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Brewster County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page takes the walk of shame [UPDATED]

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Brewster County Sheriffs Department. They’re the folks who keep us safe and sound in the Big Bend region. I have no complaints. I’m a fan. The deputies with whom I’m acquainted are pleasant, professional, and get the job done. I’ve met Sheriff Dodson a couple of times and he seems like an alright guy and then some. And their weekly “sheriffs blotter” pieces are always interesting, and often unintentionally hysterically funny (most funny entry ever: police were dispatched to a trailer park because a woman was overheard hollering “help!” but upon investigation it was determined that her dog’s name was Help).

But honestly, whoever is running their Facebook page this week needs the weekend off.

On their official departmental Facebook page, they posted a story of dubious linage, from a website I’d never heard of. The alarmist headline of the story is “BREAKING: TEXAS POLICE ARREST MUSLIM TERRORIST WEARING ISIS BODY ARMOR.”

Please note that other headlines of note on the aforementioned website include:




Another headline at the website, ironically, is “ISIS LIVING AT 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE?”

Look, this website (to which I will not be linking) isn’t the first wacko right-wing website to spread disinformation all over the internet. But when otherwise-credible law enforcement agencies get involved and help them spread their drivel, that’s a different story.

When the Brewster County Sheriff’s office posted the story on their page, I was amazed, and questioned the post in a comment. I was quickly joined by several others who had similar concerns about spreading alarmist “news.”

Then whoever administers the Facebook page for the Sheriff did something amazing. The administrator claimed that they weren’t saying it was true, they were merely asking the public for verification that it was true.

Oh really? Here’s a screen shot of the Sheriff’s office post when I first saw it:


But here’s another screen shot of the same post a couple of hours later, after the department was claiming “hey, we’re just asking!” Notice their edit up top:



Funny thing – they weren’t “just asking” when they first posted it. They were posting drivel. Also, they weren’t learning how to spell “authenticity,” but I digress.

Terrorist organizations are just about as serious as it gets these days. People need accurate information, not alarmist fiction. And for the alarmist fiction to be presented by a trusted law enforcement agency is the height of irresponsibility.

What’s the harm, you ask? As of the last time I checked, 54 76 82 people had shared the original post to their own Facebook walls. And those people aren’t “just asking.” Because they trust their sheriff’s department.

Too bad their sheriff’s department Facebook page administrators believe everything they read on the internet, huh?

UPDATE: the Sheriff’s Department, via comment to their original post, now says this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.55.50 PM

Unfortunately, they have not removed the original post, and now 79 82 unsuspecting people have shared this false story on their own Facebook pages. Instead of spreading information, your Sheriff’s Department is spreading fear.

UPDATE 2: they finally removed the post…at least an hour after determining it was false.

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Revisited: the Second Worst Church In The World

Remember the Second Worst Church In The World, the Church of Corinth near Dallas, at which the church’s minister was arrested for attempted sexual performance of a child? Some in the congregation responded by believing that the accusations were nothing but an attack by Satan and silenced people who dared express any concern for the underaged victim.

Guess who meets monthly at that church? Go on – give it a shot.

Meet the Denton County Republican Party.

In fact, the county Republican Party evidently attracted Peggy Venable, the Texas director of Americans for Prosperity, as a guest speaker at last Thursday’s meeting at the church, which is the same location the pastor is accused of victimizing the child.

Americans for Prosperity was a big spender for Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, who embarrassed has fellow Republicans last year when he said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

This is all starting to make more sense to me now.


[h/t to blog reader Wayne]

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Who’s driving this clown car?

Weren’t you getting sick of the Republican over-reach on Benghazi? Me too. I bet even Republicans were privately rolling their eyes at some of the absurdity.

But I’d take another month of breathless hyper partisan obsession over Benghazi if it meant we didn’t have two fresh situations on our hands – real ones this time – which should make Americans of all stripes pause and wonder what our Federal Government is doing in our names.

Apparently the IRS has admitted they singled out conservative organizations seeking non-profit status for extra scrutiny. And before people got a chance to catch their breath from that one, the Justice Department disclosed to the Associated Press that they collected the phone records of its reporters for a two-month period.

To be blunt, I’m not happy with the behavior of my Federal government on either situation, and you shouldn’t be either. Each situation is chilling, and demands full investigation. You might be surprised for me to say that, since I’m a Democrat…the same party as the chief executive. That’s the difference between having a point of view, and having a spin. I’m not the slightest bit interested in helping gloss over with partisan spin that which is counter to my point of view.

The White House needs to aggressively lead the way in getting to the bottom of both situations. They have no business merely reacting – they need to get in the driver’s seat and show that they’re even more determined to get real answers than Congressional Republicans will be.

