September 18, 2014

Rick Perry might go away for a long, long time: What even the liberal media isn’t reporting about his indictment

WEDNESDAY, SEP 3, 2014 05:15 PM CDT


New York Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today brush felony charges aside. They’re not telling you everything


Rick Perry might go away for a long, long time: What even the liberal media isn't reporting about his indictmentRick Perry (Credit: Travis County Sheriff’s Office)

At least in 2012, Rick Perry realized he’d forgotten the name of the federal department he wanted to abolish.  But when it comes to the charges he’s just been indicted for, he’s certain of what they are. “Bribery,” he said in New Hampshire recently — but he’s wrong. It’s not exactly a strong position to start from if you’re going to loudly proclaim your innocence.  At least he’s got one thing right: “I don’t really understand the details,” he added.

In that, Perry is far from alone.  Few, if any, of his high-profile defenders, either left or right, seem to understand much more than he does. Still, you don’t have to be a lawyer to at least have some idea of what’s being charged.  The indictment is online for anyone to read, and it’s not that hard to understand — one count for abuse of official capacity, the other for coercion of a public official. Yet few in the national media seem to have figured that out.

Glenn W. Smith is director of the Progress Texas PAC, so he knows a thing or two about the Lone Star state.  He was also part of George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute, so he’s got a broader intellectual perspective as well — just the combination one would want for a perspective on what’s going on here.

“It was very clear to me that some of the pundits-at-a-distance based their initial opinions on two false assumptions,” Smith said, via email, “1) That the Perry indictments were the product of a nest of angry but unsophisticated Austin liberals; 2) That it was a governor’s constitutional power of the veto that was being challenged.”

There are other major points of misinformation, as we’ll soon see, but these two do seem to be most central. Smith continued:

Now, here is how a journalist’s mind should work (think of a police reporter or any reporter engaged by necessity with daily human messiness). In this instance, faced with the facts that not one but two Republican judges failed to dismiss the criminal complaint against Perry and that an accomplished, conservative special prosecutor had overseen the grand jury indictment, a street-level reporter would think, “There must be more to the game that’s afoot than the Perry narrative wants me to believe.”

Lacunae are the guiding lights of golden age journalism. This is the practice that leads to “scoops.” It is exactly why Woodward and Bernstein’s youthful beat experience allowed them to get and keep the lead on Watergate reporting. Their instincts told them there had to be more to the story and they followed their instincts.

Smith’s point is spot on — if you can first spot the holes. Unfortunately, most of the national media seems totally unaware that there are holes in Perry’s narrative. The sharp divide between national and state-level coverage was highlighted in a critical overview at Media Matters, by veteran reporter Joe Strupp (“Texas Journalists Urge National Press to Take Perry Case More Seriously”).

“A very clear divide has arisen in coverage of the Perry indictments,” Strupp told Salon, “with the local Texas media giving the case what appears to be the attention it deserves, and noting it’s a valid complaint to at least review and take to trial, given that the grand jury made the decision that it did, while national press or most of the national press is brushing it off to politics, and some kind of perceived payback against Perry.”

As examples of the latter, Strupp’s Media Matters piece cited a high-profile sample:

The New York Times editorial board speculated that it “appears to be the product of an overzealous prosecution.” Liberal New York magazine reporter Jonathan Chait labeled the indictment “unbelievably ridiculous.” A USA Today editorial dubbed it a “flimsy indictment,” while The Wall Street Journal called it “prosecutorial abuse for partisan purposes.”

But Strupp also talked with a number of Texas journalists who painted a very different picture, including Jeff Cohen, of the Houston Chronicle, and Keven Ann Willey, of the Dallas Morning News, the state’s two largest dailies, both of which have editorialized in support of seeing the investigation proceed:

The Chronicle wrote that the indictments “suggest that the longest-serving governor in Texas history has grown too accustomed to getting his way when it comes to making sure that virtually every key position in state government is occupied by a Perry loyalist.” The Morning News editorial board stated: “It’s in every Texan’s best interests for the charges against Perry, whatever your view of them, to traverse the entire judicial system as impartially as possible.”

Strupp also spoke with Morning News columnist Wayne Slater: “Many reporters in Texas know Perry and are much more familiar with the details in this case, the fact that these are Republicans investigating this and that Perry has a history of hardball politics in forcing people out,” Slater said. “This is a much more nuanced story than some in the Beltway understand.”

Indeed, a recent post by Slater, “Why the conventional wisdom in the Rick Perry indictment story might be incomplete,” led early Perry defender David Axelrod to tweetthat it was “worth reading” notwithstanding his first impressions.

Key points that Slater and others (including Rachel Maddow, in an Aug. 26 installment of “Debunction Junction”) have raised include:

1)  The indictment was not brought by the Tavis County DA. Nor were any other Democrats involved. It’s worth quoting at length from Smith at the Texas Tribune:

Not a single Democratic official was involved at any point in the process, except to recuse him or herself. That’s what the victim of Perry’s “offers,” Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, did. So did District Judge Julie Kocurek.

Kocurek referred the criminal complaint to Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, a Republican and Perry appointee. Stubblefield could have dismissed the complaint. Instead, he assigned it to Judge Bert Richardson, also a Republican. He, too, could have dismissed the complaint. Instead, he appointed conservative, well-respected former federal prosecutor McCrum as special prosecutor. Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison once recommended McCrum for the job of U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas. McCrum could have dismissed the complaint. Instead, he took it to a grand jury.

2)  The indictment is not an attack on the governor’s right to veto, any more than a bribery charge would be, if Perry were accused of having vetoed a bill in return for a bribe. As Rachel Maddow put it, covering the story the day it broke, “You may have the constitutional right to vote, for example; you don’t have the constitutional right to sellyour vote.”

