Sunday, June 22, 2014

OF MOBS & MILLENIALS: WENDY'S FILIBUSTER A YEAR ON

Now, a year on
This week marks a year since the fracas in Texas went into full-gear with Wendy Davis' celebrated filibuster. 

I happened into it almost inadvertently. I had been following the rumblings building up to it. I watched what happened with the "people's filibuster" that had gone on in the days before. Hundreds of activists poured in to testify against the Texas GOP's anti-abortion legislation. The idea was to go the distance with the Far Right legislators, force them into exhaustion with testimony around-the-clock. What got my attention was the anti-abortion zealot's response - axing the public's right to give testimony. 

Many women who had traveled great distances to share their heart-rending stories were sent away. What did the Texas GOP accomplish by this?  They put the lid on the pressure cooker and turned up the heat. I made my plans to attend the real-deal filibuster. I managed to finish my work early that afternoon and headed over with some camera gear at around 3pm.  

The outrageous conduct of the Republican senators stays in my mind. It was clear that they would stop at nothing to stop Wendy. Decorum? Tradition? Basic respect? Forget it. They showed themselves to be bullies intent on humiliating a political enemy. When things didn't quite turn out the way they expected, their bellyaching after about being bested by a breach of decorum was laughable.


AAS's Arnold Garcia's laconic style
In any case, I tried putting this experience into perspective in the Austin American Statesman. I submitted "Of Mobs & Millennials" and it was accepted immediately. Usually, I'd honor the publication by simply providing a link here. Unfortunately, my piece didn't survive the editing process whole. Through some editing error, the concluding paragraph somehow got axed in the print edition. Numerous kindred problems plagued the online version. Despite repeat requests to get these sorted out (they did manage to correct their misspelling of ""Legilslators" that had been in the title), it still sits mangled on their website. For example, instead of opening with my opening, a paragraph removed towards the end (at the request of the editor) somehow appears as the opening sentence!   

So, here's what they published under the headline "Legislators hear roar of Millennials" - as intended.  Does it hold up? 


***

Of Mobs & Millennials
                                                       - By Carl Lindemann

Who is behind the “unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics” that shut down the Texas Senate? It isn’t Wendy Davis. The Republican Establishment has worse to fear. What they heard wasn't just a few young women rattling the rafters. It was a shout-out from the millennial generation.

Millennials are the more than 100 million Americans born from 1983 to 2003. They like to vote. With each passing election cycle, millions more of them can and do go to the polls. According to the Center for American Progress, millennials accounted for 20 percent of the ballots cast in 2008, some 25 million nationwide. In 2016, that should grow to 33 percent, 46 million ballots.

That millennials are ethnically diverse and politically progressive does not bode well for the status quo in Texas. In 1988, conservatives outnumbered progressives here by 14 percent among 18- to- 29-year-olds. In 2008, that shifted drastically, with progressives leading by 9 percent — a 23-point swing. Millennials are a lost generation to the GOP that has hitched its wagon to aging white tea party members.

The one ray of hope for conservatives is abortion. Millennials have the same mixed feelings about it that their parents do. But millennials have little interest in the Culture Wars that have divided us into red and blue states. Despite deep differences over abortion, they won’t let it split them.

Are millennials an unruly mob? Making noise inside the Capitol is nothing new to Austin’s contingent. Hundreds gather there regularly to “Om the Dome.” They sit in still silence meditating for the better part of an hour, then let out a joyful sound that reverberates throughout the building.

This isn’t just an Austin thing. It is an offshoot of MedMob, a quintessential millennial phenomenon that started here in 2011. Since, it has spread worldwide. Its mission? The “unification of our inner selves in public spaces.”

MedMob goes about this through “flash mobs,” albeit of a different sort than the carefully choreographed street theater often posted on YouTube. MedMobs are organized only to the extent that they synch-up over 300 cities on five continents. Maybe you’ve seen a horde of 20-somethings congregating calmly on the ground downtown. That’s it.

So millennials aren’t an unruly mob. This crew just operates by a different set of rules. That explains what happened in the Senate last week. The young women in the gallery held their breath and noses witnessing a brutal beat-down on Wendy Davis. In the end, it was a matter of conscience. They could not just stand by watching such injustice. So they shouted with a great shout and the wall came down.

And about the “Occupy Wall Street tactics”? That millennial signature shout comes from being close-knit. They are tribal at heart, communitarians. Their connection with Occupy, a protest organized by middle-aged anarchists? For most just a passing phase, a first few stumbling steps into politics. Now they are beginning to find their own feet.