And speaking of Congressional Republicans…does anybody think they’ll lead an honest investigation aimed at getting out the facts, and going wherever the evidence leads? Of course not. They’ll use it for political fodder, and more showbiz for cable news, and that’s a shame too.

We need to know whether a few individuals at the IRS did something bone-headed, or if this was a coordinated focus on selective enforcement of the law based on ideology. There’s a huge difference.

We need to know whether seizing the phone records of the Associated Press reporters was a legitimate tool in a crucial investigation, or if it was a stunning over-reach on the part of law enforcement borne of a Justice Department utterly tone-deaf to First Amendment protections. There’s a huge difference.

And both of the above would be a lot easier if members of Congress, in both parties, weren’t constantly playing the blame game for political gain, instead of doing their jobs. Both of the above would be more achievable if we had a White House focused on getting to the bottom of it, instead of minimizing damage.

We don’t need a rush to judgement. We need a rush to truth.


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The second worst church in the world

Sadly, Westboro Baptist has it all wrapped up for the worst church in the world. But The Church Of Corinth near Dallas is doing their best to come in a close second place.

It started when their pastor, Jeffrey Dale Williams, was jailed yesterday, charged with attempted sexual performance of a child. Police say the entire pathetic episode was captured on a two-hour audio tape, and they’re currently seeking out possible additional victims.

Curious, I went to the church’s Facebook page early this morning. I found scores of comments, almost all of which were supportive of, sympathetic with, or combative on behalf of, the church and its accused pastor. Many indicated their belief that this accusation is an attack on the church and its pastor by Satan. A sampling:

Remember the prayers over our Pastor and family a few weeks ago….this is Satan in full force trying to destroy!


Praying and believing in Pastor Jeff, and the TRUTH to be revealed.


Ignorance allows those to believe this accusation to be true. I’m not one of them. I know the truth will come out, hopefully sooner than later. God bless.


This shows me that the devil will stop at nothing to try and shake our faith. We must not falter in our FAITH to God. Prayers to the all TCOC family.

The comments go on and on. Conspicuously missing from the conversation was any concern about the victim. Plenty of prayers for the church, and for the pastor, but no prayers offered for the victim (and only one mention of “the accuser”). I posted my own comment, expressing my hope that people would pray for victims as well.

When I returned my attention to my computer screen ten minutes later, the church had deleted my comment.

Several others tried to express their concern for the victim as well. Here’s one:

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 1.02.42 PM

And it took two minutes for the church to delete it. But here’s another one, so innocuous I was convinced it would survive:

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 1.30.08 PM

But sadly, within minutes, it too was gone.

What kind of a church decides there’s absolutely no room to pray for a child who has been sexually victimized? None of us are in a position to judge whether this pastor is a child molester. Although one would have to think that a two-hour audio tape will make things pretty clear in a hurry, that is ultimately for courts to decide. But what kind of church is so focused on circling the wagons and protecting their pastor that they specifically reject any notion of praying for victims who are children?

Perhaps it’s time for the Church of the Corinth to closely examine what, exactly, they’re really worshiping.

And as if this situation hasn’t already sent enough cold chills down your spine, here was the most recent post on the church’s Facebook page, from before the news broke that their minister had been charged with molesting a child:

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 2.02.15 PM

Blind faith indeed.

UPDATE: the church has now apparently pulled down their Facebook page entirely.

 UPDATE #2: here’s this too.

UPDATE #3: The man’s now a convicted felon. Here’s hoping the church is doing better, kinder, and gentler.

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Texas’ water infrastructure funding should not go down the drain [with video]

Following skirmishes on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives earlier this week which resulted in legislation tanking which would have put $2 billion in funding for much-needed water infrastructure, it came up on YNN’s Capital Tonight Tuesday. Here’s my take:

Water infrastructure, as an issue, stands on its own in Texas. It is a critical one, and if the legislature leaves it unfunded this session, it will create serious consequences for Texas’ future. They’re not growing any more water around here – the resource is, at best, a constant, and with recent droughts it’s not even that. This isn’t one of the Governor’s fake issues, designed to get him more support or make his friends richer. It’s a very real challenge.

Texas has a tripod of critical interests on the water front (pun intended, and I apologize). None of the three – energy, agriculture, and population growth – can be shortchanged. Energy exploration, an essential economic driver in Texas, takes a lot of water. Texas’ ever-growing population takes a lot of water. And the agricultural activity necessary to feed all that population growth three times a day takes a lot of water. If you shortchange any one of these, things start falling apart, and quickly. It takes a massive commitment to conservation, increased efficiency, and smarter management. Unless the water fairy unexpectedly shows up to save us all from ourselves, that all requires serious investment.

