Texas To The World Dispatch #5

“And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution. If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that 18th-century Constitution should be abandoned to a 20th-century paper shredder.”
– U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D), Texas, during Watergate hearings
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Texas Has An Ocelot in It!
Before we get all cranked up about politics and other absurdities, let’s consider the ocelot. The rare spotted cat lives in the Rio Grande Valley, which is the northern edge of its habitat. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is believed to have more than two dozen of the big cats, and wildlife specialists have recently found a few new dens with kittens. The photos are magnificent and will make you forget your Trump troubles, if only for a moment. There may be as many as 80 of the beautiful creatures living along the Rio Grande [River].
Hey, let’s build a wall to keep them on the Texas side!
Why Not Pop?
He’s just a pro basketball coach who doesn’t like to be interviewed. But Gregg Popovich ought to think about public service. The San Antonio Spurs coach has been one of the most consistent and articulate critics of the current resident of the White House. In fact, Pop dislikes Trump so much it has the coach chatting with reporters and delivering the most incisive takedown offered thus far on the president.
“I hope he does a great job. But there’s a difference between respecting the office and the person who occupies it. That respect has to be earned. It’s hard to be respectful of someone when we all have kids, and we’re watching him be misogynistic and xenophobic and racist and make fun of handicapped people.”
Vote Pop and Make It Stop in 2020.
Governor Goddamn
The only person whose mental stability seems to be built on a gooier foundation than Trump’s is Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s. He knows not of what he speaks. Abbott, who apparently believes NFL players don’t have rights to be political, suggested in a radio interview that he might pass a Texas law requiring players to stand for the national anthem. He later sucked back his comments but they had already offered a glimpse into his dark, Trumpian heart.
Abbott is possibly the most reprehensible character on the Texas scene since I started writing about this state’s politics in 1975. He wants to force his Christian religion into textbooks and schools and claims to know Jesus like they are drinking buddies, but cuts funding at every chance for critical services for the poor, homeless, women, and any group he thinks is slumbering in our state’s raggedy-assed safety net.
He is also alarmingly irresponsible if it fits his political narrative. When an 80-year-old Hispanic man was robbed by a younger Hispanic suspect at a fried chicken joint in McAllen, Abbott went straight to the idea the criminal was in Texas without papers. But the cops said they had no such evidence. As if Governor Goddamn cares. He tweeted, “Let him know Texas is coming to his rescue.”
Sure, pal, just like the state has helped all those special needs children who are now at risk of death because of your policies.
Somebody to Look Down On
When Governor Goddamn needs somebody to blame, he tends to look south of the border. In fact, he’s turned it into a kind of cultural trend, even when things go bad in the badlands. And then half-facts become assimilated into the rhetoric of attacks by the right. When a hunting guide and his chiropractor customer had a bit of a disagreement in a remote spot north of the Rio Grande near Big Bend State Park, gunshots were exchanged. The initial story emanating from the desert was that pistoleros from Mexico had slipped across the border and had attempted to rob the hunting camp. Not true, of course, and both men have been charged with discharging their firearms in the direction of another person. But there are stories living all over the web about the cartel shootout in Big Bend.
And it will likely very soon be an anecdote in one of Governor Goddamn’s speeches.
“At the risk of descending to unscientific generalizations, 90 percent of Texans give the other 10 percent a bad name.”
John H. “Doc” Holliday,” famed gunslinger
Make America Wait Again
Kim Jong Trump’s rural supporters in Texas appear to be among the first casualties of his policies. Cattle ranchers had been building up herds and waiting a few years for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) to open lucrative Japanese markets but the president’s cancellation of the TPP puts an end to those dreams of having enough cash to buy whatever you want during “Truck Month.” A Dallas Morning News op-ed said Texas ranchers are facing a devastating downward “slide in cattle futures”, and crippling requirements of increased “collateral loans” because their herds are no longer as prospectively valuable because of reduced markets. The conservative paper called Trump’s TPP attitude a “blustering, blundering” trade policy.
Purty much. The TPP was about to lower tariffs on imported beef to Japan to 9 percent from a current 38.5. No need to point out that rural residents, especially the ranching community, voted overwhelmingly for Trump. (I’ll point it out, anyway). But it is worth mentioning that ranchers in remote Australian cattle “stations” will be happy to step in and fill that market demand for beef in Tokyo.
Onya, Oz.
