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standardized testing
National and local civil rights groups are divided on their support for the growing opt-out movement protesting standardized tests.

Late last school year, as word spread in Houston that a growing number of parents planned to protest standardized testing by keeping their kids home on test day, the Houston Independent School District reached out with a not-so-friendly reminder. In a letter to parents, a district official noted that failure to show up on state test day would result in “negative consequences” such as a score of zero and mandatory summer school.

The letter was notable, first of all, because it wasn’t true; the district soon backtracked, calling the threats an editing error. But the greater truth behind the missive is how far the opt-out movement has come in such a short time. Three years ago, just a handful of Texas parents, frustrated by the way testing and test prep had come to dominate their children’s class time, were pulling their kids from test days as a sort of civil disobedience, to deprive schools of at least a few precious test scores. This year, the movement was large enough to compel a response from the district.

Much of that is thanks to a group called Community Voices for Public Education, which held meetings in homes around the city explaining parents’ rights. Ruth Kravetz, a former HISD administrator who co-founded the group, says she knew of one parent who opted out in 2014. She counted 80 parents doing so this year.

The opt-out movement has grown even faster outside the state, particularly in hotbeds of resistance to the national Common Core standards. Around 200,000 children opted out this year in New York. The growing movement’s most visible members — in the press and in positions of leadership — have been mostly white, middle- and upper-class parents; the opt-out trend has been criticized for sidelining the voices of poor black and Latino parents.

Against that backdrop, 12 national civil rights groups signed a letter in May opposing the opt-out movement and suggesting the language of civil rights had been “appropriated” wrongly by the anti-test crowd. “When parents ‘opt out’ of tests — even when out of protest for legitimate concerns — they’re not only making a choice for their own child, they’re inadvertently making a choice to undermine efforts to improve schools for every child,” they wrote.

But the letter reflects a split among civil rights groups — in some cases, even different chapters of the same group. The national NAACP signed the letter, for instance, even as its local chapter in Seattle was celebrating its massive opt-out drive. The national League of United Latin American Citizens signed the letter, too, putting it at odds with its largest state chapter, Texas.

“LULAC began in Texas, and Texas LULAC has consistently been against high-stakes testing,” says University of Texas professor Angela Valenzuela. “The national organizations do not at all reflect the studied opinion of LULAC in our state.”

Valenzuela is a former education committee chair for the group’s Texas chapter and was also part of the Latino-led resistance to standardized testing in the 1990s, when the state first began denying high school diplomas to students for failing state tests. That policy prompted a lawsuit from Dr. Hector P. Garcia’s American GI Forum on behalf of poor students of color almost 20 years before affluent Anglo parents rallied state lawmakers to their cause.

Valenzuela’s own children opted out of tests in the early 2000s, and she knows of other Latino students who avoided the tests out of protest, without a large movement behind them, and graduated anyway. But challenging schools and facing threats from officials is a lot to ask of parents who may be poor or don’t speak English.

Anecdotally, opt-out activists say their growing movement is getting less white, but it will always be easier for affluent parents to take part.

Kravetz, who helped organize this year’s opt-out drive in Houston, says black or Latino parents account for about 70 percent of those she knows opted out this year. It’s “crazy talk,” she says, to call the testing in Houston’s schools today a civil right; she expects next year’s opt-out effort will draw even more working-class parents as more people realize it’s their best chance at change.

In June, Community Voices for Public Education joined dozens of civil rights and education groups in a letter highlighting the broad local support for opting out. “High-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish Black and Latino students, and recent immigrants to this country,” they wrote.

“Had you talked to me three years ago, I would’ve said there’s no way that opting out is something that can make things better. I would say we have to change minds and change laws. But at this point, it looks like they’re going to be over-testing our children until all our schools are closed,” Kravetz says. “You can’t operate like testing people is going to make them not be poor.”


Correction: This story has been corrected from an earlier version, which mistakenly cited the work of Loyola University Chicago researcher Amy Shuffelton as related to the testing “opt-out” movement; her recent article dealt with school privatization and women “opting out” of the workplace.

Athlos Leadership Academy in Austin
Patrick Michels
North Austin's Athlos Leadership Academy under construction in August 2014.


Update July 20, 2:19 p.m.:
Late on Friday, Athlos Foundation Board President Tiffany O’Neill said in a statement that the board was “disappointed” by the 12-2 vote to reject its charter application, but that she and the board will keep trying.

During Friday morning’s meeting of the State Board of Education, Dallas Democrat Erika Beltran raised concerns about Athlos’ ambitious growth plans—particularly given that Athlos’ local information session drew just 15 prospective parents—and an out-of-state track record Beltran called concerning. Amarillo Republican Marty Rowley wondered about conflicts of interest in the school’s plan to lease buildings from an Idaho construction firm associated with Athlos Academies.

O’Neill told Beltran that theirs would be the first schools to use the academic curriculum developed by Idaho’s Athlos Academies, so comparisons to test scores at schools in other states would be unfair. To Rowley’s concerns, she said she still planned to solicit bids for the school construction, but simply used the Idaho firm’s contract and estimates as a reference point in the school’s application.

