Tag Archives: Los Angeles TImes

Texas crony capitalism, Perry style


For more evidence that Texas governance is a banana republic in minimal disguise, take a look at this piece from Sunday’s NY Times about Rick Perry’s nonchalant/extravagant habit of doling out government money to major campaign contributors. Add it to the excellent piece I’ve already mentioned in the LA Times. Shake, stir, imbibe — and vomit.

It’s heartening that the national media are picking up this early on the absolute whorehouse that is Texas politics and on the Chief Pimp role Rick Perry has played over the last decade. I would say, “Now, it’s up to the people to decide.” But it’s not, really. It’s up to the press to continue to look at the Texas pay for play two-step.

Extending  Lone Star crony capitalism into national governance via the George W. Bush administration has literally brought the country to its financial knees.  It’d be nice if the national press eschewed its habitual avoidance of nasty facts about Republican candidates (driven by fear of being called the “liberal news media”) and reported the truth about corruption in Texas government repeatedly. It could help the country avert outright economic decapitation.

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The weak and compromised Governor Perry


I will write at length some other time about what I regard as truly atrocious coverage of Texas Gov. Rick Perry by national reporters who seem more interested in a clean story line about the Republican presidential horse race than in the truth of what the man says, particularly when it comes to what he says he’s done in office, particularly when it comes to the economic position of the state. The idea that the Texas economy is remarkably affected by what a Texas governor — any Texas governor — does is just silly. It cannot be overemphasized what a weak office the governorship of Texas is. Here’s a good explanation of my assertion, courtesy of the University of Texas:

Compared to the U.S. President or the chief executives of other states, the Texas Governor occupies a “weak” office. The main source of the relative weakness of the Texas Governor can be found in the historical conditions surrounding the Texas Constitution of 1876. Mindful of the experience of Reconstruction – the period after the Civil War when Republican governors wielded extensive executive powers and were resisted by conservative elites in the state – the authors of the new constitution sought to rein in future governors. They did so by dispersing power that might otherwise be lodged in the chief executive’s hands among a vast array of independently elected officials. Broad powers over the legal system, state budget and finances, education, transportation, agriculture, public utilities, and land development are delegated to officials who need not share the policies nor even be of the same political party as the governor. The dispersal of power among different officials creates what is often called the plural executive. Unlike the federal system, where the cabinet secretaries and the other top executive officers serve at the pleasure of the President, the voters elect the corresponding officials in the Texas system, giving the Governor no direct authority over them.

But today, rather than spouting torrents of bile at journalistic colleagues, I will end by sighting, in the sea of bad Perry coverage, a tropical island  of solid reportage in the Los Angeles Times that deserves special commendation. If anyone thinks the power of big money and large business interests is a problem in federal governance, he or she ought to think many, many times about choosing someone coming from the Texas system to be president of the United States. As I’ve said many a time, and based on my 10 years of reporting there, Texas government is not what people in much of the rest of the country would recognize as American representative democracy. It’s a strange hybrid, in which the forms of American politics are applied as a thin, attractive veneer that masks an inner reality that is hard to distinguish from a banana republic oligarchy. The, ahem, payoff paragraphs from the Times:

Perry has received a total of $37 million over the last decade from just 150 individuals and couples, who are likely to form the backbone of his new effort to win the Republican presidential nomination. The tally represented more than a third of the $102 million he had raised as governor through December, according to data compiled by the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice.

Nearly half of those mega-donors received hefty business contracts, tax breaks or appointments under Perry, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis.

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Texas on Perry


I wanted to let the dust settle a bit after Texas Gov. Rick Perry jumped into the presidential race before giving myself a victory lap for having said he would run way back when. And when. And when.

Now, rather than blurt out my estimation of Mr. Perry and his campaign, I thought I’d give a little space to some smart friends who live in Texas and actually know something about him, as opposed to the “reporters” writing about him in much of the national press. I’m going to delete names here, because I didn’t explicitly say I would identify these folks (though I did say I might use the answers on my blog).  But I’ll try to give you a bit of background, so you can put what these people say in some context.