3)  Perry’s purported motivation — outrage over Lehmberg’s DWI violation and conviction — was not matched in two other cases where GOP district attorneys were convicted. Nor has he offered any rational explanation why a DWI violation — particularly after rehab — should be seen as so uniquely heinous. Another key Perry talking point has been that “In Texas we settle things with elections.” Why not this time, then?

4)  Perry did have a prima facie political motivation to go after Lehmberg: Her office was investigating corruption involving Perry cronies at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas at the time he sought to force her out, and replace her with his own appointee.

5)  The indictment of Perry is not about the “criminalization of politics” — a rhetorical framework that dates back to at least Richard Nixon. As Smith told Salon:

The very term is profoundly disturbing because its real meaning is, “We are the law so it is logically impossible for us to violate it.” Political insiders — from politicians to those who work or used to work for them — know full well that politics now is little more than institutionalized bribery. How do even well-meaning players cope with that psychologically? They have to set their/our political practices outside the reach of the law.

A good parallel is seen in popular culture presentations of Mob life, in which the wives, sons, daughters of mobsters are willfully blind to the source of their wealth. Anyone who wants to turn on the lights becomes a snitch who wants to “criminalize” their everyday lives.

Of course, none of the above proves that Perry necessarily was guilty. That’s what trials are for. But it does tell us that Perry’s media defense has no relation to known facts, so why should he get the benefit of the doubt in matters where the facts remain unclear? Why shouldn’t a press, whose job it is to be skeptical and hold the powerful accountable, look at Perry like any other politician charged with a crime?  Why is there such a gap between the national media and the Texas press?

Strupp isn’t sure. He only knows the gap is there. “I don’t know if this is just laziness on the part of the national press side, or, as one person put it to me, ‘a rush to judgment,’ because they want to make it a political story more than possibly a criminal story, but there’s definitely a divide, and it seems like the mistake is being made at the national level, because they are not looking at the facts enough.”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has reached the same conclusion. Maddow, you’ll recall, wasone of the first to pay attention to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s money scandals, which now have him standing trial. She was also ahead of the curve in national coverage of Bridgegate. In these and other stories Maddow gave on-air credit to local reporters for bringing the stories to light, and for sticking with them in the face of pushback, so it was hardly surprising that she took the same line in discussing the Perry indictments and how they were being treated.

First off, Maddow set up the out-of-state/in-state divide in a familiar, clear-cut manner (video/transcript):

Rick Perry thinks the felony indictment thing is no barrier to running for president right now. The national media, including the Beltway media, conservative media, and much of the liberal media as well has settled on common wisdom now that the indictment really isn’t that big a deal for Rick Perry, that it will have no problem beating the charges. Maybe it will even help him run for president somehow.

But you know what, in Texas the grand jury that indicted him is pushing back on that now, pushing back on it hard saying they took their responsibilities seriously and these indictments indicate a serious and solid case against governor. Texas papers like the Dallas Morning News are editorializing, hey, not so fast, this case is for real, it deserves a real hearing.

In the segment, Maddow interviewed Wayne Slater, discussing some of the major misconceptions floating around, and in conclusion she reemphasized the importance of local reporting in no uncertain terms:

MADDOW: I will say — as people look at Rick Perry as a potential 2016 contender. You know, he’s taking this New Hampshire trip tomorrow, people talk about this indictment. If you’re thinking about looking at whether or not Rick Perry is a viable 2016 contender and thinking about looking at these indictments as part of that, get behind the pay wall, right? Pay for subscriptions to the Texas publication of your choice. Start reading Texas papers on this. The coverage is like reading it from Mars when you compare stuff that`s being written in Washington.


The main point that both Strupp and Maddow were making is neither a new nor an original one. Most of the local reporters in Texas would echo it, and local reporters have most likely been saying as much since the East Eden Times filed its first reports on the Fall. (“Apples?  There weren’t any apples. They were pomegranates!”) But the specific dynamics of today’s media require a bit more precision, and that precision was provided by the Atlantic’s James Fallows in his 1996 book, “Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy.” As I read him, he was describing precisely this same sort of disconnect, between the painstaking, locally grounded, fact-based foundations of journalism, and much more facile, simplified, conflict-centered conventions of corporate journalism in our time, which have proven both less costly to produce, and more lucrative in attracting an audience. So I contacted Fallows to ask if he thought this was an accurate description of what was going on in this instance.

“I used to live in Austin and was aware of some of the twist and turns of the local politics there,” Fallows said.  “I haven’t myself followed enough of the local coverage to know exactly what’s going on, but your basic premise I certainly agree with. And actually, it’s a fact that because, precisely because, most national reporters would not have covered, would not be familiar with these kinds of Texas angles, you fit it into the only bed that you as Procrustes have—‘What does this mean for the next election?’ Because there is no development you can’t fit into that plot line.”

Given the much wider background of gubernatorial corruption and scandal that I reported on recently, there was another master narrative available, I pointed out, and Fallows concurred, then dug deeper into why campaign narrative held such appeal. “I agree. It’s a really interesting point,” he said.  “I think the reason that people would generally just be drawn to the campaign narrative theme is you can’t be proven wrong,” since it’s always framed in terms of an ongoing flux. “It’s like sports talk radio,” Fallows added. “There is not any way that you can ever get in trouble for any of that, so it’s the kind of natural thing you want to talk about, and you can’t be wrong. So that’s my cynical interpretation.”

There is, however, another dimension to this story: the reaction of the Democratic establishment.  Writing here at Salon on Aug. 25, Michael Lind presented the situation as follows:

The indictment of Rick Perry on felony charges by a Texas grand jury has revealed a split among left-of-center Americans, dividing progressives and Democrats who think the indictment is dubious or worse from others who defend it.  The first category includes the New York Times editorial board, Clinton adviser David Axelrod, progressive pundits Jonathan Chait and Matthew Yglesias, Ian Millhiser at the Center for American Progress,Alan Dershowitz and many others, along with yours truly.

