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Forrest for the Trees

Justin Lookadoo
Justin Lookadoo

1) I am not so old that I’ve forgotten the motivational speakers and sex ed experts our Central Texas high school would bring in to educate, or miseducate, us, usually employing a combination of scare tactics, tortured metaphors (“you can only unwrap a gift once”) and props (e.g. Velcro gloves that riiiiiiiip apart to demonstrate the heartbreak of pre-marital sex). Anyway, it’s not news that there is a whole lucrative circuit of clownish abstinence-only experts. But, boy, does this Justin Lookadoo fellow take the cake. Looking a bit like a frosted porcupine, Lookadoo is a former East Texas probation officer turned Christian motivational speaker who runs a site called R U Dateable. (Take the quiz here!)

Amazingly it’s taken a decade for him to attract much critical notice but credit to the students at Richardson High School who ripped him on social media after doing some Google-research—something the school administrators either didn’t do, or worse did and were undeterred, when they invited him to speak this week. A small sampling of the Lookadoo oeuvre.

“Somewhere between the modern church and the feminist movement, guys turned into pansies. Stand up and be a man! Do something with your life!”

“Be mysterious. Dateable girls know how to shut up.”

And if you take a looksie into the Lookadoo archives you find this gem from a 2003 Washington Times profile:

“I watch [teens], study them and live with them. Plus I read ‘Cosmo Girl’ and ‘YM’ – everything teen girls read. Guys don’t read, so I watch what they watch.”

2) Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), who makes Louie Gohmert look like a statesman, spent much of Wednesday playing Mad Libs with the lackluster Obamacare rollout. My favorite:

3) Finally, one guess who this is. Hint: He’s a WTF Friday fan favorite, a politician who rails against “elites.”

“We hadn’t left Manhattan before he asked my IQ. When I told him I didn’t know, he asked, ‘Well, what’s your SAT score? That’s closely coordinated with your IQ.’  It went from, ‘Nice guy’ to ‘uh-oh.’ ”

Dead catfish at San Angelo's OC Fisher Reservoir
Jen Reel

Updated below with data from National Weather Service

Folks in Wichita Falls don’t need a reminder that the Great Texas Drought is far from over.

The city of Wichita Falls on Tuesday officially announced unprecedented Stage 4 drought restrictions that ban almost all outdoor watering, ratchet up surcharges for over-consumption and prohibit golf courses from watering with city water, among other rules. The North Texas city joins a list of towns that have run into serious water shortages, including Robert Lee, Spicewood Beach and Barnhart

The new restrictions were triggered when the city’s two drinking-water lakes—Lake Arrowhead and Lake Kickapoo—fell to a combined 30 percent capacity. The lakes, like most reservoirs west of Interstate 35, have been in steady decline for years as drought’s handmaidens—heat, evaporation and heavy municipal demand—take their toll. Both are at historic lows and it doesn’t appear that the water restrictions so far have arrested the withering-away of the lakes.

lake kickapoo


Lake Arrowhead

At a press conference this morning, city officials were blunt in their assessment.

“Make no mistake, this is a crisis,” [City Manager Darron Leiker] said, then reinforcing weather conditions that led to the current drought stage. “It’s really nothing short of a natural disaster we’re dealing with.”

While rains the past few months have given much of Texas some relief, Wichita Falls is in a pocket of extreme conditions—the latest victim in a three-year drought that’s morphed and shifted around the state like lichen, here growing stronger, there slackening but persisting nonetheless.

Drought map of Texas, Nov. 2013
US Drought Monitor
Drought map of Texas, Nov. 2013

“The city of Wichita Falls would typically see 28 days of 100-degree temperatures. In 2011, we saw 100 days over 100 degrees,” he said. “Think about that for a minute. That’s over three months of over 100 degrees.”

The director added that the city received just 13 inches of rain in 2011, less than half of the average rainfall of more than 28 inches. He said 2012 and 2013 have had similar results — above normal temperatures and below normal rainfall — and the result is the severe drought that has decimated the region.

