Rainey bar incident an unnecessary reminder that hate lurks, even in Austin

Hate has no place in Austin. It has no place anywhere.

Yet we know it lurks and it simmers, boiling until it explodes, jolting us out of our comfort zones, letting us know in no uncertain terms again that it is there, always there.

We were reminded of this again this week when reports surfaced about racially charged and sexist social media posts allegedly coming from the accounts of a Rainey Street bar. Patrons also complained about anti-Semitic imagery.

Unbarlievable on Rainey Street. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

On Wednesday Brandon Cash, the owner of Unbarlievable, apologized for what he called his “intolerable actions,” issuing this statement:

“To those who I have hurt and offended, I am deeply sorry. My words and actions were wrong, inappropriate and inexcusable. They certainly don’t exemplify the values of a community that I love and care deeply about and my insensitive actions do not represent the views of my loyal and dedicated employees.”

One hopes Cash’s apology is sincere.

Earlier, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said it is investigating Unbarlievable over an unspecified incident in March involving language and imagery, KVUE reported.

I’ve heard some say that this proves to us once more that racism is alive in Austin, a city that would like to think it is an exceptional model of tolerance. But we’ve known this for a long time; we don’t need to be reminded again.

Yet, for all the handwringing we do about what incidents like this say about Austin, we should remember that for the most part, our city is a place that welcomes the stranger and the person who might not look like us or vote like us or worship in the same place we do. For every instance of the kind of thing that happened at a Rainey Street bar, there’s more examples of tolerance we can hold up, like the congregations of many denominations across Austin who consistently stand by efforts to bring undocumented immigrants into society.

We can’t begin to understand what goes on in the minds of those who believe they are innately endowed with superiority based simply on the color of their skin, or on their national heritage or their religion, their money or anything else. Our nation holds central the right of free speech, but we also have the right to call out hate and intolerance. Those who took to social media, news conferences and protests this week were right to do so. We should send messages to our community and to our children that we uphold and cherish tolerance and civility.

We should note that the intolerant messages emanated from Rainey Street, for decades a peaceful, working-class Mexican American neighborhood. Now it is one of the city’s busiest entertainment districts, oddly located alongside one of Austin’s cultural jewels, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

The center and the old Chicano barrio were there first, and to many long-time Mexican Americans here, Rainey Street has become a symbol of gentrification, consistent with 1920s city decisions that pushed minority communities east of the highway. Now many older Latino families there are having to move out because they can’t afford East Austin’s soaring property values, propelled by the arrival of new wealth, new condos, new bars and restaurants.

I heard one local radio host say this week that there are greater things to be offended about, and he’s right — there’s a lot in this world that should have us hanging our heads. But we don’t get to be the arbiters of what offends others.

Among the vile images that allegedly surfaced this week was a photo making light at the expense of a Latina toddler selling gum, her eyes brimming with hope. Innocent children can’t begin to comprehend the plight of their circumstances and the depths of poverty that places them on a street corner, trying to eke out a few pennies for their families. You’ll have to understand how an image like that might throw hot water on open wounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainey bar incident reminds us hate lurks, even in Austin

Hate has no place in Austin. It has no place anywhere.

Yet we know it lurks and it simmers, boiling until it explodes, jolting us out of our comfort zones, letting us know in no uncertain terms again that it is there, always there.

We were reminded of this again this week when reports surfaced about racially charged and sexist social media posts allegedly coming from the accounts of a Rainey Street bar. Patrons also complained about anti-Semitic imagery.

Unbarlievable on Rainey Street. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

On Wednesday Brandon Cash, the owner of Unbarlievable, apologized for what he called his “intolerable actions,” issuing this statement:

“To those who I have hurt and offended, I am deeply sorry. My words and actions were wrong, inappropriate and inexcusable. They certainly don’t exemplify the values of a community that I love and care deeply about and my insensitive actions do not represent the views of my loyal and dedicated employees.”

One hopes Cash’s apology is sincere.

