Oil and the Texas “Miracle”

Rick PerryOil money doesn’t just create bad governance outside the country. It also creates it inside the country. You’ve probably heard of Rick Perry’s supposed Texas Miracle. For years, Governor Who’s Smart Now That He Wears Glasses has been claiming that companies all over the nation are relocating to Texas because of its low taxes and regulations. Personally, I never liked the implied slogan, “Bring your employees to Texas so they can die in a workplace explosion!” But there you are.

The truth was always that Texas looked good to outsiders from California and New York for one reason: housing prices were low. There was the downside that, you know, the houses were in Texas. But people will put up with almost anything to find cheap housing. There is no doubt, however, that rich people liked the idea of moving to Texas because of its lack of an income tax. And regulation is lax, which is yet another reason why we really can’t leave such matters to the states because they do a shockingly bad job.

But a big part of the “Texas Miracle” was always the $100+ per barrel oil prices. And now that they are gone, it doesn’t look so good. On Monday, Michael Hiltzik wrote, Is the Oil Crash About to Snuff Out the “Texas Miracle”? That is certainly what happened in the 1980s. The Texas economy isn’t quite as dependent on oil as it was then, but it is still a very big deal. But what’s remarkable is that with all of the oil boom money that was coming into the Texas economy, none of it was used to build and repair public infrastructure.

A greater danger to the state’s boom-era reputation is that the receding tide may expose a lot of economic wreckage to public view. One consequence of the state’s low-tax, low-service credo is that infrastructure spending has been starved, just at the moment when it’s most needed. As The Texas Tribune reported last year, local roads have become so damaged by heavy oil-patch traffic that in some districts the only option has been to convert paved roads to gravel — there’s no money for repaving, despite the state’s burgeoning wealth.

That shows how little pressure has been placed on the oil industry to carry its fair share of the public cost of the boom or contribute adequately to public investment. When the boom becomes a bust, there will be even less money, and you can bet that the oil industry will be pleading poverty.

Check out this amazing graph from the article that shows just how regressive the tax situation is in Texas:

Texas Regressive Taxes

Texas taxes people in the lowest three quintiles more than California. But even in California, the lowest two quintiles pay the highest percentage of their incomes in taxes. It’s an outrage — but not one that is of any interest to Fox News. Of course, I don’t ever recall seeing such information discussed on CNN or “liberal” MSNBC. But the main thing is that Texas soaks the poor. And now that they are headed for bad times, what they are going to get back for all those taxes they paid is nothing. As Hiltzik noted, “They’ll be searching for miracles, and they won’t find them in the Texas economy.”

Of course, Hiltzik thinks the coming difficulties will hurt Rick Perry’s presidential aspirations. I doubt that. He’ll be out of office. Perry will pretend that the only reason things have gone to hell is that his successor, Greg Abbott, doesn’t have his magic touch. I mean, really: he doesn’t even wear glasses!

The Useless Vicissitudes of Politics

Sam BrownbackIf you want a great example of the vicissitudes of politics, all you have to do is take a look at the new CNN/ORC poll about the economy and Obama. The president’s approval rating has gone up to 48% — it’s highest level in almost two years. And this is, of course, all about people thinking the economy is doing better. This is just seven weeks since the Democrats suffered a very bad defeat at the polls. It was going to be bad regardless, but if the election were today, the Democrats would doubtless do much better than they did.

And that’s the difference between electing a whole bunch of really bad politicians and electing a much more reasonable bunch: seven weeks and a couple of hopeful economic reports. It’s incredibly sad. The psychology seems to be that when the government really isn’t doing its job and the poor are being greatly harmed, conservatives get elected because the poor are just too depressed to even show up to vote. Or maybe it isn’t depression. Maybe they are just too busy running around between their three part-time jobs that they don’t have time to vote. The results are the same: a bunch of old people on Social Security and Medicare show up to vote for politicians who promise to cut welfare. You know: Social Security and Medicare aren’t welfare when you receive it.

