Buried in Hillary Clinton’s emails – a few big hugs from Roy Spence.

Good morning Austin:

Hillary Clinton was on Face the Nation on CBS Sunday, her first appearance on a Sunday show in four years.

My, that’s a long time.

But she didn’t disappoint.

The big news: Clinton’s declaration, I am a real person.

Hmmm.

Wow.

Here is how Face the Nation host John Dickerson elicited that admission.

DICKERSON: Let me — a final question.

Your friend the late Diane Blair wrote in her diary — quote — “On her deathbed, Clinton wants to be able to say she was true to herself and is not going to do phony makeovers to please others.”

So, knowing you don’t want to engage in phony makeovers, give us three words that is the real Hillary Clinton.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKERSON: Just three.

CLINTON: Just three? I can’t possibly do that.

Let us pause here.

What kind of question is this?

It’s mired in a kind of morbid negativism.

Your deceased friend confided in her diary that you don’t want die a phony.

Prove you’re not a phony.

In three words.

How is Clinton supposed to answer that question?

Three words?

How about:

Female, Not Email.

Or maybe:

Are You Kidding?

Or just a simple:

Go To Hell.

Perhaps Dickerson should have asked Clinton a variation on the Miss Universe/Miss America question that CNN’s Jake Tapper asked each of the Republican candidates at last week’s Republican debate: Which woman would you like to see replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill?

Except, maybe, out of deference to Clinton, he could have asked Clinton, as potentially the first woman president, whether she would prefer to eventually replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, or Donald Trump on the million-dollar note.

But, instead, he asked Clinton, after decades as among the best known people on the planet, to reintroduce herself with three words that would at long last reveal the real Hillary Clinton.

Clinton, in reply, did about the only thing she could do.

She laughed.

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And then she said this:

I mean, look, I am a real person, with all the pluses and minuses that go along with being that. And I have been in the public eye for so long that I think — you know, it’s like the feature that you see in some magazines sometimes. Real people actually go shopping, you know?

Yes, there is a genre of supermarket tabloid stories that revel in catching celebrities doing something ordinary – walking their dog, taking out the garbage, and, yes, shopping.

And here is an excellent compendium of celebrities grocery shopping.

But Dickerson’s question was way more aggressively intrusive than catching her at the Whole Foods in her sweats.

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As Clinton answered Dickerson, the camera came in so tight on Clinton that, watching at home, I felt she was invading my personal space.

But, as I watched, I felt a sudden surge of empathy.

Clinton seemed so put upon, so alone, in such a hopeless situation.

There was really only one appropriate, human response.

She needed a hug.

johndickerson

But there was no hug coming from John Dickerson – a kind of button-down Chris Matthews who, at least, for better or worse, is all sloppy emotion.

hardball

Instead, Clinton having failed to come up with three magic words, Dickerson wrapped it up.

DICKERSON: All right. Well, I’m going to have to really interrupt you.

Thank you, Secretary Clinton.

CLINTON: Thanks, John.

Yeah. Thanks, John. Thanks a lot.

Earlier in the show, in the de rigueur discussion of her State Department emails, Clinton said, People are going to get a chance to see all kinds of behind-the-scenes conversations, most of which, I’m embarrassed to say, are kind of boring.

But buried in those thousands of emails searchable on the State Department site, are a handful of emails that are not at all boring. They are effusive, loving, affirming – hugs in the ether – from someone who knows Clinton – and hugs – as well as anyone: Austin’s Roy Spence.

A prime example:

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 6.59.48 AMScreen Shot 2015-09-22 at 7.01.12 AMHi sis. I love you. Beloved. Dear Love. I love you. I miss you. I cherish every moment of our remarkable journey together. God Speed. Ride at dawn.

Now, that’s what I’m talking about.

That’s an affirming, a big bear hug of an email. The kind you read and reread. (Pls print)

The kind that makes your day.

I asked Spence about his emails with Clinton in a telephone conversation Friday.

“I’m kind of the chief encouragement officer,” Spence explained.

For those unfamiliar with Spence, he is a founder and chairman of the iconic Austin ad agency GSD&M and founder and CEO of the Purpose Institute.

He also wrote the book on hugs.

Book cover: "The 10 Essential Hugs of Life" by Roy Spence
“The 10 Essential Hugs of Life” by Roy Spence

 

From Dale Roe’s 2013 interview with Spence in the Statesman when the book came out.

At 65, Spence is ridiculously energetic, his mouth just barely struggling to keep up with the wheels I sensed spinning to a blur behind his silver hair, infectious smile, booming laugh (he’s not a large man — where does that gigantic sound come from?) and inviting Austin drawl.

“If anybody’s qualified to write about hugs,” I thought, “this is the guy.”

Spence was inspired to write the book four years ago. On a business trip with colleagues in Germany, Spence was exhausted after finding himself unable to doze on the flight. Still, he forced himself to stay up until 7 p.m., hoping for a good night’s sleep before the next morning’s important meetings.

Lying in bed alone and far from home, he began to shake. He had immersed himself in work and family in the four weeks since his father’s death. Outside, the skies opened up and it began to pour. “I was a sixty-year-old kid with no parents. I am all alone,” he writes in the book. “I had never needed a hug more in my life.”

The author describes how he began to feel a deep embrace in his heart that he was certain was a hug from his mom and dad. He basked in the warm, soothing feeling then awoke, filled with energy. Thinking he’d slept all night, he was surprised to find out he’d been out only for an hour.

Spence stayed up the rest of the night, first creating the title for the book and contemplating its contents then, going on 40 nearly sleepless hours, writing the chapter titles.

“I wrote the book for it to be both physical hugging and kind of symbolic, metaphysical hugging,” Spence says. “The purpose of ‘The 10 Essential Hugs of Life’ is to use the hidden power of hugs to lift people up, including yourself.”

23 OCTOBER 2013: Roy Spence, founder of GSD&M has a new book out, "The 10 Essential Hugs of Life." poses for a portrait at GSD&M with artwork from the book in in Austin, Tx., on Wednesday, October 23, 2013. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Roy Spence, founder of GSD&M, has a new book out, “The 10 Essential Hugs of Life.” Spence poses for a portrait at GSD&M with artwork from the book in in Austin, on Wednesday, October 23, 2013. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

I’ve only met Spence once in person, but my immediate impression was, this is the real Bill Clinton.

He’s got that charismatic cool with the aw shucks, Texas/Arkansas it’s all-about-you-not-me empathetic approachability.

Add a tincture of Joseph Campbell, a dash of Rod McKuen, and a big dollop of Don Draper in his blissed-out Ommm moment in the closing image of Mad Men, having synthesized the self-actualization of the 1960s into Coke’s classic  “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” ad, and you approximate Spence.

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History’s fortune, Spence became fast friends with Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham in 1972 when they worked together on the George McGovern campaign in Texas.

As Spence recounted the other day:

We were sitting around one day in 1972 and we were just starting to help with the McGovern campaign and we get a knock on the door at our tiny little office and, “Hi, I’m Bill Clinton. I’m taking a leave of absence from Yale Law School,” and, “Hi, I’m Hillary Rodham, I’m taking a leave of absence from Yale Law School,” and from that moment, that’s 43 years ago. I guess what happened was, is, that because we were personal friends of Bill, Hillary, now Chelsea and her daughter, I’ve never considered myself a political friend. We were just personal friends.

Politicians have personal friends too. There’s been ups and downs but I’ve never been a paid staffer, never been on the campaign staff. I’ve always been more of a confidante, friends, they come to our home and they spend the night. We’ve been family friends forever and I guess, you’re right,  I, lots of times, just reach out and give all of them – Chelsea and Bill and Hillary – a hug, and say it’s going to be OK. You know, keep on. That’s sort of my role more than anything.

So, for example, when Spence reads something good about Clinton, he passes it on.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 8.13.01 AM

This email came days after the death of his father, Roy Milam Spence Sr. – Big R – the man who taught him by example that “it is cool to hug everyone.”

As Spence wrote of his father:

The fondest memories I have of him are from my childhood, walking hand-in-hand with him in Piedras Negras, a border town just across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass. Everyone in the Piedras markets, bars and cafés knew him. Big R was a straight-up, six-foot-five, strikingly handsome man. But when he met somebody on the street, he would bend right over and hug them. He hugged them all—men, women and children—and they hugged him right back, especially the women and especially the older ones. He would say in Spanish, “Meet my son, Royito,” and the hugging would begin again.

In her reply to Spence, Clinton made note of Big R’s death.

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And then, a common refrain in the Clinton emails, the secretary of state’s struggle to get a printout.

Part 1.

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And Part 2:

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 8.28.40 AM

What?

Forgot apologizing for how she handled her emails.

How about the fact that she was directing American foreign policy and still relying on a fax machine?

In any case, here is Spence passing on another e-hug.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 1.36.25 AM

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 1.40.50 AMOther times, Spence would be seized by a notion, and share it.

For example, “a quick thought” on a Hillary Rodham Clinton University.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 1.32.28 AM

Or his plan to synchronize their political ambitions.

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The rest of that provocative message is redacted.

I asked Spence about that one.

He said he did not know why it would have been redacted.

It was a moment of time where I actually toyed around with the idea of running for governor here and I thought it would be kind of fun if we ran together – “You run for governor of New York, I run from Texas.” Of course she immediately dismissed that idea.

It’s the kind of stuff I do. Just random words of encouragement.  To all of hem actually – Bill, Hillary and Chelsea. It puts some levity in people’s lives. A little bit, a little joy, a little delight, a little levity and that’s sort of what I’ve been doing for 43 years. I mean, obviously I do a lot of serious business with all of them.  Obviously. But in terms of my little … I thinks there’s enough seriousness to go around. My job is to encourage them and urge them on and have a little fun, just like brothers and sisters and family have with each other.

xxxxxxxx

My mom used to think  I should be governor. She taught civics. We grew up in a very political home in Brownwood, Texas. We would talk politics around the dinner table. She always thought I had the ability to communicate and had a vision so she’d keep pushing me. But I found that my greatest pleasure, and I know this sounds a little trite, is helping other people fulfill their purpose. It really is. I enjoy the idea that I can help Herb Kelleher (co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, a major client) or help Bill Clinton or Hillary or whatever, that maybe people don’t come at it like I do.

Is he bothered about his emails becoming public?

Not really. I didn’t know it was going to happen. It’s like a good friend of mine said recently, I wish everyone would read all of her emails because you’d find out how smart she is.

I remember writing the notes of encouragement to her. I think it’s fine.

For the time being, he said, he is not actively advising the campaign.

Not at this moment. I think she and her team are doing their thing. Obviously when they ask, if they reach out to me I will obviously talk with them but I’m really not that involved with them right now, but I’m still encouraging. I always get involved at some point but I’m not that involved right now, except again in the friendship role, the real friendship role.

Roy and Mary Spence with Hillary Clinton
Roy and Mary Spence with Hillary Clinton

His message to Clinton:

I love her, I love the family. This is a journey. I’s a long journey and there’s miles to go before anybody sleeps. So I would just say, keep on the journey.

And, about his tag line, Ride with Dawn:

One day, we were down in Houston, and this is 25, 30 years ago. We were in a bar, celebrating, we just won a piece of business, drinking tequila, and I got on a table and I said, “Are you with me?” I said, “Drink up my friends, for tomorrow we Ride at Dawn”

And ever since then, I tried everything, and, of course, I’ve had that attitude, I wonder what the world has in store for me today. I think I’ll just go found out Let’s Ride at Dawn.

 

 

Bryan Hughes on Paxton: `Ken is squeaky clean, he’s a straight shooter’

Good morning Austin:

Rick Perry, the last statewide official to be indicted – just very slightly shy of a year ago – set an impossibly high bar for the panache he bought to the booking process. The incomparably beautiful, confident mug shot. The post-booking summer treat of a carefree custard at Sandy’s.

Perfection.

