Friday, August 15, 2014

Rick Perry catches two-count felony indictment

A grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two counts Friday, accusing him of abusing his veto power by threatening to withhold funding from the Travis County's public corruption unit if the district attorney did not resign following her drunken driving arrest.

The Travis County grand jury, led by special prosecutor Mike McCrum, indicted Perry on one count of abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony, and coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony.

There's legal precedent.

The indictment is the first of its kind since 1917, when James "Pa" Ferguson was indicted on charges stemming from his veto of state funding to the University of Texas in an effort to unseat faculty and staff members he objected to. Ferguson was eventually impeached, then resigned before being convicted, allowing his wife, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, to take over the governorship.

Almost a hundred years later, almost precisely the same crime.

Will the radiation burn the governor's longtime consigliere, Greg Abbott?  Time will tell, I suppose.  Texans who vote regularly don't seem to mind electing corrupt-as-hell Republicans.  It's the ones that haven't been voting in off-presidential years whose motivations will be under suspicion until we observe them changing their habits.

Tough break for Rick and his rebudding presidential aspirations, but on the bright side, Tom DeLay will eventually need a cellmate.

Update: Read more at Progress Texas about the $40,000 in taxpayer money he's already spent defending himself from these charges, and more from Truthyism tying everything together on Texas pay-to-play politics.

Since the veto, Perry’s office attempted to bribe Lehmberg out of office after failing to coerce her.   A message seems to be clear coming from the governor’s office that Lehmberg’s dismissal (was) more than just a matter of principle.  The desperation in which their tactics have led them seems to imply that Perry is less concerned about the drunk driving from Lehmberg and more worried over the success of the anti-corruption agency’s ability to police the current mid-term elections.

This would explain why gubernatorial candidate and current Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was barely even acknowledged by Texas regulators when he took money from the Koch brothers immediately prior to hiding the location of possible explosive chemical storage sites from Texans.  Only a handful of media outlets were critical of Abbott during that exchange of election funds for possible favors, and it seems that the veto from Perry might have been a move to protect Greg Abbot’s election campaign from scrutiny that it does seem to merit.

And Harvey Kronberg asks the right question: Is Ken Paxton next?

At last, a Texas lieutenant governor debate

Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick has agreed to participate in a September debate with his Democratic opponent for lieutenant governor, Leticia Van de Putte.

Patrick's campaign announced Wednesday that he'll debate his Senate colleague Sept. 27 Sept. 29 for an hour-long event to be broadcast by KLRU-TV in Austin. It will be moderated by Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey.

But Van de Putte released a statement Wednesday calling Patrick a "coward" for agreeing to just one debate out of five she's proposed. She said a single debate "in front of a bunch of Austin insiders" isn't enough.

Patrick's campaign says he participated in numerous debates during the Republican primary and is working to establish a debate schedule in the coming months that doesn't conflict with ones involving the candidates for governor.

Sounds as if there might be more than one debate.  Van de Putte has already built momentum this week with her initiative on free community college tuition for Texas high school graduates.

In a higher education proposal announced Thursday, Van de Putte called for amending the state constitution to create the “Texas Promise Scholarship Program” by pulling $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to underwrite scholarships for some high school graduates who are planning to attend a community college, technical college or a two-year state institution.

Add that to the fact that she is winning over the Texas business community, very much a new development for a statewide Democrat.

...Van de Putte pointed out that several prominent business leaders were helping her fill her campaign coffers.

Her list of fundraisers includes one to be hosted by Edward E. Whitacre Jr., former chairman and chief executive of General Motors and AT&T, and Henry Bartell Zachry Jr., who heads the H.B. Zachry Company.

The San Antonio business leaders have contributed to several Republican and Democratic candidates in the past, according to campaign filings, but they have chosen to raise money for Van de Putte in this election cycle.

But as to debates, and as Wayne has already said, kind of a BFD.

This is huge news for the state of Texas, which hasn’t seen a true general election debate in over a decade for the office of Lieutenant Governor.  There also hasn’t been a general election Gubernatorial debate since 2006.  Many people may downplay that a general election debate is really all that important, but it serves an important purpose in presenting both sides of the political argument, especially to low-information voters or those that don’t pay attention to the election until the last minute.  For a very long time in Texas, voters have been trained to believe that there is only one main viewpoint in this state…. Republican. 

Unlike Wayne, I'm not going to trumpet the greatness of this development in terms of how much it helps Texas Democrats.  The next (good) step would be to have all of the LG candidates included.

