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Forrest for the Trees

David Dewhurst's "Let it Go" ad

Not that long ago, one of David Dewhurst’s campaign officials told me that Team Dewhurst knew they were probably going to lose to Dan Patrick in the lieutenant governor runoff, but were going to start spending Dewhurst’s personal fortune to “burn the place down.” I didn’t realize he was talking about self-immolation.

There’s plenty to attack Dan Patrick on. He’s a smug radio-talk show wing-nut who thinks God is whispering in his ear and is so vain that he once wrote a book called The Second Most-Important Book You Will Ever Read. But Dewhurst has been almost totally inept at landing any punches. You can tell he really loathes Patrick, but the more vicious the attacks, the more Dew stumbles. Dew is Wile E. Coyote and Patrick is the smirking roadrunner running on the far-right of the road.

First, there was this ad. It’s impossible to look away from and yet it’s so startlingly weird and vengeful.

Then there was the debate. There’s plenty to chew on and Chris Hooks gives a great blow-by-blow. Dewhurst and Patrick tangled over whether he (The Dew) had chicken at a steakhouse—that was about the level of the discourse.

But the WTF line of the night, to my mind, was Dewhurst’s attempt to harpoon the white whale with a barbed line. Just kind of out of thin air, he goes:

“Do you have snake oil for the hair loss, too, Dan?”

As the some of the Cro-Magnons in the Texas House say when the lady legislators are debating… Meoooowww!

And this week Louie Gohmert (fun fact: Gohmert was class president at Texas A&M and that’s an Aggie joke that needs no punchline) has achieved a rare feat, a Triple Louie—three unrelated WTF comments in as many days.

On Wednesday, he reacted to the release of the 800-page National Climate Assessment, which documents the growing ravages of climate change in painstaking, heavily footnoted detail by reaching into the comments section of, say, Breitbart.com.

“Apparently this climate change was global freezing back in the 1970s. Then global warming and then, when it quit warming, now it’s climate change.”

On Thursday, at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Gohmert accused a Comcast executive of conspiring to keep Glenn Beck off the air. And, of course, this being Louie Gohmert, Al Gore, Sharia law and other apparitions made an appearance in his tale:

“And it was reported that Al Jazeera wanted to get their Sharia law push into the United States, and they were willing to pay big bucks….but they wouldn’t do the deal unless Comcast was willing to keep them in its list of networks provided. So it was reported Comcast agreed, so Al Gore got all that oil and carbon based money. Then, that kept Glenn Beck off the air. Of Comcast.”

Some people say Gohmert’s kinda dim. But that is a story as convoluted as a Russian novel; only a supple mind could keep it straight.

Then, on Friday, he smote Godwin’s law a mighty blow, comparing a growing acceptance of LGBT folks to the “Nazi takeover of Europe.”

“So it is amazing that in the name of liberality, in the name of being tolerant, this fascist intolerance has arisen. People that stand up and say, you know, I agree with the majority of Americans, I agree with Moses and Jesus that marriage was a man and a woman, now all of a sudden, people like me are considered haters, hate mongers, evil, which really is exactly what we’ve seen throughout our history as going back to the days of the Nazi takeover in Europe.”

It’s almost like Gohmert’s being forced to wear a pink triangle. Poor guy.

Speaking of Nazis… Kesha Rogers. She’s the LaRouche Democrat who, despite the best efforts of the state Democratic party, made it into a runoff for U.S. Senate. Rogers is running on an “Impeach Obama” platform. She was in the Valley this week, rounding up votes from the anti-Obama, industrialize-the-moon Democratic voting bloc.

“The president has earned his Hitler mustache,” she said Thursday, adding that the comparison stems from supposed similarities between Obama’s signature domestic legislation, the Affordable Care Act, and a Nazi euthanasia program.

Partisan affiliations aside, Gohmert and Rogers seem to have a lot in common. The only difference is Gohmert’s serving his fifth term in Congress.

WA Parish coal plant
W.A. Parish coal plant

The new federal climate assessment, which came out Tuesday, tells us what we (should) already know. But does it in great and alarming detail, linking what’s already occurred to what else is in store. In short: Climate change is here. We’re already feeling the effects. And things will get much worse without a concerted effort to reduce emissions globally.

For Texas, which is lumped in with the Great Plains region, the National Climate Assessment finds that the state is getting hotter, exacerbating droughts. Precipitation patterns are changing, with more infrequent but heavier downpours. And sea-level rise is putting low-lying coastal communities like Galveston and Houston at increased risk of storms and loss of habitat.

The report, of course, was greeted by Texas politicians and regulators with the usual fact-free distortions and obfuscation we’ve come to expect. (More on that later.)

It’s a compelling report and the website presenting the findings is well worth your time. Here are a few visuals that tell the story.

First, a little scene-setting… The increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, is driving the increase in global temperature averages.

Global temperatures and carbon dioxide, 1880-2012
Global temperatures and carbon dioxide, 1880-2012

 

 

Average temperatures have risen across the U.S. since the late 19th century, with most of the increase occurring since 1970. The hottest year on record for the contiguous United States, including Texas, was 2012.