This is what is so frustrating about following politics. There is clear cause and effect, but it makes no sense. It isn’t the case that politicians get rewarded for improving the lots of the voters, and they certainly don’t get punished for destroying the lots of the voters. The poster child for this is now Sam Brownback. He has effectively destroyed the Kansas economy with the help of long-time Republican snake-oil salesman Arthur Laffer. And his penalty for this act of ideological rigidity and policy incompetence is that he didn’t win re-election by as much as he normally would have. It’s outrageous that this man continues to be employed. In a just world, he’d be in prison.

Yesterday, Luke Brinker reported, Sam Brownback Is Sorry He Predicted His Tax Cuts Would Work. Well, he didn’t actually say that. He just said that he regretted saying that his tax cuts would be a “shot of adrenaline.” But that raises the question as to what Brownback thought he was doing. If the tax cuts were not meant to grow the economy, then what? Of course, we all know what. It’s the reason I say he should be in prison: it was just an excuse to take money away from the poorer classes and give it to the rich. And in that way, it was a huge success. So why all the complaining?

Since I’m a big proponent of democracy, I think we should consider trying it in the United States. But there are a lot of things that we need to do and a whole lot of power and money that is against trying such an exciting experiment. Clearly, we have to get money out of politics. And according to the Supreme Court, that will require a Constitutional Amendment. (Although even in that case, I can see the unholy trinity on the court claiming that the new Amendment was unconstitutional.) It’s going to take some kind of catastrophe for this to happen. We also need to have automatic registration. It is an outrage that we don’t have that. It isn’t hard. Finally, we need to make voting mandatory and legislate some kind of paid holiday for voting. I would like to see a week of voting and anyone can take a paid day off during that week to vote. All of this would lead to a far more liberal and humane country. And that’s why the power elite will do everything they can to stop it. They like elections where people like Sam Brownback prevail.

Rush Limbaugh’s Racist James Bond Thoughts

Rush LimbaughI have a very low opinion of Rush Limbaugh but I’ve always thought he was fairly smart. I don’t think that anymore. In the following audio from his show yesterday, he went on a seven minute racist tirade about the possibility that Idris Elba might be the next movie James Bond. You see, Elba is black and British and according to Limbaugh, “James Bond was white and Scottish, period.” But his concern is clearly not that Elba isn’t Scottish. And rightly so!

James Bond was never Scottish until the second to the last novel, You Only Live Twice. That was after Fleming saw Sean Connery in Dr No. So Fleming, being the total hack that he was, just went along with. So Bond was Scottish just because the first actor cast to play him in a movie was Scottish. The second actor, George Lazenby, was Australian. The third, Roger Moore, was English. The fourth, Timothy Dalton, was Welsh. The fifth, Pierce Brosnan, was Irish. And the current, Daniel Craig, is English. So it is good that Limbaugh doesn’t have a problem with Elba being English, since the majority of the actors who played Bond have been English and the majority of the films have featured an English actor.

Idris ElbaBut we do know from the very first novel that Bond is probably white. In Casino Royale, a character says, “Bond reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless.” (It’s funny how much that reminds me of the artless style of Ayn Rand.) I’m terrible with faces, but I do know enough to see that having a different skin color doesn’t preclude people from looking like each other. Elba does have a slightly broader nose than Carmichael — but it isn’t extreme. And it is no more out of keeping than Pierce Brosnan’s nose. As far as I can tell, Roger Moore is the best model and Daniel Craig is the worst. I wonder if Rush Limbaugh had a problem when Craig was cast for the part. “James Bond looked like Goagy Carmichael, period!”

Of course, what Limbaugh is really bothered about is that Elba might get this job out of some sense of racial fairness. Because we can’t make this about race because, as Charlie Pierce says, it is never about race. Limbaugh doesn’t like the idea that we are being forced to think in terms of race. To cast a successful and charismatic black actor as James Bond isn’t a craven attempt to revitalize what was a tired franchise by the late 1960s. No, it is affirmative action designed for no other purpose than to make Rush Limbaugh and other right thinking dittoheads uncomfortable. Those evil Hollywood liberals!

