend a community college for a year or two will take these easy CTE courses for high school graduation. The third item concerns adult and secondary education, also approved.

At 10:50 Chairman Lowe declares a break with deliberation to resume at 11:00. At that time they will finish the social studies standards and adopt them on second reading, as I predicted would happen. I knew they would ignore the requests of the minority legislators to delay adoption of the social studies standards. Next year we will see if the Lege delays allocating funds for the purchase of social studies textbooks and keep delaying until the standards are changed.

The State Board resumes at 11:06 a.m. to finalize and adopt the social studies standards. Discussion begins with the phrase “pro-free market factors” in the standard “explain three pro-free market factors that contributed to the success of Europe’s Commercial Revolution” during the European expansion of 1450-1750. Hardy wants to strike this phrase since “pro-free market factors” didn’t exist then. Barbara Cargill (naturally) inserted this phrase in March to push her radical laissez faire form of capitalism (oops, free enterprise) to indoctrinate students. Hardy wants to replace the phrase with a neutral and balanced phrase, and her amendment passes after objections from Cargill and Terri Leo.

Next, Pat Hardy moves to strike the word “benefits” and replace it with the word “effects” in the phrase “explain the benefits of free enterprise in the Industrial Revolution.” Hardy quite correctly thinks there are both pros and cons, both positive and negative effects, to the Industrial Revolution. As added by Barbara Cargill in March, the standard is biased and objectionable, since the Industrial Revolution led to many problems as well as benefits. Both Cargill and Terri Leo want to keep the misleading word, while Hardy says she is advocating a neutral and balanced word with “effects.” Leo wants a recorded vote. Fortunately, the amendment carries 8-6 with the radical right Republicans excluding Lowe voting against it. Now the State Board is acting responsibly to stop the traditional indoctrination and bias.

At 11:36, Pat Hardy asked to add Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton to a standard on the contributions of significant scientists prior to 1750 that already contained Copernicus and Galileo and this passes. Don McLeroy next asks if Alan Turing could be added to the list. Several Board members disagree, saying the Turing is not as important as those already listed. McLeroy’s motion fails 11-4. Turing, a brilliant mathematician who created many early computer concepts and whose work in deciphering German codes led to shortening the war by 1-2 years, was gay and was horribly discriminated against during his lifetime. Turing’s open homosexuality resulted after the war in criminal prosecution in 1952, for homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time, and he was forced to undergo treatment with female hormones and chemical castration as an alternative to prison. He died in 1954, several weeks before his 42nd birthday, from an apparently self-administered cyanide poisoning. The discrimination against Turing continues in Texas. In 2009, the British government formally apologized for its cruel treatment of Alan Turing after the war. Thank you, Don McLeroy, for proposing that an openly gay person be recognized for his accomplishments in Texas social studies standards. (However, you probably would not have done this if you had been aware that Turing was gay.)

A motion is made to tell students in the world history standards that the date designations BC is the same as BCE and AD is the same as CE. In March, Pat Hardy foolishly amended the standards to remove the current secular and scholarly standard human era designations CE and BCE as written by the professional historians and change them back to the traditional Christian AD and BC. It was suggested then by amendment to at least inform students that there are two ways of designating these eras in scholarly historical literature, or using both of them by putting the scholarly ones in parentheses, but this effort failed and the traditional Christian era designations replaced in the standards the scholarly ones used today by historians. The current motion repeats this attempt to inform students so they will not be hopelessly ignorant when they leave Texas public schools and encounter the abbreviations CE and BCE, but the motion fails again. As I’ve said before, a primary purpose of the Texas State Board of Education is to keep students ignorant and this episode is surely a good example of this goal. Needless to say, the reason the members want to avoid using the standard scholarly era designations is because the scholarly ones are secular while the traditional ones are Christian, and they seek any opportunity to push their religious beliefs onto students in public schools. Pat Hardy constantly reminds us that she is a history teacher so she has no excuse for being so ignorant about the modern use of CE and BCE. Only religious motivation can explain her old-fashioned preference for AD and BC, and this motivation is obnoxious in a secular public institutional setting.

A motion is made by Barbara Cargill to create a new standard that asks students to “explain why Communist command economies collapsed in competition with free market economies at the end of the 20th century. ” This motion passes 10-5 on a recorded vote. It is true that authoritarian socialist (communist) economies do poorly in comparison to free enterprise ones, but they also do poorly compared to democratic socialist economies that do as well or better than free enterprise economies. Shouldn’t this be explained to students so they don’t remain ignorant about economics?

