Cruzin’ off the rails with Ted Cruz

Tribfest 2014 Ted Cruz panel reaches for water

Ted Cruz under fire at the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival. Lots of suits here but the boo’s, so far, at earlier events, were from conservatives. Cruz goes one-on-one with Washington Post chief correspondent Dan Balz.

Tribfest 2014 Ted Cruz panel racist comment

Ted Cruz chooses racism at the Texas Tribune Festival when he calls undocumented workers and their families “illegals” and suggests that undocumented children be denied education. Cruz is interviewed by Washington Post chief correspondent Dan Balz.

Ted Cruz is confident and does not lose his poise as he throws darts at Obama, at healthcare, at “illegals”, and he is happy to compare himself favorably with Ronald Reagan. If you have the time to time travel to a the Way Back Days, before Ted Cruz ditched his constituents for Cancun and callowly blamed the trip on his teenage kids, when Cruz was an integral part of the Tea Party obstructionist, here’s the entire interview. Interesting how obsessed Cruz is in the Keystone Pipeline. His claims that the McConnell and GOP obstructionist threats to cause a government shutdown was the fault of Democrat insistence on passing bills to fund social programs. GOP would destroy the federal government to increase their power on the state level and it sounds like the old Slave states and their Lost Cause whining. Southerners complain that the Civil War was the fault of the North because when the South seceded from the Union, Northern soldiers beat the South rebels back, deep into their own land.

Even in 2014, the Tea Party was in a war with establishment Republican politicians. If you weren’t paying attention in 2014, then 2016 probably took you by surprise.

Heidi quoted by Cruz, from the Tribune interview: “Goodness gracious, I never realized you were such a rotten guy.” And this is before Ted humiliated Heidi by groveling to Donald Trump after his wife was coarsely insulted during the 2016 presidential election competition.

Left of center: is there a Texas political “center” and how’s it doing?

Tribfest 2014 panel Kay Bailey event crowdshot

Can the Center Hold?

To be (in the center) or not to be? Thus is the question today discussed with Evan Smith (Tribfest) with those listed above. Quotable quotes:

The system is dominated by money.

We don’t have any idea where we are headed. Republicans are talking nonsensical garbage.

Hutchinson – redistributing and gerrymandering. The primary system. If we are going to have the current primary system as it is in Texas, you have to appeal to a narrow section of the voters, the ones who vote in the primaries. Voters should turn out and vote in the primaries instead of waiting for the main election. She compared the Texas system to the system in Louisiana, where primaries are open to all voters, regardless of political party affiliation.

Various quotes and ideas to think about

Because of social media, you now hear every insult cast by opposing candidates. Everything that used to happen behind the curtain is now out in the open. This gives more strength to [those looking for all the facts). But when the conflict plays out in public, the more anger you “perform” in public, the more likely you are to win. (Update: this was the beginning of the great polarization between parties, fed by social media bubbles.)

But the bottom line is that you must vote. If you care, vote.

Tribfest 2014 panel pol to the right

Bill Bradley  Jon M. Huntsman Jr.  Kay Bailey Hutchison  Ron Kirk 
Kasim Reed  Evan Smith (mod.)

Things are bad. Hilary Clinton: “The subheading for the US Constitution ought to be ‘Let’s Make a Deal.'” It used to be that you could make a deal and agree upon a decision, so that progress could be made. Compromise is not a four-letter word. Without the ability to compromise, America is in danger of not being considered an effective country in the eyes of others in the world.

Now, there are no more battles: there are wars. An example is the passage of the debt ceiling and congressional authority. In the past, these types of things did not blow up as they do now. Conflict is escalated.

This might be caused by the constant money chase. Reelection is always on the minds of the elected officials, polluting their minds. There is an “opportunity cost” to this, politically.

Consider what did the country responded to debts related to the Civil War. Thomas Jefferson did not want to “bail out” the “spendthrifts.” Hamilton resolved the conflict with Washington by offering to move the capital of the United States. The deal was cut and the federal government assumed the states’ debt. This is an example of compromise at a very high level and an excellent example.

