On Twin Peaks, man-sized beers and the exquisite delicacy of bottom rocker etiquette

Good afternoon Austin:

When I arrived at the Twin Peaks on Stassney last night the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife.


Well, actually not.

But the St. Louis Cardinals and my New York Mets were tied 1-1 in the middle of the ninth, or, as Siri told me when I asked her for an update on the Mets game on my drive from the Capitol to Twin Peaks  – “the Cardinals and Mets are knotted at 1-1 in the ninth.”

Knotted. I love it when Siri goes all colloquial. Steve Jobs you were a genius. I can’t wait to see Steve Jobs, the movie, which I got a first sneak peak of while watching the Mad Men finale Sunday night.

Anyway, the scene at Twin Peaks, deep in the valley of the big box restaurant – Macaroni Grill to the left of me, Logan’s Roadhouse to the right of me, Chili’s dead ahead – was pretty mellow.  About half full. Brightly lit. Sports on the score of TV screens.


I was here, of course, because of what happened at a sister franchise in Waco Sunday, and I was more than a bit disappointed.

When I first heard about the biker shootout, I figured Twin Peaks was some seedy biker bar on the outskirts of town – a place with a murder every few years – and with maybe a sly, ominous nod somewhere to David Lynch’s creepy cult classic.


But I was wrong. Twin Peaks it turns out is a chain, a very successful chain, with about as much in common with a bona fide biker bar as Times Square today has to Times Square of yore.

Here, from a 2014 story on Twin Peaks, from Devin Leonard at Bloomberg Business:

Before each shift at Twin Peaks, a Hooters-like restaurant with 57 locations across the U.S., managers line up waitresses and grade them on their looks. The women get points for hair, makeup, slenderness, and the cleanliness of their uniforms: fur-lined boots, khaki hot pants, and skimpy plaid tops that accentuate their cleavage. Their job, between serving sports-bar fare with names such as “well-built sandwiches” and “smokin’ hot dishes,” is to beguile the mostly male customers, flirting to get them to empty their wallets. They may also have to fend off patrons who’ve washed down too many of the house beers, including the Dirty Blonde or the Knotty Brunette.

Twin Peaks is the most successful example of a new generation of restaurants, what people in the industry euphemistically refer to as “the attentive service sector” or, as they’re more casually known, “breastaurants.” Twin Peaks Chief Executive Officer Randy DeWitt doesn’t care much for the word, not that he’s complaining. Last year, Twin Peaks was the fastest-growing chain in the U.S., with $165 million in sales.
On a recent Friday at lunchtime, men fill almost every table at the Twin Peaks in Addison, Texas. Most of them are more preoccupied with their servers than the sports programming on the numerous flatscreen TVs. I’m dining here today with DeWitt, a tall, 56-year-old who laments his paunch. Our waitress is Courtney Freeman, a 20-year-old with platinum blond hair parted on the side. “Hell-ooo, how are you?” she greets us. “My name is Courtney. I’m your Twin Peaks girl today.”

We order two Dirty Blondes. Freeman turns to leave.
“Wait, wait. Ask the question,” DeWitt says. He explains to the waitress that I’ve never been to a Twin Peaks before.
Freeman seems confused. “OK. Why have you never been to Twin Peaks before?” she asks.
“No, not that question,” DeWitt interrupts. “So he’s ordering a beer. …”
“Oh!” Freeman says. “Do you want the man size or the girl size?”

(Photo by Ralph Barrera) Vanda Purvis works as a waitress for Twin Peaks restaurant in Round Rock, TX. and posed for pictures in the parking lot with a group of Midland Deputies sporting an assault rifle. One deputy was fired and others were rerimanded for the incident. All the while Purvis, who goes by the name Bambi at the restaurant, is an avid hunter and marksman and actually owns the same rifle she posed with in the photos. August 2009.
(Photo by Ralph Barrera) From August 2009. Vanda Purvis, a waitress for Twin Peaks restaurant in Round Rock, posed for pictures in the parking lot with a group of Midland Deputies sporting an assault rifle. One deputy was fired and others were rerimanded for the incident. All the while Purvis, who goes by the name Bambi at the restaurant, is an avid hunter and marksman and actually owns the same rifle she posed with in the photos.

Well, I’m glad I didn’t read the Bloomberg report before my visit to Twin Peaks. Total spoiler.

My server’s name was Bubbles – yes Bubbles – and not Courtney and not Bambi.

She did sit down across from me in my booth and introduce herself as “your Twin Peaks girl tonight.”

She is 22, finishing a communications degree at Texas State in San Marcos and plans to get her master’s. Looking for a career in advertising and no, she didn’t watch Mad Men. Previously worked at Hooters but likes Twin Peaks more.

All good.

She offered me the choice of Dirty Blonde or Knotty Brunette, though I heard it as Naughty Brunette, and then asked, per the script, “Do you want the man size or the girl size?”

That doesn’t really leave me with much of a choice, I said.

I think that’s the idea, she said.



Well, I wondered if this was an important telltale detail.

Maybe, if Twin Peaks did their beer sizes like Starbucks its coffee sizes, the Bandido and Cossack combatants whose encounter in the Twin Peaks bathroom may have precipitated the deadly bedlam, could have honorably ordered “tall” Dirty Blondes and might have been just enough less inebriated to have navigated urinal and sink and automated hand dryer with silent contempt but no lives lost.

But then my man-size beer arrived and well, it was pretty much a normal pint. That girl size must be really puny.


It appears that the Waco Twin Peaks is being disenfranchised.

As The Daily Beast reported in an article, Cops Rip Hooters Knockoff Twin Peaks After Waco Biker Gang Shootout

Twin Peaks headquarters revoked the license of the Waco franchise on Monday morning. 

“The management team of the franchised restaurant in Waco chose to ignore the warnings and advice from…the police,” it said in a statement. “We will not tolerate the actions of this relatively new franchisee and… [are] revoking their franchise agreement.”

Breitbart’s Lee Stranahan didn’t like the Daily Beast’s tone.

“Based on the bile in their headline, the Daily Beast has apparently found something they agree with the police on,” Stranahan wrote in his piece, headlined, Twin Peaks: Everything the PC Left Hates:

You could fill an entire semester at any Ivy League grad school detailing everything the selectively prudish left would despise about Twin Peaks. It’s a successful American business that combines pretty girls, beer, sports, meat, fun, friendly service, a nice atmosphere and more pretty girls.

Twin Peaks is aimed at delivering PG-13 good times in a world that’s increasingly either Rated X or censored completely. While entertainers like Miley Cyrus or Beyoncé get more accolades for the less clothing they wear, a place like Twin Peaks barely rates a ‘naughty.’

