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Louie Gohmert
Louie Gohmert talking. Gonna be a good week.

Dear ones, we have a problem. WTF Friday is in a rut. Every week, we set out to bring you the best in absurdity from this state we all love and/or are stuck with, and every week, we fall back on the usual suspects: Rick Perry; Ted Cruz; the border crisis. When short on material, one has but to ask, “Did Louie Gohmert open his mouth this week?” If yes, you’re in business.

That said, there are things you can’t ignore. So let’s mix it up. Sure, we all know Texas is full of problems to be solved and people who deserve better, but there’s more to Texas than that. Did you know that Texas allows the keeping of raccoons as pets? It does. Colorado doesn’t. California doesn’t. Even Alabama doesn’t. But Texas does. That’s worth something.

Keep that in mind as you ponder this week’s WTF.

1) Perry Part One. On Sunday, still-Gov. Rick Perry told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the deployment of the 1,000 National Guard troops to the border isn’t to fight migrant children but because “countries that have substantial terrorist ties, whether it’s Afghanistan or Pakistan or Syria—we have historic record highs of individuals being apprehended from those countries.”

[covers the mic] (Do we even have to fact-check that? I mean, does that even deserve a response? … President? Again? Okay, fine.)

PolitiFact rated that claim “Pants on Fire.”

2) Here’s a raccoon doing somersaults.

3) Perry Part Two. The squinting statesman also said some awesome stuff in a National Journal story this week. From the “Not At All Defensive—Why Do You Ask?” Files, author Michelle Cottle notes Perry spent “a generous 15 minutes or more walking me through his ophthalmological history” in response to her question about his famous new frames. When she met him in South Carolina, he’d forgotten them in Austin. “Shortly after our conversation, an aide was dispatched to a North Charleston shopping mall to procure an identical replacement from a one-hour optical shop,” Cottle writes.

Then he smells a woman’s boot. A woman he meets in South Carolina says she’s wearing some uncomfortably stiff new cowboy boots made from a gator she shot and “next thing you know, one of Pam’s boots is off her foot and in the governor’s hands,” Cottle writes. “Perry flexes the sole, then sticks his face down inside the shiny black footwear and inhales deeply. ‘I just love the smell of new leather!’ he announces happily. He pauses, looks over at me, and asks, ‘This is going to wind up in your piece, isn’t it? “He likes to sniff women’s shoes!”’”

Yes. Yes it is.

4) Here’s a raccoon watching TV.

3) Ted Cruz. After having derailed the American political process with pizza, the junior senator had a quiet week. The most notable Cruz quote came from the Ghost of Cruzes Past, who three years ago primed a crowd for Gov. Perry at the convention by saying, “My prediction is Rick Perry will win the nomination and in November 2012 he will defeat Barack Obama.”


Cruz and Perry are speaking again at the gathering in Fort Worth, but as frenemies and potential 2016 rivals. Perry kicked things off this morning and Cruz closes them down tonight. I hope they wear the same red tie. So awkward!

5) Here’s a raccoon fixing a car.

6) Actual-U.S.-Congressman Louie Gohmert appeared on “The Sean Hannity Show” on Thursday and told not-kidding guest host Col. Oliver North that a Border Patrol agent told him, “[Y]ou know what the drug cartels call the homeland security in America? UPS. We’re their logistics. They get people to the border and then Homeland Security is their logistics to get their package to wherever they wanted it to go.” I have no idea what that means, but my favorite thing about it is that wrote it up as “Rep. Louie Gohmert reported” [italics mine.] Because that’s what reporting is. Come on, people. Reporting is serious work undertaken by serious people who seek the truth behind all the spin and deceit and play a crucial role in a functioning democracy.

7) Here’s some baby raccoons following a little girl around.

8) Texas also continued its dysfunctional relationship with sex and gender this week. Tea party state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) claimed on Facebook that he’d just drafted a bill to bar the state of Texas from providing gender reassignment surgery to inmates. Which it doesn’t. In fact, as Lone Star Q reports, the state successfully went to federal appeals court in 2007 to keep from having to provide even hormone therapy to transgender inmates. But you can’t be too safe, I guess. Priorities.

Good for you, hon.

And 63 state legislators signed an amicus brief supporting Texas’ defense of its gay marriage ban that said allowing gay marriage “could lead to the recognition of bigamy, incest, pedophilia, and group marriage.”

It’s not that these arguments haven’t been made before, in public and by people who apparently dress and feed themselves. It’s just that an amicus brief is so public and official, part of the historical record, that you’d think they’d at least drop the “pedophilia” thing in deference to decency and common sense. But no.

Don’t despair, though, dear ones. Many gay rights advocates say a win for Texas in that case would be something of a blessing, fast-tracking the issue for the Supreme Court.

And at any rate, Perry and Cruz and Gohmert and those 63 state legislators may get the spotlight, but they aren’t the only Texans that matter. There are tens of thousands of hard-working Texans making this state incrementally better every single day. One of them is Brenda Rioja, who edits the church newspaper at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen. Sacred Heart has aided more than 5,400 migrants since June and they’re not done yet, no matter what lawmakers on the state or national stage do or don’t do. “We always say, leave politics at the door,” Rioja told the National Geographic. “It’s about helping those who are right there in front of you. Imagine if we did that all around the world, how different it would be.”


9) Happy Friday, dear Observers. Here’s a raccoon skipping away.

Shane Dewayne Hadnot
Jasper County Sheriff's Office
Shane Dewayne Hadnot, in a booking photo from an earlier arrest.

Late last year, a Jasper physical therapist named Alfred Wright disappeared along a remote stretch of East Texas highway in between his scheduled house calls. From the start, Wright’s family was suspicious of local authorities who seemed certain his mysterious disappearance was drug-related; in an area that’s become notorious for racially fueled violence, Wright’s family and others in Jasper’s black community suspected there was more to the story.

