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June 23, 2017      5:51 PM

Smith: Branding, Political Tribes, Health Care and Holidays from Thinking

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that GOP health care plans make it plain that it’s time to break out of tribal political thinking and begin thinking for ourselves.

In marketing, the purpose of branding is to short-circuit consumer thinking or at least grant thinking a holiday. Forget the substantive benefits or dangers of what you’re buying. Let “brand loyalty” do your thinking for you.

It’s like the old advice that if you always park your car in the same place in the garage you won’t have to bother your brain to remember where your car is. Branding is like that.

“Tribes” is a good word for a group of people loyal to one brand over another. There’s a Coca-Cola Tribe and a Pepsi Tribe, for instance. While each tribe might try to destabilize or raid the other, tribal loyalty is sticky. There’s apparent security in a tribe. And, as noted, tribal membership comes with reduced taxes on the brain.

Generally, the consequences are few if brand loyalty involves laundry detergent. The consequences are dire if brand loyalty short-circuit’s thinking on matters of life or death.

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By Glenn W. Smith

June 16, 2017      5:00 PM

Smith: Last Days of the First Amendment

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that vicious attacks on the free press and an upside-down view of the separation of church and state put the First Amendment at risk.

Gov. Greg Abbott turned the First Amendment on its head when he signed a bill that legalizes religious discrimination by child welfare providers. The law’s expansive language applies in an almost unlimited number of circumstances. Under the law, if you have a “sincerely held religious belief” against people wearing sandals, you can toss them from your restaurant and send them to the bootmaker.

The law clearly panders to certain extremist sects that believe “religious freedom” means they are free to discriminate against those who do not follow their doctrines. It’s as though they believe Jesus said, “Hey, if you got a stone in hand, throw it! Aim for the head.”

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By Glenn W. Smith

June 8, 2017      5:23 PM

O’Donnell: Session mirrors a cinematic masterpiece

Heading into the special session, Senior Curmudgeon Edd O’Donnell says it’s time to take a look at what time and money consuming issues have had the Legislature in thrall

Philosophers claim art imitates life but only rarely does life imitate art. The 85th Texas Legislature has done that trick. The 2017 session’s deliberations, proposals and accomplishments are mirroring one of the 20th century’s most important films dealing with political and social themes of then and now. It is listed as number six on one of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 movies of all times.

It is a western comedy.

It is called Blazing Saddles.

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By Edd O'Donnell

May 26, 2017      3:04 PM

Smith: The Road to Barbarism; Fists First Instead of First Amendment

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that democracy and our social fabric are endangered by the willful cruelty of the American Right. And it may be even worse in Texas.

It’s meant as criticism of the Right here in Texas and around the country, but I’m no longer sure the culprits care. Some on the Right have set us on a road to barbarism, and if the forced march is not stopped it will be hell to pay.

What else do we think of a place where victims of sex traffickers are abandoned by a Legislature that cuts funds to help them? Meanwhile, hard-working mothers are forcibly detained while dropping their kids off at school, imprisoned, and then tossed across the border?

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 25, 2017      6:12 PM

Greenfield: Two Thirds Through FY17 and Expenditures Still Declining

Our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield says so far this FY, Texas has experienced the “best” of all possible fiscal worlds, tax collections increasing at a rate on estimate, while expenditures are declining

Through May 2017 all funds state expenditures have decreased by 1.9 percent.  As shown in Figure 1, this rate is markedly less than the 7.7 percent increase in FY16.  This rate of decline would be the greatest decrease in state expenditures this century.

Even with the 1.9 percent decrease in all funds expenditures for FY17, total all funds expenditures for FY16-17 should total $227.3 billion, a 10.3 percent increase from FY14-15.  The LBB has projected that House all funds appropriations are $216.3, while Senate appropriations are $213.7 billion for FY18-19.  Assume the conferees split the difference and CSSB 1 appropriates $215.0 billion for FY18-19.  A $215.0 billion appropriations would result in a $12.1 billion (5.3 percent) reduction in expenditures from FY16-17.

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

May 19, 2017      4:19 PM

Smith: There is a Carnival on the Edge of Town

As the 2017 regular legislative session nears its end, QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith ponders the unfortunate consequences of today’s political circus

 As the 2017 regular session of the Texas Legislature wobbles towards its end with the final shudders of a tacky carnival’s Tilt-A-Whirl ride, a few general thoughts on the changing nature of the Texas and American political circuses are in order.

First, a personal observation.