I respect the efforts of some of the House Democrats to leverage the issue in attempts to get more public education funding cuts restored, and I hope they succeed in restoring those cuts somehow. I even understand the misgivings of Tea Party Republicans against spending any money at all, even for the most legitimate of infrastructure investments – I completely get that your political base isn’t interested, and that the anti-government folks are on your ass.

But when it’s all said and done, I hope the legislature well-understands that funding the water plan has to happen. And I think most understand the consequences if it doesn’t.

You can watch this full episode of Capital Tonight here. And you can catch me on tonight’s episode on YNN in Austin at 7 pm. Give it a shot – we get into all sorts of interesting topics of interest to the policy- and politically-addicted.

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On lizards, foxes, henhouses, and oil wells

Let me just preface this by saying that I don’t give a damn about lizards, and that I give several damns about growing the Texas economy.

But wouldn’t it be nice if we had the economic growth DNA around here which didn’t pit the environment against the economy, as if we can only choose one?

I offer as Exhibit A this piece from the Tribune‘s Jay Root.

The lizard in question – the one I don’t give a damn about – is the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, out in West Texas.


Lizard I don’t give a damn about

See, the Feds were thinking about putting the species on the endangered species list. Mainly because it’s endangered. The Feds are funny that way. The lizards (which I don’t care about) probably didn’t get endangered without help. Its habitat is being seriously encroached upon, undoubtedly by the one industry that encroaches upon stuff out there – oil and gas exploration and production. That’s also the industry that in one way or another feeds and clothes just about everybody out there. It’s the biggest economic engine in the region; it is not an unimportant enterprise.

The Feds backed off. Why? I’m glad you asked. Here’s what they said:

June 2012
WASHINGTON – As a result of unprecedented commitments to voluntary conservation agreements now in place in New Mexico and Texas that provide for the long-term conservation of the dunes sagebrush lizard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the species does not need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. [emphasis added]

So what is that “unprecedented commitment to voluntary conservation” in Texas? I’m glad you asked that too, and it brings us back to Root’s piece.

Then-state representative Warren Chisum slipped an amendment into a bill that put this issue in the lap of state Comptroller Susan Combs, instead of the usual biologists over at the Parks and Wildlife Department – you know, the people who do this kind of thing for a living. Combs then allowed a non-profit foundation to take the lead in doing stuff to protect the lizard I care nothing about. The foundation, turns out, is funded and run by the oil and gas industry itself, and is headed up by an oil and gas lobbyist.

What is the name of this oil and gas lobbyist in charge of saving the lizard I care nothing about? I’m particularly glad you asked that. It’s Warren Chisum. Yes, the former state representative, now an oil and gas lobbyist, who kept this matter out of the hands of the biologists at Parks and Wildlife in the first place.

And what specifically is Mr. Chisum – that legendary pioneer of lizard-protection – doing to protect this lizard? We don’t really know, but rest assured, Mr. Chisum is on the job and in charge:

Chisum said they should have a say in how it’s implemented.

“It’s our money,” he said.

Well, I feel better already. I’m sure those lizards are sleeping well these days.

Did I mention that I really don’t give a damn about a lizard? I do, however, give a damn about people in government who turn the keys to the henhouse over to the foxes, claim the problem’s solved, trash the Feds for even wanting to have the discussion, and continue to do whatever-it-is-they’re-doing-to-the-environment without any oversight, protections, or transparency.

Fact is, business interests like this are cowards with a can’t-do attitude. In a situation like this, we don’t have to choose between the environment and the economy. I bet there are a bunch of ways to continue to grow the oil and gas industry in West Texas, while also making sure the lizard I don’t care anything about doesn’t disappear. But we don’t know how best to protect this species, while at the same time allowing for an essential economic engine to continue doing what they do, because Warren Chisum kept this situation away from the biologists at Parks and Wildlife who could have researched it and come up with solutions.

Today’s lizard is tomorrow’s…something. And at the end of all those somethings-that-ain’t-lizards, at stake is eventually the air our children breathe an the water they drink.

And that’s more important than a lizard, and exponentially more important than Warren Chisum’s oil and gas lobby contracts.

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Gun violence: the debate has never been more absurd

Since I’d written about gun violence before, shortly after the Newtown massacre, I couldn’t have been more pleased when Texas Monthly called and asked me to write more on the topic. Here are excerpts:

The public debate over gun violence, which was hardly high brow to start with, has never been more absurd. I’m not a big fan of the anti-gun crowd, because, as a gun owner, I’m not anti-gun. But, as a former NRA member, I’m absolutely horrified with the behavior of the NRA crowd these days. Since the Newtown massacre, my Facebook feed has been filled with alarmist updates suggesting that the very existence of the Second Amendment is at stake and Obama is going to take our guns away.