Prominent center-left individuals who support the indictment are … well, they aren’t easy to find.  To be sure, there are lots of hyperpartisan trolls who hide their identities behind juvenile screen names in comments sections and accuse those of us on the center-left who have raised doubts about the indictment of being shills for Rick Perry or secret conservatives….

Lind seems to have missed Rachel Maddow. He’s also missed the fact that the Democratic establishment has been horribly wrong before, also with criticism being led by “hyperpartisan trolls.” Remember the Iraq War? Endorsed in Senate votes by John Kerry and Hillary Clinton?

Given this relatively recent history, it’s a very odd way to begin laying out his argument. In response to the argument that Republicans were intimately involved in the process that led to Perry’s indictment, Lind purports to show how the Whitewater investigation can be similarly portrayed as nonpartisan. This is not an argument about facts, but about appearances — or at least potential appearances.

Lind does have a very valid point buried in his article: Getting Perry indicted is not a magic bullet for turning Texas blue. But who ever said that it was? After all, everyone knows that Perry’s already leaving office.  Lind links this with a much less impressive point — that it will only embolden Republicans to bring trumped-up charges against Democratic governors.  This would be an excellent point, if Republican operatives had time machines. How else to explain their successful 2006 conviction of Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, which a bipartisan group of over 100 former attorney generals argued against in a recent Supreme Court amicus brief?

In the broader sense, Lind is on to something — as Yale law professor Jack Balkin argued in a 1995 paper, populism and progressivism can be seen as broad traditions, encompassing fundamental visions of what democracy means, giving direction to constitutional interpretations, and profoundly influencing our sense of what it means to be an American citizen.  At one point, Balkin wrote:

[I]mplicit in the progressivist diagnosis and the progressivist framing of issues is a nascent distrust and critique of popular culture coupled with a call for the state to remedy or at least counteract its deficiencies.

To the extent that Lind, in turn, distrusts this distrust, he and I are on the same side. The fight against corruption has always been one of the hallmarks of progressivism, and those fighting corruption in Texas have discernible roots in that tradition — as one can glean from his article — while Lind’s roots lie with populism. So, if what he’s really arguing for is a renewed primacy of populist concerns, then I would stand with him, especially in Texas.

But populists also have an anti-corruption tradition of their own, so I’m not at all sure there’s a sensible necessary connection here. Moreover, since one of Lind’s greatest concerns is how Republicans can co-opt anti-corruption prosecution strategies, he must also acknowledge how thoroughly right-wing co-optations of populism have already succeeded, both in Texas, and all across America.

Which is why it really is best to keep focused on the facts. Let’s hear them first; only then can we have informed opinions.

Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News, and a columnist for Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulHRosenberg.




America – He’s Your President for Goodness Sake!

By William Thomas

There was a time not so long ago when Americans, regardless of their political stripes, rallied round their president. Once elected, the man who won the White House was no longer viewed as a republican or democrat, but the President of the United States. The oath of office was taken, the wagons were circled around the country’s borders and it was America versus the rest of the world with the president of all the people at the helm.

Suddenly President Barack Obama, with the potential to become an exceptional president has become the glaring exception to that unwritten, patriotic rule.

Four days before President Obama’s inauguration, before he officially took charge of the American government, Rush Limbaugh boasted publicly that he hoped the president would fail. Of course, when the president fails the country flounders. Wishing harm upon your country in order to further your own narrow political views is selfish, sinister and a tad treasonous as well.

Subsequently, during his State of the Union address, which is pretty much a pep rally for America, an unknown congressional representative from South Carolina, later identified as Joe Wilson, stopped the show when he called the President of the United States a liar. The president showed great restraint in ignoring this unprecedented insult and carried on with his speech. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was so stunned by the slur, she forgot to jump to her feet while clapping wildly, 30 or 40 times after that.

Last spring, President Obama took his wife Michelle to see a play in New York City and republicans attacked him over the cost of security for the excursion. The president can’t take his wife out to dinner and a show without being scrutinized by the political opposition? As history has proven, a president in a theatre without adequate security is a tragically bad idea.

Remember: “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

At some point, the treatment of President Obama went from offensive to ugly and then to downright dangerous.

The health-care debate, which looked more like extreme fighting in a mud pit than a national dialogue, revealed a very vulgar side of America. President Obama’s face appeared on protest signs white-faced and blood-mouthed in a satanic clown image. In other tasteless portrayals, people who disagreed with his position distorted his face to look like Hitler complete with mustache and swastika.

Odd, that burning the flag makes Americans crazy, but depicting the president as a clown and a maniacal fascist is accepted as part of the new rude America.

Maligning the image of the leader of the free world is one thing, putting the president’s life in peril is quite another. More than once, men with guns were videotaped at the health-care rallies where the president spoke. Again, history shows that letting men with guns get within range of a president has not served America well in the past.

And still the “birthers” are out there claiming Barack Obama was not born in the United States, although public documentation proves otherwise. Hawaii is definitely part of the United States, but the Panama Canal Zone where his electoral opponent Senator John McCain was born? Nobody’s sure.

Last month, a 44-year-old woman in Buffalo was quite taken by President Obama when she met him in a chicken wing restaurant called Duff’s. Did she say something about a pleasure and an honour to meet the man or utter encouraging words for the difficult job he is doing? No. Quote: “You’re a hottie with a smokin’ little body.”

Lady, that was the President of the United States you were addressing, not one of the Jonas Brothers! He’s your president for goodness sakes, not the guy driving the Zamboni at “Monster Trucks On Ice.” Maybe next it’ll be, “Take Your President To A Topless Bar Day.”