The following viewpoint comes from a longtime, expert politics-watcher and journalist whose judgement I greatly respect and who I don’t think has an ideological bone to pick:

He’s the most disingenuous fuck in American politics outside of Palin. Like her, he’s an actor, a thespian spouting lines, unexamined. There are plenty of Texas Republicans that absolutely detest the guy but are afraid of him or warily tolerate him because … he’s boss. He has a bristley, arrogant side that is pronounced and probably will be off-putting when they start in peeling his rind away. Not like Bush, at all, in the projection-of-personality department. I suppose his last big victory was due to the insane anti-Obama fevers, the economic jitters and the ineptitude of the Texas Democrats and their candidate, but his previous 39 percent showing seems more indicative of how people actually view him. I guess. I keep hearing about how much $$ he can raise, what a crack debater he is b/c he wiped up Hutchison etc., but my uneducated guess is he’s peaking now because of general boredom with the field … and he’s about to be peeled like an overripe banana. The piety thing — he closes his eyes real tight when he prays – won’t play on the wide screen, and the $$-raising corruption is a string of endless 30-second TV IEDs. So I guess that means he’s our next president.

The yang to the preceding yin as regards Mr. Perry comes from someone who’s probably been less directly involved in journalistic politics watching over the years, but he’s a smart guy, he’s been around the state a long time and his thoughts deserve, well, thought:

Although I’ve been back in Texas for some 10 years, I really have not paid that much attention to Rick Perry and his leadership in the state. As you no doubt recall, the state is very conservative and pretty much has the attitude: If you want to advance in life, get off your ass and do something. Perry is God, Country and don’t mess with Texas (or its businesses or way of life). And that’s a pretty good reflection of how a majority of people feel in the state. We have a good business climate because that’s what the people want. We don’t mess with God, because that’s what the people want. Texas is tough on crime because that’s what people want. Most of us want government to take care of the basics and stay the hell out of our lives. Do I think he’s an empty suit? No, and I think I reflect people in the state. Do I think he’s all hat and no cattle. No. He’s just a poor ranch kid who served his country as a USAF pilot and then went on to try to live the American dream. And he’s done a pretty good job, I think. For some reason, progressives believe if you graduated from a Land Grant university, served in the military and worked your way up the political ladder, you are inferior and dangerous to the Republic — You are still a dumb hick. … Here’s what I think at this date and time: Perry doesn’t want to be president. He wants to be vice president …

And this last set of comments, from a true-blue, left Texas Democrat (yes, there is a liberal Texas, even if it’s a bit attenuated nowadays), might seem surprising in its estimation of Perry’s strength. But this comes from a real political pro:

My insight on Perry comes from experiencing his advance team and travel squad. This year Gov. Perry came [to Houston] for a joint press conference on an anti-human trafficking bill sponsored by two Democratic women legislators. Perry’s advance and travel team is Presidential class. They have traveled together in a very large state for more than a decade.

More, as they say in my profession, TK.

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A BS news decision about UBS


When people say they hate the media, they really mean they hate that the media focus on trivia, pop culture and political sideshows and minimize institutionalized corruption and the stranglehold that wealth has over U.S. government at, essentially, all levels. A prime example is this story, “UBS to pay $160 million to settle bid-rigging case,” which was writ very short and buried in the print newspaper I subscribe to, The Los Angeles Times, and which has this astounding lede:

Switzerland’s biggest bank, UBS AG, has agreed to pay $160 million to settle charges that it rigged the bidding process for investment contracts with cities and towns in 36 states.

The story goes on to explain that UBS folks paid kickbacks to city workers who were responsible for investing bond funds. Sometimes the kickbacks were meant to steer those funds to UBS; sometimes, apparently, UBS was supposed to be acting as an adviser to the municipalities, but used kickbacks and its expertise to steer business to other banks. Bid-rigging across the U.S. by the biggest bank in Switzerland seems, to me, to be kind of a big story. And it’s made even bigger by the story’s kicker: UBS won’t face criminal prosecution because it “admitted to the conduct and cooperated.” I’m sure this outcome — pay a tiny sum of money in the UBS scheme of things, suffer no real public humiliation and avoid criminal prosecution — will deter UBS and every other bank that interfaces with American government from ever paying a kickback again.

I’m not necessarily criticizing the prosecution decisions here; making public corruption cases is difficult, and sometimes less-than-optimum settlements are the best that can be gotten. I am criticizing the LA Times and other so-called mainstream newspapers for grossly underplaying this and other stories that illustrate the sickening power of wealth in the American political system. That tendency to minimize wrongdoing by wealth and power is bad for the country, of course — but it’s even worse for the media. It suggests to readers and viewers that media outlets are not protectors of the people but part of the country’s power structure. It says, loud and clear, that elite journalism is not part of the solution, but part of the problem.

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Filed under banking, corruption, legal settlements