It’s the second year in a row that the state has rejected an application for an Athlos charter school amid concerns about the real estate and governance ties between a Texas-based Athlos Foundation board and the Athlos Academies leadership in Boise.


Update July 17, 11:47 a.m.:
In its meeting Friday morning, the State Board of Education vetoed the Athlos Academy application.

Original Story:
In a parallel universe somewhere, on an obscure cable network’s early-morning programming, there’s a reality show for folks vying to open their own charter schools. In that universe, as in ours, the prospects are a motley bunch of would-be edupreneurs, with “leadership academies” they’ve named after themselves, and side businesses selling vitamin supplements optimized for workplace productivity. And they’ve all got vastly different plans for improving Texas’ school system, a few hundred kids at a time.

On that reality show, a year’s work of filling out elaborate applications, holding public meetings, studying real estate markets and getting grilled by state regulators would all build to a tense final episode—one that would look an awful lot like the State Board of Education’s next couple of days.

Six new charters, which would open in fall 2016, are up for final approval by the state board Friday, based on final recommendations from Education Commissioner Michael Williams. All were tentatively approved this morning by a committee of five board members. Now the prospective schools now face one final hurdle: With a majority vote, the state board can veto any of the commissioner’s picks.

This is the second year under that approval system. Last year the board vetoed one application: a charter for Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies to expand into North Texas. (Williams sidestepped that veto by letting Great Hearts expand under a pre-existing charter for San Antonio.)

There’s probably a limited chance of drama in this year’s picks, but expect some debate from the board over one application in particular, from Athlos Academy. In its interview earlier this year, the Athlos team faced tough questions from board member Ruben Cortez over the school’s ties to out-of-state groups. Its application lists an entirely Texas-based board, but the Athlos brand refers to an Idaho-based charter school and real estate group that licenses the “Athlos” name for its character education program. The Athlos application includes a letter from the team in Idaho—an Athlos-associated group, The Charter School Fund—promising the school a $80,000 grant, as well as a lease agreement with an unspecified company at The Charter School Fund’s address in Boise.

According to the school’s proposal, between lease payments and licenses for the Athlos character curriculum, the new school would send about 20 percent of its state funding to Idaho.

Cortez told the Observer that his main concern with the Athlos application is its out-of-state roots. “I’ll take a position against any out-of-state entities wanting to come up and set up a charter in Texas,” he said. “I’m just gonna bring up my concerns, and obviously every member has a right to vote how they decide.”

As the Observer reported last year, the Idaho-based Athlos crew has been making inroads in Texas by constructing stately new school buildings and leasing them to pre-existing charters, some of which also take on the Athlos name or the character curriculum. Twice before, a group using the Athlos name has applied for its own charter from Texas and come up short; barring a surprise at this week’s meetings, they’ll finally be in luck.

Athlos plans to open two schools in the Dallas suburbs (its application originally proposed six), with a learning environment built on a model balancing academics with athletics and character development.

Other applicants up for final approval include Houston’s A+ Unlimited Potential, tied to the well-established education nonprofit Houston A+ Challenge and based on a classroom model they’ve piloted in the last few years. The rest of the schools, including Athlos, are scattered around the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs: Lone Star Language Academy in Plano, which would be the state’s only K-8 public school with a Hebrew language program; Trivium Academy in Frisco, which promises a “progressive take on a classical education”; Pioneer Technology and Arts Academy, which plans five middle- and high-school campuses around the Metroplex; and Kauffman Leadership Academy in Cleburne, headed by Dr. Theresa Kauffman who first applied for a charter in 2011. Kauffman Leadership Academy proposes an individualized learning environment with an anti-bullying focus—its application refers specifically to a series of child suicides with possible connections to bullying in Cleburne’s public schools.

More notable than the particulars of this year’s finalists may be the fact that there are so few of them—just six approvals out of 32 applications. Lawmakers sold the 2013 overhaul of Texas’ charter school system as a vast expansion. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, then a senator, heralded Senate Bill 2 as an opening for 100,000 Texas families on charter school waiting lists—a statistic that’s still used today as evidence of the unquenched thirst for school choice.

Instead, the law has closed low-scoring charter schools at an unprecedented rate while new applications have been flat.

David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association, says he’s glad to see so many community-based charters opening in Texas, but he hopes the state will do more to extend the popular sales pitch “Texas is open for business” to top charter school organizations in other states.

“I think some from out of state see some of the closures and things like that, and are looking to see the effects of that settle out. As the closure effects of Senate Bill 2 start to stabilize, I think we’ll start to see more interest from others as well,” Dunn told the Observer.

SBOE Vice-chairman Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican, said he’s in no hurry to see the state award charters at a faster clip. (Ratliff said he’ll vote this week along with members whose districts include the proposed charters.)

Ratliff sees the low number of approvals from Commissioner Williams as a sign that state regulators have been vetting applicants more rigorously.