While Republicans feel the heat in Texas, Democrats will soon have their turn. President Obama is not the man millennials hoped for when they took him over the top in 2008. Consider his penchant for punishing whistleblowers. Though Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden may be an anathema to the Washington establishment, they are millennials par excellence.

Politicians of all stripes should brace for the coming quarrel with millennials. The first clash will be over the crushing weight of student debt. They will revolt against backbreaking interest rates on these no-risk loans. Those holding the paper will get payback — but of a different kind than the windfall profits they expect.

More immediately, during the special session, Republicans might remember one thing while plotting revenge on the upstarts that upset their agenda. The issues alone didn’t send millennials into a frenzy over Occupy.

It was the cavalier way issues dear to them were cast aside. Being brusque now is the sure way to elect Wendy Davis Governor - if not in 2014, then in 2018.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

ABBOTT TO HISPANICS: BLAME WENDY

A telling distortion
What's the Abbott campaign's strategy for dealing with the Texas GOP's epic fail on immigration? 

Why, BLAME WENDY. 

Abbott cannot deal with the reality, so he has to rely on distraction. Now, Tucker Carlson's scandal sheet does the dirty work with a thoroughly dishonest, gross misrepresentation. The claim? "Wendy Davis Caught On Camera Saying Republicans Dislike ‘People Who Don’t Look Like Them’

The distance between this and the reality of what she actually said is telling. As the Texas GOP convention was getting underway last Friday, Wendy spoke about the economic consequences of Teapublican ideology: 

...there are other pieces of course that shape and influence the economic success we have as a state. Showing value and respect for people is such an important part of that. You need look no further than what happened in Arizona with their anti-immigration bill and the withdrawal of tourism and the impact to their economy as a consequence of what ideological thinkers did to that state.

And the same is true with the conversations going on in the Republican convention right now. They're talking about whether they should soften their language on immigration. But we all know where they are because they've been talking about it on the airwaves for the last couple of months.

And we know what they really believe and think about people that don't look like them or come from where they come from....


You can watch the full video of the speech here (the comment comes in after 4:00).

She DID NOT, in fact, say that Republicans "dislike" anyone. Instead, she said that their words and actions speak for themselves.

How VERY interesting that the "reporter" at the Daily Caller should project "dislike" on this here. But that comes from the Daily Caller, NOT Wendy Davis.  What does THAT say?

Well, let's put this out-of-context quote in proper context - what happened at the Texas GOP convention. 

How the Texas GOP and the Abbott campaign have gone into overdrive to promote this bogus story is telling.
"A NEW LOW" from the Abbott campaign

The Teapublican echo chamber has been reverberating for hours, with "The Real Wendy" attack site promoting the "story" and the Abbott campaign actually sending out a fundraiser email about it under the subject "A New Low." 

Contrary to Sen. Davis’ ignorant comments, the Republican Party includes people from all backgrounds who are united...

Geez - wonder why they didn't make the SAME effort when that Abbott supporter organized the "Immigrant Hunt" at UT last Fall.


DIDN'T TEAPUBLICANS JUST DISS HISPANIC CONSERVATIVES? 

Now, this little distraction doesn't change the reality this tries to ignore - that the Texas Teapublicans have tossed the Hispanic Republicans under the bus. That has NOTHING to do with Wendy Davis, and everything to do with how it dooms the GOP.

Let's start with Hispanic loyalists NOT quoted by the Abbott campaign in their sleazy attempt to sidetrack the conversation. Adryana Boyne describes herself as a "Proven Conservative American - God, country & family. National Director: VOCES Action- Fmr GOP Candidate for Texas House HD 102."

As I've noted before, she seemed ready to break ranks in the aftermath of last Fall's despicable "Immigrant Hunt" Now? Let's look at her Twitter feed before & after the Texas GOP convention.

Things started pretty rosy.


Then they went downhill from there. FAST:


Who is responsible?  Good question.


Now? Looks like she's at the tipping point - as are other GOP Hispanics. Finally, she's left with a primal question as the GOP tragedy for Hispanics takes a Shakespearean turn:


Now, Boyne is not alone, despite Rep. Villalba's absurd claim that "the Republican Party includes people from all backgrounds who are united..." 

Instead, it looks like others are ready to break ranks.

Have GOP Hispanics finally had enough?
Funny, you don't see Artemio Muniz on that list of people denouncing Wendy. Why not? I guess he was too busy denouncing the Teapublicans, "Extremists (who are) Destroying Our Party."

But are these "extremists" - or the new norm for the Texas GOP?

