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Dan! Dan! DAN! THEY'RE RIGHT BEHIND YOU!
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Dan! Dan! DAN! THEY'RE RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

We’re nearing the second half of October, which means one thing. Spooky specters and grave ghouls abound. Wizards and wraiths walk the land. Sinister “visitors” seeking power and riches appear, seemingly from nowhere, to darken the path of the normally blissfully unaware average Texan. Detritus from the paranormal forces, engaged in their never-ending battle, cloud storefront windows and residential lawns.

Suburban citizens, frightened half to death already by the proliferating clouds of contagion to our north, and the heathen zombie army to our south, steel themselves in their homes to face the army of doorbell-ringers arriving with the same terrifying query: “Are you planning to vote on November 4?”

1) Earlier this week, Dan Patrick, full-time biblical scholar and hobbyist candidate for lieutenant governor, posteth some wise words on Facebook. No, seriously, here they are:

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But a couple days later, the pot and salvia smoke had ventilated out of Patrick’s campaign headquarters, and cooler heads prevailed. That hippie bullshit had to go, man. So on Wednesday, we got a peek of Patrick’s first TV ad of the general election, featuring a very high concentration of fear-of-man, practically weapons-grade. Turns out everyone’s favorite new jihadi militia, the Islamic State—personally backed by Sheikha Leticia al-Vande al-Putte—has already made short work of Arkansas and is coming across the border to exterminate whatever small portion of the state’s residents survive the Ebolapocalypse. (In fairness, Van de Putte’s disturbing and problematic new ad probably made this line of attack inevitable.)

Patrick got made fun of for his ad, which is understandable. But later: Vindication. GOPer Duncan Hunter, California’s first action-doll congressperson, went on Fox News with gasp-worthy news. The border patrol had caught “at least 10” ISIS fighters. Even Greta Van Susteren seemed to have a hard time swallowing it, but it was good enough for some. They’re coming. The dream is real. Patrick posted the story on his Facebook page. It’s been shared more than 2,500 times, and has more than 500 comments. Here’s a sprinkling:

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Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 11.21.59 PM

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 11.21.03 PM

Then, Hunter’s story fell apart. The Department of Homeland Security called it “categorically false.” Hunter’s spokesperson meekly offered that his office had “evidence from reliable sources” that “foreign nationals” who may “not technically be ISIS fighters” but were “suspected” of doing something naughty “had been captured.” OK. Patrick, ashamed to have accidentally sowed the seeds of panic and fear with bad information, holding himself to a continually high standard, took down the post imme—hahaha, no, sorry, I kid. I kid.

But that little flap aside, he’s doggedly working on the real issues:

Dan Patrick
October 4 · Edited
I had a lot of comments on what did fried sweet tea taste like, how is it made, & why did I try it.

1. I tried it because my grandson wanted me to try it. All grandparents
understand.
2. It tasted like a warm fried donut with a cool liquid inside that taste just like sweet tea.
3. I have no idea how to make it but one of our commenters, Brenda, supplied the answer. By the way it was actually very tasty.

Deep Fried Sweet Tea – The South’s #1 beverage has been deep fried! Home brewed sweet tea is blended into a custard filling. The custard is given a graham cracker crust, deep fried, & topped off with homemade sweet tea syrup. The crispy, golden graham cracker crust gives way to a warm & gooey center that’s packed with sweet tea flavor.

Dan Patrick 2014—Crispy, golden graham cracker crust; warm & gooey center; sweet tea flavor. (No Mexicans.)

2) Up in Senate District 10, GOP candidate and tea party organizer Konni Burton has a new ad out this week. It’s a little weird. Normally in these things, the goal is to make a candidate seem warm and friendly—no matter how cold, robotic, tired, angry, hungry and unwittingly alienated from his or her true self by late capitalism they might be. But Burton never speaks, even to say “I’m Konni Burton, and I approve this message.” No one shown in the ad speaks, unlike her opponent Libby Willis’ more lively ad, which features, at least, a character of sorts. Is Burton trapped in there?

The entire thing consists of B-roll, dental office music, and a slightly off-putting voiceover that issues proclamations, like “Active in her church,” and “Konni Burton will eliminate wasteful spending.” It’s like a video stock photo. It’s a tea party lullaby.

But in its unadulterated banality, it somehow gives the impression that something terrible—something grim and unknowable and vast—lurks just below the surface. I took a stab at pairing the video with a more fitting soundtrack.