“If it were a high number that would make you worry,” Ratliff says. “The small number gives me reason to believe that they’re sharpening their pencil a little bit on these, and that’s good because it’s hard to close them once they’re open.”

Pro-choice activists march down Congress Avenue.
Patrick Michels
Pro-choice activists march down Congress Avenue during the Stand For Life rally at the Capitol on July 8, 2013.


After years of watching Republicans in Congress chip away at abortion access, congressional Democrats, including three from Texas, are finally making a move.

Last week, U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-California), Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) and 70 Democrat co-sponsors filed House Resolution 2972—dubbed the EACH Woman Act—to repeal the decades-old Hyde Amendment, which bans Medicaid and other federal funds from covering abortions. The resolution would also prohibit states from banning coverage for abortion in private health plans offered through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges. (The Texas Legislature tried that this session, in fact, but the bill ended up dying after some drama between House Republicans).

U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson and Beto O’Rourke, all Texas Democrats, have signed on to the federal legislation. The bill faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Congress, but even debating the measure could change the tone of the abortion debate among lawmakers.

“For far too long, anti-choice politicians have been interfering [with] women’s health decisions by banning insurance coverage for abortion,” U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee wrote in a statement. The resolution, she wrote, “will help ensure every woman can make her own decisions about pregnancy, no matter how much she earns, how she’s insured, or where she lives.”

Passed in 1976 as a rider to that year’s Medicaid appropriations bill, the Hyde Amendment bans all federal public funds, including Medicaid and federal employee health insurance, from covering abortions, except when a woman’s life is in danger or she is a victim of rape or incest. In 1980, the Supreme Court upheld the measure, finding that the ban does not violate a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. At the time, the justices wrote that “The financial constraints that restrict an indigent woman’s ability to enjoy the full range of constitutionally protected freedom of choice are the product not of governmental restrictions on access to abortions, but rather of her indigency.”

The Guttmacher Institute, which studies national and state abortion and family planning policy, estimates that today, 1 in 4 women who would qualify for a Medicaid-covered abortion end up carrying their pregnancy to term. Others, advocates fear, may turn to unsafe measures to induce their own abortions.

The EACH Woman Act would have a huge impact for poor women in Texas, who tend to also be women of color, supporters of the resolution say. More than 1 million Texans are currently enrolled in Medicaid, and according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 57 percent of them are women, many of whom struggle to provide for their families.

The Hyde Amendment’s grim effects in Texas date back nearly 40 years.

Rosie Jimenez, a single mother living in McAllen, was a 27-year-old college student, a mother of one and a Medicaid recipient. She died of an infection in October 1977, two months after the measure took effect, after obtaining a cheap, illegal abortion when she couldn’t afford a safe, legal one.

In memory of Jimenez and the three other women who died that year under similar circumstances, abortion rights organizations have continuously called for its repeal. Organizations that help women cover the cost of their abortions have also cropped up in Texas, including the Lilith Fund, Texas Equal Access Fund, and the West Fund.

Nan Kirkpatrick, executive director of the TEA Fund, which helps North Texans pay for their procedures, said the EACH Woman Act would have a direct impact on women who call her hotline.

“We hear every day from people who are enrolled in Medicaid and have no coverage for their abortion care, and this bill would make it possible for them to access abortion without calling us for financial assistance,” Kirkpatrick told the Observer in an email. TEA Fund callers are often unemployed or underemployed, she wrote. And now that Texas has lost more than half of its abortion clinics under House Bill 2, longer travel to the nearest provider is adding to the expense.

“The EACH Woman Act will be a complete game changer for people’s ability to make reproductive decisions with autonomy and without having access blocked by lack of resources,” Kirkpatrick wrote.

The Lilith Fund, similar to the TEA Fund, helps Texans in Houston, Central and South Texas pay for their abortions. In 2014, 83 percent of the women the organization helped were women of color, and 72 percent were already mothers.

The EACH Woman Act has support from dozens of abortion rights groups across the country, but in today’s Congress the likelihood of repealing such a far-reaching abortion restriction is slim. Still, supporters see the resolution as a step forward. They’ve been calling on federal lawmakers to file such legislation for years, they say, and at least now some members of Congress are taking action.

“For too long we’ve seen anti-choice lawmakers drive the conversation, and it’s time for those who believe in reproductive freedom to take a proactive approach,” Kirkpatrick wrote. “If nothing else, this gives us a chance to start a conversation about why public funding for all reproductive health care options, including abortion, is essential for people in all parts of the United States, including Texas. Access to options shouldn’t depend on income or zipcode.”

A woman holds up a plastic baby as pro-choice demonstrators chant in the Capitol rotunda.
Patrick Michels
A woman holds up a plastic baby as pro-choice demonstrators chant in the Capitol rotunda during the Senate House Bill 2 debate on July 12, 2013.

The Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinic in Austin has been closed for a year. Back in July 2014, the organization stopped providing services at its flagship facility due to Texas’ House Bill 2, which imposes surgical-center standards and other restrictions on abortion clinics statewide. Though the clinic is closed, Austin women still knock on the adjacent administrative office’s door daily—sometimes multiple times a day—asking for help.