Victor Murphy, climate service program manager at the National Weather Service, says 2011-2012 was the warmest consecutive two-year stretch on record for Wichita Falls and the driest two-year stretch. Going into 2013, the area had a 22-inch rainfall deficit. That combination was the “1-2 punch to the gut that floored the Wichita Falls area,” Murphy said.

And while 2013 has been somewhat kinder—temperatures have been near normal—Wichita Falls is running a seven-inch rainfall deficit for the year, bringing the total gap in precipitation over the past three years to an unbelievable 29 inches, about the amount Wichita Falls gets in a whole year.

Of course, climate change has nothing to do with any of this.

Louie Gohmert

President Obama was in Texas this week—Dallas, to be specific—defending Obamacare and encouraging Gov. Rick Perry to accept the basically-free Medicaid expansion deal that would save thousands of lives.

Texas Republicans used the opportunity to blast not just the rocky roll-out of the exchange website, but the whole idea of providing health care. Uncle Louie Gohmert, who I trust will be making regular WTF Friday appearances, naturally took things the furthest. Politicians are always accusing the press of “taking things out of context,” but in this instance Gohmert looks better out of context.

1) “When you know how dramatically people are adversely affected, do you want to let people suffer and potentially die, or do you do everything you can to try to put it off?”—U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)

You’d almost think he was talking about the need for government intervention in the healthcare marketplace to avoid needless suffering and death. In fact, he was explaining why the House GOP thought it was worth shutting down the government and bringing the economy to the brink of disaster in a vain attempt to derail Obamacare.

The remainder of our WTF Friday quotes seem to point to a theme: creative policymaking.

Down at the Texas Supreme Court, tweetin’ maniac Justice Don Willett staked out a compassionate GOP position on LGBT rights. The court is considering whether same-sex couples, who legally married in another state, should be allowed to get divorced in Texas despite the state’s ban on gay marriage.

2) “It would seem to many that divorce would further the state’s public policy and not undermine the state’s public policy.”-@JusticeWillett

Logic: Gay marriage, bad. Straight marriage, good. Straight divorce, bad. Gay divorce, good.

Meanwhile, in the family values department, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, author of If Jesus Were an Investment Banker and apparent Quiverfull movement sympathizer Barry Smitherman settled on his anti-poverty plan:

3)  “First get an education, then get a job, then get married, then have children – and you will not live at the poverty level.”—Barry Smitherman

Finally, we end with (who else?) Pastor Rafael Cruz—father of Ted, hero to millions. Pater Cruz took his Sunday school class on the road, speaking to a gun group in Oklahoma and producing enough WTF fodder to last WTF Friday for two weeks at least. But this is the gem that really stands out, policy-making according to the Old Testament God.

4) “You know, the Bible is so clear. Go to Genesis chapter nine and you will find the death penalty clearly stated in Genesis chapter nine … God ordains the death penalty!”—Rafael Cruz

In Genesis 9:4, God also admonishes Noah, who lived to 950 according to Genesis 9:28, to “not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” I hope the Cruzes don’t like their steak raw.

Texas Drought
Erik A. Ellison/ Wikimedia Commons
Texas drought

Texas voters on Tuesday continued their streak, since 1985, of approving big-ticket water funding at the polls. Prop 6, despite 11th hour opposition from some tea party groups and environmentalists, passed handily. At 9:55 p.m. the measure had a healthy 73 percent in favor, with 68 percent of the precincts reporting—a wider margin of victory than I think most prognosticators expected.

The Texas Water Development Board will now oversee a $2 billion water bank, seeded with capital from the Rainy Day Fund, to help pay for water supply projects and water conservation across the state. The large margin of victory is testimony to the growing public awareness of the state’s serious water problems. (And so much for those silly predictions that “the rain” would dampen enthusiasm at the polls.)

Boosters, including many of the industrial interests that have the most to lose from water scarcity, did a good job positioning Prop 6 as the solution. The message was basically, “Want to do something about our water problems? Here’s the solution. Got a better idea?”

