All Aboard the Crazy Train
by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice 9/15/11
The Republican presidential campaign finally hit high gear last week. The party’s first candidates debate seemed like an episode of Survivor, with viewers wagering who’d get voted off the island before this week’s sequel debate. I’ve got a few complaints with the GOP’s casting division, as the contestants in this show came off looking a lot more like a panel of game show hosts than presidential candidates, making the whole charade of this being a presidential contest seem a bit of a stretch.
The star this week was Texas Governor Rick Perry, a rather recent addition to the cast, and a quickly rising GOP audience favorite. Perry hit the campaign trail, leaving behind a state that is being ravaged by the early effects of global warming. While East Coast communities are setting records for extreme-weather-related rain and floods, drought-ravaged Texas just set a record for the warmest summer in its history. San Antonio, for example, has so far been scorched by 53 days of temperatures over 100 degrees, and is well on its way to beating its previous record of 59 such days, set only two years ago. Last week, as Perry hit the campaign trail in California, his state was literally burning up with 179 drought-connected fires consuming what is approaching 200,000 acres of prime Texas real estate—all this on the back of a particularly gnarly tornado season and a weirdly snowy Texas winter.
There’s a scientific consensus that, outside of the Fox News-driven US zeitgeist, is globally accepted: What we’re seeing in Texas is the result of human activity changing the makeup of the atmosphere, and in fact was predicted by scientists over a generation ago. Currently, as a survey by the National Academy of Scientists documented last year, about 98 percent of climatologists concur with this, hence the term “consensus.”
Given the backdrop of how hard this climate change is hitting his state, with communities and ranchers facing the threat of actually running out of water, Perry’s response is a bit odd, but right in line with the crazy train. The connection between human-produced carbon in the atmosphere and global warming is, according to Perry, “all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.” The whole issue, he argues, rests on “a scientific theory that has not been proven.”
Last month Perry explained that “we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change.” At last week’s crazy train debate, a moderator read this statement back to Perry, asking him, “Which scientists have you found most credible on this subject?” Perry stumbled like a pothead in an 8am college class, ultimately failing to name even one scientist who questioned the consensus on global warming.
I don’t know what sort of ideas were swirling around in the Texas governor’s overheated brain, but clearly he entered the debate coached with the popular strategy that you don’t have to answer questions—just say whatever pops into your head. Hence, Perry, in a now famous punt, rattled off what seemed to be the only scientist’s name he knew: Galileo. His response was a bit hard to decipher. He started saying, “Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said, ‘Here is the fact,’” but then he segued into a non sequitur, “Galileo got outvoted for a spell.”
Perry’s choice to bring up Galileo was ironic. Sure, I guess if you have a boneheaded idea that defies empirical validity, and everyone else things you’re an idiot or have been bought off, that is like being outvoted, I suppose. But if we go back and actually look at the history, Galileo was a scientist who argued the theory that the earth rotated around the sun, which, like the human effect on global warming, was equally apparent at the time. In 1633 Pope Urban VIII put him on trial for heresy because his science contradicted the church’s teachings, much like the global scientific consensus today contradicts Rick Perry and much of the rest of the religious right’s climate teachings. It appears that Galileo wouldn’t have fared very well under a Perry presidency.
While his climate views have grabbed headlines this week, with his own strategy to deal with climate change appearing to be Rapture-dependent, Perry is running mostly on what the Perry-friendly media terms “The Texas Miracle.” It’s a combination of economic, education, and healthcare strategies that made Texas what it is today, and which Perry wants to inflict on the rest of the nation. So let’s look at what Perry’s policies have done to Texas during his 11-year tenure in the governor’s mansion.
Texas certainly has distinguished itself on the healthcare front, leading the nation with the highest percentage, 33 percent, of its adult population uninsured. This translates into a large portion of the Texas population not being able to regularly access healthcare. This is an ethical issue, since Perry’s healthcare policies translate into people dying from diseases that, if diagnosed and treated properly, are curable. I think this is a bad healthcare plan.
