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“Dear Texas: What Are You Afraid Of Now?”: We Must Live With Our Mistakes. How Else Are We Going To Learn From Them?

Well, there you go again, Texas, making me wish we still had your Molly Ivins around to make sense of you.

As the late, great columnist once so wisely explained, “Many a time freedom has been rolled back — and always for the same reason: fear.”

I took that to heart while reading a boatload of coverage about your elected state school board’s latest effort to indoctrinate its students with the kind of misinformation that’s going to make them the butt of an awful lot of jokes.

This time, you want your children to graduate from high school thinking slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War.

Dear Texas: What are you afraid of now?

We know you’re scared of your women, because you keep trying to eliminate their constitutional right to an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to that stunt, at least for now.

We know you’re scared of progress, too, because you execute more people than any other state in the country. By the way, I’m wearing my favorite T-shirt right now, the one that reads: “I’ll Believe Corporations Are People When Texas Executes One.” Members of my late father’s union, Local 271 of the Utility Workers of America, gave me that T-shirt.

Holy sweet tea, there’s another thing you’re afraid of: unions. Can’t have workers negotiating for wages and benefits in Texas. They might make a living wage.

And now, it looks like you’re afraid of your own history. As The Washington Post‘s Emma Brown reported, this fall Texas students will have brand-new textbooks that cast slavery as a “side issue” of the Civil War. The books don’t even mention Jim Crow laws or the Ku Klux Klan.

Students will read Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address as president of the Confederate States of America, in which he didn’t mention slavery. But students won’t be required to read that famous speech by Davis’ vice-president, Alexander Stephens, “in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and ‘the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.’”

You see what Stephens did there? Of course you do, which is why he is now Texas’ least popular politician of the Civil War. Next to Abraham Lincoln, I mean. He made the cut for the new book, right? Please say yes.

In 1949, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. rebutted claims of an earlier generation of revisionists in an essay titled, “The Causes of the Civil War: A Note on Historical Sentimentalism.” He included the essay in his 1963 book, The Politics of Hope, which I pulled off our bookshelf and discovered to be packed with observations about America that are as relevant today — jarringly so — as they were more than five decades ago.

Schlesinger took on the revisionist argument that slavery had little, if anything, to do with the Civil War. The revisionists’ claim is best summarized as follows: “See now, there you go, misunderstanding what was happening in the South. Why, we were this close to freeing the slaves before Lincoln showed up with his uppity self.”

Schlesinger’s response, in part:

“To reject the moral actuality of the Civil War is to foreclose the possibility of an adequate account of its causes. More than that, it is to misconceive and grotesquely to sentimentalize the nature of history. … Nothing exists in history to assure us that the great moral dilemmas can be resolved without pain; we cannot therefore be relieved from the duty of moral judgment on issues so appalling and inescapable as those involved in human slavery; nor can we be consoled by sentimental theories about the needlessness of the Civil War into regarding our own struggles against evil as equally needless.”

We must live with our mistakes. How else are we going to learn from them?

Texas, you go ahead and try to poison the minds of your children, but this version of history won’t fool the independent thinkers among them. As anyone who has raised or taught teenagers knows, they are a challenging age. Not only do they see through our hypocrisy; they call us out on it, too. So annoying, those wicked-smart youngsters.

You can always lure a few suckers when you pander to those who cherish the myths of history more than the truths of its legacy. But we’re talking five million students, and I know from my many visits to your state that you’re not nearly as monolithic as your right-wingers want us Northerners to believe.

Molly Ivins knew that, too — and long before the Internet made it so easy for kids to be kids, with their questioning ways.

“I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point — race,” she wrote. “Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.”

Rip open the chips and pass the chile con queso. I don’t want to miss a minute of this showdown.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Essayist for Parade magazine; The National Memo, July 9, 2015

July 10, 2015 Posted by | American History, Confederacy, Texas | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP’s Next Big Cause”: How State Legislative Districts Are Drawn

The next King v. Burwell is on its way. I don’t mean another court case that could undermine the Affordable Care Act. I mean a case that follows this pattern:

First, a conservative advocate comes up with a novel legal theory, one few people had considered before, to accomplish a Republican goal. Though it flies in the face of either logic, history, and common sense (as is the case in King) or settled precedent (as in this case), Republicans everywhere quickly realize its potential and embrace it wholeheartedly, no matter how many silly arguments they might have to make along the way. And in the end, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court might or might not give the GOP a huge and unexpected victory.

