Texas To The World Dispatch #10

“You’re not a real Texan until you’ve been kicked out of every other decent state in America.”
– Job Bob Briggs
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Governor Goddamn Goes to Washington
Greg Abbott had a dramatic sense of timing for his trip to meet with D. Trump in the Oval Office. He did, however, manage to maintain current prevarication protocols and tell a whopping lie while in the presence of the temporary president. Abbott was touting a new call center down on the Texas-Mexico border in McAllen that was beginning operations for Charter Communications. Technically, the governor was announcing jobs that had already been announced more than a year ago by the Texas Workforce Commission, but he still managed to call the new operation a “win for the president,” regardless of that fact.
Trump was just beginning his campaign at the time Charter had made its decision to locate 600 jobs in McAllen. In fact, the communications mega-corp had been teasing the government with 20,000 jobs ever since it began pushing for its merger with Time Warner. Trump had nothing to do with that, either. The McAllen call center is undoubtedly the product of the consistently able work of McAllen’s Economic Development Corporation’s CEO Keith Patridge, a tireless and successful recruiter for the city. But Trump and Abbott wanted to take credit.
When will the winning ever end?
Abbott was in DC on the day Trump’s sick health care bill died a merciful death. Maybe Abbott is hoping to distract from the increasing scrutiny he is beginning to endure. Constitutionally, the Texas governor’s office is already weak but it has long offered a megaphone to push policy, and the few that Abbott articulates tend to reinforce his hypocrisies, and those of his party.
The Texas GOP has yammered for decades about individual responsibility and local control but Abbott is pushing notions that are diametrically opposed to those concepts. The “less government is more” mantra becomes nonsensical when you try to regulate from Austin the decisions made by cities. When city councils started passing anti-fracking rules, Abbott and his posse of oil and gas goons made that illegal with a new state law. He wants to end local bans on plastic bags and is threatening to throw elected police officers into jail for violating sanctuary city laws, which don’t yet exist. The Houston Chronicle’s Pulitzer columnist Lisa Falkenberg accused Abbott of borderline anarchy.
But Governor Goddamn is more of an autocrat who wants to be an oligarch. Kind of Donald Trump with better hair.
Rick Perry is so Not Gay
The hilarity associated with the Dancing with the Stars guy’s complaints about the Texas A&M student body election have nothing to do with fairness or glow sticks or sexual orientation. Sane people wonder what in the hell is the Secretary of the Department of Energy doing sticking his nose into college politics? Don’t all those nuclear weapons and his frackin’ pals keep him busy, even if he is an Aggie alum?
Given the rumors that have mussed Perry’s purty hair for so many years, most observers might have thought he’d have kept his distance from anything remotely gay and controversial. But the former governor says it’s all about protecting the democratic process. Of course, he was happy to push various laws designed to suppress that process for minority Texans while he was in office. Hell, Perry signed the Voter ID law in 2011, which is the one the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled was written with an “intent” to discriminate. So, excuse me for puking on my Lucheses when Paint Creek’s pretty boy offers righteous indignation about the sanctity of the democratic process.
There is a sniff of Ken Mehlman’s cologne in Perry not wanting A&M to have its first gay student body president, (although the secretary says that’s not what this is about, or that there’s anything wrong with that). Mehlman was the RNC chairman under George W. Bush and traveled the country promoting the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, even though he was gay. After his rise in the GOP and business circles, which, undoubtedly did much to help his bank account, Mehlman acknowledged he was gay, and said, “I should have spoken out.” What he probably really should have said was, “I guess I should not have been a hypocritical asshole and promoted laws that made life miserable for people like me.”
But he didn’t say a word; just cashed the checks. The new energy secretary is not likely to have such an epiphanal moment because Rick Perry is so not gay.
Bear Facts
Baylor University’s athletic department, particularly its football team, has become bad for the school’s brand. Two football players were recently arrested for what was described as a “gang rape” of a co-ed in 2013, a case which the Waco PD investigated and dropped because the victim did not file charges and was described as “extremely intoxicated.” The woman is identified in a recent lawsuit she filed against the university in January as Elizabeth Doe, one of a reported 52 cases of rape supposed to have occurred on campus during the era of football coach Art Briles, (who probably still knows nothing about it). A convergence of incompetence and silence and cover up and a lack of a Title IX officer on Baylor’s campus have led to the exposure of this high-ed nightmare.
The problem is apparently not peculiar to Baylor. A new study from the University of Texas system indicates one out of every 10 undergraduate women have told surveyors that they have been raped since becoming UT students. The study interviewed 28,270 women in the UT System and 72 percent of them said they did not report their assaults, even though on the Austin campus the incidents of rape appear to have reached 15 percent of the women who answered the questionnaire.
Baylor alumnus Kirk Watson, a Democratic state senator from Austin, has filed five bills in the legislature that would make victims feel safer coming forward with their cases and allegations instead of fearing reprisals; especially in the incidents where accusations involve star athletes. Maybe the conservative legislature, which claims abortion regulations are about women’s health issues, can get to work on these measures, which actually offer protection rather than repression.