What does Greg Abbott, the would-be leader of the Texas GOP have to say? Maybe he could ask conservative Hispanics to look on the bright side. Unlike the Log Cabin Republicans who weren't allowed to have a booth at the GOP convention, those seeking real immigration reform were tolerated - for a brief time. BE PATIENT! 

And if that isn't enough?  BLAME WENDY!

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

TALKING BACK TO THE TEXAS TRIB'S TRIBTALK


One of the great disappointments of the Internet Age has been the failure to create forums to foster respectful, insightful debate and discussion. Trolls trash conversation in a give-and-get that's an "eye for an eye that leaves the whole world blind." 

TribTalk's editor, David Muto, has the challenging task of extracting civil discussion from the toxic stew that is Texas politics. The Trib is working with University of Texas' "Engaging News Project" to see about developing new strategies to unlock the potential that has, thus far, been untapped. 

This project is, by design, a work-in-progress. Like fracking, the techniques now deployed may have unintended consequences requiring attention. Thus far, one post in particular seems particularly problematic. If, as Muto says, his goal is to foster "thoughtful and courteous discourse on the issues that matter," this needs to be addressed.

GOP "Apologist" Sylvester

There is no way for us to hold the moral high ground if our tactics include name-calling and sexist attacks, even though those tactics are often used against us.


So this is an "apology" for an Abbott supporter's violation of the norms and standards for civil behavior? 

It begins by accusing Democrats of "name-calling and sexist attacks." This thinly-veiled hit-piece goes downhill from there. The specious spite spewed under the guise of Christian Charity alternates between finger-pointing and finger-wagging. 

Among the gems:

  • Democrats "may be as committed to their faith as (conservatives) are," but you'd never know it. 
  • Wendy Davis is a "big-government-supporting tax-and-spender" promoting "over-the-top pro-abortion positions."
  • Davis' supporters at her "pro-abortion filibuster" were "hateful, in the true sense of the word."
  • "Our liberal opponents frequently litter their arguments with name-calling and condescension, for which they often get a pass." 
  • The Democrat's "fast-talking spokesmouths have adopted sarcasm and hatefulness as a communications strategy." 
  • "...outnumbered Democrats rambled on for hours, alternating between falsehoods, hyperbole and cheap shots" at an unnamed committee hearing last legislative session.
On top of all this, Sylvester offers a revisionist history aimed at discrediting Leticia Van de Putte. She says that, like Wendy's other supporters at the filibuster, the Senator was also hateful and contemptuous. Her celebrated moment that night calling out GOP bullying? Just "crowd-pandering and (an)opportunistic comment."

This is "thoughtful and courteous discourse on the issues that matter"???

When I first saw this piece, I simply posted a comment providing a link to my original reporting on the Abbott supporter's abortion prank. Then, after some reflection, I figured I should weigh in on this in some detail. I didn't want to simply expose Sylvester's "apology." The "issues that matter" here? How to take her "discussion" to a different level and a different direction?

It seemed to me that this raises the problem of Christianizing for political gain. I submitted "The Naked Narcissism of Public Piety" Friday morning. Yes, it's a pointed piece - provocative, in fact. I was careful to strike a proper tone, an appropriate match to Sylvester's.

Late in the afternoon, I got my rejection from Muto:

Thanks for submitting! Unfortunately, we only have room for one or two guest columns per week and this doesn't fit our editorial needs right now, but thanks for your interest and keep us in mind in the future.

A structural problem needing adjustment
As a professional writer, I live with rejection. No big deal. Move onto the next pitch! But I see a structural issue here. If they publish the likes of "The Problem with 'Abortion Barbie'," then they should reserve space for rebuttal above-and-beyond online comments. No, they don't have to take MY piece. But someone should be able to respond, at the very least like a letter to the editor.

So I wrote back:

I DO hope that someone will be permitted to answer Ms. Sylvester's hit piece in some detail. That really is necessary.

I'm not sure if you're aware of how inflammatory her accusations are - like characterizing Wendy Davis as "pro abortion" - that's really over-the-top.

I know that you're just getting started, but if you allow third-parties like that to do surrogate work for campaigns, it seems appropriate that there's balance. 


Let's see what Muto has to say. Honestly, I think he was mistaken to publish Sylvester's hit-piece in the first place. It has NO PLACE in a publication fostering "thoughtful and courteous discourse on the issues that matter." But, having made the mistake of accepting it, will TribTalk accept its responsibility to offer "thoughtful and courteous" rebuttal?

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

ATTITUDES & ABBOTT BEHIND BRUTAL ABORTION STUNT

The Abbot supporter behind the LA hit
What's the Texas connection behind the instantly infamous "Abortion Barbie" stunt that even the Abbott campaign (but not Abbott himself) denounced?