Tortilla Terrorism
Mexico is firing trade guns at America in reaction to Trump’s wall-to-wall talk of a wall. The head of a Mexican congressional committee on foreign relations is introducing a new measure that would require his country to buy its corn from Brazil. This has the potential to crash the domestic U.S. grain market. In 1995, the year after the North American Free Trade Agreement became law, we exported only about $390 million south of the big river. The latest figures available, which are from 2015, show Mexicans bought $2.4 billion dollars in U.S. corn.
Oh, my. Maybe rural Trump voters in the Midwest can sell their corn to the cattle ranchers in Texas since those animals aren’t going to market and will need feed.
Voting does have consequences, even in a putative democracy.
Cut Costs with Legos?
The cost of a wall on the border is related more to land than construction. Congress already passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006 to try to barricade the 1254 miles of Texas border but the state only owns about 100 miles of that stretch. Unsurprisingly, landowners who wanted the wall decided they didn’t want a wall when the federal government came to offer them government rates for their land. The feds use eminent domain to condemn the land, when necessary, but courts often rule in favor of landowners when determining fair market value. Reuters reported that one property owner was offered $233,000 for his stretch of riverfront, to which he said hell no, and eventually got $4.7 million, and a $114,000 dollar valuation for some Sierra Club land ultimately ended up costing taxpayers $1 million.
Of course, Trump didn’t do the negotiating and we understand he’s just the best negotiator and he’s just going to get us all better deals to the point where we get tired of winning.
(See also, Trans Pacific Partnership).
Maybe we can hold down costs by building the wall with legos and immigrants won’t want to step on it.
An Epic Texas Glasshole
Take a bow, Maggie Hennessy, a University of Texas student and NARAL pro-choice intern, whose determination and persuasive voice prompted a state senator to break a glass table in anger. Charles Schwertner, who is a doctor, was chairing a hearing of his Health and Human Services Committee, which was taking testimony on bills to make it harder for women to exercise their constitutional rights. Hennessy was barely a minute into her chastising of the older men poised to make life difficult for women when Doctor No slammed his gavel down to tell her that her time was expired. He shattered the glass tabletop, but not Ms. Hennessy, who kept talking and making her exquisite points.
One of the measures being considered was the obscene regulation requiring that all fetal remains be given burial, which seems moot given how challenging legislators are making it for Texas women to get an abortion for any reason. You’ll not be surprised that supporters of the anti-choice laws were allowed to ramble on before Schwertner’s committee, almost without constraint.
One Newcomer Too Many
Growth is officially out of control in Austin now that the Trump family has announced they want to build one of their hotels in the city. They apparently have signed a letter of intent for the project to rise at the spot currently occupied by Brick Oven Pizza on Red River.
Not sure this is a wise business move. City council here just voted to avoid purchasing Trump branded products and we still have hippies wearing tie-dyed tee shirts in Austin. Plus, we can probably do a Kickstarter campaign and raise enough money to build a wall around the hotel.
It’s Only Words
But words are all we have. So, let’s take care of them and use them properly. Our initial advisory in this category is that there is no such thing as “heavy winds.” KUT Austin’s news announcers frequently use the adjective to describe winds during storms. Winds cannot be heavy. They can be “high,” which is a reference to their speed, or maybe powerful or damaging, but they are never heavy. Further, KUT, please note, traffic does not experience, “heavy delays.” There are long delays, perhaps, brief delays, some are even annoying and inexplicable, but there are no “heavy” delays.
There are, however, a few ranting writers.
All Along the Watchtower
The now-hackneyed joke about building a wall on the border is that a 20-foot wall does nothing but create a market for 21-foot ladders. Necessity also births other types of invention. Drug cartels have been attaching catapults to the south side of the extant stretches of wall and launching their product over for easy pick up. (Note to Amazon: cheaper than drones?) In one instance, border authorities found a cannon that had been used to fire cylinders stuffed with contrabando over the barrier.
Imagine camping near the border and having a load of dope fall out of the sky into your camp site. Wouldn’t you look around to determine if ABC’s John Quinones was hiding out in the brush with a camera crew to see what you’d do next? But we already know what you’d do, don’t we?
You’d get baked. You know it, I know it, and the American people know it.
