Texas To The World Dispatch #7

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“It’s really cool to be alive in America at this point in history because it’s like the collapse of the Roman Empire but with Wi-Fi.”
– Billy Addington, Exec. Dir., Founder, Save Sierra Blanca (Texas) Foundation
[Editor’s note:You are going to want to be the first kid on your block to get one of our stylin’ Texas To The World tee shirts. First shipments have gone out with our logo of Texas covering the earth, which we all know it does. Go To the TTTW website and click the tee shirt link to order yours. Children will squeal with delight when you wear it. Men will cower. Ladies will faint. And great institutions will tremble and fall. Kinda.
The Unwelcome Mat is Out in Texas
Three groups have already canceled their plans to hold conventions in San Antonio. Eight others expect to make the same move if the Texas legislature passes its pee pee policy into law. The Alamo City will lose, almost immediately, an estimated $24 million in economic impact just based on the fact the state’s Lt. Gov. is nervous about where people urinate. Maybe we will soon have backscatter technology installed on stalls to scan and make sure you aren’t a boy dressed as a girl wanting to sit instead of stand. We could also have ICE patrol schools and demand to see birth certificates every time a student raised a hand to go to the bathroom.
“Need to see your papers or your pecker, son.”
Because Lt. Gov. Damn Patrick is a simpering homophobe and transphobe, and is pushing a measure that has already kicked the state of North Carolina’s economy squarely in its naughty bits, Texas now stands to lose $8.5 billion from its economy, and 100,000 jobs will disappear.
(Walter Cronkite voice: We’re Texas! What starts here, ruins the world.)
A senate committee approved the bathroom bill, predictably, by a 7-1 margin after 13 hours of testimony. The only good to come out of the hearing was the attendant fame of a protestor in the hallway, who briefly became an Internet and social media icon for holding up two signs.
“Let my people my people go,” and, “To the bathroom.”
Which should have ended the bill’s prospects for becoming law.
The Schmooze Brothers
Austin’s unofficial master of ceremonies, Evan Smith, took his bodily attached microphones and cameras to Houston to host an education summit. Smith runs an online corporate marketing and political protection racket and he decided to host a discussion on public education with people who have a bit of expertise. The event was underwritten by the Walton Family Foundation, who bring you Walmarts from sea to shining sea.
Smith was, undoubtedly, relying on his audience to be uninitiated to the fact that the Waltons have committed a billion dollars over the next five years to promote charters and school choice. Aren’t they just a perfect sponsor for a balanced discussion on how to deal with Texas school funding inequities? Of course, the Waltons have billions to push their education politics, in part, because Walmart pays low wages to workers, a policy that costs American taxpayers $6.2 billion dollars in subsidies for Walmart employees, who must depend on services like Medicaid and food stamps.
Walmart and Smith are equally without conscience regarding their motivations. Smith wants money for his scam. (Nice little corporation you have here. I’d hate to see anything bad happen to it in journalism). Walmart wants to promote a point of view on vouchers and charters. They have a lovely marriage with Smith’s operation. In fact, Smith is so taken with the retailer, when they sponsored his annual corporate whore-off festival in Austin, he changed his website’s colors to be the same as Walmart’s.
Bless his heart.
Walmart doesn’t just rely on taxpayers to provide the benefit packages to its employees, however. Smith’s pals recently closed 269 stores, many of which were in small towns where the retail giant’s previous arrival had already destroyed business for local companies unable to compete with Walmart’s price cuts. Of course, closing the Walmart stores after forcing small businesses to shut down had a bit of an impact on property taxes to fund local schools. Less tax money for schools tends to mean fewer schools, teachers, lousier education.
Wonder if Evan Smith brought up Walmart’s impact on small town education at his Houston symposium. No? After their check cleared?
Vouching for Vouchers
Not even Walmart and our man in corporate comfort Evan can save vouchers in Texas, though. The house Republican in charge of giving the bill a hearing has said publicly the bill has two chances: Slim and none, and Slim just got on a bus to Amarillo. (Well, he didn’t say that, but he should have). The lieutenant governor, continuing to act like a grownup, has said he won’t fix school finance problems unless he gets a vouchers bill passed by the house. He’s taking his gavel and going home so no one else can play.
The scariest thing about the current legislature is that they might be a representative body.
“Like most passionate nations, Texas has its own history based on, but not limited by, facts.”