Repeat that drivel as many times as you want, but it’s simply not true. But surely our national response to the senseless murder of 26 people—twenty of them children—won’t be to do absolutely nothing? Surely we can do better than that?gun violence

Almost certainly, Second Amendment advocates don’t really believe that the proposed (and seemingly dead on arrival) assault rifle ban would be the death of America as they know it, especially given that the U.S. had such a ban, complete with magazine capacity limits for handguns, from 1994 to 2004. I don’t remember the republic crashing down around us at the time, nor do I recall anybody’s ability to have fun shooting stuff and breaking things with wild abandon disappearing. Nor would expanding background checks to do away with the private sale loophole extinguish liberty and sink America into a godless morass. What it would do, however, is keep a lot of wackadoodles, including ones who would do our children harm, from easily getting their hands on guns.

No, what the NRA crowd is mostly doing these days, as somebody pointed out recently, is violating my Second Amendment right to well-regulate a militia.

Read the entire piece over at Texas Monthly.

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Marriage equality: here’s hoping Texas Democrats’ hearts have softened [UPDATED]

As SCOTUS hears arguments on marriage equality this week, it reminds me of when the Texas Legislature voted for the state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage in Texas eight years ago. Texas voters subsequently approved the measure that November by a 3-to-1 margin. I wonder if any of the legislators voting on that piece of crap would vote differently today?

equalityI am particularly reminded of the Democrats who voted yes (or Present, Not Voting). Some of the statements of vote (scroll to the bottom) are surprising and disappointing, including those made by various House Democrats, two of whom are now in the US Congress and several of whom remain in the legislature or otherwise in the public eye. (and one of whom was, ironically, drummed out of office, in part for gay baiting her opponent).

Keep in mind that a vote yes was a vote against marriage equality. A no vote was a vote against discrimination. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote in each house – 21 in the Senate and 100 in the House. So, to be clear: this measure would not have passed but for the help of Democrats in the legislature.

In the Senate (in which it passed with zero votes to spare, while three Democrats voted yes):

HJR 6 was adopted by the following vote: Yeas 21, Nays 9.

Yeas: Armbrister, Averitt, Brimer, Deuell, Duncan, Eltife, Estes, Fraser, Harris, Jackson, Janek, Lindsay, Lucio, Madla, Nelson, Ogden, Seliger, Shapiro, Staples, Wentworth, Williams.

Nays: Barrientos, Ellis, Gallegos, Hinojosa, Shapleigh, Van de Putte, West, Whitmire, Zaffirini.

Absent-excused: Carona.

And in the House (in which it passed with two votes to spare, and many more Democrats than that voting yes):

The roll of those voting yea was again called and the verified vote resulted, as follows (Record 396): 101 Yeas, 29 Nays, 8 Present, not voting.

Yeas — Mr. Speaker(C); Allen, R.; Anderson; Baxter; Berman; Blake; Bohac; Bonnen; Branch; Brown, B.; Brown, F.; Callegari; Campbell; Casteel; Chisum; Cook, B.; Cook, R.; Corte; Crabb; Crownover; Davis, J.; Dawson; Delisi; Denny; Driver; Edwards; Eissler; Elkins; Escobar; Farabee; Flynn; Frost; Gattis; Geren; Gonzalez Toureilles; Goodman; Goolsby; Griggs; Grusendorf; Guillen; Haggerty; Hamilton; Hamric; Hardcastle; Harper-Brown; Hartnett; Hegar; Hilderbran; Hill; Homer; Hope; Hopson; Howard; Hughes; Hunter; Hupp; Isett; Jackson; Jones, D.; Keel; Keffer, B.; Keffer, J.; King, P.; King, T.; Kolkhorst; Krusee; Kuempel; Laney; Laubenberg; Madden; McCall; McReynolds; Merritt; Miller; Morrison; Mowery; Olivo; Orr; Otto; Paxton; Phillips; Pickett; Quintanilla; Raymond; Reyna; Riddle; Ritter; Rose; Seaman; Smith, T.; Smith, W.; Solomons; Straus; Swinford; Talton; Taylor; Truitt; Van Arsdale; West; Woolley; Zedler.

Nays — Allen, A.; Alonzo; Anchia; Bailey; Burnam; Coleman; Davis, Y.; Deshotel; Dukes; Dunnam; Dutton; Farrar; Gallego; Herrero; Hochberg; Hodge; Martinez Fischer; McClendon; Moreno, J.; Moreno, P.; Naishtat; Noriega, M.; Puente; Rodriguez; Strama; Thompson; Veasey; Villarreal; Vo.

