How an Empower Texans video and AgendaWise blog foreshadowed American Phoenix

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Good morning Austin:

Back in January, Empower Texans produced a music video knock-off of the classic stalker love song, Every Breath You Take by Sting and The Police.

It’s a great song – hypnotic and creepy.

Here are the original lyrics:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you.

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you.

Oh can’t you see
You belong to me?
How my poor heart aches with every step you take.

Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you.

And so forth. Scorned lover as Big Brother.

Now, watch Empower Texans’ version.

When it was released, Empower Texans wrote:

What happens in Austin no longer stays in Austin, with Texans more engaged than ever in their government. And those citizens have a simple message for those in public office: “we’ll be watching you.”

And here are the reworked lyrics:

Every hand you shake,
Every cent you take,
Every vow you break,
Every vote you make,
We’ll be watching you!

Every single day,
Every word you say,
Every game you play,
Every time you stray,
We’ll be watching you!

Oh, can’t you see,
You represent me?
How my wallet aches,
With every vote you make!

Every hand you shake,
Every cent you take,
Every vow you break,
Every vote you make,
We’ll be watching you!

I recall what you said during the race,
The policies you promised to embrace,
Now, it seems like you’re all over the place!
Did your values disappear without a trace?
We keep waiting, watching, hoping, please!

Good stuff. Very original. if you look at the fine print below, you will note that neither Sting nor The Police endorse Empower Texans.

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Back in March, I asked Michael Quinn Sullivan, the Sting of Empower Texans, about the video, which I thought was, like The Police original, kind of cool and kind of creepy.

“Well you know someone has to do something to keep the 80s alive,” Sullivan said.

I asked who the people in the video were.

“Most of them are just some grassroots activists from around the state,” he said.

And they made the music?

“They were lip-synching to a cover band.”

“We were just having fun with it more than anything.” he said. “It was a fun project more than anything else.”

Or to quote another 80s anthem:

Oh daddy dear you know you’re still number one
But girls they want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have fun

But fast forward to the past week and word that a group of 16 people in the employ of something called the American Phoenix Foundation – whose politics, from the available evidence, seem to mirror Sullivan’s – have been secretly videotaping lawmakers at the Capitol and around town since the beginning of the session.

From the American-Statesman’s  Tim Eaton:

Using both hand-held and hidden recording devices, a local nonprofit has amassed about 800 hours of video footage of state lawmakers and lobbyists that the group’s leaders said Tuesday will be released to show the hypocrisy and bad behavior they found in and around the Texas Capitol.

The footage — none of which has been released — was recorded over the past six months with hand-held video recorders, detachable lens cameras and hidden recording devices, said Jon Beria, a spokesman for the Austin-based American Phoenix Foundation. The group’s “citizen journalists” recorded members of the Legislature at the Capitol as well as at bars and restaurants around Austin, he said.

The group will document sex, violence and corruption among lawmakers and lobbyists when its recordings are released, Beria said.

“With 800 hours, we can afford to show these people for what they really are,” Beria told the American-Statesman.

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The American Phoenix Foundation doesn’t endorse one particular political persuasion, Beria said. Rather, the group is “anti-incumbent” and dedicated to exposing public officials who are too cozy with lobbyists and speak one way on the campaign trail but act differently when they come to the Capitol, he said.

But the group’s CEO, Joe Basel, is a partner in a political consulting firm, C3 Strategies, that has done work for some of the most conservative members of the Legislature, including Sens. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, and Konni Burton, R-Colleyville.

Reporting that story, Eaton emailed Sullivan: “I was wondering if you knew anything about it, or knew who finances the group.”

“Just what I read in the DMN and Houston Chronicle,” Sullivan replied. “Know of Joe Basel and his work. Whoever he has in his sights is probably in for a really bad time ahead.”

But wait a minute.

Look at that video, produced even as the surreptitious videotaping was getting underway.

As every good conspiracy theorist knows, there are no coincidences.

“That video seems so clearly to foreshadow the American Phoenix Foundation project, it must have been by intention. Is that correct?” I wrote Sullivan last night.

