Greg Abbott, Tilting At Windmills

The top issue on Greg Abbott’s campaign website is this pledge:

End ObamaCare: Committed to Fighting
and Repealing an Unconstitutional Tax

I understand that there are plenty of people who don’t like the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, and obviously, Greg Abbott is one of them.

Would Greg Abbott, if elected governor of Texas, have any chance in the world of fulfilling this promise? No.

Photo courtesy of Kat... via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Kat… via Flickr

The Affordable Care Act was passed in early spring, 2010. Four things happened:

  1. Republicans immediately began filing bills in Congress to overturn it. As of November, 2013, 47 bills challenging some or all aspects of the law were brought to a vote, and 47 bills failed.
  2. Lawsuits were filed challenging the constitutionality of the A.C.A. One, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, was heard by the United States Supreme Court. The case declared, in a decision written by Bush-appointee Chief Justice John Roberts, that the law is constitutional, and even that it is a constitutional tax.
  3. Doctors, hospitals, clinics, nonprofits, insurance companies, and state, county, and federal government agencies began preparing for the changes the law would create.
  4. People who did not have health insurance before the law passed have started to get it, including people who, in the past, had been denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

The law exists. The court has ruled it constitutional. Businesses, governments agencies, and individuals have all moved forward with plans and actions that are predicated on that decision. It would be a gigantic, overwhelming, and destabilizing blow to our economy and our health if it all went away. 

At this point, committing to fight the A.C.A. as unconstitutional tax is like committing to fight against gravity. You can keep jumping, but if suddenly you found yourself floating, you’d be pretty horrified once you realized what else had come unmoored.

If you think the highest and best use of Greg Abbott’s time is fighting against the A.C.A., you should hire him to work in a think tank or be a lobbyist. You should not elect him governor of Texas. As governor, he would have no  opportunity to challenge this law in any substantive way.

When it comes down to it, we rely on our state government for rather mundane things. We need to be sure public schools are, at a minimum, adequately funded. We need roads to be paved, and water we can drink to come out when we turn the tap in the kitchen sink. We need various instruments of commerce inspected, and we need our shared resources protected. Government is a machine we depend upon, a tool we use, to keep the business of our daily lives moving forward.

I don’t think Greg Abbott sees government that way.

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”

—Part 1, Chapter VIII, Don Quixote

Posted in politics, Texas, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

This payday loan blog post is for you, Greg Abbott and Rod Aycox

I’m pleased that Houston joined the other big Texas cities in passing an ordinance to provide some sort of check on the terrible payday and title loan industry that has sprouted in our state.

I believe passionately in the need for regulating these businesses, which plunge unwitting consumers into deep holes of debt that can ruin their financial future.

I was glad that Lisa Falkenberg called out one Council Member for his opposition to the ordinance, and published the stories of some Houstonians who have been trapped in particularly heinous cycles of debt service.

Truthfully, though, I winced a little bit when she made the very personal connection between the member and one of his oldest and dearest friends, who is a lobbyist for a company that provides check cashing, pawn, and deferred presentment services (aka payday loans).

Here’s a link to the piece, titled “This payday loan column is for you, Councilman Rodriguez.” Pretty clear who the intended audience was.

I winced because I know the two people she called out in her article, James Rodriguez and Giovanni Garibay. I’ve known them for a long time, and while we may be in very different places on this one issue, I am very fond of them both and know we have a great deal in common when it comes to many issues and concerns. They’ve both stood up for me at times when I’ve needed help or advice on various projects—nothing major, and nothing that should make you worry that I’m pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes or exerting undue influence over the legislative process or policy debates for sure!—offering guidance, kind words, advice, and support. Things that you offer to friends. Things, too, which I’ve seen them offer to people who weren’t even their friends, but just people in need of help, like kids in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, or at-risk students at schools in the East End.

I didn’t talk to either of them about this vote, and I don’t want to speculate about whether or not they even talked about it, frankly. The ordinance passed, 15 to 2, and Houston now has some small way to exert some influence and control over this industry. That’s the part of the story that needs to be the story.

That, and what comes next.

The state.

The money spent on lobbyists in Austin.

The candidates running for governor, only one of whom has a track record of working with broad-based coalitions to tighten regulations on predatory lenders.

Many Houston council members pointed out that city-by-city regulation is just a stop-gap measure since the Republican-controlled state legislature has, time and again, killed any attempts at regulating this industry. They said they hoped their vote would put pressure on Austin to take action.

Republican candidate Greg Abbott accepted a campaign contribution in June, 2013, of $10,000 from Rod Aycox of Alpharetta, Georgia, where he runs Select Management Resources. It’s a company with payday loan businesses in 23 states.