I did notice that a few rural East Texas counties posted large margins against Prop 6. Of course, that’s where the water is and the people aren’t. It’s not unreasonable for East Texans to worry that a multi-billion-dollar water bank will fund projects to move water from east to west. Indeed, they need only look at Dallas’ official plans. In Red River County, where the long-contested Marvin Nichols Reservoir is proposed, the vote on Prop 6 was 57 percent opposed to 43 percent in favor.

Gov. Rick Perry hailed Prop 6’s passage. “Today, the people of Texas made history, ensuring we’ll have the water we need to grow and thrive for the next five decades, without raising state taxes.”

Most large environmental groups supported Prop 6, in large part because of a target that at least 20 percent of the funding from the state water bank will go toward conservation and water reuse projects. Ken Kramer, the former director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, was instrumental in lining up the conservation earmark and was one of the most persuasive voices in favor of Prop 6. He celebrated the victory tonight but sounded a note of caution too.

“Now the real work begins,” Kramer said in a statement. “Texans need to become actively involved in regional water planning and in local government water supply decisions to make sure that the potential for Prop 6 to advance water conservation and enhance water planning is achieved.”

The only projects that will get funded from the state water bank will be those prioritized by regional water planning groups, which are loose amalgamations of “stakeholders.” There was so much uncertainty around the level of interest in funding conservation that lawmakers had to get creative in the way they worded the 20 percent provision, settling on the decidedly awkward phrasing of “shall undertake to apply not less than.”

There are other questions around the state water bank. Will it turn into another slush fund for Perry (or Greg Abbott or Wendy Davis) cronies? This is a state in which funding for cancer research was politicized and mishandled to a degree that spawned an active criminal investigation. This is a state where no one bats an eye when the governor’s Texas Enterprise Fund hands $12 million to one of the world’s most profitable oil companies to build an office tower it had already planned to build.

If the Texas Water Development Board’s calculations are to be believed, the $2 billion in capital from the Rainy Day Fund will be enough, through the miracles of public finance, to fund $27 billion in water projects over the next few decades. Will the money be used prudently, or will it be squandered? Ultimately the voters will decide. It’s largely out of the voters’ hands now.

A United Nations flag looms large over the Alamo
Daniel Schwen and Makaristos via Wikimedia, and Patrick Michels
The seventh, and final, flag over Texas

I read somewhere recently that the conservative movement right now is having its own version of the 1960s (minus the sex, drugs and good music, of course). Every lark, every wild idea, every compulsion and every impulse is having its moment in the sun. The fringe has not so much moved to the Republican center as swallowed it whole.

If it feels good, do it. Bring down the government, burn your Obamacare cards, turn on, tune in, drop out. If they call you crazy, then you must be doing something right. If you can think of something, it must be true. Don’t trust anyone under 55. Obama’s a Kenyan. Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery. Agenda 21, CSCOPE, Benghazi—and if you don’t believe it, you’re part of the problem, man.

That brings us to this week’s WTF Friday, where we learn that Hans Blix, Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali and a phalanx of blue-helmeted U.N. troops are going to do what Santa Anna could not and permanently occupy The Alamo. We learn that Ted Cruz’s closest advisor, his father Rafael Cruz, thinks Obama hails from the Serengeti. We check in with Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), the “nuttiest” freshman in the very nutty U.S. House of Representatives. And more!

1) “It is ironic that while many Texans across the state talk about the dangers of the UN’s Agenda 21, the Alamo, the very symbol of Texas liberty and freedom, may fall under U.N. influence.”
—George Rodriguez, president of the San Antonio Tea Party, warning of a UN plot to take over the Alamo

2)  “Horse hockey.”
—Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, responding to “Internet gossip.” Notably, one of the purveyors of the U.N./Alamo plot was Alex Jones, with whom Patterson shared a stage during a gun rally at … the Alamo just two weeks ago.

3) “So I’ll tell you, we have our work cut out for us. We need to send Barack Obama back to Chicago. I’d like to send him back to Kenya.”
—Rafael Cruz, father of Texas’ junior U.S. senator, speaking to a Hood County tea party group. Video of the speech surfaced this week in a Mother Jones story.

