You’d be safe in assuming that if anybody’s going to completely miss the point of the Perry-Hutchison showdown in Texas, it would be The New York Times, which typically writes about Texas with all the subtlety and deft understanding of Donald Rumsfeld sorting out the cultural nuances of Iraq. But with a few notable exceptions, Sunday’s Times Magazine features a fairly insightful look at the Perry-Hutchison by Robert Draper, author of Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush. (It’s online already here) . Draper nails Rick Perry. Early in their interview, the governor is rhapsodizing about Sam Houston—the anti-secessionist governor Perry so ridiculously invoked during his tea party rants about states’ rights—and notes that Houston might have been president in 1860 if his wife hadn’t stopped him from running. “Then we wouldn’t have had Abe Lincoln,” Draper reminds him. “Maybe Sam Houston would’ve been better,” Perry replies—and that’s where Draper captures the governor perfectly: “He sat back and munched on his popcorn, clearly pleased to have said something that might provoke incredulity somewhere.” That’s our chief-of-state. The man doesn’t give two shakes of a lamb’s tail about sounding intelligent or making sense. Making headlines, though—that is the thing. Draper’s read on Kay Bailey Hutchison is also reasonably astute—especially in regards to her limitations as a retail politician. “Compared with that of her backslapping opponent,” Draper notes, “Hutchison’s levity deficit is notable.” He quotes W.’s former FEMA director (pre-Brownie), Joe Allbaugh, asking the essential question that Hutchison seems constitutionally incapable of answering: Why is she running for governor? “I mean, is she running for better education? Prison reform? Tort reform? The military? What is it? She’s yet to articulate or crystallize it, and it’s gotten late in the game.” And when Hutchison cries, in response to Perry’s hammering her as a “Washington insider,” that “I’m a grass-roots person, and I’ve always been a grass-roots person!” the hopelessly out-of-touch delusions of the senator—the same ones that led her to believe she could win this race while staying in the Senate—come through loud and clear. But to say, as Draper does, that Hutchison’s “a poised campaigner who does not commit unforced errors” is implying too much. It might be true enough, if you’re referring only to the senator’s thoroughly canned and predictable way with stump-speaking. But what’s missing from this otherwise canny story is a cogent analysis of why Hutchison—once the state’s most popular politician—looks to be blowing a race she ought to have won handily against a governor who, as Draper notes, has never had high approval ratings. Hutchison’s campaign has consisted of almost nothing but “unforced errors” thus far. No halfway savvy politician would have given a date for resigning from the Senate (October or November, she said last May) without having made the decision—or then played out that decision in the nutty, back-and-forth way Hutchison then did for months. As Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka noted on Monday, Hutchison’s long-delayed decision to stay put in Washington through the primary election was the ultimate blunder—one with a whole cascade of consequences that could sink her remaining chances of unseating Perry. By opening the gate for Houston Mayor Bill White to switch from the Senate race and run for governor, she not only ensured that Texas Democrats would have a strong candidate against her if she beat Perry; she also “removed any incentive for Democrats and independents to vote in the Republican primary’—switch-over votes that she’ll need to overcome the affection for Perry among downhome Republicans. Hutchison’s suicidal choice to stay put also added fuel to the Perry campaign’s so-far successful painting of her as a creature of Washington. How do you tell Texans that you want to be their governor, more than anything in the world, when you’re not willing to leave Washington to come down and fight for their votes? The woman can protest all she wants about being “grassroots”—and sound downright silly every time she does it. But she’s put down roots in D.C. and shied away from fighting for the job she says she wants. While Draper and national reporters want to cast the G.O.P. primary as some kind of litmus test for the Republican Party’s future direction—all-white and Tea Partyish and shrinking, a la Perry, or slightly more “broad-based” and Chamber of Commercy, a la Hutchison—the real deal is turning out to be nothing ideological at all. It’s about a candidate with a passel of inherent advantages flat-out blowing them all. Hutchison’s year-long series of stupid strategic decisions has given both Rick Perry and Texas Democrats the shiniest, happiest Christmas presents they’ll find under the tree this year.
I must admit that I’ve been distressed to see McAllen at the bottom of the journalistic dog pile these past few months. First it was Dr. Atul Gawande’s story saying that McAllen had the highest Medicare costs in the nation. Next Newsweek chimed in with a story about McAllen being the worst place for allergy suffers in the nation. (After living in Austin and McAllen I can tell you that Austin has McAllen beat hands down.)
It seemed as if the rest of the nation had it in for one of my most favorite border cities. Well today, McAllen finally gets a break. NPR reports that a” highly anticipated report from an independent agency that oversees Medicare measured the program’s spending differently, and it knocks McAllen to number 14 out of 403 locales, behind three other Texas cities, including Lubbock, and parts of Louisiana and Oklahoma.”
Sometimes it’s good not to be number one.
This is the first part in an occasional series of Q&A’s with Texans involved in issues of the environment and energy. The first interview is with Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, a grassroots religious network of Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations and individuals that adhere to universally held social principles of the Abrahamic traditions.
Moorhead is also the director of Texas Interfaith Power & Light, Texas Impact’s environmental program. The group is devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith.
1) What’s your view – and Texas Impact’s view – on the intersection of faith and the environment? As an interfaith organization, representing a diversity of congregations, what is the common thread among the different communities of faith in regards to the environment?
