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“Jollying The Wingnuts”: Governor Abbot Mobilizing State Resources, At Taxpayer Expense, Because Of A Bizarre Conspiracy Theory

I got a little ahead of the game by posting yesterday about the bizarre situation of right-wing folk in Texas convincing themselves that Army exercises in the area were the beginning of a military coup aimed at their own selves, or at least their shooting irons. But I didn’t emphasize the fact that the Governor of Texas had formally asked the Guard to “monitor” the exercises to ensure no hostile action against the Citizenry by the supposed agents of the secular-socialists in Washington.

Paul Waldman had an apt comment about that little detail of the saga:

[I]n response to the fact that some of Texas’s dumbest citizens emerged from their doomsday prepper shelters long enough to harangue a colonel about their belief that martial law is coming to their state, Governor Abbott issued an order to the National Guard to monitor the movements of the U.S. military just to make sure they aren’t herding citizens into re-education camps or dropping Islamic State infiltrators into Galveston. I guess we’re safe from that, for the moment anyway.

Every politician encounters nutballs from time to time, and it isn’t always easy to figure out how to respond to them. But what’s remarkable about this is that we aren’t talking about an offhand remark Abbott made, or an occasion in which a constituent went on a rant to him and he nodded along to be friendly instead of saying, “You, sir, are out of your mind.” This is an official action the governor is taking. He’s mobilizing state resources, at taxpayer expense, because of a bizarre conspiracy theory that has some of Texas’s more colorful citizens in its grip.

It’s really hard to keep people from believing outlandish things. But you don’t have to indulge them. And that’s what so many Republicans do with the crazies on their side: They indulge them. Doing so doesn’t reassure them or calm them down, it only convinces them that they were right all along and encourages them to believe the next crazy thing they hear.

That’s true, though you would like to hear a “You, Sir, are out of your mind” comment now and then. Or perhaps something a bit more indirect, like Woody Allen’s response to a confession of thoughts about driving into oncoming traffic by the Christopher Walken character in Annie Hall: “Excuse me, Duane, I have an appointment back on Planet Earth.”

 

By: Ed Likgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 30, 2015

May 2, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, Texas | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Texas Guv Surrenders To Conspiracy Nuts”: Pandering To Paranoid, Secessionist Fools

Texas’s governor moved this week to protect his state from an Obama-led military takeover.

Governor Greg Abbott, who decisively beat Wendy Davis in the 2014 to take Rick Perry’s job, announced on Tuesday that he’s going to sic the Texas Rangers on the U.S. military.

Not really. But it sure sounds that way.

What’s actually going on is U.S. troops are doing training exercises—called Jade Helm 15—in several states throughout the Southwest, including Texas.

The mission will involve Special Operations forces moving through the Southwest and training for covert missions. A declassified map posted online in March (whose legitimacy The Washington Post confirmed) identified several of those states as “hostile” and “leaning hostile.” That isn’t particularly unusual, as Dan Lamothe explained at The Washington Post, but it has a small number of Texans—including, apparently, the governor—totally freaking out and (arguably) overreacting.

Conspiracy theories about the training exercise have spread through cyberspace with all due speed, as such theories are wont to do.

And, naturally, Alex Jones, of conspiracy theory-touting Infowars fame, is involved.

The Drudge Report aggregated a number of stories about the exercises, directing readers to Infowars—including a March 24 story that said the trainings in Utah and Texas led observers “to fears that traditionally conservative areas may be a simulated target for future domestic operations.”

Yipes!

That story also said “military scholars” have started hypothesizing that such troops “would be used to target political groups such as the Tea Party.”

On March 26, Drudge linked to another InfoWars story suggesting the operations could be preparing for the implementation of martial law, which would certainly be big news indeed.

Those stories and others drew traffic and stoked fears.

On April 27, Raw Story reported that an Army spokesman appeared before a packed crowd at a Bastrop County Commission meeting in Texas to try to quell the citizens’ anxieties.

“The Army spokesman assured participants that the United Nations was not involved in the operations, but the crowd jeered when he told them he was not familiar with Agenda 21,” wrote Travis Gettys on the site.

That little meet ’n’ greet didn’t have its desired effect.

The next day, Abbott announced that he had directed Major General Gerald “Jake” Betty, commander of the Texas State Guard, to monitor Jade Helm 15.

In a letter to Betty, he said he made the move “[t]o address concerns of Texas citizens and to ensure that Texas communities remain safe.”

The Texas military has three branches, as its website details, including the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard, as well as the Texas State Guard. The governor, in this case, is its commander-in-chief.

And per The Houston Chronicle, it hasn’t completely ironed out all the specific details of how exactly it will monitor the U.S. Army.

Abbott’s decision to err on the side of Alex Jones has drawn a bit of joshing from the left.

“Abbott’s c would be comical if it wasn’t so costly and frightening,” said Glenn Smith, the director of the Progress Texas PAC. “Abbott has the state military confronting the U.S. military because some nutcases fear, what, armed U.S. takeover of Texas? Seriously? What next? Will Abbott call out the troops to protect us from alien abduction, abominable snowmen and Bigfoot, or should I say an invasion of Bigfeet?”