 

Mug shot art by SABO
Mug shot art by SABO

 

So pity Ken Paxton, the attorney general of the state of Texas, as he faced his own booking gantlet, but whose style, such as it is, is panache-free.

Paxton’s style is more shambling everyman.

Here is his mug shot:

Photo via collincountytx.gov
Photo via collincountytx.gov

(note: it is usual for the left side of the face to look different from the right side, but it seems to me Paxton’s left and right sides are exceptionally different.)

News of Paxton’s indictment came over the weekend, and also missing, so far, has been an outpouring of public statements from Paxton’s fellow statewide elected officials – Republicans all – or other name Republicans, rushing to his defense, though maybe that is yet to come.

 

Ken Paxton JAY JANNER/AUSTIN-AMERICAN STATESMAN
Ken Paxton
JAY JANNER/AUSTIN-AMERICAN STATESMAN

In the meantime, I spoke last night with Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, a close friend and political ally of Paxton. Here is our exchange:

Bryan Hughes:

So in The New York Times on Saturday you can read about the sealed indictment, but the guy who has been accused still doesn’t know what the charges  are. It’s pretty bad

Apparently this prosecutor, Kent Schaffer, has released all this information to them that is supposed to be in a sealed indictment, so you really have to question how one can get a fair trial when the prosecutor is releasing information to the media before the first court hearing.

It seems to me these special prosecutors have an interest in dragging this out, building their own name ID and also running the meter. This case goes forward, it goes to trial, the longer it goes the better for them, they get billings for it and they got the taxpayer’s guaranteed ATM paying for them.

This could have been referred to another  district attorney in a neighboring county or even elsewhere in Texas, who’s already being paid to do it, where the infrastructure that is already there. Not only would that have saved the taxpayers money, but an existing district attorney has procedures and policies in place to keep things like this from happening, talking to the media about a sealed indictment.

FR: Paxton is a conspicuously poor speaker. He doesn’t have a very dynamic presence. What is the secret of his appeal?

BRYAN HUGHES:

When Ken speaks to a group of people there is a real connection, and I’ve seen it many, many times. He and I have spent a lot of time together, we’ve campaigned together and when Ken meets someone or when he addresses a group, people feel a real connection to him. They know he’s genuine and people perceive that he’s a fighter and obviously, even in his short time as attorney general, we’ve seen that, you know dealing with  federal government – or I should say fighting back against the federal government –  environmental overreach, obviously on the Supreme Court decision redefining marriage. I think people sense Ken is real. He means what he says. And they can trust him.

FR: How much of tea party loyalty for Paxton dates back to his willingness to challenge Joe Straus for speaker in 2011, though he withdrew before his name was placed in nomination.

BRYAN HUGHES:

Yes, 2010 was the first  midterm election after President Obama was elected, a big tea party wave swept almost a two-thirds majority of Republican into the Texas House and you had all these people who were getting involved for the first time and they were succeeding, they were electing like-minded people, so when Ken  took that position and filed to run for speaker, people noticed that.

I was going to give the closing argument. I was on deck to do that.

FR: How did you get to know Paxton:

 BRYAN HUGHES:

We met during the campaign in 2002. In 2002, Ken was elected in a new Collin County district and his race was in the primary. In Collin County once you won the Republican primary you were in. My race was in the fall. I was in a swing district at the time, so I didn’t have a primary opponent but I had a Democratic opponent.

 We met, had a lot of mutual friends, the same groups and conservative leaders were backing both of us and so we figured out we were pretty like-minded so that led us to becoming friends and rooming together. We roomed together every session but one, different apartments each time.

Believe it or not our first session, 2003, Ken Paxton, Bryan Hughes, Byron Cook. The three of us, our first session. We all came in together. There were 37 of us in that class. Dan Branch was in that class, so was Glenn Hegar. Big class. Big group.

FR: Speaking of Cook, there’s this from the New York Times story:

The most serious charges, first-degree securities fraud, Mr. Paxton is accused of misleading investors in a technology company, Servergy Inc., which is based in McKinney, his hometown. He is accused of encouraging the investors in 2011 to put more than $600,000 into Servergy while failing to tell them he was making a commission on their investment, and misrepresenting himself as an investor in the company, said Kent A. Schaffer, one of the two special prosecutors handling the case. The group of investors were Mr. Paxton’s friends and included a colleague in the Texas House, Representative Byron Cook.

BRYAN HUGHES:

I read that in that New York Times article. That was interesting.

(FR note: I suspect for many Paxton fans, bilking Cook would only make them love him more.)

FR: What are you hearing from folks in your district about the indictment?

BRYAN HUGHES:

The people who have talked to me chalked it up to politics. They see it as a politically driven attack on Ken, which is what it is. I think the reason we haven’t seen a lot of public comment  on it from other officeholders is, again, we don’t know what the charges are.

FR: Paxton signed a confession to the State Securities Board last year, resulting in  a reprimand and a $1,000 administrative fine. Was that process political, or is it the subsequent criminal prosecution that smacks of politics?

BRYAN HUGHES:

Certainly pursuing it beyond (the civil penalty.) From what I’ve read, once the Securities Board issues a civil penalty like that, that’s the end of the matter. A criminal prosecution like this doesn’t follow. From what I’ve read this is unprecedented. So yes, I would say pursuing it, trying to make something else out of it, I think that’s what people see as politics.

 From what I’ve read, and from what I understand reading the documents, this was a clerical matter, the Securities Board dealt with it –  a civil fine. That says a lot, sort of suggests that it is not a criminal violation.

And for what it’s worth, you’ll recall that was the spring of 2014, it came up and Ken’s opponents in the primary went to great lengths to use that to beat him over the head with that, and you’ll see how the voters responded. They gave Ken a resounding victory in the primary and in the fall.

FR: All of the statewides are pretty like-minded. Why would Paxton be a particular target?

BRYAN HUGHES:

I think we’d have to say that Ken has been out front, he’s taken the lead, and when you’re out front you’re going to get shot at.

FR: As someone close to Paxton, this must be painful to watch unfold.

BRYAN HUGHES:

Ken is a friend and he is squeaky clean. Yes, it’s really troubling to see him drug through this. We’re thankful for the Constitution and the American justice system and he’s going to be vindicated, but you can ask Tom DeLay or Rick Perry, who’s still got one left to deal with, it can be along and expensive process, but Ken is going to be vindicated. Ken is squeaky clean, he’s  a straight shooter. I hate that he has to go through this but I’m confident that he’s going to come out on top.

ON THE OTHER HAND

Meanwhile, here is a somewhat (very) different take on all this from Glenn Smith, a longtime Democratic operative and director of the Progress Texas PAC.

GLENN SMITH:

I think there’s plenty more to look at going forward.

There are a lot of curious questions about this. He publicly admits to a felony during the 2014 campaign.

(note: Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm to WFAA: “The Securities Board was very clear this was no crime.It was resolved last spring. It was a civil event. It was a $1,000 fine. And we are only here because of liberal activists.”)

Why didn’t anybody (on the Republican ticket) do anything. They just ignored it

Dan Branch tried not to ignore it but he couldn’t get the attention.

It was just like they were going to give him a pass and I think that needs to be explored. I’m talking about how the law required the Securities Board to refer it to a DA and/or the attorney general. (Governor, then Attorney General Greg) Abbott can’t say he didn’t know anything about it because the confession, as it were, was signed and made public. There are just a lot of questions that have not been answered.

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Republicans have to be a little bit hesitant about rushing to his defense because he has confessed to one of the felonies and these other two serious first degree felonies, we don’t know what they are.

It’s different than Perry. One you don’t have a Rosemary Lehmberg to run against and, two, they don’t have $2 million to spend on a public relations campaign.

Poster by SABO http://unsavoryagents.com/
Poster by SABO
http://unsavoryagents.com/

 

So he can’t fight back (in the same way.) And three, this was the Texas Rangers and Collin County so he can’t claim a political with hunt. So I think you are going to find Republicans are going to be more standoffish because it looks worse and it’s coming at the beginning of his term. And I think their silence speaks volumes.

If he’s forced to resign it’s going to be Republicans forcing him out. Remember there’s still a federal investigation underway.

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Honestly, I think he has to talk to the press. Now that he’s indicted, it’s just going to look terrible if he did what he did during the campaign and hide from the press.

I don’t think you can be the attorney general  of Texas and completely hide from the press while you’re under indictment. I just don’t think he can disappear. He can try it but it’s going to hurt him in the short and the long term.

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He  can’t spend campaign funds on his legal defense because his crimes were personal crimes and didn’t involve in any ways his office, but isn’t it a weird thing that he could have a legal defense and raise money for it and how contributors to it might gain influence to the attorney general’s office?

He needs to stay in office to be able to raise money for his defense fund.

Perry makes history: Amid the excitement, there’s still that indictment

Good morning Austin:

Shortly after Rick Perry announced for president the first time around in August 2011,  Clay Risen of the New York Times wrote the following at the paper’s The Thread.

Consider the Rick Perry paradox: in a G.O.P. field notably bereft of experience in elected office, he has won nine back-to-back elections and spent the last decade as governor of America’s second-most-populous state. And, though the Thread has yet to see him in person, he is apparently the Red State equivalent of Kal-El. Or so says this rapturous lede from Politico:

It sounds like a political fairy tale: Months of campaigning by nearly a dozen candidates have left Republicans restless and worried. No one quite fits the bill. Less than six months remain before the primaries.

And then a superhero arrives.

He’s not just larger than life, he’s bigger than the Ames Straw Poll. His dramatic entrance alters the whole campaign. He swoops to the rescue and leaves everybody eating his dust.

This is the promise of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who announced his presidential candidacy here Saturday and stole the show from the straw poll 1,200 miles away.

He’s got good looks, charisma, experience. So how do you explain his penchant for comments that are, well, a bit out there? Ben Bernanke’s loose-money policy is “treasonous,” and Texans would “treat him pretty roughly” if he came to their state. Global warming is a hoax. Evolution is just an idea “out there.” Social Security is unconstitutional, and the 16th Amendment, which establishes the grounds for federal income taxes, should be repealed. Are these just the words of a newbie to the national stage? Or the future of the Republican Party?

James Fallows picks Door No. 1:

Just after Sarah Palin was nominated three years ago, I argued that anyone who moves all at once from state-level to national-level politics is going to be shocked by the greater intensity of the scrutiny and the broader range of expertise called for. Therefore that person is destined to make mistakes; the question is how bad they will be. For Palin, they showed up in her disastrous first few interviews, especially with Katie Couric. Perry is getting his own introduction to this principle just now.

No doubt Perry will learn to be a little savvier with his soundbites.

Well maybe not.

It’s not what were characterized by the Times as Perry’s fringe political ideas – which are now pretty much tea party mainstream – that ended up getting him in trouble last time. Rather it was a liberal outburst – suggesting to other Republican candidates, “I don’t think you have heart,” if you don’t support in-state tuition for students who, through no fault of their own, find themselves living in Texas illegally – and a heartrending moment of human failing when he couldn’t remember the name of the third federal agency that he wanted to eliminate, oops  – that doomed his candidacy.

Today in Addison, Texas, outside of Dallas, Rick Perry will announce for the second time that he is running for president.

This time he arrives not as Superman, but as Underdog.

He is, by every evidence, in better health – last time out he was recovering from back surgery – and intellectually far better prepared to run for president than he was four years. He is no longer governor so he can also devote himself wholly to the task.

But the field he entered four years ago was truly odd and thin and aching for a hero.

This year’s field, by contrast, is the largest and richest in the party’s history, replete with present and former governors and senators, and with no one begging for yet another choice.

According to the most recent Real Clear Politics polling average, right now Perry ranks tenth with 2.7 percent of the vote, behind former Florida Gov. Bush, Wisconsin Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, celebrity businessman Donald Trump, and then Perry, who is followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The good news for Perry is that the field is large and fluid. No one has a commanding lead. Bush and Walker generally top out at about 12 or 13 percent.

