Big Beat

Operation Fast and Furious—the Arizona-based federal gun-tracking program that led to the death of a U.S. agent at the hands of Mexican criminals—could be underway in Texas, too, and may have led to the death of Laredo immigration agent Jaime Zapata.

Fast and Furious, launched in autumn 2009, allowed illegal guns to travel, or “walk,” into Mexico so federal agents could track Mexican drug cartel activity. The problem is that the U.S. lost track of hundreds of guns. Some wound up at the scenes of drug cartel murders, and even next to the body of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was shot and killed while patrolling the Arizona desert last year.

Fast and Furious was run out of the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a federal law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Justice. There is startling evidence that a similar scheme could be occurring in Texas. According to an October 2011 investigation by Houston NBC affiliate KPRC, employees at a Houston gun shop named Carter’s Country alleged that they were asked by Houston ATF agents in 2006 to sell guns to suspicious purchasers and notify ATF so agents could observe the purchases. Carter’s Country employees say they complied with the request, adding that at least 6 of the 16 times they called during a suspicious sale, ATF agents never showed, but told Carter’s Country to make the sale anyway.

These sales continued into December 2010, when a Carter’s Country salesman became the subject of a Houston grand jury investigation due to a criminal complaint filed by ATF. That prompted Carter’s Country to pull the plug and hire high-powered defense attorney Dick DeGuerin.

ATF officials refused to be interviewed on-camera by KPRC, but told reporter Robert Arnold that Carter’s Country may have “misconstrued” the bureau’s request for help as a gun-walking operation. DeGuerin and Carter’s Country stuck to their story, and in March 2011, on the heels of the shooting death of Laredo Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico, DeGuerin received word that ATF was dropping the case. “We stood to embarrass them, meaning the ATF, for being hypocritical, two-faced, and turning against the very people who were trying to help them,” DeGuerin said.

And what of the murder of special agent Zapata, who was shot and killed in Mexico in February 2011? That gun was traced back to gun dealers near Dallas.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking about Zapata’s death. That went unanswered. So in August Cornyn asked Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley, the leaders of the congressional investigation of Fast and Furious, to launch an inquiry into whether ATF ever conducted Texas-based gun-walking operations.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Nov. 8, Cornyn attempted to grill Holder about Fast and Furious, but the AG did his best to paint the questioning as partisan bickering. Unable to name one person in his department who was disciplined over the operation, Holder left the American people with more questions than answers.

Why did ATF drop the charges against Carter’s Country? Why did the Department of Justice wait more than five months to arrest three men in suburban Dallas it knew were gun dealers? Why did the arrests come two weeks after Zapata was killed, when, as Issa and Grassley found, ATF knew the men were trafficking guns long before they bought the weapon tied to the Zapata murder?

Jaime Zapata’s mother, Mary Zapata-Muñoz, has her own thoughts about the mystery surrounding her son’s death:

“I hope that it’s not a cover up. I pray that the weapon that killed my son didn’t come from the United States and was allowed to travel to Mexico. A few days after [Jaime] passed away, he came to me in a dream. And he pointed to his lips and he said, ‘Mom, I cannot speak. You have to speak for me. Seek justice. Make sure that another person does not have to go through what I went through.’”

I hope the same as Mrs. Zapata-Muñoz, but it sure doesn’t look good.

Operation Fast and Furious—the Arizona-based federal gun-tracking program that led to the death of a U.S. agent at the hands of Mexican criminals—could be underway in Texas, too, and may have led to the death of Laredo immigration agent Jaime Zapata.

Fast and Furious, launched in autumn 2009, allowed illegal guns to travel, or “walk,” into Mexico so federal agents could track Mexican drug cartel activity. The problem is that the U.S. lost track of hundreds of guns. Some wound up at the scenes of drug cartel murders, and even next to the body of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was shot and killed while patrolling the Arizona desert last year.