Was Rod a groomsman at Greg’s wedding? Were they ever roommates? Frat brothers? BFFs?

I’ve got to be honest.

I’m less concerned about a municipal elected official’s relationship with one of his closest friends and how that might influence a vote than I am about the relationship between our state’s attorney general and GOP gubernatorial candidate and a man who can make $10,000 campaign contributions. A man who employs, if you consult the 2013 Texas Ethics Commission lobby list, ten people whose business relationship rises to the level that they need to be registered as lobbyists for his company.

Greg Abbott and Roy Aycox, this payday loan blog post is for you. I hope that other bloggers and journalists will look into your relationship, and plow through campaign finance reports and lobby lists to see who else needs a mention. Because one outgoing city council member in Houston hasn’t been the person who has prevented reforms and regulation of this industry. The Republicans in Austin have been the ones failing to protect Texans from this treacherous and prosperity-sapping business. So let’s speak truth to that power and see what we can accomplish.

Posted in Houston, politics, Texas | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Where Are The Young Women, 2nd Edition *Now with more men!*

If you don’t use Twitter, don’t understand it, don’t care about it, fine. But if that’s how you feel, you don’t get to stand around demanding to know where the young women are, because a whole bunch of them are on Twitter. And they brought the guys. And they are awesome.

First, the story.

  • The Richardson High School (near Dallas) had an assembly featuring a doozy of a speaker, Justin Lookadoo.
  • Parents and students didn’t get much advance notice about the speaker, although they did get some.
  • Many students, during the assembly, were so offended by Lookadoo’s remarks that they took to Twitter and, in an inspired moment of hashtagging, came up with #lookadouche.
  • Some students even walked out of the assembly.
  • Of course, some students and some parents were a-OK with the message and the speaker.
  • The hashtag took off, the news crews showed up, and here we are.

The parents and students got a little bit of advance notice, actually, and raised their concerns with the school. The assembly was originally postponed:

but then went on as scheduled:

The administration should not be surprised that things went off the rails. Students were already keeping tabs on the situation via Twitter, but here’s the moment it all came together in the hashtag:

[Now, I have issues with using the word douche as an insult, but not everyone shares my feelings on this, and I think it is safe to say that it is a widely-accepted word to use when describing someone you believe to be distasteful, arrogant, and small-minded.]

Thanks to #lookadouche, you can follow the course of conversations, see what the students were saying, what got said to them, and how they’ve handled the aftermath. It won’t surprise you to know that some of the students are getting trolled for taking part in #lookadouche – I’m surprised most of them haven’t locked down their accounts yet.

The Texas Freedom Network helped bring the hashtag into more people’s streams.  That’s where I heard about it, via a tweet.

I don’t know exactly what was said in that assembly, but allow me to present a few of Justin Lookadoo’s rules for girls from his website, R U Dateable:

Be mysterious. Dateable girls know how to shut up. They don’t monopolize the conversation. They don’t tell everyone everything about themselves. They save some for later. They listen more than they gab.

Let him lead. God made guys as leaders. Dateable girls get that and let him do guy things, get a door, open a ketchup bottle. They relax and let guys be guys. Which means they don’t ask him out!!!

And to think, I’ve been finding ways to open ketchup bottles for years, only sometimes allowing my husband to do it for me.

A couple of examples of the rules for boys:

Being a guy is good. Dateable guys know they aren’t as sensitive as girls and that’s okay. They know they are stronger, more dangerous, and more adventurous and that’s okay. Dateable guys are real men who aren’t afraid to be guys.

Men of God are wild, not domesticated. Dateable guys aren’t tamed. They don’t live by the rules of the opposite sex. They fight battles, conquer lands, and stand up for the oppressed.

“Rules” like this are trotted out to excuse every Steubenville, every Notre Dame, every U Conn, etc.

“Rules” like this are rape culture.

And, answering the question “how old are you” on your FAQ page with a comment/graphic like this is also rape culture:

gross lookadoo

“Rules” like this are meant to be held up to the light, examined, exposed, and broken, because if we don’t break these rules, we break the children who are taught to follow them, and that’s not an acceptable outcome.

In Texas, we do everything we can to “protect” children from age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education, and then we turn around and expose them to people like this?

The students spoke up and got attention. They were young women, and they were young men, and they were diverse young people who identify at all points on a spectrum of gender, political, religious, and cultural identities. They are friends who are going to support each other through any fall-out from their actions. And they’re really clever Twitter users.

We need to be ready to support them if anyone tries to punish them. So far, they haven’t gotten any blow-back, but I’m sure there will soon be a ‘no Twitter on campus’ rule at RHS!