History Makes Men
I’ve met, I think, only two true public servants whose rationale for holding office was simply to get things done. One was Ernestine Glossbrenner, a school teacher from the brush country town of Alice, who stood for election to help improve Texas public schools. She led the passage of HB 72 in the legislature during the early 80s, laws that are probably still the most sweeping reforms in state history, and then she went home.
The other citizen servant was the recently deceased Richard Moya. I had occasion to encounter the commissioner when I was a young correspondent covering local government in Austin back in the 70s, and with my nascent cynicism figured he was only being kind and helpful to serve his political purposes. Moya’s ambitions, though, never seemed to go beyond wanting to make things better for people.
He was the first Hispanic in Travis County elected to public office when he became a county commissioner in 1970. His fellow commissioner, Ann Richards, later became governor and made Moya one of her deputy chiefs of staff, and I got to know him a bit more through reporting and traveling with the governor. In recent years, Richard and I consulted together on public works projects on the border with our mutual friend Pete McRae, which meant I could get Moya to share long stories on road trips, and watch him work the ice houses of the Rio Grande Valley to affect political change. On a trip to Santa Fe with our spouses a few years later, Moya kept us laughing at government absurdities while insisting there are more positive outcomes because people are increasingly engaged.
If so, it’s because, in part, people like him walked out front, unafraid.
The Taxman Sucketh
Inarguably, the most irresponsible people in Texas are the ones you have elected to the state legislature. Voters keep falling for the nonsensical arguments that taxes can be cut but state services can be maintained. And every two years when these people gather, they find new ways to force taxation down to the local level. (The legislature believes in local control, unless you want to stop fracking, get rid of plastic bags, or refuse to fill up your jails with immigrants being held for minor offenses).
Politicians here brag that Texas has no income tax but our property taxes are increasingly onerous. The government, which is constitutionally bound to provide an equal education to all children, pushes the funding for equality off on local school districts, and they are forced to take the political heat for raising property taxes. State lawmakers can brag they passed yet another budget without an increase, but they make life miserable for the people trying to deliver education to your children. In fact, Texas has been in court almost constantly since the 1968 filing of Rodriguez v. San Antonio ISD. Court after court, judge after judge, rules the state’s educational funding is discriminatory against poor kids and unconstitutional, politicians promise to fix it, or they appeal to the high court, and nothing ever gets accomplished.
R.G. Ratcliffe of Texas Monthly has a detailed primer of why your property taxes are so high and your school performances are so low, and it ought to be required reading for everyone voting in Texas. Meanwhile, the people who spend their 140 day sessions knee-capping public school budgets are doing their best to provide taxpayer dollars in the form of vouchers to mostly unregulated private and charter schools. It’s just bidness, y’all.
Which will make funding of your neighborhood school even more challenging for the local board of ed.
Ratcliffe also publicly shared an email this week he got from TM’s owner and publisher, Paul Hobby, who wanted to quickly denounce a Columbia Journalism Review story that said the magazine’s new editor intended to make the glossy into more of a lifestyle publication. Hobby wrote Ratcliffe, “I strongly refute what has recently been reported in the Columbia Journalism Review as the article mischaracterizes Texas Monthly’s new direction.”
Personally, I was hoping for a course correction, even if we get more stories about cheerleader moms and serial killers. TM’s political reportage has often resulted in the placement of lips on the gluteal tissue of pols like David Dewhurst, George W., Karl Rove, Kay Bailey Hutchison, et. al. The magazine seems more well-suited to profiles of day spas and dude ranches.
The Smithsonian Magazine has a magnificent piece on black cowboys that begins to do justice to their participation in the history of the American West. One out of four cowboys were an African-American, often working in slavery on a ranch while the owner was off fighting in the Civil War to keep his rights to possess people. Those black cowboys also played an instrumental role in the post-war cattle drives moving wild herds from the border to railheads in the Midwest.
They were also critical in settling the frontier. The Comanche called the black troops “buffalo soldiers” because their hair looked and felt like buffalo fur to the indigenous tribes. The most famous of a series of Buffalo Soldier forts in Texas is located at Fort Davis in almost pristine original condition. The story of the men who protected settlers and chased tribal raiders like the Apache Chief Victorio across the Davis Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert is riveting even to casual readers of history. Fort Davis is also remembered as the location for the posting of the first African-American graduate of West Point in 1877, and the first non-white officer to command U.S. Military forces, Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper.
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“There are parts of Texas where a fly lives ten thousand years and a man can’t die soon enough.”
Katherine Dunn, Geek Love