Fast and Furious was run out of the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a federal law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Justice. There is startling evidence that a similar scheme could be occurring in Texas. According to an October 2011 investigation by Houston NBC affiliate KPRC, employees at a Houston gun shop named Carter’s Country alleged that they were asked by Houston ATF agents in 2006 to sell guns to suspicious purchasers and notify ATF so agents could observe the purchases. Carter’s Country employees say they complied with the request, adding that at least 6 of the 16 times they called during a suspicious sale, ATF agents never showed, but told Carter’s Country to make the sale anyway.

These sales continued into December 2010, when a Carter’s Country salesman became the subject of a Houston grand jury investigation due to a criminal complaint filed by ATF. That prompted Carter’s Country to pull the plug and hire high-powered defense attorney Dick DeGuerin.

ATF officials refused to be interviewed on-camera by KPRC, but told reporter Robert Arnold that Carter’s Country may have “misconstrued” the bureau’s request for help as a gun-walking operation. DeGuerin and Carter’s Country stuck to their story, and in March 2011, on the heels of the shooting death of Laredo Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico, DeGuerin received word that ATF was dropping the case. “We stood to embarrass them, meaning the ATF, for being hypocritical, two-faced, and turning against the very people who were trying to help them,” DeGuerin said.

And what of the murder of special agent Zapata, who was shot and killed in Mexico in February 2011? That gun was traced back to gun dealers near Dallas.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking about Zapata’s death. That went unanswered. So in August Cornyn asked Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley, the leaders of the congressional investigation of Fast and Furious, to launch an inquiry into whether ATF ever conducted Texas-based gun-walking operations.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Nov. 8, Cornyn attempted to grill Holder about Fast and Furious, but the AG did his best to paint the questioning as partisan bickering. Unable to name one person in his department who was disciplined over the operation, Holder left the American people with more questions than answers.

Why did ATF drop the charges against Carter’s Country? Why did the Department of Justice wait more than five months to arrest three men in suburban Dallas it knew were gun dealers? Why did the arrests come two weeks after Zapata was killed, when, as Issa and Grassley found, ATF knew the men were trafficking guns long before they bought the weapon tied to the Zapata murder?

Jaime Zapata’s mother, Mary Zapata-Muñoz, has her own thoughts about the mystery surrounding her son’s death:

“I hope that it’s not a cover up. I pray that the weapon that killed my son didn’t come from the United States and was allowed to travel to Mexico. A few days after [Jaime] passed away, he came to me in a dream. And he pointed to his lips and he said, ‘Mom, I cannot speak. You have to speak for me. Seek justice. Make sure that another person does not have to go through what I went through.’”

I hope the same as Mrs. Zapata-Muñoz, but it sure doesn’t look good.

The day after Thanksgiving, 18 year-old high school student Joaquin Luna of Mission, Texas, put on a suit and tie, kissed his family goodbye, went into the bathroom, and shot himself in the head. He died instantly.

Luna, who was born across the border from Roma, Texas, and was brought to this country at the age of six months, was the kind of student to which Texas grants in-state tuition and financial aid. He had an affinity for math and science, and a report card full of A’s and B’s. What he didn’t have was American citizenship.

In an interview with Rio Grande Valley CBS affiliate KGBT, Luna’s brother Dire Mendoza said his little brother was distraught over his illegal status, adding in an interview with Fox News Latino, that the death of the DREAM Act left Luna with little hope of ever fulfilling his own dream of becoming an engineer to help better the financial situation of his mother.

I think he did it to have politicians have more heart and give other kids the opportunity he thought he was never given. If this DREAM Act would have passed this would never have happened.

But late Tuesday, KGBT reported a different story coming from unnamed sources close to the situation. Those sources said claims that Luna killed himself over his undocumented status and the death of the DREAM Act were simply “not true.”

They went on to say that Luna left behind eight to nine letters to people close to him, including his sisters and brothers and his best friend. KGBT’s sources said the letters mentioned nothing about the DREAM Act or his immigration status.

Luna’s principal, Clem Garza, also said that Luna was in the process of applying to colleges when he took his life and that he never mentioned anything about the DREAM Act or feeling discouraged about his status standing in the way of his goals.

While Luna’s family admitted they’d not seen the letters, they’re sticking to their belief that he committed suicide because of an uncertain future due to his undocumented status.