In March, the Observer featured the story of Wright’s disappearance and the debate, which stretched from the Sabine County courthouse steps to American Idol fan blogs, over the racial implications of how Wright’s case was handled. We reported that authorities had focused their investigation on one 28-year-old Jasper man who could have sold Wright the lethal dose of cocaine later found in his body. Still, complex theories about Wright’s death—that he’d been tortured and mutilated before his death, or forced to ingest the drugs that killed him—spread and grew more intricate in part because authorities wouldn’t say anything so long as the investigation was still open.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office broke that silence at a press conference in Beaumont this morning, announcing that it had indicted that 28-year-old Jasper man, Shane Dewayne Hadnot, for two charges of drug distribution resulting in death, each of which carry a 20-year minimum prison term.

The indictment, which was just unsealed, dates to June 25, and attributes the strange circumstances of Wright’s death to a state of “excited delirium” from the cocaine, methamphetamine and Xanax later found in his system. The document is the most detailed look yet at the official investigation into Wright’s death, while one of Wright’s family members says it only suggests a further official cover-up.

According to the indictment, Hadnot admitted to both Wright’s wife Lauren and to Texas Ranger Danny Young that he’d sold cocaine to Wright on the day he went missing. According to the indictment, Hadnot “admitted that he sold half-grams of cocaine to Wright on a daily basis.” The indictment also quotes daily text messages from Wright to Hadnot beginning on October 8, 2013, to arrange the deals, coded messages like “grammy award” or—on November 7, the day Wright disappeared, “1 gino and a 20 and 3 handles.”

Wright, according to the indictment, was erratic with patients on the afternoon of his disappearance. One of Wright’s patients recalls him showing up late and complaining he was sick; another witness says they spoke to Wright in his or her driveway and “found him extremely disoriented and unable to communicate clearly” before telling Wright to leave.

Once Wright’s body was discovered in late November, the forensic evidence became another point of contention in the case. The Texas Department of Public Safety released an official autopsy that attributed Wright’s death to a drug overdose, but Lee Ann Grossberg, an independent examiner hired by Wright’s family, announced at a press conference that after examining Wright’s body, she had “a high index of suspicion this was a homicide.” That quote helped fuel suspicion that Wright hadn’t simply overdosed, despite Grossberg’s insistence that her investigation wasn’t finsihed. According to the indictment, when Grossberg released her report in May (this time without a press conference), she agreed with the state examiner that Wright’s death was an accidental overdose.

At 3 a.m. Friday morning, Wright’s sister Annilia Wright-Mosley sent an email about the Justice Department’s forthcoming announcement. “I must say I am very numb right now,” she began. “This is what they are doing to uphold the Toxicology report and to validate their claims to [Alfred's] demise. I am so very disappointing [sic] in our justice system” which, she writes, “recruit[ed] an innocent black man to take the fall.” She says she and her family will be protesting at the federal building in Houston at 3 p.m. this afternoon.

You can read the full indictment here.

The text of Wright-Mosley’s email follows:


I must say I am very numb right now with the news of what my parents just informed me of that the DOJ (Malcolm Bales out of Beaumont, TX) called and said to them. This is what was stated:

On tomorrow August 8, 2014 They will be inditing a young black man by the name of Shane Hadnot (who suppose to be a drug dealer in Jasper, TX) for the death of my little brother Alfred Wright. They said he is getting charged because he sold the drugs to my brother which caused him to overdose and die. This is what they are doing to uphold the Toxicology report and to validate their claims to his demise. I am so very disappointing in our justice system.

My brother tongue was cut out, eyes gouged out, throat slit, ear cut off, he had missing teeth, missing finger nails, signs of violence and torture (which was confirmed by the second patholigist, Dr. LeeAnn Grossberg in the beginning of the investigation. But after the DOJ got involved she later retracted her claims and became distant to our family which was very suspicious). Later in the investigation my father was finally able to reach her and she informed him that the DOJ had sent reports to her and this is what she based her findings on basically on what the DOJ said. So my mother stated to Malcolm Bales that you mean to tell me that my son slit his own throat, cut his ear off, knock teeth out of his mouth, cut his tongue out, and his response was, It was animal activity.”

This is really sad news to our family, community and to the state of Texas. In 2014 the justice system is yet covers up a HATE CRIME and MODERN DAY LYNCHINHG and recruiting an innocent black man to take the fall (who they cannot prove a connection to Shane being at the scene of the crime). I wanted you all to have this information before they come forward to release the lies and cover up of this case on tomorrow

The Wright Family is asking for your continued prayers and support! We thank you for everything youv’e done to keep the voice of justice alive for Alfred Wright.

What Is Alt Lit?

No Glykon
courtesy Trey Greer
Austin-based Internet writer No Glykon.

My first exposure to ‘“Alt Lit” was about a year ago. I was idly scrolling through my Tumblr feed when I stopped at a post, offering nothing but a link labeled make something beautiful before you are dead. Curious, I clicked the link and was delivered to a YouTube video of a gap-toothed young man running through a wet field, exuberantly extolling the beauties of life, pastiching (or parodying?) YouTube vlogs and slinging pop-culture references to Justin Bieber and Dog the Bounty Hunter. With the camera held precariously in one hand and trained tightly on himself—often at an uncomfortably intimate distance—he shouts, “Back in my grandfather’s day, they didn’t have YOLO. We have YOLO. We have to harness this GIFT!” YOLO, of course, is acronymized shorthand for You Only Live Once. The narrator’s name is Steve Roggenbuck, and the proclamations and exhortations that fill out the remainder of the 3:05 video are similarly affirming and equally absurd.

I felt strangely uplifted. Was this poetry? Over the next year I began to see glimpses of a similar style of expression in my social media feeds. They were barely distinguishable from the white noise of Web 2.0, but just slightly more meditated and self-consciously poetic.