Money-wise, Texans spend more out of pocket to watch their neighbors die than most other Americans do to provide healthcare to them. That’s because many folks, when their lack of healthcare finally threatens to kill them or their loved ones, ignore the limits of their own poverty and go to a hospital. The magnitude of unpaid hospital bills from uninsured Texans has overwhelmed the Texas healthcare system, causing hospitals to raise rates on those with insurance in order to cover their losses. This, in turn, has driven up the cost of health insurance in Texas, with the state ranked number two, only behind Mississippi, in the percentage of income that residents must pay in health insurance premiums. The governor can rant against Obama-care, but it’s a hell of a lot better than Perry-death.
On the economic side of the Texas Miracle are the 1.2 million jobs created in his state during his governorship. This number is impressive until you juxtapose it against the 4.5 million person increase in the Texas population during the same time period. Crunch the numbers and Texas ranks middle of the pack in employment, with 26 states scoring lower unemployment numbers. Among them are New York, West Virginia, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
Where Texas leads the nation is in the creation of low-wage, low-benefit McJobs.
Perry, like everyone else on the crazy train, is running as a free market Darwinian capitalist fundamentalist, sharing his party’s shrink-the-government-and-flush-it-down-the-toilet ideology. His economic beliefs take on a religious fervor, with Perry bowing down to the idols of corporatism. But let’s look at these new Texas jobs, relatively small as their number turns out to be. Two thirds of them are government-funded—as in what Perry would call “socialism.” In the People’s Republic of Texas, one in six workers is employed by the government. Add to that the number of private sector jobs servicing the needs of these public sector positions, and you have a state whose economy is dependent on exactly the kind of government spending that Perry claims to be against.
Of course Texas doesn’t have any state income tax, which raises the question: Exactly how do they do it? Perhaps there is a miracle. But no. It turns out that the state’s only miracle is its ability to suck off of the rest of the nation. Texas’s private sector is buoyed by $21 billion in annual defense contracts, while its public sector is underwritten by $13 billion in defense spending, nearly $4 billion in NASA expenditures, and a large but classified amount in new security state projects. Add to this the fact that Texas gladly received the third largest amount of stimulus funds in the nation, despite Perry’s rhetorical opposition to such expendatures, and you have the Perry Republic of Hypocrisy earning a first-class passage on the crazy train.
Texas also doesn’t have any corporate taxes, is anti-union, and has impotent state environmental regulations. For corporations, Perry promises a relatively lawless Wild West—a state open to corporate plunder of its human and environmental resources. This is Perry’s key to attracting private investment, minimal as it is. The strategy is not to create jobs but to steal them from other states by selling out his own state at bargain basement prices. This might work to snipe a few dirty industries from California, but it hardly looks like a national jobs strategy. President Perry would have to sell Americans out pretty cheaply to compete with labor-oppressing nations such as China. Given his record in Texas, he seems up to the challenge.
No taxes might attract businesses from other states, but it leaves Texas unable to pay its bills. Hence, to balance the budget, Perry cut $4 billion in education funding, essentially decimating what was already one of the nation’s worst education systems. Under Perry’s leadership, Texas has claimed a first place title for its most notable accomplishment in the field of education—the distinction of having the highest percentage of high school dropouts in the nation. Many of these dropouts now comprise an army of teenage mothers, giving Texas a top tier placement in the race to for most teen pregnancies per capita. It’s no wonder that Texas is also a leader in child poverty.
The best thing that Texas has going for it right now is the fact that while he’s out on the campaign trail, Rick Perry isn’t governor, with his lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, temporarily taking over the helm at the statehouse. In that position, Dewhurst was able to successfully petition the federal government for some more of those big government bucks that Texas seems to run on, this time in the form of disaster relief socialism. I heard many times about how catastrophes such as natural disasters bring out the religion in people. On the crazy train of Republican politics, it seems to bring out the socialism. God bless ’em.
Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. His previous columns are at artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.
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