But in case that does not happen, you should avail yourself of the handy tool the TexTrib has provided to see everyone listed on your ballot for November.  For the state's most powerful legislative post, the names include Green Party nominee Chandra Courtney and Libertarian challenger Robert Butler.  The TexTrib still lists independent candidate (and previously 2006 lite guv Dem nominee) Maria Luisa Alvarado as running, but an unnamed source told me in June at the Texas Democratic Party convention that she was out.  Alvarado indicated she would make a bid against LVDP as a Dem last fall, but declined to do that, then early this year stated her intention to compete as an indy.  By all appearances, that has also been abandoned. 

As I mentioned back in January, a run by Alvarado -- and the same goes for Brandon de Hoyos had he emerged as the Lib nominee -- would have dented Van de Putte's chances simply by virtue of a Spanish surname appearing on the statewide ticket.  That neither de Hoyos nor Alvarado made the cut helps Van de Putte significantly.  So her luck is holding, too.

Here's a brief message from Courtney:

Kuff has more.

Calm in Ferguson, and why their government is so white

Cooler heads and all that.

County police in riot gear and armored tanks gave way to state troopers walking side-by-side with thousands of protesters, as the St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teen was shot by a city police officer overwhelmingly avoided violence Thursday after nearly a week of unrest and mounting public tension.

The dramatic shift came after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon assigned oversight of the protests to the state Highway Patrol -- stripping local police from the St. Louis County Police Department of their authority -- after four days of clashes with furious crowds protesting the weekend death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

"All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas," said Pedro Smith, 41, who has participated in the nightly protests. "This is totally different. Now we're being treated with respect."

Obama did step up, but more importantly so did Governor Nixon (who, it is worth noting, is a Democratic governor in a red state).

But the latest protests had a light, almost jubilant atmosphere among the racially mixed crowd, more akin to a parade or block party. The streets were filled with music, free food and even laughter. When darkness fell —the point at which previous protests have grown tense — no uniformed officers were in sight outside the burned-out QuikTrip convenience store that had become a flashpoint for standoffs between police and protesters.

"You can feel it. You can see it," protester Cleo Willis said of the change. "Now it's up to us to ride that feeling."

Nixon appointed Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is black, to lead the police effort. Johnson, who grew up near Ferguson and commands a region that includes St. Louis County, marched alongside protesters Thursday, joined by other high-ranking brass from the Highway Patrol as well as the county department. The marchers also had a police escort.

"We're here to serve and protect," Johnson said. "We're not here to instill fear."

Several people stopped to shake hands and even hug Johnson and other officers, thanking them by name. At one point, Johnson spoke to several young men wearing red bandanas around their necks and faces. After the discussion, one of the men reached out and embraced him.

Race crisis averted.  For the time being, anyway.  (By the way, the tense local situation with regard to Open Carry Texas in the Fifth Ward has also been back-burnered.)

Now about that Ferguson government: we already knew that part of the underlying problem was a 94% white police force in a 67% black suburb of St. Louis -- which is, shockingly, average for the US --  but what about the elected officials?  Why is it that five out of six city council members, and mayor, are Caucasian?

Is it gerrymandering?  Voter suppression, perhaps?

Why no.  It's abysmally low voter turnout, of course.

Ferguson, Missouri, is 67 percent black, but only one of six council members is black and the mayor is white. So is the chief of police. This demographic discrepancy is one of the reasons the black community in the St. Louis suburb has felt misrepresented by its local government.

But how is that disparity possible? If two-thirds of the city is black, shouldn't there at least be more black council members?

The problem, MSNBC reports, is low voter turnout. "No one collects data on turnout by race in municipal elections. But the overall turnout numbers for Ferguson's mayoral and city council election are discouraging," writes MSNBC's Zachary Roth. "This year, just 12.3 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, according to numbers provided by the county. In 2013 and 2012, those figures were even lower: 11.7 percent and 8.9 percent respectively. As a rule, the lower the turnout, the more the electorate skews white and conservative."

This is your wakeup call for November 2014, people.  And by 'people', I mean every single person in Houston, in all of Texas, in Ferguson and Missouri, and the thousands of towns and cities in the remaining 48 states who typically vote in presidential years and -- for reasons understood only by them -- do not in midterm elections.

Also known as Democrats, but other assumed names include 'liberals' and 'progressives'.  A whole lot of shit in this state and nation -- not all of it certainly, but a lot -- could be fixed if just a small percentage of the vast number of MIAs would simply show up at the polls.  Why, we might even avoid having to watch Barack Obama endure an impeachment proceeding.  Could possibly still have a Democratic US Senate.  Hope beyond that, a statewide official elected in Texas who is not an extremist Republican.  One would be a blessing, more than one would be cause for rejoicing.

If you're already planning on voting, then it's your neighbors who need to be reminded.

There's still time to fix things.  But everybody has to pitch in.