Present, not voting — Castro; Chavez; Giddings; Gonzales; Jones, J.; Leibowitz; Turner; Wong.

Absent, Excused — Eiland; Luna; Menendez; Nixon; Oliveira; Pitts; Smithee.

Absent — Flores; Martinez; Pen ̃a; Solis; Uresti.


When Record No. 396 was taken, I was in the house but away from my desk. I would have voted yes.

I was shown voting present, not voting on Record No. 396. I intended to vote yes.

When Record No. 396 was taken, I was in the house but away from my desk. I would have voted yes.

I was excused on April 25, 2005 to be with my father in the hospital. Had I been present, I would have voted yes on HJRi6.

I strongly support the institution of marriage and believe that our government should support efforts to strengthen this important bond between a man and a woman. I also believe individuals should have their rights protected when entering into civil agreements and contracts. The Chisum Amendment that was added to the bill puts into question the consideration and protection of civil unions between men and women. Since this proposed constitutional amendment now includes the prohibition of such arrangements, I could not in good conscience vote in favor of HJR 6.

My intention was to vote for HJR 6 as filed and as it was presented to the full house for consideration and action. I strongly support the institution of marriage and believe that our government should support efforts to strengthen this important bond between a man and a woman. However, I also believe individuals should have the right and their rights protected when entering into civil agreements and contracts. The Chisum Amendment that was added to the bill puts into question the consideration and protection of civil unions. Since this proposed constitutional amendment now includes the prohibition of such arrangements, I could not in good conscience vote in favor of HJR 6.

I fully agree that the institution of marriage should be limited to one man and one woman. I supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which is current Texas law. If that were the issue before us today, I would vote the same way again. However, in its continuing zeal to protect the institution of marriage, the legislature now infringes on the contractual rights of both men and women. For example, common-law marriages between men and women are in essence civil unions—but the Chisum Amendment bans civil unions between men and women—and not solely between individuals of the same sex. This is an unnecessary and improper governmental intrusion into the rights of individuals.
Dunnam and Gallego

My intention was to vote for HJR 6 as passed by the State Affairs Committee. I believe in the institution of marriage and that it is between a woman and a man. My support of this HJR is in keeping with my faith. I support language that states “marriage in this state shall consist of the union of one man and one woman” being placed on the ballot in November.
The additional language and the issues associated with that language I could not support as language that should be put in the Texas Constitution. There is language in the family code that deals with the issues of common law and civil unions and that is the proper place.

I believe in marriage being between a man and a woman, and I would have preferred to have voted simply on that, especially since that is existing law. But Representative Chisum added a ban on civil unions—possibly even common law marriages—even though he denies that. I do not believe in banning civil unions. For that reason, I voted in favor of the amendments that would have protected these unions. Because HJR 6 was too vague and went too far, I could not, in good conscience, vote for it. Because I believe in marriage between a man and a woman, I didn t’ vote against it. Instead, I joined several of my colleagues in entering a vote of present, not voting.

This HJR limits the rights of men and women to contract with each other if the agreement or agreements they sign are “similar” to marriage, even if the agreements are between one man and one woman. That provision goes well beyond the original proposal, which was simply to define marriage. There was no justification offered as to why we would want to limit agreements between a man and a woman in our Constitution.

I voted against HJR 6 because I believe the State of Texas already recognizes a marriage as only between a man and a woman. While children in hardworking Texas families are going without health insurance and the number of students who receive the Texas Grant—the real Texas Enterprise Fund—has been cut, the Texas House of Representatives should not waste valuable time and state resources to pointlessly change the Texas Constitution.
When I ran for office I promised to focus on education, health care, and economic development. I will not vote for meaningless legislation while these truly important issues are not being given adequate consideration.

Update: here’s one apparent, and very welcome, change of heart: then-Democratic State Representative Joaquin Castro (now a Member of Congress) registered “present – not voting” on the legislation in 2005, then entered into the House journal (see above) an explanation which indicated that his objection to the resolution was limited to a provision on civil unions between a man and a woman. He also included:

I strongly support the institution of marriage and believe that our government should support efforts to strengthen this important bond between a man and a woman.

However, this morning, he was on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building standing with activists, and tweeted this:

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 11.33.28 AM

I don’t believe for a second that most of the progressive Democrats who voted yes, or who voted no and added odd journal statements, had discriminatory intent at the time. Indeed, along with voting their conscience, these elected officials also had an obligation to represent constituencies which in 2005 were dead-set against marriage equality. Those who, like Congressman Castro, recognize that there has been a sea-change in public sentiment since the vote in Texas in 2005, should be congratulated, and should be joined by others well-positioned to encourage progress in ensuring that everybody is treated equally.