 

Climate CS_Net_Change_in_Ann_Temp_12910_v11
The colors on the map show temperature changes over the past 22 years (1991-2012) compared to the 1901-1960 average for the contiguous U.S., and to the 1951-1980 average for Alaska and Hawaii. The bars on the graph show the average temperature changes by decade for 1901-2012 (relative to the 1901-1960 average). The far right bar (2000s decade) includes 2011 and 2012. The period from 2001 to 2012 was warmer than any previous decade in every region. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 
The assessment uses the record hot and dry summer of 2011 in Texas and Oklahoma as an example of how “extreme climate events resulted in cascading effects across energy, water, and land systems.” In Texas, the summer of 2011 was 5.2 F hotter than normal, with more than 90 days of 100-plus days in parts of the state. 

 

 

climate WEL_days_above_100_13605_V4 climate WEL_texas_scatter_plot_V3

 

 

We can expect more brutally hot days—a quadrupling of days in the southern part of the Great Plains by mid-century—and higher temperatures across the board in the future, especially under higher-emissions scenarios. (Throughout the report, the authors relied on two different projections: The “lower emissions” scenario assumed a “substantial reduction” in greenhouse gas emissions and a temperature increase by the end of the century of 3 to 5 F; the higher emissions scenario assumed continued increases in emissions, leading to a 5 to 10 F increase by 2100.)

 

 

climate CS_projected_temperature_change_sres_V7
Figure 2.8: Maps show projected change in average surface air temperature in the later part of this century (2071-2099) relative to the later part of the last century (1970-1999) under a scenario that assumes substantial reductions in heat trapping gases (B1) and a higher emissions scenario that assumes continued increases in global emissions (A2). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

The number of warm nights will also rise, increasing water losses in lakes and streams, heat stress and demand for air conditioning.

 

 

climate GP_warm_nights_projected_V4
The number of nights with the warmest temperatures is projected to increase dramatically. The historical (1971-2000) distribution of temperature for the warmest 2% of nights (Top: about seven days each year) echoes the distinct north-south gradient in average temperatures. By mid-century (2041-2070), the projected change in number of nights exceeding those warmest temperatures is greatest in the south for both the lower emissions scenario (B1) and for the higher emissions scenario (A2). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Rainfall patterns are changing too.

 

 

climate CS_Net_Change_in_annual_Precip_12909_v9
The colors on the map show annual total precipitation changes for 1991-2012 compared to the 1901-1960 average, and show wetter conditions in most areas. The bars on the graph show average precipitation differences by decade for 1901-2012 (relative to the 1901-1960 average). The far right bar is for 2001-2012. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Texas has always been drought-plagued, but increasing heat and projected changes in rainfall patterns likely means longer dry spells.

 

 

Figure: Change in Maximum Number of Consecutive Dry Days Caption: Change in the number of consecutive dry days (days receiving less than 0.04 inches (1 mm) of precipitation) at the end of this century (2081-2100) relative to the end of last century (1980-1999) under the higher scenario, RCP 8.5. Stippling indicates areas where changes are consistent among at least 80% of the 25 models used in this analysis. (Supplemental Message 5 and Ch. 2: Our Changing Climate, Key Message 3). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).
Figure: Change in Maximum Number of Consecutive Dry Days Caption: Change in the number of consecutive dry days (days receiving less than 0.04 inches (1 mm) of precipitation) at the end of this century (2081-2100) relative to the end of last century (1980-1999) under the higher scenario, RCP 8.5. Stippling indicates areas where changes are consistent among at least 80% of the 25 models used in this analysis. (Supplemental Message 5 and Ch. 2: Our Changing Climate, Key Message 3). (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

We can also expect seasonal changes in precipitation. Spring, in particular, may be significantly drier across Texas.

 

 

climate CS_seasonal_precip_projections_A2_V5
Climate change affects more than just temperature. The location, timing, and amounts of precipitation will also change as temperatures rise. Maps show projected percent change in precipitation in each season for 2071-2099 (compared to the period 1970-1999) under an emissions scenario that assumes continued increases in emissions (A2). Teal indicates precipitation increases, and brown, decreases. Hatched areas indicate that the projected changes are significant and consistent among models. White areas indicate that the changes are not projected to be larger than could be expected from natural variability. In general, the northern part of the U.S. is projected to see more winter and spring precipitation, while the southwestern U.S. is projected to experience less precipitation in the spring. Wet regions are generally projected to become wetter while dry regions become drier. Summer drying is projected for parts of the U.S., including the Northwest and southern Great Plains. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Soil moistures are decreasing, a major hurdle for farmers trying to coax crops from the soil. Parched land will be a growing problem, in particular, in areas like the Panhandle, where farmers are transitioning from the depleting Ogallala Aquifer to dry-land crops.

“Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase over the next 25 years,” the assessment states.

 

 

climate CS_soil_moisture_v9
Average change in soil moisture compared to 1971-2000, as projected for the middle of this century (2041-2070) and late this century (2071-2100) under two emissions scenarios, a lower scenario (B1) and a higher scenario (A2). The future drying of soils in most areas simulated by this sophisticated hydrologic model (Variable Infiltration Capacity or VIC model) is consistent with the future drought increases using the simpler Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) metric. Only the western U.S. is displayed because model simulations were only run for this area. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

 

 

Finally, sea levels have been rising inexorably, with an acceleration since the 1970s. Because of all the heat that’s already in the system, oceans will continue to rise for millennia. But by how much and how quickly is dependent on how much more carbon is pumped into the atmosphere. The assessment projects that oceans are likely to rise 1-4 feet by the end of the century, but the report does not rule out an increase of six feet. Much of the Texas coast—including barrier islands like Padre and Galveston, that protect the mainland from tropical storms—is only a few feet above sea level. And sea-level rise will not be uniform. In some areas, like around Galveston-Houston, the ground is sinking as well.