More from Slate and the Field Negro.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It don't matter if you're black or white

Rest in peace, Michael Jackson.  I'm afraid it still does.

Police in Ferguson, Missouri fired tear gas, stun grenades and smoke bombs to disperse some 350 protesters late Wednesday, the fourth night of racially charged demonstrations after police shot to death an unarmed black teen.

Some demonstrators hurled rocks at police as others scattered, while smoke engulfed the area. A Reuters reporter saw two young men preparing what looked like petrol bombs in a bus-stop shelter, their faces covered by bandanas. Police said protesters had thrown petrol bombs at officers.

Protesters have gathered every night since Saturday when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death in the mostly black suburb of St. Louis, during what authorities said was a struggle over a gun in a police car. Some witnesses say he was outside the car with his hands up.

Police have deployed camouflage-clad officers in body armor, including one manning a rifle on a tripod atop an armored car, to Ferguson.

"I've had enough of being pushed around because of the color of my skin. I'm sick of this police brutality," said one protester, who gave only his first name, Terrell, 18. "I'm going to keep coming back here night after night until we get justice."

Yeah, that's pretty much the story now.  Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, and this week, Michael Brown.  Next week it will be another black man, dead fairly quickly at the hands of police officers or vigilantes who are not, in questionable circumstances.

Racism is over in America, say conservatives.  Their children aren't the ones, of course, being carried to the cemetery week in and week out.  But the most important thing to keep in mind is that the riots in Ferguson aren't only about these dead black men.

It's also about the ones still with us -- not 'living' so much as just trying to stay alive.

...(I)t is about the bitter sense of siege that lives in African-American men, a sense that it is perpetually open season on (them).

And that too few people outside of African America really notice, much less care. People who look like you are every day deprived of health, wealth, freedom, opportunity, education, the benefit of the doubt, the presumption of innocence, life itself -- and when you try to say this, even when you document it with academic studies and buttress it with witness testimony, people don't want to hear it, people dismiss you, deny you, lecture you about white victimhood, chastise you for playing a so-called "race card."

They choke off avenues of protest, prizing silence over justice, mistaking silence for peace. And never mind that sometimes, silence simmers like water in a closed pot on a high flame.

One can never condone a riot. It is a self-defeating act that sells some fleeting illusion of satisfaction at a high cost in property and life.

But understanding this does not preclude recognizing that the anger we see in Ferguson did not spring from nowhere, nor arrive, fully-formed, when Michael Brown was shot. It is the anger of people who are, as Fannie Lou Hamer famously said, sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Silence imposed on pain cannot indefinitely endure. People who are hurting will always, eventually, make themselves heard.

So maybe you have heard about the rally in Houston's Fifth Ward this weekend being held by the supporters of Open Carry Texas. 

The event on Saturday afternoon is set to be located at the corner of Lyons Avenue and Lockwood, and scheduled to last about two hours, with two guest speakers included. It will not be a march, as past Open Carry Texas appearance have been, but a static event.

On Wednesday night members of the local Open Carry Texas group and (leader CJ) Grisham will be meeting with members of the community and the Houston Police Department to discuss what's coming up. Grisham says that he will not subject his members to an unsafe environment.

Maybe we'll hear today they called it off.  Because maybe Grisham took note of Quanell X's response.  Update: First it was no, then it was yes.

Meanwhile community activist Quanell X has had some terse words for the Open Carry people. He told KPRC-TV that if the group shows up armed that people from the community will show up with weapons too to counter them.

"Coming like this is totally unacceptable. So if you do come, I guarantee you we will not bring a butter knife to a gun fight," Quanell X told KPRC-TV.

Gun rights activists, overwhelmingly Caucasian and conservative, travel to Houston's most predominant African American neighborhood with their rifles slung across their backs in order to stage a rally.  What could possibly go wrong?

Sure does feel like the '60's all over again to me.  The race cauldron is boiling once more across America, which means it's coming to a neighborhood near you.

We desperately need some leadership on the various issues of social justice, and we need it most -- right now -- from some of our leaders who don't look like Barack Obama.  Has anyone checked in with Hillary Clinton lately?

Update: The treatment of the media covering the developments -- while important -- is the secondary story.

Final Update (to this post):

County police in riot gear and armored tanks gave way to state troopers walking side-by-side with thousands of protesters as the St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teen was shot by a city police officer overwhelmingly avoided violence Thursday after nearly a week of unrest and mounting public tension.

The dramatic shift came after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon assigned oversight of the protests to the state Highway Patrol, stripping local police from the St. Louis County Police Department of their authority after four days of clashes with furious crowds protesting the weekend death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

"All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas," said Pedro Smith, 41, who has participated in the nightly protests. "This is totally different. Now we're being treated with respect."