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In a post-racial America, the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed.

Don’t you agree?


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Barack Obama: really really crappy socialist

The benchmark in responsible journalism for those offering commentary aught to be that those whom journalists call upon should be interesting, thought-provoking, and have an outstanding depth of understanding for the topic discussed. If they’re not all that, journalists should not call on them.

All too often these days, when reporters call on conservatives to comment on this election, the direction of the country, or the President’s leadership, it turns out to merely be an opportunity for those people to call President Obama a socialist.

This is usually the point at which I begin hollering and throwing stuff at my TV.

But interestingly, often as not, I don’t holler at the interviewee, because they’re just doing what hyper-partisans do – call names. They’re also not the ones in control of whether they’re polluting my television or newspaper – the reporters are. So I holler at the journalist, because I believe that there are really only two journalistically-valid responses for the oft-leveled “Obama is a socialist” charge: to immediately terminate the interview and direct the show’s producer to lose that guy’s phone number and find a real guest; or to immediately demand of the interviewee their specific definition of “socialism” and how that definition fits the charge that the President is one. Most journalists exercise neither option. They actually treat this intellectual mental illness as if it is somewhat normal behavior.

As a result of this journalistic malfeasance, conservative thought-leaders feel free to level the charge on an hourly basis, and conservative thought-puppets repeat it on a constant one.

But never fear: for the journalists failing to do their jobs, for conservatives failing to offer actual ideas, and for thought-puppets failing to even contemplate diverting from what they are told to parrot, Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters to the rescue. Here’s why those who repeat the charge have nothing valid to share, and upon saying it should give up the privilege of ever being invited to participate in political discourse in any legitimate public forum for any reason, ever again: Obama is simply not a socialist. Or, if he is, he’s the absolute worst socialist in the history of socialism.

Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines socialism:

1. any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

2. a system of society or group living in which there is no private property

3. a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

Let’s take each definition one-by-one.

First, on controlling the means of production: has the President indicated that any sort of hallmark of his administration highlights either worker or government control of the means of production? No, he has not. Not even close.

But what of conservative squaking about so-called “Obamacare” constituting the socialized government take-over of health care? Well, sad to tell you – it is a out-and-out lie. When President Obama rejected the public option and instead opted for an individual mandate – just as then-Governor Romney did in Massachusetts – Obama, in effect, delivered millions and millions of new customers to commercial insurance companies. That isn’t socialism. It’s the opposite of socialism.

And what of conservative gnashing of teeth over government bailouts to save the faltering economy at the end of the Bush administration? It seems to me that a socialist President worth the label, after having invested in banks and auto manufacturers and such, would want to retain that ownership share for the government – in other words, control the means of production. But instead, the government has been selling off its shares of all of the above just as fast as the markets will tolerate it. This specific objective of the government relinquishing control over the means of production is about as un-socialist as it gets.

Second, on creating a system in which there is no private property: please. Anybody who sees any sign of that from the Obama administration has more issues than can be addressed here. You need go no further than recent stock market reports which show the market soaring to know that nobody on Wall Street, which is the greatest institution of capitalism on earth, is worried about President Obama taking away their property. And incidentally, “capitalism” is the antonym of “socialism,” and when Wall Street – the center of the capitalist universe – is posting multi-year record highs, it’s pretty safe to assume that the rich folks aren’t busy jumping from their balconies in abject terror that the White House might away their stuff. Those high stock prices constitute yet another example of why, if Obama is a socialist, he’s a damn poor one.

And third, a transitional step between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done: if whatever stage we are in as a nation is a transition away from capitalism and toward communism, where is the evidence of that? The growing income gap between the rich and the poor is, if anything, evidence to the contrary. And what greater evidence of any such transitional step has the Obama administration produced, than any other administration before it? If the guideposts of that are policies which increase opportunity for those in poverty to move up – you caught us, we’re guilty. But if you claim that those policies are at the expense of wealthy Americans, you can just refer back to those multi-year record highs on Wall Street we just discussed. Those who own most of the stuff around here seem like they couldn’t be tickled pinker with the way things are going, to watch Wall Street.

Those definitions aside…perhaps those hyper-partisan conservatives who call Obama a socialist are more generally just PO’ed because of Obama’s attempts to narrow the opportunity gap in America. And if that’s what they’re complaining about, they’ll have a hard time explaining why they would advocate against greater opportunity for those who didn’t previously have much of it.

But they’d also have a hard time explaining how that is different from some of their own Republican Presidents’ attempts to narrow gaps in opportunity and lack of protection for Americans, poor or otherwise. Like when Ronald Reagan’s federal government expanded instead of shrank. Or when Reagan bailed out Social Security in 1983. Or when George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. Or when Richard Nixon proposed the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Or when George W. Bush signed the re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006.