The restaurant’s interiors are a Disney-fied take on a Great Woods lodge, with plenty of wood, stone and antlers galore. The whole concept is brought to you with a grin and a wink.

It’s Twin Peaks lack of bitterness and angst that probably guiles the haters most.

Maybe Twin Peak’s success is actually partially due to the current climate of hectoring, lecturing hate that’s spilling out of the universities and into the streets. Maybe in an overly politicized age, there’s something especially refreshing about the simple pleasures a plate of steak slider, a cold beer and a waitress who gives you a smile instead of a treatise on white male privilege.

And just maybe the shooting location says something about the contorted state of masculinity in 21st century America..

Twin Peaks isn’t a sleazy, off the track biker bar at the end of a lonesome dirt road. It’s in the same plaza as the local Best Buy, Ross Dress for Less and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Ultimately, the nine thugs who died and the eighteen thugs who were injured all went down on a Sunday afternoon in a shopping center right off the main highway.

That’s not exactly Sons of Anarchy.

Bubbles recommended the pot roast, her favorite menu item, and it was good if overstated (probably calculated to make you drink more man-sized beers). The Mets hung on to win in the bottom of the 14th.


And when I asked Bubbles if there was any biker/public blowback from the weekend’s events in Waco ,she looked at me blankly.

“This is my second day on the floor. Did something happen?”

The front page of today’s Statesman is a Texas classic

Screenshot 2015-05-19 07.23.30


170 bikers charged in Waco shootings

In Texas, `biker gang’ means the Bandidos

Open carry to Senate floor

Obama limits combat gear transfers to police

Guns, guns, guns and guns.

What does it all mean?

If guns are outlawed only outlaw bikers will have guns.

The best way to know that good guys are armed is to for them to carry them openly

And typical Obama – disarming the police even as the Sons of Anarchy are amassing at your neighborhood breastaurant.

All part of the Jade Helm 15 scheme.

Speaking of which, if this gets out of hand – with the possibility of more bikers converging on Texas bent on revenge – can we count on Special Operations forces deployed here this summer for Jade Helm to redirect from their original mission of taking over Texas to saving Texas?

Either way, it’s win-win for martial law.

This could be a busy summer for the Texas State Guard.

What does Alex Jones think about all of this?

Well, he apparently doesn’t like people seizing this unfortunate event and twisting it to their own peculiar, propagandistic, paranoid ways of thinking.

From Kit Daniels at Jones’ Infowars.com:

Leftists Exploit Biker Bloodbath to Complain About “White Privilege”

Liberals want National Guard on Waco streets in the name of equality

Leftist “social justice warriors” are blaming “white privilege” for the lack of National Guard troops on Waco, Texas, streets in response to the gun battle between rival biker gangs and police which left nine dead on Sunday.

Despite the fact the police were already monitoring the gangs at the Twin Peaks restaurant before the shootings, which entirely took place at the restaurant, not Waco at large, and likely lasted only minutes, social justice warriors are using the #WacoThugs hashtag to complain about how the city isn’t under a complete lockdown with curfews and National Guard troops patrolling the streets.

In other words, leftists are actually promoting a police state in the name of equality.

Where does Infowars come up with this stuff?

Oh. Twitter.







Is there anything to this critique?

From   at Vox:

Those who are using what happened in Waco to start conversations about stereotypes and media biases against black people aren’t complaining about the tenor of this weekend’s media coverage. They’re saying something a little different: that by being pretty reasonable and sticking to the facts, this coverage highlights the absurdity of the language and analysis that have been deployed in other instances, when the accused criminals are black.

In particular, you’ll see a lot of sarcasm about “white-on-white crime” and “white-on-white violence.”

That’s because hand-wringing over “black-on-black” violence is frustratingly common — especially as an attempt to derail the focus on high profile stories of police-involved deaths of black people. It’s finally catching on that focusing on black-on-black crime in response to criticism of law enforcement practices doesn’t make sense, but the absence of any similar refrain in cases in which the suspected criminals are white is a reminder of how the idea of intraracial crime is almost exclusively — and unfairly — brought up when black people are involved.


That’s why some observers of the Waco tragedy have taken note of the fact that the gang members in the brawl weren’t brutalized or killed by the police officers who arrested them, and actually appeared to be treated with a certain level of civility.

A writer at the blog Crooks and Liars lamented, “Check out the cell phones and smokes while they wait for the cops to process them. No rides in the paddy wagon for them. Just sit on the curb and wait until nice Mr. Policeman has a moment to process you.”

That, of course, stands in contrast to what has happened in a string of high-profile cases involving the police-involved deaths of black men w, unlike the Waco bike gang members, were entirely unarmed.

I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to me that the Bandidos and Cossacks and outlaw biker culture are getting kid glove treatment in the press.

“It’s a nasty, dirty, vomit-covered existence,” Jay Dobyns, a former undercover operative with the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said today on MSNBC.

And the cell phones and smokes? Those are the survivors. Eight people lay dead and the Waco police spokesman, Sgt. Patrick Swanton,  said today that it is possible that some were killed by police bullets, though it is too soon to say.

Not for Don Charles Davis, though, who, blogging as The Aging Rebel, has called it The Waco Police Massacre.

A shoving match in a bathroom at a Confederation of Clubs meeting in Waco, Texas exploded into a war yesterday. Nine people were killed, 27 people were injured, 17 were hospitalized, two are listed in critical condition, and 160 men were arrested following a brawl at a chain restaurant in a shopping center on the South Jack Kultgen Espressway.

The fight resulted from a long simmering dispute between members of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club and the Cossacks and the Scimitars Motorcycle Clubs. Curtis Jack Lewis, president of the Abilene chapter of the Bandidos, and Wesley Dale Mason, the chapters’ sergeant at arms, were accused of stabbing two Cossacks outside Logan’s Roadhouse in Abilene in November 2013. The two Bandidos were charged with aggravated assault in March 2014. The Scimitars are in the process of patching over to the Cossacks.

Other clubs in attendance at the Sunday brunch included the Blackett Arms MC, Gypsy MC, HonorBound Motorcycle Ministry, Renatus MC, Escondidos MC, Sons of the South MC, Los Pirados MC, Leathernecks MC, Vietnam Vets/Legacy Vets MC, In Country MC and the Tornado Motorcycle Club.