John Steinbeck
Rainy Day People
The state’s Rainy Day Fund is expected to reach $12 billion dollars in the current budget cycle, but the legislature would rather cut 7.9 percent out of current operations to avoid tapping the fund, if the senate’s budget is adopted. The reluctance to use the RDF resources wouldn’t be quite as absurd if the state wasn’t already spending less per resident than all but three other states, according to the Census Bureau. (You can guess those states but remember that the unofficial Texas state motto is, “Thank god for Mississippi.”) Never mind pay raises for teachers. And state workers. Or roads that don’t require tolls. Don’t be surprised if the pay-as-you-go constitutionalists come up with more bonded indebtedness ideas to dump off their responsibilities onto taxpayers so they can repeat the mantra, “Vote for me. I didn’t raise your taxes.”
If it’s not a rainy day now, when in the hell will it be?
China, Texas
Give us your cashiers, cooks, truck drivers, material movers, retail sales reps, and customer service types. We could put up a statue of inequity at the border for all the people moving to Texas from California. The Golden State lost 260,000 people last year and Census Bureau figures reveal most of them moved to Texas. Our real estate and rent are less costly than California’s but wages aren’t exactly abundant. We’ve got opportunity, though; immigrants are running back south of the border not wanting to be a part of Trumpistan. So, there are an increasing number of openings available.
Soon, Texas will be competing with China for jobs manufacturing Trump ties and hats.
Be careful, kids. The injudicious use of the death penalty in Texas might be applied for your crimes against sacred Whataburger. In Denton County, police say the table tents, which show your order numbers, have been mysteriously disappearing from local Whataburgers. This is no minor crime. What if your order didn’t have your requested jalapenos? How is one to deal? The coppers laid out a full inventory of table tents on the hood of a car and compared them to those on hand at the victimized store. The contrast was horrifying.
People: Have you no sense of decency?
Galveston, Oh, Galveston
Remember the last time you took the kids to the beach down on the Gulf? The fresh salt air, warm sand (maybe freakin’ hot) beneath your toes, buzz around the bay on a rented boat? Good times, eh? Unless you were breathing in or ingesting some of the carcinogenic dioxin that’s been held in vast black ponds next to the bay for the past 40 years. Worse yet, you might have lived nearby. But no violations of Texas environmental laws because, well, we’re Texas, damnit!
If you want to get angry and see one of the great, surviving TV journalists in Texas offer information and tell a story by making perfect use of the medium, check out the work of Greg Groogan of FOX-26 TV in Houston.
And then call your state representative and senator to complain.
South by South Mess?
The annual festival of techies and bands and filmmakers, regardless of how you might feel about it, remains one of the greatest things to happen to Austin since people starting smoking briskets. But not every moment is a grace note. Contract language sent to bands scheduled to perform suggested SXSW organizers were compelled to report undocumented band members to immigration authorities, which led to a predictable measure of outrage in our sanctuary city. Musicians published an open letter to Roland Swenson, one of SXSW’s founders, which, basically, said, “Are you effin’ kiddin’ me?”
The Southby folks issued a “clarifying statement” that said it has never intended to cooperate with ICE and that the original complainant, Told Slant, took the contract language out of context. Told Slant then posted a video that said the language was not taken out of context, and proffered a response that amounted to “Are you effin’ kiddin’ me?”
The peace talks are expected to be held at Washington on the Brazos where the ghost of Sam Houston is likely to ask, “Are you effin’ kiddin’ me? And what the hell is an electric guitar?”
Wall to Wall Wall Coverage
There’s no conviction to build a wall, and probably no money. The most that is likely to happen is an enhancement of structures that already exist as part of the older Tortilla Curtain the U.S. built years ago, which, noticeably, has hundreds of miles of gaps. Even if there were more will than rhetoric connected to the wall concept, there is not a viable process to fund construction. The administration can’t dump the project into the budget bill, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised to block any spending measure that includes the wall. Eight Senate Democrats are needed for money to be approved to build the Great Wall of Whiner, and there is not a single vote yet from that side of the aisle, nor is one likely to materialize.
And as proof that capitalism can be politically mercenary in all cultures, the chance to make a buck on the wall got the attention Mexican cement company Cemex, one of the largest suppliers of concrete in the world. The company’s CEO was quoted by the Reforma newspaper as saying, “We will gladly do it.” He must have gotten a call from Mexico City, however, because after the article was published he issued one of those clarifying statements that in Washington begin with the phrase, “What the congressman was really trying to say.”
The sentiment toward the wall in Mexico is unambiguous. One of the rusted stretches of the Tortilla Curtain near El Paso has been painted with epithets toward the temporary U.S. president. The message has something to do with copulation and an object of poor quality.