Earlier, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said it is investigating Unbarlievable over an unspecified incident in March involving language and imagery, KVUE reported.

I’ve heard some say that this proves to us once more that racism is alive in Austin, a city that would like to think it is an exceptional model of tolerance. But we’ve known this for a long time; we don’t need to be reminded again.

Yet, for all the handwringing we do about what incidents like this say about Austin, we should remember that for the most part, our city is a place that welcomes the stranger and the person who might not look like us or vote like us or worship in the same place we do. For every instance of the kind of thing that happened at a Rainey Street bar, there’s more examples of tolerance we can hold up, like the congregations of many denominations across Austin who consistently stand by efforts to bring undocumented immigrants into society.

We can’t begin to understand what goes on in the minds of those who believe they are innately endowed with superiority based simply on the color of their skin, or on their national heritage or their religion, their money or anything else. Our nation holds central the right of free speech, but we also have the right to call out hate and intolerance. Those who took to social media, news conferences and protests this week were right to do so. We should send messages to our community and to our children that we uphold and cherish tolerance and civility.

We should not forget either that the intolerant messages emanated from Rainey Street, for decades a peaceful, working-class Mexican American neighborhood. Now it is one of the city’s busiest entertainment districts, oddly located alongside one of Austin’s cultural jewels, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

The center and the old Chicano barrio were there first, and to many long-time Mexican Americans here, Rainey Street has become a symbol of gentrification, consistent with 1920s city decisions that pushed minority communities east of the highway. Now many older Latino families there are having to move out because they can’t afford East Austin’s soaring property values, propelled by the arrival of new wealth, new condos, new bars and restaurants.

I heard one local radio host say this week that there are greater things to be offended about, and he’s right — there’s a lot in this world that should have us hanging our heads. But we don’t get to be the arbiters of what offends others.

Among the vile images that allegedly surfaced this week was a photo making light at the expense of a Latina toddler selling gum, her eyes brimming with hope. Innocent children can’t begin to comprehend the plight of their circumstances and the depths of poverty that places them on a street corner, trying to eke out a few pennies for their families. You’ll have to understand how an image like that might throw hot water on open wounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flaws in AISD’s bond decisions show need for an independent committee

TA Brown Elementary on Friday, November 4, 2016. Unstable floor leads to cancellation of classes at Brown Elementary. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

Ideally, a bond package for schools would bring together diverse communities across Austin whose residents share a strong support of Austin public schools. Yet the bond package currently being considered, whose price tag is about $1 billion, has divided much of the Austin community, tearing open old wounds of classism and racism and raising new questions regarding transparency, accountability and leadership.

Clearly, the process is broken and in need of drastic change.

To that point, the Austin school district would benefit greatly from an independent bond commission made up of both supporters and skeptics to hash out the complex and often contentious priorities of a large urban district. That commission should reflect the community it serves – economically, racially, ethnically and geographically. It’s one way to move beyond the bitter politics that is driving decisions regarding the current bond package that seems headed to a November election.

In the end, whatever decisions are made still would have to go to the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees for a vote. But right now, matters have turned toxic with a board and superintendent who have bent over backwards to accommodate well-heeled, influential Austin parents and neighborhoods at the expense of many low-income families and people of color.

That can be seen in an emerging, lopsided bond package, which supplanted some key recommendations by an advisory committee to make the bond package more geographically and equitably balanced.

Prime examples of how things have gone off the rails include the last-minute proposal for the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, whose student body is mostly white and affluent, and the elimination of a highly recommended middle school that would serve many students of color who are lower-income.

RELATED: Alberta Phillips: How Austin ISD botched decision to move an acclaimed academy.

LASA would move from the LBJ High School campus to the Eastside Memorial High School campus, displacing mostly minority and low-income students there. Eastside students would move to a new campus at the original L.C. Anderson site. In all, that would cost about $100 million.

Never mind that the LASA proposal would increase segregation, as noted by Trustee Edmund “Ted” Gordon, by increasing to 3 the number of high schools with student bodies that are “over 90 percent black and brown.”