Kolten Parker at the San Antonio Express-News and Wayne Slater at the Dallas Morning News have provided tantalizing glimpses. But there's more to the story... 


Parker unearthed the Texas connection through some sharp reporting in "Conservative Midland woman funds 'Abortion Barbie' posters in Hollywood." 

Kathryn Stuard told the San Antonio Express-News she donated an undisclosed amount to conservative street artist “Sabo” to create the posters.

“It hits people with the truth,” said Stuard, 53. “The artist is very edgy… I do support (Greg) Abbott but the campaign had nothing to do with these (posters).”

But then, after Parker published his piece, Stuard publicly requested a correction via Twitter where she goes by "#DUDE! I'M#BOSSY!!

"I said I helped fund the artist's ongoing project. I never commissioned or asked him to do this 'for me.' Please correct."

How Parker found her
Did Parker misrepresent Stuard's involvement? Was she something of an unwitting party here? She supported "ongoing work" but not this specific, tasteless prank. Can you really blame a patron of the arts when a beneficiary of their largess steps over the line? 

Parker responded to defend his work. "I see no reason for a correction, nothing is inaccurate and the info is attributed correctly. Am I missing something?" 

He also provided an email from the prankster (see right) that pointed to his benefactor. It also provided the needed clues to track her down to Texas from her otherwise obscure name on the posters. 

With this, Stuard immediately backed down from her request for a correction. But I still had some questions. So I tweeted her.


INTO A TWITTER TIZZY:

A cordial discussion until...BURP! 
Unfortunately, Twitter isn't well-designed to handle a back-and-forth, especially with more than two people involved. Let's unpack this.

Basically, Stuard continued to distance herself. How is it that her name ended up on all of the posters? A misunderstanding. "I did not ask for any approval or review. They are his expressions He is the artist"

Then, an associate - apparently the person who connected Stuard to Los Angeles - jumped in. More about "Bossy Rock Princess" ("Rock Prin" on Facebook, but let's just call her BRP) and her expletive-laced "style" later.

"Thanks for being our voice"
Now, the problem here is that Stuard's statements and actions elsewhere seem to contradict this. On Facebook, she said "I donated to get these up. Have had press calling this afternoon." A friend replied "Wow. Thank you for being our voice...Hope it doesn't backfire on Abbott."

I posted this for her response (see right). Still, in the back-and-forth, she insisted that there was an arms-length relationship here. 

I donated. Gave money. No ROI... Just like if you had a message I liked I'd donate to your cause. To support artist so he can get his work out. It's always a secret. Ya don't know....All I knew it was art going up where she was speaking....

Let's take her at her word. 

Blasted out all through the day on Twitter
But what about her hands-on work promoting this once it was out? As the posters hit the streets Thursday morning, Stuard was hammering away all day on Twitter marketing it. "Look what went up all over LA!" she declared, over and again, including an image of the posters and the prankster. She posted this some twenty-seven times in the hours after it hit the street, with innumerable other postings to promote it. She did not, however, disclose her direct connection.  

Now, looking back in her Twitter feed, it seems that she made other contributions to the effort. On May 16th, she put out a call for general support, then a very specific pitch. She retweeted BRP's message "Need funds to plaster Los Angeles with posters when #AbortionBarbie comes to town next week!"    



WHY THE BACKPEDALING?

The May 16 pitch
Given all this, it's hard to imagine a greater level of commitment short of helping put up the posters herself. Still, there was no direct connection until Stuard confirmed it when she spoke to the reporter that afternoon. The back backpedaling started after Parker's story hit the street, when it became clear that the Texas connection with funding from an Abbott supporter would be of great interest - and concern.  

Also, it is worth noting that Stuard had received negative feedback during her promotions. Some conservatives didn't think that was appropriate. "Benghazi Sentinel" wondered "Do little girls need this?" 

"It's a smack in their (Liberals) face," she replied. 

"That's really over the top and seriously wacky...hate to be the mother who has to explain this stuff," he answered.

Then, there was her Facebook friend's concern, "Hope it doesn't backfire on Abbott."

Now, Stuard had a compatriot throughout this entire experience, and certainly during our Twitter exchange. 
The Princess doth protest too much, methinks
BRP's part here is telling. "Attacking an innocent citizen funding art cuz u can't tie it to Abbott or GOP PATHETIC" 

First, "an innocent citizen funding art"? Stuard knew this was a donation for negative messaging against a political opponent. She had made her opinions about Wendy Davis plain in rehashes of the fracas about her biography in January. And now? She'd paid "...
to plaster Los Angeles with posters when #AbortionBarbie comes to town..."