His reply:

That’s crazy. The video was talking about legislative records. Note the opening scene with our newspaper and previous “index” mailings.

And those are grassroots activists in the video.

You guys and your tinfoil hats…

Well, yes, the video does open with a shot of two Empowerment Texans scorecards – Matt Schaefer’s A-plus and Byron Cook’s F.

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But look at this guy looking at you.

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My tinfoil is getting pretty hot.

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In actuality, the guy doing the videotaping – or at least one of the guys – looks exactly like this, as captured last week by Eaton just outside the House chamber, where he had been cornered by some angry lobbyists, or, as Eaton put it more elegantly: Lobbyists confront a Capital inquisitor.

 

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He identified himself as John Liam. But he looks a lot like Michael Kelly, who plays Doug Stamper, “the icy, Machiavellian fixer to Frank Underwood on House of Cards,” or so I’m told, because I’ve never seen House of Cards.

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I ran into Eaton and Liam at the close of their first encounter last week, and then ran into Liam outside the House Chamber yesterday evening.

He handed me his card.

phoenix1

 

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I asked him what happened to the “I” in “If,” and he said it was simply a bad job of cutting the cards. Couldn’t tell if this was amateurish, or some clever, practiced amateurishness.

Liam, if that’s his real name, is a cool customer. He didn’t get hot and didn’t seem bothered getting accosted by the lobbyists last week. He was perfectly OK with talking with me.

My hunch is that he is some kind of cyborg – both a man and a camera – and emotionally distant.

I asked a few questions to no effect and tried making sympathetic small talk.

I mentioned his resemblance to Stamper, and he said, “Yeah, it’s the hairline.”

I said, you’re lucky, with me, it’s Larry David, who I love but whose looks aren’t what I’m shooting for. I mean I have way more hair. But I get it a lot, most recently at the Zappa Plays Zappa concert at Emo’s, where a very drunk woman (and, as far as I know, neither a member of the legislator or the lobby)  grabbed me and demanded that I “stop looking like Larry David.” I wish I could, or rather I don’t think I do. Her boyfriend suggested she let go of me and leave me alone.

My Larry David story drew no discernible response from Liam. He said he had never heard of Larry David.

Really?

It’s not exactly like sussing out the Nazi double-agent in the POW camp with some trick baseball question – “Hey,  that Joe DiMaggio is a helluva short stop, am I right? ” –  but he doesn’t know who Larry David is?

Definite cyborg.

But, then, I acknowledged, I’ve never seen House of Cards.

He said something to the effect that “we live in different spheres.”

I guess so – NetFlix and HBO.

OK, so MQS says his video did not intentionally foreshadow Liam and company.

But. let’s move to Exhibit B – this remarkable post from Weston Hicks at AgendaWise back in January, under the headline, Sex and politics in Austin

‘Political chastity’ is not a common term, but it should be. Just ask General Petraeus.

What the term signifies has huge implications in the world of legislative outcomes, and should be of paramount importance to grassroots activists. The grassroots don’t want their hard work capsized because of lechers in Austin who can’t protect their own influence from being hijacked by political concubines.

Political chastity is the discipline of interested political actors not to sleep with one another. The reason this is so important, and much more than a “private matter,” is that politics is a cold war.

Part of the genius of our political system is that the energy past peoples put into armed revolutions, invasions, and coups now has a non-violent, legitimate outlet: democratic activity. If you don’t like the regime in power you don’t have to organize a militia and start killing. The founding fathers gave you a legitimate way to respond.

Still, all of this should not obscure the fact that, though cold, our politics is, after a fashion, a war.

To be sure, this is a fact special interests do everything possible to obscure or redefine. They want everyone pointed toward the same goal – theirs. They like it to be all one big, happy family, and they misuse the word “civil” a lot to this end.

But it is not one big happy family to the voters who put them there. Especially not now.

In war, sleeping with the enemy is a serious offense. In World War II women who slept with German occupiers were treated harshly and ostracized. The reason is simple – the act signifies vulnerability and openness. Someone who has slept with the enemy has significantly compromised their ability to deny the enemy access to vital communal information, and, to some extent, they’ve compromised their ability to say “no” to the enemy.