In President Barack Obama, Americans have a charismatic leader with a good and honest heart. Unlike his predecessor, he’s a very intelligent leader. And unlike that president’s predecessor, he’s a highly moral man.

In President Obama, Americans have the real deal, the whole package and a leader that citizens of almost every country around the world look to with great envy. Given the opportunity, Canadians would trade our leader, hell, most of our leaders for Obama in a heartbeat.

What America has in Obama is a head of state with vitality and insight and youth. Think about it, Barack Obama is a young Nelson Mandela. Mandela was the face of change and charity for all of Africa but he was too old to make it happen. The great things Obama might do for America and the world could go on for decades after he’s out of office.

America, you know not what you have.

The man is being challenged unfairly, characterized with vulgarity and treated with the kind of deep disrespect to which no previous president was subjected. It’s like the day after electing the first black man to be president, thereby electrifying the world with hope and joy, Americans sobered up and decided the bad old days were better.

President Obama may fail but it will not be a Richard Nixon default fraught with larceny and lies. President Obama, given a fair chance, will surely succeed but his triumph will never come with a Bill Clinton caveat – “if only he’d got control of that zipper.”

Please. Give the man a fair, fighting chance. This incivility toward the leader who won over Americans and gave hope to billions of people around the world that their lives could be enhanced by his example, just naturally has to stop.

Believe me, when Americans drive by the White House and see a sign on the lawn that reads: “No shirt. No shoes. No service,” they’ll realize this new national rudeness has gone way, way too far.

Court Exposes Abbott’s Contempt for Public Schools

Statement on School Finance Court Ruling


Court Exposes Abbott’s Contempt for Public Schools

Statement from Lone Star Project Director Matt Angle

The term “deadbeat” is used to describe adults who don’t fulfill their obligation to kids. Greg Abbott’s failure to fulfill his responsibility to help provide a good public education to Texas kids makes him the state’s biggest deadbeat.
It’s been clear for a long time that real insight into Greg Abbott’s views and principles is gained only at the courthouse. Today’s decision that the Texas school financing system is unconstitutional is a clear judgment on the false priorities and values of Greg Abbott and throws a harsh light on his contempt for our public schools.
Greg Abbott has spent millions of dollars in taxpayer money to protect a broken system and fight against – instead of for –Texas kids and parents.
The decision that Texas’ public school financing system is so broken that it no longer meets basic constitutional requirements comes as no surprise. More than 600 school districts representing kids, parents, teachers and administrators laid out a compelling case that Texas kids are being denied the educational opportunities they deserve.
The extent to which Greg Abbott has fought against Texas public school parents and kids in order to protect a broken system is appalling.
Again and again, Abbott has sided with voucher boosters and private school profiteers over the best interests of all Texans.
This ruling offers Texas voters yet another chance to see clearly where Greg Abbott’s priorities really are – not with the people, but with his insider friends.

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez: Ted Cruz’s big lie about the border


State Sen. Jose Rodriguez for Trib Talk

POSTED: 12:36 PM MDT Aug 22, 2014 UPDATED: 12:43 PM MDT Aug 22, 2014

Ted Cruz


While Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz compete for the conservative tough talker award, they share something in common other than their apparent ambitions to be the 45th president — they’re among the leading proponents of the Big Lie about immigration and border security.

The Big Lie is a political technique in which misrepresentations, omissions and sometimes outright falsities are repeated so many times that they become conventional wisdom.

In a recent Texas Tribune opinion piece, for instance, Cruz weaves a tapestry of small lies and half-truths into a full-cloth fabrication about immigration and the border.

Cruz claims the president and his supporters are not willing to debate the issue. Yet he conveniently ignores the fact that the U.S. Senate, with bipartisan support, passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year.

Cruz then turns to the term that far-right politicians and anti-immigrant groups like NumbersUSA use to stifle debate: amnesty. He also argues that the president and Democrats are willingly damaging our country’s safety and security.

Cruz inaccurately conflates immigration with national security and characterizes border communities as a looming threat. This is the heart of the Big Lie. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it ultimately hurts border communities like the ones I represent.

As a representative of Texas, which does more business with Mexico than any other state, Cruz should, and probably does, know better. But he is committed to stifling debate, going so far as to hold the economic livelihood of our Texas border communities hostage to do so.

What we should be discussing is improving the infrastructure that facilitates billions of dollars in trade and travel, and reforming an immigration system that is not up to the task of handling the complex realities of 21st century migration.

But instead of constructive solutions, Cruz resorts to rhetorical tactics that harm the communities he represents as a U.S. senator. 

He further distorts the truth when he blames the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program for luring refugees on a dangerous journey north. This is a convenient partisan dodge, but a U.N. refugee agency survey, the most comprehensive review available, overwhelmingly found that children are fleeing the chaos of rape and murder, not seeking benefits under U.S. immigration policies.

It’s outrageous that Cruz would claim concern for these children while advocating for a change in the law that would make it harder for them to access the political asylum process and make it easier to send them back to the horrors from which they fled. That’s not what we should be doing. Just last week, the Los Angeles Timesreported that five to 10 of the 42 dead children at one Honduran morgue had been deported back to that country from the U.S.

Meanwhile, Cruz has the unmitigated gall to say that “immigrants deserve a system in which they will be welcomed to the United States safely and with dignity.” I couldn’t agree more, but it’s hard to believe his sincerity when every attempt to do so — including the bipartisan Senate bill, which included unprecedented "border security" provisions — has been thwarted by Cruz and his allies, too many of whom demonize the very immigrants whom Cruz claims to welcome.