But the bad news for Perry is that the field is large and fluid and his special virtues  – leadership skills,  executive experience and likabilty, which could make him broadly acceptable – aren’t necessarily unique. What is unique to him, not just in this field but it seems in the annals of American history, is that he is the first major candidate for president running for president while under indictment.

He and his team have done a very good job of presenting that fact in its best light, and making it almost an afterthought, if that, in most of what is now written about Perry. But, the fact remains that he is under indictment back in Austin, with no resolution in sight.

From University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato:

I can’t think of any other serious presidential candidate who ran under indictment, certainly not in the modern era. John Edwards was indicted, but that was in 2011, three years after his 2008 candidacy. So Rick Perry is filling a unique niche.

Republicans almost universally see the indictment as political, so it shouldn’t much affect his run for the nomination. If he were actually to win the GOP nomination, and the indictment had not been resolved by the fall of 2016, the indictment would obviously be a drag on his campaign. But there are a couple of ‘ifs’ in there, and 530 days to go.

Mug shot art by SABO
Mug shot art by SABO

“I think it’s a first,” said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus,  author of The Institutional Effects of Executive Scandal.

Perry was indicted for abuse of power after threatening to veto funding for the state’s Public Integrity Unit unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg stepped down from office after her arrest for drunk driving and unseemly behavior at the time of her arrest.

While Perry initially played the indictment to his political advantage, over time, Rottinghaus said, it is nothing but an albatross. In a field as large as this, for almost any other claim Perry can make on a voter – his foreign policy hawkishness, his executive experience, his social conservatism – there is, Rottinghaus said, another candidate who can make that same claim and isn’t under indictment

 

Poster by SABO http://unsavoryagents.com/
Poster by SABO
http://unsavoryagents.com/

 

“If I see a stack of resumes and one of them mentions `indictment’ I’m probably going to discard that one,” said Claremont McKenna political scientist Jack Pitney.

Pitney recalled that when former Texas Gov. John Connally ran for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, he sought to turn his 1975 bribery trial into an asset.

As columnist Jack Anderson wrote in February 1999:

Big John Connally, his Stetson dominating the other hats in the presidential ring, has sought to turn his bribery trial into an asset. With characteristic bluff, he has claimed that he is the only presidential contender who is “certified innocent” by a jury.

But, unlike Perry, Connally’s trial was years behind him when he ran, and, most importantly, he had been acquitted. Even then, it didn’t end well for him.

From the Handbook of Texas entry on Connally, a little background:

Connally switched parties from Democrat to Republican in 1973, three months after LBJ’s death. In the wake of the bribery-related resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew in October 1973, Nixon passed word that he would name Connally to fill the vacancy. This would have put Connally in a strong position to run for president in 1976. Nixon and Connally had privately mused about starting a new Whig-type party in the tradition of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. But Democrats and Republicans alike in the Senate erupted in a “firestorm of protest.” Warnings went up that if Nixon pursued the appointment, some powerful Senate Democrats “would be determined to destroy Connally.” This was during the height of the Watergate scandal, which ultimately forced Nixon to resign. Nixon named House minority leader Gerald Ford vice president but said that he intended to support Connally for the 1976 GOP nomination. In the aftermath, Connally rejoined Vinson and Elkins but soon confronted a criminal prosecution for alleged bribery and conspiracy in a “milk-price” scandal. He was acquitted after a trial in federal court.

Connally’s aborted effort to win the GOP’s presidential nomination in 1980 was short-lived. He was hurt in part by a “wheeler-dealer” identification reminiscent of LBJ, and a press criticism that he was a political “chameleon.” He was also damaged by a 1977 bank partnership he entered into with two Arab sheiks and an ill-advised or misunderstood speech he delivered to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in 1979, that was interpreted as having anti-Semitic overtones. Connally raised and spent $11 million on the fourteen-month campaign but dropped out of the primaries, having gained the binding commitment of only one GOP convention delegate. He felt himself to be a victim of the Watergate scandal. After he lost his bid for the presidential nomination in 1980, he left politics and government.

“Any encounter with the criminal justice system is likely to be bad,” Pitney said. “Even if you totally go with his protestation of innocence, that’s fine, but it still remains a tremendous distraction for a candidate and raises electability issues. It’s hard to see how Rick Perry gets elected president.”

And, according to Texans for Public Justice, the Austin anti-corruption research and advocacy group that brought the complaint that led to Perry’s indictment, the case seems unlikely to resolve itself anytime soon. From a brief they issued timed to Perry’s announcement:

Perry’s legal troubles are likely to outlive his latest presidential campaign. Trial court Judge Richardson, who has since been elected to the state’s top criminal court ,already has dismissed three separate Perry motions to dismiss the indictments.

Perry has appealed Judge Richardson’s rulings to Texas’s 3rd Court of Appeals.

The case is assigned to a three judge panel. A member of that panel, Judge Bob Pemberton, is a Perry appointee who previously served as Gov. Perry’s general counsel.

Judge Pemberton so far has resisted calls to recuse himself from the case.

The appeals court has not yet set a date for oral arguments. Even if that court eventually dismisses the indictment, the state would likely appeal, initiating yet another time-consuming judicial clock.

Meanwhile, trial court preparations continue even as Perry’s appeals unfold.

Progress Texas presents "Perryhood."
Progress Texas presents “Perryhood.”

In other words, if Rick Perry is nominated for president, it will be a heroic comeback of historic proportions.

“He is hugely excellent retail campaigner. He loves people,” said Dave Carney , who was a top strategist to Perry’s last presidential campaign but is not involved this time. No one doubts that.

And, said Carney, “He has a great record that nobody can touch.”

That, of course, would be subject to partisan dispute. But for Republicans, there is no question that his stewardship of the largest red state is gold.

But Carney said it is the trash-talking nature of politics that wherever more than three Republicans gather somewhere in Iowa, someone will say something on the order of, too bad about Perry and that indictment.

Ultimately, Carney said, “I think activists don’t care about it.” Where it is most likely to hurt, he said, is with big-dollar Super PAC investors who may really like Perry but may be reluctant to throw a million dollars at a candidate with that big an asterisk next to his name.

“It’s not ideal,” said Ray Sullivan, co-chair of the pro-Perry Opportunity and Freedom Super PAC. “But, so far we’ve gotten what we need and most political folks, almost regardless of party, believe the indictment will be tossed out, that’s it’s groundless and rather ridiculous. The question is when and that’s something. It is a road bump, but it is not yet an issue.”

 

The Strangest of Bedfellows: On Celia Israel and the Pastor Protection Act

Good day Austin:

Toward the end of Friday’s very long Senate debate on open carry, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who opposes open carry, lent his support, out of concern about the potential for racial profiling by police, to an amendment by Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, that would prohibit police from stopping someone simply because they were openly carrying a handgun to see if that person was properly licensed.

“I’ve heard of strange political bedfellows,” Ellis said on the Senate floor. “This has been the strangest bed I’ve ever slept in.”

OK. But a day earlier, across the Rotunda in the House, there was the bed that Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, found herself in with Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, and his Pastor Protection Act.

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From Chuck Lindell in the Statesman: Marriage bill OK’d as Democrats drop opposition

With Democrats dropping their opposition, a bill to protect religious objections to gay marriage sailed through the Texas House on Thursday, gaining initial approval on a 141-2 vote.

Final House approval is expected Friday, sending the bill to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he will enthusiastically sign it into law.

Named the Pastor Protection Act by supporters, Senate Bill 2065 would shield clergy and houses of worship from lawsuits if they refuse to marry a same-sex couple based on a sincerely held religious belief.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, said the measure would make no change to the state’s marriage laws beyond stating that pastors cannot be forced to perform a wedding ceremony that violates their beliefs.

“This bill is a shield and not a sword,” Sanford told the House. “It makes it clear that government cannot use civil or criminal actions as punishment” for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.

Democrats said the U.S. Constitution already protects pastors who make religious-based choices on who they will or will not marry. After closely questioning Sanford to establish that SB 2065 would apply only to clergy acting in their religious capacity, Democrats dropped objections to the bill, with only Reps. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Armando Walle, D-Houston, voting against it.

(note: the next day Canales and Walle would vote for final passage, though Canales later corrected the record to indicate that he intended to remain a “no” vote.)

SB 2065 left the Senate last week on a 20-9 vote that was split largely along party lines.

Rep. Celia Israel, an openly lesbian Democrat from Austin, urged House members to vote for the bill, saying it merely reflects First Amendment protections for religious practice.

Israel also assured pastors who oppose gay weddings that they don’t need to be concerned if the U.S. Supreme Court affirms the right to same-sex marriage in a ruling expected this summer.

“Some fine day, my partner and I are going to be able to get married in the great state of Texas,” she said. “When that day comes, rest assured to those pastors and preachers who take a more literal interpretation of the Bible, my partner and I of 20 years will not be going to them to bless our union. I will be going to someone who loves and respects us for who we are.”

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I talked with Israel Saturday, and she explained what led her to climb into that bed.

 Well, there’s people around me that I trust. Glen Maxey advised me – “What if we turned the whole board green. And let’s just agree. We all agree on freedom of religion.”

So Glen and I have been friends ever since the Ann Richards campaign. He was heading up the Travis County get-out-the-vote organization, and I was working on the statewide field organization. So we have known each other a long time and have been through a lot of battles together. You learn over time when to pick your battles, and I think this was a way to show, we are also people of faith.

Maxey, who served in the House from 1991 to 2003, was the first openly gay member of the Texas Legislature. I ran into him at the Capitol after Thursday’s vote.

When a bill like this comes along it is very important for the LGBT community to see our leaders very clearly explain that this is not a knee-jerk kind of issue, that there should be no conflict between organized religion and the LGBT community on this kind of constitutional issue.

The fact that this bill restated the constitutional principle – while we all know it was done for sort of a different kind of motive – the way to take the energy out of that was to simply say we agree. And as you, saw the air went out of the balloon.

After Thursday’s vote, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, recalled for me that Maxey had pulled off a similar maneuver some yeas ago. I asked Maxey about that.

There was a bill by (Rep.) Elliott Naishtat that said that the state of Texas would recognize protective orders from other states for domestic violence and (Rep.) Warren Chisum did an amendment to say – “unless the protective order was for two men or two women who had a marriage in another state, and that we would not recognize their protective rights. The whole point of that was to get a record vote (to be used against members in the next campaign). And a lot of people got really pissed off – we still had a lot of rural Democrats then, who said, “This is just for the record vote.”

And so when it happened, I went to the back mic and said, “Let’s all vote for it, everybody vote aye on this anti-gay amendment because then they will have no record to use against you. And the whole House stood up, a green board, and he pulled down the amendment, and it took the air out of it.

(note: Chisum also authored the same-sex marriage ban state voters overwhelmingly approved as a constitutional amendment in 2005.)

Here was the 1997 report on Maxey’s strategy from Ken Herman and Suzanne Gamboa

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and sponsor of the gay marriage bill, tried one more time Tuesday night to bring up the issue but got snookered by the House’s only openly gay member, Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin.

Chisum sought to get colleagues to make a political statement against gay marriages by barring Texas from recognizing protective orders issued in same-sex marriages from other states. He acknowledged the amendment would probably be stripped in a House-Senate conference committee.

“I think everything we do here is a political statement,” Chisum said in acknowledging his motive, “and certainly this will make a political statement. There are members here would like to make their record on this issue.”

Then, in one of the session’s slicker maneuvers, Maxey urged the House to make the vote a hollow one.

“I’m asking all of my colleagues in this House to vote yes on this amendment and deny Mr. Chisum the political record he wants,” said Maxey, drawing applause and hugs from colleagues.

The vote never occurred.

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Back to Israel:

I didn’t know what I as going to say until I went up to the mic. My staff asked, “Did you write that out?” I said, “No, it just came from the heart.”

