was any hint of the most memorable aspect of Bivins’ public persona: his humor. Bivins was damn funny. He possessed a wonderful eye for irony and delivered cutting one-liners with devastating timing. In 2003, Bivins served his first, and only, term as chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. His wit was refreshing during monotonous hours of testimony about arcane state budget numbers. Like many of the policies he advocated, Bivins’ humor had an edge. During one Finance Committee hearing, state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, interrupted a presentation by state health officials to shamelessly grandstand. She talked at length about why meat-safety inspections were important \(as if anyminutes, he was clearly getting restless. Nelson finally finished by saying, “So those are important issues I’m going to be paying attention to this session:’ Bivins was silent for a beat and then said in perfect deadpan, “Well, good for you.” Later in the same hearing, Eduardo Sanchez, then head of the Department of Health, pleaded with the budget-writers not to cut funding for a state program supplying AIDS patients with anti-retroviral drugs. Why not? Bivins asked. The AIDS patients still had a terminal disease even with the drugs, right? The room was quiet for a moment while the comment sunk in. Bivins seemed to be saying that the AIDS patients were going to die anyway; why should the state spend money on them? Sanchez explained that the anti-retrovirals were saving lives and making AIDS a chronic disease, not a terminal one. In the end, the program survived, but Bivins’ comment had underscored the kind of thinking that produced the austere 2003 budget. The state faced a $io billion shortfall that year, and Bivins and other Republicans used the budget gap to cut to the bone. It was the 2003 budget, partially crafted by Bivins, that famously cut hundreds of thousands of Texans off Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, not to mention trimming nearly every state agency. Texas is still recovering. But Bivins’ longest-lasting legacy will be the nuclear waste dump outside the West Texas town of Andrews. The Dallasbased company Waste Control Specialists had tried to pass a bill allowing the dump for three straight sessions before Bivins ascended to the Finance Committee chairmanship. In 2003, Bivins, whose district bordered the proposed site, muscled it through. In the years since, Waste Control has built one of the nation’s largest and most controversial nuclear dumps. \(See Teel Bivins is gone, but the nuclear waste he helped bring to West Texas will be around for hundreds of years. And that, in the end, isn’t very funny. Dave Mann Patches of Terror UNRAVELING A FOUR-YEAR-OLD LEGEND Back in 2005, right-wing media seized on a sketchy account of “terrorist garb” found near the small town of Hebbronville in South Texas. Border Patrol agents had found a ski jacket with three unusual patches attached: One featured a lion’s head, a parachute and Arabic script, another an airplane flying toward a tower and the words “Midnight Mission.” The third patch read “Daiwa.” One of the most ardent spreaders of the story, Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez, told the Cybercast News Service that these “military badges in Arabic” were proof that “Arabicspeaking individuals are learning Spanish and integrating into Mexican culture before paying smugglers to sneak them into the United States.” The “terror patch” story bolstered the case for building a border wall and ratcheting up “border security” funding as essential to homeland security. But was there anything to it? Agent Mark Qualia, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told the Observer in a recent email message that it was highly probable that an “illegal alien” wore the coat and left it behind. “We see a lot of clothing that is procured at the cpulgas’ [flea markets] just before crossing before the border,” Qualia wrote. “Though we can’t speculate on the individual’s nationality or intent, we have not seen any threat or other concern arise from this incident.” But wait: What did the Arabic script say? What country did that patch come from? In a second email, Qualia was more expansive: “Agents called of the patches’ discovery “During contact with the translator via phone and facsimile transmission, the investigation concluded that the Arabic script patch read, ‘Defense Center, ‘Ministry of Defense, or ‘Defense Headquarters.’ The bottom of the patch read ‘Martyr, ‘Way to Eternal Life: or “Way to Immortality:” As for Daiwa, that’s a well-known international sport fishing company. The “Midnight Mission” patch was inside the jacket. While the logo appears to show an airplane flying over a building and headed toward a tower-9-11 all over againa closer look reveals the airplane is flying over an airport with terminal ramps and airplanes on taxiways. Qualia said that the jacket was determined to have been manufactured in Mexico. “No link was established to Al Qaida,” he wrote. Still not satisfied, the Observer reached out to Leah Caldwell, a graduate student in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin. The patch came from a branch of the Syrian Armed Forces, she wrote after consulting friends in Syria. The Syrian Armed Forces was established by former President Hafez al-Assad’s brother Rifa’t al-Assad. The literal translation, she said, is “Defense Brigades/Martyrdom is the Path to Immortality.” Rifa’t’s defense brigades took a leading role in a 1982 massacre of Hamas partisans in Syriamaking the “terrorist” claims attached to the patches ironic as well as overblown. And so, finally, a mystery is apparently solved. All that fuss was over a military patch from a defunct air brigade in Syria that was anti-Islamist, and another advertising a popular fishing company. But what a fine story it was. Melissa del Bosque 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 13, 2009
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