The case is called Evenwel v. Abbott, and it’s about how state legislative districts are drawn. Before your eyes glaze over, understand that it could have a profound effect on the balance of power not only in the states but in Congress as well:

Decades after the Supreme Court set “one person, one vote” as the standard states must meet in creating legislative districts that equitably distribute political power, the justices agreed Tuesday to decide exactly which persons should count.

The court, in accepting a Texas case brought by a conservative advocacy group, will consider whether states and localities may continue to use a place’s total population as the basis or must make redistricting decisions based on the number of citizens who are eligible to vote.

A shift from using total population would have an enormous impact in states with large immigrant populations because of the greater numbers of children and noncitizens. It would most likely transfer power from urban areas to more rural districts. The court will schedule the case for the new term that begins in October.

The analogy with King v. Burwell isn’t perfect, because that was a completely new issue, while this question has come before the courts from time to time. But most people who aren’t redistricting law experts have probably never even considered whether you could exclude children and immigrants from counting population in order to determine legislative districts.

But I promise you: before long, every Republican is going to decide that they firmly believe, as the most fundamental expression of their commitment to democracy and the vision of the Founding Fathers, that only eligible voters should count when tallying population to determine district lines.

One thing to watch out for as this plays out is the role of the conservative media. If I’m right, very soon you’re going to see Fox News hosts and radio talkers like Rush Limbaugh doing segments on this case, in effect instructing conservatives on what’s at stake and how they should think about the issue. That consistent drumbeat won’t only affect the conservative leaders and rank-and-file, it could even affect the Supreme Court justices, who will hear the arguments being made in the media in support of these plaintiffs. After a while, a legal theory that sounded absurd will begin to seem at the very least to be mainstream. In short order, there will be universal agreement on the right. And it could have a real impact on political power even if the plaintiffs lose.

That’s because the Supreme Court could rule a few different ways. They could hold that states must use total population. Or they could do what the plaintiffs ask, which is to require states to use only the number of eligible voters. Or they could maintain the status quo, which is that states can choose whatever method they like in determining population. If that’s the route they take (which would be in line with prior cases), it would open the door for a state-by-state Republican effort to change redistricting laws.

As it happens, the defendant in this case is the state of Texas, which wants to keep its current system. Let’s say the Court rules that things should stay as they are. That would allow states to use only eligible voters in counting population; it just happens that no state has done that before now. By the time the ruling comes down, however, Republicans will have woken up to the fact that here is a handy way to increase their power by diluting the representation of areas with large immigrant populations. If you had a state with a lot of immigrants but which was ruled by Republicans — like, just to pull an example at random, Texas — changing the way population is counted will suddenly seem like an urgent priority. Other states with large immigrant populations where Republicans are in charge, like Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina, could get on board as well.

While this case only concerns state legislative districts, as law professor Rick Hasen writes, “you can bet that if the challengers are successful in this case, they will argue for the same principle to be applied to the drawing of national congressional districts.”

It’s too early to tell how the Supreme Court might rule, though most legal observers were surprised they decided to hear the case at all. If Democrats are smart, they’ll make the (perfectly true) argument that this is a naked attempt to take representation away from areas where there are lots of Latinos. That might give Republicans pause in trying to pursue this change if the Court allows it.

On the other hand, when faced with a choice between pleasing their base and enhancing their power on the one hand, and avoiding alienating Latinos on the other, Republicans always chosen the first. That could make this just one more way that Republicans manage to entrench themselves at the state level while making it exceedingly difficult for them to win another presidential election in the near future.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 27, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Evenwel v Abott, State Legislative Districts, Texas | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“State Of Disaster”: How Many Natural Disasters Will It Take For The Lone Star State To Wake Up To The Disaster Of Its Elected Officials?

As extreme weather marked by tornadoes and flooding continues to sweep across Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has requested – and President Obama has granted – federal help.

I don’t begrudge Texas billions of dollars in disaster relief. After all, we’re all part of America. When some of us are in need, we all have a duty to respond.

But the flow of federal money poses a bit of awkwardness for the Lone Star State.

After all, just over a month ago hundreds of Texans decided that a pending Navy Seal/Green Beret joint training exercise was really an excuse to take over the state and impose martial law. And they claimed the Federal Emergency Management Agency was erecting prison camps, readying Walmart stores as processing centers for political prisoners.

There are nut cases everywhere, but Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott added to that particular outpouring of paranoia by ordering the Texas State Guard to monitor the military exercise. “It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon,” he said. In other words, he’d protect Texans from this federal plot.

Now, Abbott wants federal money. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is gearing up for a major role in the cleanup – including places like Bastrop, Texas, where the Bastrop State Park dam failed – and where, just five weeks ago, a U.S. Army colonel trying to explain the pending military exercise was shouted down by hundreds of self-described patriots shouting “liar!”

