Political Intelligence

Hate on the Rise

A Moment of Science

The religious right is one seat away from a majority on the State Board of Education. The fundamentalists have been waging a creationist-abstinence-only jihad over textbooks and curriculum standards for the past decade. Last month, the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit that bird-dogs the religious right, released its 2008 report on Texas schools and the state board. The report is a warning to those who might be concerned that the board is one member away from debunking evolution and advocating medieval chastity belts.

Currently the 15-member board holds eight moderate Republicans and Democrats, and seven fundamentalist Republicans. Besides a loathing of evolution and sex education, the group of seven has something else in common-religious conservative sugar daddy James Leininger, who has contributed more than $200,000 to their campaigns. The board wields significant clout. It decides on the textbooks for 4.3 million Texas schoolchildren. Along with California, Texas sets the schoolbook standard for the nation because of its size. This year the board will also revise all the state’s curriculum standards, including biology and environmental science. Its latest charge is to develop a new high school course about the Bible in literature and history. House Bill 1287, by Pampa Republican Rep. Warren Chisum, requires the Bible course to be ready for classrooms by 2009.

Asked by the Dallas Morning News whether the board will explore adding intelligent design-creationism-to the state’s science curriculum this year, board member David Bradley had this to say: “If some of my associates want to believe their ancestors were monkeys, that is their right. I believe God is responsible for our creation … Given that none of today’s scientists were around when the first frog crawled out of the pond, there is no one who can say exactly what happened.” Two moderate board candidates, Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, a Democrat, and Pat Hardy, a Republican from North Texas, fought off more conservative opponents during the primary in March. Berlanga still faces a Republican opponent in November.

Lone Star Haters

Texas has the second-highest number of hate groups in the country with 67, according to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. California leads all hater states with 80 groups.

Mark Potok, the Center’s Intelligence Project director, defines a hate group as any organization that, in its platform statement or the speeches and writings of its leaders, declares another group of people as lesser. Sports blogs are not included.

Jeff Murrah, Texas state chair of the League of the South, wishes the center would tighten its parameters regarding hate group designation. The league, classified as “neo-Confederate” by the law center, has offices in Austin, San Angelo, Iredell, and Tyler. On its Web site, www.texasls.org, Murrah encourages members to understand and support the plight of the South by celebrating Jefferson Davis’ birthday and watching Gangs of New York or Braveheart. Kids count, too-a must-see for them is Gods and Generals, but only after they’ve finished their homework. Murrah recommends that the League’s children be home-schooled and follow a curriculum based on books by League member and evangelical pastor J. Steven Wilkins.

While Murrah glorifies the South, he doesn’t mean south of the border. “I have frequently asked that the laws concerning protecting our borders be enforced,” he said. The League earned its berth on the hate list for its position on illegal immigrants.

The Center’s Intelligence Report has documented a surge in anti-immigrant hate groups, added to the roster because they target individual immigrants rather than immigration policy. According to Potok, anti-immigration sentiment is universal among hate groups. Hate groups “have profited very greatly from the debate on immigration as it has become more and more rancid,” Potok said.

Texas has only one group on the Center’s list that is focused solely on immigrants. Members of the Livingston-based Border Guardians live in such profound fear of terrorist immigrants that their Web site (www.borderguardians.org) peddles body armor. Protection comes at a price: the Kevlar ballistic vests start at $199.

Payback Time for West

It was bound to happen. The well-documented and heated rivalry between Midland and neighboring Odessa has extended to politics. Odessa state Rep. George “Buddy” West is running for a ninth term in the Legislature. Hindering West’s re-election chances is his opposition-tepid though it may be-to the state rep from Midland, Tom Craddick, who also happens to be speaker of the Texas House.

West, who faces an April 8 runoff for the GOP nomination, has represented Odessa in the Legislature for 15 years. Craddick has served Midland for nearly 40. Word at the Capitol is that the two-like the cities they represent-have never been especially close. One is a gruff, retired oil engineer who comes from blue-collar, hardscrabble Odessa, home to oil-field workers and roughnecks. The other is a deal-making, get-his-way businessman from well-to-do Midland, home of oil company owners. It’s no wonder these two would mix like oil and … well, you know.

The well of animosity deepened early in the 2007 legislative session when West opposed Craddick in the speaker’s election. West voted with challenger Jim Pitts, a Waxahachie Republican, on the key roll call-a record vote that has unofficially become Craddick’s enemies list.

West has retroactively claimed that he never formally opposed Craddick’s re-election as speaker. To back this up, Pitts recently told reporters in Odessa a bizarre story that West voted with Pitts only because Pitts’ son, who is close with West, asked him.

Whatever. You needn’t drill down too far to find the truth. Pitts recently came to Odessa to campaign on West’s behalf along with three other rebellious Republican House members who tried to overthrow Craddick at the end of last session.

Then there’s the usual flow of GOP campaign money-or in West’s case, lack thereof. It’s no secret that Craddick has a big say in which candidates get big checks from the richest Republican donors. West hasn’t received contributions from the usual megadonors, though they haven’t contributed to his opponent, either. He’s also received scant money from political action committees in Austin (the exceptions being the oil and gas and real estate industries), an indication that much of the lobby doesn’t want to cross Craddick.

In fact, West’s opponent, former state District Judge Tryon Lewis, had outraised West by $99,332 to $58,896 as of early March, according to campaign finance filings.

If Lewis wins, the political rivalry in the Permian Basin may be shortlived. Lewis already has pledged his support in the speaker’s race to Craddick.

Big Brother Calling

In 2002, Army Chaplain James Yee went to Guantanamo Bay to serve his country and ended up blindfolded and manacled in a Navy brig for 76 days. His crime? Four years later, Yee, now resigned from the military, still doesn’t know. “The charges of capital crimes were dropped, and I was honorably discharged,” he says. “But I still don’t know why my rights as a U.S citizen were stripped by the U.S. government.”

Yee, 39, who converted to Islam after graduating from West Point, spoke on March 29 at the University of Texas School of Law about his persecution at the hands of his own government. “My goal is to educate people about the realities of Guantanamo and the erosion of our civil liberties,” he told the Observer.

Despite his exoneration, Yee’s e-mails are still being monitored. He suspects his phone is also tapped. The government seems to know about his activities almost as quickly as he does. “I had been planning a trip to England, and an FBI agent asked me if I was going overseas,” he says.

Yee says the FBI confiscated all of his personal belongings after he was arrested in 2003. “I meet with an FBI agent periodically, and they release some of my stuff,” he says. “I recently got back my computer, and it had been ripped open.”

Kristine Huskey, a professor at the UT Law School, helped bring Yee for the university’s speaker series. Huskey has served as legal counsel for several detainees in Guantanamo. Like Yee, Huskey says she is certain the federal government taps her phones. “A lot of my calls get dropped,” she says. Marc Falkoff, a Chicago lawyer who spoke at the Rothko Chapel in Houston earlier this month, said he is party to a lawsuit with several other lawyers who represent Guantanamo detainees to determine whether their e-mails and phones are being monitored. “I believe the NSA has been monitoring my e-mails and phone for some time,” he said. As with previous government spying scandals-COINTELPRO surveillance and infiltration in the 1950s and 1960s, and the Central American solidarity movement break-ins in the 1980s-it may be decades before the American people learn how badly their right to privacy has been violated.

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Published at 12:00 am CST