While staff must turn away women seeking abortion services, Whole Woman’s Health has reimagined its empty clinic. This summer, the organization’s president, Amy Hagstrom Miller, launched Shift, a nonprofit that aims to foster open, accurate conversations about abortion and to educate the community about the medical side of the procedure in the hopes of alleviating stigma and combating misinformation.

Texas is a battleground for abortion rights. The state has imposed dozens of regulations on women and providers, including HB 2, which bans abortion after 20 weeks, complicates the use of the medical abortion pill, and places structural demands on clinics. Through her organization’s role as an abortion provider, Hagstrom Miller sees an opportunity to change the conversation about abortion in the state, where the issue is steeped in stigma and politics. On top of operating abortion clinics in some of the more medically underserved regions of Texas, including the Rio Grande Valley and East Texas, Whole Woman’s Health is also challenging HB 2 in the courts.

“We don’t shy from this sort of conflict that people have about abortion. We see that all the time,” Hagstrom Miller told the Observer. “As providers we’re very comfortable talking about the issues that surround abortion, and we do it every day with the women that we serve.”

The sign on the front door of the former clinic off Interstate 35 in north Austin reads “ChoiceWorks,” the name of the new co-working space established by the Shift nonprofit, a space open, for free, to community groups, students and others for meetings, trainings or simply a quiet spot to work. The former clinic’s front waiting room feels like a lounge, while the former reception desk is stocked with office supplies for those using the space. The former clinic now contains conference rooms.

Much of the clinic, including three exam rooms and the counseling space, remains the same, intended to be used during public trainings that Hagstrom Miller and her team have dubbed “Abortion 101” workshops. The facility maintains much of the signature Whole Woman’s Health vibe found at the organization’s clinics in other cities: lavender walls and low lighting throughout, with each room dedicated to a strong female figure in history, complete with her photo and a quote on the wall. While no medical services take place, the idea is to walk trainees through the entire process of getting an abortion. Hagstrom Miller plans to invite local community groups, students and elected officials at first, and then look statewide.

“People can get factual information, but then also talk about what happens in this [exam] room, how regulations actually show up in the practice and how those regulations affect women’s lives and their families,” Hagstrom Miller said.

Planned Parenthood video from Center for Medical Progress
Center for Medical Progress
A covertly recorded video released by anti-abortion activist group the Center for Medical Progress shows excerpts of a conversation between Planned Parenthood medical research director Deborah Nucatola and activists pretending to solicit fetal tissue donations for a medical research company.

In response to a video released Tuesday by anti-abortion activist group the Center for Medical Progress, Gov. Greg Abbott has directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to investigate what he calls “the harvesting of baby body parts.” The video shows excerpts from a mealtime conversation between Planned Parenthood medical research director Deborah Nucatola and activists pretending to solicit fetal tissue donations for a medical research company. The videomakers’ claim that Planned Parenthood uses abortion to illegally “sell baby parts” is a misleading distraction from real issues of justice in medical research and care.

Federal law allows women to donate tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research. Clinics that collect such tissue may charge research companies a small fee for overhead costs, such as storing and transporting the tissue, but are barred from profiting from it.

The so-called harvesting of baby body parts supports research on diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It is legal. The claim that Planned Parenthood is breaking any laws by providing fetal tissue to researchers is pure applesauce.

Planned Parenthood official Eric Ferrero said in a press release yesterday that tissue donation through Planned Parenthood clinics occurs with “full, appropriate consent from patients. … There is no financial benefit for tissue donation.”

Furthermore, an analysis by Media Matters of the unedited video shows that it was deliberately edited to falsely suggest that Nucatola was helping clinics profit from fetal tissue donation.

For women who have abortions, tissue donation may be a way to find meaning in an unfortunate experience. While no patient should ever be pressured to contribute to research, such participation can be healing. Out of one’s own suffering arises the opportunity to help another person.

Anti-abortion activists won’t see it that way though. Arthur Caplan, director of the New York University Langone Medical Center’s Division of Medical Ethics, has said that “for critics of abortion, the idea of making something good from something they see as inherently evil is not something they have room for.”

Caplan, who has referred to fetal tissue research as “the ticking time bomb of medical ethics,” also argues that fetal tissue donation at abortion clinics presents a conflict of interest for clinicians because it “shifts the focus away from women and their needs.”

For example, Nucatola explains in the video that doctors may alter abortion procedures to preserve tissue for donation. Before removing the fetus from the uterus, they may change its position from head-down (vertex) to feet-down (breech). It is theoretically possible that the extra moment it takes to move that fetus presents a risky “shift of focus” from safe abortion care to effective tissue donation. In real life, though, the actual risk is minimal: Abortion is among the most common and safest surgical procedures. There is no evidence that tissue donation makes it any less safe.