Here’s Konni Burton looking at things:

yeah these are nice... haha
yeah these are nice… haha
finally copped those new prince albums... i mean, damn, girl
finally copped those new prince albums… i mean, damn, girl
spending.... it's bad, in my opinion
spending too much…. it’s bad, imho
i mean sure the trailer looks good. but every pt anderson movie since boogie nights has been a massive letdown. first you've got...
i mean sure the trailer looks good. but every pt anderson movie since boogie nights has been a massive letdown. first you’ve got…

Fortunately for Burton, she’s running on more than being an attentive listener. Old people vote a lot, and Burton wants them to vote for her, a lot. What’s something old people don’t like? Being murdered.

KB Mail piece 1

Are you a grandmother in the Fort Worth area? Do you remember how that family doctor you go to sometimes jokes about how much he’d love to buy your house? He’s coming for you. You’re in his goddamn sights and you probably won’t win in a footrace. Only Konni Burton can make sure you’re still drawing breath for Kaitlyn’s bat mitzvah.

It’s fear-mongering on a level that’s kind of awe-inspiring. It makes other GOP pols seem lazy. ISIS? Sharia law? Muslims in general? Black people? Ebola? Benghazi? The cartels? Screw all that noise—Konni Burton has identified the real threat. It’s doctors. You will never feel safe again.

Vote or die.

3) Ken Paxton is going to make Greg Abbott look like Clarence Darrow.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 12.11.53 AM

Don’t worry, Texans. These frightening folk are gonna go back in the closet just after Halloween—but the sequel, which starts in January, is going to be a positively defrightful thing. By which I mean to say…

THE END?

Ed Graf in 1988.

Michael Jarrett has no easy task. The McLennan County assistant district attorney is trying to convince a Waco jury this week to convict Ed Graf of murdering his two stepsons. Graf stands accused of setting the fire in a shed behind his house that killed the 8- and 9-year-old boys in 1986. The tricky part is that Jarrett must prove Graf’s guilt without the benefit of physical evidence. In fact, the scientific evidence in the case, according to several leading national experts, points to an accidental fire.

Making Jarrett’s assignment even more difficult, he can’t disclose to the jury why Graf is just now standing trial for events that transpired 28 years ago. He can’t tell the jury that Graf was originally convicted in 1988, that he served 25 years of a life sentence in prison and that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction last year, ruling that the forensic evidence of arson was faulty and unreliable. The judge has ruled that any knowledge of the previous proceedings could bias the jury. So Jarrett can’t reveal to the jury the very reason for this week’s bizarre re-trial.

As Jarrett rose from his creaky, swiveling wooden chair to give his opening statement on Tuesday morning, a packed courtroom waited to hear how exactly he planned to pull this off.

Jarrett’s solution was to fall back on good storytelling. He may not have much forensic evidence to present, but he has a wealth of circumstantial evidence that casts suspicion on Graf, and Jarrett will make use of every bit of it.

Jarrett began telling the story of a “family torn apart by greed.” The greed belonged to Ed Graf, he said, standing before the 12 jurors. He had married Clare in the mid-1980s and adopted her two sons, Joby and Jason. For Clare, a single mother working two jobs, Graf seemed a “knight in shining armor.” But she soon learned that Graf was a prickly accountant, a man who liked things done his way, a man who could be controlling of her and her sons.

Jarrett started in on motive—money. Graf had been caught embezzling $75,000 from the bank at which he worked, and in fall 1985, he had to pay the debt back. He needed money. So he took out $50,000 life insurance policies on the boys, in July 1986, a month before the fire. After their deaths, he sought to collect on the policy.

Jarrett then said that testimony would show that Graf had forced the boys, in the weeks before the fire, to move storage bins filled with their keepsakes into the shed. “This man,” Jarrett said motioning toward Graf, seated at the defense table, “required his victims to build their own death chamber.”

It was a stunning line, the emotional climax to Jarrett’s effective opening statement. Jarrett conceded to the jury that, “You’re not going to hear anyone say they saw Ed Graf strike a match,” his admission that the prosecution’s case lacks scientific evidence. But, he said, as with his daughter stealing cookies from the cookie jar, Ed Graf could cover up the proof but couldn’t hide all the crumbs. Of course, that same circumstantial evidence was raised at Graf’s 1988 trial.

