Courtesy of Mexican government
A diagram released by the Mexican government on its plan for Tamaulipas

The residents of the Mexican State of Tamaulipas, Texas’ closest neighbor to the south, have been living under a near constant threat of violence since 2010. That was the year the paramilitary organization Los Zetas splintered from its former partner in crime the Gulf Cartel.

Since then, so many kingpins, plaza bosses and sicarios have been killed by the military or cartel rivals that it’s almost impossible to keep count. But one thing is certain. The death of kingpin “Tony Tormenta” or the arrest of “Z-40” hasn’t made Tamaulipas a more peaceful place. Instead the state of 3.3 million people is experiencing its worst wave of violence since those dark times in 2010 when 72 migrants were massacred in San Fernando and nearly the entire city of Ciudad Mier fled to Texas after living under siege for weeks. In 2010, journalists from Mexico City who came to report on the bloodshed in Tamaulipas were kidnapped and threatened with execution. Many local reporters were killed.  After two reporters escaped with their lives and returned to Mexico City their editor in an open letter pronounced the death of press freedom in Tamaulipas.

After that the lights went dark. Most of Mexico’s national media stopped coming and few foreign reporters ever go to Tamaulipas. It’s a tough state to parachute into, because it’s been co-opted for so long by the Gulf Cartel and organized crime. Corruption has flourished for decades and festered. The local police have worked for the cartels for years. The only way any information gets out of Tamaulipas these days is through a dedicated network of citizen reporters sending out short dispatches on Twitter streams like #reynosafollow or through Facebook.

But the most troubling aspect of Tamaulipas’ descent into violence is how a state so rich in hydrocarbons and other natural resources could be so utterly abandoned by Mexico’s political class. That’s why many citizens were buoyed by the news that after weeks of gun battles, bodies in the streets and blockades, Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto announced he had a plan. Last Tuesday, Mexico’s Interior Secretary, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, and top military officials traveled to Reynosa to announce the government’s new strategy to quell the violence. The government will split the state into four parts: two regions controlled by the Army and the other two by the Navy. Each region will have its own federal prosecutor to investigate crimes. Local and state police, which have long been accused of corruption, will be disbanded and replaced by the federal police.

It might sound like progress until you look at what happened in the state of Chihuahua or Michoacan—largely run now by self-defense forces—where Mexico has tried similar military takeovers. Violence and human rights abuses have skyrocketed.  In 2009, former President Felipe Calderon sent more than 8,000 soldiers and federal police officers to Juarez to help fight organized crime. But after their arrival, the murder rate spiked,  and Juarez became the murder capital of the world. Human rights abuses were rampant and residents fled to other parts of Mexico or to the United States to seek asylum. In the Juarez Valley, which I wrote about in 2012 for the Observer, it was a scorched earth scenario. Many surviving residents blame the military and the federal police for extortion, extrajudicial killings or for standing by as cartel gunmen massacred families and burned down their homes. No law enforcement or military official has been investigated in any of these allegations.

Still, at least we knew about the extrajudicial killings, the human rights abuses and other atrocities because of the fearless Juarez journalists who not only didn’t give up despite the murders of their coworkers, they also helped hundreds of foreign journalists like me access the sources and information we needed to report these tragedies to the world. We can also thank the state’s brave activists and human rights defenders. Tamaulipas has few such journalists or activists. The grip of organized crime is so tight that few journalists or activists can take the risk and speak out.

What our neighbor really needs are strong civic institutions, freedom of the press and the rule of law.  These are the most effective weapons against the deep-seated corruption that is fueling the violence and destroying the state. Sadly, President Peña Nieto’s plan to save Tamaulipas doesn’t include any of these key aspects of a healthy democracy.  Instead, it’s the old heavy-handed method that so many leaders have tried before. “What Tamaulipas needs is not military occupation but sustainable peace,” says Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, chair of the government department at the University of Texas-Brownsville who has studied this complex border state for years. We should all pay more attention to our neighbor to the south because it points to Mexico’s future. And if we’ve learned anything from the past, we should be deeply concerned.

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

Over the last five sessions, state lawmakers have done almost nothing to regulate payday and title loans in Texas. Legislators have allowed lenders to continue offering loans for unlimited terms at unlimited rates (often more than 500 percent APR) for an unlimited number of refinances. The one regulation the Texas Legislature managed to pass, in 2011, was a bill requiring the 3,500-odd storefronts to report statistics on the loans to a state agency, the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner. That’s at least allowed analysts, advocates and journalists to take stock of the industry in Texas. We now have a pretty good handle on its size ($4 billion), its loan volume (3 million transactions in 2013), the fees and interest paid by borrowers ($1.4 billion), the number of cars repossessed by title lenders (37,649) and plenty more.