I’ve gotten a lot of good comments from both sides of the aisle. My colleagues either secretly agree with gay marriage and didn’t want have to sign onto this bill, or they really did believe in the intent of the bill and respect the way in which I presented it. I’ve always found that when you’re coming from a good place and you’re speaking from the heart, that’s all you really can do.

I wanted to say, “On a day that’s supposed to be as special as our marriage, why would I go to somebody who doesn’t agree with who I am, the essence of who I am?” I’m a 50-year-old woman, I don’t need fixin’, I’m not going to get converted, nor am I going to go to somebody who disagrees with me to say, `Hey, would you mind holding a wedding for us?'”

Why would I go to someone who is diametrically opposed to who I am? 

So I felt like that needed to be said from the podium, and the fact that I happened to be gay turned out to be a good way to make the point.

As the vote approached:

I had a lot of conversations with my colleagues on the floor. I said, “I’m thinking of voting for it.” And they said, “Really?” And they said, “Are you sure?” And I said, “I’m not sure but I think I am going to vote for it.” I was just kind of kicking through it in my mind and as it approached, I was telling people, “Yeah, I’m going to vote for it.”

And that’s when they gave me the look, “Are you sure?:

There’s a certain amount of my colleagues who are protective of me. They are in the Democratic Party – unfortunately there’s not enough members of the Republican Party who can do this – but several of my colleagues who are protective of me and want to know, “Are you OK. Are you doing OK?” And I’ll say, “I’m OK,” and they’ll say, “Are you really OK?,” because they want to know that I’m being treated just like any other member. So they wanted to say, “You sure you’re going to vote yes?” And then, “OK, if you’re going to vote yes we’re with you.”

She wasn’t able to let all of her Democratic colleagues know what she was going to do before she did it, including her desk mate, ideological soul mate and fellow Austinite, Rep. Donna Howard.

Not even my desk mate knew. She was very happy for me. Afterward, she said it was a good move.

I did talk to Rafael Anchia because he’s a very vocal supporter of LGBT rights, and he had told me he was going to say a few words, and I said, “Let me bounce this off you.” He said, “I think that’s great.” He reassured me that I was headed in right direction.

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I talked to Anchia Saturday about Israel’s move, and about his own remarks during the debate on the Pastor Protection Act. He said:

Where you sit is where you stand.

I said gay people get married in the district I represent every day. The district I represent includes the biggest LGBT church in the country – the Cathedral of Hope – and I’ve had the pastor from the Cathedral of Hope – he was my pastor of the day here. I worship there. When my mom comes in for Easter we take her there, the kids and the whole thing.

I don’t ever want there to occur a situation where one of the pastors is ostracized from an order for marrying gay people.

One of the leaders of Dallas theology married a couple of gay people but did so in a way that the order wouldn’t come down on him, but it sent up all kinds of red flags in Dallas.

From Dianne Solis in the Dallas Morning News, in February 2014:

After 53 years, Jack Evans will finally get hitched to his life partner George Harris on Saturday, believed to be the first public same-sex wedding in Dallas officiated by a United Methodist minister.

The union has qualified religious acceptance. There’s open debate in the United Methodist Church, which officially views homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

But the well-known minister celebrating the wedding — the 85-year-old Rev. Bill McElvaney — says “love over law” matters most.

“The Methodist church is on the wrong side of the Gospel on this — and history,” McElvaney said.

Anchia’s point – McElvaney could also be the pastor being protected under the Pastor Protection Act.

I  think that deal cuts both ways. I also think the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment already protects this, so it’s kind of unnecessary.

When Celia was talking to me, I said, “Let’s not fall into their trap of being against this, let’s be for it, let’s own it, lets co-opt it” You know what, that whole media cycle was about us co-opting it.

It’s a total Art of War move. They advance and you move back.

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The “enemy,” in this case, was, Anchia said, confounded.

Anchia:

They all expected us to speak against it. I had some Republicans come up to me and they were scrumming and huddling over there, saying, “Do I need to vote against this now?”

Having made up her mind to speak in favor of the bill, Israel said:

 I went up to the parliamentarian and said, “I want to say a few words in favor,” and they said, “OK,” and so, whoever I hadn’t talked to on the floor, when I made my comments, that gave them the permission to vote for the Pastor Protection Bill.

The Pastor Protection Bill, she said, was unlike some other legislation ostensibly targeting LGBT rights.

Here, for example, is the description by Equality Texas, an LGBT rights group, of HB 2553, sponsored by Rep. Molly White:

HB 2553 creates a right of refusal for any business to violate local non-discrimination laws if the business owner believes that serving a customer whose marriage the business owner dislikes would violate that business owners religious beliefs.

Goods that are made available to the public should be made available without discrimination based on race, religion, nation of origin, sex, ability, veteran status, sexual orientation, family status or gender identity or expression. Texans value the right of any person to work hard and strive for the American dream. Using religion as a weapon to excuse discrimination flies in the face of Texas values.

As opposed to Sanford’s bill, that kind of bill, Israel said:

… would have been more outlandish and ultimately harmful to Texas’ image, to say bakeshops across the state could discriminate and, you know, just silly language. I think years from now we will look back on this time and say, “Why were we arguing about this stuff?”

And ultimately in my comments (on the Patient Protection Act), I didn’t mean to simply say, your concerns are not valid. But I did want to say we don’t need to spend a lot of time arguing about this.  We agree with you.

But it gave me an opportunity to give them my perspective from my family’s view and I think that was helpful.

The only other out LGBT member of the Legislature is Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, who is in her second term. Gonzalez, who has identified herself as pan-sexual, had weeks ago arrived at the place Israel ended up, signing up (along with Democrats Sylvester Turner of Houston and René Oliveira of Brownsville) as a co-author of Sanford’s bill.

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Gonzalez explains her thought process:

I decided early on to support the bill, but I daily struggled with whether to continue to support it.. It was a daily struggle.

One of my main goals as a legislator is to fight discrimination of all forms, and I think one of the main arguments against LGBT justice that the right uses is that we are impeding upon their religion. So, of course, I want to be respectful even if I disagree with some ideas, even if I think some of them are hurtful or hateful. I don’t want to be judgmental.

So processing the bill was difficult, not necessarily in policy ways but in philosophical ways. The policy is a reaffirmation of the First Amendment which is fine. But I knew that some people were pushing this bill not out of care or concern for discrimination against pastors, but more fearful or hurtful of LGBT folks.

I don’t think that was the author’s intent but that was other people’s intent – not necessarily even people in this  building. In thinking about this bill I didn’t want to give credit to the movement that was supporting bigotry and hate.

But as a legislator I think it’s our role to always take a high road, always think complexly about these issues, and so, while I was worried about the political movement, the policy was fine and I think there was a possibility for a statement to come from someone within the LGBT community that there is space for both religious protection and LGBT justice, and if we can work to find that space, we can really work to end discrimination on multiple fronts.

It shows people on the right that here are people on the progressive side who are trying to find a space for everyone to co-exist.

Gonzalez, who arrived in the House with Sanford last session, said that part of her decision-making to sign onto the bill was because Sanford, who asked her to join the bill, was someone she knew and come to trust.

I trusted Scott and knew he would be honest with me about the direction the bill was going. He was a person of integrity. He didn’t take any possibly bad amendments.

She said she shared her thinking with Israel, who was elected to fill the unexpired term of Mark Strama in 2014, and then elected to a full two-year term.

I turned to Celia as someone I trust and love very much and so I kind of just told her my process.

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Meanwhile, the rights organizations monitoring the bill were moving in the same direction.

From Dan Quinn at Texas Freedom Network:

TFN, Equality Texas and ACLU of Texas had already persuaded the author to revise the bill in committee to ensure that religiously affiliated institutions, such as hospitals, could not discriminate against married same-sex couples.
When the bill came to floor for a vote, we asked Democrats to clarify with the author that the legislative intent of the bill was only to make clear that clergy could not be forced, when acting as clergy and not when working in a civil capacity such as a justice of the peace, to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs.
That right is already protected by the Constitution and state law. The Senate author had already made that legislative intent clear during Senate floor debate. If Democrats could get that clarification for legislative intent on the House floor (which they did), we simply encouraged them to vote their conscience.
But Equality Texas also asked Rep. Israel and Rep. Gonzalez if they could find a way to vote for the bill  as a way to show that equality for LGBT families is not in conflict with religious freedom.
Given that the rhetoric from the bill’s supporters has been so vicious and offensive — in some cases even comparing marriage between loving gay and lesbian couples to promoting bestiality and pedophilia — you can see why that might be a tough request to make. But the decision to go to the floor and say what they did about the bill was theirs.
It’s important to understand that the bill’s supporters had spent months arguing that, if the Supreme Court strikes down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, clergy could be forced to marry gay and lesbian couples. That wasn’t true, and the fear-mongering by the bill’s supporters was shameful. I think Democrats did a good job making that clear and also reminding folks that there are plenty of clergy who look forward to presiding over those marriages.
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Israel said she and Maxey thought that, better than a board that was a mix of green lights, signifying “aye,” and white lights for “present, not voting,” it would be more powerful to turn the whole board green.

Like Gonzalez, Israel, who is also originally from El Paso (she came to Austin to attend UT), has taken great pains building relationships across party lines for her core legislative issues, which have nothing to do with her sexual identity.

If you’ve seem me on the floor, working the floor, I took very seriously my pledge to work across the aisle. House Bill 76 (for online voter registration) had 76 co-authors. Most of them were Republicans. On the floor, the Bus on Shoulder Bill (allowing buses to ride on the shoulder to reduce congestion) got out of here with 105 votes.

I’m in the minority and I have to work hard, to go one-on-one with my colleague. I have talked to most of the Republicans on the floor, although I’m a new member, about things other than LGBT issues. It’s about  mobility and congestion relief mostly, and on-line voter registration. Those are my big issues. I think they respect that I want their support on issues that are really important to the state of Texas.

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They want to put you in a silo – that liberal, LGBT-loving, tree-hugging … It’s like, “No.”

(Mary Gonzalez) was Ag Chick, I’m Transportation Chick, and this is supposed to be the Transportation Session. 

I’ve enjoyed it very much. It is hard work but when you put in your time and you get to know your colleagues on what are big picture issues – I call them Big Rocks – then it only helps you in the end when it’s time to tell your personal story at the front mic.

I didn’t expect I’d be talking about my marriage on the front mic –in the way that I did. 

I’m talking to Glen, “OK, let’s think about this,” then I’m on the floor. 

Being on the floor of the House of Representatives is pretty heady. Here you are in these cathedral-like chambers and not even my staff is allowed on the floor, so you’re in pretty rare space.

I’m just glad I had the presence of mind to allow my head and my heart to speak honestly, and my colleagues have been overwhelmingly supportive of it.

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And I felt obliged to talk about my religious upbringing as well. You can’t just take it away from me that I’m a good Catholic girl.

In the age of Pope Francis, I’’m feeling more and more supported by Rome. I do love what the Pope has to say because it’s the Catholic Church of my youth. It was focused on helping and being conscious of the fact of how lucky we are and the responsibility we had to help the less fortunate. That was the church that brought me up through eight years of Catholic school. My mother made sure I went to every Mass on Sunday.

No one should take away religion form any of us or suspect that because they literally read the Bible a certain way that they are closer to God than I am.

Rep. Sanford is executive pastor of the Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen.

Israel said that Sanford saw his act as “defending small-town pastors who don’t have the ability to fend for themselves.”

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She said she did not believe the fear was well-founded.

Well how many of us are going to Mesquite to try to get married by an evangelical person who literally thinks I’m going to burn in hell. I really don’t want to be around that person on my special day.

But you know, I don’t think his approach was right, but in the end  I agreed with his bill because it was about reaffirming what’s in the United States Constitution – freedom of religion.

Just the day before we reaffirmed Texans’ right to hunt and fish. Sometimes we do things on the floor that are not critical to the operating of the state of Texas. I recognized that, but I recognize by being in support of something duplicative, I was also helping to make a statement for my family and other families like mine.

