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“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

“Free Enterprise Groups”: How The Koch Brothers Helped Bring About The Law That Shut Texas Abortion Clinics

In this March 6, 2014 file photo, over 40 people hold a candle light vigil in front of the Whole Women’s HealthClinic in McAllen, Texas. The clinic will close on October 3, 2014, along with 12 others in Texas after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated part of sweeping new Texas abortion restrictions that also shuttered other facilities statewide six months ago. The state has only 8 remaining abortion clinics in operation.

In Texas politics, abortion is front and center once again—and so is the role of so-called “free enterprise” groups in the quest for government control of women’s lives.

Yesterday, there were 21 abortion clinics available to the women of Texas, the second-largest state in the nation. Today, thanks to a decision handed down from a three-judge panel on the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, there are eight. But the story really begins with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, and the flow of money to anti-choice organizations from groups that profess to care only for the deregulation of industry and markets.

The closing of some 13 abortion clinics today in Texas hinges on a provision of the highly restrictive, anti-abortion bill passed in the state legislature in special session in 2013—the part of the law that requires clinics to comply with the building code standards for hospital-quality ambulatory surgical clinics, despite the assertion of nearly every credible medical association that such requirements are medically unnecessary.

In fact, the most significant effect of the facility requirements is to prevent women from obtaining safe abortions, since the clinics cannot not afford the alterations to their facilities demanded by the law. And given the state’s other restrictions on abortion—a mandatory and medically unnecessary sonogram, a 24-hour waiting period and a ban on abortions taking place 20 weeks post-fertilization—you’d be forgiven for thinking that most significant effect to be by design.

That aspect of the law, as well as others, were challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other pro-choice groups. In August, the groups won a reprieve from the requirement that clinics meet hospital building-code standards, as well as from another provision that requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius of the practice or clinic where they conduct the procedure. At that time, Judge Lee Yeakel of United States District Court in Austin ruled in the clinics’ favor.

Then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, appealed Yeakel’s ruling, yielding Wednesday’s ruling from the three-judge panel in a decision that was contemptuous of Yeakel’s decision, declaring him to have exceeded his judicial authority.

But even more astonishing in the 5th Circuit’s opinion is its assertion that the shuttering of most of the state’s abortion clinics will not place an undue burden—the standard set in the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—on women seeking abortions. According to the New York Times, some 5.4 million women of childbearing age live in the Lone Star State, which covers more than 268,000 square miles.

The ruling puts abortion politics front and center, once again, in the Texas gubernatorial race, just a month before Election Day. In truth, it’s the issue that’s provided the subtext of that race from the get-go, as the Democratic candidate, State Senator Wendy Davis, rose to national prominence for her fortitude in launching, on June 25, 2013, an 11-hour filibuster that temporarily forestalled passage of the law, as pro-choice demonstrators poured into the state capitol building. In his role as the state’s top lawyer, Abbott is charged with enforcing that law, and has done so with gusto

But, as I reported for RH Reality Check in November 2013, the rash of anti-abortion laws that flooded the agendas of state legislatures across the nation that summer were hardly the result of spontaneous uprisings; they were fueled with the dollars of such “free enterprise” groups as Freedom Partners, Americans for Prosperity, the Center to Protect Patient Rights and 60 Plus—all part of the fundraising network organized by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire principals of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States.

The brothers may care little about killing the right to choose, but that doesn’t mean they’ll hesitate to throw women under the bus if it helps them in their anti-regulatory, shrink-the-government crusade. Religious-right leaders, in recent years, theologized the free-market cause, providing the Kochs and their ilk with foot-soldiers willing to execute it, if only they could find their way to political power.

In the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which gave license to groups like those mentioned above to spend unlimited sums in elections without disclosing their donors, millions of free-enterprise dollars flowed to anti-choice groups and politicians. (In Texas, for example, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, the sponsor of the House version of the draconian 2013 abortion law, was also president of the state chapter of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the influential right-leaning group, supported by the Kochs, that crafts legislation designed to cut regulations on corporations.) The Koch network money led to an unprecedented number of anti-choice politicians elected to state legislatures in 2010 and 2012.

With a month to go before voters hit the polls, Wendy Davis is gaining on Greg Abbott, but a recent poll still has her 9 points behind the Republican. He’s likely to enjoy a flood of outside spending on his behalf by the Koch-network groups.