Jarrett ended with the one new piece of evidence he had: The jury, he said, would hear testimony from jailhouse witnesses about how Graf talked about the boys recently. They will reveal that Graf told them “Those little bastards got exactly what they deserved.”

That would seem a devastating bit of testimony, if it’s true. Jailhouse witnesses are notoriously unreliable.

In their opening statement, Graf’s defense attorneys had no narrative to tell. They didn’t have to. They went straight for scientific fact.

“We’re going to bring you scientific fact,” said Michelle Tuegel, one of three attorneys arguing Graf’s defense. “We’re going to bring you 2014 science in this case, not 1986 science.”

She then briefly explained that the field of fire investigation had advanced considerably since 1986. And she described why fire scientists now believe the fire was likely accidental, perhaps started by the boys, how the high levels of carbon monoxide found in the bodies indicate that the fire was an accident.

The defense team also showed that the circumstantial evidence, while compelling, is circumstantial for a reason—because there are alternate explanations. The defense attorneys pointed out that Ed Graf didn’t need money in summer 1986. He’d paid back his entire $75,000 debt, and secured another well-paying job. They also explained that Graf purchased life insurance policies that are known as universal plans, which can accrue money and are considered good investments for kids. In fact, Graf’s father had purchased such a policy for him, and he’d used it to pay for tuition at Baylor University. They also described Graf as an active parent who took the boys to amusement parks and the beach, and attended their sporting events.

Tuegel told the jury the case was about three tragedies—the death of the boys, a grieving mother and a man wrongly accused of murder. “You’re the only ones who stand between Ed Graf and a fourth tragedy,” she said.

After opening statements, Jarrett and his co-counsel spent the rest of Tuesday presenting their case. They brought forward seven witnesses. Among the most effective was Kathy Green, Graf’s former co-worker at the bank. She testified he once told her that he and Clare would be better off if “the boys weren’t around.”

T.J. Clinch, now 37, was a close of friend of Joby and Jason. He tearfully recounted on the stand that he played nearly every day with the boys. He admitted they had once started a small fire in his backyard, but immediately put it out. They did it just once, he said. “They did not like to play with matches,” he testified of Joby and Jason. At the 1988 trial, witnesses testified to other incidents when Joby and Jason played with fire, and the defense will likely offer that evidence later this week. But Clinch wouldn’t indulge the theory that the boys started the fire. “They wouldn’t have been playing in that shed.”

Del Gerdes, Clare’s sister in law, then took the stand and testified that Graf showed no emotion after the fire. “Not one time did that man say, ‘What could I have done?’” she said. Under cross-examination from Tuegel, Gerdes became angry. When asked if people show grief differently and if Graf could have been mourning in his own way, Gerdes shouted back at the attorney that 99 percent of people would at least shed a tear. “That man,” she screamed while pointing at Graf, “didn’t do that. All he did was act like a brick wall.”

The day ended with more testimony from Graf’s former in-laws, who discussed at length his cheapness and curt demeanor. By the end of the day, the prosecution had proven that Graf was a miserly, and not particularly pleasant, individual. But does that mean he’s capable of murdering his two stepsons?

The prosecution continued to build its case on Wednesday morning. The trial is expected to last at least the rest of the week, and perhaps run into next week.

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Joe Lansdale There’s something off-kilter about East Texas. It hosts a culture in which the traditions of the rural South and the rural West mix in strange patterns, echoing the forested fade between the bayous of Louisiana and the hills and plains of Texas. The perfect landscape, in other words, to give rise to a writer as all over the map as Joe R. Lansdale.

Lansdale, who’s been known to write  for the Observer on occasion, is a fiercely prolific author with an unabashedly weird sensibility. Over the course of his career he’s picked up eight Bram Stoker Awards and produced a small library’s worth of short fiction, novels, comics and screenplays ranging from supernatural Westerns to pineywoods noir.

Lansdale tells all his tales with a straight face that plays up the sly, wicked humor bubbling underneath. All of his work, fiction and nonfiction alike, is filtered through an absurdist sensibility that Lansdale attributes to his home region. “There’s plenty of noir right here in East Texas,” Lansdale wrote in an Observer piece a few years ago. “Though it’s mixed with Southern Gothic and Western and all manner of stuff; it’s a gumbo boiled in hell … Weird as some of it is, fictionalized as the work is, it comes from a wellspring of true events you just can’t make up.”