Image by Moon Temple, published at

I’d see a “share” of a surrealist image-poem in Impact font from a Facebook group called, “Pretending to ride a dog but not hurting it just pretending.” Someone would retweet, “hi i’m one of billions of creatures ingesting and excreting matter to perpetuate my existence on a sphere floating in space, how are you?” This Internet aesthetic seemed weird, but consistently bold. Further clicking revealed webbed connections between disparate sources. I felt as though I was seeing just the surface expressions of a sizable online community.

I’d discovered Alt Lit, but defining it proved more difficult. So I sat down with Austin-based Alt Lit author No Glykon (real name: Trey Greer) to find out more about the scene.

Waylon Cunningham: How would you explain Alt Lit to a 40-year-old from Cincinnati?

No Glykon: In probably the most simple terms, it’s Internet writing. It’s using the tools of the Internet and the figures of speech of the Internet to write. You know, like typing in all caps, typing in no caps, using misspelling and those types of figures of speech in your poetry and prose.

WC: There seems to be more to it than a merely casual copy-editing style, though.

NG: I often think that punk is analogous to Alt Lit. Poetry really never had its punk. There’s no one that ever really said, “It’s okay to write shit.” But for punk, it’s “learn three chords and you have a song.” I think Alt Lit is like that. It’s crude, it’s DIY. A bunch of people who were publishing poetry on the Internet just became friends. A lot of them are timid about even using the word Alt Lit to describe themselves, myself included. I don’t even know how big it is. Sometimes I’ll see an article in The Guardian or New York Times about some character in the scene, and I’ll be like, “Hmm, that’s weird. That guy.” In my perspective, it’s just people I’ve become friends with. And you know, I think it’s just not necessarily something solid that you can add a very strict definition to. And there’s not really somebody in the community who is putting definitions on things. There’s no [Andre] Breton who’s writing manifestos on Alt Lit. Or if there are, I don’t know who they are.

WC: What about Tao Lin?

NG: He definitely got a lot of people interested in using the language of the Internet. He just got published by Vintage, too, actually. But I think he’s sort of dissociated himself with a lot of those people. And he did that before a lot of people even described their work as Alt Lit. But it would be silly to deny Tao Lin being part of the community.

WC: Would you consider Alt Lit accessible to most people? Some have accused the scene of being opaque and ambiguously ironic.

Image by Vincent Phillip, published at

NG: I don’t think that’s true. I think a lot of these authors are shooting for honesty in a really confessional way. It’s accessible in that you don’t have to know anything about poetry to know what people are doing. It’s not accessible if you don’t know what the hashtag shit on Twitter or Tumblr is. If you have the mindset where you’re thinking that interfacing via social media is not a real way of interacting with people, if you’re that type of Luddite, then you’re gonna struggle to understand what is even being said. But I think that if you’re open and excited about the Internet, and it blows your mind all the time, then you’ll probably understand. I don’t think that the message or the themes that are being used are inaccessible. I think that the writing is actually very accessible.

WC: Your own writings do seem a little strange, though, don’t you think?

NG: I think my stuff in general is little vignettes. Not necessarily playing into a coherent story. But I wouldn’t necessarily say my stuff is indicative of the greater Alt Lit culture.

WC: What would you say is indicative of greater Alt Lit culture?

NG: I would say there are two main channels. The first type are people that are riffing off [Charles] Bukowski’s confessional-style writing. They tend to emphasize the more grotesque aspects of being a person. Lots of talking about being a piece of shit. Lots of self-loathing. The other type are people that are trying to be almost motivational speakers. Just trying to get people pumped about life. Like Steve Roggenbuck.

WC: Would you say that Texas has a large Alt Lit presence?

NG: Much more than most states, it does. I think the main saturation is in Chicago. But Alt Lit Gossip is probably the epicenter of the scene. That’s where the term is used the most. The curator of that group, Chris Dankland, lives in Houston.

WC: Has Texas had any effect on your writing?

NG: I think it’s difficult not to write from your own experiences. I live in Austin, and when I write I definitely incorporate what I hear people say and stories about my friends, stuff like that. But I think that one of the core things about Alt Lit is that it exists primarily on the Internet. It’s an Internet culture. And that’s really important to the community at large.

WC: So this is a movement not really tied to geography?

NG: Right. For example, there are plenty of people whose only means of putting writing in the world is via email. Like Peter BD, his whole thing is he sends an email to you where he writes a story about you with a bunch of weird made-up shit. And there are plenty of people who primarily write through Facebook and Tumblr.

WC: Do you think the independent publishing nature of Alt Lit gives it any advantage?

NG: It just depends on what your end goal is. If your goal is to communicate with other people, then you totally have an advantage because you can get your material out there faster and develop communications faster. If your goal is to become the poet laureate of the United States, then you’re fucked.

No Glykon recently published the sixth issue of his online Alt Lit zine, Reality Hands.

Blake Farenthold speaks at a town hall in Bastrop, Texas. August 6, 2014.
Christopher Hooks
Blake Farenthold speaks at a town hall in Bastrop on Aug. 6, 2014.

August is the time for Congress to take a well-deserved vacation, which, in the unhappy world of congresspeople, means returning to their districts to be yelled at by constituents. Last year’s round of town halls were particularly bad in this regard. The House had been flirting with immigration reform, and the tea party was furious. At one town hall in Salado, Congressman John Carter, who’d been tasked by the House leadership with trying to draw up a bipartisan bill, was yelled into virtual submission by the Central Texas Tea Party.

You might expect, given recent events on the border, and the continuing malaise in Congress over immigration reform, that this year’s town halls would be just as heated. But on Wednesday night, at a town hall meeting in Bastrop held by Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi), there wasn’t much fire. Still, the meeting proved to be a strong reminder of why Congress finds itself stuck in neutral on the subject, without much chance of improvement anytime soon.