The environment is an area of common concern for most of the world’s faith traditions, both in its own right and because of what it means to human beings. Here’s what I mean by that: first, the major faith traditions all value “care for the creation” because of an understanding that the creation is good. As a Christian, I believe what Scripture says, that God made the world and everything in it and says it’s very good. So the world (and everything in it) deserves the best possible care because God loves it, and if I love God then I would want to take care of what God loves. And second, the environment has an impact on human life–we breathe the air, we drink the water, we eat food grown in the soil–so we have to protect the environment because in doing so, we are caring for God’s children.
2) Various polling has shown that conservative Christians, especially white evangelicals, are the group least likely to acknowledge the reality of climate change. Why do you think this is and do you see any signs that this is changing?
There are several reasons that conservative evangelical Christians would be less likely to acknowledge climate change or think we should take steps to address it. But I’ll tell you that there are plenty of United Methodists, Catholics, Presbyterians, etc., who don’t buy climate change either, and/or who don’t think we need to do anything to address it. For a lot of people, it has to do with fear of change. And it’s very disruptive to many people’s theology to consider that human beings might be able to damage God’s creation in a permanent way.
If God is all-powerful like we believe, then we’d like to think God could fix any mess human beings could ever make, even if it’s really, really bad. Within the Christian community, the conversation about climate change and US response to it is part of a larger conversation about the Kingdom of God, and whether our job as Christians is to try as hard as possible to get away from the Earth and go somewhere better, or whether our job is to help bring about the Kingdom of God here on Earth.
3) Texas Impact has encouraged the Texas Legislature to press forward on energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. Why are these efforts important to your organization and what more would you like to see the elected leaders do in Texas?
Energy efficiency and renewables are two concrete strategies to care for the creation and be good stewards of the resources God gives us. Faith communities can certainly be good environmental stewards by doing their own energy efficiency and renewable projects–but at least within the Abrahamic faiths, there’s a shared understanding that it’s a religious obligation to work for justice, which in a democracy generally means working to influence public policy. So we very much hope that lawmakers in Texas and the US–and globally–make efficiency and renewables policy priorities and allocate resources to support them.
4) Some of us, myself included, were raised in churches where it was taught that man’s dominion over earth meant that humans had the right or even obligation to conquer the planet. Then, we have the growing “prosperity gospel” movement, which puts great emphasis on material wealth and consumption. Do you think there is an anti-environmental streak in much of American Christianity? Any signs that things are changing, especially among young people?
I’m not sure how many churches exactly endorse that antiquated definition of “dominion” anymore, but the idea that human beings are at the top of the Creation pyramid is very strong even in moderate and liberal traditions. It’s not that churches or their members set out to be “bad stewards” of creation or anything. And I think the current discussions in Austin, in the Legislature last spring, and certainly globally leading up to Copenhagen are highlighting the basic concern of faith communities that environmental policy can’t care for the environment at the expense of vulnerable populations.
This all means that faith-centered concern for the Creation is multi-dimensional, and I think faith communities are starting to demand more nuanced discussion of issues like “energy justice” instead of just falling in line with secular environmental concerns. This isn’t “anti-environmental.” In fact, the world should hope the faith communities set a high bar for environmental policy that addresses both human and non-human concerns.
You should be careful asking questions about “young people–” how old do you think I am? I think you are right that college students and young adults in the church are often more environmentally tuned-in than older members, but I’m not enthusiastic about generalizations.
5) What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue in Texas today?
Today, Texas’ most pressing environmental issue is energy, and the impact of energy production and use on our environment.
If we really deal sustainably with energy, we can help mitigate our next big crisis, which will be water. But if we punt on energy, it will make water a worse problem. And after water will come food. So I think we really need to get energy right.
The grinches at Salvation Army aren’t so grinchy anymore. That is they won’t check for citizenship anymore at their toy drives. This week the Houston Chronicle reported that the Salvation Army and other charities in Houston were asking for documentation to prove citizenship before they’d give out toys.
Today, the Salvation Army and the Houston Fire Department said in a Houston Chronicle story that they won’t check children for immigration status anymore. It only took a barrage of bad publicity to get them to change their ways, but hey, at least they came around before Christmas.
The United States has the dubious distinction of leading the world in the number of incarcerated citizens. Now we may have also garnered another disturbing distinction: leading the world in the number of incarcerated non-citizens.The Syracuse University-based Transactional Records Clearing House which tracks immigration trends released a report today with some amazing figures. The United States has 369,483 immigrants in detention facilities across the nation as of FY 2009, according to ICE statistics. TRAC has broken it down so that data can be compiled for individual facilities. A good portion of these folks are being held in Texas. According to TRAC, the number of detainees has doubled since 1999 and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has nowhere to put the rising number of detainees so they are shuffling them from facility to facility. Back in October, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announced that her agency will try and apply consistent management and oversight to the crazy quilt of detainee facilities run by private companies and local government entities across the nation.Napolitano’s special advisor Dora Schriro, who had been appointed to oversee the clean up measures quit just months after being appointed. Schriro said she wanted to be closer to family in NYC. Let’s hope that’s all there was to it, and she wasn’t abandoning a sinking ship.With a burgeoning detainee population, increasingly, ICE is sending people longer distances and to more remote locations. Immigrants who were detained in New York state, for instance, are finding themselves languishing in places like remote West Texas far away from their families and legal representation.I don’t see the number of detainees declining anytime soon. Rural and impoverished counties are becoming too dependent on detention facilities to boost their local economies. Plus they are on the hook for the millions it cost to build the detention facilities. There is now a perverse push to detain more people to feed the number of jails popping up around the country. If you ever want to see the scaly green dollar-driven underbelly of the private detention facility racket check out a prospectus for potential stock investors provided by some of the private jail corps like Geo Group. They tout their increasing market share and if I remember correctly they refer to the prisoners as their clients…truly creepy stuff.