AUSTIN, Texas -- It was horrible and sickening, but I could not
stop watching the final days of the Texas Legislature. Fellow Texans, the
ripple effects of this disaster will come to haunt us all.
Just for starters, this budget is going to cost about 144,000
jobs. Perhaps its most serious effect is on public hospitals. A health-care
system so fragile that it is almost overwhelmed now -- turning away
ambulances for hours at a time, unable to admit a single patient -- will be
swamped after this. The counties will be desperate, the cities not much
better. Every area of social service has been cut, not because we have a $9
billion deficit but because House Republicans do not believe government
SHOULD help people.
We are watching government morph into something very strange.
Benito Mussolini said, "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism,
since it is the merger of state and corporate power." The real driving force
behind this session is something I bet most of you have never heard of --
ALEC. ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded,
extremely right-wing group that sponsors conferences for state legislators
and draws up model bills that are introduced all over the country. ALEC is
particularly interested in privatizing government services and deregulating
everything, and is anti-environment to an extent that's almost loopy.
Let's be very clear about this: People who want to privatize
prisons and schools and social services are in it for the money. The real
questions of government are always: Who benefits, and who pays? And the
answer given this session with jaw-dropping regularity is private
corporations profit, while people pay the price in worse services.
If government provides a certain service -- say prisons -- for X
dollars, how does a private corporation do the same job and make
a profit? You ask that question, and you get a lot of pious
piffle from the right about private industry is more efficient and less
bureaucratic than government. Dilbert and I doubt that.
The right says that, in the private sector, pay and performance
are related. I look at the CEOs of American corporations, and if there's a
connection between pay and performance there, I missed it.
What you get when you privatize and outsource is something like
the Department of Defense and the military-industrial complex. We spend $399
billion a year on defense, and if you think that money is well spent because
much of it gets run through defense contractors, you have not been paying
attention. DOD is the happy home of the $700 hammer, the endless cost
overrun, and the revolving door, with accompanying conflicts of interest and
dubious contracts. It's a fiscal nightmare. The Pentagon once had to
announce that it couldn't account for $17 billion.
You get nightmare public policy consequences, as well. What
happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a
vested interest in building ever-more prisons. The result is even more
idiocy, like the three-strikes law and long terms for small-time drug
One veteran lobbyist said of this session, "You look up and you
suddenly realize that these people are playing a different game." They don't
want to make government better. They don't want it to work well. They don't
want it to help people.
It used to be a joke that when a legislator was contemplating
some scurvy piece of special interest legislation, he would go to ridiculous
lengths to make the spurious claim, "And so you see, members, we must do
this for the sake of the cheeldrun of Texas." Man, you stand up in the Texas
House today with a bill that really will help the children of Texas and you
will not get a single Republican vote.
They are playing a different game. They are out to take
government apart, and then they turn around and say, "See, I told you
government doesn't work." And they believe in all this with a self-righteous
certitude that has to be seen to be believed.
When we weren't watching rigid, ideological lockstep on
corporatization, we got a lot of Christian right nonsense. Rep. Arlene
Wohlgemuth wanted a bill to provide a special license plate reading,
"Pro-Life." Under this bill, the state could charge a premium to people who
want this specialized plate on their cars, just as we currently have for
people who pay extra for specialized plates supporting Texas critters or
No one before now has thought of putting anything on a Texas
plate that was in the least controversial. These suckers are pretty much in
the "I'm in Favor of Bluebonnets" school of political controversy. So
suddenly here comes Wohlgemuth, with a bill that says any of us can tote
around a license plate that reads, "Texas -- Pro-Life." She wanted $22 of
the $30 extra charged by the state to go to church groups and non-profit
organizations that counsel pregnant women to give their babies up for
The House would not even accept an amendment to offer another
plate saying, "Choose Choice." Fortunately, the bill was finally shot down
on a point of order.
During the debate on tort reform, Democrats took to referring to
the part of the gallery where the big business interests lobbyists sit as
"the owners' box." It sure ain't the people's legislature.
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other
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