Jade Helm takeover was #FakeNews but plans for this counterattack were real

With everything we’ve learned about the ability of Russian bots to grossly amplify the reach of #FakeNews, we shouldn’t be all that surprised by this week’s revelation that the 2015 Jade Helm conspiracy theory was an early triumph of this toxic technology.

But before we make our jokes about tin foil hats and move on, we should recognize how such cyber chicanery can have a very real impact.

This part barely made headlines here, likely because it involved wingnuts in North Carolina. But in August 2015, the feds arrested three men who were building bombs, stockpiling guns and preparing to attack our government because of Jade Helm.

Back then, we were all busy rolling our eyes at Gov. Greg Abbott tasking the Texas State Guard with monitoring the U.S. military training exercises happening that summer in Bastrop County, while similar special ops training was held in several other states. But the notion of a martial law takeover by the U.S. military was not an obvious hoax to Walter Eugene Litteral, Christopher James Barker and Christopher Todd Campbell — then 50, 41 and 30, respectively.

HOW WE GOT HERE: A timeline on Jade Helm 15

According to arrest affidavits, these men gathered the materials to make pipe bombs and explosive tennis balls covered in nails. They had dozens of guns, military-issue Kevlar helmets, body armor vests and handheld radios with throat microphones. They planned to ambush U.S. soldiers on a 99-acre camp in Clover, S.C., a town not far from Charlotte, N.C.

“According to (Campbell),” the warrant stated, “he and Litteral intend to booby-trap the camp and draw government’s forces into the camp and kill them.”

Thankfully that showdown never came. The owner of a military surplus store where the men bought their gear learned of their plot and alerted the FBI, according to the Washington Post.

Of course it’s possible Litteral, Barker and Campbell would have planned their attack even without the involvement of Russian bots. After all, the bots simply spread the conspiracy theory that was already out there. It was a real person, right-wing provocateur Alex Jones, who conjured the fever dream in March 2015 that Jade Helm, the multi-state military training exercise planned for that summer, was somehow something sinister.

RELATED: The Americans are coming! Jade Helm and the politics of paranoia

But as the conspiracy theory spread online with lightning speed, with a flurry of comments and shares that suggested legions of alarmed residents, real people took notice. And a handful of elected officials pandered to the paranoia.

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, issued a statement in May 2015 saying “true patriots” had cause to be “legitimately suspicious.” That same month, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, then making his run for president, demanded answers from the Pentagon because “the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration.”

I know Republicans had major differences with the Obama Administration. But I think we can agree Gohmert and Cruz didn’t exactly nail this one.

ALSO READ: Race, Russian bots and the angst around #AustinBombings

In providing this week’s revelation about the Russian bots, former CIA director Michael Hayden helped us understand how the clearly ludicrous Jade Helm conspiracy theory spread so far and wide, and how the success of this operation paved the way for Russian meddling in the social media chatter around the 2016 presidential campaign. And that’s troubling enough. But let’s not lose sight of the life-or-death stakes in this realm of Internet mischief.

Just over a year after the foiled Jade Helm counterstrike in North Carolina, a gunman walked into a Washington, D.C. pizzeria, convinced it was harboring a child sex ring.

Fake News. Real danger.

Abbott shouldn’t mess with Austin’s success

Will Austin attract Amazon’s $5 billion HQ2 project? Will bats be involved?

 

Gov. Greg Abbott wants to have it both ways: Proclaiming Austin’s success as one of two Texas cities that made it to the elite 20 – the cities Amazon named this week as finalists for the tech giant’s second headquarters, called Amazon HQ2.

Meanwhile, doing all he can – along with his self-described wingman Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – to wreck the very business, environmental and social climate that is so appealing to Amazon and a slew of other tech companies that have flocked to Austin.

Here is what Abbott tweeted following the news: Texas is the land of opportunity & hotbed for the tech industry. That is why two #Texas cities are finalists for @Amazon HQ2.

Austin was among 238 cities across North America that submitted bids for Amazon’s second headquarters. Dallas also emerged as a finalist.