Jason Stanford, a longtime Democratic Texas consultant and member of the Truman National Security Project, said Abbott’s move is great news for conspiracy-mongers everywhere.

“A lot of people think he’s more sensible than this, but he has yet to stop campaigning for a Republican primary that he won virtually unopposed,” he said. “Most Texans aren’t like this.”

That said, Abbott isn’t without defenders. Republican State Representative Jonathan Stickland defended the move enthusiastically and said Texans’ distrust of the Obama administration probably informed his decision. He said that the exercises have caused “justified concern.”

“I don’t want to instill panic,” he added. “I’ll tell you what’s scary is if we get to a place where it’s not normal to question our government or their motives. We should always be questioning government.”

And Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican consultant, said he would be surprised if Jade Helm 15 was a subversive plot to occupy Texas. But he added that he understands Texans’ concerns.

“It’s hard to know what’s true and what’s false,” he said. “Is every single conspiracy theory wrong? No. Most of them probably are.”

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, April 30, 2015

May 1, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, Texas, U. S. Military | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Walmart Is In On It”: The Perils Of Political Paranoia In Texas

In too many parts of the country, what’s true is far less important than what far-right paranoia tells people might be true. Take the latest out of Texas, for example, where the Dallas Morning News published this strange report yesterday.

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Guard to monitor federal military exercises in Texas after some citizens have lit up the Internet saying the maneuvers are actually the prelude to martial law. […]

Radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been sending out warnings for weeks regarding the exercise, saying it is the U.S. military positioning itself to take over the states and declare martial law. Abbott apparently has heard the concern and ordered the Guard to monitor the training and U.S. military personnel.

At issue is a military exercise called “Jade Helm 15,” which will reportedly include about 1,200 special operations personnel, including Green Berets and Navy SEALs, conducting training drills throughout the Southwest, from Texas to California.

According to right-wing conspiracy theorists, however, the exercise is a secret scheme to impose martial law. According to the Houston Chronicle, the unhinged activists believe “Walmart is in on it,” and “secret underground tunnels” are somehow involved.

The uproar from the fringe grew loud enough to generate an official response from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, trying to set the public’s mind at ease. It didn’t work – the conspiracy theorists, of course, believe Special Operations Command is on the scheme.

Indeed, every time officials try to explain to the public this is only a training exercise, the right-wing fringe perceives a smokescreen.

On Monday, command spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria attended a Bastrop County Commissioners Court meeting to answer community questions and was met with hostile fire. Lastoria, in response to some of the questions from the 150 who attended, sought to dispel fears that foreign fighters from the Islamic State were being brought in or that Texans’ guns would be confiscated, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman. […]

“You may have issues with the administration. So be it. But this institution right here has been with you for over 200 years,” he was quoted as saying. “I’ve worn this uniform across five different administrations for 27 years.”

But the conspiracy theorists remain unconvinced, choosing to believe fringe online personalities instead.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise, then, that Texas’ governor directed state forces to “monitor” the operation, in part to “address concerns of Texas citizens.”

What’s especially interesting to me is the frequency with which the line blurs between elected officials’ concerns and fringe crackpots’ conspiracy theories. Indeed, it was just a couple of months ago that Texas state lawmakers held a hearing about the non-existent threat of the United Nations taking control of the Alamo.

Soon after, legislation was introduced in Tennessee to prohibit “no-go zones” in the Volunteer State, not because they’re real, but because “some people” said they’re afraid of them.

We’ve seen official efforts to combat Sharia law for no reason. We’ve seen repeated policies blocking funding for ACORN, despite the fact that the group doesn’t exist. A few years ago, Texas lawmakers took the possibility of a “NAFTA Superhighway” very seriously, despite the fact that the project existed only in the overactive imaginations of right-wing activists.

There are real policy challenges out there. Public officials would be wise to focus on them and ignore the made-up stuff.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 29, 2015

April 30, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Texas, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“American Pathologies”: A Texas Law Would Let Teachers Shoot Students Who “Threaten” School Property. Guess Which Students Would Suffer Most?

Proposed legislation in Texas would allow teachers to use force, including deadly force, against students threatening the lives of others. If that unsettles you, consider the bill’s next provision: Teachers could also use deadly force to stop students from threatening school property. The bill, nicknamed the “Teacher’s Protection Act”, would create “a defense to prosecution for and civil liability of an educator who uses force or deadly force to protect the educator’s person, students of the school, or property of the school, and suspension of a student who assaults an employee of a school.” Proposed by Rep. Dan Flynn, the bill is unlikely to become lawbut it indicates a twisted pathology in the way we think of schools and students.

The bill is the logical conclusion of a diverse set of American pathologies, including the tendency to classify the protection of property as tantamount to the protection of life, and the use of zero tolerance policies in schools to make them precursors to prison, especially for black students. This law expresses both disturbing habits in two distinct ways.

