Political Intelligence


Nationwide plans proceed for protests and related educational activities about globalization during the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Summit in Seattle later this month. The official W.T.O. sessions, hosted by the Seattle Host Organization, run from November 29 to December 3. Opponents are planning events beginning with an International Forum on Globalization (November 26) to forums on Women and Globalization (December 4). The highlight is “The Big March” November 30, which opponents have organized to bring thousands of people into the streets of Seattle, to march against the international corporate and political push for more arbitrary rights for capital under the guise of “free trade.” For more information, consult the Mobilization website at www.seattle99.org, or the Global Trade Watch home page at www.citizen.org/pctrade/tradehome.html.

There will likely be a considerable Texas contingent of activists in Seattle, and plans also continue for local actions around the state in solidarity with the Seattle events. Educational forums and related actions are being organized in Houston and Dallas, and a major rally and march will take place in Austin November 30. Activists will gather at Republic Square (Fourth and Guadalupe) at 3 p.m. and march to the Capitol at 4 p.m., with stops at various W.T.O.-friendly businesses and banks along the way. There will be speeches, songs, and street theatre at the Capitol from 5 to 6:30. At press time, scheduled speakers include Rebecca Harrington of the Texas AFL-CIO, Erin Rogers of the Austin Coalition for Fair Trade, Dick Richardson of the University of Texas, Susana Almanza of the Austin environmental organization PODER, among others. For more information, contact James Scott of Public Citizen at (512) 477-1155; or Jere Locke of the Texas Network for Economic Democracy: (512) 263-1883.

PRECARIOUS. With the lukewarm exception of Bill Bradley, the bi-partisan campaign consensus maintains that welfare reform has worked wonders across the country, the rolls are miraculously down, and all we have to do to make the rest of those freeloaders get jobs is to withhold their checks. According to a new report announced by Austin’s Center for Public Policy Priorities, the reality is not so rosy. Close to a third of current welfare recipients (27 percent) face significant obstacles in returning to work, and are likely to be without either assistance or jobs when time limits expire. And when the number includes those who are already looking for work, the percentage of clients at risk rises to 38 percent.

That was the conclusion of the National Survey of America’s Families, which found that 27 percent of T.A.N.F. (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) clients faced at least three barriers to work and were not participating in any work activity — including a job search — in 1997. Barriers to work include less than a high school education, a poor work history, caring for a child under one year of age, caring for a disabled child, language barriers, mental or other health problems, or lack of transportation.

Predictably, in Texas the situation is worse. In 1998, over 65 percent of single-parent recipients in Texas had worked fewer than six months in the previous two years; 55 percent had less than a high school education; and 15 percent were caring for children under age one. In South Texas, over 70 percent had poor work histories; 66 percent had less than a high school education. And in 1998, regional unemployment ranged from 6.7 percent in Nueces County to 27.7 percent in Starr County.

C.P.P.P. analyst Elizabeth Mueller notes that current Texas welfare policy strongly emphasizes “work first,” whether or not employment is a realistic possibility for a particular client. Since many clients find themselves sanctioned for failing to comply with program demands or cycling back onto T.A.N.F. when they are unable to hold down a job, Mueller said, “Without greater attention to these issues, when the economy slows down and recipients hit their time limits, they will have nowhere to turn.”


The play has closed, but not the controversy. The decision to stage Tony Kushner’s Angels in America at Kilgore College has generated local outrage and national support, and the Texas Shakespeare Festival may never be the same. When Raymond Caldwell, head of the Kilgore College theatre program, chose to produce Kushner’s epic dramatization of American history and gay life (which won both the Pulitizer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play in 1993), he anticipated some protest. “I knew there would be some objection, but it never crossed my mind that people would react by withholding money from the college,” Caldwell told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “I guess I was naive.” Not only did rumors of the production spark angry protests from local fundamentalists — including one lawyer who tried in vain to buy up most of the tickets for opening night — but the Gregg County Commissioners have threatened to withhold future funding from Kilgore’s Texas Shakespeare Festival, which Caldwell also directs.

Much to the credit of the college, the trustees and President William Holda refused demands by the county, the mayor, and other major funders to cancel the production. “We could have stopped the production, but it would have been a sad legacy,” Holda said. “To me, the whole issue boils down to academic and artistic freedom.”