There is no denying that the state’s business-friendly regulatory and tax structures are key in attracting big companies to Texas and play a role in wooing Amazon. Also, the state offers generous incentives. But here’s a newsflash: Those businesses, particularly high-tech companies, aren’t relocating or expanding by and large to red zones controlled by Republicans, but to blue cities and counties that are run by Democrats.

Along with Austin, count Dallas, San Antonio, Laredo, El Paso and Houston in that category. There are exceptions, such as Round Rock, Tarrant County and other cities and counties that benefit by their close proximity to blue zones.

In no doubt a reference to Austin, Abbott has said “Texas is being Californianized.”

He added: “It’s being done at the city level with bag bans, fracking bans, tree-cutting bans” that are “forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.”

He and Patrick have used such propaganda to attack local control with the goal of replacing city councils and county governments, which are closest to the people they serve, with state government — a huge bureaucracy that is far less accountable to local voters and taxpayers.

Abbott, Patrick and many other Republicans, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, want to homogenize Austin and other blue regions with their focus on eliminating bans on single-use plastic bags, regulating bathrooms used by transgender Texans, prohibiting local tree-cutting ordinances and dictating taxation levels of local governments. Though those measures were not entirely successful in the Legislature last year, the fight over bag bans is now before the Texas Supreme Court.

Austin is unique and that is worth protecting. The city’s embrace of environmental protections, including a bag ban to curb litter and protect parks and green spaces and an ordinance protecting heritage trees, are key to its appeal to big companies whose employees are not just looking for fat paychecks, but quality lifestyles. They want opens spaces, robust arts and music scenes, bicycle lanes, clean streets, libraries and universities and local policies that reflect their values, including respecting the rights of gay and transgender people.

Here are some things Abbott, his wingman and other state Republicans might want to consider as they go about homogenizing the state: Since 2004, 524 companies relocated to the Austin region and another 863 employers expanded their workforces. That generated nearly 52,000 jobs, according to Opportunity Austin, a regional economic development arm of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

As of last month, Austin area’s unemployment rate was 2.8 percent, more than a point below the state’s 3.9 percent and below the national unemployment rate of 4.1 percent.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler tells the Austin story this way:

“Austin is recognized as the safest big city in Texas, and the best place to start a business in the country. We lead the state of Texas in patents, startups and venture capital.”

People across the nation are voting with their feet. City demographer Ryan Robinson estimates that between 100 and 110 net persons move to Austin daily. That includes people who move out.

Instead of trying to homogenize Austin so it resembles a red city, Abbott should think about taking the Austin model to scale by promoting Austin’s progressive culture and ideals as good business practices.

I won’t hold my breath. At the very least, Abbott shouldn’t mess with success.

Payroll deduction ban would silence teachers, not save taxpayers money

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)

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott officially invited Texas legislators to head back to the pink dome July 18 for a 30-day special session to pass legislation that will keep five state agencies – including the Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Medical Board – open.

Once those agencies are taken care of, Abbott wants lawmakers to turn their attention to several items that failed during the 140-day regular legislative session and others that weren’t a part of it.

While limits on local control – including a bill banning transgender-friendly bathroom policies – are among the most talked about issues on Abbott’s 19-point conservative agenda for the special session, Abbott also proposes lawmakers push for some troublesome public education measures.

Members of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, including executive director Gary Godsey, shared their concerns Monday with the American-Statesman’s editorial board about the upcoming special session.

For instance, while the ATPE supports Abbott’s call for improving the state’s school finance system, the organization – like many other public education advocates – hoped for real solutions during the regular session. Abbott wants lawmakers to establish a commission to study school finance reform.

“Our public schools deserve more than another interim study and local taxpayers deserve a reprieve from shouldering so much of the state’s obligation to fund public education,” ATPE said in a statement.

Two other items that worry the folks at ATPE and other pro-public education organizations are Abbott’s unfunded teacher raise mandate – an item that was not a part of the regular session – and a proposed ban on union due payroll deductions.

Yes, ATPE advocates for increased teacher salaries. As they see it, pay raises make sense. Not only do they help recruit and retain good teachers, but in some school districts, a pay raise could also help a teacher offset the high cost of healthcare, Kate Kuhlmann, an ATPE lobbyist told us.