Then there’s money in their respective campaign coffers. “In July, Abbott had $35.6 million on hand,” reports Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, “while Davis had $8.8 million.”

In Texas, as in much of the nation, it’s hard for a woman to catch a break.

 

By: Adele M. Stan, The American Prospect, October 3, 2014

October 5, 2014 Posted by | Koch Brothers, Reproductive Choice, War On Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Wrong Kind Of People Voting”: Why Voter ID Laws Pose Long Term Danger To GOP

A trial begins today in a federal courtroom in Texas to determine the constitutionality of the state’s voter identification law, which is widely acknowledged to be the most restrictive in the nation. It has gone through a number of twists and turns: Passed in 2011, it was struck down in federal court in 2012 as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Then in 2013 the Supreme Court gutted the VRA. Now the law faces a new trial based on a different VRA section.

In the end, the Republicans who passed this law may prevail, particularly since the only racial discrimination the conservative majority on the Supreme Court apparently finds troubling is the kind that might affect a white person somewhere. But Republicans may have underestimated just how much damage they continue to do to their party’s image by trying, anywhere and everywhere, to make it as hard as possible for the wrong people to vote.

True, voter ID is not at the forefront of the national debate. Majorities do tell pollsters that you should have to show ID to vote, since it has a certain intuitive appeal. But when the subject is actually debated and discussed in the news, it drives people away from the GOP — and not just any people, but precisely the people the party wants so desperately to improve among to stay competitive in national elections.

First, some background. While there is a certain amount of voter fraud in American elections, almost all of it happens through absentee ballots. The only kind of fraud prevented by voter ID laws is in-person voter impersonation, which is incredibly rare. As Zachary Roth has detailed, when Greg Abbott became the state’s attorney general, he vowed a crusade against the “epidemic” of voter fraud in the state. How many cases did he find that would have been stopped by the ID law? Two. Meanwhile, according to the state’s own figures, almost 800,000 Texans lack the appropriate state-issued ID to vote.

The best you can say about the Texas law and others like it is that the motivation for them isn’t so much old-style racism as naked partisanship. The problem today’s Republicans have with black people voting isn’t the fact that they’re black, it’s the fact that they’re Democrats. Republicans also want to make it hard for Latinos to vote, and young people, and urban dwellers who don’t drive. When they wrote into the Texas law that a student ID from a state university wouldn’t count as identification but a concealed carry gun permit would, they made it quite clear that the point was to discriminate on the basis of your likelihood to vote Democratic. These laws often are accompanied by measures doing things like restricting early voting, particularly on Sundays when many black churches conduct voting drives.

So let’s dispense with the laughable notion that the reason many Republican-controlled states have passed a voter ID law is nothing more than deep concern for the integrity of the ballot. With the exception of the claim that laws mandating absurd restrictions on abortion providers are really just about protecting women’s health, there is probably no more disingenuous argument made in politics today. Yes, Democrats who oppose these laws are also thinking about their party’s political fortunes. But one side wants to make it easy for people to vote, and one side is trying to make it harder.

The success of voter ID laws in suppressing votes has been mixed. Some studies have found little or no impact on turnout, while others have shown significant declines in it. Where the laws fail to achieve their goal of suppressing votes, it’s probably because Democrats often undertake substantial effort to counteract them by registering people and helping them acquire the proper identification.

In any case, this law and others like it may well end up surviving. While this year courts have struck down voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the laws are likely to get a friendly hearing from the conservatives on the Supreme Court, which first upheld a voter ID law in 2008. And for Republicans, the calculation seems straightforward enough. They know that the groups with whom they’re strongest, like older white voters, homeowners, rural voters, married voters, and so on, are the ones most likely to have driver’s licenses and therefore not find an ID law to be a hindrance. Make voting an extra hassle for the wrong kind of voters, and you may get a few thousand, or a few hundred thousand, to stay home — making the difference in a close election.