We also need to honor their engagement by refusing to frame conversations about activism with ‘where are the young women,’ as the starting point. If you aren’t seeing them, ask yourself if you are looking in the right places. You might have to go to them instead of expecting them to come to you, and they might be in places you can’t really go, like high school assemblies. You might not do activism or build community or work in coalition the same way. That’s OK.

Find places you can work together, and trust that when you can’t, they’re working where they are.

Which is sometimes on Twitter.

And sometimes, on Instagram, which I guess I’ll start using once I figure out how to insert .gifs about getting off my lawn into WordPress blogs.

UPDATE
Here’s an incredibly thoughtful blog post from one of the students, who IDs herself as “the ever so ‘famous’ tweeter of ‘I refuse to listen to the enforcement of stereotypes and gender roles.’” Awesome.

Posted in feminists & feminism, Texas, time for action | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Greg Abbott to Texans: Get Off My Lush, Green Lawn

For the next year, I’ll be telling at least these two stories about Greg Abbott over and over again. Understanding them is critical to understanding what kind of governor he would be—a governor who is concerned about making sure he gets his, and his cronies get theirs, and tough luck to any other Texans facing tough times.

First:
Greg Abbott was in a horrible accident that paralyzed him for life. A tree fell on him while he was jogging. He took full advantage of the legal system and Texas tort law to win a huge settlement that has made him wealthy.

Please note that I do not begrudge him for taking advantage of that system in order to have the funds both to pay for his medical needs and compensate him for losses on many levels.

I begrudge him for becoming a shrill, aggressive advocate for reform in the laws and courts that means someone who suffered the exact same accident today would never be able to bring the same case, or win the same sort of damages, that he won. He got his, and then he worked to pull the ladder up behind him.

Second:
Water. We can’t live without it. Texas has been deep in drought for years. The Rio Grande, on any given day, no longer reaches the sea. Conservation isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity. We’ve got to be aggressive in figuring out ways to share so we can be  sure that all Texans have the water they need. Maybe not the water they want, mind you, but at a minimum, the water they need.

Greg Abbott is concerned about getting enough water.

For himself.

That’s why he dug a well at his house in Austin. Now, he’s got a lush, green lawn, even when the rest of the city is practicing heavy conservation measures on a yearly basis (when not coping with horrible flooding that still hasn’t restored reservoir levels).

I hear people talking about being patriots all of the time. Their photos are all over my Facebook timeline as they tote their guns and act like they are defending our life and liberty.

Well, you know what’s really patriotic in this day and age?

rationing

 

Tearing up your St. Augustine and planting low-water landscaping.

When farmers can’t get enough water for crops, there is no reason that people in wealthy neighborhoods should be hanging on to acres and acres of green, inedible grass. To then drill their own private wells to thwart city watering restrictions is just insulting.

This is Tragedy of the Commons 101 stuff, people.

I mean, the state song is Texas, Our Texas, not Texas, My Texas.

But Greg Abbott lives in his Texas, not our Texas. He doesn’t care if you live on the border and don’t even have municipal water you can drink out of your tap. He doesn’t care if you struggle to keep your family farm afloat, the farm that has been in your family for generations. He’s got a green lawn, after all, because he drilled a well.

Texans need a governor who will represent the rights of the least among us and preserve the common good so that we can all benefit. We deserve a governor who will champion ideas and plans that will set Texas up for success in the future. Greg Abbott is not that governor.

Posted in Texas, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Where Are the Young Women?

This question  often gets asked by a generation that has been working longer than they should have been required to work to secure basic, fundamental rights to privacy and bodily integrity.

We could have a long conversation deconstructing what is really behind this question, what it means and who it indicts and whether it is useful or harmful or poorly framed but well-intentioned, but today, I’m just going to answer it for you, because we have important work to do.

This morning, in Texas, I know where the young women are. They are on the phone.

(1) They are calling abortion clinics around Texas to see which ones are able to provide abortion services at all, legally, in the wake of last night’s Fifth Circuit ruling.

(2) They are calling back the people who have been calling them, asking for help paying for an abortion, paying for a hotel in the town where they can get an abortion, asking what town they need to go to in order to get an abortion, and how they can get there now, quickly, before the price goes up because the pregnancy gets farther along.

They are doing triage on our constitutional rights.

They are having to tell desperate women who need help paying $1,400 for a procedure that they can make a grant of $50, or $75, and that they’ll only be able to do that once they find a clinic that is still able to provide an abortion.

They are on the phone because they are the board members and volunteers of Lilith Fund, Texas Equal Access Fund, Clinic Access Support Network—all affiliated with the National Network of Abortion Funds.