4) “Abortion is against women’s rights and what women are called to be, which are wives and mothers.”
—Father Will Combs, pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, speaking to the San Antonio Express-News outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Antonio on Thursday. Combs was celebrating an appeals court decision on Texas’ harsh new abortion law, which has already lead to at least nine clinics across the state halting abortion services, according to the Texas Tribune.

5) “Remember the guy that shot up and murdered American soldiers in San Antonio? The president said, ‘We can’t call him a terrorist.’ Who’d he call a terrorist? John Boehner, a working-class guy from Ohio, who’s pretty much a moderate who cries.”
—Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), speaking last Friday on Kevin Price’s talk show in Houston. We think he was referring to the Nidal Hasan shooting at Fort Hood in 2009. We think.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
Patrick Michels
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announces his run for governor in San Antonio, July 14, 2013.

On Monday, Greg Abbott, who has been very light on the policy proposals so far, finally unveiled some Big Ideas at a campaign stop in Brownsville. In a sign that Abbott, like Rick Perry, is willing to borrow budgeting ideas from the libertarian fringe, he proposed a suite of changes to the fundamentals of state budgeting that would effectively put Texas in a permanent state of austerity and dramatically expand the governor’s budgeting authority. None of the ideas is new, exactly—and few, I think, have a chance of going anywhere.

Texas Monthly‘s Paul Burka, in blasting the proposal, probably spoke for a lot of people who were hoping Abbott would back away from some of Perry’s excesses: “The only solace one can take in Abbott’s vision for the future of the state is that it resolves the question of whether he would be better or worse than Rick Perry. Astonishing as it may seem, I think he is worse than Perry.”

Let that sink in: Worse than Perry.

Billed as “A Working Plan for Texans,” Abbott’s proposal is basically a list of proposed constitutional amendments he’d like the Legislature to put before voters. So, the Legislature would have to willingly give away some of its power and then voters would have to be convinced to sign off. That’s a long shot, at least where things stand now.

One of his amendments to the state constitution would link state spending to population growth and inflation. Currently, the Texas Constitution ties spending to personal income, a more generous limit because the state’s economy tends to grow faster than population plus inflation.

Another would impose restrictions on the use of the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a multi-billion-dollar fund that’s become the object of a perpetual legislative tug-of-war.

Abbott would also like to grant himself more power to line-item veto budgetary items. In addition, he would end so-called budgetary diversions—the practice of collecting taxes or fees intended for a specific purpose—e.g. the tax on sporting goods that’s supposed to pay for parks and wildlife—but instead holding the money in order to balance the budget. It’s the sort-of green-eye-shade alchemy that drives both left and right nuts, but could, under the strictures of the Abbott plan, lead to deep cuts to core services (read: public schools and health and human services).

The idea of tying spending to inflation and population growth is not a new one. It’s been popular among elements of the right for years. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, uber-activist Michael Quinn Sullivan and even Perry have flogged the proposal for years. But it’s never gone anywhere for two main reasons—one, there is little appetite in the Texas Legislature for tying their own hands; two, it’s a bad idea.

Texas is already a (relatively) low tax, minimal services, small government state. Indeed, as Nate Blakeslee pointed out in a January Texas Monthly profile of Sullivan, state spending as a share of both the state’s gross domestic product and personal income has been trending downward for two decades. For personal income, which is what the Comptroller uses to set a spending limit, the share of spending has decreased from around 5.2 percent in the early ’90s to just over 4 percent today. Even using the population-plus-inflation spending limit, Texas’ budget has stayed under that limit for the last decade, according to an analysis by the Legislative Budget Board.

In other words, there’s just not a spending problem in Texas. Which is not the same thing as saying there’s an inequity problem when it comes to how revenues are collected (not having a state income tax, for example, means the poor and middle class take it on the nose with regressive sales and property taxes).

Still, tying the state’s budget to inflation and population growth could further constrain state government. You could pretty much forget about ever investing more in public schools, higher education or infrastructure, at least during non-flush times.