In the fallout, both liberals and conservatives have taken the suicide of Joaquin Luna as a symbol for their cause. Either he is a “Matthew Shepherd for the Immigration Reform movement” or he is “one less illegal drain on the system.”

What is for certain is that turning 18 as an undocumented person in this country is life altering. University of Chicago sociologist Roberto Gonzales recently pioneered a study about the ways in which young undocumented people learn of and cope with the effects of their immigration status, as recently reported by UChicago News. Luna’s age is the typical time when problems occur:

Most of those surveyed told Gonzales that they first had to deal with their status between the ages of 16 and 18, usually when they sought part-time jobs, driver’s licenses or admission to college — all of which require applicants either to have a Social Security number or to verify their immigration status. Many had lived their childhood unaware that they were not U.S. citizens.

Many respondents told Gonzales that they felt confused, angry, frustrated, scared and stigmatized when they learned of their immigration status. Their social habits changed out of fear of who to trust. Career plans halted. Arrest and deportation became constant threats for many, Gonzales said.

We may never know if the death of the DREAM Act played a role in the suicide of Joaquin Luna. But perhaps more importantly, his death has reopened a dialogue about the people behind the “illegal” label.

After his most disastrous showing at the presidential debates so far, Gov. Rick Perry attempted to worm his way back into the hearts of social conservatives Saturday by attending an event sponsored by Iowa-based evangelical Christian advocacy group the Family Leader. At the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Des Moines, Perry told the audience that, while the federal government has yet to get on board with a ban on gay adoption, gays are not allowed to adopt in Texas. Unfortunately for Perry, however, it’s not true. Gays aren’t allowed to adopt as couples, but they can adopt as single parents.

Equality Texas Deputy Director Chuck Smith explained the logistics to gay publication Dallas Voice:

It is a function of which family law judge people go to, but in virtually all jurisdictions, gay couples can adopt. Unfortunately they’re required to do it in two separate transactions, where each individual person has an adoption transaction. It’s also true that under the current statute, the supplemental birth certificate of an adopted child only has one parent’s name on it if the parents are of the same gender. That’s something we’ve been trying to change and will continue to try and change.

Of course, Perry was just trying to drum up some much needed support for his dying presidential campaign. The latest national polls have him at only an 8% approval rating.

Later in the week, Perry signed The Family Leader’s marriage vow to, among other things, oppose gay marriage. Family Leader announced in July that, in order for a candidate to win its endorsement, the candidate would have to sign the vow, which also asks candidates to promise to keep fidelity in their own marriages, to support a ban on Islamic Sharia law against women, to reject pornography, and to affirm that married couples have better sex. (Seems like that last one would be hard to verify absolutely.) Hey, if they can keep Republicans from having sex with male prostitutes, more power to them.

Most likely Perry’s grandstanding is too little too late, of course. Even media-ignored Ron Paul is ranking higher in some polls than the governor. Paul is tied with candidates Herman Cain, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich for first place in Iowa, according to a Bloomberg News poll.

Paul’s outperforming Perry in Iowa, and he didn’t have to resort to discriminating against gay people.

Last week, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles board of directors decided unanimously not to approve a Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate featuring a Confederate battle flag. Many people showed up at the DMV hearing Thursday to testify for and (mostly) against the measure. But one man stood out with a simple, three-minute testimony that got him mentioned in the Austin-American Statesmen.

Reverend George V. Clark of east Austin’s Mount Zion Baptist Church is an African-American who has lived in Texas his entire 82 years. We can all imagine he’s seen the best and worst this state has to offer.

Though so-called dignitaries testified for far longer than Clark, (Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, spoke a whopping 18 minutes, even though testimony was supposed to be limited to three.), and far more theatrically, (Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, brought his own American flag, quoted from the Star Spangled Banner, and got the audience to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.), theirs were not the testimonies that impressed the Statesman’s Ken Herman. Instead it was the heartfelt words of a man who has lived through the many changes that have occurred in the American South for people of color: “Mr. Chairman and board, I chose not to do any research on history, probably cause I’m history myself. I’m 82 years old. I’ve lived in Austin all of my life. Served in the military. Worked for the State of Texas, retired. Currently pastor a church now for 42 years,” he began.