We now have two years of data—for 2012 and 2013—and that’s allowed number-crunchers to start looking for trends in this pernicious, but evolving market.

In a report released today, the left-leaning Austin think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities found that last year lenders made fewer loans than 2012 but charged significantly more in fees. Specifically, the number of new loans fell by 4 percent, but the fees charged on payday and title loans increased by 12 percent to about $1.4 billion. What’s happening, it appears from the data, is the lenders are pushing their customers into installment loans rather than the traditional two-week single-payment payday loan or the 30-day auto-title loan. In 2012, just one out of seven loans were multiple-installment types; in 2013, that number had risen to one out of four.

Installment loans often charge consumers more money in fees. The total fees charged on these loans doubled from 2012 to 2013, to more than $500 million.

“While this type of loan appears more transparent,” CPPP writes in its report, “the average Texas borrower who takes out this type of loan ends up paying more in fees than the original loan amount.”

The average installment loan lasts 14 weeks, and at each payment term—usually two weeks—the borrower paying hefty fees. For example, a $1,500, five-month loan I took out at a Cash Store location in Austin would’ve cost me (had I not canceled it) $3,862 in fees, interest and principal by the time I paid it back—an effective APR of 612 percent.

My anecdotal experience roughly comports with statewide figures. According to CPPP, for every $1 borrowed through a multiple-payment payday loan, Texas consumers pay at least $2 in fees.

“The big issue is that it’s costing a lot more for Texans to borrow $500 than it did before, which is kinda hard to believe,” says Don Baylor, the author of the report. He says he thinks the industry is reacting to the likelihood of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “coming down hard” on single-payment payday loans, which consumers often “roll over” after two weeks when they find they can’t pay off the loan, locking them into a cycle of debt. Installment loans, despite their staggering cost, have the advantage of being arguably less deceptive.

Defenders of the payday loan industry frequently invoke the platitudes of the free market—competition, consumer demand, the inefficiency of government regulation—to explain why they should be allowed to charge whatever they please.

But it’s increasingly apparent from the numbers that the volume of loans, the staggering number of storefronts (3,500)—many located within close proximity to each other—and the maturation of the market has not lead to particularly competitive rates. If anything, as the 2013 data indicates, fees are becoming even more usurious and the whole cycle of debt problem may be deepening as longer-term, higher-fee installment loans come to dominate.

Indeed, a recent Pew study of the 36 states that allow payday lending found that the states like Texas with no rate caps have more stores and far higher prices. Texas, which is a Petri dish for unregulated consumer finance, has the highest rates of any state in the nation, according to the Pew study.

“I think that has bedeviled a lot of people in this field,” Baylor says. “You would think that more choices would mean prices would go down and that’s simply not the case.”

There is no competition, at least on prices.

David Dewhurst and the Curious Case of the Mental Health Records

With early voting under way, David Dewhurst wants to capitalize on Dan Patrick’s mental health troubles while keeping his distance. That’ll be tricky.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst speaks to reports on the first day of early voting. May 19, 2014.
Christopher Hooks
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst speaks to reporters on the first day of early voting. May 19, 2014.

In the 1892 short story “Silver Blaze,” Sherlock Holmes spends much of his time on the question of what one dog didn’t do while a murder took place.

Gregory: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

In the GOP’s increasingly cutthroat lieutenant governor primary, recent events have focused attention on another dirty nighttime deed—and the question of whether Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst barked.

News broke last Friday night of a bit of remarkably dirty campaigning by the Dewhurst campaign—or at the very least by its allies—and it’s not clear yet whether Dewhurst will benefit or suffer from the incident. That may depend on the veracity of Dewhurst’s denials of involvement in the release of Sen. Dan Patrick’s mental health records.

Last Thursday, Land Commissioner—and defeated lite guv candidate—Jerry Patterson continued his frenzied campaign to destroy Patrick by sending the press documents that detailed Patrick’s treatment for depression in the 1980s. The documents were linked to a 1987 lawsuit in which Patrick sued a Houston Post gossip columnist for libel. As part of the lawsuit, Patrick gave a deposition about his past mental health treatment. The deposition is in the public record, but its mere emergence was enough to trouble some observers, who don’t see its relevance to a 2014 campaign.