And maybe Donald Trump will win the Nobel Prize for physics.
“Naturally, when it comes to voting, we in Texas are accustomed to discerning that fine hair’s-breadth worth of difference that makes one hopeless dipstick slightly less awful than the other. But it does raise the question: Why bother?”
Molly Ivins
What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear
Many people thought it was a horrible thing that Damn Patrick was doing sports on TV in Houston. But at least they could change the channel, and many did. There is no escaping his narrow-mindedness and ignorance, however, when he holds the most influential office in state government as lieutenant governor. It’s hard to imagine how he can look into TV cameras today and talk to reporters with that pinched-not-ready-for- broadcast straight face and claim that the bathroom bill is one of the most important issues facing the state.
There have been exactly zero crimes in Texas involving transgender people in public rest rooms. The danger is even less than one of his and Greg Abbott’s other favorite issues: the fatuous nonsense surrounding non-existent voter fraud. Risking a wound to the state’s raging economy, Patrick pushed the bathroom bill through the state senate. The measure, which will require people to use a public facility that matches the gender on their birth certificate, has been called a “contrived answer” to a “manufactured problem” by the speaker of the Texas House. Joe Strauss is not even likely to give the bill a public hearing in committee. The speaker, bluntly, said he opposes it, which is also his position regarding Damn Patrick’s other pet project: giving state tax dollars to private schools for vouchers without asking for accountability.
Patrick was also likely pissed when Strauss called out the senate for its budget, which, traditionally gets chopped up in the house. The Senate Finance Committee used what Strauss described as an “accounting maneuver” to avoid a $2.5 billion-dollar budget shortage. Senate budget writers appeared to have counted money twice in their political effort to avoid tapping into the Rainy Day Fund, a backup bucket of tax dollars that has more than $12 billion available to solve problems. The accounting tricks upset the House Speaker.
“We aren’t Enron,” Strauss said.
Probably not. There may have been some honor among those thieves.
The Whining Wall
Mr. Big Talk wall builder Trump has asked for a billion dollars to start construction of his Whining Wall on the border with Mexico. That won’t get a xenophobe much of an obstruction, though. The appropriation, if he can get it, would cover only 62 miles of the barrier, which leaves a gap, of, oh, 1927 miles. He wants 48 new miles of wall in the San Diego Border Patrol sector, six miles of new wall in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and 27 miles of additional levee barriers in that region. CNN obtained documents from Homeland Security that indicate some of the Whining Wall will “include concrete.”
Oh, no, not concrete! We prefer adobe or stucco in this part of the world, something in a pastel, if you can, Mr. President.
The political resistance to this cultural and economic insult continues to increase. The past weekend saw border unity rallies in Laredo and Del Rio and Ciudad Acuna. Republican Congressman Will Hurd and Democrat Joaquin Castro led a few hundred people clasping hands and building a human link across the border to symbolize how the Rio Grande towns are single communities with common interests.
Further up the river where giant reservoirs have risen up behind dams, the wall makes even less sense to locals. Lake Amistad near Del Rio and Falcon Lake are natural barriers of deep water that make crossing a prohibitive risk, which turns political support for standing up a wall into a theater of the absurd.
Facts always complicate politics. A new study by the University of California at San Diego says the wall may be obsolete even before it is completed, (which, we’d offer reasonable terms in a bet will never happen). The influx of low-skilled immigrants is already abating because of the aging of the population in Latin America and the supply of workers is disappearing as a consequence of time, “the fire that burns us all.”
“The researchers argue that aging populations will give low-skilled workers from those countries less motivation to immigrate to the U.S., even without a massive border wall, as there will be reduced competition for jobs in their homes. They calculate the number of young, low-skilled workers coming into the United States from Latin America will continue to slow in coming decades.”
Turns out the wall will be about as smart of an investment in our future as spending hard-earned cash to get a degree from Trump University.
Labor is already an issue on the border. The maquiladoras, which are the Mexican manufacturing facilities of American companies along the river with shipping and operations on the U.S. side, can’t find enough workers. They are hoping to cooperate with American immigration authorities to see if they can hire undocumented people that are being repatriated to Mexico. Maquilas in Reynosa, across from McAllen, are in the process of hiring 121,000 workers, and the labor market is equally tight in Mexican cities all along the border.
So, yeah, let’s go ahead and spend billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars to build a wall just as Mexicans run out of reasons to come to this country.
Government Versus Government Versus Government
All while talking about individual freedoms and local accountability, the federal government is working to constrain state governments that are trying equally hard at controlling local governments. The U.S. Attorney General, a man who would not have been out of place during the 1860-65 internal conflict in this country, has just threatened dozens of American cities with pulling their federal grants if they provide safe harbor to immigrants. The total jeopardized by acts of human kindness is more than $4.1 billion dollars. Jeff Sessions, Trump, and Governor Goddamn are demanding local law enforcement retain any undocumented persons until immigration officers can assess their cases, regardless of how minor the offense.
And this has launched an inspiring rebellion.
