Political Intelligence

Texas Profits on Palestinian Pain


As the Israeli incursion into the West Bank entered its second week and world opinion turned against the Israelis, President Bush’s rhetoric suddenly became quite strident. “Enough is enough,” he told the world on April 4, demanding that Sharon begin an immediate pullout. Some-body forgot to notify the Pentagon, which awarded a contract the very next day to a Texas company for a major shipment of diesel fuel to Israel, where it will power the tanks, jeeps, and armored bulldozers being used to demolish West Bank towns.

Valero Energy Corporation, based in San Antonio, is set to ship 242,000 barrels of EN590 diesel, valued at $8,744,537, to Israel by the end of April, according to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Valero is producing the diesel at its Texas City facility. “It is an on-road diesel and it is used for jeeps, trucks and any ground vehicle with a diesel engine,” said Valero spokeswoman Mary Rose Brown. When asked where in Israel this fuel is headed and how it would be used there, Brown said, “I have no idea.” The diesel shipment is part of the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Israel Program and it is bound for Haifa, according to bid solicitation documents on the Defense Energy Support Center’s (DESC) website. “You’d have to talk to Israel,” said DESC’s Tony Frontiero, when asked what the fuel would be used for. Israel could not be reached at press time, but one likely recipient of the diesel is the army’s main battle tank, the Merkava, which is equipped with a diesel engine supplied by Teledyne Continental Mo-tors. Then there are the specially armored D-9 dozers, which Israeli soldiers use like battering rams to flatten entire rows of houses.

The $8.7 million diesel shipment this spring is a fraction of what Valero stands to gain from supplying fuel to Israel this year. April’s diesel contract supplements a $94.7 million DOD award to Valero granted in December, which is to be delivered by year’s end. The bulk of this order will pay for 2.4 million barrels of JP-8, a grade of jet fuel. Both Israel’s F-16 jet fighters and its Apache helicopters use JP-8, according to Nancy Ray, an Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon. Jordan Green, author of an April 4 Institute for Southern Studies report called Arming the Occupation, says that in Israel’s war “the F-16s and Apache attack helicopters are the most widely used weaponry.” In addition to fuel, Texas also supplies the jets. In December, Ft. Worth-based Lockheed Martin received a $1.3 billion DOD award to build 52 additional F-16 fighters for the Israelis.


An analysis of Religious Right primary spending by the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) demonstrates just how little right-wing funders got for their money this time around. FreePAC, the Dallas-based political action committee run by ultra-conservative Richard Ford, went after three moderate state senate candidates, Jeff Wentworth, Bill Ratliff, and Kip Averitt, with controversial gay-baiting mailings and phone calls. All three prevailed. The PAC, which spent roughly $90,000 on those three races, is funded by a handful of deep-pocketed religious conservatives and school-voucher backers, including James Leininger, James Mansour, James Lightner (the so-called James Gang), John Walton, and Bob Schoolfield. In all, TFN reports, FreePAC endorsed nine Senate candidates; six were defeated. The one that had to hurt the most was John Shields, the veteran San Antonio state representative who decided to take on San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, a perennial target for hard-liners, who accuse him of being soft on abortion. Money poured into Shields’ campaign, including over $90,000 from James Leininger, the San Antonio medical-bed magnate. All to naught, and some speculate that the general revulsion with which the FreePAC sleaze campaign was met–by editorial boards and politicians from both parties–may have tipped the scale against Shields in the tight race.

The Religious Right also concentrated on the House Speaker race, where a number of Republicans are positioning themselves for a run in anticipation of Democratic Speaker Pete Laney’s failure to survive redistricting, which will give the House a considerable Republican majority. Right-wing funders went after moderates Ed Kuempel, Tommy Merritt, and Brian McCall, who have stepped forward to challenge odds-on favorite Tom Craddick, the choice of conservatives. All three survived the attack. In all, TFN reports that 14 of 33 House candidates endorsed by the Religious Right (that is, endorsed by the FreePAC panel, a congress of Christian conservative all-stars) prevailed in their primary contests.

Then there was the State Board of Education, always an ideological battleground in primary season. This year Christian conservatives fielded more candidates, nine, than in any previous election. Yet the result was a wash: two seats currently held by the conservative bloc were lost, and two seats previously held by moderate Republicans were won by Christian conservatives. (So the bloc remains at six, on a 15-member board.) However, the Religious Right did manage to knock off board chairwoman Grace Shore, the moderate Republican anointed by Perry to keep the hard-liners under control.

It has become a familiar pattern: hard-core ideologues control the entire state party apparatus, from born-again chairwoman Susan Weddington on down to a majority of the precincts, yet they can’t reliably get mainstream Republican voters to get behind their chosen candidates in the primaries. By convention time, you end up with a hall full of Christian conservatives, reluctantly endorsing a slate that includes a goodly amount of so-called RINOs (Republican in Name Only), the hard-liners’ term for what most people call “moderates.”


One of the two remaining Tulia trials will no longer be necessary. A grand jury dismissed a three-year old indictment against Tonya White, who was among the more than forty defendants in the controversial Tulia cocaine sting of 1999, but who was not arrested until late last year on an unrelated traffic stop. The original raid resulted in the arrest of ten percent of the town’s black population on the uncorroborated testimony of one narc. In the intervening years, allegations about the background of the undercover agent, Tom Coleman, and the flimsy nature of the evidence in the cases made national news, and the Tulia bust became emblematic of official corruption in the Texas drug war. By the time Tonya White (who was not living in Tulia at the time of the sting) returned to town to face charges, local law enforcement was much less enthusiastic about the cases. Nevertheless, the case was less than a week from going to trial when the surprise dismissal was announced. The turning point apparently came when an investigator working for attorney Jeff Blackburn found a record of a bank transaction made by White in Oklahoma City on the day she allegedly sold drugs to Coleman. White deposited a workman’s compensation check, and asked for eight dollars of it in cash. Had she not asked for the eight dollars, Blackburn said, no signature would have been required and no evidence of her actual presence at the bank would have been preserved. The charge was for delivery of just over a gram of cocaine, but it was enhanced to a first degree felony; thus eight dollars saved her from a possible life sentence. At a press conference in Tulia, D.A. Terry McEachern continued to stand by Coleman, as he has from the start. Yet his reluctance to even bring the case to trial has encouraged defense attorneys for the remaining defendant, Zuri Bossett, set for trial this summer, as well as those preparing appeals and writs for the 20 Tulia defendants now serving prison sentences.

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Published at 12:00 am CST