“It saddens me that the possibility exists that I might still be driving around the state and frequently see something that represents hate, something that has made people feel less than human, something that caused you in the past to drive along a highway and see a confederate flag where you need to stop, but you see the flag and you keep driving.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wroyve5JDiA

His words remind those of us who did not live through racial segregation not to flippantly dismiss the power of symbols, reminding us that we must vigilantly guard that for which so many have suffered and died.

Fortunately, the board would not deny the man his congregation calls “The Best Pastor Ever”.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans, however, vowed to file a lawsuit if Texas rejected the plate. Three of the nine existing Confederate flag license plates were instituted after the Sons of Confederate Veterans successfully sued those states.

If you need an example of why the Occupy movement exists, look no further than the Gulf Coast and Big Oil’s shameless attempts to cover up the largest offshore environmental disaster in American history.

Late Monday, citing rules of evidence and other procedural issues, BP, offshore drilling company Transocean, and cement contractor Halliburton—the three companies responsible for the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico— filed motions in a New Orleans federal court to keep crucial government reports out of a civil case set for February. BP stands to lose billions in the federal civil trial that will assign percentages of fault to each of the companies; the proceedings will also determine whether there should be a limit to how much companies will pay. Looking to shield itself from as much blame as possible, BP also wants plaintiffs’ lawyers barred from using past criminal, civil and regulatory proceedings against them.

BP and its cohorts aim to have the two most comprehensive federal investigations of the spill left out of court. Those include a September 2011 report conducted by the Joint Investigation Team of the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which says that BP bears ultimate responsibility for the explosion that killed eleven rig workers, spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and caused untold amounts of environmental damage. The other is a report by President Obama’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which concluded that all the companies involved are responsible for the mess.

A documentary about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill recently premiered at the New Orleans Film Festival. The film, The Big Fix, alleges that Deepwater Horizon is the biggest federal environmental cover up in the history of our country.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bg_fpr6XBFM

“Behind the IRS, the collection of offshore oil field revenues and royalties is the second largest generator of money for the United States government,” says the trailer. “Today the elected officials don’t get elected unless they have huge war chests of money. Most of that comes from corporations and almost all those corporations are closely tied with oil.”

If what this film alleges is true, (and since BP declined to participate, we have only Louisiana filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell’s vision to contend with), Americans have more than financial reasons to wake up from the illusion of a democratic, two-party system.

“When we hear from the media, from the government that the oil is gone, we’re being lied to,” adds oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau.

With evidence mounting that the Deepwater Horizon spill caused widespread ecological damage we can’t even begin to comprehend yet, (large numbers of skin lesions on fish and hundreds of dead dolphins washing ashore are only the beginning), Texans would do well to pay attention to what Big Oil and the federal government are doing in their backyard.

I can’t believe I’m about to defend Rick Perry, but here goes. This month the Texas governor has taken heat during his Presidential race for his policy of granting in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented students who’ve done well in high school. The criticism, of course, is that these kids are “illegal” aliens. I don’t like calling people illegal (or aliens for that matter) because it’s dehumanizing. And dehumanization is how they get you to pass legislation that is immoral. Especially when you’re talking about children who probably work harder in school than a lot of American citizens. (They definitely work harder than I did.)

An article in the Texas Tribune referred to one such 18-year-old student as a “Mexico native” even though this young man told them, “I’ve never been to Mexico. I don’t remember it. I don’t know anything about it.” This kid—whose parents brought him to the United States when he was an infant—is a Mexico native like I’m a Pasadena native. Sure, I was born there, but I moved to Brownsville when I was 11 months-old. Or, I should say, my parents moved me there. I did not rent the U-Haul and pack up the house and drive on down Highway 77 to the Rio Grande Valley. No, my parents made that decision before I was cognitive.

“Most Republicans don’t understand my situation, that I really had no choice. I had no say in coming here,” he told the Tribune. But he’s exactly the kind of student that some Americans would say shouldn’t be receiving the in-state tuition to college that his good grades earned him. At the end of the day, don’t we want the smartest, hardest-working people on our team rather than ejecting them from the country because of something that was decided for them before they were old enough to think?