At 12:08, a motion is made to insert “the student understands the benefits of free enterprise in world history” to a world history standard that discusses economics. This generates considerable heated discussion. Pat Hardy moves to amend this by changing “benefits” to “effects” since historically there have been both benefits and problems (positive and negative consequences) with the free enterprise system. Far-right members make the absurd argument that textbooks have historically ignored the benefits of the free enterprise system and even that using the word “effects” somehow paints communism in a beneficial light. After much discussion, Hardy’s motion fails 5-9 with her and four Democrats voting for it, Agosto abstaining. After more discussion, this egregious and biased standard is adopted 9-5. Thus, the economic indoctrination of Texas students is continued. By the way, there is no standard the reads “the student understands the benefits of socialism in world history” even though there are many benefits (there are problems, too, of course). Once again, students are deliberately kept ignorant by the far-right members on the State Board. During the discussion, some members attempt to question the motives of other members but Chairman Lowe disallows such discussion.

At 12:22, Rene Nunez moves to reinstate Oscar Romero to a world history standard that asked students to “identify examples of individuals who led resistance to political oppression.” His name was removed by far-right members in March when they stated they didn’t know who he was. Without objection, Romero’s name is returned and rightly so. Rene must have worked behind the scenes to educate his Republican colleagues about Romero’s importance in American history.

At 12:30, Bob Craig moves to put back the term “Enlightenment ideas,” remove “John Calvin,” and put back “Thomas Jefferson” in the well-publicized standard (20)(C) about the impact of writings that influenced contemporary political ideas. McLeroy and Mercer just want to add the name of Thomas Jefferson, keeping the word Enlightenment out and John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas in. Cynthia Dunbar objects to Craig’s motion and wants to keep the standard the same; she was responsible for revising the original standard in March to eliminate Jefferson and the term “Enlightenment” and adding Aquinas, Calvin, and William Blackstone, all maliciously intended to promote her mythical belief about the religious origins of the U.S. Dunbar argues–using illogical misdirection and framing–that the defintion of Enlightenment rules out supernatural influence in human affairs and that knowledge is derived from rational thinking rather than received from God, so you can’t put figures such as Aquinas, Calvin, and Blackstone in a standard mentioning the Enlightenment because they believed knowledge was received from God. True, but the original standard was intended to be the Enlightement standard and Craig’s motion is intended to return to that scholarly intent. Dunbar is trying to save her own manipulation and distortion of the standard in a way that further her unscholarly religio-political beliefs. Tincy Miller quotes extensively from the writings of Gordon Wood about the original Enlightenment thought of Thomas Jefferson who was not a derivative thinker as Dunbar apparently believed when she got him removed. She and several other Board members support Craig’s motion. Craig’s motion fails 7-8 with the five Democrats plus Craig and Miller voting for it. That it fails is very bad.

Mercer now moves to insert Thomas Jefferson and James Madison into the standard that asks students to examine the impact of writings on contemporary political systems, since there is great sentiment to return Jefferson’s name to the standard because of all the negative press attention and Mercer quite correctly thinks Madison belongs there, too. Amazingly, Hardy amends to the motion to strike James Madison from the list! Madison is the primary author of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Mercer’s motion is good and partly makes up for Dunbar’s stupid amendment in March that removed Thomas Jefferson and the term “Enlightenment.” Several members point out that the term “Enlightenment” is listed in standard (A) so the concept wasn’t totally removed. Calvin and Aquinas should be removed but probably won’t be. Hardy’s amendment carries 8-7 to strike James Madison from the list of influential political writers! Absolutely amazing. Next, Thomas Jefferson is added to the list without objection.

Bob Craig moves to add “explain the political philosophies of the writers” in place of “explain the impact of the writings” of the list of names in the controversial standard that formerly dealt with Enlightenment political writers but now covers those from many historical periods. This simple change generates a tremendous amount of discussion and finally passes.

Don McLeroy moves to reconsider recently adopted standard (18)(F) to “compare and contrast the success of communist and free enterprise systems.” The substitute language fails 7-8 so the earlier adopted language remains: “formulate generalizations on how …” after a 10-5 vote with the five Democrats voting against.