And "can't tie to Abbott or GOP"? Stuard did that herself the moment she identified herself as an Abbott supporter. What's worse, her friend thanking her for "being our voice," while having concerns for the campaign's exposure makes the connection clear. Is the prank's "message" some aberrant attitude, or does it reflect views embraces by Abbott's supporters? Tellingly, the Facebook post disappeared shortly after I posted it.  


WHERE STUARD SURPRISES

All that being said, Stuard should not be dismissed altogether as some blind ideologue. Instead, she's an example of the ills Far Right ideology has brought to the cause of good governance.  She is not a media professional. She's an occasional blogger and introduced herself online last year as a "Stomping Mad Mom in Midland." A mother of five, in fact. 

Now she finds herself unexpectedly in a media frenzy. I don't imagine that this attention was exactly what she was hoping for, much less expecting.Reading Wayne Slater's take in the Dallas Morning News (“Abortion Barbie” posters depicting Wendy Davis as a pregnant Barbie doll appear in Los Angeles), I found myself wondering about her opinions. He quotes her as saying “...If we’re going to have abortion, can’t they just be safe?” 

Now, that last intrigued me. Does she actually have a nuanced view on abortion?

So I Tweeted her about this. Here initial reply wasn't promising.

"I'm certainly not in support of unsafe, non hospital privileged clinics. Hear of Gosnell?"


But I persisted. I pressed her again. "Gosnell is a criminal. We're talking about LEGAL abortion. So you are pro-choice?"

Then she surprised me. 


Was it possible that we could find common ground?

"We agree? REDUCING abortion requires good public policy/health. Attempts to "end" or ban not helpful/realistic.

Her reply?


Now, what if we really do stay planted in reality?  What if we start trusting public health to public health professionals and physicians with health care....and set aside ideology to focus on best practices, practical solutions and positive outcomes? 

Here's where today's radicalized GOP runs into problems. Traditionally, conservatives have operated in the realm of reality. What to do when radical politics and practicality intersects? The reality is that Kathyrn Stuard is NOT the stereotypical anti-abortion activist that some would see her as. Is it possible for Stuard to see that the stereotype she has of Wendy Davis isn't accurate, either?  Is it possible to set aside labels and look to practical solutions for reducing unwanted pregnancies - and with them, abortions - even if they come from Texas Democrats?


THE "BUT THEY DO IT, TOO" EXCUSE

Now, let's look at this from a different angle. Is there some way that Stuard's prank can, somehow, be justified? 

In our back-and-forth, Stuard repeatedly attempted to justify her actions by citing what she sees as the equally abhorrent attacks on Greg Abbott for his handicap. She suggested that I look them up. Well, I have already written about that, particularly in regard to James O'Keefe's part in cooking up these "offences" by doctoring footage. As Jonathan Tilove reported in the Austin American Statesman:

...the most egregious edit of all is the placement of the hacking laugh. In the video released by O'Keefe, it comes when the "old woman" says "he's in a wheelchair." But in the raw footage, it comes five seconds later, with the exchange about Abbott's hair.

In other words, the headline on O'Keefe's release - which read Breaking News Video: Wendy Davis Supporters/BGTX Mock Greg Abbott's Disability - would have better read, Breaking News Video: Wendy Davis Supporters/BGTX Mock Greg Abbott's Hair.

 
Also, there's an essential contrast here between Davis and Abbott's responses to these situations. When it seemed that the inappropriate conduct from a Davis supporter was real, the candidate herself stepped up immediately to denounce it. Abbott, however, distances himself with spokespeople as he did with Stuard's prank. 

"It's not affiliated with our campaign and we find it appalling," said Abbott campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch as Slater reported. 

Are Abbott and his supporters truly appalled, or is this just public relations posturing?  


WHAT ABBOTT SUPPORTERS SAY AMONG THEMSELVES

We get another glimpse at the reality looking at Stuard's associate, the Los Angeles conservative that apparently connected her to this nastiness. While Stuard took time to courteously respond on Twitter, the same could not be said for her anonymous associate. 
Twitter devotee
"Bossy Rock Princess" was offensive, insulting and could not restrain herself from using the "F-Bomb." I had to ask "Bad case of Tourette's - or incapable of having a civil discussion?"

"Princess" is apparently part of the Twitter subculture. With over 77,600 "tweets" up...let's do the math. She posted her first in July, 2012. So she's been averaging just under 100 a day. Day in, day out, she cranks them out to over 22,000 followers.