Another example: Louisiana was sold, based on a deal that was struck. Now, no one can make any kind of deal, however small, these days. Compromise and “deals” are unpopular and some would claim, a betrayal of American ideals.

We’ve lost the balance of powers. The 2/3 rule, the 60% or 75 rule forced a compromise. The reduction of the voting threshold in the US Congress, and the proposed threshold reduction for Texas Lege, is a negative for compromise.

When you are in government there is no place to run or hide. If you make an error you are bounced out of your office. In every organization, you have to cut deals and make compromises. But in the U.S. Congress, there is no longer a willingness to sit down and solve problems.

So, how do you change from a culture of animosity to a culture that seeks compromise? You have to give the people who want to solve the problems something to do, instead of making them sit on the sidelines watching gridlock.

There is never an acceptable reason for not solving problems. If you fail to solve problems, you will be voted out of the Senate or the House. If there was a viable third party, everyone on this stage would be in it. This group is the center: in theory, the most liberal of the conservatives and the most conservative of the liberals.

Let there be no labels. In America, there is this belief that everything can fit into the label of Democratic or Republican.

Duck, lie, and dodge: these are not options as a mayor, because the voters see you in the streets and in a grocery store. You have to stand and deliver, be willing and able to defend your words and actions to the voters you meet.

We are a country of disruptors. None of the existing labels work to realistically cover the immediate situation we are in right now in this country. We have to throw out the labels if we want to see discussions occur and compromises made that allow forward movement.

Ross Perot’s notion of a “third party” is doomed to fail. The other parties will smash any attempts of Perot to provide an alternative to Democrats or Republicans. You can never defeat power except through power itself. There could be a third congressional party that stands for three or four key things, such as election finance reform. This group could run in selected districts and present the problem to the country: the problem is in congress. The solution would be to bring in a candidate from this third party. This could work as a six-year strategy, funded by interested parties. (I am left wondering just who these third-party candidates would exist if campaign finance reform were to take place — but of course it has not — and a third party has yet to gain traction.)

We need to have actions taken by people who are not the current “Gang of Six.”

During a spirited discussion, Kay finally interrupts one speaker to say, “May I say…may I interject and say…because I was ….there…” Yes, being there does have some weight, I hope, in this discussion about “what happened” in a political struggle.

Discussion of the Tea Party versus the President. What if we woke up tomorrow and the Tea Party was gone? Or, what if the current President was gone? Is this what it would take to get things moving again in congress?

Extremists who will not cut deals reveal themselves in voting situations when they block major infrastructure deals to move forward in congress and in similar situations. We could not come together during this very difficult, challenging time for America and this shows how serious the problem is.

The power of no – harness it for progress and not for stalemate. No, no, no, does not get it done.

Interesting that most of those on the stage are not going to run again for a political position; this might be a factor in their candor.

“I smile when I fight.” Let’s organize the angels in our fight to win for the good of the country. I love the fight, I love campaigns, as long as we do it in such a way that it leads society forward.

I’m excited about helping the next generation of leaders. Every great revolution was started by someone in their twenties. The stock market is higher than its ever been. Our economy is growing. Our unemployment rate has been cut in half. We have millions of people with health insurance who did not have it before.

Healthcare: broken promises, broken state, broken healthcare system

Tribfest 2014 UT Tx vs healthcare panel

Michael Burgess 
Garnet Coleman  Sarah Davis  Kyle Janek  Charles Schwertner  Charles Ornstein (mod.) 

(Update: This panel was packed and during the open questions section, the audience was extremely energized over the issues, going from laud applause to outright boos to panelists who were opposed to the Affordable Care Act. One audience member added that he was surprised that even the state of Oklahoma was ahead of Texas in finding a way to fund Medicare to meet the needs of its citizens.)