The Board resumes at 2:05 after a short break. I might add that my colleague Abby Rapoport of the Texas Observer, formerly of the Texas Tribune, is tweeting the hearing at @RaRapoport. Go to #SBOE for all the tweets about the SBOE meeting. The entire world is reading about this and commenting on Twitter!

A series of noncontroversial amendments are adopted. At 2:16, Bob Craig proposes a new standard (7)(G) in U.S. Government to cover church-state separation. All mention of this concept or the Establishment Clause had been previously stripped from the standards by the far-right Republican members who do not agree with the mainstream legal interpretation of the Establishment Clause. For example, standard (16)(B) covers the First Amendment but omits mention of the two religious clauses! Craig’s proposed standard is an attempt at compromise, but contains the phrase “compare and contrast” dealing with the First Amendment religion clauses and the concept of “separation of church and state.” This is not really a compromise because it implies that the First Amendment can be contrasted with the separation of church and state when the opposite is true. However, the far-right Republican members support this interpretation.

At 2:22, an amendment by Mavis Knight seeks to change Craig’s proposed standard by removing the “compare and contrast” phrase and substituting language that failed in March about government being barred from promoting or disfavoring one faith over others. Her amendment fails on a straight 5-10 party-line vote. Now you know which political party wants to protect your religious liberties. Now the vote to approve Craig’s new standard now passes 11-3. It reads: “Examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America and guaranteed it’s free exercise by saying that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ and compare and contrast this to the phrase ‘separation of church and state’.” In reality there is no “contrast” between separation of church and state and the Establishment Clause. The wording “make no law respecting an establishment of religion” has been universally interpreted to mean separation of church and state by federal courts, including the Supreme Court, and they have explicitly stated this fact in their written decisions. The suggestion that the two phrases can be contrasted is simply false except in the minds of radical right polemicists who want to intermingle church and state in a myriad of ways. I don’t think that Bob Craig understands why his new standard is so objectionable (he should have realized this when the radical right members of the Board accepted it so quickly and the Democrats objected unanimously). It implies that the First Amendment might be antithetical to church-state separation when this cannot be true as evidenced by numerous federal court decisions.

3:25 – Terri Leo unbelievably criticizes the inclusion of White v. Regester, the District Court case that stopped the dilution of minority voting rights in Texas by forcing cities and counties to eliminate their reliance on at-large voting and institute single-member districts and to re-district voting districts fairly without concentrating minorities in highly-populated districts wildly different in size from other districts. Over the decades, whites in Texas had kept political power by gaming the voting district system to dilute the strength of minority voting power. The court case stopped these abuses and forced the white politicians to re-district fairly. Testimony by minority members on the Board revealed how important this case was for them in Texas. Leo’s motion to remove the case from a list of important court cases, added only yesterday by Bob Craig, fails 8-6 and rightly so, since her amendment to eliminate the case was unduly discriminatory.

3:35 – Bob Craig and Mavis Knight propose a new standard (8)(C) in U.S. history to “critique the scholarly debate over the veracity of the Venona Papers.” This amendment fails 5-9. The Venona Papers are transcripts of Soviet intelligence traffic during the 1940s that were deciphered during the decade after the war. The transcripts are often garbled, have gaps, are woefully incomplete, and subject to misinterpretation. The papers confirm some things about Soviet spies that were suspected or known, but it is extremely difficult to come to reliable conclusions about many clandestine topics. For example, some authors have claimed that the Venona Papers prove that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy. Detailed research has revealed that there is no reliable evidence for this claim. If the proposed motion was to “critique the scholarly debate over the interpretation of the Venona Papers,” this would have been an excellent addition. But it is better is to leave out all mention of the Venona Papers since they are primarily used today by Red Scare ultra-conservatives to cast aspersions on liberals of the past in an attempt to defame them. That’s the only reason they are in the Texas standards in the first place.

3:55 – Members now speak about whether they will support the social studies standards. Mary Helen Berlanga speaks first. She talks in a calm but sad voice and says she opposes adopting the social studies standards in their present form. She believes that the standards minimize, omit, and whitewash too much about the problems minorities face in the U.S. She says Texas students won’t begin to learn accurate and reliable history until they get to college.

