In Don Willett, Trump taps his Twitter opposite for the federal bench

 

 

 

Good morning Austin:

On May , 2016,  Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett was at a book-signing for Gov. Greg Abbott’s book, Broken but Unbowed, when news broke that he was on candidate Donald Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees were he to be elected president.

I wrote at First Reading  the next day:

So, the official Tweeter Laureate of the State of Texas apparently arrived at Gov. Greg Abbott’s book signing at the Texas Public Policy Foundation yesterday in a good frame of mind and well sated, if perhaps in a bit of a post-BBQ glow/stupor when he learned, through Twitter no doubt, that he was on what the Trump campaign described as “the much-anticipated list of people he would consider as potential replacements for Justice Scalia at the United States Supreme Court.”

Much anticipated, perhaps, but, for Willett, it seems, wholly unexpected.

During his briefs remarks, Gov. Abbott, probably at that point unaware of what was unfolding, gave Willett a shout-out.

When he finished speaking and began signing his book, Broken But Unbowed, reporters gathered around Willett, who, sweetly flustered, couldn’t even muster 140 characters in spoken response before beating ahasty retreat, promising only to “circle back” later, which he did, that evening, with a brief statement, and better yet, an appropriately clever tweet.

Yesterday, 16 months later, President Trump nominated two Texans –  Willett and Jim Ho, a Dallas attorney and former Texas solicitor general – for seats on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

That thing about Twitter Laureate of Texas is indeed official.

And so, in his mastery of Twitter, he does, I suppose, have something in common with Trump.

But, as I wrote back then:

Willett is no shrinking violet as a jurist, (see Eric Benson, Don Willett’s Quite Revolution in the Texas Observer) but his tweets, which appear to be an extension of his personality, are remarkable because they seem more interested in defusing tensions than provoking them

Trump has about 20 times as many Twitter followers, but only half again as many tweets at Willett.

Willett likes a lot. Trump likes little.

Willett follows nearly 1000 others (including Mr. Never Trump, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse), and a suspicious number of Texas journalists. Trump follows almost no one without Trump in their name or title, plus wrestling mogul Vince McMahon, and the hosts of Morning Joe.

Trump often uses Twitter as a bludgeon, but Willett is more inclined to the Twitter cuddle than the cudgel.

Well, things have changed a bit since then. Trump’s advantage in numbers of Twitter followers is vastly larger than it once was – being the most powerful man in the world will do that – and Trump has now tweeted more often than Willett.

But the difference in tone remains undiminished.

In fact, about as acerbic as Willett ever gets were his tweets about Trump, back before he was on his short list, and even they are sweet, or at least semi-sweet.

 

 

 

Ultimately, with malice toward none, with charity for all, nicely describes Willett’s body of tweets.

There is no bully in his Twitter pulpit.

He has managed to maintain a voice that is consistently kind, sometimes clever, often corny, but always inclusive. You never feel he is tweeting at you. He is tweeting with you or for you, and I doubt anyone, even those who may not embrace, who may even abhor, his judicial philosophy, find themselves put off by his tweets,

In this, I think, he has little company and few peers.

In June, in a First Reading, Twitter makes imbeciles of us all: On Anthony Weiner, Donald Trump and the backlash against Dan Patrick’s Bible verse, I wrote:

Twitter – from the root “twit,”  a silly or foolish person – doesn’t care if its 140 characters reveal that you possess the wit of Oscar Wilde, or lay bare the sum total of your knowledge.

The only metric that matters to Twitter is impressions, engagements, retweets. Like everything else in social media, virtue is popularity, popularity is virtue, it is the only metric that matters and it destroys everything else in its path.

But here is a sampling of recent Willett tweets.

 

And then, yesterday …

Two days earlier, Cruz offered his congratulations to another state supreme court justice, albeit a state supreme court justice twice removed – Alabama’s Roy Moore – on the occasion of his winning the Republican  primary for the U.S. Senate.

From the AP:

Moore has twice been elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and twice removed from those duties by a judicial discipline panel. In 2003, the panel ousted him when he disobeyed a federal judge’s order to remove a 5,200 pound (2358.7 kilogram) granite Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state judicial building. Moore was re-elected in 2012, but the panel permanently suspended him in 2016 after he urged state probate judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage. Moore disputed that accusation.

https://twitter.com/tedcruz/status/912852280126447616

https://twitter.com/MooreSenate/status/912853957613117440

https://twitter.com/MooreSenate/status/912860158417612801

https://twitter.com/MooreSenate/status/912861269354573825

Moore is temperamentally quite different from Willett.

From Michael Scherer at the Washington Post:

The central argument of Moore’s campaign is that removing the sovereignty of a Christian God from the functions of government is an act of apostasy, an affront to the biblical savior as well as the Constitution. Among the prices he says this country has paid for denying God’s supremacy: the high murder rate in Chicago, crime on the streets of Washington, child abuse, rape and sodomy. It is a crisis he hopes to address next year from the floor of the Senate.

https://twitter.com/MooreSenate/status/911029859769622528

“We have forgotten the source of our rights,” Moore preached during that church appearance, quoting from memory passages from several books of the Bible, along with the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1892. “We put ourselves above God. And in so doing, we forgot the basic source of our morality.”

Moore has always been controversial, and proudly so. As a judge, he denied custody of three teenagers to their mother, who was in a lesbian relationship, writing that her private behavior was “an inherent evil against which children must be protected.”

In his current campaign, he has called for the impeachment of judges, including possibly Supreme Court justices, who issue rulings for same-sex marriage and sodomy.

https://twitter.com/MooreSenate/status/911000203045556224

He also acts nothing like a professional political candidate. During the final days of a brutal campaign, which has featured withering daily television and direct-mail assaults on his character, he invited a reporter to spend hours alone with him traveling through the state. Unstaffed by campaign aides and tethered to the outside world only by a flip-phone, Moore offered a seat in his family’s pew for Sunday church services, welcomed a tag-along when he visited with his 90-year-old mother, gave a tour of his home and property in rural Gallant, Ala., and then offered to speak on the record for a two-hour drive, with a quick stop for lunch with his wife, Kayla, at a roadside Cracker Barrel, where they both ordered the Sunday Homestyle Chicken.

https://twitter.com/MooreSenate/status/911015237641494528

The last 50 years, Moore argued, have witnessed the tragic removal of God from public life, from schools, from government, something that was never intended under the Constitution’s establishment clause. “There is no such thing as evolution,” he said at one point as he waited for his lunch. Species might adapt to their environment, he continued, but that has nothing to do with the origins of life described in the Bible. “That we came from a snake?” he asked rhetorically. “No, I don’t believe that.”

Moore’s on-the-record candor arises from an earnest desire to make sure that his unconventional ideas about the Constitution and God, which he has recorded in three separate books, are accurately portrayed for a national audience. “One thing I do not want you to do, because it’s not right, is to say that I believe in biblical punishments,” he said during the drive, which included periodic rain storms that blotted out the rolling forest and farmland. “I’ve been accused of saying I want to kill homosexuals because the Bible says. And I don’t.”

But Moore is not denying that, if he is elected, he will come to Washington gunning for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

https://twitter.com/MooreSenate/status/910947438374084608

From the Washington Post:

Nowhere, he notes, does the document permit the Senate to require 60 senators to bring a vote — a convention that has on occasion tied the hands of the party in the majority. He says he plans to help end the practice if he wins election, although he won’t say how. “I got a plan,” he said with a smile. “I’m not going to tell you.”

That attitude could foreshadow a new level of disruption in the U.S. Senate, where individual members still have significant powers to upend proceedings and slow down legislation. Many of his supporters are counting on it.

“Watch if he doesn’t do exactly what he says he will do,” says Dean Young, a longtime Moore friend and adviser, who helped coax him into the Senate race. “They can kick him off every committee. They can blackball him. It won’t matter if it’s one man against 99 in the Senate. We all know Judge Moore will be that one man.”

Not that I’m questioning the purity of Sen. Cruz’s motives in embracing Roy Moore, but I think it’s fair to say that the day Moore joins the Senate, Cruz will no longer be the member most loathed by his colleagues.

Don Willett’s pinned tweet.

 

Beto Effin’ O’Rourke: On running for Senate with the expletive undeleted

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke campaigns at UT on Friday September 22, 2017, for a seat in the U.S. Senate. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Good Monday Austin:

That’s Hiram Garcia, a UT student who is interning for Beto O’Rourk’e Senate campaign, after an appearance Friday by O’Rourke in the auditorium at the UT Student Activity Center sponsored by the Tejas Club.

Like O’Rourke, Garcia is from El Paso.

El Paso is central to O’Rourke’ identity and his campaign.

And so, soon after he took the stage Friday, he exulted about his hometown.

O’Rourke:

So I am raising my kiddos in the same place where I was raised, a place that really I took for granted growing up.

I didn’t recognize or understand, because I had no point of comparison just how f*****g amazing El Paso, Texas, is, in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, at an average elevation of about 3,700 hundred feet, at a place where three states – New Mexico, Texas and Chihuahua – all come together, at a point where two nations, two languages, two cultures, two histories come together and form one people in this incredibly  beautiful, important place that should be more of an example for the rest of the country.

You may or may not know this, El Paso is one of the, if not the safest cities in the United State of America today, and I tell my surprised colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, in the Congress, that that is not spite of the fact, but in large part because of the fact – and the people in El Paso know this – we are and always have been a community of immigrants.

I asked Garcia about O’Rourke’s language, and he explained that it was evidence of his unscripted authenticity.

It may also have something to do with O’Rourke’s background in Foss, a successful punk band – an experience that, like his upbringing in El Paso, informs his political attitude and the DIY way he is running his campaign.

(Note: Beto’s middle initial is F, but that is not for Effin’ but for Francis, the same as his father and his father’s father.)

From Dan Solomon writing recenlty at Splinter: If This Punk-Rock Democrat Can Win in Texas, Maybe We’re Not Totally Screwed

O’Rourke spent his formative years in the city’s punk rock scene, playing in and watching bands whose members included people like Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who would later be the lead singer of the breakthrough hardcore band At The Drive In and the mid-2000’s arena rock smash The Mars Volta.

O’Rourke and Bixler-Zavala played music together in a band called Foss—O’Rourke on guitar and vocals, Bixler-Zavala on drums—and toured the U.S. and Canada in the summers, while O’Rourke pursued his undergraduate degree at Columbia.

Bixler-Zavala credits O’Rourke with turning him on to punk rock touring. O’Rourke, he says, gave him his first copy of Book Your Own Fucking Life, the DIY touring bible. “He introduced me to that whole subculture—he taught me all the ropes of that,” Bixler-Zavala says. “Yet at the same time, he didn’t even know what he was doing. He was winging it.”

The punk rock thing is a big part of O’Rourke’s story. On the way to Burnet, after we start talking music, a staffer tries to impress him by talking about the drum kit he still has at his mom’s house. O’Rourke played in bands in college, and again when he returned to El Paso in 1998. As he began to enter public life, though, it was harder to remain an underground punk rock dude. When he was just a guy who ran a web design company and a local arts and culture website, that was fine.

When he started to pursue politics—first with the El Paso City Council, to which he was elected in 2005, and then in his congressional run—aspects of his past became a liability. He’d been arrested for burglary after tripping an alarm while jumping a fence at the University of Texas-El Paso in 1995, and again for a DWI three years later. (He wasn’t convicted on either charge.)

But he’s proud of his punk days. In the truck, he brightens immediately when I ask him about Bixler-Zavala. He tells me about being at a birthday party for Bixler-Zavala’s kid with his family. He thumbs through his phone for a minute, looking for a photo of himself with a few At The Drive In guys and their kids. (He can’t find it, but offers to send it to me—“Maybe that’ll be interesting?”) It’s clear, talking to O’Rourke, that until pretty recently—probably until he started raising millions in his bid to unseat Ted Cruz—the fact that he was friends with rock stars before they were famous has been one of the cooler things in his life.

O’Rourke talks about his music career on the stump sometimes. At an event in San Antonio in April, he went on a five-minute riff about how “punk rock, at its best, was just stripping down all the corporate rock I was hearing on the radio in the 1980s and getting down to its most basic roots.” That includes, in addition to not hiring pollsters or consultants, taking a Bernie-like approach to fundraising, rejecting all SuperPAC funds, and focusing exclusively on contributions from individual donors. Between April and July, he raised $2.1 million, $500,000 more than Cruz raised in the same time span.

This all fits neatly into the figure O’Rourke presents.

“We’re connecting with people in a very direct way, booking our own tour,” he says of the trip he’s on right now. “I listened to 70’s FM radio with my dad, and when I came of age, there was something wrong with rock and roll, and I didn’t realize it until someone took me to my first punk rock show. It was, ‘Holy shit!’” He was 15 years old, and he pauses to drop Bixler-Zavala’s name again, talks about watching the future rock star at 13 years old play Misfits covers.

 “I got into punk rock because the corporate stuff didn’t get me going,” he says. “When you look at the DNC or the RNC or national politics, it’s corporate rock and roll. The songs sound familiar, but it’s really glossed and produced, and has very little soul to it. Maybe no soul at all.” It’s felt so good, he says, “to do this in as raw a way as possible.”

After his UT appearance Friday, O’Rourke was interviewed by Daily Texan Editor-in-Chief Laura Hallas, and a little bit past the nine-minute mark, Hallas asks about his history as a punk musician and how it informs and guides his Senate candidacy, and how his role in Foss was less about his musicianship, which he said was minimal, and more about his role in figuring out the logistics of becoming a band, touring and selling themselves in very much the same way he is now going about running for Senate.

On Saturday, I did a 20-minute interview with O’Rourke during the Texas Tribune Festival as a kind of warm-up for his main event interview with the master, Tribune co-founder and CEO Evan Smith.

The interview makes up the last 20 minutes of this livestream from O’Rourke’s Facebook page. I obviously don’t know what I’m doing and am barely audible. But you can mostly hear O’Rourke, and below are a few key passages.

I read back to O’Rourke something he had told the Daily Texans’ Hallas the day before:

If it ever gets too slick, too produced, too corporate rock and roll, then we’ve lost the magic of what we’re doing.

I asked him to explain corporate rock and roll, in the political context.

When I was growing up, interested in music, transitioning from my parents’ Beatles albums to what was on the radio in the early 1980s, there was this disconnect that I couldn’t really explain or understand until somebody took me to my first punk rock show and I saw rock and roll stripped down to its bare bones and essence and people just telling their stories and sharing their songs with other people in the most honest, direct way, and that just changed my life forever, writing my own songs, touring with my own punk band, turning out our own records.

And I feel like politics has gotten like that today, very corporate, it’s literally driven by corporations and special interests funding the major candidates and major parties and there’s a reason why people feel so disconnected and frustrated and anxious with politics and the state of our democracy. It’s no longer honest. There’s no longer a direct connection They no longer feel that those in positions of public trust are accountable and responsive.

So we’ve thrown out the corporate playbook in politics. We’re just trying to make this as open and direct as we possibly can. So, no pollsters, no focus groups, no political action committees, no special interests, no corporations, our fate is 100 percent with the people of Texas, and we will trust the people of Texas to make this decision, but we are going to make sure we get in front of every single person in Texas that we can to ensure they make an informed decision.

That feels like real rock and roll, going from town to town, sharing our story, listening to those in the communities we visit, learning from that. It’s kept us energized, inspired, fueled to make the drive to the next place, and we will continue to do that for the next 14 months.

I noted that as is the case for O’Rourke, the personal is political for rival Ted Cruz as well.

I read to O’Rourke from this account of an interview Cruz did with CBS This Morning  right after he announced for president in March 2015.

 … he “grew up listening to classic rock” but that that soon changed.

“My music taste changed on 9/11,” Cruz said..

“I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded,” he said. “And country music, collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me.”

Cruz’s comments came during a lightning round of interviews the morning after he announced his candidacy for president in 2016 in a John Lennon-inspired, “Imagine”-themed speech.

Cruz did not mention any specific country music that resonated with him or which rock artists did not respond well to the terror attacks.

“I had an emotional reaction that said, ‘These are my people,’” Cruz said. “So ever since 2001, I listen to country music.”

I asked O’Rourke for his reaction.

O’Rourke:

I respect people’s personal music decisions. As they say, there’s no accounting for taste. There are things that turn us on, that move us, that allow us to connect with something bigger than just ourselves. Music is a great way to do that.

You know I was born and raised on the Beatles, really kind of found my own voice listening to punk rock, love, love Bob Dylan and had a couple of chances to see him when he came to El Paso. Bob Dylan is the essence of punk rock in a lot of ways.

O’Rourke:

I just love Willie Nelson. I love that Willie Nelson after his shows stays around to meet and greet and shake the hands of everyone that comes out.

O’Rourke:

I love Waylon Jennings, love Johnny Cash, love the music that has come out of this country because it tells the story of this country. There’s no one form of popular music that does it any better than any other form.

I love punk rock and talk about it a lot because that helped shape me.

O’Rourke talked about being in Rockport after Harvey and hearing stories about how there was this tailer  serving BBQ to first responders and it was only later they learned it had been the Josh Abbott band.

O’Rourke:

I’m open to all music and happy for Ted Cruz.

But was he offended by rock music’s reaction to 9/11?

O’Rourke:

I was not offended by rock music’s reaction to 9/11. Thanks for asking.

I asked O’Rourke about his use of profanity on the stump and told him what Hiram Garcia had told me.

I noted that Hillary Clinton now wonders in retrospect whether, when Trump loomed menacingly behind her at one of the presidential debates, she should have turned, looked him in the eye and said, ‘Back up, you creep, get away from me.”

Maybe, I suggested, if Hillary Clinton had turned to Trump and said, “Back up you effin’ creep,” she might be president today.

I asked whether his own use of profanity was a bit of calculated authenticity.

O’Rourke:

No, it’s a terrible lack of discipline on my part. And, Amy (O’Rourke’s wife) has tried to help me, and friends have tried to help me, gently suggesting that I not swear so much.

I grew up raised by a world-class swearer in my dad, Pat O’Rourke, who made up so many incredible amalgamations of four-letter words that he could string together, and those are part of my consciousness and maybe my DNA, so when I am passionate, if I’m angry, if I’m frustrated, if I’m excited about talking about El Paso, introducing the concept of one of the most amazing places anywhere in the world that most people don’t know enough about, sometimes that will slip out.

And at home, my nine-year-old daughter, Molly, started a program whereby every time I swore I had to put a dollar into a jar and she’s going to be filthy rich by the time this campaign is over because, as hard as I try, , if I’m honest, and I at least want to be hotness  and if I’m direct, and I always try to do that, then I’m just going to tell you what’s on my mind and you’ve seen me enough times to know I don’t have a standard stump speech, there is not a three-point plan that I roll out at every event. I feel like I owe you all at least my candor, my honesty, letting you know exactly what’s on my mind. I remember sitting in the same seats that you’re sitting in, listening to someone like me before, feeling like I was being sold. I just never want you to have that feeling and sometimes a consequence of that is the language gets a little bit colorful.

I asked if he wanted to finish with a Pat O’Rourke riff.