Israel didn’t talk to Sanford about her intentions before speaking in support of his bill.

I didn’t want to talk to him before this. Not any animus. I was just getting my head around what’s my role and what’s my voice.

“No, I had no idea,” Sanford said on Thursday “I thought it would be a party-line vote plus a handful of Democratic friends. That was nice. It was nice to see. They all have pastors, they all have churches in their districts. The usually have relationships with those folks, those spiritual leaders in their community, and I think they value those relationships.”

He agreed Israel’s move sucked any venom out of the debate.

“I’m glad for that,” he said.

Israel also didn’t give her partner of 20 years – Celinda Garza – who was out-of-town visiting family – any heads-up before her speech.

No I didn’t. All of this was on the fly.

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Since then, she said:

Everybody wants to be invited to the wedding and my partner  – we’ve been together 20 years this July – she said, “Well I’ll marry you but only if we can get married on the floor of the House of Representatives.”Really? Really? It’s going to become a circus.”

Maybe, I said helpfully, that her partner of 20 years is just not ready for commitment and that this thing about wanting the wedding in the House chamber was just a clever stalling tactic.

Maybe that’s it, Israel said.

When you’re a gay person in Texas or just a gay person from a certain generation, we weren’t raised with that dream – “This is going to  be the dress I’m going to wear; these are going to be the people in my court.”

Glen Maxey wanted to be in the wedding that I pronounced  on on Thursday.

She told him:

Well maybe you could be Melinda’s maid of honor, but I don’t think you’ll be on my side.

Reflecting on her speech, she said:

It was a roll of the dice. It could have gone the wrong way. It could have turned into a fight and, luckily, my saying what I said avoided a harmful debate on the floor about a contentious issue that hopefully the Supreme Court is going to take care of  for all of us.

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Being a member of the House, Israel said, “is all about relationship building, and I think that ultimately, that we did not have a divisive argument about LGBT issues was a good thing.”

She recalled the debate last month when Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, succeeded in adding an amendment banning abortions of fetuses with genetic abnormalities after 20 weeks to a Department of State Health Services Sunset Bill.

The bill ended up getting pulled down.

“It was divisive, it was ugly, it was hyper-partisan. And that would have happened again if we had allowed a topic like gay marriage to divide us,” Israel said. “There are so many things we need to address. We don’t need to be divided about LGBT issues.”

The Big Daddy of the bills that could have come before the House was HB 4105, authored by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, which sought to bar public funding for, and bar state and local officials from participating in the licensing or recognizing of same-sex marriages in any way, no matter what the Supreme Court does.

Bell’s bill fell victim to Democratic maneuvering without reaching the floor.

From Kiah Collier and Chuck Lindell’s May 14 story in the Statesman:

Employing a wide range of delaying tactics, Texas House Democrats late Thursday killed a bill designed to keep same-sex couples from marrying.

Knowing House bills would die unless given a vote before midnight, Democrats missed few opportunities to minimize progress during a 15-hour floor session — drafting dozens of amendments, raising points of order and asking detailed, sometimes repetitive questions.

The tactics kept the House to a four-bills-an-hour pace through most of the day.

When midnight fell, the go-slow tactics claimed more than 200 bills that had been scheduled for a vote. The victims included the Democrats’ top target: House Bill 4105, which would bar government employees in Texas from issuing a marriage license to gay couples, even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns bans on same-sex marriage in a ruling expected this summer.

The bill’s author, Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, said he was disappointed with the outcome but added that he will begin looking to add HB 4105 as an amendment to another bill — an admittedly difficult feat.

“The whole problem with this process is, it’s designed to kill bills, and in this particular instance, that’s the outcome,” Bell said. “We missed an opportunity tonight, but the session moves on.”

But, if Bell blamed the process for his bill’s demise, Israel, asked if she was glad 4105 never made it to the floor, thanked a higher power:

Thank you Jesus. Good God. Thank you Baby Legislative Jesus.

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Top ten list: Will Perry make the cut for the Fox presidential debate?

Good morning Austin:

RickPAC yesterday released its latest video on behalf of the former governor’s incipient presidential bid, which he will formally announce in Dallas on June 4.

It’s called, Our best days are ahead.

Pitched to Iowa voters, Perry says, “For those of us who grew up in these agricultural communities, this is the time of the year that just made you feel good about who you were and what you were doing. This is the time when hope springs eternal.”

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Well, Hope did work pretty well for Obama

Barack_Obama_Hope_poster

And Hope Springs Eternal kind of works as an appropriately upbeat but humble slogan for the candidacy of a man who aspires to b ethe Comeback Kid of 2016.

But no sooner had RickPAC released the new video than the Perry campaign faced an existential threat from a most unlikely source – Fox News.

From The New York Times:

The sprawling field of Republican presidential hopefuls will be abruptly winnowed down to as few as 10 — at least for debating purposes — when the first presidential debate is held in early August, Fox News, the debate sponsor, said Wednesday.

The network’s decision to invite only candidates who hit a certain polling threshold is the first organized attempt to curtail the size of the ballooning field. Presidential debates have proved crucial in recent nominating contests, with little-known candidates propelled to national prominence and experienced candidate thrust out of the race by poor performances.

Party and network officials are seeking to balance a desire to include more candidates against concerns about the debates turning into unwieldy sideshows because of the large number of participants. But the network’s decision is certain to elicit protests from lower-polling candidates who would be excluded.

As of now, there are 18 likely presidential candidates in the Republican contest, and the field could grow even more. By their current standing, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard, could be excluded.

Caitlin Huey Burns of Real Clear Politics picks it up here:

CNN announced a two-tier system for its Sept. 16 debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The top 10 candidates will debate in one group, and the remaining candidates will face off in another. Each candidate must poll at 1 percent or higher. CNN requires debate participants to have at least one paid campaign staffer in two of the early voting states and have visited two of those states at least once.

The polling threshold for the Fox debate threatens to cut from the debate stage a handful of candidates, including some who represent the diversity the party would like to showcase as it seeks to broaden its electoral appeal.

While polling will change between now and August, the RealClearPolitics average shows that Carly Fiorina, who announced her campaign earlier this month, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is forming an exploratory committee, would not make the cut. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is expected to announce his campaign next month, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering a bid, would also be excluded. These four contenders are all polling at or below 2 percent.

Fox News seemed to recognize the potential controversy of excluding some candidates, pledging to provide additional coverage and airtime on the day of the debate for candidates who do not place in the top 10.

The RCP polling average does not include Donald Trump, who is again flirting with a presidential bid. In some surveys, Trump places high enough to be included on the stage, according to the polling requirements. Still, he would have had to officially establish a campaign, which he has yet to do.

The Republican National Committee supported the decision by Fox to limit the number of candidates. “We support and respect the decision Fox has made, which will match the greatest number of candidates we have ever had on a debate stage,” said Chairman Reince Priebus.

No party has had more than 10 candidates on the debate stage, and GOP officials were concerned about being able to showcase the party’s deep bench without having candidates trip over one another. Priebus and the RNC made a concerted effort to limit the number of debates this year to nine, aiming to avoid the overload of forums last cycle that Republicans thought amounted to a circus.

Here is the latest polling compiled by Real Clear Politics

Real Clear Politics, recent polls and polling average
Real Clear Politics, recent polls and polling average

And, from Jim Geraghty at National Review:

Under the debate participation rules set by Fox News, Gov. Bobby Jindal, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former New York governor George Pataki would not participate in the first Republican debate. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry would be on the bubble.

Right now Perry sits at number nine, at around two percent in national polls.

But his situation is especially tenuous because he seems unlikely to be able to pass any of the eight candidates ahead of him in national polls before the debate, which will be held Aug. 6 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, site of the 2016 GOP convention.

And Perry finds himself polling only a fraction of a percent ahead of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.  (From Todd Gillman at the Dallas Morning News: “In case of a precise tie in the polling average, there might be more than 10, a Fox official says.”)

But Kasich has yet to be talked much about and could easily experience at least a momentary surge in the polls this summer if he gets in.

And lurking not all that far behind are Perry’s pal, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the mix – all of whom represent a potential threat to Perry’s top-ten status.

From Phillip Bump at the Washington Post:

Now, if you’re John Kasich’s people, you have any number of arguments you can make. After all, you’re only 0.2 percent below Perry in the average, and that’s in a bunch of polls with margins of error north of 3 percent. In fact, you’ve done the same as Perry in every poll except the Quinnipiac one, where Perry got 3 percent to your 2 percent. That’s the entire difference.

If Perry and Kasich had tied, by the way, Fox says it would include both. But what if, say, three candidates tied? Or four? Give Santorum an extra point in a poll or two, and he’s in the mix, for example. Will a candidate accept being excluded due to rounding?

The most serious threat to Perry’s precarious standing would be a candidacy by Donald Trump, who would almost certainly vault ahead of Perry, at least in early polls. That might also trigger an intense period of mourning for the loss of Molly Ivins and what she might have made of the prospect of Gov. Goodhair being undone by the bizarrely-thatched Trump.

 

 In this March 9, 2011 file photo, Donald Trump arrives at a Comedy Central Roast in New York.
In this March 9, 2011 file photo, Donald Trump arrives at a Comedy Central Roast in New York.

Based on polls that have included Trump, he already bumps Perry to tenth. Writes Bump.

But should we include Donald Trump? His numbers come from appearances in just two polls, both from Fox News. Does doing well in two polls and not existing in three others count? By the time August rolls around, the field may be settled enough that this won’t be as big a deal — but it could be!

Is there any better, alternative way to winnow the field to a manageable number?

Jon Stewart on the Daily Show recently offered his own suggestion:

Let’s do it with a game I call, “Let’s get rid of Ted Cruz.”

Screenshot 2015-05-21 00.22.15

For Perry, the Fox reliance on national polling numbers may require some adjustment of strategy, especially if Kasich and/or Trump get in, or if Fiorina, for example, deploys a strategy to give her a lift in national polls instead of working the ground like Perry in Iowa – an intensive, retail approach that is critical to his slow-build comeback strategy.

It is a strategy that, according to this report Tuesday from Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of The Iowa Republican, is yielding positive results.

Perry’s approach to Iowa couldn’t be any more different than what it was in 2011 when he first came to the state late in the summer and was widely regarded as an instant frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Everything Perry did was big, and his late start meant that there wasn’t much time to do the little things that build bonds with Iowa Republicans.

Perry now realizes the error of his ways. In a recent interview, Perry admitted that his back surgery meant that he was tired, medicated, and not on the top of his game back in 2012. “People are seeing a completely different individual than they did three-in-a-half years ago when we parachuted into Iowa the day after the Straw Poll,” Perry told TheIowaRepublican.com in a radio interview on WTAD AM 930 recently. “Frankly, we were not healthy, and we were not prepared. I admit that. I was arrogant thinking that having been the Governor of Texas for 12 years that I was ready to climb any mountain.”

Perry was bitter following his fifth place finish in Iowa. “This is quirky place and a quirky process to say the least,” Perry told the Associated Press of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. “We’re going to go into places where they have actual primaries and there are going to be real Republicans voting.” It would have been easy for Perry to remain cynical about Iowa, but instead, he has embraced Iowa and the type of campaigning that Iowans expect to see from presidential candidates every four years.

Perry has spent the past three years visiting Iowa, in part, to convince Iowa caucus goers that he’s deserving of another chance. While Perry has been well received, he has also been willing to put in a lot of hard work. Perry is in the midst of a four-day, nine-stop swing that covers a large portion of the state. In Holstein, a town of 1,400 in Ida County in Northwest Iowa, Perry drew a crowd of 110 people at the Veterans Memorial Hall for a town hall meeting.