“In each one of those high schools, we’re well over 80 percent and heading into 90 percent in terms of socioeconomically underprivileged,” said Gordon, who represents Northeast Austin.

But the dysfunction doesn’t stop there. Trustees continue to lean toward a single bond proposition, offering the lame excuse that if they gave voters, say two choices, voters might approve the less-urgent proposition and vote down the proposition that contains the district’s vital needs. In other words, voters are too dumb to discern the district’s true needs from the fluff.

We all owe gratitude to the 18 people who serve on the district’s Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee. FABPAC members did their job, holding dozens of community meetings and combing through mounds of reports and information to craft a facilities master plan to be used as a blueprint for bond packages. They went about that task for 18 months, prioritizing which schools were most in need of repair, replacement and upgrades, and neighborhoods that needed new schools.

That kind of work is best done by those with a passion for public schools. But the next steps in deciding the scope, shape and timing of a bond package should be done by an independent group, which can impartially assess the district’s most urgent priorities, while at the same time gauge what taxpayers can afford.

That would be a healthy, trusted process that provides more checks and balances.

FABPAC members will tell you that in doing their work, they began with a foregone conclusion: There would be bonds. And soon. That was not debatable. The rest they have left to trustees, such as the bond package’s price tag, number of propositions and the date they appear on a ballot. Trustees are scheduled to fill in all of those blanks on Monday.

Unfortunately, that process invites the kind of manipulation of the process we’ve witnessed from Superintendent Paul Cruz and others. It was Cruz who fast-tracked LASA’s expansion and move.

RELATED: Community reactions mixed over proposed LASA move to Eastside site.

Obviously, the FABPAC did not believe LASA’s expansion rose to the level of needs at T.A. Brown Elementary School, with significant structural deficiencies. That was signaled by the FABPAC’s recommendation to insert LASA, along with a middle school for the Mueller development, in its second-tier priorities.

Yet, trustees elevated LASA, but not Mueller’s middle school. That did not sit well with Gordon, who referred to such eleventh-hour maneuvering as the “Eastside switcheroo.”

“If reinventing the urban school system means abandoning the urban areas of the city, then we’re in trouble,” Gordon said. “It can’t mean that. It has to mean a way in which the east and west can come together to create a school district which is diverse, which is equitable, and which provides all our kids with a quality education – not some kids an elite quality education, and other kids no education – all our kids a quality education.”

To achieve that goal, the Austin district needs a new business model for bond planning.

 

 

The trouble with Trump’s bragging

*** BESTPIX *** *** BESTPIX *** President Trump Leads a Cabinet Meeting *** BESTPIX ***
President Donald Trump attends a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House June 12. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

Some of the worst advice I ever got came from my father.

Sure, he meant well when he told me not to brag; that my deeds and accomplishments would speak for me. But then I got older and I realized much to my surprise and dismay that my peers were strutting around like roosters on steroids. In classrooms, on job applications and resumes, networking, you name it. And this was before Facebook, a time-sucking invention created for taking navel-gazing and self-promotion to extremes.

Anyway, President Trump obviously never got advice from my father.

On Monday, with cameras rolling, Trump preened before his Cabinet and crowed about his record in office, pronouncing that he had achieved, as he put it, tremendous success.

“I will say that never has there been a president — with few exceptions; in the case of FDR, he had a major Depression to handle — who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done, between the executive orders and the job-killing regulations that have been terminated,” Trump said. “Many bills; I guess over 34 bills that Congress signed. A Supreme Court justice who’s going to be a great one.”

The trouble with bragging – never mind that it can betray a bit of insecurity — is that it invites scrutiny. On your performance review at your workplace, for example, you might write, “I’ve achieved tremendous success this year.” Your supervisor might wish to reply, “In what universe?”

In Trump’s case, journalists took on the task of examining the facts. The Associated Press, for example, knocked down the president’s claims with blunt and swift precision, the way a guillotine would slice through a watermelon.