Mayors and sheriffs and prosecutors and cops and police chiefs are saying “piss off.” We can’t afford to provide food and housing for people arrested for misdemeanors while we wait for the glacial federal bureaucracy to come chat them up. A New York City council member said, “We are going to become this administration’s worst nightmare,” and Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler said, “Our community is violating no federal laws.”
This is the problem for Trump and Abbott and Sessions: There is no extant law requiring them to hold onto detainees until ICE comes to town. The only language that exists are guidelines for sharing information with requesting federal agencies, which Austin, Houston, and every other sanctuary city in America are complying with.
Is it indelicate to refer to this as a classic “Mexican standoff?”
When the Indian paintbrush and bluebonnets begin to color the banks of the Colorado, follow old Webberville Road east of Austin out where the river makes a few horseshoe twists coming down from the Hill Country and marking its water course through the black land prairie out toward the Coastal Bend. Look for a sign indicating the Hornsby Cemetery, or stop and ask directions. Spring is the optimal time to visit the grave of one of the greatest baseball players to ever put on a Major League uniform.
Rogers Hornsby, who still retains the highest batting average ever recorded in the big leagues, is buried in a modest cemetery not far from a bend in the Colorado named after his family. Often, an admirer will have left a perfectly useful baseball glove atop Hornsby’s grave, and his headstone will be easy to spot. He rests not far from Reuben Hornsby, family patriarch, who was among the first Texas Rangers, and who had been given a grant of land in Texas by Stephen F. Austin. Reuben was a surveyor and with his wife Sarah settled the first community in what later became Travis County. Hornsby, who, eventually, helped to survey Austin for the capital of the Texas Republic in 1839, also was father to the first Anglo child in the county, sat on the first jury in Travis Country, and even grew the first corn. Twelve members of Hornsby’s family became Texas Rangers and are also buried in the cemetery.
And one of Reuben Hornsby’s descendants became a player many baseball experts argue is among the greatest in the history of the game.
Rogers Hornsby (whose first name came from his mother’s family) was born in Winters, Texas. After his father’s death when Rogers was just two years old in 1898, his mother moved the family to the Austin area, which was just a few miles up the Colorado from where his grandfather had settled Hornsby’s Bend. The family returned to Fort Worth for work but by the time he was fifteen, Rogers was playing semi-pro and he entered major league baseball still in his teens, eventually helping to launch the managerial career of Branch Rickey, the man who later made Jackie Robinson the first African-American in pro baseball.
Hornsby, who said he could remember nothing about his life before he held a baseball in his hand, played in the “dead” and the beginning of the “live ball” eras. But he hit most everything, regardless of its resilience against wood. Only Ty Cobb has a higher career batting average of .367. Hornsby hit .358 over his career of 23 seasons and earned two Triple Crowns, batted .400 or better three times, and in 1924 hit a .424 average, which remains the highest B.A. in MLB history. He is also the only player to hit .400 and get 40 home runs in a single season.
But he was not a pleasant fellow. Teammates didn’t care for Hornsby, who never drank, smoke, or went to the movies. (Said the movies might damage his eyesight). He gambled on horses a bit, and was married three times, but lived for baseball.
There are ball diamonds along Webberville Road today and there are boys and men still playing the game on them that Hornsby loved. My men’s team took our spring training on a nice private field only miles from where the great second baseman is buried. I was always hopeful, as baseball will make a man, of a good season, warm weather, and a happy life every spring as I drove through Hornsby’s Bend on my way to practice. And I frequently thought of what Rogers told a sportswriter that kept pestering him about who he was when he wasn’t playing the game.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball,” he said. “I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Come Some Sweet, Bluebonnet Spring
The season cannot ever be allowed to pass without comment on Texas bluebonnets. While we are partial to the brighter Indian paintbrushes, the blossoming member of the Lupinus genus tends to transform perspectives in our state with their annual arrival. The flower is written and sung about almost as much as the Texas sky and the endless miles of road and horizon. There is, however, no song that more acutely captures the aesthetic of a simple flower in the life of Texans than “Gulf Coast Highway,” which was written by Danny Flowers, (I know, right?) James Brown, and Nanci Griffith.
The most popular recording of the plaintive ballad was sung by the incomparable Emmy Lou Harris, accompanied by Willie Nelson, but because you have likely already heard that version and cried over it, as tends to happen when humans hear the song, consider the Austin City Limits live recording with Emmy Lou and the distinctive voice of Dave Matthews. And have a happy-sad day.
“I felt a little guilty about jangling the poor bugger’s brains with that evil fantasy. But what the hell? Anybody who wanders around the world saying, “Hell yes, I’m from Texas,” deserves whatever happens to him.”
– Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time
Texana: Part II
As a symbol of defiance, the Texians had fashioned a flag containing the phrase “come and take it” along with a black star and an image of the cannon that they had received four years earlier [March 10, 1831] from Mexican officials. This was the same message that was sent to the Mexican government when they told the Texians to return the cannon; lack of compliance with the initial demands led to the failed attempt by the Mexican military to forcefully take back the cannon.
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“Only a rank degenerate would drive 1500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken-fried steak.”
Larry McMurtry, author, Lonesome Dove