All of the arrestees are being charged under Title 11, Section 71.02, a draconian Texas law titled “Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity.” According to that law, “A person commits an offense if, with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination or as a member of a criminal street gang, the person commits or conspires to commit one or more of” most of the acts that are illegal in Texas: Including possession of small amounts of marijuana, transporting a firearm, and possession of banned weapons like brass knuckles and butterfly knives. Police seized about a hundred weapons at the crime scene

Sergeant Patrick Swanton, a spokesman for the Waco Police Department, called the attendees. “A bunch of criminal element biker members that came to Waco and tried to instill violence into our community and unfortunately did just that…. This is not a bunch of doctors and dentists and lawyers riding Harleys. These are criminals on Harley-Davidsons.”


The shove in the bathroom became a scuffle in the restaurant. When about 30 Bandidos, Cossacks, Scimitars and other bikers spilled into the parking between the Twin peaks and the Don Carlos Mexican restaurant next door, the police were waiting for them. The scuffle became a knife fight and several men were stabbed. When one of the combatants produced a gun the Swat team opened fire with automatic weapons. Multiple sources have told The Aging Rebel that all of the dead were killed by police.

Swanton said the fusillade “saved lives in keeping this from spilling into a very busy Sunday morning. Thank goodness the officers were here and took the action that they needed to take to save numerous lives.”

The investigation into the massacre is being supervised by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

From Tony Plohetski and Jeremy Schwartz in today’s Statesman:

“The Cossacks just decided they were going to do their own thing,” said Steve Cook, president of the Midwest Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association. “They put a target on their back. From the Bandidos’ standpoint, this had to be nipped in the bud, and I think this is what we are seeing.”

Conflict between the groups dates back at least to 2013, when the gangs battled in the parking lot of another chain restaurant, Logan’s Roadhouse, in Abilene. In that incident, two Cossacks were hospitalized with stab wounds and two Bandidos, including the president of the Abilene chapter, are awaiting trial on aggravated assault charges. Abilene authorities declined to comment on the case, citing the Waco incident.

In the current conflict, Cook said, the Cossacks dared to wear a patch on their vests, called a “bottom rocker,” that proclaimed “Texas.” The Bandidos consider it their exclusive privilege to decide who carries the Texas patch, authorities say.

“Basically the Cossacks decided they won’t be subordinates to the Bandidos,” Cook said. “For the Bandidos, this was an insult.”

Patches and tats are serious business, obviously, with life or death consequences, especially when competing claims to putting Texas on their bottom rocker are on the line.

From the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine: Integrating Emergency Care with Population Health: Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs – Aspects of the One-Percenter Culture for Emergency Department Personnel to Consider:

Patches and tattoos reflect the sect-like symbolism of a gang’s subculture[12,13] and can provide information about a gang member’s social history, such as past incarcerations, drug use, and allegiance to the gang.[14] Central to the attire of outlaw bikers is the sleeveless and collarless jacket that identifies the specific club to which a biker belongs. These jackets, referred to as “colors,” are made from leather or denim.[5] The patches, or “rockers,” that indicate full membership to an OMG are embroidered on a biker’s colors, and are regarded with great reverence by members and club affiliates.[15] The back of a biker’s colors typically has a top rocker, which bears the club’s name; a center patch, which bears the club’s logo; and a bottom rocker, which indicates the location of the chapter of the club to which the biker belongs.[5] A biker’s colors are integral to his identity as a member of the club. Should a biker’s colors be removed during the course of his care in the ED, physicians and staff would be prudent to treat his colors with respect or otherwise risk a hostile reaction from the biker and his associates.

This is all perilously close to parody, were it not for all the people dead and wounded.

From the New Yorker in December, Spencer Ham’s Please Adhere to Our Biker Gang’s Style Guide.

Before you deface any more personal property, I implore you to refer to our house style guide. I shared it in the group’s Google Doc, so there is no excuse this time. I’m looking at you, Spider. These aren’t trivial rules I’ve enumerated—they are crucial for solidifying our brand identity. If we don’t have that, what do we have? Chaos, that’s what. And, yes, I know our mission statement is “To obliterate civilization and create chaos,” but in order to do that we have to be organized, people.

How many times do I have to say this? We’re the Skull & Daggers—that’s with an ampersand. So I don’t want to see anybody spelling out “and.” This was not a random decision. We chose the ampersand because it’s the cleaner, more elegant option, and it resonates with our target audience. We may be vandals, but we’re not savages.

Also, I noticed last week, while dumping a body under Jackson Bridge, that whoever graffitied our motto, “Darkness Will Win,” on that burning trash can really botched the typography. First of all, the color wasn’t even close. It’s simple: we use Cloudy Grey. Not Dark Slate Grey, not Battleship Grey. Cloudy Grey. You don’t have to believe in government to believe in color theory. And, secondly, we never use the Calibri font; we use Cambria. No, it’s not “close enough,” Crazy Jake! Is a PT Cruiser close enough to a Lamborghini? I swear, it’s almost as if this wild band of outlaws and misfits didn’t care about maintaining aesthetic integrity.

Finally, my favorite biker gang movie dance number.




Follow Live: Senate hearing on #HB3994 abortion legislation

Follow David McSwane live covering a hearing at the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on HB 3994, a bill that add several requirements that will make judicial bypass proceedings for minors seeking abortions without parental consent more difficult, and would require any woman seeking an abortion in Texas to present a government-issued ID proving she’s an adult

Follow Live: Senate committee hearing on #HB910 open carry bill

Follow Chuck Lindell live tweeting from Senate committee hearing on open carry legislation HB 910:

On empty seats and `deep botheration,’ Abbott protest at UNT commencement leaves `no fingerprints’

Good morning Austin:

Here are some screen shots from the streaming video of Gov. Abbott’s commencement address at the University of North Texas in Denton Saturday evening.


Screenshot 2015-05-16 20.41.59


Screenshot 2015-05-16 20.45.10

Screenshot 2015-05-16 20.48.30


Screenshot 2015-05-16 20.49.06

And here, via Anna Tinsley of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is why it really is still better  to actually cover an event than watch a live stream from home.

Why the protest? Why all those empty seats?

Screenshot 2015-05-17 23.15.32

Here’s the report from Dalton LaFerney, news editor of the North Texas Daily, the UNT student newspaper.

The university-wide mass commencement capped off the spring semester and finished the week of graduation ceremonies Saturday night, with a small group of Gov. Greg Abbott protestors asked to leave the Coliseum during his speech.

The Coliseum was nowhere near capacity, and about half of the floor seats, where the graduates sat, were empty. More than 4,000 students, the university said, graduated during ceremonies on Friday and Saturday, while about 300 to 400 students were in attendance Saturday for the mass commencement.

The commencement was originally slated to be held at Apogee Stadium. Forecasts earlier in the week predicted poor weather conditions Saturday during the outdoor commencement, so Smatresk decided to move the ceremony to the Coliseum. There were not any thunderstorms or drops of rain during the ceremony.