It is so clear that Barack Obama isn’t a socialist that I can’t believe people have to write pieces like this explaining why. What is less clear is why journalists continue to allow hyper-partisans to pollute the grown-ups’ news by childishly claiming it.


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Komen Foundation, again

I thought I was done with the sordid tale of Komen’s silly funding decision, but Fox news called me again, for a story that aired Thursday night. The resulting story in one of the more interesting news stories I’ve participated in lately; I kind of like the in-your-face editing style. Stick with it, there were technical difficulties at the beginning during the live shot.

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Watch out, YNN

Confession: I’ve been seeing another local news station behind your back. It’s not you, it’s me.

 I’ll be talking more about the Komen Foundation’s regrettable decision to defund Planned Parenthood this morning at 10:10 am on News 92 FM radio in Houston. If you’re not in Houston, you can listen live online here.

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Komen’s race for the bottom of the septic tank


Why does women’s health always end up being made into some political game by some conservatives?

The latest version of this sorry-ass behavior is that the Susan G. Komen Foundation has abruptly ceased their grants to Planned Parenthood and their affiliates, more than $600,000 last year alone, which Planned Parenthood utilized to screen women for breast cancer.

The Komen Foundation claims it’s because of a new board policy which prevents them from granting money to any organization under investigation by local, state, or federal authorities. Planned Parenthood has been the subject of a Congressional inquiry.

But here’s how things really work: any moron in Congress, especially if that moron is a member of the majority party, can open up an investigation into any entity that moron wants. And often, any moron does. In the case of Planned Parenthood, a moron did. The investigation is nothing more than a witch hunt orchestrated by Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida, who is using this “investigation” as a means to discredit Planned Parenthood at any cost. This isn’t because there is anything wrong with Planned Parenthood, it’s because there’s something wrong with Cliff Stearns.

No, it’s obvious that Komen’s excuse is just that – an excuse. One probably dreamed up by way of massive rationalization for a decision made due to pressure brought by anti-choice funders or activists determined to hate Planned Parenthood no matter how many lives Planned Parenthood saves.

I have several reactions.

First, to Members of Congress who agree that Planned Parenthood is crucial to women’s health – Congressmen and women who know that one out of five women in America have utilized their services for the full array of health care they provide – including breast exams – I challenge you to immediately open an investigation of the Komen Foundation. Not that I think for a second they’ve done anything illegal, but nobody expects that Planned Parenthood has either, right? Rather, it’s to force Komen to reverse their ill-conceived policy. After all, if Komen itself is under “investigation,” then under their shiny new policy, Komen can’t fund Komen, now can they?

Second, to the the anti-choice zealots who would use women as political pawns, with health and lives in the balance: how dare you. Breast cancer is a disease both my grandmothers were afflicted with. Breast cancer is the disease my mother suffered with for years, and ultimately died of. Breast cancer claimed the life of one of my best friends. How dare you use the health and lives of women to further your extremist agenda? How dare you treat the women who utilize the services of Planned Parenthood as if they are something less than yourselves, because of the values you would impose upon others?

Zealots, you may not like that thousands of women depend on Planned Parenthood’s full array of health care services as their primary health care. But like it or not, it’s where they’re going, and where they will continue to go, at least until after you reverse your longstanding opposition to other affordable health care options for these women. And thanks to your pressure, Komen will apparently no longer help in this effort.

And to the people at the Komen foundation: you certainly know better. If it is true that you bowed to anti-choice pressure, don’t be cowardly about it – admit it. Admit that you couldn’t fade the heat, and admit that as a result, women could go undiagnosed, and untreated.

And finally, people of Komen, if it is true that you made your decision based on financial considerations – either because a funder threatened to withhold money if you continued your Planned Parenthood grants, or because a funder promised to increase contributions absent those grants, to paraphrase a quote attributed to Winston Churchill: we have already established what you are. Now we are just haggling about the price.

Take up Komen’s slack – donate to Planned Parenthood.

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Bad ideas: SOPA and PIPA

You may have noticed the protest pop-up, my part in keeping a free and open internet, on your way to reading the blog today. Find out more:

What Google has to say.

What Wikipedia has to say.

Sign the petition to cut the crap.

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The elephant in the room (book review)

Let’s set aside for now the potentially explosive allegations regarding Rick Perry which Glen Maxey lays out in his e-book Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry, released earlier this week. They’re either true or they’re not, and those reading the book or resulting news stories can draw their own conclusions. I won’t repeat them here – you already know the material.

Let’s even set aside the massive hypocrisy it would represent if even one of the stories Maxey relates in the book were true. Perry’s “Strong” ad last week alone would make that clear enough.