 

climate CS_SLR_scenarios_v8

**

And what is the response from Texas’ top officials to this sobering report?

Gov. Rick Perry: He’s refused to say anything. “Gov. Rick Perry’s office did not respond to a request on Tuesday to describe his policy for preparing the state for climate change and reducing its impact.”

Notably, Perry once wrote that the planet is actually cooling.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn: He didn’t address the report directly, but also avoided putting himself squarely in the denial camp.

“I am not one that denies that human beings have an impact on the environment. But I am sure not willing to put the federal government in charge of trying to micromanage the environment for the United States of America, nor for us to drive up the price of energy for people on fixed income, like seniors and people of modest means, by putting restrictions in place that other nations are not.”

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith: He’s the chair of the House Science Committee, so what do you think his take was?

“This is a political document intended to frighten Americans into believing that any abnormal weather we experience is the direct result of human CO2 emissions.”

And, finally, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality:

The environmental agency seems mightily concerned about the coal industry.

“There has been no significant global warming in more than 15 years, although carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. It is clear that the science of global warming is far from settled.  Regulatory policy cannot be set without firm guidelines and the proven cause and effect that would dictate policy. The NCA global warming policy will result in greatly reduced use of coal for energy generation. This will impact the reliability of the electrical grid, and will also increase energy costs.  It will particularly impact energy prices for those who can least afford it, such as the elderly and the poor.  This is the true environmental impact of the war on coal.”

 

Just for the record, here are the top 10 warmest years on record globally, according to NOAA (not in rank order):

2013 (tie)
2012 (tie)
2010
2009 (tie)
2007 (tie)
2006
2005
2004 (tie)
2003 (tie)
2002
1998

 

State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth)
State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth)

When I called state Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) a week after his narrow loss in the Democratic primary, he wanted me to promise one thing.

“I want you to make it clear that above all things that in my obituary I want it to say not just ‘leading liberal,’ not just ‘avid environmentalist,’ but ‘probably the only pacifist to serve 18 years in the Texas Legislature.’” Because being a liberal and an environmentalist in the Lege isn’t tough enough.

For the almost two decades he’s served in the Legislature, Burnam has been the patron saint of lost causes, the unyielding liberal, the Quaker, the director of the Dallas Peace Center who believes it’s “always bad public policy to start a war.”

First elected in 1996, Burnam’s background was in community organizing and the anti-nuclear movement. At the time, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy hailed him as a “loud, obnoxious liberal.”

There are typically two types of politicians—the pragmatists and the true believers, those who work inside the system and those who work outside it. Burnam is undeniably the latter. He never passed many bills, but he always stood up for issues he thought were important, no matter how unpopular.

Burnam waged battles few other Texas Democrats would even bother with: abolishing the death penalty, legalizing same-sex marriage, instituting a state income tax, doing something, anything, about climate change. Every session he filed these bills and every session they were dead on arrival. That’s Lon, for better or worse—bound to principle and bound to lose, usually.

Burnam’s most famous losing cause was his vote against electing Midland Republican Tom Craddick as speaker of the House in 2003. Burnam was the lone “no” vote—a move that got him exiled to the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee. Plenty of Democrats (and some Republicans) didn’t want to see Craddick made speaker, but they went along with the winning side. Burnam says it was more than a protest vote. “I think we needed to begin immediately the resistance to his reign as speaker,” Burnam says.

But perhaps no moment better illustrates Burnam’s time in the Lege than a scene on the floor of the Texas House on April 2, 2003. Those were the early days of the Iraq war, and the House wanted to pass a jingoistic resolution blessing the war on terror and praising President Bush’s “patience, leadership, and will.”

Burnam was one of just three Democrats to oppose the resolution. As he argued from the back microphone that the Iraq war was illegal and immoral, dozens of legislators gathered at the front mic in a show of force in support of the motion. The dissent was a lost cause—the resolution passed 136-3—but Burnam felt it was the right thing to do. “People are just chickenshit,” Burnam says. “I can’t tell you how many of my Democratic colleagues said, ‘I wish I had the guts to do that.’”

Being right doesn’t count for much in politics, though let’s give credit: the Iraq war was a disaster and many conservatives would come to regard aspects of the war on terror as another manifestation of government overreach. Craddick lasted just three sessions and then was overthrown by a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats.

Still, Burnam’s insistence on sticking to principle cost him the ability to pass many bills. “The last 10 years since then has kind of been like the French resistance against occupation,” he says.

Instead, Burnam says, he embraced his outsider status to do the dirty work his colleagues couldn’t—his version, perhaps, of realpolitik. “One of the things people will miss about me is my willingness to kill a bill on principle,” he says. “It’s a role that fell to me.”

In the March primary, Burnam lost to his opponent, Ramon Romero Jr., by 111 votes—a victim, he says, of Republican redistricting and “identity politics.” He’s filed suit to try to overturn the election, arguing that Romero signed people up to vote by mail using illegal means. The lawsuit is a long shot at best… which is, of course, fitting for Burnam.