In my experience, medical care always involves conflicting interests. Although we as patients would like to imagine legions of providers dedicated only to care, what we in fact encounter in clinics and hospitals are legions of human beings. Conflicting interests abound: Different patients compete for physicians’ time, for example, and the financial interests of hospital corporations conflict with doctors’ duty to provide care to the poor. In abortion care, the interest in preserving the health and safety of women with unwanted pregnancies (as well as their living children) conflicts with what anti-abortion advocates describe as the interests of the “unborn.”

In medical research, the public benefit of evidence-based care conflicts with the interests of those communities upon whom research is performed—and research is all too often performed on communities of color. The same folks who decry research on aborted fetal tissue benefit from evidence-based medical care that arises from ethically questionable research performed on living people in developing countries.

The job of medical ethics is not to eliminate conflicts of interest—an impossible task—but to help us navigate them.

Accordingly, I would disagree with both Caplan (who believes that fetal tissue research is a key issue of our day) and Abbott (who was quick to launch an investigation based on this week’s inflammatory and discredited video). What happens to fetal tissue after an abortion is simply not a pressing ethical issue in medicine.

Important issues—issues that really matter to Texas women—abound. Twenty-four percent of Texans, including 13 percent of Texas children, still lack access to medical care. New restrictions threaten to leave poor Texas women essentially without access to safe and legal abortion care. Massive 2011 cuts to state support for family planning services have left thousands of women who previously got women’s health care at Planned Parenthood without access to birth control, mammograms and cervical cancer screening. Despite this evidence, Abbott recently signed another bill that will further defund Planned Parenthood.

An ethical focus on “women and their needs” must begin by asking women what our needs are. So far, no woman has complained of being harmed because her abortion procedure was altered to accommodate fetal tissue donation.

With so many living women being harmed by unjust health and research policies, Abbott and other Texas leaders should focus state resources not on the fate of aborted fetal tissue, but on the many issues that substantively affect women’s health.

LGBT rights rainbow flag
Nineteen days after the high court’s ruling, Live Oak County—situated between San Antonio and Corpus Christi and home to 12,000 people—hasn’t issued any marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

A second Texas county clerk has decided to step down rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Last week, Rusk County Clerk Joyce Lewis-Kugle announced her resignation, saying she could no longer fulfill her oath to uphold state and federal law due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

Today, the Observer confirmed that Live Oak County Clerk Karen Irving has opted to retire for the same reason.

“Due to the latest Supreme Court decision which is contrary to my personal beliefs, I cannot uphold the oath which I made when I took office,” Irving wrote in an email to other county clerks across the state on Monday.

Nineteen days after the high court’s ruling, Live Oak County—situated between San Antonio and Corpus Christi and home to 12,000 people—hasn’t issued any marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Irving, whose last day is today, told the Observer her office has been waiting on technical updates but should be prepared to serve same-sex couples later this week.

“We’ll be up and ready to go tomorrow afternoon and for sure on Friday, unless there’s a glitch with the vendor, but I don’t think there will be,” she said.

Irving declined to further discuss her views on same-sex marriage.

“I’m of age, and I’m retiring,” she said. “It’s been a long journey, and I’m excited.”

Irving has worked in the clerk’s office for 23 years. She’s been clerk since 2003.

Live Oak County Clerk Karen Irving
Live Oak County Clerk Karen Irving

Equality Texas spokesman Daniel Williams said he has the utmost respect for county clerks who step down because they can’t perform their jobs while following the tenets of their faith.

“I think they should be applauded for doing exactly what we want our government officials to do, which is to put the public before their own interests,” Williams said. “That is a triumph of democracy.”

Williams also said he’s pleased with Texas county clerks’ overall response to the high court’s ruling. As of today, clerks in only two of the state’s 254 counties have indicated they’ll refuse to issue marriages licenses to same-sex couples. A handful of others said they’re still waiting on technical updates.

“Obviously it wouldn’t be possible to have no hiccups whatsoever,” Williams said.

Architect of Texas Gold Depository Says it Will Kill Off Fed

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione talks Bitcoin, bullion and the Federal Reserve with apocalyptic radio preacher
Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake)
Patrick Michels
Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) speaking on the House floor.

Many Texans are not nuts, and don’t have much interaction with the state’s many honorable nuts in day-to-day life. So when the words “Jade Helm” became a buzzword in Texas back in May thanks in part to Gov. Greg Abbott, a lot of people were shocked. It was a moment in which people who don’t pay much attention to politics noticed that there was something a little sickly about the state’s political culture.

But the sensuous interplay between the truly fringe and the actually powerful is a constant in Texas, and it has a real impact on the policies the state implements even if it doesn’t usually burst into the public consciousness. Take the interview state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) did with radio host Rick Wiles on Friday, in which Capriglione basked in praise for his plan to destroy the Federal Reserve with precious metals, as if he were Auric Goldfinger. It’s the latest installment in a long-running love affair powerful state figures have with marginal economic theories.