UNT President Neal Smatresk led the ceremony, noting the beginning of the university’s 125-year celebration. “This is the beginning of the big celebration for the university,” he said. UNT will officially mark 125 years in 2016.

Republican Gov. Abbott delivered his keynote address to the graduates uninterrupted by protests, which had been expected in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. When he was introduced by Smatresk, the crowd responded with applause. There was, however, a small group of silent protesters in the upper decks of Section E holding signs expressing disapproval of the governor. UNT police quickly removed the protesters, who then took up a brief protest outside the Coliseum.

Students from the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, the International Socialist Organization, TRIAD and the coalition for an Abbott-Free UNT participated in the protest.

“We believe that many of his policies are harmful to the student body here, specifically the most marginalized populations here,” Integrative studies senior Christy Medrano said.

Medrano said the banners addressed specific policies like House Bill 1403, which allows some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.

“We figured that if we were peaceful and if we were cooperative that we would be able to stay but that is not the case, even after making sure that we made no noise, that we were the least disruptive group possible, we still got escorted out,” Medrano said. “We were told that we could not go back into the commencement to finish watching our friends graduate.”

One officer told the protesters they had been disrupting the ceremony.

Here is an earlier story from the Daily by features editor  Nicholas Friedman.

UNT News confirmed to the North Texas Daily that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott would be the keynote speaker for the spring’s graduation commencement. This news comes after rumors earlier this week that actor Michael J. Fox was in consideration.

Students at UNT and the Denton community took to social media to voice their opinions on the decision. Most weren’t happy.

Andy Odom — not a UNT student —  is the social media director for music festival 35Denton. He reached out to UNT President Neal Smatresk urging him to reconsider the decision to bring Abbott to campus.


Others cited UNT’s previous relationship with former gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and a seemingly liberal campus profile as a reason for reconsideration.


Some were excited about the prospect of the Governor choosing UNT. This is a first for the university, who previously didn’t have commencement speakers at graduation.

Here is the wording of the Change.org petition protesting Abbott’s appearance.

The University of North Texas’ student body is made up of students from all walks of life. Therefore, it is pivotal that our keynote speaker be someone who reflects not only our student population but our views on equality and representation. Governor Abbott is an advocate for immigration reform, border patrol, and anti-equal marriage laws. This does not align the spirit of the University of North Texas which prides itself in providing equal opportunities for their students. While Governor Abbott’s story is inspirational, his views on inequality cannot be overshadowed by this.  Our Mean Green Pride comes from being heard and respected.  Which is why we ask University President Neal Smatresk to find a new keynote speaker for graduation.

OK, the wording is bit odd. They object to the fact that “Governor Abbott is an advocate for immigration reform?” To which reform are they referring? Apparently, ending in-state tuition is the “reform” referred to here, but Abbott has, to date, not lifted a finger to make that happen.
Anyway, here is a sampling of comments from the 2,500 people who signed the petition, and the occasional person who offered a contrary opinion:

Angela Tarmichael LEWISVILLE, TX
Greg Abbott is terrible. He was elected by old conservative white people. His supporters do not represent the intellect or diversity of my alma mater. Wendy Davis should have won.

Kirsten Lefebvre
I’m signing this because I believe that the ENTIRE student body should be represented by someone they ALL love and admire. Not someone who is 100% conservative speaking at a majority liberal school.

jazmine Burnam HOUSTON, TX
I think michael j. fox has more qualifications than stupid gregg abbott. I mean most people at UNT hate gregg abbott so why would they invite him? Michael j. Fox is better.

Nicole Parker, Ph.D. NEW YORK, NY
As a UNT alum, I am concerned that my University would implicitly support a man with such an abominable record on women’s rights and gender equality. Pick a new speaker, one that will not alienate half of your student population, both past and present.

Susanna Sanchez LAS CRUCES, NM
Texas was stolen from Mexico and this man the Governor of an occupying power now wants to dictate to me on his anti gay , anti immigrant policies! This man is a Christian neanderthal that uses his religion to oppress people of color and those of the LGBT persuasion. He’ll probably ask for the ROTC Fascists to present the colors at our graduation!

Maria Dick DENVER, CO
These students need to LEARN that NOT everything can go their way and they need to learn it now—besides–this isn’t the students doing this–it’s the Obozo Adm.!!

Adam Lundin DENTON, TX
I love UNT, it is a great school! Gov. Abbott is everything my School is and was not about! Just because you are elected by old, scared white people, religious nuts and people unaware of your intentions to make Texas a state less like the one our founding fathers created!

Jesse Thunder DEL CITY, OK
If Neal Smatesk wants to live, then he must replace the keynote speaker or suffer the Karma consequences.

 Richard Ostergaard RACINE, WI
What’s important for me is Freedom of speech is for everyone, not just some idiotic college student who hasn’t even taken the time to read our Constitution or even abide by it. We are a nation of laws. We are a Free nation. It’s called illegal immigration because it is ILLEGAL… Freedom of speech is not a one way street. You don’t like it? Get out

Christina Herren HOUSTON, TX
Greg Abbott does not represent the intelligent thoughtful people of Texas. The only appropriate place for him to be key note speaker is at a KKK rally.

Clyde Wilson HOUSTON, TX
Abbott is a racist, bigot, homophobe, xenophobe and misogynist. He has no business spreading his hate at a university.

Terri Frederick HOUSTON, TX
I’m signing because I will be unable to attend my niece’s graduation because of the extreme politics of this man. I do not want to pay homage to someone who does not have my niece’s best interest at heart! He does not believe in equal pay, equal rights or women’s rights. How is this in my niece’s best interest? She deserves support not impediments!

Whiney Butt SANGER, TX
I don’t want my Governor speaking to us because he’s a meany head who hates gays. I disagree with 100% of everything he has ever said and done.

Jay Anderson DENTON, TGreg Abbot is a hypocrite because he whines about state control in reference to the federal government, but wants Austin to be able to dictate to the cities how to run their business vis a vis fracking.

Here is a well-balanced editorial from the Daily:

This Editorial Board is neither excited nor disgruntled with Gov. Greg Abbott delivering the keynote address at the mass commencement this spring. We understand the implications of the governor coming to UNT, but the views of students must be considered first and foremost.

Students and faculty expressed deep botheration when we confirmed the news last week. President Neal Smatresk and the administration should not overlook those concerns.

Firstly, this GOP-controlled Texas Legislature is on the offensive against Denton’s ban on hydraulic fracturing, an effort many UNT students participated in alongside faculty. Currently, the ban is fighting an uphill battle against the state and industry, and Abbott is not relenting in favor of Denton.