Lansdale will be at the Wittliff Collections in San Marcos on Thursday, Oct. 9 to participate in “East Texas in Story and Song,” an event celebrating literature based in the region. He’ll be joined by his daughter Kasey Lansdale, a country singer-songwriter who’s scheduled to perform selections from her new album, Restless. Also appearing is Wes Ferguson, author of Running the River: Secrets of the Sabine, and an East Texas journalist whose work has also appeared in the Observer.

The event is free, though guests are asked to RSVP to [email protected]. There will be a signing after the program.

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OK, but what's their position on Medicaid Expansion?
YouTube
OK, but what's their position on Medicaid expansion?

The next lt. governor is going to have a lot of serious problems. The public education system has been weakened and tarnished by years of cuts and legislative meddling, and the transportation system is running out of money, even while the property tax-heavy tax structure in Texas has reached a breaking point. We might be on the verge of a taxpayer revolt—but without the strong government services to show for it.

Hospitals are clamoring for Medicaid expansion, while many doctors are dead-set against it, and the poor are left to suffer. At some point, the lt. governor is probably going to have to help broker a new model for public education financing, thanks to the courts—one of the most difficult things the Legislature ever has to do, a task Solomon himself would have trouble with. And he or she is going to have to tackle all of that at a time when every statewide official is new, and with a lot of new senators besides.

So naturally, Dan Patrick’s first general election ad opens with the Islamic State:

There was a fun period of time after the primary runoff where people hoped Patrick might be moderating his public profile. The debate was one datapoint, but I think we can safely dispose of that dream now.

Breitbart Texas: Clay Jenkins is Going to Give You Ebola

Context-light reporting on Dallas' Ebola problem leads to a Child Protective Services report filed against the Dallas County Judge.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins
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Clay Jenkins

Crisis, that old broad, brings out the best in people. It also brings out the worst in people. Consider the single Ebola case that’s caused so much panic in Dallas. On the one hand, you’ve got Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. On the other, you’ve got Breitbart Texas.

People are losing their minds about this Ebola thing, and a lot of fear and anger has been directed toward the family Thomas Eric Duncan was staying with when he got sick. The terribly unlucky people, quarantined in their own apartment, have been isolated and stigmatized by the world even though they haven’t shown any symptoms of Ebola—and in fact, helped identify the reason for Duncan’s illness after the hospital failed to do so, possibly saving lives.

To reassure the people of Dallas, and as a gesture of compassion, Jenkins paid the family a visit at their apartment last Thursday, and then came back the next day to personally drive them to new donated lodging away from the public’s glare. On the advice of experts, he didn’t wear protective clothing. Christine Gorman, the health and medicine editor of Scientific American, called Jenkins and Dallas County HHS head Zachary Thompson “heroes.”

Jenkins and Thompson (and others like them whose names I don’t know) are heroes to me because they took compassionate action based on facts and not unfounded fears. Ebola is scary enough without trying to make things worse than they are.

Gorman’s right. Misinformation in the face of a possible health crisis is a terrible thing, and dangerous. Straight talk and straight deeds should be lauded. As Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey said, the “fear of this could be more damaging to this community than the virus itself.”

But in fairness, there’s another take on what Jenkins did—a very hot take. That take is: Clay Jenkins has Ebola now, and we’re all going to die, and not just at the end of our natural lives, but probably pretty soon. Because Clay Jenkins is going to give you Ebola.

The fun started on Friday, when Breitbart Texas ran a story with a charming title: “NAIVE LIBERAL TEXAS JUDGE ENTERS EBOLA APARTMENT WITHOUT PROTECTION.” Resident Breitbart virologist Bob Price knew the truth, and saw through the science-man lies: Jenkins was in great danger, and so was the public. Price implies that Jenkins can now spread Ebola to anyone he touches, even without showing the sickness himself.

No explanation was given Thursday night for the Judge’s appearance at the apartment. It is not known at this time if the Judge will cancel any public appearances where he would normally be shaking a lot of hands after being inside the still contaminated apartment without protection.

This is bad information for a couple of reasons. We should keep Duncan in our thoughts, but his illness poses very little danger to the rest of us—even if more people who were around Duncan eventually get sick. Ebola is difficult to transmit, and not contagious until a person shows symptoms. In a rich country with a good public health system, isolated cases are relatively easy to contain, unlike really deadly diseases such as the flu. That’s according to the people who have dedicated their lives to studying infectious disease.