But on Friday, Patterson doubled down in a pretty extreme way. Late in the day, he sent around a new raft of documents that detailed, in uncomfortable detail, a suicide attempt Patrick made in the 1980s—and included notes from his doctors during treatment. Some media outlets declined to report the new information, but Quorum Report summarized the new information and released it around 9 p.m. on Friday.

For many people, the release of 30-year-old medical records detailing a person’s suicide attempt is off-limits, even in the context of a campaign that has defied logic and decency in innumerable ways. Austin King, the president of the Texas Medical Association, called it a “moral issue” that should be “out of bounds.” So the question naturally became: Was Dewhurst involved?

Dewhurst says no. “Neither I nor my campaign had anything to do with the discovery of those documents,” Dewhurst said Monday at a press conference in South Austin, “nor did we have anything to do with the release.”

The basic elements of this may be true—Patterson may have found the documents, and may have released them of his own accord. But Dewhurst’s efforts to distance himself from the release are complicated by a couple of strange elements in his narrative. One is his steadfast insistence that he still doesn’t know what’s in them, and never did. Here’s a more complete version of Dewhurst’s account of his interactions with Patterson, given Monday at the same press conference:

About a week and a half ago, two weeks ago, Jerry Patterson called one day out of the blue, started talking about a lawsuit, files, I said, woah woah woah, what are you talking about. And he said, well, I’m not sure. I don’t know what’s there. And I said, I don’t want any part of it, Jerry, I’m staying away from it. You should stay away from it. I don’t want anything to do with this. And then, apparently, last Thursday, he started sending out the files.

Think about that: Patterson, who has become a top Dewhurst lieutenant—someone who’s cutting ads for Dew’s campaign—comes to Dewhurst. Patterson says, I have something that could really hurt Patrick. In the middle of one of the most negative campaigns in memory, Dewhurst is totally incurious about this find. Not only does he not find out what’s in the papers Patterson has in his possession, but Patterson doesn’t know either, apparently. Yet despite not knowing what’s in Patterson’s papers, Dewhurst cuts him off. He’s sure that it shouldn’t be used. He ends the conversation.

Dewhurst continues to insist he doesn’t know what’s in the papers. “I don’t know what’s in the files except for what reporters tell me,” Dewhurst said on Waco Tea Party Radio Sunday night. By Monday, he still hadn’t bothered to look into the issue: “All I’ve read is what’s been on the Quorum Report and what people have told me.”

Is it plausible that in the middle of a sprawling, year-long, multi-million dollar statewide campaign largely premised on issues of character, that Dewhurst’s campaign, which has surely studied every aspect of Patrick’s personal history, was unaware of this 1987 lawsuit, and the public depositions it contained? Patrick sued the press for more than a million dollars, and that fact was widely reported. It appeared in one of the earliest Patrick profiles, a 2007 Texas Monthly article. Did this not merit some further inquiry from Dewhurst opposition researchers?

What’s more, we know Dewhurst was, on some level, involved in discussions about Patterson’s leak. The Texas Tribune reported Friday that Patterson accidentally sent an email to much of the Texas political press corps—and a Dewhurst campaign aide—that acknowledged those discussions:

“David has a great idea, but we could’ve only done it if we had this stuff a week ago,” Patterson continued. “Don’t let Daivids [sic] indecision snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Patrick is playing the victim well. He says it was a minor bout of depression and he went in for a few days of rest. This will blow his story away.”

Strangely, Dewhurst continues to offer a partial defense of Patterson’s release of the documents. On Monday, he corrected reporters who called the documents “leaked” several times. They were in the public record, Dewhurst said. Actually, Patrick was to blame for the fact that they were public—by virtue of filing his 1987 lawsuit.

“At the end of the day, [making his mental treatment public] was Dan’s decision,” Dewhurst told Waco Tea Party Radio on Sunday. “He sued someone and claimed mental damage. He knew that was the law.” On Monday, he told reporters that “these were made public because of the actions of Dan Patrick,” who had been filing frivolous lawsuits and expecting a “windfall.”

But perhaps the strongest impediment to Dewhurst’s attempts to distance himself from Patterson’s release is his awkward attempts to capitalize on them. At his Monday press conference, reporters repeatedly asked Dewhurst to condemn Patterson’s release, as a number of Republican state senators have. He wouldn’t say that the revelations mattered, but he wouldn’t say that they didn’t, either.

“At the end of the day, if this speaks to the character and the capacity to govern and lead of Dan Patrick, then I think it should be on the voters minds,” Dewhurst said. “If it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t.”

