Archive | February, 2009

On watching testimony for foster care

24 Feb

I thought of Ben Sargent’s cartoon from January 22, 2009.

Mr Bumble ran into the room in great excitement, and addressing the gentleman in the high chair, said, “Mr Limbkins, I beg your pardon sir!  Oliver Twist has asked for more!”

There was a general start.  Horror was depicted on every countenance.  “For more?” said Mr Limbkins.

Does it exist?

24 Feb

If someone turns 100 and it isn’t announced on the House of Representatives floor, did it happen?

If it is Waco Day and no one celebrates it in the House, is it really?

If a soldier dies in Iraq and no gives the family a standing ovation in the Capitol, does it mean any less?

Shocking testimony on Mental Health

23 Feb

A teacher from Lamar High School in Houston testified about his son’s death from paranoid schizophrenia at age 31.  He started by saying that his son did well in school and made it to college on a full scholarship and was on the track team.  His son married and had two children; by 23, psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia.   He believed that the government and/or aliens were out to get him, and the voices in his head were so loud he could not sleep without sedation.  The following is my transcript from memory about the shocking state of Texas mental health (48th out of 50 in mental health funding):

“How was I to know that in Houston, the medical capital of the United States, there were only two psychiatric facilities that were barely making it? How was I to know that the the Harris County Jail treats more people than the entire state mental hospital system? How was I to know that there are no long term facilities for mental health?  How was I to know that insurance in Texas discriminates against mental health?  How was I to know that it would be impossible to put him in a state hospital?  And I had insurance and a good job.  If this were an elderly person with Alzheimer’s, we wouldn’t be letting them sleep under bridges and laugh and call the lazy.  This is immoral.

As the psychoses got worse, his son started to get into trouble with the law.  First, he broke down the door of his girlfriend’s apartment at 2AM to save her from aliens.  Then he jumped into someone’s car which was similar to his dad’s, accusing the owner of stealing his father’s car.  At this arrest, his father was asked to bail his son out.  After thinking and discussing it, he left his son in jail because he knew he could get better mental health treatment in jail since long-term (6-12 months) treatment was the only thing that would work on him.  And it was impossible to get it outside of jail.  “Imagine having to speak to your son between glass, through a phone, wearing an orange jumpsuit… I hope you never have to bury your son, and I think our curent system is cruel and immoral to the mentally ill.”

Mental Health in Lubbock

23 Feb

The Sheriff of Lubbock testified on behalf of mental health funding arguing that the lack of mental health treatment in the state leads to increasing crime.  The biggest psychiatric facility in the state is the Harris County jail (2,000 inmates are on medication).  There has been a 10 year relationship between between Lubbock law enforcement and the state mental health agency.  “Every officer is required to have a relationship with MHMR (Mental Health and Mental Retardation),” said the Sheriff.  “Even if this doesn’t save money this should be done because it is the right thing to do,” he said.

Interesting place for a progressive and proactive approach to mental health.  Way to go Lubbock!

Exchanges on Abstinence-Only Sex Education

23 Feb

In the House Appropriations Subcommittee, the Dept. of Health and Human Services testified about their budget needs.  At one point, the budget analyst projected a loss of federal funds because of the probable end of federal funding of abstinence-only sex ed.  An approximate transcription:

Q: So why is this funding ending?

A: We anticipate that the federal government will stop its $9.8 million funding this year for abstinence-only education.  We still have $1.8 million (don’t remember exact number) in state money for the program.

Then Ellen Cohen who represents the Texas Medical Center in Houston said, “If the federal government will stop funding it because it doesn’t work, why should we continue to fund it?”  A (I assume) Republican responded, “It doesn’t work? I have never heard that. ”  Then (upset at the budget analyst), “I think you should tell us if programs aren’t working so we can fund something else.”   Representative Isett (R-Lubbock) then scornfully said, “My understanding is that if you don’t have sex, you don’t get pregnant.  I don’t think there is any disputing that.”  Ellen Cohen responded (D-Houston), “Everything I have read about it shows me that these programs don’t work.”  It was then agreed that the subcommittee needed to study the issue further.