Big audience of followers for this
Though it's hard to imagine she has time for much else, BRP did make an appearance on an internet radio station, "We are America Radio,"  following the prank. This is part of the same site where Stuard blogs. BRP comes on for the last half-hour to detail what happened, and what it represents. 

"It's time to stop letting the establishment decide how we want to run our campaigns and how we want to support our candidates. We can go bold, edgy in your face...." she says. What's especially noteworthy, in light of James O'Keefe's manufactured video about Davis' supporters, is the laughter here from the host:

video


All this comes down to the question I raised earlier: 

Is the prank's "message" some aberrant attitude, or does it reflect views widely embraced by Abbott's supporters? 

***
FOOTNOTE:



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Friday, May 16, 2014

FRIDAY ROUNDUP: BABA WAWA & OUR AGE OF IRRELEVANCE

When life imitates art, we need Gilda most
Saying fare thee well to Baba Wawa

I'm tone-deaf to the fanfare for the end of Barbara Walter's run on television, from an era when news was of crucial importance to an age of irrelevance. I'd credit her with pioneering the irrelevance.

Did I miss something?

Walters never really did it for me. I don't think I was able to bring myself to sit through a complete interview she conducted. That's quite an accomplishment. Despite my personal distaste for Rush Limbaugh, I have spent afternoons listening to him, appreciating his talent as a broadcaster. But Barbara Walters? She seemed little more than a publicity gimmick, a tune-out. Maybe her early stuff on the Today Show was significant. By the time I knew of her, she was better known for spoof than substance. Gilda Radner played Baba better than she did.

Now, that being said, there is ONE thing I'd like to hear from Walters - her interviewed by the superb Terry Gross. Yes, a little "Fresh Air" - a clearing of the air - would be in order. How does this icon of the television industry explain the decline of her profession, how it coincides with her career? If at all possible, Gross has what it takes to bring us to such a momentous moment of truth. It would be quite something to see Walters pressed to the point where she'd come clean the way, say, Lee Atwater did.

Of course, that's all a fantasy. Once again paraphrasing Erich Segal, being Baba Wawa means never having to say you're sorry.

What if you threw a protest & no one showed?
Speaking of non-events in our Age of Irrelevance, today's "Operation American Spring" exposed the limited numbers and commitment of the Far Right crazies that should be little more than a sideshow in today's political theater. Of the tens of millions that were supposed to show in D.C. today, the actual number was, er, somewhat smaller.

This clip from this more hysteric than historic event is telling. How to explain the abject failure? Check the rap that starts at about a minute into it as this women tells of the flooding that trapped the multitudes nearby from making it. Raised on Fox News and the like, this person apparently thinks that any BS will suffice. Do you suppose it's odd that all those people, surrounded by rising waters, should go unnoticed elsewhere. It much be another conspiracy of the Mainstream Media to deceive the American People. 


Not an Amateur Hour contestant
Speaking of the failure of the mainstream media, I was shocked by the New York Times' Edward Wyatt's Judy Milleresque reporting on the FCC's giant step towards turning the Internet into a cable TV-like big media vehicle. 

James Hepburn beat me to the punch on Daily Kos with this, so let me simply affirm his observations. I had the same experience receiving the NY Times' summation the other day about the march towards Net Inequality, what will follow fast as Net Neutrality is abandoned at the request of the large media conglomerates. I read the Times' story and had this sense of cognitive dissonance. "Did FCC Chair Wheeler do an about-face?" I wondered, reading the lede. Wyatt first reported that

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to move forward with a set of proposed rules aimed at guaranteeing an open Internet, prohibiting high-speed Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against legal content flowing through their pipes.

Would it were so! Instead, his reporting is a grotesque misrepresentation of reality as easily debunked as the hordes of "patriots" trapped by phantom waters in our nation's Capitol.

Later, the Times apparently set out to sanitize this mess by rehashing the story into a tale about different ideas of "Net Neutrality:

Federal regulators appear to share one view about so-called net neutrality: It is a good thing. But defining net neutrality? That is where things get messy.

NOT SO FAST!

If there was confusion here, it seems to have been on the part of the reporter. What's incomprehensible is that Wyatt's no rookie. He has nearly TWENTY YEARS at the Times covering this beat. This isn't a new story, nor is it confusing. In fact, it's clearly defined - or should be to any competent reporter assigned to write about this.

Net Neutrality: not news to me
Looking back to an interview I had with Vinton Cerf back in 2001, the issues were already obvious:

CL: But the FCC does not have the same regulatory responsibilities over the Internet as it does radio and TV.