In addition to working hard, Perry’s team has also found ways to help give back while also underscoring his military background and his commitment to the men and women that serve our country. Perry is confirmed to attend Sen. Joni Ernst’s first annual Roast and Ride on June 6th, but he’s going to start his day with Marcus Luttrell, Morgan Luttrell, and Taya Kyle headlining a fundraiser for the Puppy Jake Foundation in Perry, Iowa. The Puppy Jake Foundation trains and places service dogs to assist wounded veterans. From there, Governor Perry will meet up with the riders that are headed to Boone for the Ernst event later that day.

The valuable lessons that Perry learned from his 2012 campaign are making him a much better candidate this time around. He may now find himself in the role of the underdog, but Perry has seemed to embrace it. While some may be quick to write him off because of his “oops” moment from a Fox News debate in 2012, Perry still possesses an impressive record as governor, and he’s now been fully vetted.

Perry is benefitting from having gone through the gauntlet before. It’s abundantly clear that he now understands what a candidate should be doing in a state like Iowa. It is a luxury that many first time presidential candidates don’t enjoy. One of the things I often hear about Perry is people wondering what would have happened if we had seen this year’s Perry in Iowa back in 2011.

I think it’s safe to say that the race would have been completely different. It’s telling that Perry always has some people pondering the “what might have been” question. It’s an indication that what he’s doing in 2015 is working.

TheIowaRepublican.com asked Bob Haus, Perry’s chief Iowa strategist, how Perry’s campaign swing in Northwest Iowa was going. Haus said, “The farm boy is working till the cows come home. Coming to cattle calls alone won’t get the work done.” While the Ida County stop was by far the largest event of the day for Perry, he also had solid crowds earlier in the day in Sioux Center and Le Mars.

But ultimately, to succeed in 2016, Perry must vanquish the ghost of his debate performance last time out, and to be denied a place at the Fox debate – or to be placed at the “children’s table,” at the CNN debate, could be a crushing blow.

Since last night was David Letterman’s sweet and very funny farewell after 33 years on the air, I’ll finish with Letterman’s Top Ten list the day after Perry’s Oops debate performance – Top Ten Rick Perry Excuses – delivered by the admirably game man himself.

 

Kafka’s Law: `You never look good arresting disabled people ‘

Good morning Austin:

Shortly after ten last night, 15 advocates for the disabled and the attendants who serve them, many of them in wheelchairs, were charged with criminal trespass for refusing to leave the Governor’s Reception Room and the area surrounding the entrance to the Reception Room, which they and about 15 others had been “blockading” for nearly 12 hours. The Capitol generally closes at 10, unless the House or Senate or a hearing is running later than that.

The scene outside the Governor's Reception Room yesterday afternoon.
The scene outside the Governor’s Reception Room yesterday afternoon.

From my story in today’s paper, written before the arrests, the advocates wanted Gov. Greg Abbott to throw his weight behind raising the base pay for those home care attendants serving those on Medicaid to a more livable wage of $10 an hour.

Roughly 30 advocates for those with disabilities were demanding that he press the budget conference committee to raise the pay of community-based home care attendants to $10 an hour.

Right now, the base wage for those attendants is $7.86 an hour, without any benefits, sick leave or vacation, which the advocates say makes it hard to find and retain people who can help the elderly and those with disabilities who are eligible for Medicaid. Attendants assist with the basic tasks of everyday life and enable their clients to stay in their homes and out of nursing facilities.

The House budget would add $60 million to the state Health and Human Services Commission to increase that wage by 14 cents an hour. The Senate budget would add $38 million, increasing it by 11 cents an hour. The governor’s budget proposal asked for $105.3 million to “recruit and retain personal attendants,” increasing the base pay by 40 cents, but still well shy of the $10 that advocates said would make the work competitive with the fast-food industry.

Bob Kafka of the disability rights group ADAPT of Texas, said it would cost $480 million over two years to raise the base wage to $10 an hour.

“It’s criminal that people essential to our survival can’t feed their kids,” said Jennifer McPhail, another ADAPT organizer, who has cerebral palsy.

From Kafka:

This is one of the most critical issues for people who live in the community. if you can’t find an attendant you just can’t live in the community. Now Walmart and Target are paying $10 and the base pay here in Texas is $7.86. We want the governor to talk to the conference committee and to endorse  $10 for community attendants as a base rate. One of the really sad parts is that even though the rate is so low, it’s even worse because there is no health  insurance  no sick leave and no vacation. So we don’t know where we are going to find the attendants to do the basic things, like getting up in the  morning, taking a shower, eating and just going out into the community.

inside
The scene inside the Governor’s Reception Room yesterday

The demonstrators wanted to meet with the governor – they have talked to top staff in the past – but he wasn’t around the office yesterday, and his schedule is booked through the approaching  end of the session.

Here is a little more on why Kafka was ready to be arrested yesterday.

And here is Melanie Boyte of Austin.

In the politics of protest, being in a wheelchair has its distinct advantages.

First, if you are trying, for example, to blockade Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, the simple fact of their wheelchairs and their bulk make it easier to obstruct things.

And secondly, when it comes time for the state police to arrest you for criminal trespass when you refuse to leave, the wheelchair makes the physical act of executing the arrest more complicated and cumbersome, and, as Kafka pointed out afterward, the optics of arresting folks in wheelchairs always presents a problem.

“You never look good arresting disabled people,” Kafka said.

Outside Gov. Greg Abbott's office.
Outside Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.

Multiply that by some X factor if, as in this case, the governor is also in a wheelchair.

Kafka knows whereof he speaks. A veteran activist for disability rights, he has been arrested about 35 to 40 times for acts of civil disobedience, in Texas and around the country.

Here from May 23, 2011, under the headline, 14 arrested for protesting budget cuts for disabled

AUSTIN (AP) – Fourteen protesters, many in wheelchairs, were arrested Monday while protesting budget cuts to state programs for the disabled.

Activist Bob Kafka said they were arrested in raucous protests outside Gov. Rick Perry’s rented home and inside the state Capitol. The protests were organized by ADAPT Texas, an advocacy group for the disabled.

The Legislature has voted to cut funding for medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, walkers and crutches. Lawmakers have also cut funding for personal attendants that allow many disabled people to continue living at home.

One activist was arrested inside the Capitol for sounding a siren to bring attention to their chants demanding more spending on health programs. ADAPT wants lawmakers to use the Rainy Day Fund to maintain the present level of spending for the disabled.

Before that there was this from Robert Garrett of the Dallas Morning News on March 1, 2011

AUSTIN — Eleven Texans in wheelchairs, denouncing proposed state budget cuts, were ticketed late Tuesday night after refusing to leave a sit-in outside Gov. Rick Perry’s office in the state Capitol.

The protesters were with the disability rights group Adapt of Texas and refused to leave the Capitol when it was closed for the night, while about 20 other members of the group left to set up a vigil outside. David Wittie, 55, one of the sit-in organizers, said he and the others who stayed were cited for trespassing, a Class B misdemeanor, and escorted from the building.

He said the group would meet to discuss future actions.

Another organizer, Bob Kafka, said the group was disappointed that Perry would not meet with them. They wanted Perry to agree in writing to their demand that Texas use all its rainy-day money and raise other revenue to avoid cuts to social services. The Republican governor has urged lawmakers not to use any rainy-day money and opposes tax increases.

And then this, from the AP’s Jim Vertuno on April 10, 2003.

Twenty-five activists for the disabled, most of them in wheelchairs, were charged Thursday with criminal trespassing when they refused to break up a protest in and in front of Gov. Rick Perry’s Capitol office.

Chanting “Gov. Perry, What do you say, How many crips have you cut today?” the disabled-rights group ADAPT staged a demonstration to protest potential budget cuts in services, including in-home attendant care and medication.

Six members of the group, some with severe disabilities, were arrested when they refused to leave Perry’s office when it closed at 5 p.m. The others were issued summonses when they refused the leave the Capitol when it closed five hours later.

Reporters from The Associated Press, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the San Antonio Express-News and several television stations were told by police they had to leave the building under threat of arrest and were not allowed to witness the late proceedings.

The demonstrators who were arrested said it was worth it to promote their cause.

“It beats dying in a nursing home,” Danny Saenz, one of the activists who is stricken with cerebral palsy, said before state police troopers put him on a bus to take him away.

All were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing, which carries fines of up to $2,000 and 180 days in jail.

At 9:55 p.m., police brought Travis County Justice of the Peace Herb Evans to meet with the protesters who remained outside Perry’s offices on the second floor. He read them their rights, told them he respected their civil disobedience and warned them of the consequences of their arrests. He would not speak to the media.

State police then made reporters leave.

The protesters had an attorney, Malcolm Greenstein, on hand. He remained with them after reporters left.

The protesters who were in the Capitol at night were issued summonses for criminal trespass on the spot and allowed to leave. They were given dates to appear in court over the next two months.

“Everybody felt very committed. It’s not fun and games, it’s our lives. These cuts are immoral,” said Bob Kafka, an organizer for ADAPT. He said the group would continue to have a daily presence at the Capitol.

Wow. That’s uncanny. When Vertuno writes something, it stays written.

I mean the scene last night was almost identical in the way it played out, with Kafka, Greenstein and Evans playing the exact same roles a dozen years later, and me filling in for Vertuno and the other reporters. For better or worse, and not realizing at the time that this was more in the nature of a Broadway revival than wholly original premiere,  I reacted with perhaps a smidgen too much outrage when they threatened to arrest me.

State cop: Sir, who are you with?

Me: I’m with the Statesman.

State cop: You need to leave or are you going to be subject to criminal trespass as well. You heard the speech earlier (from Evans).

Me: As a reporter …

State cop: As anybody. Are you going to turn yourself in for criminal trespass?

Me: It seems like an event I should be able to cover.

State cop: You need to leave. You need to leave. You need to leave.

Me: As a reporter …

State cop: You need to leave. YOU NEED TO LEAVE.

On my way out, I attempted to approach Evans.

“I’ll tell you anything you want but I do not want to see my name in the paper,” Evans said.

At that point my escorts were determined that I leave the building, but I was perplexed about Evans’ comment.

He was cast, once again, as the good guy in this production, arriving at the scene in his black robe, and respectfully explaining to the protestors that the police had no interest in arresting them, and the sheriff no interest in jailing them. But, he explained that they could still be charged with criminal trespass and appear before a judge if that was their desire, and that he and his clerk were there to facilitate that process by issuing summonses that would allow them to go home without being booked and jailed last night and then appear in court in July.

Travis County Justice of the Peace Herb Evans explains the choices to protestors occupying Gov. Abbott's Reception Room in the Capitol, as attorney Malcolm Greenstein looks on.
Travis County Justice of the Peace Herb Evans explains the choices to protestors occupying Gov. Abbott’s Reception Room in the Capitol, as attorney Malcolm Greenstein looks on.

Win-win civil disobedience.

“Rather than carting us off to jail, which for them would have been very difficult, either needing accessible vehicles or trailing us all the way to the courthouse, and then going to jail, they gave us the option of a summons and the promise to appear on July 7 at 10 a.m.,” said Kafka outside the Capitol after his paperwork had been quickly processed.

Or, as Malcolm Greenstein, reprising his role as Malcolm Greenstein, explained, “they were charged with criminal trespass and they received a field release citation. You get a ticket to show up for court and when they show at JP, they will do paper work and be booked in and booked out at the booking desk. It is in lieu of going to jail now.”

 

Attorney Malcolm Greenstein after the arrests at Gov. Greg Abbott's office
Attorney Malcolm Greenstein after the arrests at Gov. Greg Abbott’s office

“Travis County has adopted this field release program, instead of getting arrested, you show up at a certain time, you go into the bond office, then you get fingerprinted and photographed and released. Then it goes into the system like all other criminal cases. It’s a Class B misdemeanor. What could happen is up to six months in jail and up to a $2,000 fine,” Greenstein explained.

But that seems very unlikely.

Outside the Capitol afterwards, it was a beautiful night, breezy and perfectly temperate.

The disability advocates felt good about how they had spent their day.