Wiles, a Christian talk show host with an apocalypse fetish, runs Trunews, which he unironically describes as an “anti-newscast.” Wiles recently earned recognition for announcing that he was renouncing his American citizenship thanks to the country’s embrace of “lewdness, sorcery, witchcraft and rebellion” against God’s laws. He highlights “ancient prophecies,” cooks them together with an easy-bake oven version of Christian teachings, and cribs from Alex Jones. He foreshadows the imminent end of the world, then begs for donations.

Capriglione, meanwhile, is a rising member of the Republican establishment. He’s also a goldbug whose main accomplishment after two terms is the passage of a bill creating a Texas gold depository, which would allow gold owned by the University of Texas’ endowment fund to be returned from the heathen land, New York City. In 2013, it was one of the most colorfully ludicrous ideas before the Legislature, and Capriglione was reduced to passing out chocolate gold coins on the floor of the House to try to win support.

But this year, it passed the House and Senate with huge margins, and was granted a high-profile signing ceremony by Abbott. The proposal has won a good deal of press attention, mostly in the “news of the weird” category. But on Wiles’ show, Capriglione said the press had missed the point, interested only in what he called the “Die Hard 3 aspect.” His ambitions were much grander.

Wiles introduced Capriglione as “the man who spearheaded the Texas gold repatriation program,” a friend and ally. (As some have noted, repatriation, used commonly to describe Capriglione’s proposal, is a term used to refer to the return of something from a foreign country to its country of origin.) Capriglione’s outlook—a nation and world on the precipice—neatly complement Wiles’ own, and the two men grew more and more excited as they talked to each other.

Rick Wiles
Rick Wiles, a Christian talk show host with an apocalypse fetish, runs Trunews, which he unironically describes as an “anti-newscast.”

Capriglione says his interest in Texas gold started in 2008, with the global financial crisis. “It really kind of brought to bear the idea that we need some kind of Plan B,” he said, in case the Federal Reserve System and U.S. dollar collapsed. Texas needed to have its own economic survival bunker in the form of gold.

In 2008, that was a fairly common inclination on the right. Figures such as Glenn Beck hawked gold on their shows to elderly and panicked viewers. But more serious people joined in: Some conservatives feared that the Federal Reserve’s policies under President Obama would incinerate the value of the dollar and lead the country to hyperinflation. They were, in retrospect, hilariously, massively wrong.

The board of the University of Texas Investment Management Company (UTIMCO), which invests the university’s endowment, were likewise concerned. UTIMCO invested some 5 percent of the endowment into actual gold bullion, which would hold value during the coming economic end times. UTIMCO pays to store the bars, tellingly, not at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, but at a much more expensive facility, an HSBC branch in midtown Manhattan.

It was a suboptimal investment, as Brian Murphy explores in a recent article on Texas officials gold fetish. Over the last five years, the New York Stock Exchange has risen almost 80 percent—but the price of gold has remained essentially flat. UTIMCO remains saddled with some $660 million of the stuff. Capriglione’s depository would allow the return of the gold to Texas, and make it the cornerstone of a new state-owned bank, where other individuals, companies, states, and even countries could store their own gold, too.

But Capriglione’s bank would be more than just a giant safety deposit box. “The really interesting part about this depository, which hasn’t been getting a lot of press,” he told Wiles, is that “with this depository, private individuals and entities will be able to purchase goods, and will be able to use assets in the vault the same way you’d be able to use cash.” They’d be able to conduct transactions backed by the gold stored in the bank, circumventing the Fed, Capriglione said.

Wiles marvels at Capriglione’s genius. “I think this is bigger than maybe you realize,” Wiles said. “I think you’re going to be overwhelmed by the response.” Capriglione replies: “I think so too.” He marvels at the ease with which his proposal became state policy this year: He seems incredulous the press hasn’t paid proper attention to what he accomplished.

Wiles asks: “Is there any possibility there could be a Texas-style Bitcoin?” Capriglione gets even more excited. “OK! That would be awesome too. I personally own Bitcoin.” He thinks the Texas bullion depository would be a natural fit for Bitcoin dealers. “You could make transactions with Bitcoin, use the gold depository as a medium, and then make payments on the other side.”

“This is the biggest threat in 102 years to the Federal Reserve System,” exclaimed Wiles, steeled for the fight. The state rep agreed: “This could very well make the Federal Reserve System unnecessary.” Other state legislators have approached him about drafting a similar bill in their states. Then, Wiles said, “we can tell the banksters at the Federal Reserve where to go.”

Wiles pronounced the plan “fantastic,” then moved on to his second guest, a woman with recordings of an 82-year-old Assyrian woman who speaks prophesies in Aramaic.

Federal Reserve governors can probably continue to sleep soundly at night, and it remains unclear, of course, if a bullion depository will ever be more than a novelty. But the passionate lack of faith in the foundational parts of the American federal compact shown by Texas state legislators, and the governor, in approving Capriglione’s proposal is a little disturbing. It’s a sign of deeper dysfunction. Gold fever has long been a feature of some of the more fetid swamps in American political life—its rapid normalization in Texas and adoption as state policy is odd, to say the least.