If the state is going to mandate $1,000 raises for all Texas public schoolteachers, then the Legislature needs to help pay for the raises, Godsey said. Most school districts have strapped budgets. Demanding that struggling school districts comply with a state mandate could mean cuts to areas that can’t afford them – like teacher retirement plans or educational programs.

Godsey is right. We should all support teacher pay raises, but not like this.

Another point of concern for many public education advocates is a legislative push to ban union fees deductions from payrolls, a measure that some – including ATPE – say aims to silence teacher voices.

During the regular session, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) introduced “anti-union” bills designated as priority items by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to get Texas out of the business of collecting union dues. Similar bills by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) are expected to be filed for the special session. Huffman’s bill proposed to deny some public employees – with teachers comprising the largest group – the ability to deduct membership fees to organizations from their paychecks. However, the bills exempted unions representing law enforcement, firefighters and first responders.

Why are police, firefighters and EMS union dues excluded from such bills, you ask? Some argue that it is because the exempted are public servants, Godsey told us. Under that rationale, educators belong as part of the exempted group. Teachers are the front line of public service.

The bill’s authors along with Abbott and Patrick have said such deductions costs taxpayer money. Groups who oppose such measures say taxpayers don’t pay to administer deductions because state statutes require organizations to pay that expense. (The deduction process is no different than when a state employee requests a payroll deduction for donations to nonprofit organizations like United Way).

Godsey shared with us that he’s asked lawmakers who support the measure: If payroll deductions are so bad, then why not cut them across the board and ban all state employees, not just some. The question merits an answer.

In short: There’s no need for such a measure other than politics.

“Educators have long fought to protect class sizes, strengthen school services, and reduce the emphasis on standardized testing,” Godsey wrote in an online-commentary in March. “By making membership in educator associations as burdensome as possible, these bills are designed to hurt teachers and students.”

Oh, and public schoolteachers also have fought against school vouchers.

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?

 

 

 

 

Reasons, voices opposing ban on sanctuary city outweighed support

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday May 1, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Gov. Greg Abbott made it clear soon after taking office in January 2015 that eliminating so-called sanctuary cities was one of his priorities for the 85th Texas Legislature.

Today, Abbott is one step closer to achieving that goal as Senate Bill 4, which punishes local jurisdictions that decline to assist with federal immigration enforcement, is en route to his desk.

After the Senate accepted on Wednesday the House’s controversial bill, Abbot took to Twitter to post: “The Texas sanctuary city ban wins final legislative approval. I’m getting my signing pen warmed up. #txlege #tcot

However, the measure is wrong for Texas — even if our leaders refuse to acknowledge it.

The negative effects associated with this bill could be troubling. For instance, companies in the tech and medical sectors might think twice before relocating to Texas if they perceive an anti-immigrant measure will affect their recruiting efforts. And in some areas of the state, policing could become more about harassing people who look a certain way than about focusing on the worst of criminals in a community. Those ramifications just scratch the surface.

As the American-Statesman editorial board has written on several occasions, such a measure will hurt Texas more than keep it safe, as Abbott and proponents of the bill proclaim.

But the board was not the only voice against Senate Bill 4, as Texas law enforcement leaders went before state lawmakers to testify that the measure will be a burden for taxpayers and officers. Many more individuals testified about the potential this law presents for law enforcement officers to intimidate immigrants.

For now, the voices of so many have gone unheard.

We reflect some of those thoughts on the issue with these editorials:

We also present a sample of guest commentaries by community members who wrote against a state ban of sanctuary cities:

Not all were opposed banning sanctuary cities:

Time will reveal the impact this measure will have on the Lone Star State. One thing is certain: It won’t do much for Texas’ reputation as a ‘friendly state.’

Abbott speaks for Texans in defending family of Muslim soldier

Khizr Khan displays his Constitution while speaking about his son, who was killed serving in the Army in Iraq, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. Donald Trump, whom Khan memorably rebuked on stage, suggested that Ghazala Khan let her husband do all the talking because she was not “allowed” to speak; she has said that she finds talking about her son painful. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
Khizr Khan displays his Constitution while speaking about his son, who was killed serving in the Army in Iraq, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. Donald Trump, whom Khan memorably rebuked on stage, suggested that Ghazala Khan let her husband do all the talking because she was not “allowed” to speak; she has said that she finds talking about her son painful. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

Kudos to Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry for breaking the silence in Texas among state leaders regarding Donald Trump’s attack on the family of a fallen Muslim American soldier, who gave his life for country and flag while serving in Iraq.