As far as that apartment goes: According to the Centers for Disease Control, Ebola can stay alive on dry surfaces for a couple hours, and in expelled body fluids for several days, but the family has gotten past that point. No one has gotten sick. They could still get sick, but they won’t be contagious until they show symptoms. And they’re being checked twice a day to ensure they’re not.

After his first trip, Jenkins returned to drive the family to the house where they’ll wait out the quarantine, then showed up to a press conference at “the same building from where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot President John F. Kennedy,” Price writes helpfully. He again implies Jenkins is an idiot, reeking of disease:

Jenkins bragged to the reporters that he was “wearing the same shirt” he wore while he was in the apartment that had been exposed to the Ebola virus and while he was driving the family who had slept for days on the same mattresses the Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, had been sleeping. He slept on all three mattresses in the apartment for at least two days while he was symptomatic. Jenkins then very proudly stated he was going home to his wife and nine-year-old daughter.

A day later, the cheerful conclusion. One of Breitbart’s loyal readers saw the bit about the 9-year-old daughter, decided she could die soon, and clamored to take action. He or she filed a report with Child Protective Services. No, really. This person was so proud that they took pictures of the report, and sent them to Breitbart, which dutifully wrote it up. “EXCLUSIVE: CPS COMPLAINT FILED AGAINST TEXAS JUDGE OVER DAUGHTER AND POTENTIAL EBOLA EXPOSURE,” reads the story’s headline.

The concerned citizen said he felt Jenkins’ conduct was inappropriate when he unnecessarily exposed his child to potential danger. “I am doing this because I am concerned about the child,” the complainant said, “and I am concerned for the children in her school who might become exposed if the virus were to spread.”

Again—that’s not how Ebola works. The courageous anonymous complainant keeps digging:

“There seems to be a lot of dispute about how the disease is transmitted,” he continued. “I was very concerned that he would take this unnecessary risk with his own daughter for what appears to be his own political purposes.”

A lot of dispute! After quoting the anonymous person who thinks no one understands how Ebola travels—a wholly idiotic, wrong and dangerous idea—it would have been very easy to include information from experts about Ebola transmission.

This did not happen. Instead, the piece says the family members could still get sick—at which point they would be a transmission risk, though let me again emphasize that hasn’t happened yet—and raises the possibility that Jenkins faces, under the child endangerment statute, “termination of [his] parental rights.”

That seems as unlikely as the appearance of Black Death in Deep Ellum, but it’s still a nice demonstration of the consequences of a feedback loop of misinformation. What if—God forbid—there’s a more serious outbreak of Ebola somewhere in the United States down the road? Breitbart has helped spread damaging misinformation about the disease that does nothing but harm. “If people with the sniffles convinced they have Ebola start overfilling the Dallas-area’s already stressed emergency rooms,” Time magazine notes, in a piece about Jenkins and the consequences of wrong-headed disease panic, “perfectly treatable infirmities could become more lethal.”

One thing that’s necessary for good journalism is empathy. Without it, reporting can be a powerfully destructive activity, a terrible act of violence. It can rip people apart from each other, frighten and harm, and alienate whole communities. The best journalists know that and struggle with it. The worst are unaware, or don’t care, and it’s hard to say what’s worse. Imaging writing something that sics Child Protective Services on a father for no good reason while burdening a trauma-afflicted family with a greater stigma—or reducing the sacred, lost life of a border-crossing immigrant to the headline: “ANIMALS FEAST ON BODY OF DEAD MIGRANT.”

But the most basic, important element of journalism is a commitment to accuracy and a relative sense of fairness. Why spend so much time thinking about Breitbart Texas? Well, it’s not just a fringe publication. There’s an unbelievable amount of paranoia and fear floating around this state, looking for hosts. Breitbart feeds on that, multiplies it, and returns it to the ether. It’s the primary news source for a lot of people who don’t read news. It’s bad for us.

As of mid-day Tuesday, the three Ebola pieces cited above boast almost 1,600 comments, a swamp of contagion I will leave to you to explore.

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S.C. Gwynne
Corey Arnold
S.C. Gwynne

It’s impossible to talk about the Civil War without considering the strange place it holds in American history as a founding myth. For the South in particular, the Civil War is still a defining cultural moment, in which a pantheon of men fought for a glorious lost cause.