Believe it or not, Austin has actual political whores. They don’t think of themselves that way, but others do, and that is what they are. They may be a disgrace to their families, but they are rife in Austin.

In their minds they are just being “liberated women,” only they are professionally rewarded for being “liberated” in the vicinity of men with crucial intelligence or strategic access to power. It is especially important to find weak links to access in the Austin clan who don’t pledge allegiance to the current special interest regime – conservatives – and this caliber of woman can do this job uniquely well.

According to the Washington Times, General Petraeus slept with his biographer, shared classified secrets. The Justice Department is currently deciding whether or not to bring Petraeus up on charges.

Political concubines commonly work for the media or lobby, and they troll for weak-minded, lecherous staffers and legislators.

King Solomon was the wisest man in history. He wrote a wisdom course, a catechism, for his beloved son, the crown prince. He wanted his boy to be a good king.

We know this book by the name “Proverbs,” and it is the most renowned and important book of wisdom ever written.

Here is what the wisest man who ever lived taught his son, the crown Prince (Proverbs 7):

My son, keep my words; store up my commands within you. Keep my commands and live, and my instruction like the pupil of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister”; call understanding “friend,” so she might guard you against the mysterious woman, from the foreign woman who flatters you. When from the window of my house, from behind the screen, I gazed down, I looked among the naive young men and noticed among the youth, one who had no sense. He was crossing the street at her corner and walked down the path to her house in the early evening, at the onset of night and darkness. All of a sudden a woman approaches him, dressed like a prostitute and with a cunning mind. She is noisy and defiant; her feet don’t stay long in her own house. She has one foot in the street, one foot in the public square. She lies in wait at every corner. She grabs him and kisses him. Her face is brazen as she speaks to him: “I’ve made a sacrifice of well-being; today I fulfilled my solemn promises. So I’ve come out to meet you, seeking you, and I have found you. I’ve spread my bed with luxurious covers, with colored linens from Egypt. I’ve sprinkled my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink deep of love until morning; let’s savor our lovemaking. For my husband isn’t home; he’s gone far away. He took a pouch of money with him; he won’t come home till full moon.” She seduces him with all her talk. She entices him with her flattery. He goes headlong after her, like an ox to the slaughter, like a deer leaping into a trap, until an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird hurrying to the snare, not aware that it will cost him his life. (end passage)

The arrow also pierces the liver of the grassroots, who have grown accustomed to, though not accepting of, the pain of betrayal from people they trusted and helped. It is a testament to grassroots commitment and optimism that they continue to offer their trust anew, but they’ve recently become less tolerant of the people who betray them, and this is very good for Texas.

It is important for legislators to make sure they, and the oxen they hire, don’t go to slaughter behind a media or lobby concubine. Claiming this kind of thing is simply “a private matter” is nothing more than a declaration of weak leadership. It is not only a private matter. It involves their political bride – their district.

Legislators who respect their political marriage to the voters of their district will stay away from political call girls, whose currency is political information and access, and whose aim is conservative derailment. They will let it be known that they expect the same from their staff.

After all, political fidelity matters almost as much a marital fidelity, and you just never know anymore who’s watching.

Here is how AgendaWise describes itself:

AgendaWise Texas is a web-based, non-profit 501(c)(3) research and information organization committed to providing transparency in the Texas political discourse.

AgendaWise understands the era of naiveté in media and public life is over and information is shaped by messengers. Seeking to aid Texans desire to become more intelligent information consumers, AgendaWise seeks to uncover associations of actors in the political discourse including donors, media sources, and charities, analyzing themes and choices made by such actors.

In addition to being an information outpost, AgendaWise is a responder to unfair political attacks. We seek to clarify misdirection, bring perspective to bias, and illuminate untruths in Texas political discourse.

And here is the AgendaWise bio on Weston Hicks.

Weston Hicks researches and writes about associations in the Texas political realm, media choices, and political strategy. He has a B.A. in History from the University of Texas at El Paso and a J.D. from University of Texas School of Law. He enjoys spending time with wife and five children, reading, and playing sports outside. You can reach him at whicks@agendawise.com.