Understand the political climate in which Denton sits. The needs of Denton and UNT do not align with those throughout Texas. Denton is a small liberal dot within Denton County, a red county fitting the overall conservatism of Texas.

Furthermore, Abbott does not align with UNT’s majority stance on marriage equality. The governor is not accommodating of marriage equality, and is an active opponent to the cause. There is a very active marriage equality movement at UNT – that’s no secret.

Those two issues alone are enough to catalyze efforts against Abbott’s commencement address, but one other is affecting a large segment of UNT students: immigration reform. As of fall 2014, Hispanics make up 19.52 percent, or 7,061 total, of the student population.

There have been numerous efforts at the statehouse to close and secure the Texas-Mexico border, including some legislation that would eliminate benefits for DREAMers or other immigrants. Currently, Senate Bill 1819, from Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), would repeal a provision that allows some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates.

Let us not forget Abbott’s Democratic opponent in last year’s election, Wendy Davis, stopped at UNT during her campaign, indicative of UNT students’ liberal lean.

Students deserve to have a more active role in deciding who will be the speaker. After all, it is the students’ graduation. In the future, administrators should be more proactive in gauging student interest in the speaker, both politically and intellectually.

That said, some degree of respect is owed to the Office of the Governor. Politics aside, Abbott is due some level of respect, and his words at the lectern should be openly heard — not necessarily accepted, but heard.

On the different side of the same coin, realize that commencement addresses are opportunities for political statements; Abbott will seize this moment and spread his message in a variety of rhetorical ways.

Like it or not, Abbott has a story of hardship to tell. He was paralyzed and relies largely on a wheelchair. His medical journey affected his life. His tale is one to be heard. Try to put politics aside when he speaks.

Understand this is a huge moment for UNT from a marketing perspective.  The university was quick to point out that the governor’s visit to UNT would be a great way to kick off the 125th anniversary celebration. A visit from the governor is a mark of prestige, one that should be cherished. A healthy relationship with the governor is imperative for a future of academic achievement in this state.

Most importantly, if students feel disrespected with the speaker selection, by all means, they have the duty to express that by civil protest or by Letter to the Editor. Do not allow Abbott and UNT officials to dictate the flow of information. Keep an open mind, but stand firm in your beliefs. Never allow our elected and appointed officials to override what you stand for.

If Abbott is your guy, embrace this. If you don’t want Abbott, let it be known.

Deep botheration.

How great. I had never encountered botheration before. What a wonderful word.

What caused me some botheration with the scene Saturday night were all those empty seats.

Did students and their families really skip their college commencement because they didn’t want to be reminded that they live and go to school in the state of Texas, a state that elected Greg Abbott governor in a landslide.

If not showing up were an effective political strategy, then maybe Wendy Davis would be governor.

I recalled something I wrote at First Reading after attending the March meeting at which the Texas State Republican Executive Committee elected its new party chairman to succeed Steve Munisteri.

When I arrived, a young man named Matt Pinnell, a former Oklahoma Republican Party chairman, who is national state party director at the Republican National Committee, was praising Munisteri for being a model who other state party chairmen across the nation emulate.

He also offered a variation on the classic Woody Allen dictum that, “80 percent of success is showing up.”

“The world is controlled by those who show up,” Pinnell said.

I also had not realized until this weekend that Denton is apparently even more Austin than Austin.

But Denton’s small liberal dotdom seems even more insular.

Austin is a little bit more comfortable in its own skin, and the reality that it not only has a very excellent music scene but is also the seat of government in a very red state.

Signing an online petition and then not showing up seems more an act of petulance and denial than meaningful protest. It is especially odd because Denton exists side-by-side with a most vivid example of a political movement, in the tea party, that has demonstrated the power of individuals who show up and make noise to wield enormous power out of proportion to their numbers.

In the meantime, since posting First Reading this morning, the governor’s office announced that he will be signing House Bill 40, the ban on fracking bans, in a public ceremony  today at 3 p.m. Wow, back at you empty seats. At least he didn’t sign it at the Denton commencement.

Here is the prepared text of Abbott’s speech in its entirety (he improvised a bit in his delivery):

Thank you, President Smatresk. Texas is fortunate to have you at the helm of UNT as the university begins its next 125 years.

 I’m honored to celebrate this commencement with the North Texas Mean Green.

 I know the caliber of students who attend UNT. My nephew, Ryan Abbott, graduated in 2010 with a degree in Emergency Administration & Planning. He works with the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management. He made UNT proud earlier this week as he put his degree to good use responding to the tragic Amtrak crash in Philadelphia.

I also got to know a UNT student who will be graduating soon; his name is Nick Bradley. Right out of high school and before coming to UNT, Nick enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq until 2008 when a bomb blew up the vehicle Nick was riding in.

 Through 16 surgeries, months of rehabilitation, and raw determination Nick pieced his life back together and will now be a Senior at UNT. I was with Nick at the opening game for the Texas Rangers. With 52 screws in his arm, Nick threw out the first pitch.

 It’s because of Nick and all those who fight on battlefields around the globe that we have the freedom to fight on the battleground of ideas on campuses like UNT. We never say thank you enough to those who serve our country. If there is anyone with us tonight who has ever worn the uniform of the U.S. Military, will you please stand or wave.

 To the Class of 2015, congratulations on reaching this remarkable milestone in your lives. Your hard work and dedication brought you to this moment.

Tonight you’re surrounded by family and friends, moms, dads, grandparents and other loved ones. They raised you. They motivated you. They supported you from their hearts and their pockets. They deserve a big round of applause.

 One thing we know for sure is that your family is extremely proud of you. You can’t imagine the sense of joy they’re feeling. Tonight would be a great time to ask for money.

In addition to the pride that you have tonight, there may also be a feeling of los, a sense of sadness that you’re leaving UNT – forever! Well let me assure you – you never really leave, because the UNT Fundraising Committee will be on your back for the rest of your life.

 I will keep my remarks brief. I can’t remember who the speaker was when I graduated from law school. I seem to recall we got some cliché advice about how the future would be full of challenges. I didn’t know at the time how prophetic the speaker would be. Little did I know that the picture of me walking across the stage to get my diploma would be the last picture of me walking.

 After graduating, I moved to Houston to go to work. A few weeks later I was out jogging when a tree fell and I was instantly paralyzed. The months after my graduation proved my graduation speaker right – they were challenging. During months of hospitalization I realized the future I had taken for granted was changed in an instant.

But as I worked my way through that challenge, eventually becoming a lawyer, judge, Attorney General and Governor, I found that our lives don’t have to be defined by our circumstances. Instead we can determine our lives by our character. I learned that deep within each of us lies the character that allows us to conquer our circumstances.