Capriglione, naturally, has been decried as a spineless moderate by tea party groups in his district—he’s currently awaiting a primary challenge.

LGBT-themed books protest
John Savage
Protesters outside Hood County Commissioners Court before a public hearing on LGBT-themed children's books.

Hood County has made national headlines by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but marriage equality isn’t the only LGBT issue rankling some folks in this rural community 35 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

During a standing-room-only county Commissioners’ Court meeting on Tuesday, residents voiced objections to the presence of two LGBT-themed children’s books in the county library: This Day in June, which depicts a pride parade, and My Princess Boy, about a boy who wears dresses.

Granbury resident Dave Eagle said the books are about “transvestic behavior” and “program children with the LGBT agenda.” Eagle wants them moved from the children’s section of the library to the adult section.

“This is information that hits a child’s eyes and goes into their brains before they have a chance to make a decision about it,” Eagle said. “As adults we have a duty to protect children’s innocence.”

More than a dozen other residents objected to the books, often invoking Christianity, but Library Director Courtney Kincaid says the books deserve a place in the library.

“They’re very sweet books about acceptance, tolerance and anti-bullying.” Kincaid said. “We do have gays and lesbians in the community, and they have every right to have items in the collection.”

About half of the citizens who spoke were against removing the books.

“I oppose any attempt at censorship,” said Hood County resident Mickey Shearon, “not in spite of my Christian beliefs, but because of them.”

Hood County Library Advisory Board Chairman David Wells
John Savage
Hood County Library Advisory Board Chairman David Wells

The two books have been the targets of controversy since more than 50 people submitted complaints in early June.

After receiving the complaints, Kincaid sent them to the Hood County Library Advisory Board. Typically, public libraries in Texas are overseen by boards, composed of local residents who advise and advocate for libraries.

The advisory board held a public hearing to consider the book removal requests on June 8.

“Gay rights issues don’t play well in some places,” said David Wells, the 68-year-old chairman of the advisory board. “There is an older population here that doesn’t understand that same-sex relationships aren’t relegated to Austin or New York.”

Despite the anti-gay sentiment that persists in Hood County, the board voted unanimously to recommend keeping the books. Kincaid agreed—but decided to move This Day in June, a 32-page illustrated children’s book, to the library’s adult collection.

Even then, many conservative residents refused to give up the fight.

After Kincaid’s decision, Mel Birdwell, wife of tea party-backed state Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), sent an email to more than 70 people asking them to contact the county commissioners to voice their displeasure.

Courtney Kincaid — LGBT-themed children's books
John Savage
Hood County Library Director Courtney Kincaid

“We as Christians must begin to take a stand on these issues such as gay marriage and the indoctrination of LGBT acceptance in our children’s lives,” Birdwell wrote in the email.

Birdwell’s message prompted calls to the county commissioners, who scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday’s meeting.

In the end, the commissioners didn’t reverse Kincaid’s decision to keep the books.

“The county attorney gave us her opinion that if we required the books to be moved it would be a form of censorship and a violation of the law,” Commissioner Steve Berry said.

Despite the uproar over the books, Kincaid said she wants people to know that Hood County is not a “backwards place.”

“We actually do have a lot of tolerant people in the community who support freedom, freedom to choose what to read,” she said.

David Pickup — Real Marriage
John Wright
"Ex-gay” therapist David Pickup addresses the media as other anti-LGBT leaders look on during Tuesday’s launch of the “REAL MARRIAGE: One Man/One Woman For Life” coalition.

Spewing hateful rhetoric, a group of anti-LGBT leaders gathered in Dallas on Tuesday to launch a new coalition to fight the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

Their speeches were glaringly light on details, but they said the new grassroots movement called “REAL MARRIAGE: One Man/One Woman For Life,” will target unnamed businesses and politicians who don’t stand up against LGBT rights.

An email announcing the news conference pledged “mass civil disobedience”—and speakers made mention of marches and protests—but for now the group doesn’t appear to have much more than a website. Unless you count fiery but familiar anti-gay sound bites.

“If we redefine marriage, the homosexual political movement will force churches, schools, families, businesses and individuals to accept, to affirm, and even to celebrate those who participate in anal sex, or anal sodomy,” said Dr. Steven Hotze, president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas. “It will be mandated to be taught to the children in the schools, at an early age, starting in kindergarten. They will be encouraged by their teachers to participate in anal sex.”

The Rev. Bill Owens, president of the Memphis-based Coalition of African-American Pastors, compared the high court’s marriage ruling to its 1857 Dred Scott decision, which determined that blacks weren’t American citizens.

“I’m disgusted that so many people have stood back and let 3 percent of the population turn this country upside down,” Owens said.

He added that 300,000 people have signed an anti-gay marriage pledge on the pastors’ website, and the group will go after national retail outlets that support LGBT equality, although he declined to say which ones.

“We’re going to come at you,” he said. “The church is going to show you that you cannot be double-minded, talk out both sides of your mouths, pretending to be family-friendly and giving in to this ungodly, disgraceful way of making homosexual like it’s natural. It’s highly unnatural. …. We’re going to go at these weak-kneed, slimy-backed politicians who pretend to be with you but will not stand up.”