Abbott spoke if not for all Texans than for many in his statement this week to The Texas Tribune applauding the service of Humayun Khan and defending his parents.

“The service and devotion of Gold Star families to America cannot be questioned,” Abbott said. “Captain [Humayun] Khan, like many heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice, will be forever remembered for their service in protecting the freedoms we cherish in America.”

Abbott’s words are welcome as is the statement from U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, a member of the Texas congressional delegation, who said he is “dismayed at the attacks Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala have endured after they spoke about their son’s service and sacrifice.”

“There is never enough honor we can show to the families of those whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” said Thornberry, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. “I believe that each of us are called every day to show our deepest respect and gratitude to all of those who protect our freedom and their families.”

In defending the Khan family, Abbott and Thornberry have put some matters in their correct order, elevating country above partisanship.

It is disappointing that we have not heard (at least not yet) similar words from either of Texas’ two U.S. senators — John Cornyn or Ted Cruz — or from other statewide elected leaders, such as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton, or Land Commissioner George P. Bush. As The Tribune reported, former Gov. Rick Perry, who served in the U.S. Air Force, also has been mum on Trump’s war of words with the Khan family, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1980.

Those leaders have had plenty of time to figure out which way the political winds have been blowing since the controversy broke following Khizr Khan’s rebuke of Trump last week at the Democratic National Convention criticizing Trump for his anti-Muslim statements and proposal to temporarily ban Muslims immigrating to the U.S.

With grief heavy in his voice, his wife standing beside him, Khizr Khan told of his son’s heroism in 2004, when Army Capt. Humayun Khan stepped forward – while ordering his soldiers to take cover — so he could check out a suspicious vehicle approaching the gate of his compound near Baqubah, Iraq. The vehicle was full of explosives, which went off and killed the 27-year-old officer before he reached the vehicle. For his valor, Humayun Khan earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star posthumously.

“We were blessed to raise our three sons in a nation where they were free to be themselves and follow their dreams,” said Khizr Khan. “Our son, Humayun, had dreams of being a military lawyer. But he put those dreams aside the day he sacrificed his life to save his fellow soldiers.”

The father continued: “Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future.”

He then pulled a worn copy of the U.S. Constitution from his jacket pocket.

“Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words “liberty” and “equal protection of law.”

It was an emotional moment that brought the Virginia couple into the national spotlight. And a moment that sent Trump once again counterpunching through Tweets and other media. But Trump’s responses attacking the couple and their religion were too cold-hearted even for many Republicans who endorsed Trump. Condemnation has come from respected GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and from the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“Election year or not, the VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression,” said VFW leader Brian Duffy in a statement.

It’s heartening that Abbott and Thornberry have acknowledged the patriotism and sacrifice of the Khan family. It’s disappointing that other Texas leaders, who readily wrap themselves in the flag when it suits their political purpose, have not come to the defense of this Gold Star family.

Yes, they are Muslims. Yes, they are immigrants. But at this moment they have more of the U.S. Constitution’s values running through their veins than Trump or his apologists.

Texas GOP agitation over transgender restrooms is a trip back in time

Dan Patrick
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during the opening of the Texas Republican Convention Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

At the time critics called the president’s executive order “revolutionary and politically reckless.” National polls showed that his “civil rights” program was wildly unpopular. State leaders in southern states railed against his executive overreach. They insisted that following the executive order would make Americans fundamentally unsafe.

The year was 1948. The president was Harry S. Truman. His order began the slow and painful process of systematically desegregating the nation’s military and is credited with helping to break down racial segregation in all facets of American life.