Most of his rant is a long list of famous black people with Limbaugh’s ideas for what white actors ought to play them. Somehow, he thinks that a white actor playing Obama is exactly the same as a black actor playing a fictional character in a film that is not based on any of the novels. He does mention towards the end of the rant that some people would notice that these are not the same things. But he does so, just to deflect criticism that might come, before continuing on with his list. He provides no reason for thinking that the criticism is not completely justified. That’s because the criticism is completely justified.

Limbaugh also gets sidetracked along the way with The Bishop’s Wife and the fact that it was remade with black actors in the leads as The Preacher’s Wife. Limbaugh doesn’t think this is just another example showing that Hollywood is completely devoid of any new ideas. Rather, it was some kind of payback. It was a big “Screw you!” from Denzel Washington to Cary Grant. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but Dudley (the angel) was white and English, period. It is clear that all of this is vaguely disturbing to Limbaugh but he isn’t sure why. But I am: it’s because Rush Limbaugh is a bigot. He really should spend some time considering just why black spies and angels bother him so much.

Personally, I don’t think we should stop at race — especially given that it is only a social construct. I think we should move on to different species. When they make I Was a Hypocritical Dope Fiend: the Rush Limbaugh Story, I see no reason that we should use a human for the role. But I don’t think this because I want equality among the species. I just think other species could better capture the essence of the man. Rather than going with something obvious like a domestic pig or a hyena, I thought something more accurate: a deadly virus. It does seem to be self-limiting. But it has done vast damage. And continues to do it. I image dittoheads all over the country sitting in their cars yesterday, “Yeah! How dare those Hollywood liberals upset the racial purity of James Bond! And Cary Grant!”

The Social Nature of Humans

John TerrellPhilosophers from Aristotle to Hegel have emphasized that human beings are essentially social creatures, that the idea of an isolated individual is a misleading abstraction. So it is not just ironic but instructive that modern evolutionary research, anthropology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience have come down on the side of the philosophers who have argued that the basic unit of human social life is not and never has been the selfish, self-serving individual. Contrary to libertarian and Tea Party rhetoric, evolution has made us a powerfully social species, so much so that the essential precondition of human survival is and always has been the individual plus his or her relationships with others.

—John Terrell
Evolution and the American Myth of the Individual

Nicholas Meyer

Nicholas MeyerThe great film writer and director Nicholas Meyer is 69 years old today. You probably know him because he wrote and directed the two best Star Trek movies: The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country. They are probably the best ones because Meyer was not a Star Trek fan. Of the former film, he got to the heart of what’s wrong with the series (and even more so the later versions), “I didn’t insist that Captain Kirk go to the bathroom, but did Star Trek have to be so sanctified?” Clearly not.

Meyer hasn’t worked as a director in a long time. I think he’s always seen himself as a writer. He did recently write that four-hour History Channel series Houdini. I didn’t see it, but my father really enjoyed it. It’s interesting that he should have come to prominence because of the Sherlock Holmes novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle were friends — at least until all the mystical stuff ripped them apart.

What I’m most interested in is Meyer’s made-for-television film, The Day After. That was the one that was about nuclear war and how horrible it would be. I never saw it. I didn’t feel the need. Didn’t we already know? Plus, Threads provided more than enough information. (My understanding is that The Day After is rosy compared to Threads.) After the film, I guess they had a discussion with Carl Sagan on the anti-nuke side, and William F Buckley, always on the wrong side of history, pushing for the importance of nukes.

Normally, these kinds of issue films are totally worthless — preaching to the choir. But in this case, the film had a very special viewer: President of the United States Ronald Reagan. Apparently, it is not true that Reagan sent a message regarding the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to Meyer saying, “Don’t think your movie didn’t have any part of this, because it did.” But Reagan (along with much of his staff) was apparently greatly affected by the film. He wrote in his journal that it was “very effective and left me greatly depressed.”

Let’s revisit Khan’s great Melville death:

Happy birthday Nicholas Meyer!