In April, the Legislative Budget Board crunched the numbers. The growth in personal income used to set the spending cap for 2014-2015 was 10.71 percent. In other words, the state could spend almost 11 percent more than it had the previous biennium. Using population growth plus inflation instead would limit spending growth to 6.82 percent. That would mean $2.7 billion less for state leaders to work with. That’s not a huge number given that the 2014-2015 state budget includes $95 billion in general revenue. But lowering the spending limit now would have a compounding effect over time.

That’s probably the point—force future generations to subscribe to the current model of low-ish taxes and minimal services. Abbott more or less admitted as much during a press confab after his Brownsville speech.

“By imposing these standards by constitutional provision it means that for generations there will be limits in the growth of spending in this state,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

However, the Legislature has shown little appetite for any of the proposals Abbott is touting. A bill tying the spending limit to population-plus-inflation is filed every session… and goes nowhere.

“I think that even the conservative Legislature of the past few cycles has come face-to-face with the reality that they need to spend money on our physical infrastructure and our human infrastructure too,” said Dick Lavine, with the liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities. “They understand that we’re scraping along the bottom as it is.”

Republican Party of Texas convention in Fort Worth, Tex.
Patrick Michels
Ted Cruz

Unless you have a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag in front of your home, you’ve probably never heard of Toby Marie Walker, president of the Waco Tea Party. But you can bet Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and lots of other top Texas Republicans have her number on speed dial.

A prominent conservative activist since 2009, Walker is part of a constellation of tea party leaders and groups around the state who are the real constituents of Texas Republicans. They have the ears of the politicians, not the business community or newspaper editorial boards or the other hoary “opinion leaders” who wield less influence than ever. They are the enforcers and counselors, the intermediaries between “The Base”—the rump of the GOP that runs this state by selecting candidates in the GOP primary—and the elected officials. They are the agents of radicalization. When people from outside the state marvel at Ted Cruz’s intransigence in the face of collapsing poll numbers and revulsion by his colleagues, just keep in mind that he is toasted as a hero by activists like Walker. And those polls are lies anyway.

“Do you really trust anything the polls have to say?” Walker asked on her radio show recently. “Polls can be so skewed.”

Even if you believe the polls that have found the Republican brand in deep trouble, it doesn’t matter for the moment. People like Walker are controlling the debate in Texas, and it’s her opinion that matters.

It was on Walker’s radio show that Dewhurst first claimed to have seen DPS troopers smelling bottles filled with urine and “bags” of feces at Capitol security checkpoints in July. It is on Walker’s radio show that he rehearses (and often butchers) his new tea party-approved lines. Texas, he said in October, would turn blue “over my dead, cold blood—cold body.”

When Dewhurst—poor Dewhurst—starts babbling about Benghazi and impeaching Obama, as he did in October to the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, you can be assured that he’s hoping to get in the good graces of Toby Marie Walker, or Dallas-Fort Worth’s Alice Linahan, one of the prime movers behind the bizarre CSCOPE non-troversy. (Linahan, by the way, recently encouraged her Facebook and Twitter fans to “re-educate” me. One of my apparent crimes: writing about an email that Texas Attorney General candidate Barry Smitherman sent to his daughter’s school teacher in which he complained about a tolerance lesson put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Smitherman’s wife, Marijane, mentioned the email during a radio program hosted by Linahan. The Southern Poverty Law Center, Smitherman wrote, was unfairly labeling groups like Crusaders For Yahweh, a neo-Nazi organization, as a “hate” group.)

The troubling thing is that the pandering pays off. After his impeachment proclamation in Tarrant County, Dewhurst was roundly ridiculed and practically ran away from a TV camera crew the next day. But he notably picked up an endorsement from the Eagle Forum’s Cathie Adams, who, at the same event in which Dewhurst endorsed impeachment, gave a rambling, paranoid lecture on the Muslim Brotherhood in which she accused both CIA Director John Brennan and hardcore anti-tax veteran Grover Norquist of being crypto-Muslims.