O’Rourke:

Amy’s shaking her head no. I want you to all use your imagination.

From Tessa Stuart at Rolling Stone earlier this month: Beto O’Rourke: Ted Cruz’s Punk-Rock Problem
How a progressive congressman – and former bassist – from El Paso is threatening to unseat the Senate’s most hated Republican

As we drive away, O’Rourke says the party reminded him of the kind he attended as a kid with his dad, Pat Francis, a beloved Democratic politician in his own right. “We’d be in someone’s backyard watching the Reagan-Mondale debates and everyone is drinking beer,” he says. “I just remember there being this energy and excitement around politics.” Pat, who died in a bicycle accident in 2001, served eight years as an elected official in El Paso, and was Texas co-chair for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. Today, O’Rourke says of his father, “He just couldn’t give a shit who he pissed off. If he knew it was the right thing to do, he was gonna do it.”

During his interview a little while later with Evan Smith, Evan asked him to talk about his father and he choked up.

Smith also asked O’Rourke about his “youthful indiscretions.”

“You know that somewhere, right now, the Cruz campaign is recruiting actors  on Craig’s List who are tall and have floppy hair to play you in the re-enactment of the breaking and entering,” Smit said.

At around the 42-minute mark, O’Rourke recounts what happened in some detail.

“I absolutely have made mistakes, and some of them are very grave. I think people are owed that story and should make a decision based on the complete story.”

And then, in what was today’s Quote to Note in the Texas Tribune’s The Brief:

I really f***ed up, and I really made a huge mistake, but look at what I’ve been able to do in my life since then.

After his interview with Evan Smith, O’Rourke did On the Media, the NPR newsmagazine hosted by  Brooke Gladstone, along with Rep. Will Hurd, the Helotes Republican with whom O’Rourke, last March, went on a much celebrated and mostly live-streamed bipartisan San Antonio-to-D.C. road trip.

Finally here, are Beto and Amy back on the road post TribFest, listening to KRock 101.7.

It starts off with the tail end of Rush doing Freewill.

You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill

And then it’s Elton John and Rocket Man, which, if things blow up between President Trump and his Rocket Man in North Korea, may end up a rueful requiem for a ruined planet.

 

Austin-bound, Al Franken talks Trump, Schumer, LBJ, Perry, Cornyn and, of course, Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz, sketched by Al Franken

 

Good day Austin:

On Tuesday evening I interviewed Minnesota Sen. Al Franken in advance of his coming to Austin to deliver the keynoter at the Texas Tribune Festival Friday night.

Franken will be talking about his book, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate, which devotes a long chapter to his loathing of Ted Cruz, which I have written about before.

I wrote in today’s Statesman about how:

Franken and Cruz will bookend the Texas Tribune Festival this weekend. Franken will be interviewed by Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith on Friday night. On Sunday, Smith will moderate a discussion with Cruz and his Texas Republican Senate colleague, John Cornyn.

Smith said that he didn’t know Cruz would figure so importantly in Franken’s book when he arranged for Franken’s prime spot at the conference, but said, “It’s the cherry on the sundae.”

While I recounted some of my interview with Franken in today’s story, here is a fuller account of the interview.

I asked, amid all his attention to Cruz, what about our senior senator, John Cornyn.

There is one Cornyn anecdote in the book.

It begins with Franken, a member, like Cornyn, of the Judiciary Committee, asking Sonia Sotomayor, at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing about Perry Mason, and her assertion that, in fact, Perry had actually lost one case to the hapless prosecutor Hamilton Burger.

At that point, the hearing broke so the senators could go into another room to receive a members-only briefing on Sotomayor’s FBI background check.

AF: (Oklahoma Sen. Tom) Coburn comes in and says, “Actually Perry Mason lost two cases,” and then (Alabama Sen. Jeff) Sessions says, “I like Dragnet,” and then Cornyn says, “I liked Highway Patrol.”

As he recounts in his book:

So, looking for a chance to bond, I said, “I worked with Broderick Crawford.” Crawford had been the star of Highway Patrol, but was also an iconic tough-guy movie star who won an Oscar for Best Actor in All the King’s Men.

AF: And they look at me and I go, “Yeah, he hosted the show (Saturday Night Live)  in the first year and actually I was kind of assigned to watch him because he was kind of a drinker and it was St. Patrick’s day and it was a Thursday and I was assigned to kind of trail him. So I had written a promo for him and Gilda (Radner_ where he had five lines and Gild had one, and he was so drunk that I started taking a line from him and giving it to Gilda, so it was four and then two, and then it was three and three and finally, when we got it done, he had one line.”

I said it sounded just like one of my favorite movies, My Favorite Year.

From TCM:

My Favorite Year was inspired by Mel Brooks’ real-life experience with Errol Flynn when he appeared on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. Mel Brooks (the producer of My Favorite Year) was a junior writer at the time and was assigned the role of chaperon for the former swashbuckler, who was hitting the bottle hard.

AF: It was very very much My Favorite Year.

Franken’s Republican colleagues were impressed.

From the book:

So this was my first big breakthrough with my Republican colleagues.

My point is, the Senate is filled not just with lawyers, but with old white men.

I noted that if Cruz is as hard to deal with as he contends, just imagine being his Texas colleague, John Cornyn.

AF: I think that’s very true.

John and I get along really well. Sometimes we’re at odds because he’s in their leadership, but mainly we get along. He certainly has been my lead cosponsors on things, or more, I’ve been his lead co-sponsor on a couple of things, like the Justice and Mental Collaboration Act, which basically was about continuing to fund mental health courts and crisis intervention training to police and corrections officers. 

I said that Cruz of late has exhibited a more humble, compassionate persona

From Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News: Hometown flooding brings out gentler side of Ted Cruz

DICKINSON — Ted Cruz leaned into a refrigerator and, with an aide and three other volunteers, wrestled it the curb. They dumped a waterlogged buffet, too, and a dining room table.

It was a bit symbolic. But the gesture was meaningful to Timothy Moss, 61, as he cleared debris from his dad’s house. From a driveway strewn with broken glass and warped vinyl records, Moss picked up a photo of his grandparents and showed it to the senator.

“Texas took a hard, hard hit,” Cruz said, but “we’re going to come back even stronger than we were before.”

The floodwaters that swept away lives and homes also exposed some unexpected layers of the state’s most polarizing political figure.

Known in Washington for his ambition, for rankling his own party’s leaders and alienating lots of others, for crusading against Obamacare and big government and bringing the federal machinery to a screeching halt, Cruz is now channeling his considerable energy into storm recovery — tending to raw emotions and pushing for federal largesse on an unprecedented scale.

If you thought he was cold and aloof, you haven’t spent a day watching him comfort Texans coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. If you thought he hates government, you haven’t heard him promising homeowners that help is on the way and will be for years to come.

The fact that he’s up for re-election next year is coincidental. But the vigor Cruz has trained on this crisis probably won’t hurt when voters decide whether to grant him a second term.

“The people who are hurting are the people I am fighting for every day,” he said in nearby League City after unloading bananas and toilet paper in a cavernous warehouse, an old Kroger repurposed to provide supplies to the area’s many storm victims. “The grassroots activists who elected me are the people working in these relief centers, are the people I fight for every day — the working men and women of Texas.”

 There are lots of ways to be a senator. There are grandstanders and workhorses, dealmakers and wonks and firebrands. Those in their first term usually keep a low profile as they learn the ropes, build relationships and tend to the tangible needs of constituents.

Cruz was always a man in a hurry, with a penchant for big fights.

Eight months on the job, he staged a 21-hour overnight talkathon and engineered a government shutdown in a bid to derail Obamacare. It wasn’t long before he was angling for a shot at the White House. That pursuit consumed another 15 months, and Iowans saw a lot more of him than Texans for much of that time

.He’s often packed his August recess with travel across Texas. But in four years and eight months as a senator, he had not devoted such direct, prolonged attention back home, until now.

AF: Yeah I think he’s trying. Maybe the chapter helped him.

What has his relationship with Cruz been like since the book was released?

AF: I mean he kind of I think was irked and said something about, “I’m raising money off this, you keep doing it,” and I said, “You’re welcome.”

AF: But then we’ve talked since.

I don’t think I said anything that was all that  unknown..

He’s the exception that proves the rule, the rule being that in order to get something done, you’ve got to work with other people , and have other people like you.

I noted how much of an appetite out there in America there seems to be for insulting Cruz.

AF: Yeah, I think he’s captured people’s imagination.

I wondered, though, whether, in retrospect, he thought America might be better off if it had elected Cruz and not Trump president.

AF: It’s not worth thinking about that kind of thing.

What’s his take on President Trump?

AF: I can’t figure him out. I know that everybody spends a lot of time trying to figure him out, and anytime I start thinking, oh, he’s changed a little bit, or something good is happening here, and then something happens and I go, “Acch, I’m an idiot, why was I thinking that?” and  I’ve don’t hat maybe 20 times, so I am just sort of beyond trying to figure him out.

I know, basically, what most people know, which is that he is very narcissistic and craves attention and is a bully and doesn’t have the interest or discipline to understand policy. Those are things I know about him.

I have not had any one-on-one experience since he’s become president. That hasn’t happened yet

Had Trump been on his radar as a political figure before he ran for president?

AF: No. He was a surprise I had not followed him at all. He had always sort of threatened to run for office or something, and I dind’t take him seriously.

There was a moment fairly early on, not that late in 2015, and I heard him answer something and I said to Franni (Franken’s wife), I said, “I think he could win the nomination.” I just said it. He answered a question in a very smart way and in a way that was very different from the way most politicians do, and I just realized, huh, OK, I can see people responding to that type of thing. and then I tucked that away I didn’t really think that for a while, and I was shocked (by his election.)

I thought the election was going to be close toward the end there and I started to get very concerned. I was on Morning Joe like the day of the election, and (former Michigan Gov.) Jennifer Granholm was on before me and she was kind of celebrating, and I came on and I was like, “No, don’t be like this. Everybody vote.  I’m the poster child for close elections. Get out there.”

I recalled this. It was Election Day 2016, I was watching that morning and I recalled Granholm’s giddy performance and Franken’s grim demeanor.

“I don’t know what Granholm was on,” Franken said that morning.

AF: So I was concerned at that point, and things just broke in so many ways, and we’re finding out some of the things that happened. We know that Comey happened obviously, but we’re also learning what the Russians did, putting ads on Facebook, using whatever analytics they had to do it in a smart way, and having a thousand trolls and all these bots to affect the algorithms and all that stuff, some very sophisticated things that we just didn’t anticipate.

Had he read any of Hillary Clinton’s book or watched any of her recent interviews?

AF: I saw the  Rachel Maddow interview and I was pretty impressed actually.

I had sort of approached the whole thing, I don’t know if this is a good idea right now, and I was very impressed by her interview and I think maybe she’ll be a good influence.

In his book, Franken refers to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer as “the Jewish LBJ.”

From the book:

I love Chuck Schumer. He’s one of the smartest, most strategic, most passionate Democrats in Washington, which is why he’s the leader of our caucus in the Senate – I call him the Jewish LBJ. But he’s also kind of a character. Running around with his archaic flip phone, barging into conversations, talking too loud, screwing up jokes – no matter what kind of relatives you have, Chuck will remind you of one of them. In fact, my daughter, Thomasin, likes to say that the mere fact that he exists, let alone serves in the United States Senate, is hilarious.

But why the Jewish LBJ?

AF: He is someone who lives and breathes this stuff. I think he’s maybe less complicated than LBJ, and I’m  not sure what I mean by complicated. LBJ seemed to have some demons or something, from what I have read.

But Chuck loves doing this. He loves what he’s doing and he’s good at it. He’s constantly checking in with everybody and he lives and  breathes the stuff and he’s just very good at it. I think he’s a really good leader. I think he’s the right guy for leader. There are some people who questioned when he was chosen as leader, when Harry (Reid) announced he was going to retire, and pretty much everybody – I love Dick Durbin, but Chuck is sort of made for this kind of role.

Especially with Trump as president?

(President Donald Trump speaks with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sept. 6, 2017. Trump struck a deal with Democratic leaders on Wednesday to increase the debt limit and finance the government until mid-December. Al Drago/The New York Times)

AF: Yeah, that’s probably true. They’ve known each other for a long time and they probably have a pretty good relationship. He seems to be able  to somehow get along with Trump in a good way, so I think it’s good for Democrats, I think it’s good for the country.

Franken said he is a frequent visitor to Texas and to Austin.

He recalls bringing his daughter to Austin to see the Indigo Girls when she was young after they missed seeing them in New York a few times.

AF: I‘ve been in Austin quite a few times and I really like the city.

Every time I’ve been in Austin, I’ve had a good time.

Franken said he’s been to Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio, including the Alamo.

“It’s small,” he said.

AF: I know the state a little bit and I know that it used to be Mexican. Then we attacked Mexico and we got Texas, but it always strikes me as funny because, of course, the Mexicans were there first.

Has he met U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat running to unseat Cruz?

AF: I’ve not yet met him. I look forward to meeting him.

He will be doing a fundraiser for the Texas Democratic Party while he is in Austin.

I asked how he is getting along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whose confirmation he opposed as a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

AF: We did talk about having dinner and I’d still like to do that. We did have a little bit of a disagreement on climate the next time he testified and our office called up and said, “Lets get that dinner,” and somehow it didn’t happen, and I think it was more his choice.

I actually enjoyed him more than I thought I would. He actually had done the work of reading up about me in terms of some of the things that I cared about, and that impressed me and he seemed like a charming guy. I understand why he was governor for so long and why people thought he might be a great presidential candidate. I think he ran into a confluence of things, with his back and the medicine he was taking for his back and that kind of did him in because I think he’s better than his performance was during those debates.

I liked him, and then he said that weird thing in the hearing.

What did Hurricanes Harvey and Irma signify in terms of climate change?

AF: I don’t think you can tie any one weather event to climate change, but I think you can easily argue that the water in the Gulf is warmer than it otherwise would be and that puts more water into the atmosphere and is partly to blame for how much rain there was. And I think in Florida, when you have sea levels higher, you have storm surges that are more damaging and there’s no question that sea level is high because of warming because things expand when they get warm and also ice caps have been melting. No question to me, and I don’t think there should be any question to anybody that the climate is changing and mankind is largely responsible for it.

I asked for his take on the Chuck Schumer of Texas – LBJ.

AF: Oh God, the Great Society and Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Act, housing, Medicaid, Medicare. Jesus, unbelievable accomplishments and all undercut by the terrible tragedy of Vietnam, which he, after all, he was trying extricate us when he withdrew (from the 1968 presidential race) and I think was undermined by Nixon in the ’68 campaign, who worked with (South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van) Thieu to not join the peace talks, and that’s all tragic.

LBJ is a fascinating figure. I think (Robert) Caro sort of really – that was a good idea – “I think I’ll write about LBJ.”

I noted that in Austin, Franken was coming to the home turf of Alex Jones. I asked him, as the author of Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot: And Other Observations, and Lies and the Lying Liar Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, if he had paid much attention to Jones and InfoWars.

AF: Not really, no. Every once in a while he’ll pop up.

I’m being told I have to wrap up so if you have some other questions you want to ask that are more important than that.

I explained that, no, I’m pretty much obsessed with Alex Jones, so I don’t really have any more important questions.

AF: Everything I’ve  heard about him is not good.

I mentioned that Roger Stone was now part of the InfoWars team.

AF: Oh my God. Oy. Oy.

But Franken may be unaware of what he and Stone have in common.

I did get in one more obligatory question.

Has the election of a reality TV star as president opened the door to an Al Franken presidential candidacy?

 

 

 

AF:  Oh, no. No. No.

 

 

L’affaire Fetonte: How an Austin union organizer’s work with CLEAT created a schism in America’s burgeoning socialist movement

 

Protesters of SB-4 known as the sanctuary cities bill, block the main entrances to the State Insurance Building, May 1, 2017 in Austin, TX. Pictured are, from left, Danny Fetonte, Sophia Donnelly, Ceci Mireles, and Marsha Perkes. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN.

Good morning Austin:

I did not realize when I moved from D.C. to Austin in December 2012 that I was moving closer to the center of American politics.

But I was.

Just ask Lawrence Wright, who in July wrote an epic New Yorker piece, America’s Future Is Texas: With right-wing zealots taking over the legislature even as the state’s demographics shift leftward, Texas has become the nation’s bellwether.

Or Roger Stone, who has increasingly turned his attention to Austin as the locus of the new pro-Trump media as manifested by Alex Jones and InfoWars.

Or Danny Fetonte, an Austin union and political organizer who more than any single individual was responsible for the vitality of Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Texas in 2016, and who, in ways I would have found hard to imagine, has become the source and subject of a national schism in a democratic socialist movement that has exploded with members and energy in the aftermath of Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination for president as an avowed socialist.

In early August, at a high-spirited national convention of the Democratic Socialists of America in Chicago, Fetonte was elected to the DSA’s National Policy Committee. Barely a month later, on Sept. 8, Fetonte quit not just the NPC but the DSA altogether, after a vitriolic campaign to remove him from the NPC because of his role as a union organizer  and negotiator working with CLEAT – the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, a police union – and his failure to make that association clear in his campaign materials.

I have met Danny Fetonte and his wife, Barbara, a few times since I’ve been here, mostly connected to their role in igniting the Sanders campaign in Austin even before he was a candidate.

Left to right, Chau Ngo, Daniel Fetonte, Barbara Fetonte, Liliana Mendoza-Pierce, at Sholz Garten

In August 2016, I talked with them as part of a First Reading on the disposition of Sanders supporters after the nominating conventions.

There is an argument among some Sanders supporters that they only need to vote for Clinton in swing states. Elsewhere, they have the luxury of voting for someone else, like Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

“That’s a mistake,” said Daniel Fetonte, a retired labor organizer for the steel workers, the communications workers and CLEAT, the police officers’ union in Texas, who with his wife, Barbara, are the godfather and godmother of the Sanders campaign in Austin.

He said Sanders supporters need to back the ticket, “because of the program we fought for at the Democratic Convention. If  we walk away we won’t be fighting for that program. Also, it’s going to be a wave election so while we might not win the state we’ll pull in a whole lot of state representatives and state senators and that will help protect the state employees union, the teachers’ union.”

“To vote for a purer candidate who might be better on some issues is a serious mistake,” Fetonte said. “We have tremendous standing in the Democratic Party and we should work with the coordinated campaign. That means voting for an imperfect candidate for president.”

He thinks most Sanders supporters will vote for Clinton.

“If you want to vote for perfection, go live on a commune.”

Which I suppose would make you a commune-ist, not a socialist.

You will note that Fetonte’s CLEAT association was hardly a secret. He brought it up and I used it as one of the ways of identifying him. I thought it was noteworthy for a couple of reasons.

First, I figured he must be pretty good at what he does or a police union wouldn’t get involved with someone with such an obvious reputation for left-wing politics. Second, I figured it meant that he viewed his mission as moving toward a worker solidarity that included law enforcement officers and, in that, he too was willing to go outside his political comfort zone.

Even though I know him and a couple of the other people involved, what follows is not based on interviews with anyone. Rather it is a recapitulation of just some of the enormous output of on-line statements and commentary that have poured forth in that month’s time.