In the months prior to issuing his famous orders, known as Executive Orders 9980 and 9981, Truman made a special address to Congress:

“…We must protect our civil rights so that by providing all our people with the maximum enjoyment of personal freedom and personal opportunity we shall be a stronger nation — stronger in our leadership, stronger in our moral position, stronger in the deeper satisfactions of a united citizenry.”

Last Friday’s temper-tantrum by Texas state leaders over President Obama’s instructions to schools about accommodating  transgender students is strikingly reminiscent to the outcry generated in response to the federal government’s march to equality during the Civil Rights Era.

Friday’s federal directive specified that under the Title IX federal civil rights law, schools must treat a student — using proper pronouns and names, for example — consistent with the student’s gender identity. Schools cannot require transgender students to produce a medical diagnosis or a birtGreg Abbotth certificate or other identification document, nor force them to use bathrooms inconsistent with that identity.

Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that he is interested in introducing a law similar to the one in North Carolina that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. He told thousands at the GOP convention last week:

“Obama is turning bathrooms into courtroom issues,” Abbott told thousands of delegates at Dallas’ convention center. “I want you to know, I am working with the governor of North Carolina, and we are going to fight back.”

Cries of “blackmail” and labeling the President a “bully” is the best the likes of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton could muster. They  say they would rather do without federal funding — which pays for books, lunches for the state’s poorest children, early childhood education, special education services, tuition-assistance and educational programming for at-risk groups.

Never mind that it is Patrick who chose to meddle in the decisions of the Fort Worth School District, whose superintendent acted to clarify rules that have been part of the district’s policy since 2012. 

Never mind that Patrick’s concern about the “vivid vigor that every 15-year-old boy has” is tantamount to the “boys will be boys” defense for sexual assault of all kinds.

And never mind that sexual assault is not about sexual attraction, it is about power over the victim regardless of gender.

Conservatives would like to draw an imaginary line between the guiding principals of the Civil Rights Era and the extension of rights to the LBGT community. It cannot be done. This country does not discriminate based on inherent traits. And the fact that the country is now agitating for rules that have been in place for years is proof that this is about political gamesmanship, not protecting or education our children.

Truman was not the last president to leverage what authority he had outside of Congress to urge the states to clean up their record on civil rights. Much has been comparing Obama’s performance to Truman’s legacy. This latest chapter on civil rights, will only add to the case.

VIDEO: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick discusses transgender restrooms.

 

Your Supreme Court Monday: Texas, Obama and immigration

Abbott DAPA
Gov. Greg Abbott, in his waning days as Texas attorney general, sued the Obama administration in November 2014 to block its effort to shield some 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the case Monday morning. (JAY JANNER / 2014 AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in United States v. Texas, the immigration case that began in November 2014 when President Barack Obama protected from deportation as many as 5 million immigrants in the country illegally, including the undocumented parents of American citizens or permanent residents. Then-Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, in his waning days as Texas attorney general, sued the federal government to keep Obama’s policy from taking effect.

Twenty-five states joined Texas in opposing the president, and over the next several months, a U.S. district judge in Brownsville and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans blocked Obama’s policy from taking effect. So the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to weigh in, and in January the court agreed to do so.

I have written about United States v. Texas previously on this blog. Here’s a quick review of the questions to be argued today before the Supreme Court.

Standing: Before the court’s justices can consider any larger, constitutional question they must answer whether Texas and the other 25 states have “standing” to sue the federal government. Simply disliking a federal program does not give states the right to challenge it in court. Direct harm must be suffered to seek legal relief. Texas argues that costs associated with issuing driver’s licenses to a group of undocumented immigrants granted temporary legal status would directly harm it.

Conservatives usually view standing restrictively. The case could end here but no one expects that to happen.

Procedural:  Another question involves whether the Obama administration failed to follow the Administrative Procedures Act by not giving the public sufficient notice of its immigration change along with the opportunity to comment on it. This technical, procedural detail is frequently overlooked in most discussions of the case, but it offers the justices a path toward a narrow decision.

Executive authority: The big question in United States v. Texas is whether the president’s actions violate the Constitution’s requirement that he “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Only Congress can make law, but the president has “prosecutorial discretion” when it comes to enforcing the laws — a view the Supreme Court and lower federal courts historically have supported. The immigrants in question in U.S. v. Texas remain undocumented and subject to deportation; in simple terms, the Obama administration wants to defer action against them to focus on immigrants who pose a threat. Texas accepts that the administration has discretion. The state argues, however, that the administration should practice its discretion case by case rather than by issuing a sweeping executive order.