For some time, Dewhurst has criticized Patrick’s “temperament” and “capacity to lead.” Those are old criticisms, but now it’s hard not to wonder if they’re being used as dog whistles. Especially when Dewhurst uses lines like this: “I made a point to reach out and share my prayers with the Patrick family. I don’t think what happened 20 years ago is relevant today. Unless, unless, it speaks to your continuing character, or your capacity to govern or lead.”

At Monday’s press conference, the questions from reporters got more and more pointed, as the press attempted to draw Dew out. Had Dewhurst ever seen evidence that Patrick was mentally unwell? A pause.

“The Dan Patrick I know, I wish him all the best in life,” Dewhurst replied, before continuing. “I’ve got the temperament, the integrity” to be lieutenant governor, he said.

As early voting begins, Dewhurst has settled on a new refrain. “At the end of the day there’s a responsibility for people to ask questions, ‘Who’s David Dewhurst, and who’s Dan Patrick?’” Both questions are becoming increasingly difficult to answer.

Eugenio del Bosque
Unaccompanied Mexican children waiting to be processed in Reynosa, Mexico

The U.S. government has reopened an emergency shelter at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to house unaccompanied children from Central America.

Government officials had estimated as many 60,000 unaccompanied kids—the majority of them from Central America—would be apprehended at the border this year, but now officials predict it will be 70,000 or more.

“The shelters are running out of bed space,” says Lavinia Limon, CEO of the nonprofit advocacy organization U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. At least 75 percent of the children traveling without a parent or adult relative are from three countries: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

On May 12, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson declared “a level-four condition of readiness” in the Rio Grande Valley, according to the New York Times, which allows the department to receive resources from other federal agencies when it’s been overwhelmed. The level-four declaration also triggered the reopening of Lackland Air Force Base as an emergency overflow shelter. The military base was used as an emergency shelter for two months in 2012.

The military base will temporarily house at least 1,000 children, says Kenneth Wolfe, deputy director of public affairs for the Administration for Children and Families, which provides care and shelter to the children as an agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Since 2011, the number of unaccompanied children in U.S. government shelters has skyrocketed from 8,000 to more than 60,000 this year. Limon said that officials had worked to significantly shorten the time in detention as a way to deal with the surge in child migrants but the rapidly increasing number of children outpaced them. The increase in children trying to immigrate to the U.S. is due to several factors, including deteriorating security and economic conditions in Central America. “Honduras is the murder capital of the world,” Limon says. “Children are willing to risk the dangerous journey because they think it’s less dangerous than staying home.”

Robert Duncan
State Sen. Robert Duncan, (R-Lubbock)

The Texas Tribune’s Reeve Hamilton broke word this morning that state Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) is stepping down to become the next chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. A special election will be called to fill out Duncan’s term, which ends in 2016.

Duncan, a veteran of the Texas Senate, was no liberal. But he was more moderate than many of his colleagues in the Senate GOP caucus, and he was seen as a force for stability by Senate watchers. In 2013, Texas Monthly named him one of the session’s best legislators—the sixth time it had done so. The magazine raved about his “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” In 2009, it stipulated that “there was hardly an issue—the budget, eminent domain, health care reform, college tuition—that wasn’t improved by his intellectual rigor and deft touch as a mediator.”

Now he’s leaving—and if current trends hold, he may well be replaced by a tea party fire-breather for a 2015 session that will be seriously deficient in “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” Here’s another way to think about that: The Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones created an ideological pecking order of the Texas Senate after last session. He compared votes and identified the most liberal (relatively speaking) and conservative senators.

There were 19 GOP senators last session. Of the six most moderate, only three will be left next session. It’s possible that there will be only two. Duncan is leaving, and state Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) already left, each to take a university job. State Sen. John Carona, the most moderate according to Jones’ standard, lost a re-election bid.

State Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) faces a surprisingly competitive primary runoff against a challenger with an extremely problematic personal history; that contest will be resolved May 27. That leaves only state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), who squeaked past a surprisingly competitive primary challenge of his own, and state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).

If he wins next week’s lieutenant governor runoff, Dan Patrick has talked about ending the senate’s two-thirds rule and stripping all committee chairmanships from Democrats, which would turn the chamber, effectively, into his own private club. As if that weren’t enough, the bottom third of Jones’ chart—the small group of plugged-in, moderate Republicans—is fading away. In 2011, Texas Monthly wrote that “legislatures can’t function without members like Robert Duncan.” It looks like we’ll soon find out if that’s true.