God save Texas.


20 Feb

Lon Burnham of Fort Worth (the Dennis Kucinich of Texas politics) has filed a motion to impeach Judge Sharon Keller.  She’s the infamous judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals (the Supreme Court in Texas for criminal trials) that refused the hear a death row inmate’s appeal because his lawyers would miss the 5:00PM filing deadline by fifteen minutes on a Friday because of computer trouble… on the day of his execution.  The inmate was executed the day U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear arguments on the constitutionality of lethal injections. 

The rather apolitical, nonpartisan Texas Monthly called for Judge Keller’s removal.  After Lon Burnham filed the impeachment motion, the New York Times agreed and said a trial must occur.  “Killer Keller” (as she is known) is now being charged with judicial misconduct by the Commission on Judicial Conduct and will face removal from office.  News has even reached jumped the pond to the U.K. Guardian.  Let’s hear it for the Texas justice (injustice?)  system.


Welcome to the Fourth Republic

19 Feb

With the signing of the federal stimulus bill, Barack Obama now has his first major legislative accomplishment of his term.  A $787 billion stimulus package is not as big as he wanted, but it is a step in the right direction.  And the stimulus shows the dawning of a new era far different from the post-Reagan/Nixon conservative course of American history.  For instance, Bill Clinton in his first year in office tried to get a $16 billion stimulus bill through a Democratic Congress and it failed.

A group of historians have divided American history into three phases that begin with a strong president that creates a lasting political order but then end with a very bad president after decades of decline.  Then a new president arrives to re-found American government.

There are three “republics” as they call them (echoing French history).  The First Republic (1788-1860) was started by George Washington and ended with President Buchanan who sat on his hands as the South began to secede from the Union.  The Second Republic (1860-1932) began with Abraham Lincoln saving the Union and ended with a bewildered Herbert Hoover sitting on his hands during the Depression.  Franklin Roosevelt birthed the Third Republic (1932-2004) while George Bush ended it around the time he sat on his hands while New Orleans drowned.

Is Barack Obama the first president of the Fourth Republic?  Historian Michael Lind believes so, and I don’t dispute the idea that the age of American conservatism died in 2006 when the Democrats swept Congress.  We are at a unique juncture in time and history, perhaps only comparable to 1932.  But will we make anything of it?  Here are three proposals for what American needs in the new era by this same historian.


Issue XXIII: The N-Word

15 Feb

Everybody’s thinking about it, but nobody is saying the dirty word that may point to a way out of the financial crisis.  A simple, drastic, and shocking step is necessary to end the mind-reading game of “which banks are bankrupt” that is killing market confidence.

Am I talking about the Treasury Secretary’s new and complex plan announced last week?  The $700 billion bailout that the Bush Administration shoved through Congress last year?  No, I am talking about nationalization of the banking sector (at least the bankrupt banks) where the federal government takes over the banks, fires the executives, and replaces the management and re-starts lending while slowly disposing of bad assets.

Nationalization is a dirty word that the Obama Administration wants to avoid using, and it is probably due to the heavy bipartisan influence the financial sector exerts over the two party system.  The Clintonites (heavily overrepresented in his Cabinet) are moderates/neoliberal over-educated “smart guys” like Timothy Geithner who never thought outside of their Ivy League box of peers.  They still cling to economic orthodoxies about the wisdom of the private sector in this uncharted era of financial panic.  And they seem to identify more with Wall Street (see my post about former Clinton official and now ex-Citibank executive Rick Rubin) than with the taxpayers they are allegedly protecting.