When I talked to him in March, before he’d filed the lawsuit, there was a tinge of bitterness to his post-primary analysis. “It’s a different constituency, and I couldn’t make the transition fast enough because in part I couldn’t become Hispanic,” he says.

Burnam won’t rule out running for office again, and if his lawsuit doesn’t pan out he plans to return to the Capitol as an activist.

“I started out trying to save the world, but it’s real clear to me the world doesn’t want to be saved,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.”

Rick Perry
Patrick Michels
Gov. Rick Perry attends the National Day of Prayer breakfast in Austin, Tex.

If there was any lingering doubt that Gov. Rick Perry’s Texas Enterprise Fund functions more as a corporate cookie jar than a “deal-closing” job machine, it should surely be put to rest with today’s news. Earlier this week, Perry announced that Toyota would receive $40 million to move its North American headquarters from California to Plano and bring with it 4,000 jobs. In a press release, Perry crowed, “Toyota understands that Texas’ employer-friendly combination of low taxes, fair courts, smart regulations and world-class workforce can help businesses of any size succeed and thrive.”

The press release went on to claim that Toyota had “cited a number of factors in choosing” Plano, including the Texas Enterprise Fund investment.

But today, the Los Angeles Times reports that that’s so much horse hockey.

“Taxes, regulations and business climate appear to have had nothing to do with Toyota’s move,” the paper reported. And that’s coming from a top executive.

“It may seem like a juicy story to have this confrontation between California and Texas, but that was not the case,” said Jim Lentz, Toyota’s North American chief executive.

Toyota left California to move its company’s brainpower, now divided among offices in three states, into one headquarters close to the company’s manufacturing base, primarily in the South.

“It doesn’t make sense to have oversight of manufacturing 2,000 miles away from where the cars were made,” Lentz said. “Geography is the reason not to have our headquarters in California.”

Oops.

So what did Texas taxpayers get for their $40 million? If you take Lentz at his word, basically nothing. Toyota was coming to Texas with or without the Enterprise Fund money. An incentives program like the Enterprise Fund is premised on the idea of being a “deal-closer.” You have to ask the “but-for” question: But for this incentive, would X company move to Texas? If the answer is, “Yes, the company would move anyway,” then there is no reason to offer the incentive.

What’s remarkable in the Toyota case is that an executive is admitting as much. You can’t blame Toyota—a for-profit company responsible to its shareholders—for taking the $40 million, but you have to wonder if the state of Texas shouldn’t now ask for its money back.

And what did Perry get? Bragging rights, the ability to lay claim to the “job creator” mantle, another notch in his belt for the silly zero-sum California vs. Texas pissing match and associating himself with a popular brand of Texas-made trucks. (Full disclosure: I own a Toyota Tacoma.)

Of course, this isn’t the first time that the true nature of the Enterprise Fund, which has paid out $558 million since its inception in 2003, has been made apparent. Last year, the governor offered Chevron $12 million for an office tower it was already planning to build in downtown Houston and the company’s own application made scant reference to other sites it was considering. Chevron also noted that it planned to use the money to lavish employees with moving benefits and perks.

If there is a “Texas miracle,” Perry’s Enterprise Fund doesn’t seem to have much to do with it.

Rick Perry
Patrick Michels
Gov. Rick Perry attends the National Day of Prayer breakfast in Austin, Tex.

Is it too early to consider Rick Perry’s legacy? Some state lawmakers already are, at least indirectly.

Legislators are considering what to do with some of the guv’s signature programs, the big corporate subsidy funds that have been plagued by charges of cronyism and inefficiency since their inception. Funding for the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, in particular, is dwindling due to lawmakers’ reluctance to keep pouring dollars into what some critics consider Perry’s corporate welfare accounts. The Observer, for example, reported on a $12 million Texas Enterprise Fund grant to Chevron for a Houston office tower that the company had announced years before. Chevron, in fact,  planned to spend the money not to create new jobs, which were already in the works, but on generous moving costs for its employees.

Overall, the Texas Enterprise Fund alone has doled out more than $500 million in grants since the Legislature created it a decade ago. In 2010, the Observer found—in a story appropriately titled “Slush Fun“—that 20 of the 55 Enterprise Fund companies had either given money directly to Perry’s campaign or donated to the Republican Governors Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group that Perry presided over in 2008.

All of that is on Rick Perry. But it’s up to the Legislature and the next governor—either Wendy Davis or, more likely, Greg Abbott—whether to shut down the funds, or modify them.

Today, a House committee heard from a parade of economic development types, including governor’s office personnel overseeing the funds, who argued that the programs are a key ingredient in the supposed “Texas miracle economy.”

“Don’t screw up the basics,” said Jonathan Taylor, Perry’s economic development director. “But also recognize that all those incentives are must-haves now.”

The timing of the hearing was perfect. Perry is on one of his frequent job-hunting trips, this time in New York, where he’s been repeating his challenge to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to debate, as he put it on Twitter today, “creating jobs and free marketing [sic] policies.”

Indeed, the message from business interests and the governor’s people at today’s hearing was that the programs were too burdensome for applicants—though, of course, that was dressed up as needing more “flexibility.” Taylor urged the Legislature, citing competition from other states, to consider shrinking the turnaround for Enterprise Fund grants from 90 days to two weeks.