Cerf: That’s been a subject of some discussion and debate. (FCC Commissioner) Harold Furchtgott-Roth would agree with you. But others would say that it does and that, for now, they’ve just held off regulating to let the new medium grow.

We could have a good debate at NAB2001 (National Association of Broadcasters trade show) if we could get Michael Powell to come out. He’s going to be under pressure because of a kind of schizophrenia that strikes Republicans. They’re split between a desire for a hands-off regulatory attitude and a concern for content – an outrage over the fact that certain things are found on the Net.

CL: What about concerns about free, open access as media giants like AOL/Time Warner try to direct those online to its content?

Cerf: AOL/Time Warner will have to skirt that with some care. Otherwise, we’ll be moving back to the time when the movie studios owned the theaters and would only play what they had produced.


So I'm going to reach out to the ombudsman at the Times. Let's see what they have to say for themselves.

Finally, another suppressed story. Or is it repressed? The BIG news overlooked from Wikileaks is that, apparently we are NOT alone. That is to say, the space aliens have been a part of our lives for some time. Or, well, supposedly that's what the diplomatic cables are about, but maybe not.

Maybe Edward Wyatt should be reassigned to this beat to clarify the matter. Using the same talents that brought us the good news about the FCC, he could also make headlines the way Orson Wells once did in bringing The War of the Worlds to life.  
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

THE MORALISTS AND MORALS OF "ENDING ABORTION"


Can we talk?
I've been mulling over the photo I choose to go with the piece I had published in the Texas Observer this week, an expanded, more detailed look at my entry here about the "shifting religious identity of Latinos. It's about Millennials becoming "unaffiliated" and what that means for politics. Given that Millennials are NOT into the culture wars at all, what to make of the "MY GENERATION WILL END ABORTION" signs I saw here? 

I took the picture back in January, at a rally protesting the Roe v. Wade ruling on the anniversary of that landmark decision. I'd happened in on that event almost inadvertently. I'd gone to a gathering - more like a reunion - of those who'd dressed in orange last Summer to stand with Wendy Davis. I showed up appropriately arrived, but didn't know that I was dressed to protest. The gathering turned into a march on the Capitol (it helps to read the details in invitations) to counter-protest. 
Where I stepped in

Normally under such circumstances, I would NOT have worn orange. Why? When it comes down to the confrontation, I prefer to be not clearly affiliated with either side. I like to engage people on either side without preconceptions - or hostilities. It's the journalist in me trumping the activist. Or maybe it's just my curious nature. I like to get behind the scenes and the labels.

This strategy proved quite revealing last summer when I was trying to sign in to testify against HB2. There was some computer glitch in the sign-up process, and so I commiserated with some of the folks dressed in blue looking to get in the cue, too. After some small talk, one of the women shared what she found so unsettling about "Team Orange."

"What scares me is how they're all-one with this. They're all totally agreed, and we aren't. We have a hard time holding things together here because there's different opinions. But we have to pull all that together because how can we stand up to them if we don't?"

Of course, I was thinking about how I might have heard the same observation about Team Blue from my fellow progressives earlier. And I knew all-too-well from my own heart the mixed feelings here. I am pro choice, not "pro abortion."

After that, it's been hard to look at these public shows of unity from the Religious Right and not remember they are not monolithic - not even about abortion. 


Now, looking at that picture, do any of the protesters I saw at the capital in January really believe that "My Generation will END Abortion" - or, if they do, what do they mean by that?

First, as many have observed, illegalizing abortion will not "end" it. So, morally speaking, what do you gain by trying to achieve that - especially given the collateral damage done to public health that we've seen in this campaign?

One way to understand this is the desire to separate yourself from what might seem as having anything to do with abortion. Illegalizing it, I would imagine, would remove any sense of even tacitly condoning it.

What about the moral status of such an intention, especially if it does not reduce the actual number of abortions whether legal or illegal? It seems that all you can accomplish here is the ability to wash your hands of any responsibility, to feel better about yourself.

And what of allied efforts from the Religious Right to demand "abstinence only" sex education and to limit access to safe, effective birth control? We all know that proper sex education along with access to birth control actually DOES reduce the number of abortions. So, by hampering these, don't the Religious Right advocates take responsibility for the outcome of their actions - morally speaking, that is?

I suppose you could argue that you aren't responsible if you do not know.

But when religious conservatives promote a program that runs counter to simple realities that are easily demonstrable - aren't they morally obliged to find out about the results of their actions? And if they find that, despite their intentions, their actions are INCREASING the number of abortions -

In judging your moral responsibility, what's more important - intentions or outcomes? What if you know that the outcomes are BAD, but persist in your actions, insisting that you have good intentions?