If there was a crime committed when these kids crossed the border, it wasn’t committed by them. They weren’t old enough to pay a coyote or read a map. These kids were brought by adults. Those adults may be undocumented fugitives, but these kids deserve amnesty before anyone else. And where better to start than with the ones who are already proving to be productive members of our society?

Oh, you say, but then all the Mexicans will be bringing their kids over here to steal from our system. God forbid we have a constant influx of hard-working poor people who are hungry enough to appreciate any opportunity thrown their way. No, we only want the over-privileged, native kids, too zoned out on video games to bother with homework. Very recently, Mitt Romney’s campaign released a new ad entitled, “Rick Perry: An Inspiration to Liberal California.”

Where do liberals in California get all their bad ideas? Rick Perry. First to give in-state tuition to illegal immigrants Rick Perry approved tax-payer funded state-aid for illegal immigrants attending college Rick Perry opposes E-verify Rick Perry: Supplying bad ideas to California since 2001.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcCuody7dMc

 

This is why, for the ten years I lived in New York City, I was constantly telling people that Texas is not quite the conservative hotbed they like to think it is. Historically, compared with the surrounding border states, Texas has always recognized its economic interdependence with Mexico. After all, it was “liberal California” that was first to build the border wall, not Texas. And only Texas border mayors went to Washington, D.C. to protest the building of the fence in this state. At this point in history, however, it’s become impossible to win an election without one-upping your opponent in xenophobia.

I don’t believe for one second that most good-hearted, Christian Republicans would disagree with helping someone who wants to help himself. Can we stop spewing rhetoric we know in our hearts is wrong, just to win an election?

Educating fellow human beings will improve everyone’s quality of life. Why? Because that will be one less person on the dole, one more person who might grow up to be a teacher, an accountant, or a doctor. One more person who is more likely to educate themselves on good health practices and put less burden on the healthcare system. When one person wins, we all win. Let’s quit this “I’ve got mine, screw you!” attitude because it’s killing us as a nation.

There’s no shortage of scary stuff going on in the Lone Star State to inspire your Halloween costume this year. A little ingenuity and some duct tape can take you far this holiday. If you’re having trouble thinking of costume ideas, here’s my list of truly scary concepts that are, sadly, not just ghost stories:

President Rick Perry

Rick Perry’s sinking poll numbers show that maybe even Republicans are afraid to send our governor to the White House, which means this costume has what it takes to cross the aisle and scare everyone at the party. Items needed: Suit and tie (preferably red), hair gel and a cardboard podium with a presidential seal. For extra bonus, bring mangled talking points about Mitt Romney.

A Voter Redistricting Map

What could be more terrifying for Texans than a future as unrepresented voters? It could happen if the recently redrawn voter districts are approved by a federal court in Washington, D.C. And if a decision isn’t made by the December 12 deadline, we’re in for a series of confusing election cycles while the courts impose temporary districts that can then be changed in 2014. Try figuring out who’s representing you then. Items needed: A print-out of the proposed maps from the internet, all-black clothes. Tape the maps to your clothes and face-palm yourself repeatedly throughout the evening.

A Forced Sonogram

This is a group costume if we ever saw one. You’ll need one abortion patient and several men in suits, with at least one of them wearing a cowboy hat like Rep. Sid Miller, (R-Stephenville). Texas’ new abortion sonogram law hasn’t become law while its constitutionality is debated in federal court. But there’s still a chance that Texas women will have to obtain a sonogram—and listen to scripted description of the fetus—before an abortion. Items needed: A hospital gown for the patient and a print out of a sonogram. The men should point at the patient disapprovingly.

A Feral Hog

Forget the Chinese calendar. In Texas, 2011 was the year of the feral hog. All culminating with a reality show that debuted this month on A&E called American Hoggers featuring a family of Central Texas hog hunters who are much in demand. “Texas is home to nearly 2.6 million feral hogs, the largest feral hog population in the U.S.” says the Texas Department of Agriculture homepage. “Texas AgriLife Extension Service estimates that statewide annual economic damage caused by feral hogs is $500 million.” Perhaps even more terrifying, the American Hoggers website describes the porcine beasts as, “Creatures of the night that roam in packs and eat almost anything, including their young.” Gulp. Items needed: A pig mask and a leg of lamb.