Prompted by questions from lawmakers, Taylor and his counterpart at the Emerging Technology Fund, Terry Hazell, also cautioned the Legislature not to move control of the funds out of the governor’s office.

“You get in front of the people who actually make the decisions,” Taylor said, of why companies like working with the governor’s office. “You get to talk to the decision-makers.”

Of course that goes straight to one of the core criticism of the Enterprise Fund, the Emerging Tech Fund, the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute of Texas and all the other big pools of money that flow through the guv to big and powerful interests—that they’re not so much technocratically managed job-creating programs as political slush-funds that haven’t proven claims about job creation.

Hazell said today that the Emerging Tech Fund didn’t track return on investments for individual companies and that the overall return was “modest.”

Lingering over the discussion today was the question of what Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott think about these programs. Neither has said anything definitive.

Abbott has been particularly cagey. In July, when asked directly, he told the Houston Chronicle:

“If we can create the appropriate tax structure, that’s going to be the strongest incentive any business needs, whether it be businesses thinking about relocating from California or businesses already here.”

Davis, for her part, has said she supports the premise of a job-creating program like the Texas Enterprise Fund but has pushed for more accountability and transparency. In 2013, she co-authored legislation requiring the state auditor to take a closer look at whether the Enterprise Fund was following the law.

"Jesus Christ on Killing" by Sgt. Charlie Eipper
Amazon.com
"Jesus Christ on Killing" by Sgt. Charlie Eipper

We’ve found it, the mother of all WTF. We have found Peak WTF. After this one, we may have to retire WTF Friday, just hang it up in recognition that nothing will ever top this.

But, first, let’s look at the runner-ups this week.

The Texas Nationalist Movement—”The state’s leading independence organization”—had themselves a meetin’ down in San Antonio and resolved to redouble their minority outreach. But first, they had to run Kanye West out of town.

“We are defending our culture because some rap singer from Los Angeles wanted to show his video on the walls of The Alamo, and a bunch of blue shirts (Texas Nationalists) showed up and said, ‘Nuh-uh!’” Belmore said.

That is a kind of charming image: A bunch of heavily armed far-right secessionists chasing off an extremely wealthy and successful rapper by going, “Nuh-uh!” (And Kanye retreats, with echoes of “na-na, na-na, boo-boo/stick your head in doo-doo” ringing in his diamond-encrusted ears.)

Oh, and “blueshirts”? Guys, if you’re rebranding to appeal to a more mainstream audience, perhaps it’s best not to refer to yourself with the same term used for multiple fascist causes around the globe.

Anyway, Texas’ leading independence organization is trying to bring more minorities into the cause.

“I’m not talking about pandering, let the other side do that,” he said. “We have much more in common with minorities than they (liberals) do.”

Suggested slogans: “Secession: It’s Not Just for Slave-Owners Anymore” or “This Ain’t Your Grandaddy’s Secession Movement” or “Secession: Second Time’s the Charm.”

If and when Texas does secede, I know who could be head of the FBI, or maybe poet laureate: Sgt. Charlie Eipper of the Wichita Falls Police Department. Eipper once killed a man in the line of duty. Then he was troubled that the indiscriminate killing in Rambo IV would give Christians the wrong idea… that there’s anything wrong with a high body count. As he told the Wichita Falls Times Record:

“[Rambo] didn’t want to, but finally did. Their boat got taken over by river pirates. He had to kill them to save everybody,” Eipper recalls. “When Rambo was dropping the missionaries off at their destination, the lead missionary was stepping off the boat and turned to Rambo. ‘I know you think what you did is right,’ the missionary said, ‘but it’s never right to take a life.’”

Eipper cringed. “I thought, ‘What if there’s a young believer in Christ watching this? What if it’s somebody who is in the Marine Corps? Or an officer? They’re going to be so confused. They’ll think, ‘Surely this guy is speaking on authority of Scripture.’”

So, he wrote a book—self-published on Amazon.com—called Jesus Christ on Killing. Which is only a slightly-less disturbing title than Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Christ, IMHO. Eipper’s book contains chapters such as “Thou Shall Not Kill?” and “Jesus the Man of War.” As the Times Record describes it, “he is articulate on the subject of Jesus Christ and killing.”

“The Scriptures are clear that God condones the use of deadly force in killing whenever we are threatened,” Eipper said.

Stand your ground, boys. That’s what Jesus would do.

Turns out that Jesus is coming back and boy is he pissed. Says Eipper:

“When Jesus comes back, he will be the man of war. When he comes back, there will be a whole lot of killing going on.”

Happy Good Friday, everyone!

Texas Barnett Shale gas drilling rig near Alvarado, Texas
Barnett Shale rig

New research suggests that pollution from fracking contributes a much larger share of Dallas-Fort Worth’s smog problem than state officials have said. The study, conducted by Mahdi Ahmadi, a graduate student at the University of North Texas, was presented at a clean-air meeting this morning in Arlington. The Observer received a copy of the presentation.

Ahmadi analyzed data from 16 air-quality monitors in the Metroplex going back to 1997, looking for a connection between oil and gas production and ozone. Seven of the sites were east of Denton, outside of the Barnett Shale, and nine were located in the shale area, close to oil and gas activity.