It is long, and most readers may want to skim through it if they have any interest at all.

But I thought it was worth laying out here at some length because Austin is smack dab in the middle of it, because it offers a remarkable microcosm of the powerful tug toward sectarianism in a growing movement, and because it displays just how social media can accelerate and intensify the ugliest tendencies of that kind of struggle.

There also may be an important national story here with some bearing on the future course of Democratic Party and left politics.

The lesson of l’affaire Fetonte is that Bernie Sanders unleashed a revived socialist movement that will not long tolerate his mainstream political tendencies.

In a variation on the Groucho Marx line that he would not join any club that would him as a member, Sanders has rebooted a socialist movement that will almost inevitably end up giving him the boot as insufficiently serious/radical in his socialism. Indeed, if he survives in good standing with DSA, it will be because he was literally grandfathered in as a beloved figure who out of sentiment and gratitude should be spared the guillotine.

In other words, if Sanders’ candidacy served to mainstream socialist ideas in unexpected ways, the harder-edged radicalism of DSA will, for better or worse, move socialism outside that mainstream in ways that will make it more difficult for future candidates like Sanders to square the circle.

As outwrangle, a commenter on a Reddit message thread on Fetonte, commented when he resigned:

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. This was the exact kind of internal conflict I was waiting for, because it would be when the DSA shows its true character. Is it is a socialist organization, or a socialist club. Is it a revolutionary party, or the left-wing of the Democratic party? Are they democratic socialists, or just social democrats? I’ve been watching this unfold closely, and when the NPC decided to retain him I was disappointed but not surprised. And yet, the membership defied my expectations and were able to chase him out anyway!

I’ve decided to officially join. The question isn’t resolved and there is still work to be done, but this result has left me optimistic and hopeful about the future of the DSA. Like Fetonte said, this is no longer the organization of Michael Harrington or Bernie Sanders. And that makes me so happy and excited.

Bernie Sanders supporters, at left, Danny Fetonte, Jacob Limon, and at far right, Barbara Fetonte listen to Jim Boynton, center, and Glen Maxey, both Primary Directors at the Texas Democratic Party Headquarters on Friday, December 4, 2015, after turning in collected petition signatures asking for the inclusion of Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on the Texas Democratic primary ballot. Over 12,000 signatures were gathered to get Sanders on the ballot.
DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Here is how Fetonte presented himself in Chicago.

Bio

Democratic Socialism is a goal we have to work at to win.  We have to stand for immigrant rights and against climate change.  We have to work both at the ballot box and with our feet in the streets.  We have to work in the movements of Muslims, Latinos, Blacks, Women, Queer Liberation, Disabled Activism, and Labor Unions.  I was active in High School SNCC and the anti-Vietnam War movement.  In our fight against attacks on immigrant rights in Texas, I was one of five DSA members arrested sitting in at the Governor’s Office.  I worked for 34 years as a union organizer.  I taught organizing at CWA’s week long leadership school for 13 years and have taught 8 DSA organizing schools in Texas.  I taught organizing schools for CWA in Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arizona, Utah, and in nine Texas cities.  The skills and insights I have learned can help build a large broad-based DSA. I was active in building the Bernie Campaign across Texas.  In Texas we put Bernie on the ballot by gathering over 12,000 petition signatures.  37 out of the 75 Bernie delegates to the Democratic National Convention from Texas were DSA members.  We have an active organizing program in Texas, where we sign up members face to face as well as on-line.  In March 2014 we had 17 DSA members in Austin; today we have 704 members in Austin and close to 1,400 members across Texas.

Why I’m Running

I am running to build a broad-based activist organization that works in the streets and at the ballot box to support folks who are standing up for their rights. I am running to bring a deeper understanding to the NPC about the labor movement. I have the most experience in the labor movement of any candidate. I am also running to bring an understanding of the challenges we face in the South having organized throughout the Southeast and Southwest for 37 years. I am running to help understand how working in electoral politics like Bernie Sanders can strengthen our organization.

My Previous Political Work

I have been active in DSA Labor and DSA Disabled organizing. I have actively supported our Chapter’s Queer Coalition and Feminist Action Committee. I have worked with 350.org and the Texas Drought Coalition on the environment. I have worked on Immigrant Rights and was active in standing up for Muslim rights in Texas. I have worked with other groups on Healthcare and our fight for $15/hour. I reached out to many of the groups in the Bernie campaign bringing them into a group we founded Texans for Bernie.

My Vision for DSA

My vision is to do activism education and organizing. I have a strong history in this. You can learn more about my vision by talking to the folks that have endorsed me and shared my vision. The following are the folks from around the country that have endorsed me and shared my vision:

But the #yalldarity didn’t last forever, or even a few days, and on Sept. 8, Fetonte left DSA in disgust.

As Fetonte wrote in resigning:

Over the last three years Austin DSA has outpaced DSA groups across the country. All groups gained members due to Bernie/Trump but Austin DSA outgrew all these groups because we were supportive of fights for social justice in Austin. We asked folks to join and we supported other groups’ progressive actions. We spent a minimum amount of time on our bureaucracy and a maximum number effort on involving folks in activism.

We spent little time grabbing the limelight and a lot of time building the progressive movement as we grew locally and nationally. Other organizations and individual opportunists watched as we grew. Many extremist groups sent folks into DSA to recruit and spread their ideas. They built divisions and spread lies in our ranks. They looked for folks to turn to easy solutions. Real organizing builds organization.

At the national, DSA extremists with less than one year in DSA dominate the leadership. Many of the long-time leaders have been intimidated. The extremists and factionalists have been calling and emailing Austin to pick up supporters for their factions; secretly taping meetings and posting edited versions online. The lack of ethics and simply not knowing right from wrong dominate at the national level and has now crept into Austin.

The opportunists and extremists could not allow democratic socialists to build a movement. Many of these folks do not consider themselves democratic socialists.

I can no longer urge Austin DSA members to stay in DSA and I can no longer ask folks to join DSA. DSA has many good folks, but it is no longer the organization of Eugene Debs, Michael Harrington, or Bernie Sanders.

 Many of the new leadership do not think Bernie is a real socialist. In the last weeks rocks have been overturned and snakes have wiggled out. I urge everyone to take a look at what DSA is becoming nationally and what some want DSA to turn into locally. Each Austin member should decide for themselves how to relate to DSA. I have decided to leave DSA.

— Danny Fetonte

(Note, Fetonte in the foreground of the photo.)

From David Wiegel:

DSA, founded in 1982 to create a political foothold for Marxists, has transformed into an ambitious left-wing force. Membership grew during Sanders’s presidential campaign, and then started surging the day after Donald Trump was elected president in what some DSA members jokingly call the “socialist baby boom.”

The DSA went from 8,000 members in 2015, the year its delegates endorsed Sanders for president, to about 25,000 in 2017, with chapters or branches in 49 states. Its platform calls for a worker-owned economy and the end of traditional capitalism.

xxxxxxx

The average age of DSA members has since 2015 dropped from 64 to about 30, according to an organizer. A May 2016 Gallup poll, conducted after most of the Democratic primaries, found just that 35 percent of Americans viewed socialism favorably. Among voters under 30, that number rose to 55 percent.

I’m with Itch on this. I can’t take comrade seriously, not since 1939 when Ninotchka came out, and the character, played by Greta Garbo, comes to check on some undependable comrades who have fallen under the spell of Paris.

“The last mass trials were a great success,” reports Ninotchka.”There will be fewer but better Russians.”

Almost as soon as he was elected, Fetonte was engulfed in controversy.

Here from Knock in Los Angeles, is a report from Steve Ducey, one of 34 delegates to the Chicago DSA Convention, about the convention and its aftermath:

But despite all the enthusiasm the convention left us with, the DSA is already faced with it’s first big post convention challenge, one that started brewing before we even checked our bags and that if not handled properly could threaten the newfound vitality of our movement.

On the final day of the convention, the results of our National Political Committee election were announced. There were two competing slates of organizers that had much of DSA’s attention: were you Team Momentum or Team Praxis? EVERYONE wanted to know and DSA-LA alone fielded several calls from both groups ahead of the convention, seeking feedback and hoping for our support. With so much vying for our attention, individual candidates running apart from the ballyhooed slates flew under the radar. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t doing their part to win over delegates for a seat on our national leadership.

One such candidate was Danny Fetonte, co-chair of Austin DSA. His literature was all over the convention floor and I was personally approached by two different people asking me to consider Fetonte for NPC. One in particular spoke highly of his dedication to their chapter, its growth, and that they couldn’t imagine where they would be if not for his leadership. His bonafides looked legit to me: years of union organizing and a recent arrest for protesting the racist Texas Senate Bill 4. With his stated commitment to local autonomy, I pencilled him in as one of my votes for NPC.

I showed my ballot to fellow comrade from LA.

“Don’t vote for him. He’s a cop”.

Turns out, comrade Danny’s claim to have “organized state workers in Texas” left out a crucial bit of information: some of those state workers were police officers during his time organizing with CLEAT.

I quickly changed my ballot.

Nevertheless, Fetonte was elected to one of the 16 seats thanks to an organized vote whipping effort. Many who supported him are furious that his work with police unions was not disclosed prior to the election and there are now numerous calls for Fetonte to step down, including statements from the DSA Veterans Working Group, the brand new Libertarian Socialist Caucus, the Queer Socialists Working Group, Greater Baltimore DSA Executive Committee, DSA Boston’s Police Abolition Working Group, DSA-LA’s steering committee and others.

How Fetonte and our newly elected NPC and Steering Committee handle this situation will be every bit as important as the convention itself. One misstep and all the solidarity we’ve built could be in jeopardy. We’ve worked too hard to build this movement to see it derailed just as it is gaining steam.

A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper cuts the zip-tie off of Ann Glenn (second from right) after she, Danny Fetonte (right), and other protesters were released following their arrest for refusing to leave the lobby of the State Insurance Building where they had staged an all-day sit-in to protest Senate Bill 4 on May 1, 2017. (TAMIR KALIFA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Fetonte fought back.

The Fetontes at the Austin DSA August 2017 meeting at Scholz Garten.

From Medium, here is Fetonte’s Aug. 17 reply: The NPC Steering Committee Shows no Moral Courage:

After being attacked with wide distortions, half-truths, and made up web information, the [Democratic Socialists of America] Steering Committee attacked me. The committee attacked my supposed work history and then they reinforced the lie that I mislead delegates.

The Internet does not know my work history or my views. There was zero deception. All of my work is well known. Labor union members in many of the chapters know everything about me. One local president who claimed they knew nothing about my work with CLEAT had dinner with me and one of my sons. My son remembered the dinner and the extensive conversation we had about CLEAT. People can forget things. But my activities are widely known and the people who know me the best support me the strongest.

 My relations with CLEAT started with me being asked by CWA to negotiate an affiliation agreement for CLEAT to become CWA Local 6911/CLEAT. My assignment with CWA at the time was Area Director for Organizing with District 6. The National Executive Board of CWA asked me to take on as one of my many tasks to be the liaison between the police locals in CWA across the U.S. and the CWA National Executive Board. I was liaison for two years. As the liaison most of my time was spent organizing wireless workers and directing public sector organizing in three states. A law enforcement CWA member was then promoted to be the Director of Public Safety for CWA. I continued to deal with issues that arose with the police sector in my own district.

I helped get anti-union cops removed from a picket line and replaced with pro-union police. I got three young people released from charges in a rough county. I got a Labor Notes activist free from a Mexican jail with the help of CLEAT. I helped a CLEAT local in one city win their contract by getting three other unions to threaten to relocate their conventions. These activities I did while still directing organizing throughout District 6. During this period, I recruited 15 salts to go into a 1,000-person AT&T wireless call center, where we built an underground union organization. After 5 years, the call center became union.

My activities in solving problems never changed my opposition to white supremacy or homophobia. I supported the proposal abolishing prisons and police at the convention. Both systems are thoroughly broken and we have to take a new approach to working out those problems in society. I was well-known as a radical and socialist during all my years as a union organizer.

I was first promoted to national staff of CWA in 1986. I became the Director of the State Workers campaign in Texas. Correctional officers were one of the many groups we as TSEU organized. We had 18 organizers reporting to me on the work with mental health workers, social workers, highway department workers, unemployment workers, as well as correction officers. I took on an issue of AIDS in the prisons, where neo-Nazis were asking for inmates with AIDS to be tattooed with an X on their foreheads. I put together a training by an AIDS counselor for our staff and executive board. The 30 activists who went through the training learned about AIDS, ARC, and HIV and how to deal with it in the workplace. I was accused of organizing trainings on how to become a homosexual. I went to a 300-person meeting in Huntsville Texas organized by neo-Nazis where one was shouting “barbecue fat boy Fetonte.” I left the meeting with 150 correctional officers who stood with our union in opposition to the Nazis.

I retired in 2008 from CWA and volunteered for the Obama campaign. I was known to have contacts in labor and law enforcement and was asked to solve a problem. There was a dispute between the Obama campaign and a large police group that I helped get resolved. It was common knowledge among the labor movement and activists about my background. After the Obama campaign I was asked by a friend — who had just become Executive Director of CLEAT — to help him. I told him I was a socialist and had a long arrest record. He said CLEAT knew about my politics, views, and arrest record but that he needed my help.

I worked directly for CLEAT training law enforcement officers into becoming organizers. One of my assignments was to help an Association that was almost all-white organize people of color, woman, and LGBT officers into the Association and into the leadership of the Association. I helped organize a law enforcement officers for immigrant rights contingent in the Saint Guadalupe march. We marched for six miles through Brownsville Texas. I worked on a collective bargaining campaign for a large EMS group. We did a petition drive and the EMS workers won a good contract. I also worked on a collective bargaining campaign in Cameron County Texas where we got to an election. The voters turned down the Sheriff’s Department having the right to collectively bargain. I worked extensively on this campaign including involving other unions in the Rio Grande Valley on this campaign.

Everything I put out at the convention about myself was true and well known. Of the 41 candidates of the NPC, I was one of the few that actually talked about my own work history. I have asked the present NPC to write up their work history. It is unfortunate that a number of the working groups and even chapters made statements without ever talking to me. I have offered to talk to any chapter to talk about this situation. My initial reaction was not to respond to the vicious attacks which I thought were coming from a few uninformed DSA members. I was then encouraged by both staff and NPC members to continue to encourage my supporters and myself to not engage on social media. The NPC statement was never shared with me prior to its release. I found out about the statement when I was meeting with a local DSA group to answer their concerns.

What is even worse though is that much of what I write is known by the leadership of DSA and they still wrote that outrageous statement. We are in serious trouble if the NPC is led by folks who have so little backbone in standing up for what is right. I have requested a full weekend hearing to examine all aspects of this conflict including activities by some to encourage this Internet hysteria. I hope the politics does not prevent due process. Due process is more than a slogan if we actually stand for it. I am not resigning no matter how vicious the attacks are. I will stand up to any attacks by National DSA to infringe on our Austin’s local autonomy.

Please forward this to as many DSA members as possible, post on social media and encourage them to let their views be known. I will be glad to accept retractions from any group in DSA that regrets their misinformed statements.

— Danny Fetonte

 

On Aug. 28, the NPC issued a statement on its vote the previous night to censure, but not remove Fetonte from their ranks:

On Sunday evening, the National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America voted to censure Danny Fetonte, a member of the NPC, for uncomradely and misleading behaviour inconsistent with what is expected of a leader of our movement. In addition, the NPC voted against removing Fetonte from the NPC by a vote of 8.5 against his removal to 7.5 votes for his removal (the half vote result from the YDSA co-chairs splitting their one vote). This fell short of the 11 votes needed to remove Fetonte from the NPC.

These decisions follow a robust discussion on the appropriate response to Fetonte’s omittance of important information during the most recent national elections. In reaching this decision, NPC gratefully accepted comments from numerous DSA Chapters and Working Groups and sought an amicable resolution by engaging in mediation with Fetonte, which broke down this weekend.

Background

Many local chapters, working groups, and individuals have written emails and submitted resolutions demanding Fetonte’s removal from the NPC due to his omittance of his past employment history during the recent NPC election. While Fetonte is not, and never has been, a police officer, these members have raised concerns that his prior work as a trainer on union matters for an association which organizes police officers is incompatible with our organization’s commitment to the abolition of prisons and the racist police state, as affirmed by the vote on the consent agenda at convention. Additionally, many members expressed concern over the impact that Fetonte’s membership on the NPC has had on our racial justice organizing work, especially in the aftermath of the horrible events in Charlottesville.

At the same time, other members have expressed concerns that Fetonte’s removal from the NPC would set a terrible precedent for due process and minority rights in a “Big Tent” political organization seeking to build a mass movement. They have additionally cited mitigating factors, such as the several years of Fetonte’s employment by CLEAT, the complicated nature of police union affiliations with large unions, his long history of support for the rights of immigrants and LGBTQI people, and his well demonstrated commitment to principles of equality and anti-racism in keeping with the finest traditions of our movement.

There’s more to read there if you want the whereases.

On Aug. 31, Fetonte issued another response, which reads in part:

The battle for democracy within DSA has been seriously undermined by the last three weeks actions of by the National Political Committee (NPC) in refusing the duly elected Danny Fetonte from being seated and participating in the NPC. The NPC is also the Board of the non-profit that DSA is. Not putting me on the NPC Listserv, excluding me from participating in NPC meetings, calls, and excluding me from steering committee calls which were open to all NPC members except Danny Fetonte were all unauthorized actions.

These actions by the NPC were illegal and unethical. The meeting that was held where I was censured was a good example of not having charges brought, not allowing the person charged to defend himself in any way, and excluding me from the vote.

This is not due process.

Some NPC members have claimed I was excluded due to a past practice of when the NPC talked about an NPC member on a controversial issue they were excluded. There was no precedent, this has never happened, and the NPC uses this argument to attempt to avoid responsibility in excluding a duly elected NPC member and Board member of the non-profit organization.

This is a made-up excuse.

The slander that was encouraged by the NPC itself is inexcusable. It will take a long time for DSA to say it is a democratic organization and to restore its credential as an organization that functions democratically.

If DSA is going to lead a broad-based movement for social and economic justice and build a movement of millions of working people this ignoring of internal democracy will be a serious obstacle to the functioning of DSA.

xxxxxxx

Internet bravery will not change this country. It will take people talking to Americans of all walks of life. Most Americans have had to deal with the real pain of capitalism affecting all parts of their lives. The reason Bernie Sanders did so well is that he spoke directly to American people who are being abused and crushed under capitalism and the very real transferring of wealth in our society to a very small class of thieves.

Dogmatists within our ranks would get in the way when law enforcement unions stand up for justice and provide resources in that fight for justice. Texas DSA has at least a dozen members who organize or work with law enforcement. DSA in Texas has a past NPC member — who while serving on the NPC — organized police and correctional officers. There is no secretive group within DSA who stands with police when there are abuses. Myself and others oppose the organization of the present criminal justice system, oppose the way corrections and law enforcement is organized in America, and think the whole system has to be changed from top to bottom.