The AP said: “(Trump) has little to show for his first five months in office, in concrete ways, other than the confirmation of a justice.”

The news organization’s fact check went on to note that Presidents Obama and George W. Bush accomplished more in their early months. In his first month, Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus package into law, and by this point in his administration, Bush had signed a major tax cut. Trump’s promised tax overhaul has yet to even reach Congress. Courts have ruled his travel ban doesn’t pass legal muster. And his promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is stalled in a Republican-dominated Congress.

The AP went on to say:

“Trump has achieved no major legislation. The bills he is counting up are little more than housekeeping measures — things like naming a courthouse and a VA health care center, appointing board of regents members, reauthorizing previous legislation. He has indeed been vigorous in signing executive orders, but in the main they have far less consequence than legislation requiring congressional passage.”

The AP fact-checked other Trump claims, including that his recent trip overseas resulted in deals for more than $350 billion in economic investment in the U.S. that will create thousands of jobs in this country. According to the AP, agreements on those deals in large part haven’t been signed yet and could be eliminated, and the president’s claim about new jobs relies on 20- to 30-year projections.

The president, of course, is famous for crying “fake news” when the news is unflattering or when the facts don’t suit his purposes, and he did so again the following day, tweeting: “The Fake News Media has never been so wrong or so dirty. Purposely incorrect stories and phony sources to meet their agenda of hate. Sad!”

Was he reacting to the AP’s fact check? Trump didn’t specify what he was angry about this time, but it’s a safe bet that he galvanized his supporters once more with those two words: fake news.

My father’s advice about never bragging sprang from his wish that I stay humble and stay hungry. It is some of the worst advice I ever got and it is some of the best advice I ever got. (Here’s to you, Papo. Happy Father’s Day.)

The president never heard my father’s lesson about humility. No, clearly he ascribes to the old saying, “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.” (By the way, isn’t that exactly what bragging is?)

But what is it when you brag and you haven’t done it?

Missing from Abbott’s special session priorities: ethics reform

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott describes the items he wants addressed by a special legislative session during a press conference at the State Capitol on June 6, 2017. (TAMIR KALIFA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

In calling last Tuesday for a special legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a long list of priorities he expects Texas legislators to address. Missing from the list: ethics reform.

Yes, the list is already unwieldy with 20 priorities. But what’s one more, especially if it addresses much-needed transparency and accountability measures holding lawmakers to high ethical standards?

Among the July special session list of priorities we find bills that failed during the regular session, including another shot at property tax reform and another to pass school choice for special needs children. Why not ethics reform?

“The Legislature made some progress on ethics during the regular session, but there’s a lot that still needs to be done before anyone can truly be proud of the results,” Sen. Kirk Watson,  told me.  “Since we’re going to have a special session, we could make it really count by focusing on ethics legislation. If we’re spending time on local permitting issues, we can certainly squeeze in this important state issue.”

I agree.

Ethics reform was among four emergency priorities Abbott laid out for lawmakers at the start of the regular session. And, while the session began promisingly with a six-point ethics reform package, it ended on a flat note: only half the package made its way to Abbott’s desk.

It’s not the first time Abbott fails to get an ethics reform package passed. In 2015, his request went pretty much ignored.

The bills that passed this time around:

  • Senate Bill 500, which strips pensions from officials convicted on felony corruption charges and makes it easier to remove them from office.
  • House Bill 501, which strengthens reporting requirements for state politicians who make money from contracts with local governments through their private businesses.
  • HB 505, which prohibits lawmakers-turned-lobbyists from using their campaign coffers.

The other half of that ethics reform package ended up in the legislative trash bin. Had they passed, those bills would have created a two-year ban on retiring lawmakers becoming lobbyists, prohibited local elected officials from becoming state-level lobbyists, and made it more difficult for lobbyists to skirt disclosing the elected officials they wine and dine.