Whether it’s Cruz’s latest comments or Perry continuing to mislead about the facts on which he’s basing his decision to spend $17 million a month of Texas taxpayer dollars on the border that could instead be going to our schools or roads, it all adds up to one thing: When it comes to immigration policy and telling the truth about the border, all they have is a Big Lie.

Texans deserve better.

Read more from TribTalk at

The NRA Pissed Off the Wrong Nerd Genius




Billionaire Michael Bloomberg already had the gun lobby in his sights. Now Bill Gates is donating $1 million for universal background checks—and there’s more where that came from.

Somewhere in a large glass tower in Northern Virginia, there’s a guy who runs guns with a French name having a bad day. With good reason.

It was reported Monday that Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and incredibly wealthy guy, and with his wife, Melinda, have given $1 million to Initiative 594 in Washington state. The ballot initiative, if passed by voters on November 4 (and it currently enjoys overwhelming support), will require universal background checks for all firearm purchases in the state.

Gates is only the latest Washington billionaire to give to the effort, with original Amazon investor Nick Hanauer providing crucial early funding, and more recently upping his overall donation to $1.4 million. Additionally, Gates’s Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, has provided $500,000 for the cause.

But Gates’s fame brings more attention and further legitimizes the initiative in a way that almost nobody else could. Once the Gates Foundation made it a priority to combat malaria around the world in 2000, it brought down deaths due to the insect-borne disease by 20 percent in 11 years, saving the lives of 1 million African children in the process.

Gates has the ability to grab headlines and make an issue go viral with the constant media coverage he receives, and the financial ability, if he wins, to fund similar efforts around the country. His involvement could be the answer to the public health crisis that makes American children 93 percent of those murdered in the 26 high-income countries around the world.

Meanwhile, the NRA has…Chuck Norris, doing its “Trigger The Vote” Campaign. An actor, in the sense that he showed up in films, who was last seen round-housing Vietnamese extras in B-movies in the ’80s, back when he was only pushing 50. In more recent times, the more Methuselah-esque-appearing Norris has spent his time warning us of 1,000 years of darkness if President Obama is reelected. (He was. Boo!)

That, in short, is why the guy with the French-sounding name, National Rifle Association head honcho Wayne LaPierre, is probably somewhere drowning his sorrows in his Pernod. Because Gates’ involvement in this issue is just about the last thing LaPierre needs.

Already, the NRA has shown its disdain for anyone with the guts and resources to take on its political cartel of legally bribed legislators around the country. It was used to having the field to itself financially in the 2000s, until along came New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. After seeing his constituents and police force victimized by lax gun laws out of state, lobbied for by the NRA, he decided it was time to do something.

The now former mayor’s activism had led to the ire of LaPierre & Company, who’ve just released a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign blasting Bloomberg, replete with his supposed sneering at “flyover country” in between the coasts. Which LaPierre clearly doesn’t do while receiving his million-dollar-plus compensation in the wealthy Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Ironically, it was in Virginia where Bloomberg’s organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, had one of its biggest victories, when it elected a governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2013. None of whom thought a 12-year old should be able to open-carry an Uzi in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, because of, you know, freedom. Suddenly those who agree with the 90 percent of the country who support universal background checks had access to similar, if not greater, financial resources than those who pledged their allegiance to an arms dealer-funded front group.

Bloomberg is worth $33 billion, but if that’s not enough, Gates is worth well over two times that amount. Who knows, with that kind of dough, maybe even measures that “only” enjoy 56 percent support like bans on assault weapons and/or high-capacity magazines could pass via direct voting by uncorrupted American citizens. Or perhaps state legislators and members of Congress who bend easily to the will of these Lords of War could be swapped out for those who live in a closer neighborhood to the best interests of the American populace.

Likely the NRA will try to do to Gates what it has attempted to do to Bloomberg for a few years now, and seek to make this fight about him and not its right-wing radicalism in the service of avarice. He’s a billionaire trying to influence our political process, after all, unlike Manhattan resident David Koch, who along with his brother Charles has polluted our political process to no end, including funding the NRA.

Sure, in an ideal world big money wouldn’t play such an outsize role in our elections, such as this hugely important ballot initiative in Washington state. But that’s not what the NRA wants. It just wants its big money still to be all that decides the outcome, and it isn’t. Which is why Wayne LaPierre’s having a bad day.

Study Shows the Madness of States Refusing to Expand Medicaid


August 14, 2014

by Joshua Holland

Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during The Family Leadership Summit, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during the Family Leadership Summit, Aug. 9, 2014, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

This week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institutereleased a study showing that the 24 states that have refused to expand theirMedicaid programs under theAffordable Care Act will miss out on $423 billion in federal health care dollars through 2022.

Under the law, the federal government picks up all of the costs of the expansion through the first three years, and then its share gradually drops to 90 percent.

At The New Republic, Jonathan Cohn has put together an interactive map that shows how much each state is set to lose. For example, Texas, which leads the nation in its rate of uninsured (at 24 percent in 2012), and has faced draconian cuts to health care spending, will lose almost $66 billion. Florida, tied for the country’s third highest rate of uninsured, will lose a similar amount. Georgia, sixth in uninsured, will lose almost $34 billion, and North Carolina stands to miss out on around $40 billion.

The citizens of these states are paying for the Affordable Care Act — with the wealthiest paying a surcharge on both high incomes and investments. Yet the politicians who represent them are steadfast in their refusal to expand coverage for their constituents.

The economic and human costs of conservatives’ ideological crusade against the Affordable Care Act is difficult to overstate. These states aren’t just rejecting an opportunity to expand coverage; Obamacare assumed that expanding Medicaid would dramatically reduce the number of uninsured patients showing up at emergency rooms for treatment they couldn’t afford, so it cut funding for hospitals that treat large numbers of these patients. Without those federal dollars coming in, a number of hospitals that serve low-income populations in refusing states have already been shuttered. According to the Urban Institutestudy, “these 24 states are also slated to lose a $167.8 billion (31 percent) boost in Medicaid funding that was originally intended to offset major cuts to theirMedicare and Medicaid reimbursement.”