Dewhurst is in the tragicomic phase of his bumbling lurch to the far right (the Houston Chronicle called it “painful to watch”). Ever since his humiliating defeat by Cruz in last year’s U.S. Senate primary, the lite guv has been appearing in front of more small groups of cranky white-haired folks than the bingo caller down at the local nursing home.

“You’re listening,” Walker told him on her show in October. Dewhurst replied that he’d been talking to small conservative clubs for years, but now, he said, “Maybe I’m listening harder.”

To the voices in his head? No, worse: to the voices in other people’s heads.

Dewhurst is easy to pick on because he’s so obviously faking it. But if Texas Republicans seem to have descended into madness, it’s only because they’ve succumbed to an extreme fringe that now owns the party and is driving public policy in this state. There are 26 million Texans who, in theory, are Dewhurst’s and Cruz’s constituents. But in reality, the only ones who matter belong to the tea party.

WTF Friday: To the Barrycades!

Tom DeLay is not saying there should be revolution in the streets, but if that's what it takes...
Tom DeLay's booking photo
Tom DeLay's booking photo

Well, folks, it’s time once again for WTF Friday. Because it’s Friday, thank goodness, and it’s time to laugh, cry or spit your coffee, beer or other beverage of choice at the computer screen in reaction to the outrageous things our dear political friends said this week. After the Cruzapalooza of the last month, not to mention the lieutenant governor’s plumbing of new lows in his spirited run to the right, things were somewhat quieter in our fair land this week.

Louie Gohmert even managed to have a picknick near Dallas and as far as we can tell didn’t say anything quite up to the WTF standards of WTF Friday. Ted Cruz, meanwhile, was impugning Tex-Mex cuisine in cutesy interviews about what Ted likes. (No word on what his favorite color is, or what Sporting Team he most prefers.)

Sure, you had Alex Jones—with his dial set at 11, as usual—down at The Alamo this weekend hollering about “the globalists” and how there aren’t enough guns in blood-drenched Mexico, while hundreds of folks, including a few friendly neo-Nazis, carried loaded rifles and scaring the bejesus out of some Canadian tourists, dontchaknow?

But the week just wouldn’t have been nearly so WTF-y without a certain blast from the past shuffling back onto the national stage. Yep, it’s Hammer time again because Tom DeLay is back, baby. Tom DeLay—the nation’s only politician whose resumé includes pesticide sprayer, House majority leader, Dancing with the Stars punchline, convicted criminal and now… leader of the revolutionary vanguard! Speaking at a tea party event in Burleson Tuesday night, Tom DeLay urged the crowd to take to the Barrycades (get it?). Reported the Dallas Morning News:

“It’s time for a constitutional renewal, a constitutional revival,” DeLay said in Burleson, adding that this revival is inherently linked to a “spiritual awakening” he sees happening across the country. He said conservatives have allowed “the left to intimidate us, cut off our heads, put us in prison.”

“It’s time for a revolution,” DeLay said. “I am not advocating for revolution in the streets. But if that’s what it takes …

I’m not advocating that people just ignore Tom DeLay and maybe he’ll go away. But if that’s what it takes…

Speedy Roo, the mascot of the payday loan lender Speedy Cash, in an Austin advertisement.
Jen Reel
Speedy Roo, the mascot of the payday loan lender Speedy Cash, in an Austin advertisement.

Three months after an Observer investigation exposed how some payday loan companies aggressively pursue criminal charges against their customers, the state body that oversees the industry has issued an advisory telling companies to stop the practice.

State law prohibits payday lenders or debt collectors from “threaten[ing] or pursui[ing] criminal charges against a consumer,” except in limited cases. But, the Observer found at least 1,700 instances in which payday lenders pursued criminal complaints against customers who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay their payday loans. In some cases, people even ended up in jail.

To critics of the unregulated, booming payday loan market in Texas, the criminalization of borrowers—many of whom get trapped in a cycle of debt by rates that often exceed 500 percent—marked a new low in the industry’s tumultuous history.

In the advisory bulletin, the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner warned payday loan companies that they run the risk of violating Texas laws, including the Texas Debt Collection Act. “For example, if a consumer postdates a check to pay for a payday loan, and that check later bounces, this is not sufficient evidence to show that the consumer committed criminal conduct.”