There were plenty of off-the-wall constituents, like the woman who accused Central American kids of taking advantage of an anti-human trafficking law by falsely claiming they’d been abused. (Of course, the opposite is the case—there’s plenty of evidence the government isn’t properly shielding kids who’ve shown evidence of being trafficked.) One fellow, talking about the possibility of impeachment proceedings for Obama, employed language evocative of a lynching—letting the “noose” of scandals tighten around the president’s neck. One wanted to know why we weren’t building higher walls.

An older man in a Hawaiian shirt wanted to know about the IRS and Lois Lerner. Didn’t the administration’s recent scandals point toward high crimes and misdemeanors? It had gotten to the point where even he, a free man in Bastrop, was afraid of speaking out against Obama. He offered this in the middle of his town’s city hall, to a congressman who agreed with them, then added, of liberals: “You gotta remember, half the population has an IQ of less than a hundred.”

When Carter got in trouble last year, he did so because he tried to set his constituents straight on a lot of the issues they were most angered by. That might have been the noble thing to do, but it may not have been the best idea. Farenthold doesn’t bother to engage with a lot of the talking points constituents leave at his feet—he deftly sidesteps them and talks about something more comfortable. It’s a smart thing to do, even if it may leave some of the voters with the impression that he agrees with them when he hasn’t.

“We’ve got to not be angry Republicans,” he told the crowd. Afterward, Farenthold continued to strike a moderate tone to the two reporters present. Last year, “advocates of both sides in the immigration debate were really turning up the fire, and we came out of August last year further apart than we began.”

On the prospects of immigration reform: It’s “pretty obvious that’s not going to happen in the House.” He called for the Senate to take up the bill the House recently passed, which would undo DACA—Obama’s temporary relief for young undocumented people, aka Dreamers—as well as a host of other measures. Farenthold said that politics involved negotiation, and that Harry Reid was to blame for not taking up the House bill. But the House legislation, which would expose more people to deportations, is lights-years away from the president’s proposal. It’s virtually impossible to imagine a compromise between the two.

For years, immigration reform has had a chicken-and-egg problem. Some say that the border has to be secured before anything else happens. But comprehensive immigration reform, with a guest worker program and legal status for those here illegally, would ease conditions on the border. And besides, it’s not clear that the border can ever really be “secured” to anyone’s satisfaction.

I ask Farenthold: Is demanding that border security come first a poison pill? “I think it’s exactly the opposite. What I pointed out in the town hall is that Americans feel betrayed because Reagan told them that we’d secure the border back when he did the first amnesty. He didn’t, and now we’re in the exact same boat we were in when the Reagan policy took effect.”

He adds: “Let’s get back to integrity with the American people and secure the border. And I guarantee you, the tempers will come down. This whole comprehensive immigration thing just drives me crazy.”

Farenthold says he supports guest worker programs, and wants Congress to break immigration reform into smaller bills. There are lots of things that both sides agree on. At the same time, he admitted, if Congress breaks reform up into small packages based on those areas of common consensus, “then there’s not the coalition to do something about the 11 million people not lawfully present in the United States.”

What does securing the border mean from a policy perspective? Is there a metric? Would, for example, more apprehensions along the border mean the border is getting more secure, or less secure? “The trick is coming up with a specific measurable result,” he says. Here, he seems to get closer to the truth. It’s mostly about perception.

“I’m talking in general terms about the American people believing the border is secure. I don’t know what it’s going to take to convince the American people the border is secure, but I certainly know a child and her grandmother being able to get across is not it.”

But if perception is at the root of the impasse, many Republicans aren’t helping. By taking trips on Rio Grande gunboats and emphasizing disease and crime risks, Republican politicians like Rick Perry are exacerbating the perception of insecurity.

People are coming here illegally because they can’t come here legally. They might be coming to work, or they might be coming to join family members already living here. A failure to tackle immigration reform increases the number of people forced to attempt an illegal crossing, and incentivizes human trafficking. Which, in turn, is proof to the American voters Farenthold is talking about that the border isn’t secure, and reinforces the unwillingness to tackle immigration reform. Status quo ante, ad infinitum.

Texas, Tothless

In Senate District 4, it was tea party vs. tea party but the slightly less cranky Brandon Creighton beat Steve Toth in a lopsided victory yesterday.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Re. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) and Alice Linahan
Patrick Michels
State Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst

There have been, roughly speaking, two groups of tea party legislators that took seats in the Texas House in the last few years. One group seemed more or less happy to be there, and one group seemed like it was a few incitements away from pulling a full Guy Fawkes on the Pink Dome. State Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), who lost his bid for promotion to the state Senate last night, and is forfeiting his House seat in the process, was of the latter camp.

In the special election runoff in Senate District 4, Toth’s fellow state Rep. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) won the day, taking almost 70 percent of the vote to Toth’s 30 percent. It was an unusually lopsided victory, given recent dynamics in Senate elections across the state. But it didn’t hurt that Creighton outspent Toth by more than 3 to 1.

The Texas Senate has lost some of its most important dealmakers in the last year. The pragmatists and moderates have been ruthlessly culled, and next session will see a number of bomb-throwers join the chamber’s ranks. Senate District 4 was formerly represented by state Sen. Tommy Williams, who left to take a job with Texas A&M. He crafted the budget last session, and played an important role in keeping legislators on task on issues like transportation funding.  

Toth’s most famous bill might have been an attempt to nullify federal gun laws, but he still fits the mold of recent Republican Senate primary victors better than Creighton. It’s not that Creighton is a liberal GOPer. As the Houston Chronicle noted in its endorsement of Creighton, the difference between the two men isn’t so much one of ideology as of temperament:

To understand the difference between the two candidates seeking to replace state Sen. Tommy Williams in state Senate District 4, look at their reactions to the surge of Central American children crossing our border. For state Rep. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, it is a “full-blown humanitarian crisis.” For state Rep. Steve Toth of The Woodlands, it is a “full-blown invasion.”