That’s nonsense, of course. The cause was neither glorious nor, unfortunately, entirely lost. Remnants of the old Southern order cling to power even today, and the motives driving the conflict and its participants are well excavated. But the figures caught up in that struggle are still fascinating, and few of them more so than Stonewall Jackson.

The legendarily truculent general is the subject of Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson, a new book by Pulitzer Prize-nominated historian and journalist S.C. Gwynne. A longtime Texas resident, Gwynne spent 14 years writing for Texas Monthly and won widespread acclaim—as well  the Texas Book Award—for his 2010 book Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. Gwynne lives in Austin.

Rebel+Yell+by+S.C.+GwynneRebel Yell explores the life and military career of a man contemporaries found both deeply odd and infuriatingly secretive. Jackson was famous for his quirks. “There never was a greater sleeper,” John Esten Cooke wrote in Stonewall Jackson: A Military History, noting that Jackson could pass out anywhere from the back of a horse to a military meal tent with food still in his mouth. Jackson believed that one arm was longer than the other and rode from place to place with the offending limb raised to improve its circulation. But he also made his reputation, Rebel Yell suggests, by being a forceful and dangerous commander, the kind of man Southern historians would hold up as a champion after his death. While Jackson’s end was inglorious—he was killed by friendly fire—the mythology surrounding him has grown steadily since his death, and his tactics and campaign strategies during the early part of the war are still studied as models of military acumen.

Gwynne will talk about Jackson’s legacy at BookPeople on Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. The event is free; tickets—which come free with pre-orders of the book—are necessary to join the signing line.

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Attorney General Greg Abbott
Patrick Michels
Attorney General Greg Abbott at a campaign event.

We have just four weeks before Election Day, and realities are clicking into place. Monday was the last day new voters could register. And Tuesday served as one of the last checkpoints in the money race, as 30-day financial reports were released online.

The reports, which track fundraising and spending from July 1 to Sept. 25, show more similarities with the last round of reports than differences. In the marquee governor’s race, Greg Abbott continues to hold on to a massive war chest—he has more than $30.1 million in cash on hand, even though he’s spent more than $17.6 million and raised only $7.8 million in the last three months. It’s a superhuman sum. His report spans some 2,706 pages.

Davis’ finances are more complicated, in part because the campaign’s effort is split into three groups—but the campaign reports some $5.7 million in cash on hand split across four committees. That’s a little more than a fifth of Abbott’s sum. In spending, though, Davis has been keeping better pace with Abbott.

The campaign itself reports $6.8 million in contributions, plus another $1 million in in-kind donations, similar figures to Abbott’s haul. Battleground Texas, the campaign’s field arm, took in a little over $2.6 million, while spending $2.9 million. Battleground has only $473,000 remaining as of Sept. 25. Davis has never been able to compete with Abbott on a purely financial level, and the gap would seem to be growing. At the same time, as the race nears the finish line, opportunities for Abbott to spend that money diminish.

Together, it’s likely that Davis and Abbott will collectively raise more than $100 million this election. That’s a staggering sum, but it’s still likely to fall short of the $125 million raised and spent by Democrat Tony Sanchez and Rick Perry in 2002 but only because Sanchez spent out of his personal fortune.

In the lt. governor’s race, Republican Dan Patrick is better-positioned than Democrat Leticia Van de Putte, but his advantage is much less than Abbott’s. Patrick has $4.3 million in cash on hand compared to Van de Putte’s $2.2 million. He outraised Van de Putte $4.26 million to $3.1 million. But Van de Putte outspent Patrick more than 2-to-1 in the last three months—she spent $1.75 million, while he spent $804,000.

In the attorney general’s race, where Ken Paxton is biding his time till victory against Sam Houston, Paxton has almost 13 times as much money in the bank as Houston does, and raised more than 15 times as much money.

Up in Ft. Worth’s Senate District 10, things are more interesting. Democrat Libby Willis is fighting an uphill battle to save Wendy Davis’ soon-to-be-former seat for the Democratic Party against tea party organizer Konni Burton. This summer, Burton’s fundraising was kind of lackluster, but most people assumed money would pour into her campaign from the usual GOP donors at the last minute.

That hasn’t happened, and Willis has gotten a massive boost from Back to Basics PAC, a campaign finance vehicle heavily underwritten by Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, the state’s biggest Dem donor. On Sept. 12, Back to Basics wrote Willis a $500,000 check—an enormous sum for a legislative race—bringing her contributions for the period to a little under $734,000. She spent just under $331,000, and has almost $475,000 remaining, with $88,000 in outstanding loans.