The bulletin also addresses another shady practice we uncovered: Prosecutors essentially functioning as debt collection services for payday lenders. Although on shaky legal ground, the threats of criminal prosecutions could prove lucrative for cash-strapped districts attorney and lenders alike. The Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner warns that a lender “should not use a district attorney’s hot-check division simply as a means for collecting on delinquent loans.”

Ann Baddour, a consumer advocate with Texas Appleseed, said the credit commissioner has been seeing an “uptick” in complaints related to debt-collection. “It seems that the uptick, in combination with [the Observer] article made them feel they needed to issue the advisory.”

It’s not clear how much impact a simple advisory will have. The credit commissioner has long maintained that the law is clear: Payday lenders can’t even threaten criminal charges, except in some limited circumstances that rarely occur. But the agency’s policing has been spotty. It has no oversight over prosecutors or courts and only catches bad actors when people complain or they find violations during infrequent examinations.

“It will be interesting to see if it actually changes any practices,” Baddour said. “It may change the filing of criminal cases, but I doubt it will change the many threats of criminal repercussions that we hear anecdotally from borrowers.”

"Line in the Sand" rally at The Alamo
"Line in the Sand" rally flyer

Out-of-state and foreign visitors to the Alamo are in for a write-home-about-it treat tomorrow: Hundreds, possibly thousands, of gun-toting activists are showing up for a “family friendly,” “open carry” rally and march dubbed “Line in the Sand.” Organizers are encouraging participants to bring loaded shotguns, rifles and other “long guns” (i.e. non-handguns) to protest what they deem “a illegal ordinance [sic]” that prohibits “carry[ing] a loaded rifle or shotgun on any public street within the city.”

Well, that’s one of the goals, at least. So many gun-rights groups and other interests have been roped into this event—from Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to conspiracy broadcaster Alex Jones to the Oathkeepers to Michael Vanderboegh, who’s fond of brick-throwing—that it’s morphed into a free-form gunapalooza, with militia overtones. During his show yesterday, Alex Jones called it “the real God-given civil rights movement” and compared the San Antonio effort to Rosa Parks’ sitting at the front of the bus and “Gandhi marching to the sea.”

In a Facebook post today, the organizers wrote, “Our goal is Open Carry of Handguns and this event, will be used as a tipping point landmark example.”

Got that? Bring your loaded rifle to protest in favor of open carry of handguns.

Further complicating things, the organizers are clearly trying to tamp down on grumblings about the safety precautions, especially “voluntary chamber checks” to make sure a round isn’t in the chamber, ready to fire.

One man wrote that he would decline a “chamber flag”—basically a plastic straw stuck into the chamber to indicate that’s it’s empty. “As I understand it, this is supposed to be a line in the sand, not a city-regulated gun show,” the man wrote.

The organizers wrote on Facebook today that they “understand some of these requests may offend some, but please understand that a lot was put on the line for this event for many people.”

The San Antonio police chief has said that his officers won’t be enforcing the offending ordinance but the gun guys are still on high alert:

We should avoid individual movement at all costs. Travel in groups to The Alamo. We don’t want to open ourselves to be picked off one or two at a time. SAPD chief has said on record they will not be enforcing the 21-16 ordinance at this event…. We shall see but it’s best just to cover your rear.

If you’re at the Alamo tomorrow as a tourist, there’s no need to worry that you’re around a lot of paranoid, angry men carrying loaded weapons who might be in a militia.

This event is not a field training….. And showing up in multi-cams,LBVs [load-bearing vests],PCs does nothing more than reinforce the stereotype that we are pushing against….. If you want to dress up in full battle rattle, join a local militia group and attend the FTX’s [field training exercise]… We are Texas patriots at this event, not a standing army. Yelling terms like, “pigs” and “natzi” at police is counter productive to this event. We are trying to foster a positive relationship with law enforcement to prevent negative encounters…. Not encourage them.

We’ll have a reporter and a photographer at the event tomorrow. Stay tuned here.

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