Lately, Toth’s been hugging fringe immigration groups like Stop the Magnet, which wants to make life more dangerous and difficult for undocumented immigrants in order to get them to self-deport, or stay far away from Texas. That’s been a recipe for victory for candidates in other districts, like Bob Hall, who narrowly defeated longtime incumbent Sen. Bob Deuell.

But it didn’t work in SD 4. Even with the strong backing and support of groups like Empower Texans, Toth underperformed in the special election in May, nearly losing the second-place position to a Coast Guard vet with no experience in office. Then he severely underperformed in the runoff—despite the fact that Toth’s home base, The Woodlands, has quite a few more people than Creighton’s, Conroe.

Still, if Creighton’s victory over Toth is a small positive sign for the Senate next session, it’s probably not a sign of much more. For one thing, Creighton walloped Toth in the money department—Toth had a healthy amount of financial assistance from conservative groups like Empower Texans in the first part of the race, but that seemed to collapse by the end. In July, Toth took in just $13,000 to Creighton’s $213,000, and spent only $52,000 to Creighton’s $177,000.

And Creighton, as mentioned before, is a pretty conservative fellow. That fact might have denied Toth the room he needed to stage a proper challenge. But as a side effect, the Texas House is losing one more member of the 2010 and 2012 tea party waves.

Gilbert Stuart's 1796 Portrait of George Washington
Gilbert Stuart's unfinished 1796 Portrait of George Washington. Texas State Board of Education Member Ken Mercer says the College Board is trying to completely un-finish the job.

Light the lanterns and load the muskets—the liberals are coming for our history again.

To veterans of the State Board of Education’s Culture Wars of 2010, the Great CSCOPE Panic of 2013 or the Common Core Purity Tests of 2014—”You use Common Core, you go to jail,” goes the timeless refrain—it will come as little surprise to learn that a new front has opened in the battle for the minds of our children and the story of our nation. Those hapless school administrators have wheeled yet another Trojan horse through the gates.

Newcomers to this sort of thing, however, may be stumped by the growing backlash to the news that Advanced Placement U.S. History has been revised.

As part of a general overhaul of nearly three dozen AP tests—which cover a broad range of subjects and let high-scoring high school students earn college credit—the College Board has released details of the new AP U.S. History test to be given this spring. The new test will require more conceptual thinking from students, big-picture explanations of trends and connections over time, meant to more closely mimic the demands students would face in a college course. “To this end,” according to a College Board announcement, “the curriculum framework presents required course content conceptually, allowing teachers the freedom to present that content in a variety of ways.”

The transition has been years in the making. In October 2012, the College Board released a framework for the new test, a 98-page list of the concepts with which students should be familiar. In the past, it had only issued a five-page outline.

On July 8 of this year, State Board of Education member Ken Mercer, a San Antonio Republican, answered the new framework with a call to arms. He began:

On July 4th, we witnessed nationwide patriotism honoring our Founding Fathers and the sacrifices of our courageous men and women in uniform. This must have annoyed David Coleman, the chief architect of the controversial Common Core national standards, and many of his College Board (CB) colleagues.

Coleman co-wrote the English standards for the Common Core initiative, before joining the College Board as president in 2012. For some veterans of the anti-Common Core fight, Coleman’s presence at the College Board is proof enough that AP courses have been “infiltrated” by the collectivist dogma of the nationwide school standards. That would be especially nefarious in Texas, which never adopted the Common Core—proof that no one is safe from the plot to nationalize America’s schools.

And just how much does the College Board hate America? Mercer counts the ways. “In the period of the American Revolution up to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, almost every Founding Father is omitted – no Jefferson, Adams, Madison, or Franklin,” he writes.

The lessons on World War II omit “The Greatest Generation,” Truman, Hitler, D-Day, Midway, the Battle of the Bulge, and every military commander including Dwight Eisenhower. Inexplicably, Nazi atrocities against Jews and other groups are “not required.” The CB concludes its treatment of WWII with this blunt statement: “The decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values.”

Of course, omitting names, dates and places is kind of the point. “Allowing teachers the freedom” to teach how they want, or how their states require them to teach, is what the new AP framework is about. Texas fought hard over who should or shouldn’t have a place in its social studies standards, and every other state has a list of its own. Avoiding a Hitler reference is hard enough on YouTube’s comment threads; nobody is seriously suggesting he should be left out of a lesson on World War II.

Mercer references “lessons on World War II,” but there are no lessons at all in this framework, just a list of big-picture ideas students should consider. Teachers are the ones who tell students, with the benefit of a course syllabus, textbook and their state’s history standards, which historical figures, dates and places are crucial to explaining the past. Mercer either completely misunderstands what’s happening here, or he’s stirring the fear-fire’s embers to remind us there’s a war on.

“For today’s patriots,” Mercer writes, “this is our Valley Forge and our D-Day – this is the Revolution of 2014!”

Ken Mercer
SBOE member Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio)

That was almost a month ago. Last night, Mercer joined a nationwide conference call to reissue his plea, joined by two of the sources he refers to in his letter: Larry Krieger, a retired history teacher and author of test prep books like the AP® U.S. Government & Politics Crash Course, and Jane Robbins of the Washington-based American Principles Project. The call was hosted by Concerned Women of America, a nationwide group in Georgia, and promoted to groups in Texas and all over the country, from Idaho to Florida. When I called in at the beginning of the conversation, an automated voice told me I was the 317th caller.

Krieger recalled his shock at seeing everyone the new framework left out—even “my own personal hero George Washington.” But worse than the omissions, Krieger said, were the personal slights against our Founding Fathers. Reading the framework, Krieger says:

I saw a consistently negative view of American history that highlights oppressors and exploiters. Now instead of striving to build a city on a hill, according to the framework, our nation’s founders are portrayed as bigots who, quote, “developed a belief in white superiority.” End quote. That was in turn derived from quote, “A strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority” and that of course led to, quote, “creation of a rigid racial hierarchy.”