 I’ve never talked to any graduate who hadn’t faced challenges on the path to getting their diploma. Each of you has been challenged in different ways. All of you have demonstrated the character to meet those challenges. Your presence here today, that green cap and gown you’re wearing, and the diploma you are receiving show you mastered those challenges.

 Tonight you’ll leave this wonderful school and go into the world to pursue your dreams. Your lives will be filled with exciting twists and turns. You will have many more achievements, and – inevitably – you will face many more challenges. Those challenges don’t determine your destiny – you do. Your lives won’t be defined by how you are challenged, instead by how you respond to life’s challenges.

 Wherever your path may lead, whatever you may do after leaving here, in the end it won’t matter if you are rich or poor. It won’t matter where you live or what you do for a living. It   won’t even matter whether you can walk. What will matter is the unique fingerprint you leave on this world. Ultimately, your life is measured by the fingerprints you leave behind. As you leave UNT we look forward to watching the paths you take and the unique imprint you leave on this world.

 Congratulations, Class of 2015. May God bless you all with bright futures, and may God bless the University of North Texas and this great state.

Pretty good speech.

Could Michael J. Fox have done better? Perhaps.

But, what might have been better than simply complaining that they got stuck with Greg Abbott instead of Michael J. Fox would have been a UNT teach-in in which students watched and discussed episodes of Family Ties, the show that made Michael J. Fox, a show that was created and written by liberals intent on mocking conservative values but instead, thanks to Fox’s endearing charisma playing Alex Keaton, came to enshrine those values, making Family Ties Ronald Reagan’s favorite TV show.

The scene below from Alex Teaches Preschool, is great, especially in the context of Abbott’s commitment to “high quality” pre-kindergarten.


Screenshot 2015-05-18 08.29.59

Keaton: “A tax is a terrible, hairy, liberal monster. With big teeth. The only thing that can stop the terrible tax monster is a Republican. Who wants to be a Republican?”

From the Museum of Broadcast Communications:

Few shows better demonstrate the resonance between collectively-held fictional imagination and what cultural critic Raymond Williams called “the structure of feeling” of a historical moment than Family Ties. Airing on NBC from 1982 to 1989, this highly successful domestic comedy explored one of the intriguing cultural inversions characterizing the Reagan era: a conservative younger generation aspiring to wealth, business success, and traditional values, serves as inheritor to the politically liberal, presumably activist, culturally experimental generation of adults who had experienced the 1960s. The result was a decade, paradoxical by America’s usual post-World War II standards, in which youthful ambition and social renovation became equated with pronounced political conservatism. “When else could a boy with a briefcase become a national hero?” queried Family Ties’ creator, Gary David Goldberg, during the show’s final year.

The boy with the briefcase was Alex P. Keaton, a competitive and uncompromising, baby-faced conservative whose absurdly hard-nosed platitudes seemed the antithesis of his comfortable, middle class, white Midwestern upbringing. Yet Alex could also be endearingly (and youthfully) bumbling when tenderness or intimacy demanded departure from the social conventions so important to him. He could equally be riddled with self-doubt about his mettle for meeting the high standards he set for himself. During the course of the show, Alex aged from an unredoubtable high schooler running for student council president, to a college student reconciled to his rejection by Princeton.

Alex’s highly programmatic views of life led to continuous conflict with parents Steven and Elyse. Former war protestors and Peace Corps volunteers these adults now found fulfillment raising their children and working, respectively, as a public television station manager and as an independent architect. If young Alex could be comically cynical, his parents could be relentlessly cheerful do-gooders whose causes occasionally seemed chimerical. Yet (especially with Elyse) their liberalism could also emerge more authoritatively, particularly when it assumed the voice, not of ideological instruction, but of parental conscience and loving tolerance. And so Family Ties explored not just the cultural ironies of politically conservative youth, but the equally powerful paradox of liberal conscience. Here that conscience was kept alive within the loving nuclear family so frequently decried as an instrument of patriarchal domination, and so constantly appropriated by conservatives as a manifestation of their own values.

Significantly, the show’s timely focus on Alex and his contrasts with his parents was discovered rather than designed. Family Ties’ creator was Gary David Goldberg, an ex-hippie whose three earlier network shows had each been canceled within weeks, leading him to promise that Family Ties would be his last attempt. He undertook the show as a basically autobiographical comedy which would explore the parents’ adjustments to 1980s society and middle-aged family life. The original casting focused on Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter-Birney as the crucial Keatons. Once the show aired, however, network surveys quickly revealed that audiences were more attracted by the accomplished physical comedy, skillful characterization, and approachable looks of Michael J. Fox, the actor playing Alex. Audience reaction and Fox’s considerable, unexpected authority in front of the camera prompted Goldberg and his collaborators to shift emphasis to the young man, a change so fundamental that Goldberg told Gross and Baxter-Birney that he would understand if they decided to quit. The crucial inter-generational dynamic of the show, then, emerged in a dialogue between viewers, who identified Alex as a compelling character, and writers, who were willing to reorient the show’s themes of cultural succession around the youth. Goldberg’s largely liberal writers usually depicted Alex’s ideology ironically, through self-indicting punch lines. Many audiences, however, were laughing sympathetically, and Alex Keaton emerged as a model of the clean-cut, determined, yet human entrepreneur. Family Ties finished the 1983 and 1984 seasons as the second-highest rated show on television, and finished in the top 20 six of its seven years. President Ronald Reagan declared Family Ties his favorite program, and offered to make an appearance on the show (an offer pointedly ignored by the producers). Fox was able to launch a considerable career in feature films based on his popularity from the show.

It is also possible that, compounding the sense of grievance at UNT was McConaughey envy. Sitting on a stool, Matthew McConaughey delivered the University of Houston commencement address this weekend, offering graduates “13 lessons learned.


Here are lessons 5 and  9.

5. Process of elimination is the first step to our identity
( a.k.a where you are NOT is as important as where you are)

In 1992, I got my first job as an actor. Three lines, three days work, in a film called Dazed and Confused. Alright.

Alright, Alright, Alright.

The director, Richard Linklater, kept inviting me back to set each night, putting me in more scenes which led to more lines all of which I happily said YES to. I was having a blast. People said I was good at it, they were writing me a check for $325 a day. I mean hell yeah, give me more scenes, I love this!! And by the end of the shoot those 3 lines had turned into over 3 weeks work and “it was Wooderson’s ’70 Chevelle we went to get Aerosmith tickets in.” Bad ass.