Four years ago, in Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court essentially confirmed the argument the Obama administration is making in today’s Texas case. “A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials. Federal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 5-3 majority. “Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns. Unauthorized workers trying to support their families, for example, likely pose less danger than alien smugglers or aliens who commit a serious crime.”

A decision in U.S. v. Texas is expected to arrive in June, a few weeks before Republicans and Democrats hold their nominating conventions in mid- and late July. A 4-4 tie would let stand the lower court rulings and would block Obama’s programs from taking effect.

Even if the Supreme Court rules in Obama’s favor, his administration will have less than seven months to implement its policy before the next president assumes office. So Obama’s policy lives or dies not only with the court, but also with the next president.

 

 

 

New map makes it harder for Texas GOP to deny fracking + earthquake link

Chance-of-Earthquake-USGS

Nay-sayers are going to nay-say. And those who reject the possible link between wastewater wells used in oil and gas production and increased seismic activity in Texas – like the state Legislature and Railroad Commission — are among the biggest nay-sayers around. But the mounting evidence that concludes otherwise may force deniers to change their tune sooner rather than later.

On Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a first-of-its-kind map forecasting an increased risk of earthquakes both from human-induced and natural causes over the next year in several states including Texas. State and oil and gas leaders should make good use of the map, perhaps as it’s intended to be used:

“This report can be used by government officials to make more informed decisions as well as emergency response personnel to assess vulnerability and provide safety information to those who are in potential danger. Engineers can use this product to evaluate earthquake safety of buildings, bridges, pipelines and other important structures.”

State leaders should take special note of the Geological Survey’s projection that human-induced earthquakes will be a greater risk than naturally-occurring earthquakes to people in Oklahoma and Texas.

No doubt the prediction leads many to once again ask: Is there a link between oil and gas production and earthquakes? It’s an important questions to ask, but it’s a question that has received conflicting answers.

Studies backed by energy industry leaders conveniently have shown no relationship. Environmental as well as third-party research, like those conducted by Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas, says the probability of a link is convincing.

The study released by SMU last year for instance, concluded oil and gas operations are causing the tremors that began rattling the North Texas towns of Azle and Reno in November 2013.

Those findings contradicted prior statements made by the Railroad Commission of Texas that no definitive links existed between oil and gas activity and earthquakes in the state. After the SMU findings were made public, the agency repeated the statement saying there was not sufficient evidence to the SMU study claims. SMU has stood by its research.

Unlike the attitude taken with previous studies that warned of potential risks, state and industry leaders would be wise to take the opportunity to use the U.S. Geological Survey forecast as a unifier that gets everyone on the same page. At stake are the rights and safety of Texans affected by the  indisputable number of tremors that have occurred at an increasing rate.

One study by Federal Emergency Management Agency obtained by The Dallas Morning News last week detailed the potential damage from earthquakes of magnitude 4.8 and 5.6. The worse-case scenario predicted damage up to 80,000 buildings, levees collapsing and lead to $9.5 billion in economic losses. Yes, those are just predictions, but they outline potential dangers that should have proactive solutions in place.

Folks at the Railroad Commission aren’t the only ones unwilling to accept findings that may be unfavorable to the industry — but at least the agency doesn’t have the power to write laws. Which brings us to the biggest nay-sayer of them all: The GOP-led Texas Legislature.

Most recently, industry leaders successfully pressed state lawmakers to passed House Bill 40 into law giving the state exclusive jurisdiction to regulate oil and gas operations like drilling, fracking and well construction. The new law overturned any local attempts to ban fracking like the ordinance passed by the Denton City Council in 2014.

It’s true: Not all disposal wells prompt tremors. And no one denies that more research is needed, however, enough evidence now exists that naysayers no longer can afford to ignore such research, given the potential harm to Texas communities. It’s time for state leaders to use data, including the latest U.S. Geological Survey report to make more informed and balanced decisions.