Burton’s numbers are comparatively anemic. She took in a little over $335,000, spent only $140,000, and has just over $200,000 left—plus $255,000 in outstanding loans. But there’s a strong possibility GOP donors will now race to match Mostyn’s money.

Money’s an important part of these campaigns, but it’s not everything. Battleground is talking up their success at building the Democratic volunteer base: According to its latest statement, 31,000 volunteers “have made 3.9 million phone calls to voters, and reached out to voters at the doors more than 1.2 million times.”

What effect will all that have? We’ll see in a couple weeks. But there’s some reason to think it’s made an impact. As the Houston Chronicle reported yesterday, the number of registered voters in the state’s five most populous counties has increased 2 percent since 2012—though that still doesn’t keep pace with population growth, at 2.6 percent. In majority Latino Bexar County, voter registration numbers is 3.6 percent higher than 2012. In 2010, during the last midterm election, the number of registered voters in the Texas’ five biggest counties actually declined from the previous cycle. Texas being what it is, higher voter registration numbers will almost inevitably help Democrats.

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Ed Graf in 1988.
Photo courtesy The Waco Tribune-Herald
Ed Graf in 1988

Ed Graf is once again on trial for a crime that many experts say he likely didn’t commit.

Jury selection for Graf’s re-trial on capital murder charges began this morning in a Waco courtroom. Graf was convicted in 1988 of starting a fire in a shed that killed his 8- and 9-year-old stepsons. He served 25 years of a life sentence before his conviction was overturned last year. Graf has maintained his innocence, and much of the physical evidence in the case supports his claims. Three nationally known fire scientists and the State Fire Marshal’s Office’s expert panel have examined the forensic evidence against Graf and concluded there’s no proof that Graf committed arson. And yet he’s once again on trial for his life.

In 2009, the Observer was the first media outlet to examine the flaws in Graf’s conviction, part of a series on faulty arson cases. Since Graf was convicted a quarter century ago, the field of fire investigation has advanced considerably. Many of the indicators investigators once used to distinguish an intentionally set fire from an accidental one—and to convict hundreds of people of arson, including Graf—have been disproven. Similarly, nearly all the forensic evidence that convicted Graf of arson in 1988, such as burn patterns in the wooden shed, has now been debunked.

At a January 2013 hearing, fire scientist Doug Carpenter eviscerated the case against Graf, testifying that, “There is no evidence to be able to formulate a valid hypothesis that this is an incendiary fire.”

In March 2013, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, agreed and overturned Graf’s conviction. At that point, it was up to McLennan County prosecutors to decide whether to free Graf or attempt to re-try him.

A re-trial seemed unlikely given that nearly all the physical evidence had been undermined and the prosecution’s own expert agreed there was no proof of arson.

In June 2013, the State Fire Marshal Office’s Science Advisory Workgroup—a panel of six experts examining old arson cases in the wake of the Cameron Todd Willingham fiasco—also concluded there was no evidence of arson. The State Fire Marshal’s Office sent McLennan County DA Abel Reyna a letter notifying him that the office had changed its classification of the Graf case from “arson” to “undetermined.” If there was no arson, then no crime was committed, and Graf is, by definition, innocent.

Yet Reyna and the DA’s office plunged ahead with a new trial of Graf, who, having spent 25 years in state prison, remains incarcerated in the county jail.

Prosecutors will have little physical evidence on their side. They will have to rely on the circumstantial evidence in the case, including the life insurance policies Graf took out on the kids that he sought to collect after the fire.

In that sense, the re-trial will test whether prosecutors can win a conviction with circumstantial evidence alone. It will also test just how far Texas has come in dealing with arson cases: Graf is the first disputed case to be re-tried since the Willingham controversy and since the state began its review of older arson convictions.

Given the stakes, the proceedings aren’t off to an encouraging start. The re-trial was delayed twice because prosecutors’ original files have gone missing. At a bizarre hearing last week, former DA Vic Feazell, who prosecuted Graf in 1988, traded accusations with his ex-wife about what happened to the files. Though attorneys on both sides have located copies of the files, the originals are still missing, and it’s unclear if any relevant evidence has disappeared as well.

Meanwhile, the re-trial has garnered national attention. National Public Radio will air a story on the Graf re-trial on “All Things Considered” this afternoon.