Ahmadi’s twist is that he adjusted for meteorological conditions, including air temperature, wind speed and sunlight—key ingredients in ozone formation. Backing natural factors out of the data allowed Ahmadi to better pinpoint human factors, including the link between fracking and ozone formation.

He found that while smog levels have dropped overall since the late 1990s, ozone levels in fracking areas have been increasing steadily and rising at a much higher rate than in areas without oil and gas activity.

“This is a small but important victory for real science in this process, as opposed to the completely politicized approach by TCEQ to prevent the imposition of new controls of any kind,” said Jim Schermbeck, director of North Texas clean-air group Downwinders at Risk.

Since 2008, meteorologically-adjusted ozone in the fracking region has increased 12 percent while in the non-fracking region ozone rose just 4 percent.

UNT ozone study

UNT air quality study winter monthsThe trend during the winter was “even more striking,” said Dr. Kuruvilla John, the UNT engineering professor who oversaw the study. During winter months, the fracking region saw a 21-percent increase in ozone, while in the non-fracking area it went up 5 percent.

That’s significant because ozone season has traditionally been confined to the summer months. Moreover, EPA’s smog standards have become increasingly stringent over time, as scientists find more evidence for health problems at lower levels. If the EPA were to lower the ozone standard to 60 or 65 parts per billion—it currently sits at 75 ppb—the Dallas-Fort Worth region could find itself out of compliance even during winter months.

Regardless, Ahmadi’s research directly challenges the message from Gov. Rick Perry and Texas’ top environmental officials, who routinely dismiss links between smog, and oil and gas activity. On its website, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality claims that because the wind “blows emissions from the Barnett Shale away from the DFW area,” those emissions from fracking are “not expected to significantly affect ozone in the DFW area.”

The new UNT research isn’t the only recent study suggesting that the state’s scientific understanding of ozone is shaky. A study conducted for the Alamo Area Council of Governments, released earlier this month, found that fracking activity in South Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale would drive large increases in the two main ozone ingredients and imperil San Antonio’s compliance with federal smog rules.

Apparently, the group’s public probing of the fracking-smog links didn’t sit too well with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The Austin American-Statesman reported on Monday:

“The Texas environmental agency has frozen funding for a San Antonio area governmental coalition’s air quality improvement work after an official there publicly shared modeling results that suggested fracking contributed pollution to the city.

“Last summer the Alamo Area Council of Governments made public a report that found that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Eagle Ford shale field endangers air quality in the San Antonio area – and, to a milder extent, the Austin area.

“The Alamo group, composed of officials representing local governments over a 12-county area, did not share the report’s data beforehand with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which had paid for its collection.

“So when it came time last fall to dole out money to councils of government from across the state – including the council from the Austin area – all but the Alamo area council were rewarded with a roughly 30 percent uptick in Legislature-appropriated money to carry out air quality monitoring and planning work.”

 

KETK's Neal Barton
KETKNBC.com
KETK's Neal Barton

Sometimes it’s baffling that the United States, unlike most of the world, continues to have a persistently large population of climate change deniers. But, then, you see something like this—a preposterously misleading commentary on climate change that ran on KETK, the NBC affiliate in Tyler—and you begin to understand why. The two-minute segment, which ran on Friday, was billed as “Global Warming, Laughable” and featured the commentary of KETK News Director Neal Barton. The piece is riddled with factual errors, bizarre assertions and it cites an obscure scientist and a committee of the United Kingdom House of Commons. Oh, and it’s also plagiarized from a British newspaper. Basically, Barton read portions of a story from the Yorkshire Evening Post on his “POV” segment, passing the views off as his own.

The story (or in this case, a text version of what aired) opens innocently enough:

Recently, a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its first report in seven years on the now widely accepted phenomenon known as “climate change.”

For the record, the IPCC is the global authority on climate science, consisting of hundreds of climate authorities from dozens of countries. The panel’s recent findings call climate change “unequivocal” and warn of dire effects from sea-level rise, wildfires, flood and drought.

But then, Barton’s POV takes an abrupt (far-right) turn away from the broad scientific mainstream into a kind-of false-balance upside-down world.

But, one teacher says it’s all bunk and you won’t hear this on the mainstream media. So I’m glad to serve equal time.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report, damning the media for confusing ‘fact’ with opinion and pushing the message that, in terms of freak weather, ‘the worst is yet to come.’

Yeah, sure it is.

Barton doesn’t mention that the House of Commons is a British institution. But more important, he gets the committee’s report completely wrong. The report, in fact, laments  that the public is misinformed on what scientists know about climate change, and criticizes the media in the UK—the BBC in particular—for scientific inaccuracy and relying on “experts” with an agenda. Which is precisely what Barton does. So he says in his commentary:

Emeritus Professor Les Woodcock goes against the grain and when a reporter asks the former NASA scientist about “climate change” and “global warming,” he laughs.

He says the term “climate change” is meaningless. The Earth’s climate has been changing since the Earth was formed 1,000 million years ago. The theory of “man-made climate change” is an unsubstantiated hypothesis [about] our climate [which says it] has been adversely affected by the burning of fossil fuels in the last 100 years, causing the average temperature on the Earth’s surface to increase very slightly, but with disastrous environmental consequences..