Texans for Education Reform and Democrats for Education Reform

For 20 years, Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) has been protecting our hospitals and business leaders from meddling trial lawyers, convincing the Texas Legislature to cap damage awards and closing the courthouse doors to some potential plaintiffs. For two decades, TLR has been wildly successful, perhaps the most successful special interest in Texas. Having conquered the civil justice system, TLR is moving on—to education.

Texans for Education Reform launched midway through the 2013 legislative session, and shares lobbyists, board members and a spokeswoman with TLR. (TLR president Dick Trabulsi, for example, sits on the school reform group’s board.) The two groups also share a few of the same deep-pocketed donors, wealthy individuals like Dick Weekley, Ray Hunt and Doug Foshee who helped the education group raise nearly $1 million for its new political action committee. Just under $200,000 was distributed to candidates ahead of the March primary.

It might seem strange that Texas’ preeminent tort reform advocates have taken a keen interest in public schools, of all things. But TLR’s move into education mirrors a nationwide trend over roughly the last decade: Advocacy groups and business leaders have spent big money trying to apply business principles to schools, a particular brand of school reform built around school choice and fewer job protections for teachers.

In the past few years, as other states tried bold school reform experiments, Texas—despite being generally friendly to charter schools and a free-market laboratory in so many other ways—has done little. But that could be changing fast.

Texans for Education Reform emerged last year to make up for lost time and to shake schools from the status quo. “Most of the other interest groups in this space weren’t advancing agendas; they were restricting bills,” Texans for Education Reform consultant Anthony Holm told the Texas Tribune last year. The group dispatched 19 lobbyists to the Texas Capitol, many of them highly paid, pushing charter school expansion, online learning and state takeover of low-performing schools. Texans for Public Justice noted the group was the 2013 session’s most formidable newcomer, debuting by spending as much as $1.2 million on lobbyists like former Senate education chairwoman Florence Shapiro, Rick Perry’s old friend Mike Toomey, and Adam Jones, a former deputy education commissioner.

The group’s spokeswoman, Sherry Sylvester, declined to discuss what the group will go after next session, offering only that it will advocate “research-proven reforms that empower parents, reinforce local control and provide pathways for intervention in chronically failing schools within a morally responsible timeline.”

Whatever that means, Texans for Education Reform will likely find itself in agreement with Democrats for Education Reform, which recently launched a chapter in Texas. That group—through a spinoff group called Education Reform Now Advocacy—has already distinguished itself as Texas’ No. 2 “dark money” spender in this year’s elections. Dark money is cash culled from undisclosed, usually corporate, contributors. In a flurry this spring, Democrats for Education Reform dropped $114,000 in anonymous cash on phone banks and mailers supporting four candidates: El Paso Reps. Marisa Marquez and Naomi Gonzalez; Ramon Romero, who upset longtime Fort Worth Rep. Lon Burnam in March; and Erika Beltran, a Teach for America alum who’s worked on school reform in Dallas, in a race for the State Board of Education.

For the campaign mailers, Democrats for Education Reform hired SDKnickerbocker, a Washington-based communications firm that, as The Nation described it in 2012, is “led by a team of former Democratic operatives and key White House figures.” According to an accounting by Texans for Public Justice, those contributions amounted to 13 percent of all the direct political expenditures in Texas from January 2013 to late April 2014.

Democrats for Education Reform has been around for years, with support from multi-billion dollar hedge fund managers. But its Texas branch is just getting started, led by Jennifer Koppel, whose past titles include vice president for growth at the IDEA charter school chain. Koppel says she’s still forming the group’s Texas-specific strategy. “We are definitely still trying to think about where we’ll get involved legislatively,” she tells the Observer, but that they’ll support candidates who’ve been engaged with school reform issues and aren’t “beholden to the old way of doing things.”

Texans for Education Reform may have the power of the Texas GOP establishment behind it, but Democrats for Education Reform’s national scope gives the group a different sort of strength. Koppel speculates her group might take Texas lawmakers to see school reforms in action in other states.

“For Democrats there is this constant questioning to say, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’” she says. “And they’re asking these questions. It’s hard in a vacuum to build that confidence.”

While conservative groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation have embraced school choice from a free-market perspective, Koppel says there’s a simple reason Democrats should be enthusiastic about reform: “You’re looking at the places where these failing schools are, and they’re overwhelmingly places that are represented by Democrats. And you wonder where the disconnect is.”