A few had slices of pizza, now cold. Dominos had delivered ten pizzas to their blockade a few hours earlier.

Organizer Joe Tate on the arrival of pizza for the demonstrators at Gov. Greg Abbott's office ordered.
Organizer Joe Tate on the arrival of pizza for the demonstrators at Gov. Greg Abbott’s office ordered.

 

But the police would not let the nine protestors ensconced inside the Reception Room eat in that elegant space. (That’s apparently general rule and not specific to people engaged in a sit-in.) If they left the room they were relinquishing their occupation. And the protestors outside the Reception Room refused to have any pizza as long as their inside brothers and sisters were unable to eat.

 

Joe Tate leaves with the cold pizza as demonstrators prepared to be arrested.
Joe Tate leaves with the cold pizza as demonstrators prepared to be arrested.

As everyone disappeared into the night, I rounded the corner at the Capitol on the way to my car and encountered another unlikely scene.

It’s Austin Flow Jam. You know, poi, hooping, acro-yoga, fan-spinning, juggling. Like that.

Every Tuesday night, outside your Capitol.

Here is Kira Bolin, your Flow Jam hostess.

 

Kira Bolin, organizer with boyfriend Chris Rovo, of Austin Flow Jam every Tuesday night at the Capitol
Kira Bolin, organizer with boyfriend Chris Rovo, of Austin Flow Jam every Tuesday night at the Capitol

 

 

Meanwhile, and it may seem incredibly petty bringing this up in the context of what you just read, but when I took a mid-afternoon break from minding the blockade to get something at the Capitol cafeteria, I ordered my usual BLT.

Only then did I read the sign that was staring at me.

 

The Capitol toaster is being repaired.
The Capitol toaster is being repaired.

Our toaster is currently being repaired?

Really? The only toaster in the Texas State Capitol cafeteria is being repaired?

I didn’t think toasters got repaired. I thought you just got a new one.

And, we will see you on Monday? That’s half the remaining time in the session away.

Well, Ok, fine.

No toaster.

Life goes on.

But have you ever had a BLT with the bread untoasted?

I never had and I never will again. It was horrible, virtually inedible.

Everything was identical to the usual Texas State Capitol BLT, which I love, except for the bread not being toasted, and it made all the difference.

That’s all.

 

 

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

Good afternoon Austin:

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

twinpeaks1

Well, actually not.

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

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

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

twinpeaks2

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

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

twinpeaksdvd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All good.

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

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

I think that’s the idea, she said.

bambi2

 

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

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

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

Bambi3

It appears that the Waco Twin Peaks is being disenfranchised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not exactly Sons of Anarchy.

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

mets

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

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

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

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170 bikers charged in Waco shootings

In Texas, `biker gang’ means the Bandidos

Open carry to Senate floor

Obama limits combat gear transfers to police

Guns, guns, guns and guns.

What does it all mean?

If guns are outlawed only outlaw bikers will have guns.

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

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

All part of the Jade Helm 15 scheme.

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

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

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

What does Alex Jones think about all of this?

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

From Kit Daniels at Jones’ Infowars.com:

Leftists Exploit Biker Bloodbath to Complain About “White Privilege”

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

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

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

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

Where does Infowars come up with this stuff?

Oh. Twitter.

https://twitter.com/cdisquick/status/600085929261412352

https://twitter.com/jh_swanson/status/600078488582782976

https://twitter.com/jh_swanson/status/600078219199455232

https://twitter.com/jh_swanson/status/600078009433862144

https://twitter.com/iloanya1/status/600153004616978432

https://twitter.com/Filipinoinblack/status/600625940176216065

Is there anything to this critique?

From   at Vox:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, my favorite biker gang movie dance number.

 

 

 

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

Good morning Austin:

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

 

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

Why the protest? Why all those empty seats?

Screenshot 2015-05-17 23.15.32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a well-balanced editorial from the Daily:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep botheration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty good speech.

Could Michael J. Fox have done better? Perhaps.

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

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

 

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

From the Museum of Broadcast Communications:

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

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

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

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

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

matthew

Here are lessons 5 and  9.

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

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

Alright, Alright, Alright.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. From can to want

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

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

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

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

I’ve never had my jeans pressed since.

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

How an Empower Texans video and AgendaWise blog foreshadowed American Phoenix

Good morning Austin:

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

It’s a great song – hypnotic and creepy.

Here are the original lyrics:

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

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

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

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

And so forth. Scorned lover as Big Brother.

Now, watch Empower Texans’ version.

When it was released, Empower Texans wrote:

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

And here are the reworked lyrics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I asked who the people in the video were.

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

And they made the music?

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

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

Or to quote another 80s anthem:

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

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

From the American-Statesman’s  Tim Eaton:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait a minute.

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

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

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

His reply:

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

And those are grassroots activists in the video.

You guys and your tinfoil hats…

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

Screenshot 2015-05-12 05.44.05

But look at this guy looking at you.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 06.07.16

My tinfoil is getting pretty hot.

Screenshot 2015-05-12 06.08.41

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

 

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

michaeljosephkelly

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

He handed me his card.

phoenix1

 

phoenix2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really?

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

Definite cyborg.

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

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

I guess so – NetFlix and HBO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is how AgendaWise describes itself:

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

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

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

And here is the AgendaWise bio on Weston Hicks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, Basel replied:

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

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

But then there’s this.

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

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

Yes, very Chinatown.

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

Basel didn’t answer those questions.

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

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

Definite cyborg.

 

 

Does this tin foil hat make me look crazy? On the limits of mocking Texas

Screenshot 2015-05-09 00.29.19

Good morning Austin:

When I worked at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the paper would list the top on-line commenters. Often, topping the list was TinFoilHatGuy. I’m sure his parents were very proud.

But clicks and comments, in this new age, are a metric of success and so, putting aside the merits of what he had to say – which, as I recall, was generally well above average in what is not always the most salutary forum – all that really mattered was what that, day in and day out, he commented, and provoked other comments.

Last night I went to NOLA.com to check on TinFoilHatGuy, and found him missing. When I did a search, it seemed he was gone, or, at any rate, has stopped commenting. In fact, it appears that he may have stopped contributing to NOLA.com even before I did.

What could have happened? Why did he stop?

And then it hit me. He’s probably moved. Like a Triple A player being called up to the Big Leagues, he’s probably Gone to Texas.

National ridicule of Texas – and its tin foil hat governor – continued unabated through the end of last week for his April 28 letter “directing the Texas State Guard to monitor operation Jade Helm 15.”

abbott-letter

On Friday, it was Chris Hayes’ show, All In, on MSNBC – Jade Helm 15 divides Texas GOP.

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Guests included Todd Smith, the former Republican state representative from Texas, who had issued a scathing letter to Abbott, excoriating him for “pandering to idiots.:

Asked to explain the governor’s motives, Smith said the Republican Party has lurched right since he as first elected in the late 1990s, and that Abbott has to worry about the ambitions of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is even further to the right.

“It’s rumored that the lieutenant governor looks in the mirror at night and sees himself governor,” Smith said. “So we have a lieutenant governor that used to be a radio talk show host, a governor who is very close to Ted Cruz, wo is concerned about apparently a run from this right. and what that means is  we have is thse two elected officials who are in a race to the furthest extreme right of the Republican Party and that’s the context in which his statement was made last week.”

And there was a clip of Abbott, who was in Washington last week for the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast and taped some comments Friday with the NBC affiliate after a CNBC appearance, as played on Hayes’ show:

I think the cause of the underlying concerns is that we see incidences like a shooting at Fort Hood by a terrorist that the President labels workplace violence. We see the president come to the border in Texas and say, it’s safer than it’s ever been, only to have a record number of people crossing the border, coming into the state of Texas.

Screenshot 2015-05-10 23.03.12

 

As Abbott’s comments rolled, he was helpfully identified as a purveyor of “paranoia politics.”

But, by then, I had already had it with the national obsession with Jade Helm.

It was while watching Rachel Maddow’s Wednesday night show – Fearful Texas GOP base amuses nation with conspiracy panic – at the point at which she declared, “It’s High-Larious, with a capital Funyun.”

That was it. I bristled. I said something out loud back at Rachel Maddow’s image on my TV set. Her preening joy at mocking Texas got to me. After two-and-a-half years in Texas, I was feeling defensive.

This was nothing but ratings bait. They were pumping this story up, keeping it alive, blowing it out of proportion, because it brought a self-satisfied rise out of their audience. This was paranoia porn.

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The next day, I did an on-air interview with WDEL radio station in Wilmington, Delaware, with news anchor Allan Loudell, on Jade Helm, and why Gov. Abbott did what he did, and, at one point I heard myself saying, “Paranoids are people too.”

On Friday, Gail Collins had a column in the New York Times, The Alamo and Walmart:

It began:

Have you noticed that Utah doesn’t seem to be worried about a military takeover?

This was not a sentence I had ever envisioned writing. Yet here we are. A military training exercise is in the works for the Southwest this summer, and conspiracy theories are abloom. It’s hard not to be enthralled when Walmart denies that tunnels are being built under its stores to ferry troops into Texas where they will tear up the Constitution and confiscate everybody’s guns.

Hey, no laughing matter in Texas.

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Much of the hysteria focused on a map of the seven states where the military training is going to take place, colored to show how friendly the imaginary inhabitants are supposed to be for the purposes of the exercise. Texas is red and “hostile.”

The color coding was a bad move, public-relations-wise, as was naming the entire exercise Jade Helm 15. If they’d called it Operation Calico Kitten and made Oregon the pretend enemy, we would not be having this discussion now.

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The other all-red state is Utah, but Utah seems totally indifferent to Jade Helm and all its terrors. The office of Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said it had received only about two dozen calls on the subject, and Herbert himself waved off the military plans as a “standard training exercise.

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Even in Texas, prominent conservatives don’t believe the state is in danger of military takeover. But they also don’t want to look as if they’re taking the Obama administration’s side, even when it comes to assuring the public there won’t be a coup in Midland. “When you see a federal government that is attacking our free speech rights, our religious liberty rights, our Second Amendment rights, that produces distrust as to government,” Senator Ted Cruz, and presidential candidate, told Bloomberg Politics.

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So the bad news is that there are a lot of spineless politicians out there. On the other hand, despite a week’s worth of tireless effort by right-wing radio talk-show hosts, bloggers and tweeters, there actually appear to be very few people who think the military is going to stage a takeover via the tunnels under Walmart.

Take the good news where you can get it. Thanks, Utah.

OK. Enough. Every time someone laughs at Texas, Gail Collins makes a ha’penny. In 2012 she wrote, As Texas Goes … How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Dream. I read it as prep before moving here and, while I like Gail Collins a lot, I was disappointed. It seemed formulaic, pat.

Of course it was well blurbed, the first “praise for” on the back cover from none other than Rachel Maddow:

Gail Collins is the funniest political commentator in America. Reading As Texas Goes … is pure pleasure from page one.

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UT’s Jim Henson reviewed the book for Texas Monthly.

Collins, for all her wit, epitomizes a coastal take on Texas that frowns on the state’s political ideology even as it misses the underlying politics that actually explain things. And there are real consequences to this sort of blithe indifference.

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So it’s disappointing to open Collins’s new book, As Texas Goes …  How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda (Norton/Liveright, $25.95), and discover that it deploys pretty much the same tone as her Times columns. I know people (usually from other states) who adore Collins’ style, but I suspect that even the fans who enthusiastically email me links to her latest Texas takedowns will admit that the devices that pep up an eight-hundred-word column become tiresome over the course of a two-hundred-page book. As Texas Goes is chock-full of jokey little asides, like adding a perky “Just sayin’!” after noting that Texan presidents have gotten the U.S. into several wars. Too often, it’s not enough for Collins to point out how wrong she thinks Texas’s policies are; she labors to underline how obviously ridiculous Texas’s policies are.

And now, adding insult to injury, Texas, by Collins’ lights, must eat Utah’s level-headed dust.