Real Marriage
While it doesn’t appear they have much more than a website, this grassroots movement will target unnamed businesses and politicians who don’t stand up against LGBT rights.

Owens, who once marched in the civil rights movement, also railed against transgender rights, called LGBT people “bullies,” and said it was a disgrace for the White House to be lit up in rainbow colors after the ruling, adding that the US is “not a dictatorship.”

“It should have been red, white and blue, but they want to show that they’re for gay,” Owens said. “Homosexual is unnatural, and they’re trying to force it on us, force it on our children, force it on our schools, make us accept it, and we will not. The fight has just begun.”

The news conference was held at the office of David Pickup, a prominent “ex-gay” therapist who also identifies as “ex-homosexual.” Pickup claimed “significant scientific evidence” shows there’s no gay or transgender gene, and his clients have proven sexual orientation can be changed. Likewise, he suggested, the nation can change.

“America, it’s time for psychotherapy, and the Real Marriage movement with the guidance from the omniscient creator will lead this nation back to a secure identity from the brink of self-destruction,” Pickup said. “We’re not here to shame people. This is not hate speech. This is standing up for truth and rights as we believe they are.”

Asked about the coalition’s specific plans, Pickup said it will begin by hosting “mini-conferences” around Texas, as well as a “World Conference on Gender, Sexuality and Marriage” in Dallas. Eventually, he said, the goal is to infiltrate all aspects of American life.

“It’s a philosophical movement that’s going to have actual manifestations of changes in the hearts and minds of this country,” Pickup said.

Watch speeches by Hotze and Owens below.


Ann Elder - Transgender Lobby Day
John Wright
Ann Elder, left, shares a photo of her transgender son with a staffer for Rep. Dennis Paul (R-Houston) as Mitchel Roth and Lisa Mauldin look on during lobby day at the Texas Capitol.

I was taking a break recently from my work lobbying for transgender Texans, enjoying a view of the Capitol dome from a spot near the rotunda, when I heard something that took me back to my childhood.

An elementary school teacher leading kids on a tour told them to form two lines. “Boys on the left, girls on the right,” she said. I watched as they followed instructions. I also listened for something else familiar. In a few moments, I heard it: the teacher telling one of them, “That’s not your line. Get in line with the boys.”

I hated gender-segregated lines as a child. As long as we were all together I could feel like I was a part of the group, but when they made us separate, and put me with the boys, I felt singled out. I didn’t belong.

It would be many years before I questioned why I gravitated toward girls during recess. I just knew I liked their games. They were imaginative, cooperative and focused on make-believe. One day we turned the monkey bars into a castle, and everyone was a princess or a lady, except me. The ladies of the castle decreed that I should be a knight and defend the castle from marauding boys. I didn’t want to be a knight, even a make-believe one. I wanted to be in the castle. I wanted to belong.

When I tell people that I’m transgender, they don’t understand that I’m talking about standing in the wrong line in elementary school or being inside the castle. They don’t understand how I grew up feeling betrayed by my own body and unfit for the role I was supposed to play in life.

The idea that everyone has a gender identity distinct from physiology and independent of sexual orientation is not new, but identity so frequently matches physiology that it’s hard for people to think of them separately. When children’s gender identities don’t match their physiology, they are transgender. Many think transgender is homosexual orientation taken to an extreme, but transgender is different. It describes who we are, not whom we are attracted to.

I was 7 or 8 the first time I put on women’s clothes. I locked the bathroom door and took my mom’s slip from the hamper. I took off my boy clothes and wore the slip like a dress. I was shocked when Caitlyn Jenner described her own version of that event from my life so accurately in her recent interview with Diane Sawyer. Like Jenner, I didn’t understand why I had done it. Like her, I had carefully marked the position of the slip in the pile of laundry, and I put it all back in exactly the same place.

I knew I could never—ever—tell anyone, because my parents might not love me if they found out. It was a terrible secret for a child to have to keep.

Then there was puberty. When my little sister had her first menses, my mom sat us down to have “the talk.” It was the first time I heard a woman talk about living in her own body. She was trying to instill pride in us for the roles we would play when we had families of our own, but I felt betrayed. I felt like there had been some momentous gender lottery before I was born and that I lost without even knowing it had happened.

The fact that I mostly dated girls and have been married to the same woman for 23 years really confuses people. Some think it must mean I’m not really transgender. I don’t quite know how to explain to them that the ways in which women see and interact with the world just make more sense to me than the ways men do, and that I’m more comfortable in my relationships with women.

I’ve changed a lot since I was 6 years old. People know me now as Claire. My driver’s license and passport identify me to the world as a woman. My body has changed, and I see a woman when I look in a mirror. The confusion and the hiding that was so much a part of my life is all behind me, but I still remember it. I’m an activist and an advocate for transgender rights because I wonder and worry about the future of that child, and so many like him, standing in the wrong line at the Capitol. I want to tell them it gets better.