A Confederate Flag License Plate

This silly thing is still being debated by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles board, which means it could become a reality despite Texas’ exploding minority population. Want to scare all the people of color? Wear a giant Texas Confederate license plate made out of cardboard. Items needed: Cardboard, paint and an athletic cup would probably be advisable. And maybe protective head gear too.

A St. Louis Cardinal

At the time of this writing, we’re not sure who will win the 2011 World Series, but we can bet that whoever wins, a St. Louis Cardinal will be seen as a real villain to most Texas Rangers fans. Items needed: Cardinals cap and uniform, baseball bat (this serves as handy protection) and heart-shaped locket with photo of Tony LaRussa inside.

A Middle School-Aged Rick Perry Campaign Donor

In the tradition of Children of the Corn comes “Children of the GOP.” That’s what I’m calling the two kids who gave $3,500 worth of campaign money to Rick Perry in August. Who were they? According to Christina Wilkie at The Huffington Post they belonged to recently appointed Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman. Smitherman, his wife and his college-aged son all donated the maximum of $2,500 each to Perry’s presidential campaign that month, but it was Smitherman’s minor children’s generosity that really raise some eyebrows (mine anyway):

Their only daughter, who appears to be of middle school age judging from her dad’s campaign website, also donated $2,500. And one of her brothers, who is a junior in high school according to his Twitter feed, donated $1,000. Smitherman declined to respond to questions from The Huffington Post about whether the money belonged to his children or to him.

Items needed: A Justin Bieber t-shirt and some monopoly money to wave around.

The Fast & Furious Arms & Drug Scandal

I don’t know what’s scarier, that the federal government is importing cocaine and providing arms for Mexico’s Zeta cartel or the fact that very few people are talking about it. Needed: This one is best for a pair or couple. You need one U.S. Border Patrol uniform and one Narco costume (cowboy hat, sunglasses, gold chain should do it), a fake automatic rifle and a fake bag of cocaine. If you figure out a way to create a bed to lie in together, you’re sure to win your local costume contest.

The Texas School Budget

Perhaps the scariest thing on this list. Texas lawmakers cut an unprecedented $5 billion from public education this year. Items needed: An adding machine and some illiterate children—they shouldn’t be hard to find

This past week saw the official mud-slinging begin between U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett and state Rep. Joaquin Castro, who may be battling it out in the newly proposed 35th Congressional District come the March Democratic primary. Should the federal courts decide that the newly drawn district, which includes a smidgen of Austin and a whole lot of Bexar County, is constitutional, Doggett will find himself in a tough spot with a large part of his new constituency being from San Antonio—Castro’s home turf. Castro is one half of what I like to call the wonder twins (his brother being San Antonio mayor Julian Castro) and, as far as I can tell, those boys can do no wrong in their hometown. So what does Doggett do as an early defensive move?

Last Wednesday, former Doggett Outreach Director John Michael Vincent Cortez, wrote a scathing accusation on the Burnt Orange Report blog stating that Castro was in cahoots with Republicans in redrawing the district to his advantage:

At the recent trial in Federal Court in San Antonio, Republicans actually used Castro’s involvement as part of their defense against Democratic claims that this redistricting plan is illegal.  Republicans essentially said: “Hey, it was not Republicans alone who drew this map to which you Democrats are objecting, we were just following the advice of Democratic state Rep. Castro (and his friend, Redistricting Committee Vice Chair Rep. Mike Villarreal).” Castro wanted this crooked district carving up neighborhoods in San Antonio, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Lockhart and Austin.  Then he asked that this area be carved up a little more to add what he thought would be even more favorable additional territory in San Antonio along with symbolic locations like the Alamo.

To accuse one half of the Texas Democratic Party’s New Brown Hope of such partisan treason is downright brazen. 