Actually, the theme of oppression and conflict continues. Later on I turned to Manifest Destiny. Now, you were probably taught, I was taught and I also taught, that Manifest Destiny was the belief that America had the mission to spread democratic democracy and new technology across the continent. Well, sorry, on page 44 the framework says, quote, “the idea of Manifest Destiny was built on a belief of white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority.”

Mercer chimed in later: “If this is what our university professors believe to be good U.S. history, then this document is an indictment of our colleges and universities.” From Robbins, and questions from other callers, came a broad suggestion that parents ought to quit letting big outside groups dictate what their children are taught. This time around, the most rousing call to action came from Krieger:

The time has really come to push back. Rosa Parks said ‘no’ and she galvanized the civil rights movement. Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Now I think it’s time for us to stand up, push back to the College Board and say no.

Krieger, like Mercer, wants the College Board to delay its implementation of the new test, so our young Americans won’t grow up looking too harshly on our complicated past. College Board vice president Trevor Packer has suggested Krieger’s motivations are more cynical: “As someone deeply invested in the test preparation industry, Krieger cannot be expected to welcome the way that AP courses and exams are being revised to emphasize inquiry and depth at the expense of memorization.”

During the state board’s meeting in mid-July, SBOE chair Barbara Cargill made time for complaints about the framework, and discussion about keeping it out of Texas schools—a measure that, it seems, would put Texas’ 46,000 AP test-takers at a distinct disadvantage. After hours of testimony from upset patriots—some dressed in period costumes—a College Board official named Debbie Pennington took the mic to answer questions.

She reiterated that there’s no Common Core in the AP history standards, and that the framework really is just a framework—not, say, a denial that the Holocaust happened—and Pennington fielded a question from Dallas Democrat Mavis Knight: What should we make of this scandal? Is Mercer’s “Revolution of 2014″ fact or fiction?

“I love listening to this stuff,” Pennington replied. “This is what the First Amendment, this is what this body is all about.”

Houston mayor Annise Parker announcing the Equal Rights Ordinance in April.
Greater Houston Partnership / Richard Carson
Houston mayor Annise Parker announcing the Equal Rights Ordinance in April.

Sometimes members of the far right have to work pretty hard to maintain a posture of victimization, to connect distant dots suggesting that a Radical Homosexual Agenda or Lavender Menace is snaking its tastefully dressed tendrils through the halls of governance to undermine the will of Decent Christian People Trying to Protect Their Families ™.

Monday was not that day.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Houston City Attorney David Feldman announced that a petition challenging a new Equal Rights Ordinance had failed. Opponents fell just over 2,000 signatures short of the 17,269 needed to put a repeal of the ordinance on the November ballot. Mayor Annise Parker said she expected the issue to end up in court and that the courts would agree with the  city’s assessment, but that she would delay implementation in the meantime.

But here’s the twist—the petitioners actually had plenty of valid individual signatures. What undid them was the disqualification of thousands of entire pages of signatures. More than half the 5,199 pages submitted were invalid because the collectors weren’t registered Houston voters, hadn’t personally signed the petition, hadn’t had the page properly notarized, or some combination—all requirements set forth in the city charter. Thus, it’s possible that outraged petitioners will challenge not only the city’s count of valid signatures but also the city charter rules themselves.

David Welch of the Houston Area Pastor Council, a leader of the petition effort, says he expects to prevail. “We were well aware we were dealing with an administration that’s willing to bend the rules,” Welch told the Houston Chronicle. “Courts typically uphold the rights of the voters. We feel very confident in how that will go. Frankly, there was no respect for the rights of the voters in this process.”

Naturally, Mayor Parker expects the same. “I’m confident that the courts will agree with the strict interpretation of the rules set out in the charter for the requirements and that the courts will protect the integrity of our petition process,” Parker said at the press conference.

Whatever the courts decide, the ordinance is essentially safe from repeal for the time being. State law sets the deadline for the November ballot just two weeks from now, meaning a court would have to be decide in the petitioners’ favor in that time. Meanwhile, Mayor Parker said she’d delay implementation but didn’t say for how long.

The petition’s failure might have been surprising—opponents said they turned in 50,000 signatures, after all—if not for the shadowy efforts of an anonymous party that posted the petitions online and invited visitors to scour them for problems. Noel Freeman, a public policy analyst and treasurer of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, says he didn’t post the materials but is spearheading an independent review of them using the website, He predicted Monday’s outcome, telling the Chronicle almost 3,000 pages were invalid. Freeman explained to the magazine OutSmart, “The petitions are a mess. They are the worst petitions I’ve ever seen.”

That Freeman and his cohort saw the petitions at all could prompt more fear of a Queer Conspiracy. As noted, the domain name was registered on July 3, the same day the petitions were turned in, through a service that masks the registrant’s identity. But while the registrant is masked, the name and address of all those who opposed the ordinance are exposed. Petitions are public record, but still—if one were already inclined to fear mistreatment or intimidation by a powerful political figure who is gay, which Mayor Parker is, the events around the petition drive would not inspire confidence.

Now, however, Houston’s journey toward an equal rights ordinance at last gets boring. The online petitions have been taken down. All the council meetings have been met, the rallies rallied, the droves of witnesses indignantly cut off before they were done. The council voted, made their speeches, and the waves of misinformation and bigotry washed around town for several weeks in response. If the petition drive had succeeded, ordinance opponents would have had momentum, keeping the hysteria stoked through November. But now the trudging legal system takes over and there’s not much for Houston’s anti-HEROs to do. Even if they prevail in court, a vote to repeal the ordinance wouldn’t happen until November 2015 unless the City Council decided to set a special election for it, which they aren’t likely to do. By then, even the intrigue and outrage prompted by this contentious petition process is likely to have faded.