Across the country, and now in Texas, this flavor of school reform has been a bipartisan effort, happily blending progressive urges to aid poor communities’ troubled schools with the conservative promise of better, cheaper education with a little private sector know-how. It’s a potent combination that leaves little legislative muscle behind populist ideals like strong neighborhood schools and teacher unionization. The money behind school reform is party-blind, and it’s just starting to flow into Texas’ elections.

As Joe Williams, who heads DFER, told the San Antonio Express-News in April, “My hope is we’re talking two years from now about being involved in a lot more than just a handful of races in Texas.”

The inevitable result of Mayor Annise Parker's totalitarian policies.
The inevitable result of Mayor Annise Parker's totalitarian policies.

Where to start? This was a week of WTF not as subtext, but as text. Some weeks, WTF Friday can be harder to put together than others. It can feel like sitting on the surface of a calm and tranquil ocean, casting a line out, and waiting for three-eyed fish. This was no such week. The sea is raging with WTF. Three-eyed fish are piling up on the floorboards, threatening to overturn the Observer‘s humble fishing skiff. This, dear readers, was a weird, weird week.

1) This was a week in which Houston City Council hearings over that city’s proposed non-discrimination ordinance (which would protect the LGBT community, and a whole lot of other folks, from workplace and other discrimination) devolved spectacularly, in exactly the way you’d assume, and bottomed out with the invocation of “Swastika cakes.” Forcing Christian bakers to make cakes for gay weddings, Pastor Steve Riggle told a Jewish council member, would be like forcing a Jewish cake baker to make a cake for Nazis. A Swastika cake.

You will be astonished to learn that the metaphor doesn’t quite hold. Nazis are not a protected class—this is still America, happily, and you are free to refuse to do business with Nazis, as happened in 2008 when one New Jersey supermarket refused to make a birthday cake for 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell. There is the additional fact that gay people, as of 2014, have not attempted to murder all Christians, nor do they seem likely to do so in the short- to medium-term. For the curious, though, here is how you can make a Swastika cake at home.

2) This was a week in which David Dewhurst, in the course of his (rapidly deteriorating OR increasingly successful) bid to best state Sen. Dan Patrick for the GOP lite guv nomination, imprisoned one unfortunate millennial in a David Lynch-inflected meta-hellscape, then filmed a moderately erotic short film about Jerry Patterson’s gun collection.

3) And it was a week that ended in an almost incomprehensible street brawl over the fact that Dan Patrick got brief psychiatric treatment back when the Norwegian band a-ha was still in the studio working on “Take On Me.” Followed by the detailed recounting of the tale of a former Houston Press reporter, Paul Harasim. He alleged Patrick once:

“grab[bed my wife’s] thumb and stomps her foot and then I proceed to beat the shit out of him, essentially. I think that is what any Texan should do in that situation. And he thought that this was great that he could make me do this after doing that to my wife.”

Serious charges—ones that the Austin American-Statesman’s Jonathan Tilove confirmed with Harasim’s wife, who added some charges of her own:

“He called me a ‘dirty Mexican,’ he stomped on my foot – he didn’t step on it, he stomped on it, and he pulled my hand back and hurt my finger. It wasn’t broken but it was seriously injured,” Maria Harasim, told me when I reached her last night in Houston, where she works the front desk of a hotel.

It was the 80s, man. People did a lot of crazy things.

4) There was Rob Henneke, a former Kerr County attorney, who finds himself in a runoff to replace state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran. Henneke is a man of action, a man who hopes to match his bold words with bold deeds:

“I’m very concerned about the infiltration of our society by Muslims right now in Texas,” Henneke told listeners. “I don’t think people are aware about how pervasive that has become in our society.”

5) And there was Amy Kushnir, who showed us one way to cope when people say things we don’t agree with. On a daytime talk show put on by a local station in Dallas, Kushnir found herself talking with her co-hosts about Michael Sam, the openly gay football player who was recently drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Kushnir became more and more agitated as her co-hosts discussed Sam, and his decision to kiss his boyfriend on-air after he learned that he’d be playing in the NFL.

In a video (now made private) that was widely circulated around the county, she characterized the kiss as not in keeping with the idea of “all-American sports,” before a heated argument caused her to take off her microphone and storm off the set, declaring loudly that she was “going to Midland.”

A day later, Kushnir had more to say about Midland than, you know, the other thing:

I felt like I had no choice but to get up, push myself out of the situation because we were going nowhere, as you probably saw, and we have a term around here that we say: we’re going to Midland. What that means is we’re going to excuse ourself from the conversation politely. And that’s what I did. I just decided it was time to go to Midland. And I went to Midland, and I’m back and I’m a happy camper, and I’m ready to move on. Next. Let’s talk about something else.