Cue Castro’s response via a letter sent to the Joaquin Castro for Congress email list on Friday entitled “Desperate attacks require a direct response.” The letter included a video posted to Youtube featuring Castro talking to the camera, accusing Doggett of flat-out lying to keep his job:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhIxbsFXgBo

 

“For several weeks now, my opponent Lloyd Doggett and his surrogates have spread false rumors about my record in redistricting. He’s so worried about losing his job, that he’s spreading conspiracy theory rumors about me working with the Republicans to draw him out of a job.”

On Monday, Republican House Redistricting Committee lawyer Ryan Downton, whose testimony in San Antonio federal court last month was the basis for Doggett’s accusations against Castro, clarified that the discussions with Castro and state Rep. Mike Villarreal, (D-San Antonio) came after legislative leaders agreed that District 35 should run from Austin to San Antonio. Downton emphasized that Castro did nothing improper, reiterating what Castro maintains, that his only interest was securing a Latino opportunity district based in Bexar County. Mind you, this is coming from a guy who sees absolutely nothing wrong with running for his own political spot in a district he helped draw.

All this and we’re still five months from the March primary. The Castro-Doggett race could get very ugly.

If you don’t understand what the Occupy Wall Street movement is about, you’re not alone. A paradigm shift like this one, which seeks to ban partisan bickering and relies on basic human respect as a catalyst for change, is not a political strategy to which modern-day Americans are accustomed. We haven’t seen this kind of attempt to unify political opponents since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that segregation was wrong, but that segregationists were human beings just like him, deserving of love and respect. “Through nonviolent resistance we shall be able to oppose the unjust system and at the same time love the perpetrators of the system,” he once said. How far we have strayed from those principles in our modern day media flame wars. Myself most woefully included.

As a vocal liberal in the media, I was struck by the discouragement of partisan signs and slogans at Occupy events. (It’s a democratic movement, so they won’t stop you from doing it.) Comment trolls on the various Occupy Facebook pages are greeted with patience and understanding. In Austin, at least, police officers are lauded for their professionalism. Public figures clearly associated with one party or another, such as Geraldo Rivera from Fox News or Representative John Lewis (D-Georgia), are kept at arm’s length lest they try to co-opt the Occupy movement in the same way the Republicans co-opted the Tea Party, perpetuating the broken system in the process. And then there’s the Occupy movement’s unique view of the regular, old “liberal” media.

I was present at the initial planning meeting for Occupy Austin, which took place at Ruta Maya coffee house on September 29. There, about 300 people—many of them under age 30—gathered to express a desire to work together for change.

The first order of business was to decide whether the group would adopt an official cause by October 6, when they were to begin their Occupation of Austin City Hall.

“If we don’t have a cause, the mainstream media won’t cover us,” some said.

“Screw the mainstream media,” came the response, which caused the room to erupt in applause.

History’s most media savvy generation is shunning the use of traditional media because of the belief that it’s just another arm of the corporate world. A fact that was reinforced last night when I visited the Occupation at City Hall, where I was mostly ignored for the more important business at hand—figuring out what the heck they are doing next.

Instead, the Occupy movement leaders are relying on their own personal social media pages on Facebook and Twitter, their own websites designed by volunteers, their own donated fliers and hand-painted signs, to appeal to people’s innate sense of what is right and wrong.

As a result, the mainstream media calls them “un-focused”, “lazy”, “hippies”, “commies”, “un-American”, “unemployed” and anything else they can say to discredit this thing that is happening that they simply cannot wrap their heads around. 

Tonight, outside Austin City Hall, a group called Creation Flame, which has a “Church of Awesome” outside town, is holding a group meditation to “bring a HUGE dose of love, positivity, and creative solutions to the movement.” Yes, these people sound a little crazy.

Unless you consider that the United States is still involved in (at least) three wars after we voted a man into the White House who said bringing troops home was his first priority, not one banker has paid for crimes of fraud perpetrated against the American people, and the undocumented immigrant issue goes unresolved. Meanwhile the Obama administration  announced Friday that its current priority is hassling the landlords of legalized marijuana dispensaries in California.

They say the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So, you tell me. Who’s crazy now?