Some people just don’t deserve healthcare, according to an increasing number of GOP politicians. Everyone agrees that the U.S. needs healthcare reform but opinions vary wildly about how that should be done. Using tax dollars to fund a government healthcare system for all citizens, as has been done by many countries, is not a reform that Republicans oppose. Meanwhile, no GOP healthcare options have been put forth as alternatives to universal healthcare. It’s easier to criticize an initiative than to work in a bipartisan manner to solve the healthcare crisis that is hobbling the American economy.

To be eligible for healthcare subsidies and assistance in Texas, you have to earn less than $200 a month. But some GOP are concerned that a person who qualifes for healthcare support might somehow, during the time they are insured, might earn more than $200 a month and therefore no longer qualify for assistance.

The only way to qualify for assistance for yourself or your family is to be without any source of (legal) income, whether you need food or healthcare for your children. While you are apply for food assistance or healthcare, do a drug test for good measure. If someone has a drug problem, the last thing we want to do is to provide them with any kind of help.

Regulations were passed to forbid government workers from providing information and instruction to the disadvantaged on how to sign up for healthcare. The reasoning was to avoid non-experts from providing inaccurate or misleading information to clients. Better that they provide no information at all.

Garnet Coleman: “We all understand that people need healthcare. Texas constituents want us to provide this service for them….and with cancer …we have made a commitment to cancer [treatment] but not to those who need the cancer treatment!”

Opponents claim that Medicare expansion is not an option, that we can’t add “able-bodied” people into a system that is already providing healthcare to a current set of Medicare recipients. What does “able-bodied” mean in this context? Able to go out and pay for their own healthcare? Or able to go “get a job” in an economic environment where most people can no longer obtain a full-time job that offers the benefit of healthcare?

Kyle Janek, Commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services, suggested that people don’t need “a healthcare card.”  If they get sick they can just visit certain clinics that will provide health services to those without insurance. It’s understood that most uninsured delay seeking care until they are in crisis. Then, they go to a hospital emergency room. They are billed for services, but hospitals receive a federal kick back for services rendered as “charity” — if there was a universal healthcare system, there would be no bill to the patient and the hospital would be paid by the healthcare plan.

Coleman: “There is a difference between showing up at a clinic for care, and having an insurance card in your pocket and being able to have a primary care physician…. it’s called certainty.”

Janek talked about a “safety net” that is currently dispelling the old myth that the only place you can go for help without a card is the hospital, as there are clinics that “stay open late” to provide healthcare to the uninsured. He admits that there is a “terrible” nursing shortage in Texas. (Update: After the Covid pandemic, there is a terrible nursing shortage everywhere!)

The children’s healthcare act is scheduled to be sunsetted as the affordable care act was supposed to take over for this type of care. It’s not yet in place to provide that coverage.

Again, like every other failing system, right-wing anti-government spokespersons decry how Medicare is overburdened and underfunded – but it’s the standard and well-understood operating procedure for Republicans to starve a program of needed funds for decades and make a campaign to shut down a “failing” system when appropriate funding would keep the system running effectively. This has been demonstrated with the cynical starving of funding for the mental health facilities in Texas, such as the state hospitals, followed by presentations to the Lege to close them and replace them with private, for-profit systems. One of the notable results: surging homelessness and homeless camps throughout the cities.

Panelists suggested that the Affordable Healthcare Act was extraordinarily “disruptive” to the system. Unlike the typical “pro-change” tech conference culture, there is a lack of understanding about the positive potential for disruptive change. – Disruptive change is what is needed to correct a shockingly broken and corrupt system.

So, it costs tax dollars to provide better healthcare to those least able to pay for it? And could this increase the costs of healthcare insurance? Hold the “surprise and dismay” about having to pay higher premiums. The very folks who can afford to pay more are the ones complaining the loudest. If healthy people pay into a “healthcare for all” system, the insurance will be there for them when they need it. Anyone who works for a state agency that keeps and invests a percentage of their salary as part of a pension fund understands that some employees will not stay in the system long enough to retire with a pension. Everyone working full time at a living wage is paying into the Social Security pension fund, too. Not everyone will live long enough to retire and draw social security benefits. But the value of these benefits are understood and workers are required to pay into retirement systems. In contrast, almost everyone would benefit from having healthcare insurance and it would benefit everyone to pay into a healthcare system.