Midland, as all Texans know, is a tranquil, quiet, boring place devoid of controversy, external stimulae, or agita. Let us all find, this weekend, our own private Midland.

Recent stories from diverse parts of Texas suggest that increased awareness, public pressure and new technology are creating more accountability for law enforcement officers who use excessive force.

On Saturday, the City Council of the small central Texas town of Hearne voted unanimously to fire a police officer who shot and killed a 93-year-old woman in her home. Her nephew had called police after the woman threatened him with a revolver, angry that he wouldn’t turn over her car keys. The officer’s firing is especially remarkable because the woman’s nephew says she shot twice before being killed. Councilmembers may have been swayed by national media attention and local outrage, but also by the officer’s history. In just two years on the force, Stephen Stem, who is white, killed two black citizens in the city of about 5,000. The first shooting took place a few months after Stem became an officer. That time, a grand jury cleared Stem and he returned to work.

On Monday, a federal jury found that four Galveston police officers used excessive force when they beat and pepper-sprayed members of a wedding party at a bar in 2008. The jury awarded the dozen plaintiffs almost $49,000 in damages. The brawl started when an off-duty officer working as a security guard tried to arrest a 19-year-old, Cole O’Balle, for underage drinking. O’Balle allegedly struck the officer, who called for backup, and about 30 officers—nearly every on-duty officer on the island—responded. They beat O’Balle so badly he had to be flown to the hospital by helicopter. Nine officers involved were temporarily suspended and four received written reprimands. The jury did not, however, find consensus on the $13 million claim by former Astros pitcher Brandon Backe, another attendee who says the injuries police gave him that day ended his career.

Also on Monday, an Austin grand jury indicted Detective Charles Kleinert on a charge of manslaughter for shooting an unarmed man in the back of the neck in July. Kleinert was investigating a robbery at a bank when Larry Eugene Jackson Jr. tried to use a fake name and ID to get service there. The bank manager reported this to Kleinart, who tried to question Jackson and pursued when the man fled. Kleinart flagged down a passing motorist to use his car and chased Jackson under a bridge where he says he shot Jackson accidentally. Kleinart, who’d been an officer for almost 20 years, retired in October before an internal affairs inquiry was complete, and the Austin Police Department decided not to complete its investigation. With no official negative findings against Kleinart, the file on the killing was sealed. (For more on the secrecy of internal affairs investigations, read the Observer feature “Crimes Unpunished” here.) If convicted of the second-degree felony, Kleinart could face up to 20 years in prison. It’s the first time a grand jury has indicted an Austin officer for an on-duty shooting in more than a decade.

Finally, in Dallas on Wednesday the City Council approved a $105,000 settlement in a lawsuit claiming excessive force during a home search in 2010. Danny Cantu alleges officers threw a flash-bang grenade into his house, entered without warning, zip-tied his hands and then beat him until he lost consciousness. Officers say they were executing a no-knock search warrant because they believed Cantu was trafficking cocaine for a Mexican drug cartel. They found 0.1 grams of cocaine and a sawed-off shotgun, but Cantu was never charged with a crime in connection with the search warrant. The Dallas Morning News reports that verdicts or settlements in lawsuits against the Dallas Police Department have cost the city about $6 million since 2011. There have been 10 six-figure awards in that time. For contrast, between 2006 and 2010 there were six awards of that size totaling just $1 million.

Video played a key role in several of the recent cases. “The frequency with which we now have videotapes has certainly leveled the playing field,” Don Tittle, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, told the Dallas Morning News. “Now, in all those scenarios where we had an individual’s word against an officer—which was always a loser for the individual—if there is videotape, it doesn’t lie, and it has changed things.”

Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston)
Patrick Michels
Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) presides over a Senate Education Committee hearing.

How low can the lite guv race go? Pretty damn low. Last night, leaked papers linked to a 25-year-old lawsuit filed by state Sen. Dan Patrick revealed a new facet of Patrick’s biography: In the early 1980s, Patrick was diagnosed with depression, and took medicine to cope with it. And in “late 1984 or early 1985,” he was briefly hospitalized at a Houston psychiatric center called “Spring Shadows Glen.”