Texans dislike the federal government even more than most other Americans do. According to a February poll conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, only 23 percent of Texans view the federal government favorably, while 57 percent view it unfavorably, including more than a third who hold a “very unfavorable” view.

Texas dislikes the federal government so much that eight of its congressional representatives, along with Senator Ted Cruz, opposed disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy – adding to the awkwardness of their lobbying for the federal relief now heading Texas’s way.

Yet even before the current floods, Texas had received more disaster relief than any other state, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. That’s not simply because the state is so large. It’s also because Texas is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather – tornadoes on the plains, hurricanes in the Gulf, flooding across its middle and south.

Given this, you might also think Texas would take climate change especially seriously. But here again, there’s cognitive dissonance between what the state needs and how its officials act.

Among Texas’s infamous climate-change deniers is Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, who dismissed last year’s report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “more political than scientific,“ and the White House report on the urgency of addressing climate change as designed “to frighten Americans.”
Smith is still at it. His committee just slashed by more than 20 percent NASA’s spending on Earth science, which includes climate change.

It’s of course possible that Texas’s current record rainfalls – the National Weather Service reports that the downpour in May alone was enough to put the entire state under eight inches of water  – has  nothing to do with the kind of extreme weather we’re witnessing elsewhere in the nation, such as the West’s current drought, the North’s record winter snowfall, and flooding elsewhere.

But you’d have to be nuts not to be at least curious about such a connection, and its relationship to the carbon dioxide humans have been spewing into the atmosphere.

Consider also the consequences for the public’s health. Several deaths in Texas have been linked to the extreme weather. Many Texans have been injured by it, directly or indirectly. Poor residents are in particular peril because they live in areas prone to flooding or in flimsy houses and trailers that can be washed or blown away.

What’s Texas’s response?  Texas officials continue to turn down federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, thereby denying insurance to more than 1 million people and preventing the state from receiving an estimated $100 billion in federal cash over the next decade.

I don’t want to pick on Texas. Its officials are not alone in hating the federal government, denying climate change, and refusing to insure its poor.

And I certainly don’t want to suggest all Texans are implicated. Obviously, many thoughtful and reasonable people reside there.

Yet Texans have elected people who seem not to have a clue. Indeed, Texas has done more in recent years to institutionalize irrationality than almost anywhere else in America – thereby imposing a huge burden on its citizens.

How many natural disasters will it take for the Lone Star State to wake up to the disaster of its elected officials?

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 31, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Greg Abbott, Natural Disasters, Texas | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Strategic Hamlet Of Bastrop, Texas”: Why Did Texas Politicians Cave In To Delusional Paranoia?

The real news isn’t that many Texans seemingly subscribe to an apocalyptic, delusional worldview, one that has them convinced that a U.S Army training exercise called “Jade Helm 15” is the opening wedge of an Obama-led coup d’etat — seizing guns, importing thousands of ISIS fighters to subdue local patriots, and throwing dissenters into FEMA concentration camps.

Because where else would you start a military takeover but the strategic hamlet of Bastrop, Texas, commanding the crucial highway junction between Elgin and LaGrange? Never mind that Fort Hood, the largest U.S. military installation in the world, is maybe 75 miles up the road. Bastrop is the linchpin.

No, the real news is that name-brand Texas politicians such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz think it’s smart to lend plausibility to what is essentially a mass psychiatric delusion. Did you know that even Walmart’s involved? Rumor says recently closed stores are being refitted as barracks for foreign soldiers.

After a raucous hearing in Bastrop, during which a regular Army colonel who pointed out that he’d served five presidents over 27 years got accused of lying and shouted down, Gov. Abbott ordered the Texas Guard to monitor U.S. Army war games this summer.

This so that “Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”

Probably because there’s lithium in the water, stuff like this rarely happens out in El Paso — home of Fort Bliss, the 1,700-square mile HQ of the First Armored Division. But just across the border in Chihuahua, according to the Family Research Council, there’s a secret ISIS base with thousands of terrorists poised to strike. Hundreds of miles of underground tunnels have been dug to facilitate the invasion.

Also lending support to the nutball faction was Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, who expressed support for Abbott’s leadership.

“I understand the concern that’s been raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm,” Cruz said. “…I think part of the reason is, we have seen for six years a federal government disrespecting the liberty of the citizens and that produces fear. 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.”

Hey Ted, Republicans lost two presidential elections. Grow up. Arkansas’ own Mike Huckabee plays to similar fears with gratuitous twaddle about “criminalizing Christianity.” All this really amounts to, as Paul Krugman puts it, is fear that Obama will “seize control of [Texas] and force its citizens to accept universal health care at gunpoint.”