Those with significant health issues refer to people who are currently healthy the temporarily able. Ilness and disease do not prey upon immoral or lazy people. Even the hardest working person can fall ill, perhaps be faced with the loss of their job. Since most Americans’ healthcare is tied to their employment, a catastrophic illness can cause the loss of their home, create overwhelming debt, and place crippling burdens on themselves and their families.

Cynical or myopic obstruction of “Obamacare” is delaying the only workable solution available for affordable healthcare. Some blame the “budget deficit”, saying that if we appropriately fund the system, we are borrowing from our future. But proponents like Garnet Coleman say that more people are invested in shouting inflammatory rhetoric than working towards a realistic and ethical solution.

Texas transportation and High-Speed Rail: more of a wish than a plan, but the money is there

Tribfest 2014 Transport Pickett 4 more

Transportation what’s next?   Robert Eckels  Clay Jenkins  Bill Meadows  Jonathan Stickland 
Marc Williams  Aman Batheja (mod.)  (speakers not seated in order of names listed)

I’m not as excited as the panelists about the “existing opportunities” for Texas transportation, as it has been implemented over the last decade. Honestly, with the demographic data in hand, and the politics imposed on what should be a clear-eyed effort to provide decent infrastructure for every citizen – not just those who can afford to pay to drive on toll roads – a fantastic amount of resources are now needed to build Texas out of the pothole it has fallen into, thanks to a lack of vision or political will for decades.

Gimlet-eyed communities who looked askance at high-speed for fifty years are waking up to the urgent need for mass transit options.

There is an interesting initiative for high-speed rail from Mexico to states above Texas. This is exactly the direction that planners should go in, as this mirrors the I-35 corridor. TxDOT should facilitate this project and stop thinking of itself as a builder of roads. TxDOT should be a provider of transportation infrastructure in whatever shape or form is needed for future travelers.

Oklahoma is now in “project-level” development with Texas on a plan to consider high-speed rail for the corridor, from Oklahoma to South Texas. Mexico is interested in building and linking a system to that proposed system.

These are some of the types of visionary ideas that should be funded. Builders and bureaucrats want this to be funded through private investment – because apparently, it is no longer appropriate or possible to get basic transportation needs funded by the United States government.

Starting with the corridor between Houston to Dallas would be an interesting direction for development.

There are scoping meetings planned for areas most tangent to the proposed route for high-speed rail. Smaller towns along the way understand that, if the train does not come near their town, it never will, so communities understand what is at stake economically if they resist the plan.

The state’s role in high-speed rail is diminished by the entry of private players. The argument is that there is such stringent opposition to the use of government funds, in part to the ongoing, toxic war between fundamental conservatives and progressives that taking the funding private does an end run over political gridlock. It is also an admission that Texas is bankrupt, as far as transportation funding for rail goes.

Get ready for roads and rail built by private companies who will be involved in making decisions that involve bulldozing areas that are in the way of the straight line needed for the rail to travel. Voters, who have not been able to see their own needs as their transportation system started to crawl, will take a back seat to the industry now –  and it’s full speed ahead for the folks with the bags of money to invest in a system that the rest of us seem to have given up on.

Weirdly enough, I feel sort of hopeful. These guys don’t want to see future failure and they seem pretty psyched about this plan.  We are at the breaking point  – TxDOT has a five million transportation funding deficit. Too bad venture capitalists are not as excited about funding high-speed rail as they are in Uber, AirB&B, and grocery delivery apps. But between the twin devils of politicians and private investors, maybe it’s time to back the player who can actually build a high-speed rail.

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