Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lisa Falkenburg

Lisa Falkenburg, the Houston Chronicle's Metro columnist, has become the first person to win a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism while working for the Chronicle.  There are details of her Pulitzer here.  

Congrats to Lisa!  She is one of the local columnists I regularly read, and while serveral of her columns have seemed blogworthy, this one about Governor Abbott really caught my eye.  Read particularly what ex-Texas Republican legislator Todd Smith had to say about Abbott's warnings about the feds "taking over" Texas.

Abbott fans the flames of radical paranoia

by Lisa Falkenburg

Jade Helm 15. That is all.

An ominous name, a federal government connection, and a frothing conspiracy theorist with a YouTube channel is all it takes these days to whip up a small but lout crowd of Texas-style truthers and convince them a routine military training exercise is prologue to a police state.

"The New World Order isn't coming. It's here! The redcoats aren't coming. They're here!" shouted Austin-based syndicated radio show Alex Jones in a recent dispatch.

Jones, the hyperventilating, document-hurling, megaphone-wielding, flouride-fearing, anti-globalist "warrior," is perhaps best known for his early role in declaring the 9/11 terror attacks an inside job of the Bush administration. He seized on Jade Helm as proof of prepartion for a federal takeover. Word spread.

The fruits of his frothy labor were on display at a recent public meeting in Bastrop, where hundreds turned out to confront a military official about their suspicion.

They don't want to round us up, take our guns or infringe on our liberties. They're not enemies; they're the good guys, remember? The ones we don yellow ribbons for, the ones we stip in the airport to thank for their service.

 Such reassurances from the governor wouldn't have silenced all the paranoia on the internets. But it wouldn't have fed it, either.

But feed the frenzy is exactly what Abbott did this week when he wrote a letter directing a volunteer militia, the Texas State Guard, usually reserved for natural disasters and foreign invasions, to keep an eye on the U.S. special forces while they're training in the Lone Star State.

Of course, Abbott threw in a few requisite lines about his "utmost respect" for brave military men and women. But the words fell flat against Abbott's suggestion that those brave American men and women weren't to be trusted without Texan supervision.

Plenty of Texans were outraged by Abbott's move. Nobody voiced it quite as well as fellow Republican Todd Smith, a former state representative for 16 years and now a practicing North Texas attorney.

"I am horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my Governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my Governor doesn't have the backbone to stand up to those who do," Smith wrote Thursday in a letter to Abbott.

Reached Friday by phone, I asked Smith if he'd have called Abbott on it if he were still in office.

"Of course not," Smith said candidly. "That was one of the reasons I did it; I was free to do so. And I felt it needed to be said. I can assure you, there are a lot of members who would love to say it."

Radical influence

He said there's a "general frustration" among some "thinking" Republicans about the influence of radical views in the party.

"The fact that the governor of our state would feel pressure to appease that kind of fanaticism is just a sign of how far it's gone." he said. "At some point, rational people have to collectively begin to take a stand against radicalism."

That would be a start. Yet, perhaps the most rational Republican leader in Austin, House Speaker Joe Straus, remained quiet last week about Jade Helm and Abbott's action. I guess he was busy with grown-up stuff like making laws.

When we talked by phone Friday, he was measured but clearly concerned. Coming from military-friendly San Antonio, he said he was "completely baffled" by the reaction: "Where I come from, we see the military as people who are protecting our rights, not trying to infringe on them."

Straus didn't criticize the governor's actions, but he said, "I'm concerned that this is another sign that people don't trust public institutions anymore, whether it's the government, the medical community, immunization or medical records issues." Questioning the government is legitimate, he said, but officials should be "very careful not to give too much credence to a small minority of people who go overboard."

He ended with a light-hearted invitation to U.S. special forces: "Why don't they come to Bexar County? I guarantee there's no need for the Texas State Guard or anyone else to check up on them."

What Straus can't say, even if he wanted to, as a current elected official, is This. Is. Madness.

Time to speak out

Texas has a long history of hosting special forces training. In the past, it mostly made news when a military didn't warn people, like in 2013 when an urban warfare simulation at a former Houston school building scared the daylights out of residents.

This time, military officials gave plenty of warning, even though troops will be training only in remote areas of the southwest. Look where it got them. Agitators have seized on any suspicious detail, including a map associated with the simulation exercise that labels Texas "hostile" territory. Southern California got the same label, but you don't see Gov. Jerry Brown calling on a state militia to eavesdrop. No. Only in Texas where we've redistricted ourselves into a perverse Twilight Zone where a mutant strain of radical Republican has outsized power to influence primaries and, by extension, elected learders.

It's time for the rational folks of this state to speak out, and the not-too-far-gone radicals to check their skepticism with some common sense. There are reasons to be concerned about the militarization of the border, of local police departments sporting tanks, of StingRay technology at HPD.

But think, people: the American government has 225,000 military and Department of Defense personnel stationed across Texas. They don't need 1,000 special forces at summer training camp to invade us.

And the last time I checked, Texas hadn't seceded. Texans are still Americans. 'They' aren't they. They are us.

Original is here, but you probably have to be a Houston Chronical digital subscriber to be able to access it, and Lisa's other columns.

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