The bills that are now law are a solid step toward real transparency, yet they are small apples when compared to other hard-hitting accountability and transparency bills — some of which weren’t part of Abbott’s ethics package — that didn’t get much traction. One was a measure prohibiting the governor from appointing his big-dollar campaign donors to state agency boards. That’s something Abbott is familiar with; he’s done it 71 times since taking office, according to the Texas Tribune.

Another bill that could have moved the needle on transparency: a measure calling for the disclosure of dark money, a campaign financing loophole used to hide the source of political donations. With a bill on the latter alone, legislators would have taken huge ethic reform strides, not baby steps.

It’s not uncommon for me to meet someone who has little to no trust in our state elected officials. It is difficult to argue that they should when the absence of disclosure laws keep voters in the dark. Why put off significant ethics reform until the next regular legislative session to get the job done right? Why not take care of it next month?

 

 

 

 

What does a new citizen have to do to belong?

(Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN archives)

After a nerve-racking, 8-month-long naturalization application process and years of legal residency, my mother is finally one of us: an American Citizen.

I have chronicled her naturalization journey for a few months now. In that time, American-Statesman readers have emailed and called to ask about her process, to congratulate her passing her citizenship interview and to share their expectations of news of when my mother casts her first vote. It’s been an exciting and nerve-wrecking process, to be sure.

With the largest of hurdles behind her, my mom looks only forward to her life here as a new citizen of the United States.

Unfortunately for her — and other immigrants like her — citizenship alone won’t provide the reassurance she’d hoped to gain from attaining that 11×14 piece of paper that bestows upon her every single right granted to a person born in this country. (Except the right to be president – which, I can assure you, she has no interest in being.)  Even with the piece of paper to prove she’s a citizen, she still looks and sounds like she doesn’t belong.

As I’ve written before, my mother decided to apply to become a citizen during last year’s presidential campaign season. She feared then-candidate Donald Trump’s immigration platform, which she considered divisive and anti-immigrant.

Trump’s campaign promise to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. worried her most. As she explained to me, an irrational idea like mass deportation could only be followed by more irrational ideas, including one that could target legal immigrants in this country. The very thought made her more anxious about her future here.

A legal resident for years, she lived without fear of deportation. That changed last year when she saw on television news how some groups embraced Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. So, she decided to ensure her future in the country she has loved and considered home for over 40 years and become a citizen.

One reason she’d waited so long to become as citizen, as I’ve mentioned before, was the racism she experienced when she first arrived and the random discrimination she endured since. She was always an outsider. As hard as she worked and as much as she assimilated, she knew she wasn’t an American — and nasty folks along the way reminded her of that.

On May 25, along with more than 540 other immigrants, my mother took her citizenship oath and renounced allegiance to her homeland of Mexico. I’ve never known her to show such pride in her own accomplishments. Until then, that look had been reserved for the accomplishments of her children and her grandchildren. We — my five siblings and more than a dozen nieces and nephews — were so proud of her.

For the first time in months, we allowed ourselves to feel relief on that day. Yes, we too wondered what might happen to our family if Trump created an “irrational” policy that took our mother away.

On our way to celebrate her new citizenship, she asked: So, do I have to carry this certificate around with me everywhere I go here in Texas?

It might have been a funny question for some, but it was a legitimate concern for my mother. No one was laughing.

It’s the same question that many Latinos in Texas are asking since Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 4, a measure which makes it a criminal offense for any government official to put a policy in place prohibiting cooperation with federal detention requests placed on jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. Critics say the law, which goes into effect Sept. 1, opens the door to racial profiling because it allows law enforcement officers to inquire about a person’s immigration status during routine police interactions, such as traffic stops.

Texas’ discriminatory history against Latinos is long and deep. In some parts of the state — and in some parts of the country — looking and sounding different continues to be reason enough to harass. And now, Texas has a law that gives officers the right to openly doubt a person simply for looking differently.

This new law is what prompted my mother’s question. Her accent and still imperfect English, she said, will stand out.

Jokingly she added, “What’s a brown-skin girl have to do to fit in around here?”

Welcome to my world, mom.