Look, it’s not just Texas. Mad conspiracy theories are nothing new in American politics. Historian Rick Perlstein’s book Before the Storm describes a similar paranoid outbreak in 1963. A California GOP senator complained about an avalanche of “’fright mail,’ mostly centering on two astonishingly widespread rumors: that Chinese commandos were training in Mexico for an invasion of the United States through San Diego; and that 100,000 UN troops — 16,000 of them ‘African Negro troops, who are cannibals’ [sic] — were secretly rehearsing in the Georgia swamps under the command of a Russian colonel for a UN martial-law takeover of the United States.”

Back then it was President John F. Kennedy, an Irish-Catholic Democrat, who afflicted the John Birch Society with fear of The Other. Today, it’s President Obama scaring an Austin-based talk radio and Internet conspiracy theorist called Alex Jones.

Richard Hofstadter’s classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” explains: “I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”

Left-wing paranoia is not unknown. However, in America paranoid mass movements are almost entirely a right-wing phenomenon, partly because they fit so well with the melodramatic themes of Protestant fundamentalism.

“The paranoid spokesman,” Hofstadter added, “sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization… he does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish.”

Is that not totally Ted Cruz?

But you know what? Ted Cruz ain’t Texas.

Early indications are that Cruz and Abbott are widely perceived to have made fools of themselves. Coverage in the statewide press has been derisive. A retired GOP legislator, Todd Smith of Euless, wondered if he should be more “horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my governor doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to those who do.”

Good question.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, May 7, 2015

May 9, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, Texas | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Perry To Texas; Stop Being Insane”: Buckle Up Guys, 2016 Is Going To Be Nuts

An Infowars conspiracy theory about military takeover of the American Southwest might become a surprising wedge issue among Texas’s Republican presidential candidates.

The Daily Beast detailed last week how the Jade Helm 15 military training exercises—wherein U.S. Special Operations forces will move throughout the Southwest preparing for atypical warfare conditions—have set off such a noisy panic that Texas’s governor has ordered the state’s military to keep an eye on things.

Concerns about those training exercises have been fueled by Alex Jones’s goofball site Infowars, which soberly suggested that this might be the beginning of a military war on the Tea Party. That is not a thing that is happening. Still, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas stated he was directing the Lone Star state’s military to tail U.S. troops in part “to ensure that Texas communities remain safe.” Abbott’s move generated much levity, with one Texas Democrat consultant suggesting that the governor’s next area of concern might be abominable snowmen.

When I was reporting out that story, I reached out to a number of presidential contenders’ camps for comment and got radio silence. Most of the candidates’ spokespeople didn’t even bother to reply to my email, and understandably—who wants to go on the record awkwardly not commenting about a wacky conspiracy theory that has a small but vocal sector of the Republican base buying hollow-tip ammo and investing in survival food?

But a few of those presidential contenders have spoken about the issue to other media outlets, and their answers are quite telling. On April 21, conservative Iowa talk radio host Jan Mickelson asked Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul if he knew what the deal with Jade Helm was.

“You know I’ve gotten a few questions about it on the road and I really don’t—” Paul replied, per Talking Points Memo’s transcript. “I’m not sure about exactly what is going on with that.”

“It’s making some people nervous, but it doesn’t take much to make people nervous nowadays,” Mickelson replied. “If you get a chance to, I’d like to know what the rest of the story is on that.”

“We’ll look at that also,” the Kentucky senator replied.

Never fear, citizens of the Southwest: Rand Paul is going to make sure the military doesn’t take over your Whataburgers.

Not to be outdone, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told Bloomberg at the South Carolina Republican convention that he’d had his office reach out to the Pentagon to make sure everything is OK.

“We are assured it is a military training exercise,” he said. “I have no reason to doubt those assurances, but I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don’t trust what it is saying.”

Former Texas governor Rick Perry drew the sharpest contrast with Abbott’s Infowars pandering.

“It’s OK to question your government. I do it on a regular basis,” he said on May 5, per the Dallas Morning News. “But the military is something else. Our military is quite trustworthy. The civilian leadership, you can always question that, but not the men and women in uniform.”

Questioning men and women in uniform is exactly what Abbott did, and exactly what Cruz and Paul endorsed. Now, thanks to Infowars and unfounded anxieties, we have an early way of differentiating between some of the most conservative—and, in Perry’s case, potential—presidential candidates. Buckle up, guys. 2016 is going to be nuts.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, May 7, 2015

May 8, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, Texas | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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