Rocket Measuring Contests
Out along Highway 54 north of Van Horn in West Texas, far enough off the road that you will never notice, the new space race is unfolding. Well, it’s also using up some beach at a formerly quiet spot known as Boca Chica at the mouth of the Rio Grande near Brownsville. The Van Horn location is the launch pad for Blue Origin, space place for Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, whose company is still mastering drone delivery but wants to send people and products to addresses unknown.
Space X has built its launch pad near the Gulf and will begin launching its heavy lifter Falcon 9 booster out of Texas as early as the end of this year. Musk also plans to send two yet unnamed individuals on a trip around the moon before the end of 2018. (Shall we begin a list to nominate people?) Both billionaires are having a positive economic impact on the state even in the early stages of their industries.
But there are always issues. If you lived in Van Horn, the idea of rockets raking the desert air with their sound and fury is probably disturbing. One landing on your head after a critical launch failure is improbable but you live there for specific reasons, not a few of which have been violated by the presence of penile-shaped giant projectiles.
Boca Chica was quiet enough that the flowing Rio Grande could often be heard where it meets the sounding sea. But put in some concrete, offer jobs, and dreams of connecting with other worlds, and you will gather an estimated launch crowd of what the city of Brownsville expects to be 20,000 people. Money is what creates the rocket’s green glare.
Musk and Bezos, however, are busy arguing over who was first, if not biggest. They have both launched and landed boosters for reuse, which is historic. Blue Origin went sub-orbital while Space X circled the planet. Who was first hardly seems to matter. But what was Bezos thinking when his designers brought him the sketches of the Blue Origin rocket with a passenger capsule on top?
Surely, it was not unavoidably phallic.
Anger Mismanagement
Hard to be zen about those zany madcap kids in the Texas legislature and their ingeniously applied ignorance. Among the many bits of language that will make money for many lawyers is one that is likely to prompt doctors to lie to pregnant patients. Lt. Gov. Damn Patrick’s chamber of horrors, the Texas senate, has before it a measure that would prevent parents from suing doctors if their baby is born with a disability. Yes, that’s insidious because if they ended up with a doc who was against a woman’s right to choose, he or she might lie to the future mom about any genetic deformities of the first trimester child, you know, because life is precious.
Unless you live in Texas and are poor or a woman or an uninsured child or homeless or unemployed. We protect y’all in the womb but you are on your own once your feet touch down on the sacred soil.
Conscience, though, reared its pretty little head in the Texas House in a debate over funding Child Protective Services. (Conscience in either of the two chambers is a tiny creature with soft fur that gets very little care and feeding and often gets crushed under the boots of the intellectually lame and halt.) The reps were trying to improve the child welfare system by increasing payments to relatives of abused children who take them into their homes. Republican Mark Keough of the Woodlands introduced an amendment that was to prevent state money from going to families of undocumented immigrants.
Even his fellow Republicans called the amendment racist and anti-Hispanic but Keough said it was an act of love.
“I’m not a racist,” he said. “I love people, I love the people of my church and I love all of you.”
Surely, we must believe him. He’s the pastor of a church and he thinks god got him elected or, rather, secured him a “divine appointment.” If being in the Texas house is an act of divine intervention there will surely be no takers to learn what hell looks like.
The question recurs as to how flat is the landscape of the Texas panhandle. There’s no shortage of lyrical descriptions but they fail after beholding it with thine own eyes. James McMurtry (yes, progeny of that McMurtry) wrote the definitive song about the South Plains.
And he called it Levelland.
But we have another flatness metric. In 1988 when Steven Spielberg was looking for a location to film the closing credits of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” he sent a second unit around the globe to find the flattest possible spot. They presented him with Potter County and a spot just southeast of the county seat of Amarillo. The scene called for the three main characters to ride into a sunset that lingered long enough for all the credits to roll through screen. Have you ever sat all the way through credits at the end of a big budget movie? Yeah, well, that’s how long a Panhandle sunset lasts.
You can’t see the entire sunset but you can get a sense of its duration at the end of this YouTube clip for the end of the movie. This, my friends, is flatness.
And with all due respect to the giant talent that is James McMurtry, around this hacienda we are partial to the cover of Levelland performed by Bandera’s Robert Earl Keen.
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“It’s fun telling you tall Texas tales. You always look like a little girl who’s hearing Cinderella for the first time.”
Edna Ferber, Author of Giant