CLEAT has taken actions I do not support. CLEAT has taken two actions in Texas I do support. In Texas in the fight against demolishing labor unions, the AFL-CIO this year gave an award to CLEAT for being a valuable ally to Texas labor unions. It lobbied hard in the Legislature and in House districts against the attempt to eliminate payroll deduction for NEA, AFT, AFSCME, and CWA unions. CLEAT’s local organizations were not being attacked but they chose to fight alongside the rest of labor. Another key issue in Texas this year was our fight against SB4, which is a bill that attacks immigrant rights and puts every citizen in Texas with brown skin in danger. CLEAT as an organization lobbied, testified, and worked hard throughout Texas in representatives’ home districts and at the capital to oppose SB4. Sheriffs from Dallas and Austin stood up against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and almost every major police chief and sheriff testified and worked against this attack on the immigrant community.

The extreme position of avoiding working with any Democrats until we have the ability to elect socialists would say to the disabled rights movement that it is okay for you to be denied real assistance because “we have to be pure” and can only work for “socialist” candidates and we should not try to move moderate legislators and progressive Democrats to work in favor of the rights of the disabled. The position of only working for socialists might work in Berkley and Brooklyn but in most of the country we have to work with Democrats in order to stand up for justice.

What is amazing about DSA is the large number of Internet bullies and Internet “know it alls” we have attracted. The Internet bullies who act tough behind a keyboard but have never been hit by a billy club, never been in a street fight, never fought scabs on a picket line, and never been arrested; know how to threaten a person’s family anonymously but are scared to let their neighbors know they are socialists.

These Internet bullies only know how to fight in a computer game.

The “Internet know it alls” like to make profound statements in perfect English. The “know it alls” have accumulated their knowledge from text books and Internet essays. The “know it alls” have hardly lived, spending their life on campuses and in coffee shops with laptops, iPhones, and tablets.

But, the Internet know-it-alls, as Fetonte would have it, dominated the public discourse about him and what his fate ought to be.

By Emmet Penney writing at Paste:

I flew from Santa Fe to Chicago at the beginning of August. The largest socialist organization in America, the Democratic Socialists of America, was having its bi-annual national convention. My chapter, the Santa Fe DSA, had nominated chapter co-chair Cathy Garcia and me (co-chair of Membership Outreach) as delegates. Our chapter hasn’t even been around an entire year, which is not uncommon. DSA has grown from a 6,000 person organization to a 26,000+ person organization in the last year, and I’m part of the groundswell. This convention was going to be a watershed moment for the organization. On the flight north, I did a lot of staring out the window at the plane wing feeling excited and overwhelmed. I also panicked about how much work I was missing.

I didn’t have time for these fears when I arrived. There was too much to do. I worked registration for the first two days. It was hectic enough to keep my mind occupied. And then there were all the resolutions we were going to vote on that I needed to re-read. And workshops. And informal Gatherings. And voting on the organization’s National Political Committee (NPC), which manages and directs the organization. Platforms for different slates, or groups of candidates running for NPC on the same ideological convictions, had been released during few weeks leading up to the convention. I had to catch up on all of those, too. There’s not a lot of time to prepare for all this if you work full-time like I do.

And then there were individual candidates. Some of whom I’d heard about only on the day of voting. One of those was a man named Danny Fetonte, an Austin, TX organizer with a remarkable background. He’d organized tons of different workers’ unions. His support of LGBT and immigrant rights was impressive. And our Austin friends, with whom Cathy and I sat, couldn’t say enough about him. Many were in the DSA because he’d brought them in—Austin is our mentor chapter. They’ve helped us shape Santa Fe’s chapter into what it is today. Cathy and I were excited to vote for a member of their chapter with solid leadership skills and a great record.

By the time I’d gotten back through the security line at O’Hare, Fetonte had been elected to the NPC. This time, I was flying to Berkeley to do some work for an environmental non-profit. It felt like a whirlwind, but here I was doing everything I wanted to be doing…even if I was broke. And I was proud of everything we’d done at the national convention. What made me happiest was that we’d voted to make prison abolition an explicit part of the DSA’s aims. By a huge margin, too.

But then a strange thing happened.

In Fetonte’s campaign literature, “state workers” featured in the litany of groups he’d organized. I figured this meant teachers, or something. But what it actually meant was CLEAT, or Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. So: cops. He helped organize a big cop union. To me, cops aren’t members of the working class. They’re the bulldogs of the rich. They’re white supremacy’s first line of domestic defense. Maybe you disagree. Fine. But had I known about Danny’s involvement, I wouldn’t have voted for him. Neither would a lot of other delegates. In response, working groups and chapters wrote official statements calling for his resignation (majority). Some wrote statement defending him (minority). The controversy was big, but containable. We needed to ask him to resign and we needed to develop better and clearer rules around campaigning and disclosure in NPC races. This fire would put itself out. I had faith that Danny would take one for the team: he’d step down and run again next time.

But he wouldn’t step down. As people dogpiled on Austin (most of their membership claims they didn’t know either) with the petty, stupid acrimony the Internet inspires, he laid low. Eventually, he released a statement. In the new mode of stubborn politicians incapable of strategic thinking, Fetonte became a self-own machine. His statement can be be summed up like this, “I did nothing wrong and will be accepting apologies in my office between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Leave a message at the beep.”

Then he chaired the Austin chapter’s meeting about his situation and handpicked friends during the Q & A. One of them just screamed at everyone and called them traitors for not loving Danny enough. Another—his wife—let slip that Danny had indeed named CLEAT in his record when he ran for NPC and lost in 2015 (this is back when the delegate pool was in the low hundreds, if even). Any opposition to Danny at that meeting was suppressed. In an instant, he’d proven himself a petulant, anti-democratic leader who, it seems, willfully withheld information from an electorate of newbies because they hadn’t heard of him.

Just before that infamous meeting, the NPC had tapped a member of Santa Fe’s chapter to help mediate between Danny and the NPC because of our chapter’s relationship with Austin and because of this member’s experience mediating for a major union. Fetonte swatted away the olive branch. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve never seen someone so ardent about fucking himself over.

All the while, more details on CLEAT and Danny’s work with cops kept pouring out. (For the sake of time, I’m going to keep this CLEAT-specific. It’s damning enough on its own, but there’s more out there if you’re curious.) After Charlottesville, and Heather Heyer’s murder by a Nazi motorist, we discovered CLEAT is pushing to make it nearly impossible to prosecute someone for such a crime. CLEAT has also come out against the Sandra Bland Act, named for the woman who was found hanged in a Waller County, TX jail cell three days after she was arrested at a traffic stop, which aims to curb racial profiling. And, while Fetonte was working with CLEAT, a cop raped a handcuffed woman in the back of a cop car. The officer’s CLEAT local blew $1 million to protect him and succeeded. This is disgraceful and disgusting. Could work for such an organization be so hard to completely disavow? For him, yes.

Finally, after some dawdling, the NPC voted to keep him. This isn’t surprising for three reasons: First, the DSA’s origins aren’t as far left as many believe. To be crude, Michael Harrington founded the organization in the 1970s to force the Democrats further left. Look at the Democratic Party. Teddy Roosevelt on horseback in the Spanish-American War is farther to the left than the Democratic Party. And having police collaborators on the NPC wouldn’t be a first for the DSA. Second, this broke more or less on racial lines. White people in America are generally more comfortable with law enforcement, it turns out—even in an allegedly socialist organization. (For the record, a collection of PoC members did release a thoughtful statement in support of the NPC majority’s decision which I encourage everyone invested to read).

And finally, the NPC majority’s rationale is symptomatic of a larger trend in America: institutional strictness vs. democratic common sense. I’m sympathetic to the NPC’s wariness about turning the DSA into another hardline leftist organization with people getting booted for ideological differences every other day. Removing Fetonte from the NPC could be seen as a step in that direction. Especially because none of what he did qualified as “malfeasance,” per our constitution.

But constitutionality and democracy aren’t synonymous.

xxxxxx

 Austin, as a chapter, has been compromised. Internally, Danny has created a sectarian, anti-democratic culture within the chapter. Externally, they’re going to have a hard time forming meaningful coalitions. Defend Our Hoodz, an Austin area organization of working class people of color dedicated to saving their neighborhoods from gentrification and racial injustice, released a pointed statement last week. They refuse to work with Austin until they remove Danny from the organization. They don’t trust cops or the people who help them. Who can blame them? The danger is that this spreads. Local activity and solidarity could be hampered nation-wide. We don’t have time for that. We need each other.

And that’s the real problem. The DSA has swollen in size. It is no longer the same organization it was last year. Filling its ranks are younger people with a different experience of America than their older counterparts. We don’t remember the post-war boom or the promise of the American dream. We remember the fallacious brutality of our war in Iraq, Katrina, the 2008 financial crisis, and the crackdown on Occupy. And more importantly for Fetonte and his supporters, we remember Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Garner, and all those who’ve been murdered by cops without redress. And we remember watching cops decked out in military hardware roll down the streets of Ferguson after Michael Brown’s murder.

We’ve never seen the mythic neighborhood cop who works a beat and knows the community.

https://twitter.com/nan0bel/status/905795718421528578

https://twitter.com/nan0bel/status/905497470628753408

Here is the  25 Aug 2017 statement from Defend our Hoodz-Defiende El Barrio in Austin: Cop Organizers Don’t Belong in Our Spaces – A Statement on Austin DSA

As many organizers across the US have done, members of Defend Our Hoodz – Defiende El Barrio – Austin have followed the situation that occurred at the National Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) convention, in which Austin DSA co-chair, Danny Fetonte, was elected to the National Political Committee (NPC).

We completely agree with critics, including countless DSA members, who recognize that Fetonte’s role organizing with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), his omission of this organizing in his candidacy, and his inability to denounce it, and in fact justify it, is incompatible with a position that the capitalist police force as we know it should be abolished. Fetonte was a part of CLEAT as recently as 2014. He has stated proudly that he “worked directly for CLEAT training law enforcement officers into becoming organizers.”

Defend Our Hoodz upholds a principle against working with the police or police collaborators in any capacity, and Fetonte’s history and actions inherently means Austin DSA is unwelcome in our organizing. Truthfully though, we likely wouldn’t have formally commented on this issue, but DSA’s other co-chair attended a Defend Our Hoodz meeting in the past month prior to the national convention. While they said they attended our meeting as an individual, we cannot overlook their leadership role and more importantly, their defense of Fetonte’s record and actions in the wake of what has happened.

It’s apparent that Austin DSA has doubled-down on their support and brushed off critics who have called for Fetonte’s removal from the NPC and involvement at the local level. They allowed Fetonte to facilitate the discussion about himself in their most recent meeting, and as an organization, back Fetonte’s pride in his ‘organizing’ work, which involved such things as organizing, “a law enforcement officers for immigrant rights contingent”, an offensive concept when SB4 is turning all police into ICE agents by Sep. 1st.

Many of those excusing Fetonte try to claim that ‘he’s done good work’, while separating him from his pig union work. This is liberalism and opportunism in action. It’s worth noting that an older white man is being praised for supposed progressive organizing while his work with police unions is rationalized or downplayed. More absurdly, Danny and Austin DSA have tried to spin his work with the unions as progressive, rather than disown it entirely. As our group is led by and primarily organizing people of oppressed nations, we consider this a pattern of white chauvinism, especially when he wants credit for things like trying to train officers to not be racist.

For these reasons, Austin DSA leadership will not be welcome at any Defend Our Hoodz meetings or events. We encourage those members who are upset with the local DSA’s actions to to publicly take a stand against the Austin chapter’s support for Danny Fetonte and break from the organization as long as Fetonte is involved, forming another chapter if they choose to do so.

We call on Austin DSA to remove Danny Fetonte from its organization, make clear statements against police apologism, and state clearly that the police are not part of the working-class, but its most violent oppressors. We encourage all of those that seek the abolition of the capitalist police force to organize with groups that truly organize against the police, and not just when it’s convenient or trendy to say so.

– Defend Our Hoodz – Defiende El Barrio – Austin

But then, in a very different vein, there is this Sept. 10 post from a Counternarration, a blog by a democratic socialist living in D.C. (but originally from Detroit), under the headline, Unrepentant Twitter Bullies.

A terrible situation came to a terrible end in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) on Friday.  It’s a long story, which I’ll elaborate on below, but essentially, a social media mob bullied a longtime talented organizer out of DSA, and some seem proud of their tactics.  Observe:

https://twitter.com/comrade_celery/status/906332200924274688?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fcounternarration.wordpress.com%2F2017%2F09%2F10%2Funrepentant-twitter-bullies%2F

To be clear up front: others who are not Twitter trolls shared their general view and had legitimate points that deserved to be (and were) heard.  But it’s my impression that it was specifically the bullying that led to this outcome.  And this bodes ill for DSA as an organization and therefore for our cause.

For my part, not speaking up loudly enough against these bullies was my contribution to this sad state of affairs.  So it’s time to do so.  My imagined audience includes both non-members (whose outside perspective I would value) and anyone from DSA, whatever their perspective, who stumbles across this.  My policy of parrhesia—frankness—applies as always, though I would remind commenters that eunoia—good will—is also part of that bargain.

xxxxx

The Bernie campaign strongly suggested that there are a lot of passive allies who could become active socialist allies out there, as well as neutral people who could become passive allies.  Jonathan Smucker gives a good visual depiction of this in his excellent book Hegemony How-To (which I reviewed for Democratic Left), and in a post on his website, where I found this graphic and which is worth a read:

Meanwhile, I’ve seen it said on Twitter that “the tankies are having a field day laughing at us!” for electing a “cop” (actually a union organizer, not a cop) to the NPC.  For those not versed in the jargon, tankies are people who, like DSA, are on the far left of the political X-axis (economics), but who, quite unlike DSA, proudly place themselves far to the authoritarian end of the Y-axis (personal liberty).  See also Urban Dictionary.  A big tent does still have edges, and authoritarians have always been expressly outside of DSA’s tent.

So I don’t much care what the tankies think of DSA, and it’s not just because I think they’re sorely misguided in important ways.  (To be fair, they are good on racial justice.  The Communist Party always was.  Credit where credit is due.  I criticize them more for spending their time trying to charge DSA convention delegates twenty-five cents to read their denunciations of DSA.  And for defending North Korea.)  But no, it’s not because of those things that I’m not concerned about their criticisms; it’s because I generally don’t see anything to be gained strategically by heeding them.  I’m more concerned about what people with a budding awareness the cracks in our capitalist system think, because those people are the group we need to bring on board if we want to achieve meaningful social change.  Right now, that means I wonder what they think about this whole situation around Danny Fetonte’s election.

And I can tell you, because several of them have confided in me, that they are scared.

So, I don’t actually know of any police officers in DSA, but I for one would welcome all those Black (and even white!) law enforcement officers who stood up for Colin Kaepernick into DSA in a heartbeat, if they wanted to join us.  I’d love to talk to any police officers who are sincerely trying to do racial justice work inside the police department where they work.  From where they stand, it may look like the most promising path.  Others may not agree that it is, and can even say so to constructive effect, but I’m glad for any officer who’s thinking and trying.  We need all hands on deck to fight police brutality, and we need it now.

And then there are the others who are terrified that the capitalist dirt they have on their professional hands will be discovered and used to make them the subject of the next Twitter-led purge.  They’re asking themselves, will the line be drawn at police union organizers?  (That’s already bigger than just police officers, after all.)  What about lawyers who have taken on cases about which they had mixed feelings?  What about people who work in, say, finance?

Personally, I’d love to welcome finance professionals whose own daily work helps them understand the problems with capitalism—and actually, we have, and our big tent is better for having their experience and knowledge under it.  They help us get those who aren’t yet with us but could be to stop and think.

The list could go on.  Do we really want to throw all these people out, along with the sincere anti-capitalist energy they have to offer?

It seems that Left Twitter does:

Michael Harrington was the chair of DSA from its founding in 1982 until his death in 1989, which is egregiously left out of this Britannica article that otherwise is a great writeup of his life and legacy.  Comrades, it is foolish to try to get rid of people like this.  We’re only 30,000 strong, guys.  That’s nothing.  Getting people in the door to hear what we have to say—that’s still our major challenge.  If you are into expelling people, then I have no faith in your ability to build a meaningful movement.

Unrepentant Twitter bullies don’t have what it takes to build the a meaningfully large movement.  It is okay if we disagree, even vehemently.  That is part of the tradition of this organization, too.  We can dislike—we may even despise—other people in DSA; we are human beings, after all.  We can and should absolutely campaign against concrete actions proposed by other members if we think they are wrongheaded.  But don’t let that get in the way of watering every single seed out there that’s beginning to recognize that capitalism has big problems.  It makes no sense for us to be spending our energy fighting against the alleged “impure” within our ranks—people who are actively doing real work to organize in support of, say, immigrants facing real and urgent threats—when there are so many real enemies out there.

And recognize that others are looking at you on social media, and they are opting out.  If that’s what it takes to be a socialist, then I guess I’m not a socialist, they think.  I guess they’d probably find something wrong with me, too.

DSA has always had a culture that welcomes those people in the door, talks to them, listens to them, and gives them a safe space to think and develop politically.  If we lose that, then we lose our most important asset.

The last word goes to Austin DSA Chair Châu Ngô and the statement she released on Fetonte’s leaving DSA:

 

This is a chaotic time for our membership not only here in Austin, but around the state and the nation. And as painful as it is, we have to directly confront the reality we find ourselves in and the continuing aftermath of the struggles and controversies of the last month.

Danny Fetonte is an extraordinarily talented organizer and a dear friend to many of us. He has helped Austin DSA grow fifty-fold in three years and played a crucial role in the Bernie campaign in Texas. At the same time he has been at the center of a very painful fight within DSA. We cannot accept harassment and threats nor can we accept bad faith arguments or personal attacks of any kind, including from those members tasked with leadership. Danny’s choice to leave the organization is a shocking and sad end to a long and terrible episode for all of us. Danny’s contribution to the socialist movement and DSA is longstanding and considerable. A far happier conclusion would be Danny’s continued participation in Austin DSA’s many projects including fair housing, hurricane relief and the protection of our black, brown, queer, undocumented and immigrant family. However, we respect his choice. I am confident that he will continue the fight for social and economic justice, albeit outside of Austin DSA. 

The truth is, as terrible as things have been, we will be okay, because we have to be. It’s awful that this has been some members’ introduction to the trials of being part of a socialist movement. The silver lining is that in a red state like Texas, growing strong through adversity is necessary to survive in a state that has historically been hostile to the aims of socialism.

Châu Ngô closing the Bernie Sanders office in Austin last year.

As our movement grows, so does our organization, not just in numbers but in the type of immeasurable strength that can only be felt when you see DSA folks in action, like our Houston siblings busting their butts (still!) because of Hurricane Harvey or our siblings in Charlottesville literally putting their bodies and lives on the line standing up to the Fascists. There is power there in our dogged determination.

Effectively navigating these waters in the coming years will take a lot out of us. But we know that fighting a multi-headed system that continues to rip apart our communities and maintains the genocide and oppression this country was built on is an enormous task. We do not shy away from the fight. The only way forward is together.