They are on the phone because, despite their hard work to grow this conversation beyond just abortion rights and just women to reproductive justice, gender equality, and an intersectional movement for respect and reform, the regressive majority in the Texas legislature has brought it all back to abortion access.

That conversation needs to happen, but this morning, the people who’ve done the hard work of bringing it up are on the phone, so they’re busy and they’ll have to get back to you.

If you want to tell them where you are this morning, you can do so by making a donation to one or all of those organizations listed above. And then, the next time someone asks where are the young women, you’ll have the answer. They are right there beside you, doing the hard work of the movement, just like you.

UPDATE – Texas Solidarity Challenge
Right now, a donor will match your gift, dollar for dollar, up to $10,000 , when you make a gift to the National Network of Abortion Funds for their Texas Solidarity Fund. Donate here!

Posted in feminists & feminism, politics, pro-choice activism, Texas | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Yet Another Texas Cheerleader Story

The cheerleaders at Wharton High School weren’t allowed to root, root, root for the football team in their game against Bellville. They were sidelined—punished—for violating the student code of conduct.

Their offense?

Not hazing, or making a hit list, both offenses per page 5 of the code.

They put condoms in the football players’ spirit bags.

Don’t worry. I read the Wharton ISD Student Code of Conduct (revised August 2013) so you don’t have to. It does mention armor-piercing ammunition, but on birth control generally, or condoms in particular, it is silent.

The only part they could have invoked against condoms, as far as I can tell, is the general list of standards for student conduct:

Each student is expected to:

  • Demonstrate courtesy, even when others do not.
  • Behave in a responsible manner, always exercising self-discipline.
  • Attend all classes, regularly and on time.
  • Prepare for each class; take appropriate materials and assignments to class.
  • Meet district and campus standards of grooming and dress.
  • Obey all campus and classroom rules.
  • Respect the rights and privileges of students, teachers, and other district staff and volunteers.
  • Respect the property of others, including district property and facilities.
  • Cooperate with and assist the school staff in maintaining safety, order, and discipline.
  • Adhere to the requirements of the Student Code of Conduct.

If you ask teenagers to demonstrate courtesy and behave in a responsible manner, encouraging condom usage is more of a do than a don’t, wouldn’t you say?

One troubling element in the story is that the people who are defending the cheerleaders, and likely some of the cheerleaders themselves, have been insisting that the condoms were put in the spirit bags as a joke:

“I think that it was wrong that they did it, but they were really just joking around,” one student said.

One parent said that it was a simple joke that should not be taken so seriously.

“If they did that, it was just a joke,” Teresa Holmes, a parent, said. “They need to go on with that and let children be children.”

Another student said it was a harmless joke.

”It was really a prank gone wrong. I guess. It was a harmless prank that went too far,” another student said.

A junior on the drill team said the cheerleaders just thought it would be funny and meant no harm.

”They just thought it would be funny,,cause they are guys and they are girls…you know…”the student said.

The mother of one of the cheerleaders said that she fully supports the district’s punishment. She also said that squad did intend the whole thing as a joke, one that they realize was inappropriate.

Is no one in 2013 willing to acknowledge that there is a slight chance, a remote possibility, that in a state which has the highest rate of repeat teen births, some high school football players and/or cheerleaders might be having sex?

If condoms are a joke, I don’t get it.

Except, of course, I do.

The cheerleaders were in enough hot water. Had they insisted that they were just encouraging safe sex, the football players’ moms would’ve gone on the teevee wringing their hands about those predatory pre-cougars. The preachers would’ve started blaming Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus. The librarians would’ve preemptively hidden the Judy Blume books so no one could burn or ban them.

So, instead of honest talk about teen sexuality, we get condoms as the punchline. The joke is on us.

Posted in good grief, not sure what to say, politics, Texas | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

By All Means, Stop Them From Reading

A gun violence epidemic. A substance abuse epidemic. You and I might disagree on what the solution is to either of these, but I hope we can at least agree that they exist.

You know what doesn’t exist?

An epidemic of teens reading too much.

Douglas Williams, from the fabulous blog The South Lawn, caught my eye with this just now:

We’re probably all tired of this phrasing, but I think, truly and sincerely, that we should all agree to just be done with parents trying to get books banned from libraries.

Heaven forfend that kids might actually pick up a damn book.

I’ve got an idea. Any parent who wants to bring a challenge to a board of education about a book should first have to turn in a book report on Farenheit 451 and then make a diorama about any book from this list and turn it in with an essay about why they picked the title they picked. (Except from Where the Wild Things Are. That’s too easy.)

Posted in books I've read, good grief, politics | Tagged , | Leave a comment