Well, a few years ago I was watching the film again and I noticed two scenes that I really shouldn’t have been in. In one of the scenes, I exited screen left to head somewhere, then re-entered the screen to “double check” if any of the other characters wanted to go with me. Now, in rewatching the film, (and you’ll agree if you know Wooderson), he was not a guy who would ever say, “later,” and then COME BACK to “see if you were sure you didn’t wanna come with him..” No, when Wooderson leaves, Wooderson’s gone, he doesn’t stutter step, flinch, rewind, ask twice, or solicit, right? He just “likes those high school girls cus he gets older and they stay the same age.”

My point is, I should NOT have been in THAT scene, I should have exited screen left and never come back.

But back then, making my first film, getting invited back to set, cashing that check and having a ball, I WANTED more screen time, I WANTED to be in the scene longer and more, and come back into the scene right?

I shouldn’t have been there. Wooderson shouldn’t have been there.

It’s just as important where we are not as it is where we are.

The first step that leads to our identity in life is usually NOT “I know who I am,” but rather “I know who I AM NOT.” Process of elimination.

Defining ourselves by what we are NOT is the first step that leads us to really KNOWING WHO WE ARE.

You know that group of friends you hang out with that really don’t bring out your best? They gossip too much, or they’re kind of shady, and they really aren’t gonna be there for you in a pinch? Or how about that bar we keep going to that we always seem to have the worst hangover from? Or that computer screen that keeps giving us an excuse not to get out of the house and engage with the world and get some HUMAN interaction? Or how about that food we keep eating? Tastes so good going down but makes us feel like crap the next week when we feel lethargic and keep putting on weight?

Those people, those places, those things — STOP giving them your TIME and ENERGY. Don’t GO there, put them DOWN — and when you DO quit giving them your time, you inadvertently find yourself spending MORE time and in more PLACES that are more healthy for YOU, that bring YOU more joy — WHY?

Because you just eliminated the who’s, the where’s, the what’s and the when’s that were keeping you from your identity. Trust me, too many options makes a tyrants of us all. So get rid of the excess, the wasted time, decrease your options… and you will have accidentally, almost innocently, put in front of you, what is important to you by process of elimination.

Knowing who we ARE is hard. Give yourself a break. Eliminate who you are NOT first, and you’ll find yourself where you need to be.

9. From can to want

1995. I got my first big paycheck as an actor. I think it was 150 grand. The film was Boys on the Side and we’re shooting in Tucson, AZ and I have this sweet little adobe guest house on the edge of the Saguaro National Park. The house came with a maid. My first maid. It was awesome. So, I’ve got a friend over one Friday night and we’re having a good time and I’m telling her about how happy I am with my set up . The house. The maid. Especially, the maid. I’m telling her, “she cleans the place after I go to work, washes my clothes, the dishes, puts fresh water by my bed, leaves me cooked meals sometimes, and SHE EVEN PRESSES MY JEANS!” My friend, she smiles at me, happy for my genuine excitement over this “luxury service” I’m getting, and she says, “Well…that’s great…if you like your jeans pressed.”

I kind of looked at her, kind of stuttered without saying anything, you know, that dumb ass look you can get, and it hit me…

I hate that line going down my jeans! And it was then, for the first time, that I noticed…I’ve never thought about NOT liking that starched line down the front of my jeans!! Because I’d never had a maid to iron my jeans before!! And since she did, now, for the first time in my life, I just liked it because I could get it, I never thought about if I really wanted it there. Well, I did NOT want it there. That line… and that night I learned something.

Just because you CAN?… Nah… It’s not a good enough reason to do something. Even when it means having more, be discerning, choose it, because you WANT it, DO IT because you WANT to.

I’ve never had my jeans pressed since.

And, finally here is the classic of the genre – Naval Adm. William H. McRaven’s 2014 commencement address at the University of Texas – 10 Life Lessons from Basic SEAL Training. It was so well received, McRaven is now chancellor of the University of Texas System.

House leaders deny reports of imminent tax cut deal with Senate

Texas House leaders denied word that the House and Senate are close to a tax cut deal Wednesday that would involve scrapping the House’s proposal for a reduction in the sales tax rate.

“There is no deal to talk about,” said state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, the House’s chief tax writer, before walking into a meeting with the House’s chief budget writer and other GOP leaders.

“If the Senate is talking about a deal we’re probably that much further away from having a deal,” the Angleton Republican added.

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, who is closely aligned with House Speaker Joe Straus, also said “We’re not going to take anything off the table at this point,” while noting a sales tax cut is “not the No. 1 priority.”

Word of an impending tax cut deal was first detailed in a Houston Chronicle report Wednesday.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, one of five senators Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked to informally negotiate tax cuts with the House, also said “Everything remains on the table” and suggested a tax cut deal is not near.

“Right now, there are many cooks as chefs in the kitchen,” he said. “If a deal comes, it will have a thousand fathers and mothers.”

“Like I said, you’ll know when there is a real deal,” he said when asked if one was near.

How to cut taxes has emerged as the biggest point of disagreement between the two chambers this legislative session and has yet to ease with less than three weeks to go in the regular legislative session. Many observers believe the impasse could result in a special session because tax cuts will have to be worked out before lawmakers can finalize a state budget, which is the only piece of legislation they are required to pass when they meet every two years.

Geren said his No. 1 priority is to “pass a budget and go home.”

Reporter Chuck Lindell contributed to this report


Rep. Dennis Bonnen, surrounded by other representatives, announces his plan for a sales tax cut at the Capitol on Wednesday April 8, 2015.  JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, surrounded by other House lawmakers, announces his plan for a sales tax cut at an April 8 Capitol news conference.


American Phoenix Foundation operative may have mis-identified himself

One of the supposed video-gatherers associated with the American Phoenix Foundation — causing a stir among lawmakers and lobbyists — seems to have not been truthful about his identity to lawmakers and reporters.

The man who said his name is John Liam appears really to be Jon Basel, the brother of American Phoenix Foundation CEO Joe Basel.

The social media site Instagram shows the balding, chiseled-jaw and unflappable person known around the Capitol as John Liam, but the site contains photos of the same man identified as Jon Basel, also known by the Instagram handle hugginn_memory.

The site displays Basel/Liam as a mudbug-eating, skateboard-scooting, motorcycle-riding and vest-wearing young man.

The operative was asked this week if his name is truly Jon Basel, but he wouldn’t answer the question.

Here is a photo taken recently at the Capitol, when the man said his name was John Liam.


Now, here are some Instagram pics of Jon Basel.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 10.49.12 AM Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 10.49.58 AM Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 10.50.28 AM Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 10.53.35 AM

Sixteen people from the foundation — presumably including Basel/Liam — have collected 800 hours of video on and off the Capitol grounds of lawmakers and lobbyists behaving badly, a foundation spokesman said recently. The group intends to package the video and release it in the coming weeks and months to show legislators’ hypocrisy as well as other acts of sex, violence and corruption, spokesman John Beria has said.