We will trip up along the way. We will make mistakes and be forced to reevaluate who we are and why we fight; our tactics may shift, but no matter what we do not stop and we will not stop. No matter the organizations you are in, groups you are with, and coalitions you work with, those change and morph just like the people within and that includes DSA as well. But as long as we have our eyes on the horizon, we will collectively get there no matter what card we may literally be carrying in our pockets. That was a roundabout way of saying our labels don’t define us. And yet those labels can help guide us. What’s important is the work, why we do it and if we are willing to grow.

Think about the things we need to destroy, to reform, to build, to create, to nurture. There is no one silver bullet. No one person will solve all the issues. We love each other and must respect each other as individuals. At the same time, we must be an organization of group solidarity rather than a group of factions coalescing around individuals. An injury to one is an injury to all. We must stick up together, protect those in need, take up the banner when others can’t and give back to those we’ve taken from as well as take back what is ours. That is how we will forge ahead.

We have been forced to engage with one of the most important issues of our time- the racist violence of the police state, and what relationship if any DSA can have with law enforcement unions, as well as non-law enforcement unions that may include police among their membership.

Unfortunately in the last month many members have violated “call in, not out” culture and our own rules against harassment. Social media is often the worst place to have difficult, vital conversations and encourages and even rewards toxic behavior. Confronting the horrors of the police state is deeply necessary, and this requires confronting the connections our members, chapters and affiliated unions have had with it. However, we cannot skip due process and allow that confrontation, and more importantly, adjudication to occur online.

The consolation though is that this incredibly important conversation has been brought into un-ignorable focus, and going forward we can recommit ourselves daily to having it in the spirit of solidarity and good faith. This will be an ongoing fight, because we are made up of so many different folks from different backgrounds and different experiences of the labor movement but it is a conflict that is starting to be resolved. By having this fight, we have learned so much about ourselves and our roles in society. Some of us had forgotten that the ones we needed to worry most about are the victims and potential victims of policing and the system that it is explicitly protecting. We must do better as an organization and we are learning how.

Today, we are 30,000 strong. But our movement is part of a sea change around the country and the world that is far larger than the DSA alone. We do not live in a vacuum. We must be a place of welcome. Our rose is a symbol of the future we want. The worker must have bread, but they must have roses too. We must never settle for mere adequacy but rather fight for a better world for all. That struggle will sometimes be painful, but lately there have been far more thorns than petals. We must not build walls. We must not discard people. We must welcome our siblings with open arms, even when we disagree strongly with one another.

As a big-tent organization, the bonds we have in our communities provide us with the ability to work together while we figure out our values and goals. We pick each other up when we fall and help each other grow as members of DSA and the human race.

Many of us joined because of Bernie Sanders, myself included, and have found a political home that is warm, generous, open, welcoming, forgiving, accepting, questioning and active. I liken DSA to a family and being part of a family is hard sometimes but also fulfilling and needed.

My favorite slogan from 2016 is “Not me. Us.” Bernie and DSA got us started along the path and engaged. Let’s keep going.

Our next meeting is on the 21st at Scholz Garten, 7pm. I really do hope to see you all there. Keep an eye out for more information.

For those who have questions about membership, please contact membership@dsausa.org

Châu Ngô and Jose “Chito” Vela at August DSA meeting at Scholz Garten.

Why everybody hates Ted Cruz and why it doesn’t matter.

 

 

Good day Austin:

At a little before 4 in the morning Tuesday I became aware that overnight, @tedcruz’s Twitter account had liked a porn video.

I was not pleased.

I had just risen and was behind the eight ball to get that day’s First Reading done – Alex Jones’ 9/11 exclusive: President Trump is being drugged in his Diet Cokes – and didn’t want to be distracted by something so trivial whose progression over the next news cycle or two or three (I’m no longer quite sure what a news cycle is or how long its lasts) was so predictable.

https://twitter.com/catblackfrazier/status/907488125445963779

There were, even in the middle of the night, questions of irony and hypocrisy.

I was unimpressed.

A familiar trajectory was already assured: Viral mocking of Cruz, lots of masturbation double entendres and ultimately,  what we wouldn’t see or hear, a phone call from some college student working in Cruz’s office as an intern for the semester to his folks to explain to them that, yes, things had been going great, and Sen. Cruz was terrific and really encouraging and had even given him some responsibility in his social media operation but that, well, something kind of crazy and unfortunate had happened, and well, the senator had put in a good word for him at Tortilla Coast, and assured him that, when it comes right down to it, he’ll learn even more about life and the world by busing tables there until he goes back to school than he would answering constituent mail, and, after all, TC is where the Freedom Caucus sometimes meets, so who knows where busing dishes there may lead.

And then the late-night comedians would each take a whack at Cruz.

And all of this would happen with or without me, and I wanted to stick to the task at hand of writing about how Alex Jones was warning President Trump that his chief of staff was systematically drugging his Diet Cokes.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I’m not above riding the Bruise Cruz for some clicks and yucks.

Four months later, I’m still getting the occasional retweet on this gem from Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s book, Giant of the Senate.

But that, I thought, was actually funny and revealing because here was a senator ready to toss aside any shred of senatorial courtesy to trash a colleague who he felt had earned it.

So, it was amusing and said something about something.

But Cruz-Twitter-account-likes-porn was just icky and, unless you think that Ted Cruz is full on Anthony Weiner weird – which  I don’t – then this episode didn’t really say anything about anything, except as a reminder of how many people really hate Ted Cruz and enjoy reveling in their loathing.

From the 2016 documentary, Weiner.

So I tried to keep my mind on Alex Jones and the drugging of President Trump’s Diet Cokes.

But then, about an hour later, this, from Rick Dunham, former Houston Chronicle Washington bureau chief, now directing a journalism program in China.

Wow. China. The waking world. There seemed to be billions more Cruz haters than I had ever anticipated.

I had Morning Joe on. It is a long-time bastion of Cruz-bashing. They hatedCruz back when they loved, or at least liked, Trump. And they’ve loathed Cruz since they turned against Trump with a vengeance.

But even they just seemed to be going through the motions on this one, unable to rouse themselves to even a credible pretext of why they were talking about this.

Mika: Now the most important story of the day, right?

Joe: What story is that?

Mika: Shortly after midnight last night, the Twitter account of Ted Cruz … 

Joe: Oh come on.

Mika: It’s not that important. But why’d he do this? Did someone else?

Joe: Mike (Barnicle), you read this. I don’t want to know this.

Mika: But why’d he do this?

And with that, they made Mike Barnicle  do it.

Ultimately, Cruz faulted an unnamed staffer.

Meanwhile, ever helpful, Alex Jones wondered whether Cruz was being victimized by a double standard.

https://twitter.com/RealAlexJones/status/907643584819625984?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.infowars.com%2Fted-cruz-likes-hardcore-porn-on-twitter%2F

The night followed the predictable course.

 

 

 

But it didn’t end there.

The story continued into yesterday.

Then came the nadir of this story’s sad arc.

https://twitter.com/SopanDeb/status/908071027216969729

Let’s look at that a little closer, or at least in bigger print.

Whoa.

OK. Here it is.

BASH: Can you tell me the staffer’s name?

Why? To what end?

And then:

BASH:  I can’t believe I’m going to ask you this, but you’re officially saying Ted Cruz is okay with people buying six toys?

So one minute Cruz is being asked, “Do you appreciate the irony that you defended a Texas law banning sales of sex toys?” And the next minute, after he explains that it was his obligation as solicitor general in Texas, to defend Texas laws in court, no matter how “idiotic” they might be, Bash, who noted that Cruz had come on the show to talk about tax reform,  is aghast that Cruz is now apparently, officially  a defender of the right to bear dildos.

From Leif Reigstag at Texas Monthly: Ted Cruz’s Twitter Account Got Caught ‘Liking’ Porn
It’s the latest addition to a long list of weird social media moments for the junior senator.

This all comes as Cruz continues to work out the kinks in his political career following his failed presidential campaign. Just days before “Milf Hunter”-gate, the New York Times published a story about Cruz as he visited flood-stricken areas in Texas, observing that Cruz’s presidential election defeat seems to have “spawned a kinder, gentler ‘Cruz 2.0.’” That kindness, apparently, extended to complimenting the physique of the people on the ground. As the Times wrote, Cruz “greeted Coast Guard heroes with dazzling torsos. ‘Almost every one of them ripped,’ he marveled on the Senate floor, holding for dramatic pauses pregnant enough to require bed rest. ‘These are guys that know their way around a weight room.’”

I had also noticed that line from Matt Flegenheimer in his story, Ted Cruz 2.0? Senator Adjusts With Trump in Office and Houston Under Water,

Just as I had also noticed Cruz’s odd comment on the Senate floor about the “ripped” Coast Guard heroes.

But Flegenheimer’s description of the line’s delivery as holding for dramatic pauses pregnant enough to require bed rest, seemed itself pregnant with the implication that Ted Cruz was indulging in some repressed homoerotic lust.

Please. No. Stop.

https://twitter.com/elisefoley/status/908066436538671104

Which brings us to the question of why the extraordinary wellspring of antipathy to Ted Cruz.

There is a rich literature on this.

A small sampling:

From the Telegraph: Why do so many people hate Ted Cruz? Many of those who’ve known him and worked with him claim the Republican presidential candidate is brilliant but arrogant and self-serving

It begins:

It all started when he was a teenager…

From the New Republic on March 4, 2016:

Indeed indeed, I cannot tell, / Though I ponder on it well, / Which were easier to state, / All my love or all my hate. —Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau, it seems, never met Ted Cruz, a man so blissfully easy to hate that loathing for him has become a form of political poetry: “wacko-bird,” “abrasive,” “arrogant,” and “creepy” are some of the kindest adjectives that have been thrown his way. Cruz has alienated about everyone he’s ever encountered in life: high school and college classmates, bosses, law professors, Supreme Court clerks, and especially his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Some detest Cruz the politician because of his grandstanding, but most dislike Cruz the person. In that respect, he’s really not your average politician—after all, most people hate politicians. But everyone hates Ted Cruz. 

Much of the antipathy was provoked by Cruz with calculated purpose and to great effect.

From Molly Ball at the Atlantic in January 2016: Why D.C. Hates Ted Cruz:

Cruz’s fans say it’s because he stands on principle. But his critics say he’s never achieved anything—except burnishing his own brand.In the three years since he arrived in the U.S. Senate, Ted Cruz has become easily the most hated man in Washington—a fact he’s now using to his advantage as a presidential candidate. But why?

From Jack Shafer at Politico Magazine, also in April 2016: Why Ted Cruz Loves to Be Hated.

Last night, former Speaker of the House John Boehner captured the nation’s attention by calling presidential aspirant Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh” in an appearance at Stanford University.

Having established his Satanic theme, Boehner continued. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

 Any other politician would have winced at the characterization, especially coming from a fellow Republican. But given his long-term success at extracting vitriol and bile by the barrel from those who should be his ideological comrades, we can only assume that Cruz craves the hatred and condemnation, and regards Boehner’s Lucifer comment as an endorsement.

That same month, Rolling Stone compiled A Compendium of People Who Hate Ted Cruz’s Guts

“One thing Ted Cruz is really good at: uniting people who otherwise disagree about everything else in a total hatred of Ted Cruz”

It included, of course, Princeton roommate Craig Mazin: “Ted Cruz is a nightmare of a human being. I have plenty of problems with his politics, but truthfully his personality is so awful that 99 percent of why I hate him is just his personality. If he agreed with me on every issue, I would hate him only one percent less.”

Mazin was all over this week’s tweet.

Of course, not everyone hates Ted Cruz.

But for Trump, Cruz might have won the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Back in February 2016, just before Trump’s South Carolina victory, when Cruz was very much in the hunt, I did a First Reading – Why Ted Cruz isn’t Ronald Reagan – looking at Cruz’s likability problem, in which I talked to University of Texas government professor and polling expert Daron Shaw.

This is some of what he said:

I think his likability numbers are really dangerous right now. The tag on him — if Marco Rubio is too callow and inexperienced and Trump’s a bully, Ted is being defined as the guy that nobody likes and Trump has built on that, and that’s really a problem.

It’s not a Senate race. Its a presidential race and people don’t like to vote for somebody they don’t like. And I don’t know how Ted deals with that.

And if I were on Ted’s team, I’d be very concerned with how do you deal with that. I think that at some level you have to be just a little bit likable, and I think Ted’s in danger of losing control of that, and that’s something that probably could hurt him and maybe cost him the nomination and certainly that could cost him in the fall.

You talk about New York values. What New York values means to me is the New York guy really knows how to pick out your weak spot. That’s Trump. It was Ted, it was Marco, it was Jeb. He just picks it and picks it. He’s got a genius for that.

I know Ted from the Texas Lyceum. I worked with him in 2000 on the Bush campaign, and I never thought of him as unlikable.

The media is always looking …whats the hook?  Some are right but some of them are not right. You know Carville used to rail on this that once the media settles on one of these they’ll never back off. They are trying to figure out Ted. They haven’t gotten it right but this unlikable thing is becoming a meme and I think it’s political poison. What do you do, have Ted kiss babies?

Well, it has become a meme. Everybody hates Ted Cruz.

But, as Shaw’s colleague Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, told me yesterday of Cruz, “his negatives are intense. If you don’t like Ted Cruz, you really don’t like Ted Cruz.”

But, Henson said, as long as the anti-Cruz feeling remains confined to those who were never going to vote for him to begin with, the intensity of their loathing is immaterial.

“As we saw in pretty stark terms in the last national election,  you can rise pretty far even though partisans of the other party really intensely dislike you bordering on a kind of mania,” Henson said.

And so, even with a Senate opponent in Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is as likable as Cruz, as the meme would have it, is unlikable, Cruz is the odds-on favorite to win re-election in 2018. The race is his to lose.

Cruz at the eclipse in San Antonio.

Alex Jones’ 9/11 exclusive: President Trump is being drugged in his Diet Cokes.

Good day Austin:

Before we begin, let me address an urgent message directly to President Donald Trump.

Mr. President, if you’re reading this, if somehow, someone is smuggling First Reading to you past the InfoBlockade imposed by Chief of Staff John Kelly, then heed this warning. From now on, when Kelly or one of his minions brings you your Diet Coke, or iced tea, wait until they are looking the other way, and surreptitiously spill the contents into the Oval Office wastebasket, or, better yet, the potted Swedish Ivy over there on the Oval Office mantel (the soil will absorb the evidence). And then pretend to take a final satisfied slurp through the straw as if you’ve just consumed the contents of the MAGA tumbler.

Why?

Because, as your loyalist Alex Jones here in Austin revealed yesterday on InfoWars (info I’m sure Kelly has a whole team of plumbers assigned to keep from leaking into the Oval Office): “They are putting a slow sedative that they are building up, and it’s also addictive, in his Diet Cokes and also in his iced tea, and that the president, by six or seven at night, is basically slurring his words. He’s drugged.”

https://twitter.com/infowars/status/907310285488132096

OK, Mr. President. Sure, sometimes AJ gets carried away.

But Roger Stone, the guy who created you and lovingly crafted you as a political being lo these many decades, says it could just be true, that he has heard reports suggesting you sometimes appear medicated, that he wouldn’t put it past Kelly to pull something like this, and that with the imminent departure of Keith Schiller, your trusted body man, body-guard, confidante and chief of Oval Office operations, you will have no one right there with your best interests at heart looking out for you.

From Toby Harnden the Sunday Times of London: Donald Trump left isolated as his ‘security blanket’ Keith Schiller quits

The name Keith Schiller is barely known, even in Washington, where he occupies the nebulous-sounding role of director of Oval Office operations. But his imminent departure — another casualty of the tough new regime in the White House — has left Donald Trump uncharacteristically reflective and almost bereft.

While the president has weathered the departure of a number of key aides, including his chief strategist Steve Bannon, arguably none was as important as Schiller.

Stone believe that Schiller is being effectively forced out by Kelly, who is trying to strangle Schiller’s relationship with, and ability to protect, the president.

https://twitter.com/RogerJStoneJr/status/904183069724352513

https://twitter.com/RealAlexJones/status/907417284326641665

Stone is now — along with Owen Shroyer and Mike Cernovich — manning the InfoWars’ War Room, a new daily show on InfoWars, that picks up where Jones’ 11 to 3 daily show ends, and extends from 4 to 7 every weekday.

The drugging-of-the-president scoop and story-line was dealt with on both the Alex Jones’ show — which also includes Stone, Shroyer and Cernovich as regulars — and on the War Room yesterday, which was a big day on the Alex Jones/InfoWars calendar.

It was Sept. 11.

Almost a year ago, in October 2016, I wrote a story for the StatesmanAustin’s Alex Jones: The voice in Donald Trump’s head, about the growing importance of Alex Jones in informing the world view of then presidential candidate Trump, the result of a relationship brokered by Stone, who saw the great mutual advantage in it for both Trump and Jones.

In that story, I wrote that:

It was 9/11 that defined Jones.

On July 25, 2001, Jones, who, at the time was still doing his cable TV show in Austin in addition to his syndicated radio show, claimed that the U.S. government was plotting a false flag terrorist attack in the United States that it would blame on the likes of Osama bin Laden as a pretext for domestic repression.

Less than two months later, (Angelo) Carusone {then executive vice president and now president of Media Matters for America, a not-for-profit progressive media watchdog group} said, “On 9/11, on that actual day, he started to attack the United States government.”

Some radio stations canceled Jones.

“He was just too hot,” Carusone said. “His ascent was totally blunted.”

But, Carusone said, “that set in motion the version of Alex Jones that Trump is heralding on the campaign trail.”

In the years since, Jones has built a web presence that could survive the loss of all his radio stations, and mostly bankrolls the operation with direct sales of his own products — from political paraphernalia to survivalist and health products, such as the one he swears by “that blocks the estrogen mimickers that feminize men.”

Unlike his rivals, Jones has no one to answer to.

“He was less accountable,” Carusone said. “It just makes all the difference in the world.”

In other words, it was 9/11 that vaulted the Alex Jones, who got his start ranting on Austin public access TV, from this guy to the one we know today.

Now, when Alex Jones says “Never Forget” 9/11, what he doesn’t want you to forget is that it was a false flag, an inside job, and that he’s the one who called it.

https://twitter.com/RealAlexJones/status/907456499450093568

From Owen Shroyer on yesterday’s War Room.

Shroyer:

Still to this day no other skyscraper has fallen because of a structure fire. It has yet to happen to this day but they are still trying to tell you that the only three skyscrapers in the history of the world that have fallen from a structure fire all fell within the same day on the same block. 

Come on folks! Come on man!

To me, Shroyer is the weak link in the War Room triumvirate.

Stone is Stone.

Cernovich is, well, here, from way back in April, is a bit of the New York Times’ “Who is Mike Ceronvich: A Guide.”

Trump has frequently derided the news media as “fake news,” and on Tuesday his son, Donald Trump Jr., told the world there was one person he wants to see win the Pulitzer Prize, the highest honor in American journalism: Mike Cernovich.

xxxxxx

Mr. Cernovich is a blogger, author of books, YouTube personality and filmmaker with a far-right social media following. Much of his online persona is driven by two mottos: “conflict is attention” and “attention is influence.”