Why do we know this? In 1987, Patrick sued a Houston Post columnist for libel. In 1989, the defendant’s lawyer squeezed information from Patrick about his mental health issues at a deposition. A portion of that depo was recently leaked to a number of major state media outlets. The lawyer’s interest in Patrick’s depression—it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the case, which involved an altercation at one of Patrick’s sports bars—seems to be primarily to paint him as an unreliable nut who shouldn’t be trusted with anything. That seems like a somewhat archaic view of mental health issues, but it’s exactly what the leaker of these papers is suggesting a quarter-century later.

Who leaked the deposition? Patrick’s runoff opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was the natural target for suspicion, of course, but the San Antonio Express-News revealed it—and everyone else—had gotten the documents from Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Patterson ran in the first leg of the primary and has lately been waging his own quixotic jihad against Patrick. He’s ostensibly on his own, but lately, Patterson’s been collaborating with the Dewhurst campaign and cutting ads, making him a de facto Dewhurst campaign surrogate. And the Texas Tribune reported Friday that Dewhurst’s campaign may be more involved in the leak than they had previously admitted.

Patterson, a Vietnam-vet Marine who’s passionate about honor and truth-telling, has made waves in the runoff by alleging Patrick was a draft-dodger (Patrick says he had a medical deferment) and now leaking information he obtained about Patrick’s mental health treatment three decades ago (and trying to do it anonymously). Maybe he feels like he’s dishing out what he got from Patrick in the early part of the primary, but it’s not a good look.

Will it hurt Patrick, or will it backfire on Dewhurst? Too early to tell. Dewhurst partisans have been eagerly harping on the “Dan Patrick is nuts” line, but Dewhurst himself issued a statement in which he shed some of the most transparently fabricated crocodile tears of all time: “My heart goes out to Dan Patrick and his family for what they’ve endured while coping with his condition.” Even if Dewhurst didn’t leak the papers directly, he runs the risk of being penalized for a top ally’s use of the campaign equivalent of a nut-shot in boxing.

Meanwhile, the pushback from Patrick and his supporters has been robust. Patrick’s right-hand man, Allen Blakemore, released a statement with liberal use of exclamation points: “This is outrageous! Dewhurst had already hit bottom, and now he has found a new low! He has no honor, and knows no shame!” The statement went on to add that Patrick “has not required additional treatment or medication for nearly 30 years.”

And three Republican senators who are also medical practitioners—Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), and Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)—released a statement slamming the attack:

A personal attack of this kind sinks to an unprecedented low, shamelessly attempting to embarrass Dan Patrick for seeking the appropriate medical care to treat a minor bout with depression that occurred almost 30 years ago. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 10 American adults suffer from some form of depression in their lifetime…something which the perpetrators of this attack apparently believe should disqualify them from serving their communities or contributing to society.

“We sincerely hope David Dewhurst is not responsible for this sleazy attack.” the joint statement continues.

It’s good to see Patrick supporters—and Republican state senators—speaking out about the stigma of mental illness, and the unfairness of this as an attack line in a campaign. But for those of us with memories that reach back to November, it’s a bit odd, because of what many conservatives in the state were saying about state Sen. Wendy Davis.

In 1996, Davis sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for defamation, after she lost an election. (It was ultimately dismissed.) As one frequently does when one seeks damages in the course of a civil lawsuit, she claimed to have suffered “emotional distress” and “continuing damages to her mental health.” That second phrase—the one that would get all the attention—was used once.

Compare this to Patrick’s situation: In 1987, Patrick sued a Houston Press gossip columnist for libel, after an altercation at a sports bar. (It was also ultimately dismissed, “with prejudice.”) In the course of this lawsuit it is revealed that Patrick has had to contend seriously with mental health issues for much of the decade, and was briefly, and voluntarily, committed to a psychiatric center.

So: both unsuccessfully sued the press, both endured revelations of mental anguish. The only real difference is that Patrick’s mental health troubles would seem, on the available evidence, to be much more substantial and long-lasting. Many conservatives in the state are rallying around Patrick: How did they treat Davis when her (very minor) admission was written up last November by noted slug pundit Eric Erickson?

Erickson wrote a sensationalist item on Davis’ lawsuit entitled: “”Abortion Barbie” Wendy Davis Claims in Court That She Has Mental Health Issues.” He said Davis’ lawsuit raised “worrisome [issues] regarding her mental stability,” and charecterized her as a “damaged” woman.

The post went viral. Predictably, the cackling horde descended on “Abortion Barbie,” the “self-proclaimed loon” who had “admitted” her “brain was damaged.”

What’s Sullivan saying now about Patrick, who also sued the press?

Dishonor indeed. May 27 can’t come fast enough.

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