Other studies suggest that refusing to expand Medicaid will drive up premiums for private insurance, and result in somewhere between 5,700 and 17,000 preventable deaths each year in those states that hold out.

What’s more, as we pointed out back in April, an unintended consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow states to opt-out of the expansion is that it’s widening the gap between “red” and “blue” states. It’s long been the case that state budgets reflect very different priorities — blue states tend to spend far more, on average, on health care, education and antipoverty programs than red states — and those differences are becoming sharper at a time when an unprecedented number of statehouses are entirely under the control of one party or another. Federal grants for Medicaid, food stamps and a host of otherprograms smooth out those differences to a degree. The Medicaid expansion would have done a lot to harmonize health policies for the poor — in many states, single people without children are ineligible for Medicaid no matter how low their incomes — but that divide will only grow wider if those 24 states continue to hold out.

The question is whether they will. Soon after the Supreme Court allowed states to opt out, the conventional wisdom held that with the amounts of money at stake, even the reddest of red states would eventually expand their Medicaid programs. That’s been true in some cases — Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a stalwart conservative, has been engaged in a vicious fight with members of her own party over the issue — and so far has come out on top. But many of the states that need those federal dollars the most continue to resist.

Forbes reports that “pressure is building on states to go along with the expansion of Medicaid benefits under the Affordable Care Act as new studies and financial reports from health care companies point out stark differences between states treating more poor Americans and those that aren’t.” Hospitals and other providers are lobbying lawmakers hard. But it remains to be seen if those efforts result in common sense prevailing over “small government” ideology.

Grand Jury Indicts Perry Over Integrity Unit Veto


Gov. Rick Perry, flanked by State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, and Texas Adjutant General John Nichols, announces the deployment of National Guard troops to the Texas border on July 21, 2014.

photo by: Bob Daemmrich

Gov. Rick Perry, flanked by State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, and Texas Adjutant General John Nichols, announces the deployment of National Guard troops to the Texas border on July 21, 2014.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

A grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on Friday on two felony counts, alleging he abused his power by threatening to veto funding for the state’s anti-corruption prosecutors unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who had pleaded guilty to drunk driving, stepped down from office.

The first count, abuse of official capacity, is a first-degree felony with a potential penalty of five to 99 years in prison. The second count, coercion of a public servant, is a third-degree felony with a penalty of two to 10 years.

Perry’s legal counsel, Mary Ann Wiley, said Perry would vigorously fight the charges.

“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution," she said. "We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”

The inquiry began last summer after an ethics complaint was filed alleging that Perry had improperly used a veto to deny funding for the unit, which is housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office and focuses on government corruption and tax fraud.

The indictment throws a major wrench in Perry’s possible presidential ambitions; he was in Iowa last week and was expected in both New Hampshire and South Carolina in coming weeks. Perry is the first Texas governor to be indicted in almost a century. His office did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Perry had been riding high and making national headlines in recent weeks, railing against the Obama administration for a perceived lack of response to the humanitarian crisis on the Texas-Mexico border, then reallocating funds to send National Guard troops there himself. 

Now, he’ll be playing defense.

Michael McCrum, the special investigator in the case, said he interviewed more than 40 people and reviewed hundreds of documents in the case. Perry never testified and McCrum said he didn’t subpoena the Texas governor.

"The grand jury’s spoken that at least there’s probable cause to believe that he committed two crimes, two felony crimes," he said.

He said that a time would be set up for Perry to come to court, be arraigned and be given official notice of his charges.

After Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunken driving last year, Perry threatened to withhold $7.5 million in funding over two years for the integrity unit if Lehmberg did not resign.

Lehmberg, a Democrat, served a jail sentence but did not resign. Perry made good on his pledge and vetoed the state budget’s funding line item for the unit. Though Perry has the authority to veto items in the budget, his critics said that this was done expressly for political purposes and is a crime.

That was the rationale used by Texans for Public Justice, a left-leaning money-in-politics watchdog group that filed the initial complaint last June. The complaint said Perry was guilty of coercion of a public servant, official oppression and abuse of official capacity.

Perry’s office has repeatedly said that his veto was appropriate and that he violated no laws.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa called on the governor to step down. Perry has "brought dishonor to his office, his family and the state of Texas," Hinojosa said in a statement.

Republican Party chairman Steve Munisteri said it was ironic that opponents are calling for Perry to resign, given that his indictment stems from trying to get Lehmberg to resign.

"I think most reasonable-minded people are going to be scratching their heads wondering what in the world is wrong with a governor who has veto power on appropriations saying he thinks it’s inappropriate to fund a unit where the head of that unit admitted that they had committed a criminal act and then compounded it by being on a video acting in an abusive way," Munisteri said.

The Austin-American Statesman reported in June that Perry would probably not testify before the grand jury, which has been meeting periodically for months, though several staffers from his office and from Travis County testified.

Last August, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted to provide some of the funding to the public integrity unit.

Lehmberg declined to comment on the indictments.

Making America Great Again: Cleaning Up Our Politics and Laws

Niko Letsos



August 11, 2014   | Press Release

HOUSTON, TX-Since day one, Niko Letsos’s Congressional campaign has been about the most important question a country can ask itself: do the actions we take today build on what we were given and make success more likely in the future? We know the answer to this question. Our politicians squander the many advantages previous generations gave us and give our youth and future generations only debt and nostalgia for an America that worked. It is self-destructive to continue down this road. Niko is running for Congress in Texas’s 2nd District to bring commonsense to our national legislature and a rude awakening to incumbent politicians who put self-interest above the common good.