He told The New Yorker, “I use trolling tactics to build my brand.”

Before this week, he was perhaps best known for promoting false claims that Hillary Clinton was part of a pedophile ring located in the basement of a pizzeria. He describes himself as an “American nationalist” and has been involved in shaping alt-right messages on social media, according to The New Yorker. But he has denied being part of the alt-right movement, calling it “too obsessed with gossip and drama for my tastes” in a blog post.

Like Stone, Cernovich is well-sourced in Trumpland and able to produce good scoops.

But unlike Stone and Cernovich, who, in Sopranos’ parlance, are “good earners,” Shroyer seems like he’s one of those over-eager young guys trying to get on the crew who’s only going to get himself in trouble.

He did make Roger Stone’s 2016 Best Dressed List. (Stone has assumed the responsibilities of the list once borne by Mr. Blackwell.)

Owen Shroyer: Dogged truth seeker/reporter on the rise. Shroyer is one of the rising talents at Alex Jones’ InfoWars alternative news network. Bombastic during his “man on the street” style reports, Shroyer is amazingly put together no matter the climate or setting. The cut/fit of his suits and shirts are form fitting, but not busting at the seams (Daniel Craig’s Bond wardrobe). Our true admiration though is for his favoritism of a spread collar to accompany the thick knots of his ties.

OK, spread collar, fine. But last last year Shroyer made a hash of trying to create local Pizzagate in Austin, which was a total embarrassment that he took down (here is Matt Odam’s story and my  First Reading) and backed away from..

Altogether, Shroyer seems to me to be sidekick and not super hero material – Arthur, the moth, to Alex Jones’ The Tick.

Anyway, 16 years since 9/11/01, Alex Jones is still campaigning against the Deep State, what is different now is that, somehow, Jones is allied with the man in the Oval Office, and trying to protect him from the machinations of the said Deep State.

Back in May, Stone and Jones shot an urgent video on the streets of Austin, warning of what they feared could be an attempt to remove Trump from office claiming he has Alzheimer’s. (Here’s the First Reading on that.)

For the last couple of months, Jones and Stone have been further warning Trump that he has essentially been inadvertently executing a Seven Days in May style coup agent himself by surrounding himself with Generals Kelly (as chief of staff), Mad Dog Mattis at Defense, and, most nefarious of all in their view, H. R. McMaster at the National Security Council, creating his own in-house junta without a drop of blood being spilled, or, maybe even, any awareness that it is happening.

InfoWars’ 9/11 shows bring that plot up to date.

Here is Alex Jones yesterday

And here is a clipped version from Media Matters

Here is a transcript from Media Matters:

ALEX JONES (HOST): Ladies and gentlemen, I was told this by high level sources and it was evident and especially after [Ronald] Reagan was shot in his first year in office when he was acting like Trump, and doing the right things, that he never really recovered. They gave him cold blood, and his transfusion that causes brain damage. They slowly gave him small amounts of sedatives. It’s known that most presidents end up getting drugged. Small dosages of sedatives till they build it up, Trump’s such a bull he hasn’t fully understood it yet.

But I’ve talked to people, multiple ones, and they believe that they are putting a slow sedative that they’re building up that’s also addictive in his Diet Cokes and in his iced tea and that the president by 6 or 7 at night is basically slurring his words and is drugged. Now first they had to isolate him to do that. But yes, ladies and gentleman, I’ve talked to people that talk to the president now at 9 at night, he is slurring his words. And I’m going to leave it at that. I’ve talked to folks that have talked to him directly.

So notice, “Oh, he’s mentally ill. Oh, he’s got Alzheimer’s.” They isolate him then you start slowly building up the dose, but instead of titrating it like poison, like venom of a cobra, or a rattlesnake, or a water moccasin where you build it up slowly so that you get a immunity to it, you’re building it slowly so the person doesn’t notice it. First it’s almost zero, just a tiny bit and then a little more and then your brain subconsciously becomes addicted to it and wants it and so as the dose gets bigger and bigger you get more comfortable in it. The president’s about two months into being covertly drugged. Now I’m risking my life, by the way, tell you all this. I was physically sick before I went on air. Because I’m smart. And I don’t mean that in a braggadocious way. I mean I’m not dumb. The information you’re going to get today is super dangerous. In fact, I’m tempted just to let it out now so they don’t cut the show off or something before this goes out. I mean this is the kind of thing that gets you killed.

[…]

JONES: They drug presidents because the power structure wants a puppet. The president needs his blood tested by an outside physician he trusts.

Here is a Media Matters clip of Stone yesterday on the drugging of the president

.

From Media Matters:

ALEX JONES (HOST): By what time — when people are talking to him, at what times is [Trump] slurring his words?

ROGER STONE: He is slurring his words on various times, and that’s what’s concerning. Let’s be very clear: I have a source at The New York Times, a reporter who expressed to me a concern that in a conversation they had on the phone with the president that he was slurring his words. The president does not drink. The president certainly does not do drugs. The president is sharp as a tack. Now, let’s give some credibility to —

JONES: Let me stop you. Let me stop you. When I’ve had conversations with him it’s like he’s speaking like an actor. It’s so precise and so smooth, exactly, then you hear he’s slurring his words. It’s like, “Woah.”

STONE: Now, in the president’s defense, could he be exhausted? Yeah, he works very hard for the country. He is passionate about his desire for an economic revival, for a boom. He said it to me, “Wait and see. You’ll see. When I get my 15 percent tax rate this economy is going to cook like nothing you’ve ever seen, it will be the greatest advance in job creation this country’s ever seen.” He is deeply committed and passionate about this. But I have now heard not from one, but two different sources, that he seemed disoriented and was slurring his speech in conversations. To me this is a tip off that he may be being medicated. Is General [John] Kelly above this? No.

Here’s a far fuller Stone with Jones on the whole affair, beginning almost six minutes in.

And here is Stone yesterday with Owen Shroyer. Notice, if you will, in these several clips, the wardrobe changes by the ever-natty Stone.

So, you may ask, is President Trump being isolated and sedated to make him more manageable or, ultimately, removable?

I don’t know.

Sounds unlikely.

But what doesn’t?

Is there any reason to believe that Alex Jones and Roger Stone (and Mike Cernovich) have an inside line on what’s up with Trump?

Well, maybe so.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio certainly thinks so.

From Nina Burleigh at Newsweek: Trump Will Pardon Joe Arpaio Because of Alex Jones’s Infowars and Matt Drudge

From Media Matters:

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show to thank Jones, his staff, and Roger Stone for influencing President Donald Trump into potentially issuing Arpaio a pardon following his recent criminal conviction.

A U.S. District Court judge convicted Arpaio of criminal contempt of court in July. He faces up to six months in jail for his refusal to comply with a court order that said he could no longer direct the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to engage in racially discriminatory practices against Latinos. Arpaio was defeated in his re-election bid for a seventh term in November.

CNN.com reported today that “the White House has prepared the paperwork for President Trump to pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio when he makes the final decision to do so.” During an August 22 rally in Arpaio’s home state of Arizona, Trump suggested a pardon was imminent, telling the crowd, “I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine. Okay? But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. Is that okay? All right? But Sheriff Joe can feel good.”

During his August 23 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones said that he had been told Trump would pardon Arpaio.

Jones teased an “exclusive” interview with Arpaio and described how his case reached Trump’s desk, claiming it started with Infowars Washington bureau chief Jerome Corsi. According to Jones, “It’s Dr. Corsi writing the articles, and it’s Matt Drudge picked him up, and the president saw it in Matt Drudge’s Twitter feed, and then said, ‘Is this true? I haven’t even heard of this on Fox.’ And he called [Sean] Hannity up, and said, ‘Why aren’t you covering this?’”

Since at least April, Corsi has been publishing articles advancing Arpaio’s interests. Corsi wrote an Infowars.com piece in June headlined “Why Trump White House and Sessions DOJ must help Sheriff Arpaio.” On August 18, Corsi published an article that said “Infowars.com has learned the White House counsel has prepared, at the request of President Trump, a pardon for former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio that is ready for Trump to sign.”

Arpaio opened his comments on Jones’ show by saying, “I want to thank you, Alex, and your staff, Jerry Corsi, Roger Stone, for bringing this story out and reaching the president. I supported him from, what, two years ago at the same forum that he did yesterday and I’m with him and I’m with him to the end.”

Jones floated the prospect of Arpaio joining the Trump administration during the interview, and Arpaio replied that he wasn’t wasn’t looking to join the administration but said, “If he called me, it would be very difficult for me to turn him down because I will do anything to help him out.

Here’s the full interview.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy: `The future of the Democratic Party is in Texas.’

 

[cmg_anvato video=”4169228″]

Good morning Austin:

One of my earliest memories is listening to the election returns in the Kennedy-Nixon race on my family’s car radio as we were driving home on Long Island, New York, on the night of Nov. 8, 1960.

I was six years old.

Three years later, my classmates and I at Brookside Elementary School were sent home from school  on news that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas and that Lyndon Johnson of Texas was now our president.

Only a year later, Robert F. Kennedy, RFK, was elected senator from New York in the Johnson landslide.

Four years later, Robert Kennedy, while running for president, was assassinated in Los Angeles. He died on my 14th birthday, June 6, 1968. I stood on line with my parents to touch his casket, lying in state at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.

For a number of years, from the late 1970s through the 1980s, I covered Sen. Ted Kennedy as a reporter for a Massachusetts newspaper, working in both Massachusetts and Washington,

And Saturday night I met Joe Kennedy III, Robert Kennedy’s grandson and a member of Congress from Massachusetts.

If there is going to be a second President Kennedy in my lifetime, he is the one.

He was the keynote speaker at the Texas Democratic Party’s Johnson-Jordan Dinner at the Hotel Van Zandt. It was a sell out of about 375 people at the cool hotel near Rainey Street in Austin, named for the beloved musician, Townes, and I guess it is his great-grandfather Isaac Van Zandt, who played an important role in the annexation of Texas into the Union and died of yellow fever while running for governor in 1847.

I spoke briefly with Kennedy before the dinner. He looks like a Kennedy, but with red hair, and so not so much like his grandfather, until you look at his eyes and then you see it.

Asked about the future of Texas Democrats, he replied, “The future of the Democratic Party is in Texas.”

This is a slight but important variation on what he might have been expected to say, which would have been something on the order of, “The future of the Democratic Party in Texas is bright.”

Instead, he said it is the national Democratic Party whose future is at stake in Texas. In his iteration, Texas goes from being gravy in some future locked-in national Democratic electoral majority, to the meat and potatoes of creating that durable majority.

On the night of Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy was to have spoken to the Texas Democratic State Committee at the Municipal Auditorium in Austin.

According to his prepared remarks, he would have said:

The historic bonds which link Texas and the Democratic Party are no temporary union of convenience. They are deeply embedded in the history and purpose of this State and party. For the Democratic Party is not a collection of diverse interests brought together only to win elections. We are united instead by a common history and heritage–by a respect for the deeds of the past and a recognition of the needs of the future. Never satisfied with today, we have always staked our fortunes on tomorrow. That is the kind of State which Texas has always been–that is the kind of vision and vitality which Texans have always possessed–and that is the reason why Texas will always be basically Democratic.

In that speech, Kennedy recounted the promises he had made – and that he said his administration had kept – in his campaigning with Lyndon Johnson and Sen. Ralph Yarborough and House Speaker Sam Rayburn across Texas in 1960 – in Austin and Dallas and Grand Prairie and Fort Worth and San Antonio and Amarillo and Wichita Falls and Houston and Lubbock and El Paso.

Joe Kennedy, 36,  is the son of Joseph P. Kennedy II, the eldest son of Robert Kennedy, and who also served 12 years in Congress from Massachusetts.

In speaking at Saturday night’s dinner, Joe Kennedy followed Rep. Beto O’Rourke, 44, the congressman from El Paso, who is the Democratic candidate seeking to replace Ted Cruz in the United States Senate. O’Rourke  was introduced by Mike Floyd, 18, a preternaturally gifted politician who is an elected member of the Pearland ISD School Board.

(note: the Facebook Live of Floyd, O’Rourke and Kennedy below ends well before Kennedy’s speech ends and, regrettably,  my phone conked out as well as I was videotaping it.)

Kennedy was introduced by Rep. Donna Howard of Austin, who Rep. Celia Israel, who emceed the dinner, described as a “bad ass.”

Donna Howard and Joe Kennedy.

Kennedy

Rep. ah, Bad Ass? Thank you for what you do. Thank you for what you stand for. Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for showing that even in Texas people are going to reach out and help one another and showing that health care is a right for everybody in this country and not a privilege.

Kennedy thanked Mayor Adler.

Mayor Adler, thank you for welcoming me back to Austin .It is pleasure always to be here. My staff always wonders whether I am cool enough to come here.  The answer is always emphatically no, every single time. They made fun of me yet again on my way here.

Kennedy said, “I’m really here to introduce Beto.”

He’s my best friend in Congress. The rub in our friendship is that he’s also known as being the best-looking Kennedy in Washington. 

Every single profile. 

He told me the other day that everybody always thinks that we’re related because they say we look alike. 

I said, “That’s nice.”

He said, `Not really.”

Kennedy:

If there was ever a Texan who was needed in the United States Senate, it is Beto O’Rourke. He embodies what you saw on stage just a moment ago, what is best and brightest about this fine state and our party – warmth, independence, moxie, faith. He is dogged. He is decent. He is a breath of fresh air in a town that is all to stuck on the status quo. He is tireless, literally tireless ...

He recalled accompanying another tireless campaigner in Texas during the fiercely contested 2008 Obama-Clinton primary.

Your state, this state is near and dear to my heart. I will never forget barnstorming Texas with my Uncle Ted, campaigning for then Sen. Obama. We went all over the place and we finished up late one night in Laredo in a hall and at that point there were only a handful of supporters there to greet us, and my uncle walked into that room and he didn’t blink and without missing a beat,  belted out every word of “Ay Jalisco No Te Rajes” in a booming Boston accent, and the crowd went absolutely nuts for a ranchera song, and a Massachusetts mariachi who tried to sing it.

Folks, the distance, the differences between our two states evaporated in that moment, a divide easily bridged by traditions, common cause and human touch. 

Per NPR, Sen. Kennedy recalled that rally in Laredo in his posthumously published memoir.

I felt joyous and exuberant through the inevitable exhaustion of the Democratic primary campaign, as I had felt in Wyoming and West Virginia in 1960 for Jack, and in Indiana and California in 1968 for Bobby. “No one said we couldn’t have a little fun!” I shouted to a Latino crowd in San Antonio before belting out “Ay Jalisco No Te Rajes” in my version of Spanish. I had so much fun that I sang it again in Laredo. By mid-May, Obama had won the crucial North Carolina primary and had taken the lead in committed delegates. Some commentators were declaring the race already over. I certainly intended to keep on campaigning for him through the late spring and summer, but there was time to steal away for a few sails on Nantucket Sound.

 

What was he singing about?

Here are some of the lyrics:

When it comes to women, Jalisco’s the best
same in the highlands as they’re there in the canyon
The loveliest of women, extra beautiful faces
the girls in Guadalajara are like this
In Jalisco you love the right way
because loving the wrong way is dangerous.
Many bullets were shot for a brunette
and under the moonlight singing in Chapala

This is how it is supposed to sound.

Returning to Joe Kennedy.

An Austin-Boston connection. Texas and Massachusetts. Two mighty American epicenters that are hopelessly divided by football and food, but yet are united by a profound sense of patriotism, by an outsized (role) in the history of our United States, and it is alive in this room tonight, and I cherish the opportunity to tell all of you that now, our nation’s heart is with Texas.

Kennedy, whose wife’s family lives in Houston and who had just visited there with O’Rourke, talked about the heroic response of Texans to Harvey.

Their actions, your actions, are a tonic for the raw wounds of our country, a country that is nervous for the fights that will come tomorrow, a country that is struggling to remember what holds us together, at a moment that threatens to tear us apart. Ladies and gentlemen, it is no secret that we gather in perilous times. White supremacists and neo-Nazis march proudly in the light of day. Brave immigrant children being told they will be sent to a place they have never known. Ninety Republican congressmen voting against disaster relief for Texas, including four from this very state.

Heroes in uniform who are seeing their service sacrificed and degraded because of who they are. Refugees, fleeing unspeakable violence and oppression, being denied safe haven on our shores. The health care of suffering families caught in a cruel political game. And a president of the United States who calls this greatness. An administration that counts to choose who is worthy of justice and who is not. Who counts and who doesn’t. Who is welcome and who will be turned away. Who pits American against American, as if governing the nation were some bad episode of reality television.

Week after week, week after week, we are forced to defend sacred ground on every front, and it can be easy I think, for many of us to see this past year through the lens of true chaos, some amateur executive with a thick ego and a thin skin, an inept administration in a state of confusion at best, corruption at worst.

But, if we leave it there, if that is the only story we tell, then we miss the real fight, because when you take the time to connect every devastating dot in the chaos, (it) reveals a strategy that is breathtaking in its calculation and in its precision. President Trump and let’s be clear, the countless Republican leaders whose silence gives him cover, have launched an all-out assault on the character of our country. They are carefully remaking a proud, confident, diverse, gutsy and gracious nation into something scared and small, to something petty and insecure, and human dignity is not something you are born with but something that you make with the size of your crowds, the strength of your bank account, the names of your friends … not to mention the gender of your spouse, the country of your birth, the God in your prayers, the color of your skin.

They are not just targeting the laws the protect us. They are targeting the whole idea that we are all worthy of protection. And folks, that is the greatest threat that we face, a rebuke of the highest American ideals, that is as old as our scriptures and as clear as our Constitution. The belief that we are all worthy, that we are all equal, that we all count in the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government. In the words of a trailblazing daughter of Texas whose name this dinner proudly bears, “equality for all, privilege for none.”

Democrats, this is our fight. This is the only fight. This is our story. This is our message. This is our electoral strategy. This is our moral responsibility. To rebuild a country defined by the decency it offers every proud man, woman or child who is blessed to call this nation home. Where strength isn’t measured by who you prey on, but who you protect. Where greatness isn’t just a show of muscle but a show of mercy. Where we understand a  nation cannot be powerful when its people are powerless.

And that is the simple vision that links every single battle that Democrats have waged. From fair wages to fair elections, universal health care to scientific discovery, human rights abroad to public education here at home.

Kennedy talked about the integral importance for every human being to have work and be able to support their family and take care of their children.

As the speech drew to a close, he recalled Nov. 22.

The night that he passed way, President John F. Kennedy was set to be right here in Austin, In a speech that he never gave, he wrote the ambitious agenda of a young administration and the challenges that were set to come. Texas will lead the way because, “Texans have stood their ground on embattled frontiers before, and I know you will help us see this battle through.”

It was indeed a bold, brave son of Texas who would help a broken-hearted country achieve that vision. President Lyndon B. Johnson grabbed his arms around a reeling nation and firmly tugged it forward in a way that only a Texan could. The Civil Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act. Medicaid. Affirmative action. The infrastructure of the modern Democratic Party was built with Texan hands. And it is that legacy that we celebrate today as we look to Texas not just for playbook but for a gut check, a sturdy Southern anchor, truly American embodiment of size and strength and stamina.