Notably, Professor Woodcock gets the age of Earth wrong. it’s not 1 billion years old, it’s about 4.54 billion. But, then, why is Barton quoting a British professor when the U.S. has most of the world’s prominent climate denialists? I emailed Barton yesterday to ask about some of his claims and he sent me a link to a news article in the Yorkshire Evening Post, one of the leading newspapers of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. Which is kind of a weird thing to do because, as it turns out, nearly every word of Barton’s commentary is lifted verbatim from the Yorkshire Evening Post story, which ran in February, including the quote from Woodcock. The only difference is that Barton noticeably pauses over the word “reproducible” twice, and then skips over it. He also adds a few choice interjections (“Amen sir”).

I asked Barton in an email about his apparent plagiarism.

“We’ve only been keeping records for 100 years,” he responded. “I was told this when I did tv weather 30-years ago. That’s was before I went through 40 hours of college meteorology. I was told this by meteorologist who trained me. They were absolutely right then—and now. The Evening Post was right on it.”

I asked him if it was appropriate to plagiarize in a commentary.

He responded (spacing in the original):

I attributed right from the article.

I said where I got it from.

Plagiarism is just saying here is what I think and never mentioned where you found it.

I cite articles all the time.

Of course it’s ok in a commentary.

It’s the basis many times for the commentary.

That’s where you start.

You agree or sometimes disagree.

This is not the first time Barton, or KETK, has run into controversy. In 2010, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy criticized the station for its cheerleading of a tea party event in Tyler that featured Glenn Beck and Rick Perry. The reporter responsible for that report explained to StinkyJournalism.com, “The TV station I work for, and I don’t necessarily agree, has taken a right-wing approach.”

But Barton explained that KETK is “right on track with our coverage of the Tea Party.”

Rick Perry at "The Response" in August 2011
Patrick Michels
Texas Gov. Rick Perry's prayer rally, The Response, at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

The companies angling to build a facility for high-level nuclear waste in Texas have found a high-level cheerleader: Rick Perry. This week the governor sent a letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and speaker of the House Joe Straus, urging the Legislature “to develop a Texas solution for the long-term resolution of [high-level waste] currently residing inside our borders.”

Perry’s boosterish letter follows Straus’ January directive to a House committee to study storage and disposal options for high-level nuclear waste.

The use of the phrase “Texas solution” in Perry’s letter is interesting. Go to texassolution.com and you will find a slick site for Waste Control Specialists, the radioactive waste company developed by the late Harold Simmons. Waste Control’s Andrews County dump was predicated on the notion that it would only take low-level radioactive waste, but just this week, the company began accepting—for temporary storage—transuranic waste from New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project following a radiation leak at that facility.

In February, I asked Waste Control spokesman Chuck McDonald if the company was considering high-level waste.

“It is something we are open to the possibility of,” McDonald said. “We would obviously have conversations with the community in Andrews. … There is a new recognition that something may need to be done and interim storage may be something where we can provide a solution for the state and others if it comes to that. It’s very early in this process.”

Perry doesn’t mention Waste Control specifically and, indeed, there are other interests floating proposals for storing high-level waste in West Texas. Austin-based AFCI Texas, for example, has been sniffing around Big Spring for a while. AFCI is co-owned by a Perry crony—Bill Jones, who the governor appointed to serve on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department board.

Officials in Loving County, which is the smallest county by population in the nation, have also expressed interest in hosting spent nuclear fuel.

Perry told a West Texas TV station yesterday that he believes there is a “legitimate site in West Texas.”

“Sure. I think there are a couple of sites in the State of Texas that the local communities actively are pursuing that possibility,” Perry told KCBD during a stop in Lubbock.

Along with his letter, Perry included a 49-page report drafted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which lays out the options for storing high-level nuclear waste in Texas. Currently, the spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s 100 or so nuclear reactors has no permanent home. The federal government’s preferred option—burying the waste deep underground in the Nevadan desert at Yucca Mountain—has been more or less scuttled. In January 2012, a blue ribbon commission (are all commissions adorned with blue ribbons?) appointed by Obama recommended that work begin in earnest to develop one or more centralized storage facilities along with one or more deep geologic burial sites. The idea is that the waste would be shipped from the nuclear reactors to be stored temporarily for decades, until (or if) it could then be buried somewhere.

The report takes quite a bit of editorial license and seems to be particularly concerned with how to make a public-private storage option work. “The lack of an alternative to onsite indefinite storage is hindering nuclear energy from being fairly considered as an energy option and is an embarrassment to this country’s reputation for its capability to handle its waste.

Basically, the report suggests that the U.S. Department of Energy should own a centralized storage facility in Texas, where the spent fuel from nuclear power plants can be sent and held for decades, while it works on a deep geological disposal site. A private company, the report recommends, could operate the facility. The reason for the public-private arrangement is that the federal government would have title to the waste in case something goes wrong. Otherwise, building such a facility “may be too uncertain for a private company to attempt.” And we wouldn’t want that.

The authors stress the importance of finding a community that embraces radioactive waste, specifically citing the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico and Waste Control’s dump in Andrews. “Finding a site that has local and state support would greatly enhance the chance of a private centralized interim storage site being successfully sited and constructed,” the report concludes.