Utah. Utah? Utah!

At least Texas Remembers the Alamo. Does Utah not remember The Utah War?

Here from Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Utah War from an official LDS student manual on church history:

The Latter-day Saints considered themselves loyal American citizens and were indignant when they heard a large army was on its way west to put down a “Mormon rebellion.” Recalling the persecutions of earlier years, the settlers feared being driven once again from their homes. For the next few months the Saints prepared to defend themselves. Church leaders and members alike were unwilling to suffer oppression again.

Two issues were at the center of the Church’s conflict with the federal government: the Saints’ practice of plural marriage and the Church’s control of the Utah territorial government. When Utah reapplied for statehood in 1856 and ran into stiff opposition, the “Mormon question” entered national politics.

The national Republican party was founded in 1854 as a staunchly anti-slavery party and fielded its first presidential candidate in 1856. In its platform it urged Congress to prohibit in the territories the twin relics of barbarism—polygamy and slavery. The Democrats, not wishing to imply support of polygamy by their support of slavery, denounced the Mormons as vehemently as the Republicans did. Successful Democratic candidate James Buchanan vowed during his presidential campaign that if elected he would replace Brigham Young as governor of Utah.

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After pondering how to meet this “invasion,” Church leaders in early August issued a broadside proclamation to the citizens of Utah:

“We are invaded by a hostile force, who are evidently assailing us to accomplish our overthrow and destruction. …

“… The government has not condescended to cause an investigating committee, or other persons to be sent, to inquire into and ascertain the truth, as is customary in such cases. …

“The issue which has thus been forced upon us, compels us to resort to the great first law of self-preservation, and stand in our own defense and right, guaranteed unto us by the genius of the institutions of our country, and on which the government is based. Our duties to ourselves and families requires us not to tamely submit to be driven and slain, without an attempt to preserve ourselves. Our duty to our country, our holy religion, our God, to freedom and liberty, requires that we shall not quietly stand still.”

The broadside proclaimed three intentions: to forbid all armed forces from coming into Utah Territory on whatever pretense, to hold all forces in Utah in readiness to repel any invasion, and to declare martial law in the territory.

Brigham Young then mustered the territorial militia and ordered that no grain or other staple be sold to passing immigrants or speculators. He ordered the building of fortifications and also selected raiding parties to harass the army and supply trains. He also sent a group known as the White Mountain Expedition to find another suitable location for settlement, should the Saints have to abandon their homes.

From a 2011 essay in Salon in which Glenn W. LaFantasie argued that James Buchanan surpassed George W. Bush as the worst president ever:

The army blundered its mission, and the Mormons fought an effective guerrilla campaign against the federal troops. Eventually, Buchanan felt the heat of political pressure to end the so-called Mormon War, and a peaceful end to the fiasco. True to form, however, Buchanan claimed credit for a victory in Utah.
And from David L. Bigler and Will Bagley, The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857-1858:
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Not until the events of 11 September 2001 did we fully realize the present need for a balanced and accurate reinterpretation of this forgotten struggle [the Utah War]. The United States finds itself engaged in a battle with theocrats, engaging fanatics who are much more dangerous and perhaps even more committed than the religious rulers who had imposed what President James Buchanan called ‘a strange system of terrorism’ on the people of Utah Territory. . . . We hope that some good will come from an honest look at the Utah rebellion of 1857-58, and at the problems the American republic faced and the mistakes it made when it first wrestled with theocracy (xi).

Amid the war hysteria, came what an LDS Church historian told NPR was “the worst event in Latter-day Saint history” – the Mountain Meadows Massacre:

On Sept. 11, 1857, a Mormon militia in southern Utah seized a wagon train from Arkansas and brutally murdered 120 people. Soon after, records of the event were destroyed and Mormon leaders attempted a cover-up. The “Mountain Meadows Massacre” still troubles the descendants of both the attackers and victims.

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U.S. Army troops were on their way to Utah, presumably to wrest control from the Mormon-dominated territorial government and to subdue Mormons practicing polygamy. Mormon leaders warned that passing wagon trains could be in league with the Army. They ordered Mormon settlements to save grain, grazing land, weapons, ammunition and supplies for themselves, and not to share with non-Mormons headed to California.

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In 1857, and for many years afterward, the attack was blamed on Paiute Indians.

OK, so while Texans remember the Alamo, Utahns, it seems, are about forgetting the past.

Now back to the present day.

From Amy Davidson in the New Yorker, under the headline, Unclear Dangers.

In the past few weeks, a certain map has been causing a lot of discussion online and, particularly, in Texas. It shows seven states in the Southwest color-coded as red and “hostile” (Texas, Utah), or blue and “permissive” (California, Colorado, Nevada), or designated “uncertain” but leaning toward hostile (New Mexico) or toward friendly (Arizona). The map also features a circle zeroing in on Texas and acronyms associated with the military. To numerous observers, its meaning is clear: it is a plan for a U.S. military takeover of Texas and beyond, or, perhaps, a rehearsal for civil war and the enforcement of martial law. Resistance is anticipated in some areas, such as the part of Southern California marked as an “insurgent pocket.”

The Pentagon quickly explained that the map was actually a prop in a large-scale but routine training exercise called Jade Helm 15, scheduled to take place this summer. Blue and red are standard colors on war-game maps and unconnected to, say, voting patterns. But the theorists were unpersuaded, and the code name seemed to excite them further. (Jade—a reference to China?) Some pointed to several Walmart stores that had abruptly closed and might now, they said, be used as internment camps run by FEMA (Walmart says it isn’t so—sometimes stores just close.)

The matter might have been dismissed as another one of those things that happen on the Internet if Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, had not sprung into action. In a Facebook post from April 28th, he wrote, “I’ve ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor Jade Helm 15 to safeguard Texans’ constitutional rights, private property, and civil liberties.” Some other Texas politicians seemed eager to show that they, too, were not the sort to take hints of martial law lightly. Last week, Senator Ted Cruz told a reporter at a Republican Party convention in South Carolina that his office had “reached out to the Pentagon,” and Senator John Cornyn obtained a private briefing from a three-star general; both legislators reported being satisfied that, in this instance, at least, Texas was not in danger from the United States.

 

Well, Ok. That’s right as far as it goes. But there is something missing between paragraphs 3 and 4 that would have provided critical context.

From David McSwane, in Sunday’s American-Statesman, an excellent story that provides an important corrective.

BASTROP — The official slogan of Operation Jade Helm 15, “Master the Human Domain,” is just one of many oddities surrounding the eight-week Pentagon training that’s fomented anger and suspicion in Bastrop County and other rural parts of Texas.

In bile-green text, the phrase is placed beneath the operation’s logo of a dagger, two crossed arrows and a translucent wooden clog — yes, a clog — all of which have become fodder for widespread, baseless conspiracy theories that the Army Special Operations Command is planning a martial law takeover of Texas come July.

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Theories aside, the lingo points to an underlying objective of Jade Helm: The mastery of an emerging Special Forces doctrine called the “human domain,” a renewed push to study the “social and economic conditions” in conflict zones following lessons learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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You have to understand the human terrain — Who do I talk to? Where do I go?” said Paul Floyd, a senior military analyst for Stratfor, a global intelligence firm based in Austin. “You have to put yourself in their shoes as people and understand their motivations. Jade Helm is essentially practicing that.”

Floyd, a former Army Ranger who led a Special Operations squad on 35 missions in Afghanistan, said such training is crucial to better prepare troops for unconventional warfare, where it’s not always easy to tell civilians from soldiers, good guys from bad guys.

Mizzy Zdroj on her burned property in Bastrop on Wednesday May 6, 2015. Zdroj, who is the assistant chief of the Heart of the Pines Volunteer Fire Department, is concerned that the upcoming Jade Helm 15 military exercise will cause more grief to many Bastrop residents who are still recovering form the devastating wildfire of 2011. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Mizzy Zdroj on her burned property in Bastrop on Wednesday May 6, 2015. Zdroj, who is the assistant chief of the Heart of the Pines Volunteer Fire Department, is concerned that the upcoming Jade Helm 15 military exercise will cause more grief to many Bastrop residents who are still recovering form the devastating wildfire of 2011. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Lingering trauma

Before the 2011 Bastrop County Complex fire, towering lost pines blocked out the sunlight.

But now the sparsely populated Heart of the Pines neighborhood is a naked swath of charred stumps and half-built homes where the people are on edge and the wind still smells like campfire. More than once, the fire-orange glow of a sunset has sent mothers running to swoop up their children or to call 911.

Mizzy Zdroj, 47, cries as she explains: The collective trauma of those who survived the most destructive wildfire in Texas history is the missing context in the hysteria surrounding Jade Helm.

“Our lives were splayed open, just like the forest was,” says Zdroj, an assistant chief with the volunteer fire department.

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“The way it’s been playing out is that this place has lost its rocks or something,” she says. “People aren’t crazy around here. People have just been through a lot.”

“You have to be careful when you take things to a place that’s had mass trauma,” Zdroj says. “You’re going to get a reaction.”

Mass trauma. Mass trauma.

Oh, like Hurricane Katrina.

From Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit the December following the storm: Were the levees bombed in New Orleans?  Ninth Ward residents give voice to a conspiracy theory

It’s become a strongly held belief by some in the storm zone —  the idea that the destruction of New Orleans’ heavily poor, heavily black Ninth Ward was neither an accident nor an act of nature.

Dyan French, also known as “Mama D,” is a New Orleans Citizen and Community Leader.  She testified before the House Select Committee on Hurricane Katrina on Tuesday.

“I was on my front porch.  I have witnesses that they bombed the walls of the levee, boom, boom!” Mama D said, holding her head. “Mister, I’ll never forget it.”

“Certainly appears to me to be an act of genocide and of ethnic cleansing,” Leah Hodges, another New Orleans citizen, told the committee.

Similar statements, sometimes couched as rumors, have also been voiced by Louis Farrakhan, leader of the nation of Islam, and director Spike Lee.

“I don’t find it too far-fetched,” Lee said in a recent television interview, “that they try to displace all the black people out of New Orleans.”

Harvard’s Alvin Pouissant says such conspiracy theories are fueled by years of government neglect and discrimination against blacks: slavery, segregation and the Tuskegee experiments, during which poor blacks were used to test the effects of syphilis.

“If you’re angry and you’ve been discriminated against,” Pouissant says, “then your mind is open to many ideas about persecution, abandonment, feelings of rejection.”

  The latest theory is partly rooted in historical fact. In 1927, the levees were bombed to save parts of the city, and black neighborhoods were inundated.

But independent engineers investigating levee failures during Katrina say that’s not what happened this time.

Oh dear. What about American history could possibly make black people paranoid? Answer: American history.

Also appearing on Chris Hayes show on Friday was Jesse Walker of Reason Magazine, the author of The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory.

Paranoia aside, Walker said, “there are very good reasons not to want to have military training exercises in your community,” particularly a place like Bastrop, which had lost 700 homes to wildfires in the very recent past.

People worry about having far less consequential things going on in their backyard, he said.

As Walker, wrote in the Los Angels Times:

Jade Helm’s defenders point out that this is hardly the first time the military has trained soldiers on civilian soil. The flip side is that this is hardly the first time Americans have objected. One example is Operation Urban Warrior, a 1999 Marine Corps exercise in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some locals were so angry about it that they staged a sit-in at the office of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown.

The opposition in 1999 tended to come from the left, not the right. But the complaints were similar in character.

There were concerns about noise and disruption and pollution. There was fear of an increasingly militarized America. And then as now, that fear produced conspiracy theories. The San Francisco Bay Guardian, one of the area’s two leading alt-weeklies at the time, ran an article arguing that the Urban Warrior trainees were “preparing themselves to contain popular uprisings — including uprisings in U.S. cities.”

It’s easy to dismiss the theories embraced by nervous people. But that doesn’t mean you should dismiss the reasons they’re nervous in the first place. Sometimes even paranoids have a point.