Prosecutors may begin presenting their circumstantial case late today or tomorrow morning. I’ll be at the trial this week and will post updates in this space.

Threatening eagle with flag

Times like this—well, specifically times when Texas is playing host to the first case of Ebola on American soil—it’s tough to know what to believe. Are we all about to be herded into mass quarantine tents? Precisely where did this man vomit? Are the people of Dallas, its children, or its naive liberal county judge, responding with the appropriate degree of terror?

Has the entire country just laid down and given up?

Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine seems to think so. Devine is on the court, having won what the Observer called in 2012 “The Oddest Race in Texas.” He believes the U.S. Constitution should be applied strictly to modern-day legal issues, and if given the choice, would probably reach back even further. Devine recently joined Ohio Christian University’s “Faith & Liberty” talk show, and his remarks were as follows, courtesy a transcript from Right Wing Watch:

It’s like the Ten Commandments, if we would just stick to those basic principles our nation would be far better off and we would once again be the light on the hill. And unfortunately, the church has gone to sleep, many Americans have gone to sleep and we have allowed those with these progressive ideas to inhabit the White House and almost every facet of government.

Sleep, the silent killer, rears its ugly head yet again. And what can be done? Who will rescue us from the modern-day snooze buttons of the soul?

Sen. Charles Perry, reporting for duty.

As Chris Hooks wrote here earlier this week, Perry approached his inauguration in Lubbock this week with tremendous flair, one hand on the Bible, two lips on his wife and America’s soul on the line. Perry kept the brimstone lit pretty much start-to-finish, suggesting the Obama administration is finishing what the Nazis began:

“The only difference is that the fraud of the Germans was more immediate and whereas the fraud of today’s government will not be exposed until the final days.”

Like Devine, Perry does not believe America should sleep:

A Japanese Imperial commander said he’d awakened a “sleeping giant” after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, according to Perry. Today, the new state senator wonders where that giant is.

“Has the giant died?” Perry asked after being sworn in. “Where is that giant of a nation that was founded on the eternal and never-changing values of a loving God and the desire to share that? I don’t recognize it on so many levels today.”

And of course, we’ve got plenty more Charles Perry to look forward to next year—but not much more David Dewhurst. The outgoing lite guv, who’s about to have a lot more time to kill on the red carpet—dropped by the Values Voter Summit in Washington last Friday.

Dewhurst made great use of the word “literally”:

“I think about the last year and the tsunami of unaccompanied children and what that means, and literally the president opening up the red carpet for them to come here.”

He also took a discredited rumor based on specious intelligence, and repeated it to stoke fear and score political points. And maybe that’s about right: You find the one thing you love to do in this world and if you’re lucky, you get to wake up and do it tomorrow.

So a year after Dewhurst claimed to have witnessed those “bags of feces” and “jars of urine” getting confiscated at the Capitol, he told a crowd in Washington, D.C. about a troubling new development in the war on terror:

“Prayer rugs have recently been found on the Texas side of the border in the brush.”

Prayer rugs = Muslims = ISIS, of course, which is evidence that President Obama has literally opened the red carpet to the agents of America’s demise to cross our southern border. So long as they leave their prayer rugs behind.

Dewhurst hasn’t offered any new details on his sourcing, but it was probably based on a Breitbart Texas scoop from July, which quotes an unnamed “independent American security contractor”:

“That’s when I saw this thing laying around. And I was like, ‘What the hell is that?’ We walked over there and I didn’t really want to pull at it not knowing what was on it. I poked a bit at it with a stick and noticed some of the Arabic writing and was just like, ‘Oh boy.'”

Picking up on this exhaustive reporting, Gawker did a little sleuthing of its own and discovered that the prayer rug in the Breitbart piece may have also doubled as a soccer jersey, and was probably manufactured by Adidas, proving that the conspiracy runs even deeper than we’d thought.

And while we’re on the border, literally, Breitbart Texas‘ open line to the Border Patrol did yield a worthy nugget this week in the great annals of TV posturing, noting that Fusion TV anchor Jorge Ramos, as he swam across the Rio Grande in solidarity with illegal border crossers, was also swimming in raw sewage.

Speaking with Breitbart editor Brandon Darby, a Border Patrol spokesman, seasoned communications professional, explained what happened:

“The guy came down here and he literally swam with poo-poos.”

 

The only problem with that clip, really, is that Morgan Freeman didn’t narrate it.