Governor Rick Perry announces the deployment of the Texas National Guard to the border, alongside Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott
Christopher Hooks
Governor Rick Perry announces the deployment of the Texas National Guard to the border, alongside Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott

When troopers with the Department of Public Safety first started deploying to the border in June, DPS made clear that they weren’t going to be taking any part in enforcing immigration laws. DPS—much like the forthcoming National Guard deployment—would be on the border solely to assist with law enforcement efforts, like cracking down on drug smugglers. Gov. Rick Perry and others agreed: The deployments were about crime, not the migrants themselves.

But now apprehensions are apparently declining on part of the Texas border, and Texas lawmakers are eager to take credit, even there’s no evidence that the drop in apprehensions has anything to do with Texas’ border surge. To the contrary, the most likely explanations have to do with factors far out of the hands of Texas government. State lawmakers are also changing their story; now the border operations are about immigration enforcement, not stopping drug runners and traffickers.

Gov. Rick Perry was one of the first to take credit for the drop in apprehensions. At his press conference on July 21 announcing the deployment of the National Guard, he credited DPS for staunching the flow. “Apprehensions have dropped 36 percent, from more than 6,600 per week, to 4,200 per week,” Perry said. “This is a clear indication that the increased patrol presence” of DPS and other law enforcement efforts is “having a deterrent effect.”

(I asked Perry’s office for the source of the figures, and the office referred me to DPS. I’ll update when I hear back.)

But last week, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst went much further. On Friday morning, Dewhurst joined Fox News host Bill Hemmer to talk about the border crisis—but an ebullient Dewhurst had one thing in particular he wanted to say.

“As a result of our surge with our state police, Bill, over the last five weeks, we’ve been able to shut down and reduce illegal immigration” in a 60-mile stretch of the “Rio Grande Valley by some 50 percent,” he said. It was a great success, he said, even though the reduction had come at a cost of “$17 or $18 million a month” and the Texas-Mexico border is 1,254 miles long.

Put another way: There was a 50 percent drop in apprehensions, which is an imperfect proxy for illegal crossings, along 4.8 percent of the Texas-Mexico border at a cost of almost $20 million a month. It wasn’t clear what 60-mile stretch of the Valley Dewhurst was talking about. Nor was he asked by the host if apprehensions had gone up elsewhere along the border. If the coyotes are as wily as they’re represented by Texas politicians, then presumably they could lead their clients to a less-policed part of the border.

But most significantly, there’s no evidence that illegal crossings have slowed because of anything Texas is doing. Over the last few months, the U.S government has been involved in a major effort to dissuade Central Americans from making the journey while putting tremendous pressure on Mexico and Central American nations to crack down on migrants. The result of this “containment policy”:

Mexico has quietly stepped up the pace of deportation of migrants, some of them unaccompanied children. It announced plans to stop people from boarding freight trains north and will open five new border control stations along routes favored by migrants.

In particular, the Mexican authorities have cracked down on the use of La Bestia, the train that migrants use to travel from the country’s south to north. The trains run only periodically now, and when they do, armed authorities watch closely. That’s left a lot of Central American migrants stranded in southern Mexico, where, as the Dallas Morning News’ Alfredo Corchado chronicles in an exhaustive account, the situation is going from bad to worse:

At a nearby migrant shelter known as La 72, dozens of men are sprawled on a concrete floor covered with cardboard boxes, swatting mosquitoes. In a separate room, dozens of mothers cuddle their crying babies, quietly pleading for the mercy of sleep to fall on them before sunrise, or for the trains to roar again to continue their journey north.

“The real humanitarian crisis is here in Mexico,” says friar Guillermo Avendaño of La 72, a shelter named in honor of the 72 migrants massacred in 2010 near San Fernando, in Tamaulipas state, on their way to the U.S. “The trains aren’t running, which basically means lives have been interrupted.”

It’s a grave situation that’s left Mexican immigrant rights activists like Father Alejandro Solalinde warning of social instability.

Meanwhile, in the last few months, the U.S. government has been conducting a major effort to convince Central Americans not to come. And the numbers of migrants leaving Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have been in sharp decline, according to a New York Times article from July 20:

“It has gone down about 30 percent, the number of children we see passing through here,” said Marvin Lopez, a manager of one of the most commonly used bus lines here. “Not nearly as many families.”

At a police substation on the road to the border with Guatemala, which is about a 45-minute ride from the bus station, officers said that they had been detaining 15 to 20 minors a day in recent months, but that in the past couple of weeks it had dropped to two or three.

Yet the apparent drop in apprehensions has been recast by Perry and Dewhurst as a great policy success of theirs. Their message on the deployments of DPS and the National Guard has been: The federal government is falling down on the job. We’ll act if they won’t—we’ll solve the problem, Texas-style.

But pressure from the U.S. government played a substantial role in reducing the flow of migrants—even if it created more problems elsewhere. You can bet that if the numbers of migrant crossings continue to drop, Perry and Dew will attribute it to the addition of the National Guard to the mix—and if they spike again, they’ll blame the feds.

Texas politicians have changed their stories about the border deployments too many times to count. The DPS deployment was originally supposed to be about targeting drugs and organized crime. But Perry and Dewhurst’s gleeful attempt to take credit for a drop in migration gave away the game. The costly deployments along the border are more about perception than reality.

Rick Perry with Chuck Norris
Patrick Michels
Noted men of peace Rick Perry and Chuck Norris

These are dangerous times. Disorder afflicts all corners of the world. There’s contagion, and many different kinds of war. The Slavic menace rises in the East. This is a time for men—Texas men—to rise to the occasion.