Take the case of Citigroup.  This house that the Clinton Democrats made is politically well-connected but economically is too large and has too many holdings to make any business sense.  Given its odious ethical history as a former Enron bank and predatory lender, no one should cry over its death.  But bankruptcy for a mega-bank “too big to fail” would cause a global disruption for its creditors and clients.  And since no company has the finances to take it over, the cleanest solution would be for it to be for the federal government to take it over and break it up piece by piece, division by division.  Instead, Citigroup is leaning on the Treasury for $20 billion if we guarantee $300 billion in troubled assets in return for a small percentage of stock.  The same idiots are in charge and every new month asking for more, and we still are avoiding the day of reckoning when we open those opaque books and see how really, truly bad their finances are.  This taxpayer “cash for trash [assets]” plan rewards bad management and brings investment without ownership or control.

To hell with that.  The unorthodox thinkers who foresaw this crash coming all seem to agree that nationalization of the banks is unavoidable (see links below) including the most prescient economist, Nouriel Roubini at NYU.  The orthodoxy of the “smartest guys in the room” isn’t what brought us relativity, natural selection, or Keynesianism.  Let’s bite the bullet and get this drama over with.

Nouriel Roubini – “Nationalize Insolvent Banks
Portfolio – “Where’s the nationalization debate?
How the World Works – ” A cure for Wall Stree: a dose of socialism – “Interview with Dean Baker” (an economist who got it right)
Fortune – “UT Professor James Kenneth Galbraith on the crash
TIME – “25 people to Blame for the Financial Crisis”  (#1 is Sen. Phil Gramm)

House Appropriations and UTMB

12 Feb

UT System Chancellor Dr. Cigarroa and UTMB President Dr. Callender testified today at the Capitol in the House Appropriations Committee over UTMB reconstruction and the money needed.  Today, UT System’s study done by consultants (taxpayer expensce $250,000 plus) said that everything but the prison hospital should be moved to League City while a state panel recommended the opposite: restore everything back to Galveston and hurricane-proof it.

An interesting part of the calculation is the the Sealy & Smith Foundation in Galveston has pledged tens of millions of dollars to give to UTMB, but their charter restricts their giving to Galveston Island.  If the state wants to move UTMB out, they’ll be missing out on the chance to save some money.  A noteable presence in the Senate Finance Committee hearing two days ago was former state Senator Kyle Janek M.D. who represented Galveston until last year.  “It’s no accident,” someone pointed out, “that Sealy & Smith Foundation hired him to be their lobbyist.”  It’s no accident that he is a UTMB and Ball High School graduate either.

After testimony by Callender, State Representative Craig Eiland (D-Galveston) sang UTMB’s praises to the committee including our board scores, class diversity, and our #1 trauma center in America.  The president of UTHSC-Houston got on the panel and stated that with UTMB’s trauma center and ER down, UTHSC-Houston’s trauma center is now the busiest trauma center in America (annual patients 7200, up from 5000).  Questions were raised about re-locating the trauma center.  Callender also said that they would rather not move the center to the mainland because they want to stay close the to Ship Channel and petrochemical refineries nearby.  They said the expense of moving the trauma center to the mainland would be too much, and they’d rather keep it where it is.

Eiland then abundantly pointed out the Southeast Texas counties (and South Texas) that desperately need UTMB for their indigent care obligations.  Post-hurricane, they have been having to renegotiate specialty care referrals with local institutions which is a hassle for county politicians.

Galveston County Daily News – “The demise of health care in Galveston

Perry and the stimulus

11 Feb

So with the gigantic stimulus package lurching towards creation, it looks like the chronically underfunded state of Texas will be receiving quite a pretty penny ($10-$14 billion depending on which version ultimately passes).  Yesterday in the Senate Finance Committee, senators asked if the stimulus package money can be used to rebuild UTMB.  It seems that there are funds in two block grants that may be used for this purpose.  The Social Services Grant would be aroound $215 million for UTMB and apparently was designed for this purpose by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. 

Of course, since politicians have the maturity of 2nd graders, Gov. Rick Perry doesn’t want to give a victory to Sen. Hutchison so one UTMB official said that Perry may not release the stimulus money.  That’s right, he’d screw UTMB just to cheat Hutchison out of a resume item  I thought this was nonsense until I saw that in the Dallas Morning News that Perry honestly doesn’t want free money from the federal government, and that the Legislature may have to override him to use it.  What a clown!