First, by extending protected lethal force from the defense of life to the defense of school property, the law permits deadly violence in schools as a reaction to rather typical disciplinary problems. Imagine, for instance, a case of trespassing (students coming onto school property after hours) or theft of school property. In ordinary circumstances infractions like these would be regulation bad behavior, but if schools are given their own version of castle doctrine, it is unclear if these behaviors would still be viewed as ordinary rule-breaking, or something worthy of a lethal reaction.

Second, the law would rely on teachers’ judgment to distinguish between situations requiring lethal force and situations not requiring lethal force. In such situations, teachers own unconscious biases could influence their decisions in ways that disproportionately affect minority students. It’s already clear, for instance, that when it comes to doling out discipline, teachers are not colorblind. A 2014 report produced by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil rights found evidence that black children as young as preschool aged are suspended at much higher rates than their white peers. As they move up in the school system, the report found, black students are expelled and suspended at a rate three times higher than their white peers. Moreover, while black students comprise only 16 percent of total school enrollment, they make up 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement, and 31 percent of students arrested for school-related reasons. In all grades and forms of discipline (expulsion, suspension, etc.) boys make up a greater proportion of the punished than girls.

All of this amounts to a much harsher disciplinary picture for black boys than any other students, suggesting that, if teachers were to be given leeway to use lethal force for widely expanded reasonssuch as the defense of lunch tables and chalk boardsit’s likely black boys would wind up disproportionately on the losing end. Far from protecting teachers, this law would only place a population already vulnerable to harsh disciplinary measures inside school walls at further risk. Texas doesn’t exactly have a history of forward thinking when it comes to matters of human rights, but in a time when the lives of black boys seem to be ended with startling impunity by authority figures, this bill seems especially ill-considered, and especially cruel.

 

By: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, The New Republic, January 30, 3015

January 31, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Gun Violence, Texas | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“License Plates Are Not Bumper Stickers”: When License Plates Take On An Obvious Political Tinge, Sparks Fly

A group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans has asked Texas to issue a license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag, which many consider an emblem of slavery. Texas said no, and the Sons are suing because the state accepts other messages for specialty plates.

The Sons have a point.

North Carolina issues a license reading, “Choose Life.” When lawmakers there refused to allow a competing abortion-rights message, the American Civil Liberties Union sued.

The ACLU has a point, as well.

States have jumped on the slippery slope of letting various business and social interests promote themselves on the specialty license plates. Now they have slid into the U.S. Supreme Court, which has taken the Sons of Confederate Veterans case.

The justices have examined license plates before. In the 1977 Wooley v. Maynard case, Jehovah’s Witnesses held that the New Hampshire state motto stamped on all license plates, “Live Free or Die,” offended their religious convictions. The court ruled that New Hampshire residents had a right to cover up those words on their plates.

How about no messages on state-issued license plates? Or perhaps limiting them to such neutral bragging as Wild, Wonderful (West Virginia), Evergreen State (Washington), Sweet Home (Alabama) or Garden State (New Jersey)?

I’ll admit to a soft spot for environmental messages — such as calls on Florida plates to protect whales, dolphins, sea turtles, manatees and largemouth bass — but not for blatant advertising. Sports teams are big businesses, and they have specialty plates.

Rhode Island offers a plate featuring Mr. Potato Head, marketed by the local toymaker, Hasbro. The fees car owners pay for such plates may go to a good cause (in Mr. Potato Head’s case, a food bank), and states take their cut. Still, it’s an ad.

But when license plates take on an obvious political tinge, sparks fly. And that’s why a blanket “no” to specialty plates is the right way to go.

Corey Brettschneider, professor of political science at Brown University, doesn’t agree. He sees license plate messages as “mixed speech.” Because the United States allows a freedom of expression unmatched by any other country, the state has an obligation to defend its values, he writes in his book When the State Speaks, What Should It Say?: How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality.

Brettschneider believes that Texas was correct in turning down the plates displaying the Confederate Stars and Bars but that North Carolina was wrong in rejecting the abortion rights plates.

I asked him, What about the argument that many see the Confederate flag more as a historical artifact than as an endorsement of slavery? Brettschneider responded that the flag’s history, including its use in opposing civil rights legislation, suggests otherwise. And even if the intent of some of its backers is pure, the considerations are bigger than the views of a private person.

Texas would be tied to the symbol, he said. “Texas has a deep duty to avoid an association between the state’s message and a racist message.”

But who speaks for the state? What happens when one set of officials is replaced by another with entirely different interpretations?

“The Constitution requires deference to the democratic process,” Brettschneider answered, “but it also sometimes requires limits on that process.”

We do agree that bumper stickers are a great invention. They are a frugal way to advertise one’s religion, preferred candidate, dog’s breed, football team or sense of humor. State approval not required.

As for specialized messages on license plates, I persist in opposing them all. Professor Brettschneider’s approach is well constructed and certainly more nuanced, but managing its tensions would be a hard job.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, January 13, 2015

January 14, 2015 Posted by | Confederacy, States Rights, Texas | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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