The legal, political and technical hurdles involved in establishing even an interim storage site, much less a Yucca Mountain-style disposal site, are obviously significant. Just for starters, Congress would have to change the law to allow for the arrangement TCEQ/Perry is proposing. There’s also the teensy issue of transportation. Moving all the nuclear waste to a single central storage unit would take 20 years and up to 10,700 shipments by rail or 53,000 by truck. The radioactive waste would inevitably pass through thousands of communities, many of which might not like the idea of serving as  corridor for a private company to profit from nuclear waste.

To my mind there are echoes of Rick Perry’s other splashy proposals: Think Trans-Texas Corridor or the mandatory HPV vaccine mandates—cronyism posing as bold public policy. Notably, both Trans-Texas Corridor and the HPV mandate were high-profile flops that nearly cost him his political career. Perry is not known as a Big Idea man or a policy wonk, despite his recent makeover with those MSNBC glasses and his appearance at Davos. Merits aside, his policy proposals have typically been the product of close allies and business interests pushing an agenda and using Perry as a pitchman. And they’ve not been popular with the conservative grassroots.

Perry’s executive order requiring Texas girls to get vaccinated for HPV caused an uproar on the religious right, who thought the state should have no business inoculating girls against a sexually-transmitted disease. Others were repelled by the crony capitalism angle: Perry’s former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, was a lobbyist for Merck, the company that sold the HPV vaccine Gardasil. Perry was forced to scrap the mandate and it haunted him when he ran for president in 2011-2012.

The Trans-Texas Corridor had something for everyone to hate: Rural Texans took exception to the use of eminent domain to seize land for a private company; environmentalists loathed the notion of building a vast new fossil fuel-driven infrastructure; and tea party types (before they were called that) saw the making of a vast intercontinental conspiracy at the heart of the Corridor.

It’s not clear whether there is a larger plan to the high-level waste deal, or this is just the governor’s usual business cheerleading. But the extensive TCEQ report, commissioned by Perry, suggests that there is some long-term effort at work. The question is whether the conservative grassroots takes any interest in the issue. There is not an obvious bugaboo as with Trans-Texas corridor or the HPV vaccine.

If the private interests can lock down local support perhaps any widespread opposition can be blunted from the get-go.

WTF Friday: Ban Everything!

Don Huffines approaches Peak Dallas
DonHuffines.com
Don Huffines approaches Peak Dallas

And now on this day, gathered WTF faithful, let us turn to our brother, the late great Bill Hicks, for a few words on Creationists:

But get this, I actually asked one of these guys, “Ok, dinosaur fossils—how does that fit into your scheme of life?” 

He said: “Dinosaur fossils? God put those here to test our faith.”
“I think God put you here to test my faith.”

Sady, Hicks didn’t live long enough to have his faith tested by Don Huffines, a Dallas multi-millionaire tea partier opposed to taxes and government (unless it’s taxes and government he can control and profit from, natch)—and the next state senator from white, whiter, whitest Dallas. Huffines, who looks a bit like Dan Quayle’s brother from another mother, may have finally achieved Peak Dallas (Exhibit A: this family portrait/J. Crew catalog). But, more to the point, Huffines is an out-and-proud creationist. He wants Texas public school-kids to be taught creationism, dammit. As he told KERA this week:

“I certainly think all students should be aware of creationism. They should be aware of that, absolutely. Teaching it as a science, it should be taught on equal footing.”

Speaking of creationism, there must be something in the water down in Glen Rose. The town of 2,000 is home to the Creation Evidence Museum, a nuclear power plant (coincidence) and at least one local pol with some interesting ideas. Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy flagged a letter in the local paper this week penned by one Eric Bolanger, former candidate for Glen Rose mayor. Now in the political food chain, a failed small-town mayoral candidate probably ranks somewhere around phytoplankton—but Belanger has some sound advice for remaking the “dinosaur just waiting to die” that is the Texas GOP. Key message: Don’t be like the Marxist-Democrats with their minority outreach!

Until the GOP understands this fact: our modern day immigrants are not the same as our past and that they do not hold the same values, the GOP has condemned themselves to history.

Equality and diversity have been sponsored by the Democrats and are not the way to victory, but defeat.

Mainstream Republicans like John McCain just talk about “building the dang fence.” Bolanger wants to do it—and he’s got a plan.

We the people of Texas MUST form a 501c3 trust whose goal is to build a huge private cement wall on private land – from Brownsville to El Paso. Government will NOT stop our nation from becoming a Guatemala. Only “We the People” can.

Meanwhile, back in Dallas, the liberty-loving folks can hear the distant footsteps of fascism coming in the form of a proposed fee on single-use plastic bags, which are better known at WTF HQ as #freedombags. According to Dallas City Councilman Rick Callahan:

“Let’s just ban everything. That what this sounds like.”

“Ban Everything”: Someone please put that up as a bumper-sticker on CafePress.

And, finally, let’s end with the poetic Twitter musings of state Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington). First, he got those two Castro brothers—Julian and what’s his name—mixed up in defending Buc-ee’s from the boycott that ensued after the chain’s owners announced their support for Sen. Dan Patrick’s lieutenant governor bid. It was Joaquin the congressman, not Julian the mayor, who called on people to boycott Buc-ee’s, or as Zedler calls it, Bucks-ee’s.

Also: Is it such a good idea to fill a store up with gasoline while you’re buying beef jerky? Maybe banning everything isn’t such a bad idea.