Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed off on massive cuts to fire-fighting services in 2011.
Wildfires are burning across central Texas right now, the product of an historic drought and high winds from Tropical Storm Lee. An estimated 3.6 million acres have been scorched since November, with the flames approaching the city limits of Austin; damage is expected to exceed $5 billion. In the macro-sense, this is climate change-caused problem, with Texas' climate set to become dryer and dryer over the ensuing decades, making extended droughts the new norm. But it's also a crisis of emergency management. Although Texas Governor Rick Perry has called his state "a model for the nation in disaster preparedness and response," he has taken steps over the last year that would dramatically change that.
Specifically, as Raw Story notes, Perry's most recent budget slashed spending for volunteer fire departments—who handle much of the fire-fighting duties in rural areas—by 75 percent, from $30 million to $7 million. The cuts meant that cash-strapped municipalities would then be forced to either pick up the slack funding-wise, or deal with reduced services and put off upgrading outdated equipment. As Reuters noted in May, volunteer fire-fighters "are first responders to roughly 90 percent of wildfires in Texas."
The Washington Post today frames Texas' fires as an opportunity for Perry—who is currently leading the GOP presidential field—to demonstrate his leadership skills during a crisis. Optics are fine, hands-on management is well and good, but the policy matters here: Texas' climate is going to become increasingly vulnerable to drought and fire, while its governor insists that climate change doesn't exist, and cuts funding for the agency tasked with responding to it. Perry and Texas Republicans contend that tough choices were necessary to close the state's budget gap—but the decision to close that gap by cuts rather than revenue increases was itself a choice, and the priorities on what and how much to cut were choices as well.
Update: Over at The Economist, Erica Greider has some more thoughts:
Obviously Mr Perry didn't cause the fires. But over the past year, the hallmarks of his response to the drought have been calls for prayer and for federal emergency assistance. The first measure doesn't hurt, I suppose, but I'm not aware of any data that supports its efficacy, and prayer is not a good substitute for, say, a more prudent policy about water management, which has long been known to be a looming challenge in Texas and the southwest.
The new super PAC backing Rick Perry has drawn up plans to spend $55 million as part of an ambitious campaign strategy aimed at blowing away the Texas governor's rivals in early primary states and securing him the Republican nomination by next spring, according to internal committee documents obtained by NBC News.
The documents underscore the central role that such super PACs — or super political action committees unconstrained by any limits on how much they can collect from wealthy donors and corporations — will play in the 2012 presidential election.
They also show that the strategists behind the new Perry super PAC, led by a longtime Perry confidant and backed with infusions of cash from major Perry donors, are preparing to mount a full service political operation — complete with TV advertising, direct mail and social media outreach.
Super PACs can accept unlimited contributions but most disclose donor information and cannot coordinate in any way with candidates. In the post-Citizens United climate, super PACs have become the hottest new accessory for presidential candidates, and all of the serious GOP contenders have at least one. Make Us Great Again was organized by Mike Toomey, Perry's former chief of staff, who has remained close with the governor as a lobbyist in Austin and contributed generously to his most recent re-election bid.
Among the folks I didn't expect to meet in Concord, New Hampshire this weekend? Former Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle, last seen falling flat in her campaign against Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—a race Republicans almost certainly would have won had the party nominated anyone but Angle.
Angle has been traveling the country this summer with the Tea Party Express, the organization that put together Sunday's rally. She's not riding on the bus, though; she's been following the group's tour bus across the country, from Napa to New England, in a retrofitted SUV-and-trailer she calls "The Team Hobbit Express." The sides of the vehicle are plastered with messages from supporters, Graceland style, urging Angle to give it another go against Reid. The name was inspired by the Wall Street Journal's assertion, parroted by Sen. John McCain, that tea partiers are battling Obama like they're hobbits facing off against Sauron (this is, apparently, a bad thing.) "The hobbits are the heroes of the story and they win," Angle told me. "We're taking a winning vehicle to Tampa Bay, Florida."
Angle was hawking copies of her new memoir, Right Angle, along with lapel pins ($5) and bumper stickers, in the hopes of building up support for her political action committee, Our Voice. "As soon as I get my PAC up and running, then I can turn it over and then I can run," she told a supporter who approached her to tell her he had donated anonymously to her campaign. (Our Voice is a super PAC, which means it can accept unlimited contributions; it can finance independent expenditures but cannot coordinate with any specific candidate—although you would expect Sharron Angle's super PAC to be generally pretty supportive of whatever she does.)
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States created a net total of zero jobs in August. The 17,000 jobs that were added in the private sector were offset by the 17,000 jobs that were lost in the public sector—which, as Kevin Drum notes, means we actually had negative job growth because the population continued to grow.
So what's to be done about all this? Kevin has some ideas for what Obama should do if he were a dictator (a $1 trillion investment in our crumbling infrastructure), but as has become pretty clear to everyone but this guy, Obama is not a dictator. Congress, meanwhile, is set to embark on another lengthy debate about reining in the deficit and "living within our means," in the form of a bi-partisan "Super Committee." On Friday, Ezra Klein suggested a way out of the mess we're in:
[T]he supercommittee has a design flaw: it's directed to return recommendations on deficit reduction, but not job creation. That doesn't make sense from an economic perspective and it doesn't make sense from a political perspective. If the supercommittee succeeds and a deficit-reduction package passes Congress, Washington will have nevertheless failed to make any progress on the issue that economists consider most important in the near-term and that the American people have named, in poll after poll, as their top priority.
Rep. John Larson is introducing a bill to add a jobs component to the supercommittee's mandate. His legislation suggests three possible ways of doing so: either the existing supercommittee should commit to returning recommendations on jobs, or it should add four new members and create a subsupercommittee on jobs, or it should create a parallel supercommittee on jobs. In all cases, Larson says, failure to return and pass job-creation legislation would mean the trigger goes off.
Larson, a Connecticut Democrat, has since introduced his bill. But even if it does gain traction, I'm not totally sure I share Ezra's optimism that anything will come of it. That's because Congressional Republicans' ideas for job creation are more or less the opposite of Larson's (or Kevin's, for that matter)—if you listen to Paul Ryan and his fellow GOPers, you'll realize that slashing government spending is their job creation strategy.
Tea partiers don't really seem to like Mitt Romney. This isn't all that difficult to understand: He is from Massachusetts, has said some pretty liberal things over the years, and was at one point proud of a piece of health care legislation that was eerily similar to the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama in 2010. Those aren't the kinds of things that sell really well at tea party rallies, and Romney, recognizing this, has for the most part avoided those kinds of events.
Until Sunday. The former Massachusetts governor addressed a crowd of about 150 here at a Tea Party Express rally in Rollins Park. Things went, well, better than they could have. Romney, joined by his wife, Ann, spoke for about 15 minutes, delivering a speech that managed to appeal to the crowd without pandering to them too brazenly. He noted—twice—that he's not a career politician (a not-so-veiled shot at fellow candidate Texas Governor Rick Perry) and touted his business experience and work with the 2002 Winter Olympics. He cracked a joke about enticing Californians to move to Massachusetts to enjoy its superior business climate (Perry says the exact same thing about Texas), and he offered up some patriotic red meat by telling the story of the time he received a fallen soldier at Boston's Logan Airport and looked up to see an entire terminal with their hands on their chests. The event's most memorable line might have come from Ann, who said of her initial reluctance for another presidential run, "Mitt knew not to listen to me because I said that after every pregnancy."