Two weeks ago when Harvey barreled into your shores we had no doubt you would respond heroically. Somebody once told me that nobody can mess with Texas. But it was your grace that took our breath away. You held tightly to each other. You refused to let a neighbor fall. You literally linked arm in arm to form a human chain to pull strangers from the wreckage.

You  reminded a fractured and fearful country of why we fight so hard to keep our promises, why we sacrifice so deeply for our American experiment because of our people, because they are worth it, because  they deserve a government as good as they are.

We are imperfect. We are flawed and fragile. We can be selfish and cruel. But in the moments that matter most, we expand and we expend, we rescue, we protect, we survive. We give, we open, we help and we heal. We choose, you chose, to be heroes. And it take time and it takes persistence and it takes resistance. But no storm, no threat, no single person, no stubborn monster like prejudice and injustice, in the end, none, none of it can match the small, personal ways that Americans choose goodness every single day, 320 million times over. It is the measure of our country’s character. That’s who we are.

So Texas thank you for reminding the Democratic Party, and a divided nation, exactly what we need to be fighting for in the years ahead.

It is worth noting amid Joe Kennedy’s remarkable paean to Texas, and particularly to Lyndon Johnson, that RFK and LBJ were the bitterest, most personal of rivals. And that for all JFK’s optimism on this last day that Texas will always be basically Democratic, it was LBJ who predicted that by fulfilling JFK’s legacy he would cost his party the South, Texas included, for a generation.

Now, more than a half century since John Kennedy’s death, Robert Kennedy’s grandson was in Austin describing the nation’s debt to Texas and that particular Texan, and looking forward to the day when Texas Democrats will once again be instrumental in their party’s national ambitions.

 

The alligator in the water. On Hurricane Harvey and the lurking threat to the Texas way of doing business.

An alligator moves along flood waters from the Guadalupe River spilling over Texas Highway 35, Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, near Tivoli, Texas. The river carries water left by Hurricane Harvey. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Good morning Austin:

Yesterday morning, our two senators appeared, one after another, on the Senate floor, to talk a little bit about Hurricane Harvey.

Cornyn, the senior senator and number two Republican in the Senate, went first.

He reeled off numbers to suggest the dimensions of the storm and its path of destruction.

And he also took a literary turn.

From a 2015 piece in the New York Times Sunday Book Review by Walter Isaacson – On Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes. 

Walker Percy had a theory about hurricanes. “Though science taught that good environments were better than bad environments, it appeared to him that the opposite was the case,” he wrote of Will Barrett, the semi-autobiographical title character of his second novel, “The Last Gentleman.” “Take hurricanes, for example, certainly a bad environment if ever there was one. It was his impression that not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes.”

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“Why is a man apt to feel bad in a good environment, say suburban Short Hills, N.J., on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon?” Percy wrote in one of his essays. “Why is the same man apt to feel good in a very bad environment, say an old hotel on Key Largo during a hurricane?” Part of the answer is that when a hurricane is about to hit, we no longer feel uncertain about our role in the world. Everyone is focused, connected, engaged. We know what we’re supposed to do, and we do it.

 But Percy’s theory about the redemptive power of hurricanes goes beyond the fact that dangerous situations allow us to become action heroes or saints. “True, people help each other in catastrophes,” he wrote in “Lancelot.” “But they don’t feel good because they help each other. They help each other because they feel good.” The hurricane blows away our alienation. “I knew a married couple once who were bored with life, disliked each other, hated their own lives, and were generally miserable — except during hurricanes,” Lancelot recounts. “Then they sat in their house at Pass Christian, put a bottle of whiskey between them, felt a surge of happiness, were able to speak frankly and cheerfully to each other, laugh and joke, drink, even make love.”

Cornyn didn’t go there. He was speaking even as the House was about to approve the initial $7.88 billion in Harvey aid and probably didn’t see how that image would help.

And, anyway, it was Cruz’s turn to talk.

Cruz also did some Harvey-by-the-numbers, some recounting of the individual and communal acts of extraordinary heroism in the thick of the storm, and painted a vivid word picture of some Harvey scenes.

 

This was the frame of much of the official reaction, from President Trump to Gov. Greg Abbott on down, that everything is bigger in Texas and that a Texas-sized storm requires a Texas-sized federal response, which Abbott has projected could require as much as $150 to $180 billion from Washington, the $7.88 billion approved by the House yesterday merely a good faith down payment. (The Senate was expected to approve nearly twice that amount Thursday, making it a $15.25 billion relief package.)

The governor and Sens. Cornyn and Cruz have praised the Trump administration for its swift and sure response to the disaster, and expressed confidence that it will continue to make sure Texas gets everything it needs as quickly as possible.

And yet, as the headline in the New York Times put it yesterday,  Hurricane Irma, One of the Most Powerful in History, Roars Across Caribbean

What if Irma is as bad or worse than Harvey? Would Washington be able to keep the same focus and commitment to Texas?

On Wednesday I listened to a truly bracing interview on the Texas Standard with Jim Blackburn. co-director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disaster Center at Rice University.

“First of all, we need to know what didn’t flood,” Blackburn says. “That’s going to be the spine of future development.”

In parts of the city where flooding has occurred often, government needs to step in, Blackburn says.

“There are areas that have flooded multiple times. I think we’re going to have to buy out a lot of the homes that have been flooded three times, four times in the last several years, and just remove them from harm’s way because we’re not going to be able to protect them,” he says.

But listen to Blackburn and the truly frightening part is that Harvey wasn’t hardly thew worst-case scenario, that Houston and Texas are still vulnerable to a far, far more devastating storm, one that could lead to the greatest environmental disaster in American history.

Blackburn and his colleagues at Rice were among the sources for the extraordinary Texas Tribune/ProPublica report last year: Hell and High Water: Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country. It’s home to the nation’s largest refining and petrochemical complex, where billions of gallons of oil and dangerous chemicals are stored. And it’s a sitting duck for the next big hurricane. Learn why Texas isn’t ready.

From Hell and High Water:

If a storm hits the region in the right spot, “it’s going to kill America’s economy,” said Pete Olson, a Republican congressman from Sugar Land, a Houston suburb.

Such a storm would devastate the Houston Ship Channel, shuttering one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Flanked by 10 major refineries — including the nation’s largest — and dozens of chemical manufacturing plants, the Ship Channel is a crucial transportation route for crude oil and other key products, such as plastics and pesticides. A shutdown could lead to a spike in gasoline prices and many consumer goods — everything from car tires to cell phone parts to prescription pills.

“It would affect supply chains across the U.S., it would probably affect factories and plants in every major metropolitan area in the U.S.,” said Patrick Jankowski, vice president for research at the Greater Houston Partnership, Houston’s chamber of commerce.

Houston’s perfect storm would virtually wipe out the Clear Lake area, home to some of the fastest-growing communities in the United States and to the Johnson Space Center, the headquarters for NASA’s human spaceflight operation. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses there would be severely flooded.

Many hoped Ike’s near miss would spur action to protect the region. Scientists created elaborate computer models depicting what Ike could have been, as well as the damage that could be wrought by a variety of other potent hurricanes, showing — down to the specific neighborhood and industrial plant — how bad things could get.

They wanted the public to become better educated about the enormous danger they were facing; a discussion could be had about smarter, more sustainable growth in a region with a skyrocketing population. After decades of inaction, they hoped that a plan to build a storm surge protection system could finally move forward.

Several proposals have been discussed. One, dubbed the “Ike Dike,” calls for massive floodgates at the entrance to Galveston Bay to block storm surge from entering the region. That has since evolved into a more expansive concept called the “coastal spine.” Another proposal, called the “mid-bay” gate, would place a floodgate closer to Houston’s industrial complex.

But none have gotten much past the talking stage.

Hopes for swift, decisive action have foundered as scientists, local officials and politicians have argued and pointed fingers at one another. Only in the past two years have studies launched to determine how best to proceed.  

A devastating storm could hit the region long before any action is taken.

To know that Harvey hit and that it wasn’t nearly the big one is frightening, and, as taxpayers from across the country are asked to foot much of the bill for our state’s recovery and rebuilding, questions will be raised about why Texas hasn’t done more, isn’t doing more.

From the Washington Post on Aug. 29: Houston’s ‘Wild West’ growth. How the city’s development may have contributed to devastating flooding

Houston calls itself “the city with no limits” to convey the promise of boundless opportunity. But it also is the largest U.S. city to have no zoning laws, part of a hands-off approach to urban planning that may have contributed to catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey and left thousands of residents in harm’s way.

Earlier this summer, after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s comment that “all of problems in America” were in cities and they were run by Democrats, I called Steven Conn, a historian at Miami University in Ohio, the author of Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century.

The book has a great chapter on Houston –  The biggest, boomingest city of them all – from which I quote here at length.

Conn’s recounting  the history of Houston’s resistance to zoning is fascinating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spoke to Conn yesterday about Houston in light of Harvey.

I think plenty of people at this point have said that Houston got what it deserved, or Houston made these choices and now has to live with them. The specter of Ted Cruz saying he really didn’t vote against the Hurricane Sandy money that he was misunderstood, etc. etc. 

One of the points I made in the book and that I would stress here again is that Houston, as much as any other place and more than some, was a place that was built by the federal government, so this notion that this was all independent cowboys who just happened to strike oil at the turn of the 20th Century is kind of a crock. The federal government has always been involved. It’s been involved since the building of the canal, since the locating of NASA facilities there, etc., etc.

Maybe this is a time to reckon with  the dependence the city has always had on public money and particularly public money that comes from Washington since that’s now what Congress is going to be debating. 

Conn noted the difference between the $7.88 billion Congress appears ready to approve and the $180 billion Abbott says Texas may need.

That’s a large gap between those two figures. So, we’re going to see how this plays out.

It was Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, William Cohen, who was a Republican, it was his wonderful line about how the federal government is always the enemy until you need a friend and that more or less sums up the situation that people in the Houston area now find themselves in. And so it might be a nice time to sort of reckon with all of this as a historical phenomenon, not a one-shot, we’re having trouble right now. It’s the highway spending, it’s all the infrastructure spending. it’s all the things that made Houston what it is.

About two years from, three years from now, what’s going to happen to people’s insurance rates as Houston moves forward? There are a couple of major actors in the whole climate change discussion that don’t get a lot to attention and one of them is the insurance industry, who see climate change coming like a freight train and are adjusting premiums accordingly.

And so, it may be the case that it’s not a good idea to build in those areas that get flooded repeatedly. It may also be the case that if you want to build there, the insurance on that will just be astronomical when this is all done and so, yes, those market forces may come back to bite some of this development in the ass.

The other thing that will unfold over time, which is related to this, is the question of environmental damage left over from various plants, refineries and what-not and maybe it won’t be quite as bad as some people are fearing, or maybe it will be, but at a moment when environmental regulations and enforcement are on the chopping block, you’ve got people who are worried about what just plumed into the water because some plant just caught on fire.

In the meantime, Cruz’s bracing image of that alligator on the flooded road where he found his faith may fade as the horror and exhilaration of Harvey subsides, and we can return to Walter Isaacson’s contemplation of Walker Percy’s theory of hurricanes.

The problem with storms is that they pass. After the winds subside and the earth begins to heal, the malaise and alienation creep back. The last time I saw Walker Percy, he made that point. He was fighting prostate cancer, but he faced his end with the inner calm of the deeply faithful. As he sat on his dock, his face was as placid as the Bogue Falaya, rippled occasionally by a smile. He reminded me of what had happened with the couple in Lancelot. “After the hurricane they took a good hard look at each other on a sunny Monday morning and got a divorce.”

But I think that Hurricane Katrina, which struck 15 years after Percy died, was an exception to the second part of his theory. It jolted New Orleans so brutally that even a decade after the waters receded, the malaise has not crept back in. Instead, the memory of Katrina and the excitement of having to rebuild something better continues to keep people in New Orleans engaged and connected. There’s an edgy creativity that comes from the shared aftertaste of danger, a sense of community that comes from knowing you’re in the same boat.

Surrounded by alligators.

Why Abbott’s empathy, so evident in Harvey, does not extend to those who may be deported with DACA’s demise

Texas Greg Abbott visited the Austin ISD Delco Center Saturday evening August 26, 2017 which has been opened as an evacuee shelter for those fleeing their homes from Hurricane Harvey and met Shirelle Franklin and her family who fled from their home in Victoria, Texas yesterday. She cries as she talks about their experience with the governor.
RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Good day Austin:

Today’s question: Why is Gov. Greg Abbott, who has proved to be so emotionally available and sensitive as Texans have suffered through the trauma and dislocations of Harvey, so emotionally distant toward the 120,000 Texans who may face the trauma and dislocation of the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA?

My guess is that he views the Texans harmed by Harvey – which of course would include Texans regardless of their immigration or citizenship status –  as innocent victims, that their often heroic and gritty response to their travail fits the Texas story that he is justifiably proud of and likes to tell, and that it’s politically uncomplicated and all good to embrace them.

To empathize with those protected by DACA, meanwhile, is politically more fraught. There are those immigration hardliners in Texas who Abbott counts among his supporters who bristle at applying the rosy appellation Dreamers on those they consider to be illegal aliens – period – and really want them gone and will brook no sentimentality about their plight.

https://twitter.com/MOVEFORWARDHUGE/status/904691206440984576

Writ large, in this view, Harvey’s victims are family, while these Dreamers are not.

In rescinding DACA, the Trump administration has given Congress six months to come up with an alternative, and  I asked the governor at yesterday’s briefing on Harvey, if and how Congress should act to prevent mass deportations of individuals, many of whom have really known no other home but the United States.

ABBOTT: From the very beginning, it has been clear that the United States Constitution, on its face provides that the responsibility for immigration is assigned to the congressional, to the legislative branch of government, not to the president, and, as a result it the responsibility of the legislative branch of government to address the issue.

These are issues for the federal government and for the Congress. Again the architectural design is for the Congress to address it and it  is right for Congress to address it.  I expect the Congress to address it.

Listen, it is a multi-faceted challenge and issue for the Congress to address. What I, both as attorney general and as governor are looking for, is for Congress to play its role. As (U.S. House) Majority leader (Kevin) McCarthy pointed out, they want to tackle the issue. I think latitude needs to be given to Congress to tackle the issue.

This is a cooly bureaucratic, process answer to a question on which the fate of some 120,000 Texans may hinge.

Compare this to what Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republicans who is the majority whip in the Senate, said yesterday on DACA. Even as Cornyn made the same point as Abbott, he managed to describe DACA as “well-intentioned,” and to hold the DACA recipients blameless for their situation and to praise their “positive contributions to Texas and the nation.”

This policy, while well-intentioned, was implemented without the approval of Congress by a president who exceeded his authority under the Constitution. This President now has the chance to work with Congress towards finding a solution to this issue where his predecessor failed. These children who were brought here illegally through no fault of their own continue to make positive contributions to Texas and the nation, and it’s important for us to achieve a long-term resolution.

Ditto U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan.

The current DACA program, despite being well-intentioned, is another example of how former-President Obama abused his constitutional authority. The Constitution clearly states that the legislative branch is responsible for writing all laws; not the president. The decision to rescind this program now brings the important job of fixing our broken and inadequate immigration system into focus for Congress to work out a legislative solution. When it comes to the Dreamers, those children and young adults who are here through no fault of their own, I believe Congress should quickly find a solution to ensure they can stay in the United States, which for many is the only home they know. I look forward to working with President Trump and my House and Senate colleagues to improve our immigration laws and better secure our borders.

Even before Harvey, I was aware of Abbott’s capacity for empathy, ever since I saw him cuddling a puppy that survived the terrible 2015 flooding in Wimberley.

 

Perhaps more than Cornyn and Flores, Abbott has a lot of political capital invested in his opposition to DACA.

DACA – Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals – is a policy created by executive action by former President Barack Obama that protects nearly 800,000 individuals, more than 120,000 of them in Texas, who came to the country illegally before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger as of June 2012.

With DACA, they are protected from deportation and able to work legally. To qualify, they have to undergo a background check and certify that they had not been convicted of any serious crimes.

Abbott has been a long-time critic of DACA as a prime example of Obama’s unconstitutional executive overreach, and one of his last acts as attorney general in 2014 before becoming governor was to lead an ultimately successful effort by Texas and 25 states to go to court to stop President Obama from extending DACA’s reach through executive action.

But, consider how President Trump, even as he is doing away with DACA, has been emotionally profligate, if inconsistent, in professing his  love – yes love – for the Dreamers.

This coming from the same president who usually seems so bereft, even incapable, of normal human empathy.

It seemed on President Trump’s two visits to Texas since Harvey hit, it was Abbott acting as Trump’s  emotional guide to appropriate public displays of post-disaster affection, a mentor in the proper application of the pat on the back, the tearful hug and the caress of a child’s cheek.

Gov. Greg Abbott encourages emergency officials working at the State Operations Center on Friday August 25, 2017, in preparation for Hurricane Harvey. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump talk with children impacted by Hurricane Harvey during a visit to the NRG Center in Houston, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, right, also talks with children impacted by Hurricane Harvey. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

And yet,  here is the president tweeting last night that if Congress can’t find its way to save the Dreamers, maybe he will.

Abbott, meanwhile, has been consistently unwilling to embrace the Dreamers or to talk about the issue in personal terms.

From his appearance on Fox New Sunday with Chris Wallace.

WALLACE: Finally, Governor, I want to ask you about the related issue. The president is going to announce on Tuesday, what he’s going to do about the DACA program. Texas has the second-most DREAMers of any country — any state in the country, second only to California. I know you have — when you were attorney general, opposed his Obama’s executive orders. What do you think about the possibility of the president ending at the DACA program, putting these DREAMers at risk of deportation, particularly those right now in the Houston area who you are just trying to help out and recover from the flood?

ABBOTT: Well, Chris, we need to recognize that this is really a symptom of a larger problem that remains unresolved. We wouldn’t have this whole issue about DACA if Congress would step up and pass immigration reform and do so in working with the president. We will continue to have challenges like this that lasted until both the Congress and president step up and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

WALLACE: Did you ask discuss DACA with the president yesterday? I know you had a lot — go ahead.

ABBOTT: I spent a lot of time talking to the president, not just yesterday but in his prior trip and over the phone. I got to tell you that what the president’s talked to me about exclusively is his compassion and commitment to helping Texans dig out of this hurricane and as a result, issues like DACA and other related issues never came up.

Flip the dial to ABC, and there was Abbott Sunday being asked the same question, in an even more personal way, by Martha Raddatz on This Week.

RADDATZ: Houston has one of the highest populations of so-called Dreamers in the country. We met one of them, 15-year-old Yasmine Madrano, as her family returned to their flooded out Houston home, which they just recently paid off.

YASMINE MADRANO: It’s a lot of work. Yes.

All the — our house is just crumbling down like that. It’s sad.

RADDATZ: Her family came to the U.S. when she was five. She just applied for DACA status. Now the stress of both Harvey and the president’s looming decision is taking its toll on her dream of becoming a surgeon.