As the youngest Congressional candidate in the country and a high school teacher, Niko has a unique perspective on the complete failure of our politics. For young people today, it is harder than ever to get ahead by working hard and playing by the rules. The generation coming of age now is projected to be the first one in American history that was not better off than all the ones that came before. From George Washington to someone born in 1970, there was a generational progress that has come to a sudden end. Niko has seen too many of his peers and students get a rotten deal in our broken system.

DC politics are at the heart of the problem. The Peterson Foundation estimates that political gridlock and instability since 2010, which came to a head last year in the government shutdown, has slowed economic growth by one per cent and likely prevented the creation of two million jobs in our country. That is the difference between continuing to improve, as we have always done in our history, and the cold-hard reality we face today of rapidly declining opportunity.

Both parties have offered nothing when it comes to fixing our broken political system and thereby restoring social mobility. We need clear commitments to pass legislation addressing the deep challenges we face, such as tax reform, the inexcusable amount of regulations some businesses face and the loopholes other businesses receive, immigration, and entitlement costs. Politicians focus on black and white interpretations of the issues and use them to rile up the base. Running on emotion will not accomplish a thing. We need people focused on substance that will allow us to rein in bloated bureaucracies, eliminate antiquated or overly detailed laws, and allow the government to do its job efficiently.

On his website, Niko has laid out his extensive plans for the sort of legislation he will fight for in Congress to get the country moving forward. Niko’s proposals emphasize accountability and transparency as to limit the powers of special interests and reconnect representatives to their communities. His legislative commitments include allowing people to track every single one of their tax dollars and having access to politicians’ detailed, daily schedules. Niko is committed to cleaning up our politics by eliminating gerrymandering and achieving campaign finance reform through full and detailed disclosure. Niko will practice strict oversight to make sure no one, from a military contractor to Walgreens, fleeces the government.

A democracy where only 13% of people trust the government to do the right thing all or most of the time is unsustainable. Empowering everyday Americans to be involved in the daily activity of government will revitalize our government by bringing it out into the open. Restoring trust is therefore the dominant theme in Niko’s campaign.

The 2nd District’s incumbent, Tea-Partier Ted Poe, says nothing about the real problems we face and does not offer a single idea to get our democracy working again. Poe has had ten years in Congress and has no record of fighting for common sense or acting creatively to overcome DC gridlock. Ted is a cartoon politician that talks more than anyone else in Congress. Ted is a weather vane that goes whichever way the polls do. He has switched positions on immigration many times—being for and against the DREAM Act depending on the audience. Ted has lined his pockets with millions of dollars of corporate money that dictates how he votes. For example, Ted did not get involved in the METRO light rail expansion until this year, when that issue became tied to our city’s preparation for Super Bowl LI. It does not seem to be a coincidence that the Houston Texans have long been a top donor of his. Politicians like Poe are why so few people have faith in government. Ted is cowardly when it comes to going against what’s popular and helpless when it comes to getting things done.

Doing nothing as Poe has done is in practice an endorsement of the status quo, a low point in our nation’s history. We need candidates willing to stand up to their own party and associated special interests, and offer legislation to reform government. Niko is a Democrat but not a friend of trial lawyers or willing to placate special interests, corporations, or unions. Niko is a Democrat because he believes government should play its part in creating a level playing field. We need to take every action necessary to get our democracy working again—that is, fighting for the common good above all else.

From students who deserve a fair shot to the retired who deserve stability in their old age, everyone in the 2nd district will benefit from someone up to the task of addressing the challenges we face in DC. We need less talking and more doing. We need candidates made to go, not for show. With less than three months until the election, Texans must back candidates who offer specific plans to fix the problems that hold our country back. Niko has such plans. Morally and economically, we cannot afford to elect the same people and play politics as usual. All Americans who care about the common good must rally to clean up our politics and laws.

The Time for Boldness is Now


Armed Right-Wing Militias Amassing Along Texas Border With State Lawmaker’s Blessing



A militiaman staged at a Texas ranch in 2006

A militiaman at a Texas ranch in 2006


For much of the summer, right-wing militiamen have gathered near the Texas-Mexico border, many of them claiming that they are there as part of something called “Operation Secure Our Border.” They include members of a movement that President George W. Bush denounced as “vigilantes,” and they also include members of even more radical groups that promote wild conspiracy theoriesand that explicitly threaten violence against the government.

And now, they have the blessing of a sitting Texas lawmaker. After touring the Rio Grande Valley near the border, Republican state Rep. Doug Miller claimed that the militias “have a right to be there” and that they “are not currently a problem.” According to Miller, he was told that the militias “are on private property, helping ranchers and owners to keep illegals coming onto or through their property … and there haven’t been any problems.”

Miller is not the highest-ranking Texas official who has dismissed criticism of armed vigilantes patrolling the Texas border. Late last month, the 12 Democratic members of Texas’ congressional delegation penned a letter to Greg Abbott, the state’s attorney general and the Republican candidate to be Texas’ next governor. In it, the 12 lawmakers quote a militia leader who said that “You see an illegal. You point your gun dead at him, right between the eyes, and you say, ‘Get back across the border or you will be shot.’” They also ask Abbott to “denounce the actions of these militia groups and clarify the jurisdiction these militia groups have to patrol alongside local law enforcement and Border Patrol agents.”

A spokesperson for Abbott dismissed the letter as a “partisan political stunt.”