And let’s for a moment set aside the relative credibility of the author, which is bound to come under serious scrutiny if mainstream media begin reporting on Maxey’s findings. I’ve known the man for 22 years. We’ve agreed a lot, and disagreed sometimes. In the years we’ve been friends, I have certainly not doubted his dedication to his causes. It’s a sure thing he is willing to take the heat – he certainly barged into the kitchen.

Rick Perry

Let’s set all of the above aside, long enough to have, in Rick Perry’s frequent words, a serious conversation, and mull over what’s next, if anything, and why.

Intelligent people can, and probably will, disagree about whether the book should have been published. But now that it is, what are serious journalists, who work at news organizations on the political beat whose job it is to inform the public, going to do about it?

It’s a bit of a stretch to imagine absolutely nothing happening – Maxey has taken years worth of rumors and attached (partial) names, details, and sheer bulk which covers much important new ground. The subject material is a sitting Governor of a major state who is running for President.

News media even provided coverage a couple of months ago when a man paid for an ad in the Austin Chronicle merely asking the questions that Maxey attempts to provide answers to in the book. How can asking the questions be more news-worthy than providing some answers?

Glen Maxey

After reading the book Wednesday, I could frankly see why “the national news outlet,” as Maxey mysteriously terms it but which practically everybody in town can identify, ultimately took a pass on printing the story, to Maxey’s clear frustration. What Maxey lays out is sheer volume of circumstantial evidence. But among this mass of evidence, what he lacks – and he’s not at all misleading about this – is closing the loop on the smoking gun story. The golden example – named and on the record, laid out on a silver platter to conveniently take all worrisome close judgement calls off the collective conscience of editors, and make it abundantly clear that the story is solidly publishable, and true – is missing. It’s the deal that ultimately couldn’t be closed.

And fair enough – a lot of stories which rely on circumstantial evidence don’t get printed, and shouldn’t be. But some are, and should be.

Something Maxey barely touches on in his book, in my view, could have been the central thesis of the entire work: the possible double standards involved here. Discussing his frustration at being unable to convince a publication to run with his evidence, he writes:

“…on October 30, I saw that broke the story about Herman Cain harassing a woman while he worked for the National Restaurant Association. Politico ran the entire story—and based it almost entirely on anonymous sources. Where were the on-the-record quotes I was required to have? Why didn’t they need to have two dozen people speaking openly about what they’d heard or known??

To refresh your memory, in late October, Politico broke the Herman Cain sexual harassment story which ultimately proved to be  the beginning of the end of Cain’s Presidential aspirations.

The story neither named nor otherwise identified Cain’s accusers/victims and didn’t quote them, nor did the story name sources used to back the claims. It didn’t even describe any of the specific behavior of which Cain had been accused.

But Politico ran with it.

For whatever Maxey doesn’t have, he apparently has more about Perry than Politico printed about Cain. Granted, it’s entirely possible that Politico had much more evidence than they printed, which gave comfort to the editors ultimately approving the story. That would certainly be a defense from a possible journalistic double standard.

But what did Politico have, but not print? And what did Maxey’s “national news outlet” need in order to print, but not have? Do those two data sets match up, or is there really a double standard?

And what of other possible double standards, related to gender, or sexual orientation? As difficult as it must be for a woman to come forward and disclose an improper relationship with a man, how much more difficult would it be for a man to do so? The negative stigma attached to those situations is perpetuated by politicians like Rick Perry himself, and others in his Party, who have long had gay Americans on their list of people they cynically scapegoat for the sake of a few more votes.

Has Rick Perry himself created the very media standards paradox which protects him? Has he scapegoated people so effectively that there is no way they can possibly step forward and verify Perry’s hypocrisy to the satisfaction of long-established journalistic standards?

These are, hopefully, the ethical issues being debated among reporters, editors, and publishers, as they grapple with what, if anything, to do with Maxey’s book, or any other evidence of base cynical hypocrisy among those who would lead governments.

On the other hand, here is the conclusion I hope they’re not going to reach: that it’s a legitimate story, but that they’re not going to bother with it, because of an editorial judgement call that Perry is a washed-out Presidential candidate who will soon drop out of the race.

Even if that happens, which seems likely, Rick Perry will still be the sitting Governor of the second most populous state in the Union, who presides over, and claims credit for, the second largest economy in the nation. And he will remain that for at least the next couple of years, and perhaps the next six. He has either done the things Maxey discusses in the book, or he hasn’t. Perry is either a hypocrite of the highest order based on this evidence, or he is not.

At a bare minimum, there are more than 25 million Texans whose judgments regarding their Governor are important to them, who should know the truth, if the truth is, indeed, demonstrable.

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