MADRANO: My biggest fear is for us to get deported. For my family, after all the hard work that they have done, to just be thrown away and then go back to how we were. And for me, to not be able to study, not be able to work, it’s a lot.

And I still have to worry about going back to school, so it’s kind of stressful.

RADDATZ: I asked governor Abbott about Yasmin

She said she that doesn’t know what she’s more nervous about is flood or being deported. When should she stop being nervous?

ABBOTT: Well, that obviously would depend upon so many factors that are hard to predict right now. One would be what the president would do, another would be what congress would do.

So Martha, until Congress, until the United States, truly reforms our immigration system with standards that everybody knows and understands, that are enforced and applied, we will continue to deal with these very challenging circumstances.

RADDATZ: So, what would you say to that 15-year-old?

ABBOTT: The best place to get into is the United States of America. And we need to make sure we keep America, that shining city on the hill that people aspire to.

RADDATZ: So, it’s not with someone like her here?

ABBOTT: It’s going to be a standard that ensures that America will be the place that people aspire to and there will be ways if Congress reforms the immigration system, there will be ways in which America needs to continue to attract immigration through the legal system.

RADDATZ: The experience of Harvey has been a profound moment in a tumultuous year, showing the best of America, but also threatening to expose the cost of the rancor and division that has infected our political life.

You can see that in the faces of families like the Madranos  their uneasy existence in America ever more tenuous.

And in the uncertainty about Houston’s future and the hard questions facing this country. Will the spirit that got this city through the crisis last in the aftermath? Was Harvey a genuine watershed moment or will the underlying tensions tearing America apart rise again as the waters recede.

Telling a teenager that her deportation may be necessary to maintain America as a place people would aspire to immigrate to is a hard sell..

It’s also a cold  answer to a human question, but it has been his unwavering line.

It is a lawyer’s answer. And that may be it.

Abbott,  the former Texas Supreme Court justice, the former attorney general, answers DACA questions as a matter of law and Constitutional architecture, without even a nod toward the enormous, almost unimaginable upheaval that would occur in Texas and to Texas if there were any actual effort to deport any significant number of the 120,000 DACA recipients.

I don’t think even red Texas is prepared to see that happen.

Mass deportations would rip a hole in the fabric of Texas that would affect too many lives.

 

 

And here from the Texas Lyceum poll in 2015.

But Abbott may have concluded that  the politic thing to do is to say as little as possible, knowing that any expression of empathy will be seen as a sign of weakness for some in his base.

Without specific reference to “Dreamers,” a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll from October 2016 found that two-thirds of Texas Republicans, and three-quarters of those who identified with the tea party, supported the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

And, perhaps the experience of his predecessor, Gov. Rick Perry is a cautionary tale.

When Perry ran for the 2012 Republican nomination for president, he was briefly the front-runner.

But while that campaign is best remembered for imploding in his embarrassing oops moment at a GOP presidential debate, before that, there was another, perhaps even more consequentially damaging debate moment when Perry, under attack from Mitt Romney, who went on to win the nomination, defended the Texas policy of providing in-state tuition at public colleges and universities to what have come to be known as Dreamers.

“If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said, and his campaign never recovered.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz, who is up for re-election in 2018,  was notably quiet yesterday in response to the Trump administration’s DACA decision.

https://twitter.com/Quotron_Inc/status/904543989730164736

When he ran for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Cruz made doing away with DACA a prime directive of his campaign, and he was not one to be cowed by a direct confrontation with a Dreamer.

From Real Clear Politics   on Jan. 8, 2016:

Sen. Ted Cruz was confronted by a young woman who was legalized by the president’s DACA program at an event in Storm Lake, Iowa Wednesday night.

“As a DACA holder myself, I am worried about whoever comes next in the presidency and what’s gonna happen to people like us?” the woman said, in a video posted on YouTube by the Democratic National Committee. “I think of myself as a part of this community and, you know, first day in presidency you decide to deport, you know, people like myself — it’s just very difficult to process it.”

“I would note, if you’re a DACA recipient it means that you were brought here illegally, and violating the laws has consequences,” Cruz responded. “And one of the problems with our broken immigration system is that it is creating human tragedies and there are human tragedies when people break the law, but I can tell you what the law is in every country on earth.”

“If I illegally emigrate to England or Germany or France or China or Mexico, and they catch me, they will deport me,” he said. “That’s what every other country on Earth does, and there’s no reason that America’s laws should have less respect than the laws of every other country on Earth.”

“We should welcome people who come following the laws, but there are consequences for breaking the laws, and that is part of what makes America the nation that we are,” he said.

Cruz, like Abbott, would have to answer for any softening of his stance on DACA.

For those like Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican who was Cruz’s most important ally and advocate during the Iowa caucuses, any compromise on DACA is a sell-out.

 

Astros pummel Harvey, but did father really know best?

 

Good day Austin:

You got to admire the grit of Matt Harvey, the Mets pitcher, taking the mound against the Astros Saturday in the first game back at Minute Maid Park since that other Harvey, the hurricane.

It was Harvey’s first game back off he disabled list at the end of a miserable, injury-plagued season both for him and his team, and it didn’t go well Saturday, except as a cathartic exercise for Houston.

I went to the night game. I grew up in New York. I was eight the Mets’ first season. I’m a lifelong Mets fan. I had never been to Minute Maid Park. I hadn’t been to Houston since Harvey, so I drove to Houston Saturday for the night end of the double header.

Before I even took my seat, I saw in the centerfield bleachers a sea of blue, and they were chanting “Let’s Go Mets.”

 

There were a lot of them and they were loud. I went over and sat with them.

They were the 7 Line Army, Mets fans who buy tickets as a bloc and go to a bunch of games both in New York and on the road. Some were from Texas, but a lot weren’t. The guy behind me was an ex-Marine from the Bronx. He said his two favorite teams were the Mets and “whoever is playing the Yankees.”

Good man.

The 7 line refers to the subway you take to get to Citi Field, and before that Shea Stadium, where the Mets play in Queens, N.Y.

One may recall Atlanta pitcher John Rocker’s choice words about the 7 train  in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1999.

–On ever playing for a New York team: “I would retire first. It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you’re [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.”

–On New York City itself: “The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. I’m not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up
there. How the hell did they get in this country?”

This drew the favorable attention of Jared Taylor when I met him at the 2000 American Renaissance Conference, named for the white nationalist on-line site, back then a print publication, that he edits. In my story on that event, I quoted Taylor  describing Rocker as “the one sane man in sports.”

I also quoted Taylor as declaring at the conference,“We’ve lost the ability to say ‘us’ or ‘we.’ Most whites simply cannot bring themselves to say, ‘This is our culture, this is our nation and it belongs to us and no one else,’”

Last year, Taylor cut radio robocalls for Trump in Iowa (independent of the Trump campaign), and as for Rocker …

From the New York Daily News in January 2016:

Retired redneck reliever John Rocker says there’s one New Yorker who doesn’t make him sick: Donald Trump.

The ex-major leaguer, who famously dissed the No. 7 train and its culturally diverse riders, jumped aboard the Trump express with a Tuesday endorsement of the GOP front-runner.

“I think he has really woken America up,” said Rocker, 41, who retired after the 2003 season, in an interview with The Daily Caller.

From the Daily Caller interview:

“I’m probably as disheartened as everyone else is, as Trump supporters seem to be, with the status quo and the glad-handing politicians and the soundbite politicians always looking for the right comment to make and walking that fine line trying to make every single faction out there, who could be a possible voter, don’t make anybody mad and wear kid gloves,” he said.

“I wish someone, excuse the frankness here, would have the sack, would have the backbone to make unpopular comments, and when folks come out — mainly media, special interest groups, factions, things like that — and just start hammering them and demanding apologies… I’ve always wanted to see the person that’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve made these comments, these are my beliefs, and you know what, if you don’t like it stick it. I’m not apologizing, I’m not changing,” Rocker told The DC. “I think that is something that millions and millions of Americans have been waiting for probably a decade or two to hear something. Maybe even since Reagan.”

Anyway, in the second game, the Mets’ Seth Lugo pitched five great innings for the Mets, but things fell apart in the sixth and the Mets lost that game (and Sunday’s as well) doing their part to lift Houston’s spirits.

Which is all good, except in the fourth inning of the second game when Wilmer Flores, who had hit a grand slam for the Mets in the first game, came to bat to the chants of the 7 Line Army …

… only to foul off a ball that smashed him in the face, breaking his nose and leaving him bleeding profusely.

 

Anyway, it’s been that kind of season for the Mets.

I left Minute Maid after the game and got a little turned around looking for my car when I saw a vision – a billboard of the Anderson family of the 1950′ TV family sitcom, Father Knows Best.

I was born in 1954, the year Father Knows Best began its six-year run, though it would be repeated in prime time for a few more years, and I grew up on its reruns.

After the opening music, one is presented with a pack of Kent cigarettes with one cig smoking in an ash tray, as the announcer brags that Kent is the only cigarette with a Micronite filter, and, lo and behold, Robert Young, who plays the father who knows best – Springfield, USA insurance salesman Jim Anderson – lifts that smoking cigarette to his lips and the announcer intones that this will be the story of “a man, his home and his family.”

Meanwhile, what about that Micronite filter.

What exactly is Micronite?

Well, it turns out, it is abestos.

Oh my.

This is from asbestos.com, created by the Mesothelioma Center:

In their quest for the perfect fiber to use for filters, Hollingsworth & Vose (H&V) produced one made with crocidolite asbestos and tightly packed crepe paper in 1952. H&V produced the filters for Lorillard, and they were used in the Kent Micronite brand of cigarettes. The new filter was marketed as “the greatest health protection in cigarette history.” The company never revealed to the public that asbestos was the primary ingredient in its “dustless” cigarette.

From 1952 to 1956, Lorillard sold nearly 11.7 billion Kent Micronite cigarettes in the United States, all constructed with asbestos filters. The filter was considered effective because it filtered 30 percent of the tar from the smoke. Ultimately, though, the filter was judged to be too effective: smokers complained of a lack of flavor, and Kent only accounted for 1 percent of all cigarettes sold. The asbestos filter was abandoned, and Lorillard ceased production in 1956. The Kent Micronite brand is still sold today without asbestos.

Many people who smoked the original Kent Micronite cigarettes experienced health complications in later life as a result of asbestos exposure. One study revealed that smoking one pack of original Kent Micronite a day would expose a smoker to 131 million crocidolite fibers with a length of 5µm (5 micrometers or five thousandth a milimetre) a year. Studies suggest that fibers at this length or longer are the most carcinogenic. Each filter contained 10mg of asbestos, or as much as 30 percent. Because the study only analyzed the amount of asbestos inhaled from two puffs, the actual amount of asbestos inhaled by the average smoker would be far greater.

Kent, flavorless and deadly, a killer combination preferred by America’s iconic 1950s father, who knows best, and later, as Marcus Welby, MD, would be America’s iconic family physician.

In their wisdom, Father Knows Best in later seasons switched from Kent to Scott Paper products, which can produce a lot of pollutants in the making, but at least does not offer customers a personal asbestos inhaler.

Anyway, I liked Fathers Knows Best in both a straightforward and ironic ways.

Father Jim was a bit of a doofus and easily frustrated, but generally good hearted and, bless his heart, a devoted newspaper reader. Wife Margaret had a suspiciously British or upper-crust accent. Eldest daughter, Betty, aka Princess, who is obliterated in the billboard by a cone, was an entitled know-it-all – a princess and pain-in-the ass. Kathy, aka Kitten, was annoying. But Bud, aka Bud  (I think he was James Jr.) was super-cool. And like the best television – well maybe not the best but some of the best – it had a calming effect.

But what were the Andersons, now so long gone from American consciousness, doing outside Minute Maid Park? How did they get there? What did it mean?

I must admit, I wondered whether in the age of Trump, this wasn’t a benign vision of what Make America Great Again was all about. Wasn’t the Again in MAGA a reference, conscious or not, to the Father Knows Best white America, which, Houston, as much or more than any city in America, has left behind.

In 2004, I did a series of stories about America’s changing demographics, beginning one as follows:

When did Miami become 12 percent Anglo and Chicago a quarter Hispanic? When did the chockablock neighborhoods of Houston come to feel more like a sweaty Queens than an overgrown Galveston? When did Patel and Singh become the Smith and Jones of Edison, N.J.? When did the suburbs of Los Angeles _ until 1960 the whitest big city in America _ become less than a third white? And when did the shining beacons of New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, indeed the whole state of California, places that once drew people from every corner of the nation and the globe, lose their luster at home?

And what did those cones, with the Klan hood shape, symbolize?

From the 2015 book on Father Knows Best by Mary Desjardins.

When I got home very late night Saturday night I did some Googling and find that it was a piece of public art created by a remarkable Houston artist by the name of Prince Verughese Thomas who is a professor of art at Lamar University. Thomas, a U.S. citizen, came to the United States as a child. He was born, an Indian citizen, living in Kuwait

Here is something Lamar wrote about he piece, which is entitled Family Portraits, in March 2016.

The city of Houston recently installed a billboard-sized work of art by Prince Varughese Thomas, associate professor in Lamar University’s Department of Art. Located on Jackson Street near Minute Maid Park “Family Portraits,” is a permanent installation commissioned by the Houston Art Alliance.

“I was thrilled to be selected to have my work displayed for the public,” said Thomas. “As an artist, that is our primary goal: to get our work to the public. The location is just perfect for high pedestrian traffic, especially during the Major League Baseball season.”

Thomas created “Family Portraits” to reveal different bits of information from various viewing distances. From far away, viewers see a picture of the family from the television show “Father Knows Best,” which represents the traditional American family of the past. As the viewer walks closer to the artwork, the picture, which is composed of large half-tone dots, “disintegrates” into basic circles.

A secondary component of the work is a row of cones that is visible when a viewer gets closer to the installation. Thomas arranged the cones to resemble people from multiple races and ethnicities.

“I chose a theme of family, both past and present, as an underlying conceptual frame for the piece,” said Thomas. The arrangement of the cones represents a new family portrait that reflects our contemporary community, with its beautiful mix of cultures and races coming together to form our modern society. This also ties to me personally, because my wife and I are of different races.”

I exchanged emails with Thomas overnight, asking him my questions.

Here is what he wrote me back this morning.

The City of Houston commissioned me to make a piece – if i remember correctly about 15 years earlier they had invited some artists to make billboards in Downtown and through time, weather, and age they were ready to refurbish the original set of billboards while selecting an additional set of artists to make more billboards to place around downtown.  The city selected the location of each artist’s work so i was thrilled to see where they put mine.  Perfect location for pedestrians leaving the game to have exactly the experience that happened to you.
The location is perfect  – many people do not see art as something of value or relevant in their daily lives… so having it in a place where pedestrian traffic will be high during games just allows for the work to be discovered and hopefully thought about it and considered.
My experience with Father Knows Best and all the other shows from the Golden Age of Television was not as direct as yours.  We immigrated to the US in 1972, so I was watching those shows in re-run as a young boy – but it was my first experience of the United States and how I believed Americans lived for a long time.  When we first got to the US, we had no American friends so that was the model I used for how Americans lived/behaved.  Also, these shows helped me learn english. But obvious to me even as a boy was the strange absence of people of color. 
The use of that image of Father Knows Best was multi-fold – 1) for them to be held as the standard bearers for the classic American Family; 2) to evoke a sense of nostalgia of a better time; & 3) hopefully to have a viewer recognize that that better time was maybe not that great as we remember for all.
You picked up on the references of the cones too – a set of black, white, and gray cones.  if a viewer pays attention to the placement of the cones – the implication of the placement is that it is a family with mothers, fathers, and kids. A new American family of mixed race – whether that family be related through blood or a metaphor for a community of people like Houston – which is my life – as a citizen in a major metropolitan city and in my personal life in an inter-racial marriage. 
The cones can reference many things – simply stand-ins for people, some have seen them as the hoods that some Spanish monks wear, and others have seen them as Klan Hoods. – My intent was the Klan Hoods – simply to acknowledge the reality that no matter the family or group of people, we all have our biases and prejudices – to acknowledge them and open ourselves up to dialogues…  it wasn’t necessarily intended as a negative versus the reality that all people have their inherent biases and prejudices whether based in race, religion, or politics.  and dialogue/communication is what a city must have in the 21st century to survive – acknowledge the inherent prejudices and inequalities where they are – and then address how change/understanding must occur as a community -not an easy process but necessary.
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I wondered how Thomas fared in Harvey.
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He sent me his most recent Facebook post.
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First of all, thank you to everyone that reached out on Facebook and Phone.  I truly appreciate it.  As you know, I am not really a facebooker but do see the value in Facebook and sharing information in times of difficulty.  Thank you again.  It really did touch me to know so many cared.

As far as my art goes, between Brittney Thomas, Shane Platt, Caleb Sims, Butch Jack we were able to remove everything from my Art Storage unit in two intense days.  Thank you to these special people for giving me the gift of their time and strength (Physical & Emotional).

Thank you to Torie Shelton and Caleb Sims for accepting seven of my crates into their studio to dry out.

You won’t believe this but after two days – when we were finally finished – finished with moving the art, finished emotionally and spent physically… Britt & I are driving home at night and I run over Harvey debris and we get a flat tire.  It just seemed so appropriate.  It was too late in the evening and I didn’t have the patience to fight with those freakin’ lug nuts in the night so we came back this morning to change it.  What can you do but Laugh!

As of now it looks like roughly 30% of my work is gone for good and 50% of all the frames.  30% might not sound like much but when you times it by 25 years worth of working….  It hurts.  Time will tell as things dry if this number goes even higher.  Works from the early 90’s to works from my last show that closed in May 2017 that can never be replaced.

We had both home insurance and flood insurance but apparently that doesn’t cover a storage unit that is off my premises.  That was my mistake, years ago, when I first got these policies it did cover an outside storage… but allstate’s policy changed somewhere down the road and I never read the fine print.  My Mistake.

I contacted FEMA but they denied my claim because my home was not damaged.

Such is Life.

Oh my God. He lost about third of his life’s work. Not a loss of life, but still wrenching and truly tragic.
I wondered what insurance agent Jim Anderson would have done if Thomas had come to him with his claim Turn him away? Tell him he was out of luck?

I asked Thomas about that.

Jim would have never said, “Sorry you’re out of luck…” Hell, Marcus Welby MD would never have said – “You don’t have health insurance, sorry go seek treatment somewhere else.”

 Looking at Thomas’ work I came across another compelling installation. It was called Obituary and it was about the death of American newspapers.

 

 

The response to Harvey by Texas newspapers has been remarkable.

And yet …

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Think of it, almost 11,000 people by going into winds that the media would not go into,” Trump said at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, before gesturing toward the press.

“They will not go into those winds, unless it’s a really good story,” he said.

And this …

What follows is, in four installments, a film that the Father Knows Best cast made, in character, to persuade Americans to buy U.S. Saving Bond by turning the show into Führer Knows Best, in which Jim becomes a domestic despot, as a preview of what could happen to the United States if we don’t pay attention and invest in America.