4:02 – Mavis Knight gives an impassioned speech saying they will not support the standards as written. She criticizes the length and politicization of the standards, decrying the rush to approve the documents rather than making sure the standards are appropriate. Her conclusion: “I am ashamed of what we have done to the teachers and the children of this state. I will not vote for this version or any other version of this travesty.”

4:06 – Rick Agosto really finds his inner core and states clearly that this Board has “perverted” the process by essentially rewriting the standards submitted by the professional writing panels. He says the revised document belongs in the trash and he puts his trash can on his desk. “This thing belongs in the trash! This is right where it is going to go!” I am very amused by this and wonder if Rick is disgusted with himself for voting with the ultra-right bloc so frequently on math textbooks and the ELA and Science standards during the previous years, giving the minority of seven the eighth vote needed to promote their political and ideological agendas. I think Rick has finally understood the true nature of some of his Board colleagues and he is angry with them and with himself. Welcome back to our side, Rick, the side of fairness, intelligence, and honesty!

4:13 – Lawrence Allen gives another impassioned speech against adopting the standards. He wants the experts to examine the newly-written standards and see if they are appropriate or are too long, too detailed, too complex, or too political. He moves to delay second reading until the July meeting.

4:20 – Bob Craig speaks calmly in favor of the idea of delaying the final vote until July. He notes that the curriculum writers for the high school American history course have announced their opposition to the revised standards. He also wants the experts to review the standards as revised by the board. He mentions Rob Paige, former Secretary of Education under former President Bush, who also asked for a delay to study the standards.

4:47 – After much debate and speeches, the vote to postpone adoption until July fails 6-8, with Bob Craig joining the five Democrats. This is the vote I expected. Tincy Miller has left so future votes will total 14.

4:55 – Ken Mercer is into a 10-minute rant about the “lie” that the SBOE deleted Jefferson from the standards. He kept saying that this was a lie and he is obviously so angry about this. “Jefferson was the biggest lie of all.” He compares the critics of removing Jefferson to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, who did indeed say that if you keep repeating a big lie it will become the truth (a technique used quite successfully by the Bush Administration in their run-up to the Iraq Conflict/War). In his mind he has convinced himself that it is a lie, but in reality the Board did delete Jefferson from an important standard, so it is Mercer himself who is fibbing. Today Mercer and others put Jefferson back in that standard. Why does Mercer think that Jefferson needed to be put back into the standard–after all, he voted for it earlier today–if it is a “lie” that Jefferson was deleted? No editorial writer or blogger to my knowledge wrote that Jefferson was deleted from all the standards; their statement that Jefferson was deleted was in the context of the standard in which he was deleted, not the entire document. If they did say or imply that Jefferson was deleted from all places in the standards, then that, of course, was incorrect. So what? Removing Jefferson from one very important standard or all standards in social studies is equally obnoxious and partisan and any instance of this is subject to proper revulsion. Ken Mercer is a fool for thinking otherwise.

5:06 – The SBOE votes 9-5 to adopt the high school social studies standards along party lines which was completely expected. As I have written many times before, public education in Texas is a 100% political process and this vote proves that. Texas citizens should be appalled.

5:11 – The Board is voting on a motion by Rick Agosto to strike an entire controversial standard added yesterday in 7th grade history that asked students to identify six Texas Confederate generals and three Civil War battles in Texas. This amendment fails 6-8. The State Board certainly wants Texas students to know their proud Confederate heritage.

5:14 – Rick now asks the Board again to strike mention of Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address in another controversial standard. Ultra-right member Barbara Cargill added Davis to a standard that asked students to know about Abraham Lincoln’s two inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address. Agosto quite correctly considers this inclusion an affront to the memory of Lincoln and believes it will unavoidably prejudice students who actually read how Davis justified the Civil War from the point of view of the Confederacy. He is afraid that teachers will not adequately show the many ways that Davis was wrong and immoral. The amendment fails 4-10.

5:24 – The elementary and middle school social studies standards are adopted 9-5 along party lines which was fully expected.

5:29 – Karl Marx is deleted from a list of economic philosophers and their impact on the U.S. free enterprise system.

5:34 – Economics standards are adopted unanimously, 14-0. A break is now called until 6:00.

Dear Readers, this is where I will leave you. I hope to write again soon about the many educational problems facing Texas with an analysis of the issues and people involved. Goodbye and good luck.

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