City and county politicians had threatened to pull a total of $65,000 from the college if it went ahead with the production. News of the censorship battle has spread across the country, and playwright Kushner sent a ringing statement of support for the Kilgore College administration and teachers. He described a mob assault on a Romanian production of the play, and wrote, “Those who wish to silence us have learned that they can attempt an end-run around the Constitution’s mighty edict against censorship by simply using money, from the state or from foundations and individuals, to force compliance with their convictions and beliefs…. What they seek is no different from what that mob in Bucharest sought: a world in which people are afraid to make art that challenges convention, that says what may not have been spoken before.”


On November 4, Colorado City attorney Pat Barber burned his “Just Say No” billboard on I-20, about sixty-five miles west of Abilene. Barber erected the billboard on his own property, facing westbound traffic on the highway, to inform motorists that they have the right to refuse highway patrolmen who, without probable cause, ask to search their vehicles for drugs or other contraband. The Texas Department of Transportation claims the sign is a violation of the Highway Beautification Act, while Barber — a Republican who recently declared his candidacy for a seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — insists it is protected free speech under the U.S. and Texas Constitutions. Barber burned the homemade billboard (which read, “Just Say No To Searches” and gave his telephone number) because an Austin District Judge had announced her intention to rule in favor of TXDOT and its threatened $1,000 a day fine.

“It’s obvious to me we need more judges who take their oath to support and defend the Constitution more seriously,” Barber told reporters. “Our lawyers will appeal, but for now the sign must go.”


Cliff Pearson of the Dallas Peace Center provided Political Intelligence with some interesting statistics picked up from the Sixth Annual Citizens Conference to Stop Gun Violence in D.C. earlier this month. According to The Violence Policy Center, a U.S. resident is forty-three times more likely to be killed by his or her own handgun than by one owned by someone else. A woman is twelve times more likely to be killed by someone she knows than by a stranger. A long-term study at the University of Miami showed that over 90 percent of all unintentional shootings involve “family handguns” in homes. Less than 2 percent of all home handgun owners have had military training, and less than 29 percent have had any gun use training at all. Massachusetts gun violence expert John Rosenthal said that in Massachusetts, of the 960 registered gun dealers in their state, more than 800 dealt out of their homes prior to a state law requiring retailers to have a commercial address. Three hundred eighty-nine of these home dealers were the suppliers of more than 50 percent of the handguns used in violent crimes last year in Massachusetts.


Some day, Texas Civil Rights Project legal director Jim Harrington will hold a press conference in front of Johnny Rocket’s retro-theme restaurant in Austin’s Barton Creek Mall. Harrington is representing a group of young Mexican-American plaintiffs who allege they were denied entrance to the restaurant because of their ethnicity. Harrington filed a public-accommodations lawsuit and held a press conference in front of the restaurant to announce the suit — at which time the mall management had him arrested. (He reportedly was retained by a new client while he was in jail.) Harrington then went to Travis County Distinct Judge Mary Pearl Williams with a request that she order the mall management to comply with an injunction handed down by Travis County Judge Joe Hart in 1983. Hart’s injunction seemed to be on point: it applied specifically to Barton Creek Mall, and declared the mall a quasi-public space, where no limits could be imposed on free speech. And it had been in place for sixteen years.

Harrington rescheduled his press conference, only to discover that Judge Williams’ order enforcing Judge Hart’s injunction had been appealed by Thompson & Knight — the attorneys representing the mall and the restaurant. When the Third Court of Appeals in Austin affirmed Judge Williams’ ruling, the Civil Rights Project prepared to hold its press conference at the mall. Late on the afternoon of Friday, November 12, Thompson & Knight went to the Texas Supreme Court with a request that it block the press conference Harrington had scheduled for noon the following Monday. The court (a 9-0 Republican majority) issued a temporary order, shutting Harrington and his plaintiffs out of the mall. “When you choose not to appeal a case [in 1983], and sixteen years later you are trying to get around it and the Supreme Court helps you out, I can’t figure it out,” Harrington said. (A Political Intelligence Guess: Thompson & Knight’s partners are major givers to Texas judicial candidates — including members of the Supreme Court.) The Supremes have scheduled a hearing on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, to issue a final ruling on free speech in an Austin mall. Harrington and his clients will sche-dule their press conference after the ruling — if the Court so ordains.

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Published at 12:00 am CST