I don't know whether disagreements over these kinds of issues were what was threatening Team Blue's unity last summer. Before I could get that far, the registration system was fixed, we all signed up and went out separate ways - to our separate sides.

Still, I wonder if it is possible to have a calm, honest, reasoned discussion about the morality here. If so, what could possibly be gained? Another conversation with Team Blue members at the Capital protest in January makes me doubtful.

This time, I had some explaining to do as I waded into the sea of blue wearing an orange sweatshirt. When asked about it, I simply said the truth - I live in the neighborhood, and this is UT territory. Once over that hurdle, I struck up a conversation with one woman who, it turned out, was a noted activist in that community. Another activist walked up to introduce herself and simply assumes we were connected. They discussed their work promoting abstinence-only sex education.

"But what about the public heath studies that show they aren't as effective as other approaches?" I asked.

"Well, the problem is that birth control doesn't work as well as they claim it does," the well-known activist said. "I know. I tried it and it didn't work."

The other activist agreed. She, too, had many children. Several, it would seem, were unplanned. Then she had a sudden realization.

"I thought you knew each other," she said to her fellow activist.

"No, I just met him," she responded, looking at my orange seatshirt through fresh eyes.

With that, the conversation was over.

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Tips? Suggestions? Ideas? Drop a line to carl (at) inanityofsanity (dot) com

Monday, May 12, 2014

MEET STEVE BROWN, CANDIDATE FOR TEXAS RAILROAD COMMISSION

Steve Brown: an informed public advocate
Following my previous postings about fracking and the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) that regulates it (yes, industry IS regulated in Texas), I got a message from Steve Brown, Democratic candidate for the RRC. Would I like to gather his views on the issue? We sat down this past Tuesday to dig deep into the issues at the RRC and, if elected, what he would do to serve there as a public advocate.

Brown comes across as an intelligent, capable candidate. Rather than trust my judgment on his qualities, I've taken this occasion to introduce what will be a regular feature here - video interviews. See for yourself!

But before you do, let me provide some additional context.  


On Friday, the San Antonio Express editorial board put the problems that Brown address bluntly in the "Railroad Commission is Broken." It would seem that they share many views, beginning with the need to rename the RRC to something that properly identifies its duties and responsibilities to/for the public. That's perhaps the easiest thing to fix.

More substantively, and troubling, its three elected commissioners rely heavily on political contributions from the oil and gas industry, which it is supposed to “regulate.” ....Don't expect this dynamic to change with either of the candidates in the May 27 GOP runoff between Ryan Sitton and Wayne Christian.


What the editorial suggests is a complete restructuring of the RRC. "...there is no reason for an elected commission. Five appointed commissioners, two of whom would come from industry, will be more up to the task." Failing that, there's some suggested ways to clean up conflicts of interest with both campaign finance reform and better policies for recusal when conflicts do occur.

Now, I bring all this up as a preface to my interview with Brown because his views obviously align. Though he doesn't suggest this restructuring, he's certainly the kind of person who should be appointed to such a reconstituted commission. Perhaps one way Wendy Davis might support the ticket is to call for this restructuring, and pledge to appoint Brown. Oh, and in the meantime - vote for him, too! 


Is he right for the job? Judge for yourself. Here's four clips from the interview that give a good sense of the candidate. 

Click on the links below to view:


CLIP 1:  What's with the RRC's name and history?  What needs to be changed there to carry out its role of public advocate?

"Knowingly going into situations where we don't know the true long-term effects of what we're doing is the wrong...approach to public policy-making...what we've seen the past two decades is a short-term approach...we have a hard time in this state seeing past a two-year cycle."



"I've been to the Eagle Ford shale. I've driven down the narrow, short roads with all those trucks...." 


CLIP 3: What about "fraquakes" and the problems of oil and gas development in heavily populated areas? What is the RRC's response?

"It portrays the agency for what it has become....not addressing the issues and concerns of all Texans," he said. "Once industry and urban sprawl meet up and have to become neighbors, we don't have a protocol to make that relationship work - if we can make it work."


"My hope is that there are enough good actors in the industry that see the problem with the industry being branded with a black eye because of some folks willing to cut corners..."


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I'll be checking back in with Steve as his campaign gathers momentum. He's got one of the most important - if lowest profile - roles on the Democratic ticket championing issues that cut across partisan lines. Expect him and his campaign to ride a populist wave as people of ALL political stripes seek some semblance of good governance at the RRC.

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Tips? Suggestions? Ideas? Drop a line to carl (at) inanityofsanity (dot) com