But for a party that is struggling to appeal to precisely those demographic groups targeted by voter ID laws, such short-term gains risk getting swamped by long-term damage to its image. The voter ID debate reinforces everything the GOP doesn’t want people to think about it: that it’s the party of old white people, that it has contempt for minorities, that it knows nothing about the lifestyles and concerns of young people (who are far less likely than their parents were to get driver’s licenses), and that it will do virtually anything to win. You can’t spend a bunch of energy doing something that will make it harder for, for instance, Latinos to cast ballots, then turn around and say, “By the way, if you manage to make it past all these obstacles we’ve put in your path, we’d really like your vote.” But so far, few in the GOP seem to understand that.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, September 2, 2014

September 3, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Todd Akin Is Ready For Another Close-Up”: His Problem Was That He Was Too … ‘Conciliatory’?

In 2012, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) was facing a tough re-election fight in Missouri, so she helped boost the Republican she assumed would be the easiest to beat: then-Rep. Todd Akin (R). The plan worked extraordinarily well.

Akin was an extremist by any measure, but the far-right lawmaker secured a spot in the Awful Candidates Hall of Fame when he famously said women impregnated during a “legitimate rape” have a magical ability to “shut that whole thing down.”

Akin soon after lost by 15 points.

All of this unpleasantness, however, was two years ago. Now the far-right Missourian is back and he wants the spotlight again.

Todd Akin takes it back. He’s not sorry.

Two years after the Missouri Republican’s comments on rape, pregnancy and abortion doomed his campaign and fueled a “war on women” message that carried Democrats to victory in the Senate, one of the few regrets he mentions in a new book is the decision to air a campaign ad apologizing for his remarks. “By asking the public at large for forgiveness,” Akin writes, “I was validating the willful misinterpretation of what I had said.”

Hmm. Todd Akin’s problem was that he was too … conciliatory?

Making matters worse, as Joan Walsh noted, Akin is not only retracting his 2012 apology, he’s also back to defending the comments that caused him so much trouble in the first place. “My comment about a woman’s body shutting the pregnancy down was directed to the impact of stress of fertilization,” Akin argues in his new book, adding that “this is something fertility doctors debate and discuss.”

Republican officials are clearly aware of Akin’s willingness to re-litigate whether women can “shut that whole thing down,” and they have a message for the former congressman: for the love of God, please stop talking.

No, really.

Todd Akin is back talking about rape in his new book and Republicans have a message for him: Shut up. […]

“Todd Akin is an embarrassment to the Republican Party and the sole reason Claire McCaskill is still part of Harry Reid’s majority,” said Brian Walsh, who served as communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2012 cycle.

“It’s frankly pathetic that just like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell in 2010, he refuses to take any responsibility for sticking his foot in his mouth, alienating voters and costing Republicans a critical Senate seat. Worse, he’s now trying to make money off his defeat. The sooner he leaves the stage again the better.”

The GOP has vowed to prevent the stumbles on social issues that plagued Republican candidates on the trail last cycle. So its overwhelming reaction to Akin: his five minutes of fame need to be over.

That may be little more than wishful thinking. Yesterday afternoon, Planned Parenthood Votes issued a report that not only detailed Akin’s disturbing record, but connecting Akin to 2014 candidates. From the materials:

“Todd Akin and his dangerous agenda for women were soundly rejected by voters in 2012, yet candidates like Thom Tillis, Cory Gardner and Greg Abbott continue to follow in his footsteps,” said Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Votes. “Todd Akin’s appalling beliefs about women and rape were too extreme for America’s women, and they represent policy positions shared by politicians like Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis and Greg Abbott – among others. Just as Todd Akin was held accountable for his beliefs, these candidates will have to answer for their opposition to basic access to medical care for America’s women, and especially their cold indifference to women who are survivors of rape and incest.”

While Todd Akin was best known for his comments about legitimate rape, he also supported a wide range of measures – such as redefining rape, wanting to ban emergency contraception for survivors of rape and incest, and supporting measures that could interfere with personal, private, medical decisions relating to decisions about birth control, access to fertility treatment, management of a miscarriage, and access to safe and legal abortion – that were far too extreme for the vast majority Americans.

Similarly, Abbott, Tillis and Gardner have used their positions to do things such as prevent rape survivors from suing those who negligently hire their attackers, trying to deny rape survivors from accessing emergency contraception, and forcing survivors of rape and incest to undergo an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound before accessing an abortion.

Under the circumstances, the more Akin talks, the happier many on the left will be.

Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood but played no role in this piece.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 11, 2014

 

July 13, 2014 Posted by | Todd Akin, War On Women, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Texas Strikes Again”: Whatever Happens In Texas Has A Way Of Coming Back And Biting The Rest Of The Nation In The Butt

Election season in Texas! They’re voting right now in the primaries. And I know you are interested because whatever happens in Texas has a way of coming back and biting the rest of the nation.

For instance, Gov. Rick Perry is retiring and threatening to run for president. (He’s been to Israel!) So is Senator Ted Cruz. And now, in answer to the great national outcry for more candidates named George Bush, Texas Republicans appear ready to nominate George Prescott Bush for land commissioner.

“My friends and family call me George P, so feel free to call me P,” the 37-year-old energy consultant and son of Jeb told CNN. This was one of his more expansive interviews during a campaign that has mainly involved driving around the state in a bus while keeping as far away from reporters as humanly possible. P’s genius for avoiding the media is so profound that, in a primal moan of despair, The Austin American-Statesman endorsed his primary opponent, a businessman who advocates barring children of illegal immigrants from public schools.

Texans really love elections. Well, not the voting part — turnout is generally abysmal. But they have a ton of elective offices — land commissioner, agriculture commissioner, state school board. (There are a couple of conservative-versus-crazy Republican school board primaries, and the results may influence a pending war over requiring social studies students to learn how Moses impacted the founding fathers.)

Also, it’s really easy to get on the ballot. There are 12 Republicans running to replace Representative Steve Stockman, who is in a field of seven Republicans running against Senator John Cornyn. You may remember that Stockman is the one whose campaign office was condemned by the fire marshal. We suspect Cornyn will survive. In an editorial endorsing the incumbent, The Dallas Morning News wearily listed the other alternatives, including a businessman who “told this editorial board that ranchers should be allowed to shoot on sight anyone illegally crossing the border on to their land, referred to such people as ‘wetbacks,’ and called the president a ‘socialist son of a bitch.’ ”

Well, it’s not boring. And on the positive front, experts in Texas say there’s absolutely no chance that the guy who legally changed his name to SECEDE is going to win a nomination for governor.

The primary voting culminates on March 4, after which there will be run-offs in May for the races in which no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote. Conventional wisdom holds that by March 5 the world will know that the race to succeed Rick Perry will pit Democrat Wendy Davis against Republican Greg Abbott.

Abbott, the current attorney general, recently made national headlines when he appeared at a rally with Ted Nugent, the right-wing rocker who once referred to President Obama as a “subhuman mongrel.” Nugent, whose last hit record is older than Beyoncé, has recreated himself as a celebrity ranter. Mostly, he rants about gun rights, which is as difficult in Texas as taking a strong stand in favor of oxygen. But his vow to be either “dead or in jail” if Obama was re-elected earned him a visit from the Secret Service. One of his more printable references to Hillary Clinton was “two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.”

Abbott told The Houston Chronicle that he was unaware of what Nugent “may have said or done in his background.” Since Nugent is as impossible to ignore in Texas politics as the heat, this may have been a fib. Otherwise, Abbott is an attorney general with an astonishing lack of interest in the world around him.

What we are seeing here is a microcosm of the national political scene. Texas Republicans are terrified of two things — the angry white, mostly male Republican far right and the state’s huge population of young Hispanics. Nugent is a sop to the first. George P. Bush, whose mother is Mexican-American, is a Hail Mary pass thrown in the general direction of the second.

Although Texans as a group are not particularly crazy when it comes to the immigration issue, the Tea Party folk have been pushing it hard. Dan Patrick, a state senator who’s currently one of the leading candidates for lieutenant governor, has been campaigning against the “illegal invasion,” which he once claimed was threatening Texas with “Third World diseases” like “tuberculosis, malaria, polio and leprosy.” (Patrick, an equal opportunity offender, also once boycotted the opening prayer in the Senate because it was being delivered by a Texas cleric who happened to be a Muslim.)

Immigrant-bashing is a shortcut to a runoff in a Republican primary. Meanwhile, it’s a continuing offense to the voter base of the 2020s. What do you do?

P! We have seen the future, and it’s running for land commissioner.

 

By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 21, 2014

March 2, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Texas | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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