The militias Abbott would not denounce include a volatile mix of paranoid anti-government groups and potentially violent gun activists. According to the Dallas Morning News, the earliest wave of militiamen coming to Texas included members of the Oathkeepers, a group which describes itself as an “association of currently serving military, reserves, National Guard, peace officers, fire-fighters, and veterans who swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic … and meant it.” Their website warns of government officials “disarm[ing] the American people,” “confiscat[ing] the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies,” and “blockad[ing] American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.”

The militiamen also reportedly include members of the “Three Percenter’s Club,” a group which claims that its “mission is give our members the capabilities and resources necessary to execute Military Strategies to defend against foreign and domestic enemies.” The Three Percenter movement takes its name from the “3% of the colonist [sic]” who allegedly “refused orders by the British Crown to surrender their firearms in the American Revolution,” and it was founded by a conservative activist named Mike Vanderboegh. On his personal blog, Vanderboegh explained that one of the Three Percenter movement’s core beliefs is a willingness to offer violent resistance to the government:

We intend to maintain our God-given natural rights to liberty and property, and that means most especially the right to keep and bear arms. Thus, we are committed to the restoration of the Founders’ Republic, and are willing to fight, die and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution that we all took an oath to uphold against enemies foreign and domestic.

We are the people that the collectivists who now control the government should leave alone if they wish to continue unfettered oxygen consumption. We are the Three Percent. Attempt to further oppress us at your peril.

To put it bluntly, leave us the hell alone.

Or, if you feel froggy, go ahead AND WATCH WHAT HAPPENS.

Last April, a similar collection of militia organizations, including members of the Oath Keepers, gathered near the home of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy to offer armed resistance to federal officials seeking to enforce a court order preventing Bundy from illegally grazing his cattle on federal land. Bundy briefly became a hero among conservative media figures such as Fox News’ Sean Hannity, andSen. Dean Heller (R-NV) labeled Bundy and his supporters “patriots.” Bundy’s moment as a Republican folk hero ended fairly abruptly, however, after hemade racist remarks about “the Negro.”

What sets Bundy’s armed supporters apart from the militia members gathering in Texas, however, is that Bundy’s militia squared off against trained federal law enforcement officials. The militiamen in Texas, by contrast, have threatened to point their guns at desperate and often helpless people crossing the border.

The true source of the immigration crisis


By Niko Letsos
Candidate, U.S. Rep., Dist. 2 |

The failure of our political system to deliver on immigration reform is stupefying. President Bush made immigration reform a priority 10 years ago and President Obama entered office hoping to sign an overhaul into law. A growing majority of Americans want comprehensive immigration reform passed. And yet, there is no prospect for such a reform because Congress cannot get its act together. Our national lawmakers are clueless when it comes to the facts surrounding immigration and understanding that their indecisiveness has made the problem worse.

Our southern neighbors have always been behind us in economic development and for that reason Latin Americans have had an incentive to get here. Before the 1970s, however, illegal immigration was mostly a non-issue throughout our history. Why has the problem of massive illegal immigration arisen only in recent decades? The Republican claim that the main issue is an insecure border is ahistorical and wrong. In the 1960s, was there a Great Wall of America on the southern border that has since fallen into disrepair? Today, the border is the most secure it has ever been and it has not solved the problem. Our immigrant crisis does not begin or end at the border. Rather, the change is to be found in international relations and domestic law enforcement.

Mexican cooperation was essential when our immigration system worked. For example, a 1954 operation that deported over one million undocumented laborers was carried out at the behest of the Mexican government and saw significant cross-border coordination. Mexico has recently progressed enormously and should be doing much more to regulate migration flows: it is one of the top 15 wealthiest countries in the world. Mexico’s economy is thriving and exports are growing.

In fact, Mexico has exported one thing to us this year we all know about: tens of thousands of young and desperate Central Americans. These children had to go through at least 1,200 miles of Mexican territory. The many human rights abuses migrants face in Mexico are well documented. Governments are usually punished for allowing such human rights abuse. Mexico today has the means to tackle the problem and we must pressure it to do so. Congress has not explored this issue at all. Stopping immigrants before they get here is common sense and the Mexican government can do that.

More important than international relations is the lack of law enforcement at home. After the bipartisan 1986 effort to bring legal integrity to our immigration system, a generation of lawmakers dropped the ball. Up until 2005, immigration was scarcely talked about although illegal immigration greatly increased beginning in the 1990s as laws defining employment were neglected. It has long been an open secret that in construction, agriculture, restaurants, maintenance and domestic services undocumented workers are widely employed. Congress did nothing to end this practice. Congress’s dithering has resulted in a legal and civil rights limbo for 11 million undocumented residents residing in our country today. These millions immigrated and set roots in America because Congress allowed them to be easily and illegally employed. There is a staggering incongruity between spending billions to catch immigrants crossing our borders and allowing them to work openly once in our country.

What options do we have to solve our immigration problems? Deporting over 11 million people is logistically impossible and would gut our economy, never mind being morally contemptible. Getting the border to be impassable would be hugely expensive and would do nothing to solve the problem of having 11 million people who live here outside of the law. The only option we have is comprehensive immigration legislation from Congress.

The legislation must include mechanisms for legal residence and guest worker passes for agriculture. For immigrants who arrived here as adults, the law must have provisions to collect back-taxes without any deductibles — distinguishing it from amnesty as there would be a legal fine incurred in the form of paying taxes so constructed. Legal residence will be conferred once payments on those taxes begin, and such residents could apply for citizenship once all taxes are paid. The goal of this effort is to not have a single worker in America outside of the law. Such legislation will not be perfect. It is the price to pay for 30 years of laws being ignored and Congress not doing anything about it. It is a price worth paying: it will make us a nation of laws once again.

The reform we undertake must be guided by an attitude of “never again.” Never again will we ignore the international dimensions of immigration. Never again will our immigration and labor laws go unenforced and break down. And never again will we allow Congress to run away from doing its job.


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