And here is a portion of a critique of that Hicks post from Christopher Hooks – Hooks on Hicks – at the Texas Observer (note language).

Do you read AgendaWise? I’m kidding, nobody does. The site, part of Tim Dunn and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s far-right messaging network that’s been trying for years to unseat House Speaker Joe Straus, provides a scribble-space for two bloggers, Weston Hicks and Daniel Greer. Under the noses of the Capitol establishment, they’ve carved out, with the help of a significant amount of pissed-away donor money, a space for some of the most surreal and hallucinatory writing about Austin’s politics scene.

That’s not to say that it’s good. Hicks and Greer write like children who were raised by wolves and learned to talk at an under-18 Ren Faire live-action role-playing tournament. They make extremely grandiose pronouncements, using curiously out-of-time language, about pretty ordinary shit. Did you know, for example, that our serially middling attorney general, Ken Paxton, is “a hope for all western governments?”

I’m being mean about their turgid prose because—and this is only slightly more important than the quality of their writing—they also have a tendency to be assholes. Greer had to take a brief leave of absence from AgendaWise when he got caught calling moderate GOP state reps “fags,” and “joked” that gay people got AIDS instead of making babies when they have sex because of “#naturallaw.”

This week brings another fine example of the AgendaWise canon. It’s got a juicy title.

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At parts, Hicks seems to be using the idea of this slutty whore woman as a metaphor, but at points it seems like he’s talking about an actual, specific woman. He caps the piece with a long and disturbing passage from the book of Proverbs about the dangers of consorting with bad, naughty, and slutty women, which ends thusly:

She seduces him with all her talk. She entices him with her flattery. He goes headlong after her, like an ox to the slaughter, like a deer leaping into a trap, until an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird hurrying to the snare, not aware that it will cost him his life.

The piece is a psychosexual nightmare and crazily misogynist, and if Hicks had written it in high school he’d be called to the counselor’s office. You could read the piece and believe that Hicks was calling almost all of the women who work at the Capitol whores.

But I think we can discern, behind this dark mess, what has happened. Hicks, as we’ve previously discussed, knows deep of sex and love, like a man should. Perhaps … a woman caught his eye? A woman of the cause? Perhaps there was a spark, and perhaps, some weeks later, the woman left. Her heart led her in a different direction. She took a job in Straus’ office.

I emailed Hicks last night – “This post from the beginning of the session seems pretty clear foreshadowing of what’s now unfolding and suggests involvement or foreknowledge of the work being done by the American Phoenix Foundation. Am I on to something?”

Haven’t heard back yet, but I also emailed Joe Basel asking whether Empower Texans’ video or AgendaWise’s blog suggested foreknowledge of what he was up to.

No, Basel replied:

They were not a party to our project. As one of several groups that engage in Capitol-watching, these links look like they have a similar mindset, but they were not a party to this project, as we’ve said several times.

Very well. I guess I’ll have to keep my conspiracy mojo going with Jade Helm.

But then there’s this.

I guess sometime yesterday, The Texas Tribune added this at the bottom of its original story on the videotaping: (*Clarification: Since publishing this story, The Texas Tribune has been unable to verify that John Beria is the real name of the person who identified himself as a spokesman for the American Phoenix Foundation.)

So, in my email to Basel I also asked, if he was actually also John Beria, or was John Liam actually John Beria, or was John Liam, actually Basel’s brother, Jon, and why did Beria on the phone tell Eaton he spelled Jon without an “h,” but then send him an email with an address that included the “h,” and if John Beria really exists, can he prove his existence?

Yes, very Chinatown.

But maybe that’s where the Texas Legislature is headed – “Forget it citizens of Texas. It’s Chinatown.”

Basel didn’t answer those questions.

And when I ran into John Liam right after sending that email, I said, hey, I was just asking Basel whether you were really his brother, Jon (if he has a brother Jon).

“I’m John,” the man who calls himself John Liam replied flatly. “You’re Jon. There are a lot of Johns.”

Definite cyborg.

 

 

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