Mystery shrouds “financial gain” claim around Texas contested cases

One bill the governor appears certain to sign into law: a measure passed by both chambers that would make it harder for citizens to win standing to fight proposed industrial permits making their way through state agencies.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, has said the effort is a way to streamline permitting to attract business to Texas and further improve the economy; environmentalists say it’s about bulldozing roadblocks to power plants, refineries and other major industrial sites.

One argument that caught my attention during a legislative hearing on the bill: Hector Rivero, president of the Texas Chemical Council, whose members include businesses that support the bill, had this to say: “The current contested case process is being abused by some who simply don’t support business expansion and growth in our state and are using it as a delay tactic to thwart investment opportunities, and what’s worse are those who are gaming the system for financial gain.”

That last bit especially interested me: Industrial shakedown artists? That sounded like a good story. I was curious who Rivero had in mind: Unscrupulous lawyers? Exploitative residents of fenceline communities, so called because they abut the property of an industrial facility?

But when I asked Rivero, he had me speak to the Chem Council’s PR man, Mike Meroney. Meroney said that he himself did not have knowledge of specific examples and said that non-disclosure agreements and “ongoing litigation” prevented Rivero from expanding on what he had said publicly to lawmakers.

Hm. I was surprised that the Chemical Council — as opposed to individual member-companies — would be subject to non-disclosure agreements. I asked for a brief in the ongoing litigation and was told I wouldn’t get one. I asked if

State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, on the Senate floor of the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Monday, April, 27, 2015.  (Rodolfo Gonzalez / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, on the Senate floor of the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Monday, April, 27, 2015. (Rodolfo Gonzalez / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Rivero had in mind a certain Central Texas landfill owner known to fight competition partly through the contested case process; I was told no, that it was a petro-chemical refining issue.

I asked Meroney to point me in the right direction, at least off-the-record. He wouldn’t.

I was starting to grow a little exasperated: I found it peculiar to claim something publicly as damning as the “gaming of the system for financial gain” and then not back it up, even off the record, to a reporter.

I asked state Sen. Fraser’s office if they could steer me – if they knew what Rivero had in mind since they were carrying the bill; an aide told me he was unaware of any information or testimony backing up the claim that there are people “gaming” the system.

I called Steve Minick, the government affairs guru at the Texas Association of Business, which also supports the legislation. He was, in a sense, more forthcoming, telling me a story of a European company that was considering establishing an industrial facility in Texas – he was foggy on the details — but he told me a neighbor of the proposed site approached a company executive at an open meeting about the facility’s design, and suggested the company pay him hush money to not bother filing a contested case. Instead, the company decided to locate its facility in another state. I asked for Minick for details – the name of the company, for example – and gave him a week: he had nothing for me.

And I reached out to Mike Nasi, a lawyer who represents coal interests, asking him if he could illuminate Rivero’s claim. He told me: “There are definitely situations where a protestant’s counsel uses a procedural burden to leverage a settlement less about the merits of application and more about monetary compensation.” But, he said, he didn’t begrudge lawyers who represent their clients that way. “I don’t know what the Chemical Council is referring to,” he told me.

There may yet be something to Rivero’s claim.

Otherwise, though, it has the ring of some of the debates over alleged voter identification fraud: How real is the problem and who are we talking about? The contested case process, whether overly cumbersome or not (one can honestly debate that question), is meant to protect members of the public who live near industrial sites. People who live near such sites, especially in petro-chemical refining areas along the Texas coast, tend to be poor and of color. Absent other context, context that’s been hard to come by from the very person and organization who made the claim originally, the declaration that there “are those who are gaming the system for financial gain” begins to carry some shadowy aspersions.

As I told Meroney, I’d love to write a story about industrial shakedown artists — so if you’re a company executive or a lawyer or the leader of a trade association and want to slip me some specifics, please get in touch. I can keep your name out of it.

American Phoenix Foundation submits requests for records from legislators

The American Phoenix Foundation, the group that claims to have 800 hours of footage of state lawmakers and lobbyists, is submitting open records requests for documents from members of the Texas House.

John Beria, spokesman for the foundation, said the organization is asking all legislators for records in its quest to uncover instances of hypocrisy and bad behavior — including acts of sex, violence and corruption. The foundation has asked for:

“1. All documents, reports, memos, emails, and notes containing the word Phoenix your office has created or received from March 1, 2015 until today.
“2. All documents, reports, memos, emails, and notes pertaining to undercover video, secret video, or activists videotaping of legislators in and around the Texas state capitol during the current legislative term from March 1, 2015 until today”

“We’re asking for the information because we think it will assist our investigation,” Beria said.

How an Empower Texans video and AgendaWise blog foreshadowed American Phoenix

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.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 06.25.31

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.


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.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 05.44.05

But look at this guy looking at you.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 06.07.16

My tinfoil is getting pretty hot.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 06.08.41

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.



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.


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.




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.


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.


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.



Mentor of James O’Keefe connected to group taping lawmakers

A Texas lawyer that conservative video activist James O’Keefe described as a mentor and a genius has connections to the group that has been secretly filming lawmakers and lobbyists at the Texas Capitol.

Benjamin Wetmore lists with the Texas Bar Association the same post office box as the American Phoenix Foundation, which, according to a spokesman, has dispatched 16 people to the Capitol and events around Austin and has collected 800 hours of footage on lawmakers over the past six months. Additionally, the telephone number that Wetmore listed with the bar association goes to Joseph Basel, the CEO of the foundation.

Wetmore said he is the foundation’s general counsel.

O’Keefe told The New York Times in 2009 that Wetmore offered the advice to: “‘Take on the politically correct crowd on campus, satirically.’”

Wetmore referred questions to Basel or a spokesman about being an inspiration to the foundation’s leaders. Basel and the spokesman weren’t available for comment.  Wetmore did, however, add that “like most law grads I’m just grateful for having a job.”

O’Keefe, who became famous for posing as a pimp who trying to get advice from the community group Acorn about financing a brothel, said through a spokesman last week that he is not connected with the effort in Texas to show hypocrisy and bad behavior from lobbyists and legislators.

But O’Keefe, whose partner in the Acorn video would later become Basel’s wife, used to be associated with Basel. The two pleaded guilty to entering U.S. government property under false pretenses after being arrested in 2010 for allegedly trying to tamper with communications of a former U.S. senator from Louisiana.

Also Monday, The Houston Chronicle reported that the Texas Department of Public Safety told Logan Spence, the chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, that a group had been recording lawmakers before the news broke. But Spence did not ask authorities to brief senators because they didn’t appear to be targeted.