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 18, 2017      5:31 PM

Greenfield: Good News and Semi-Good News

Our resident number cruncher notes that tax revenue from oil and gas have increased at a rate substantially greater than in the BRE, but of course 75 percent of that increase will be transferred to the Rainy Day Fund (RDF) and State Highway Fund

With sine die fast approaching and passage by each chamber of their respective appropriations bills (SB 1 and HB 1) the leadership of each chamber appointed five members to the budget conference committee. 

From the Senate members, good news, three of the five appointees were women (Senators Nelson, Huffman, and Kolkhorst). 

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

May 12, 2017      4:32 PM

Smith: Ken Paxton’s Double Standard

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that Ken Paxton wants legal protections for himself that he’d deny everyone else in his argument for the constitutionality of SB4

The contrast is enlightening. Let’s compare the legal avenues open to Attorney General Ken Paxton in his criminal securities fraud cases to the police-state, judicial road-closings he argues for in his SB4, anti-sanctuary city federal petition.

Paxton faces three felony charges of violating Texas’ securities law. His high-paid lawyers (it’s great to be Attorney General!) have filed (and failed with) an unending series of motions to get rid of the judge, block a change of venue, challenge payments to special prosecutors, etc.

Lawyers in a functioning criminal justice system should pull out all the stops for their defendants, especially if their client has all the money he needs to pay them. The fact that most people don’t have Paxton’s resources to fight the good fight is one of those things we’d rather not think about as we pretend equality under the law.

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 6, 2017      4:14 PM

Greenfield: Expenditures Up, Revenue Down

Our resident number cruncher Dr. Stuart Greenfield, Ph.D., says declining state revenue and increasing state expenditures isn’t exactly a situation any budget conference committee hopes and prays for

As noted in my last column, state General Revenue-Related (GRR) revenue through March declined by 0.2 percent. This decline contrasts with Comptroller’s estimate in the Biennial Revenue Estimate that GRR in FY17 would increase by 1.7 percent.

Total state revenue was estimated to increase by 1.3 percent in FY17 has declined by 0.9 percent through March.

With declining revenue, what has been happening when it comes to expenditures?

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By Dr. Stuart Greenfield

May 5, 2017      3:03 PM

Smith: A Hateful Spectacle

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith wonders whether hatred and bigotry are both means and ends for many in today’s Republican Party

It was a hateful spectacle unlike anything this writer has ever seen. U.S. House Republicans were partying their butts off, gleefully celebrating their vote to deny health care to millions of their fellow Americans.

People could die because of their vote. Babies. Elderly people. People of all ages with pre-existing conditions who could be denied coverage under the measure’s terms.

The GOP celebrants, cheeks brightened by joy, were so proud of themselves they could almost burst. They were proud that they’d voted for something they knew would cause unnecessary illnesses and deaths.

How does this happen?

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By Glenn W. Smith

May 2, 2017      4:18 PM

Rumenap: Getting out of jail free puts others at risk

In op-ed, the president of Stop Child Predators argues that if conditions are to be imposed in addition to bail, then the conditions must be meaningful

Texas legislators are debating what they call bail reform. Proponents say “risk assessment tools” will allow the substitution of algorithms for judicial judgment in releasing poor people from jail without bond. 

While concern for the poor is admirable, viewing jailed indigents accused of crimes as victims means that lawmakers are mistaken in their priorities.

Who is talking about the impact of these changes on victims of sexual assault?

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By Stacie Rumenap

May 1, 2017      1:11 PM

Wendell: The insurance industry’s blue tarp bills threaten Texas property owners

In op-ed, ED of Texas Watch argues insurers paid 10% fewer hail claims after massive storms and trends will only worsen if insurers face less accountability for cheating their customers

Your property rights are under assault at the Texas Capitol.

Insurance lobbyists and their allies at the self-styled “Texans for Lawsuit Reform” are pushing legislation that will mean insurance companies pay you as little as late as possible. HB 1774 and SB 10, better known as the Blue Tarp Bills, strengthen the hand of insurance companies in property claims disputes.

The end result is homes, businesses, schools, and churches will be blanketed in blue tarps after storms when they’re cheated out of their policy benefits.

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By Ware Wendell of Texas Watch

April 27, 2017      4:00 PM

So Much for GOP’s Sanctimonious ‘Rule of Law’ Chant:

QR’s Liberal Columnist Glenn W. Smith argues that the So-Called ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Bill Is Clearly Unconstitutional and the GOP Knows It.

While chanting, “Rule of Law, Rule of Law, Rule of Law,” Republicans in the Texas House voted to void U.S. Constitutional guarantees against unlawful imprisonment.

In case these lawmakers haven’t recently read the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, I present it here as a public service:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.”

Meditate on that, lawmakers.

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By Glenn Smith