1) To run for president, Gov. Rick Perry needs foreign policy credentials, and though his pilgrimages to California may count as such within Texas, they do not, unfortunately for him, matter much to the rest of the country. But Perry has a longstanding interest in a region of the world that has been in the news lately. So he summoned up his office’s communications staff and associated interns for a new mission. This was the best idea anyone had ever had. Rick Perry would give his take on the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

The ensuing editorial in Politico Magazine, entitled “Stand With Israel,” will do just fine for its intended purpose. There’s a hell of a lot of money and support for anyone in the Republican presidential primary who strikes the right tone on Israel—Perry tried to win that crowd in 2011, and he’ll do so again this time, especially with comparative squishes like Rand Paul and Chris Christie also in the running. But if you were to give this thing the benefit of the doubt and assume that it’s supposed to be more than just pablum, you would be disappointed. The very first paragraph contains two odd misconceptions:

For Israelis, at any given moment a missile might be detected, rocketing toward a residential neighborhood; a bomber might detonate him or herself in a crowded public place; and terrorists sent by Hamas might infiltrate their borders through secret tunnels to kidnap or kill their children.

Hamas certainly uses rockets—but periodic suicide bombings haven’t really been a fact of “any given moment” in Israeli life for years. Suicide bombings targeting civilian areas peaked in 2002, and the last fatal one was in 2008. The last sentence is a slightly oblique reference to the kidnapping and murder of three students in the West Bank: It precipitated the current conflict. But even Israeli intelligence now doubts Hamas was responsible for the murders.

In fairness, Perry balances his hawkish analysis with compassion for the long-suffering people of the Gaza Strip, pawns of a brutal and bloody game.

I’ve visited with families who were afraid to let their children play outside, and seen the fortified playgrounds where they can go. I’ve seen the rubble of structures brought down by missile strikes and looked in the eyes of people who live with the threat of violence day-in and day-out.

Kidding, he’s talking about Israelis. And he has stern words for anyone who thinks shelling United Nations-run schools packed with families fleeing violence is probably not O.K.:

Thousands of miles away, it might be convenient to criticize Israel for having the temerity to defend itself against these murderous terrorist attacks.

But we shouldn’t. Because the stakes are high:

The conflict between Hamas and Israel is merely one part of a much-larger conflict, one with far-ranging implications that can affect the lives of every person on the globe.

That’s because of… China?

Any equivocation or perceived weakness on our part will be noticed immediately not just in Tehran, but in Moscow and Beijing as well. It can only help usher in a new nuclear arms race, one that holds the potential of becoming infinitely more frightening than the one the free world endured decades ago. Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups have demonstrated time and again that they have no regard for human life – Israeli, Palestinian or American. The possibility of individuals like that gaining access to a nuclear weapon is something we simply cannot allow.

He condemns the United States for “moving closer to Turkey and Qatar than to our traditional allies,” in recent negotiations. That’s kind of a weird thing to say, seeing as Turkey is one of our oldest allies in the Middle East and a member of NATO, and Qatar is home to one of the most important American military facilities in the world.

If it seems like Perry has not been getting particularly good information on the conflict, that might be because he’s been pretty bad at picking friends. In the run up to his 2012 race, he was appearing at public events with full-on nut job Danny Danon, then a member of the Israeli Knesset and later a deputy defense minister. Danon was canned by the pretty right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few weeks ago for being, essentially, an out-of-control lunatic. He once called African refugees in Israel a “national plague” and wants Israel to unilaterally annex Palestinian land.

So Perry’s getting bad foreign policy advice, and he hasn’t demonstrated any ability to make up his own mind. And he’s running for president soon. To paraphrase a governor I know, the possibility of an individual like that gaining access to a nuclear weapon is something we simply cannot allow.

2) But Perry’s not the only Texas Republican who’s getting ready to save the world: There’s also state Rep. Scott Turner, who’s been traveling across Texas as part of his quixotic Empower Texans-backed campaign to win popular support in his race for speaker of the Texas House, even though people’s votes don’t matter (the speaker is selected by other reps.) The whole thing has been pretty weird.

Anyway, he was in Fredericksburg recently to explain how he feels about road funding diversions or whatever, and he decided to go BIG. Here’s how he opened:

Tel Aviv, Hamas, Israel, Gaza, you know, Malaysia flights, jet flights being shot out of the air, you know, what in the world is going on? A lot of people live in a hopeless situation. Anxiety is running rampant. Fear. Discouragement.

O.K. man, we got these people suitably freaked out. Now pull them in:

But hopefully tonight in this brief time that we have together, it’s my prayer that I can encourage you. And let you know that we’re not in a hopeless situation. Because myself and a few others around Texas and around the country are standing up for you. And it’s not hard—I mean, it’s not easy. It’s a very hard battle to fight.

Is Turner for or against Malaysia flights? The world wonders. And what’s Turner got planned to alleviate anxiety in East Jerusalem? Who are these “few others?” Is Turner part of a gang of conflict-mediating superheroes? If so, why is he in Fredericksburg right now? Seems like a bad use of time, is all.

3) In Washington this week, yet another Texan helped save the world. Ted Cruz, the guy who once saved the world from not being able to listen to him read Green Eggs & Ham on the Senate floor, and also saved women at Yale from not being able to look at him stroll up and down the corridors in a paisley bathrobe, saved the world this week from—a Republican-drafted border security bill. Wait, what?

Cruz’s theatrics are taking place in an ever-tightening series of concentric circles. His targets have shrunk: He used to mess with President Obama, but now he’s mostly messing with Republican House Speaker John Boehner, which seems like a pretty weird move. And kinda mean, given Boehner’s propensity for crying. You do you, Ted.

The bill collapsed at the last minute. Cruz was given credit, as he’d been rallying representatives against the bill. Republicans were forced to ask President Obama to take executive action on the border crisis, even though they’re suing him for taking executive action elsewhere. A reporter asked Cruz if he was responsible for Boehner’s humiliating day:

“The suggestion by some that House members are unable to stand up and fight for their own conservative principles is offensive and belittling to House conservatives,” he added. “They know what they believe and it would be absurd for anyone to try to tell them what to think.”

That’s the sound of a grown man petting other grown men on the head. He’s the chess player to Perry’s checkers player, except his main goal seems to be to make his team lose all the time. Yep, 2016 is going to be a hell of a year.

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