The State of Texas: April 13, 2015
Tweet of the Day
Is there any sadder tweet or picture than that of Boy Scouts looking for their stolen trailer? Maybe it’s part of some really complicated merit badge.
— KHOU 11 News Houston (@KHOU) April 13, 2015
Video of the Day
Top American rich man Warren Buffett came to Texas. So of course he put on a cowboy hat and sang Texas songs on his ukulele.
Big Fight – Once again, a battle is brewing between the old ways and the new. This particular struggle is taking place in Big Bend, where “West Texas ranchers and landowners are up in arms over plans to build a natural gas pipeline through pristine lands,” writes the Associated Press. “The pipeline would deliver up to 1.4 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas from the Permian Basin for Mexican Federal Electricity Commission’s power generation and industrial use.” The state awarded the contract to a “consortium of two companies owned by billionaire businessmen,” giving the fight two perfect villains. More than 150 ranchers and concerned citizens gathered for a community meeting, with one saying, perhaps ominously, “I’m here to try and find out where it’s going and what their intent is, and to not be painted into a corner by my ignorance. When I come out fighting, I’ll know the facts.”
From Mexico With Love – It appears Texas and the Department of Public Safety has gone a little overboard in its zeal to protect the border. DPS documents obtained by the Austin American-Statesman reveal that Texas performed aerial surveillance of drug members well beyond the border’s boundaries, with one defense contractor describing it as “spying on Mexico.” Somebody—the contractors and the DPS itself—knew this was a questionable tactic, as the report explicitly states, “Need to be careful here as we are admitting to spying on Mexico.” Though it might have made it into the hands of the DPS officials for whom the report was intended, the department pretty much disavows it. “It is imperative to make clear that the department unequivocally rejects the reference to ‘spying.’ This characterization does not reflect the department’s position nor was this ever used as a talking point,” said spokesman Tom Vinger. From the report, a number of things are unclear, including how invasive, long, and rogue the “spying” operation was. Crazy as it sounds, experts aren’t too worried. “At worst, security experts and former diplomatic officials said, the surveillance described in the document could violate agreements with Mexico and endanger other federal investigations; at best, they said, the document reflects poor judgment among the state’s border security contractors.”
A Bum Steer – The 21CT scandal will no doubt make Texas Monthly’s Bum Steer list in some form or fashion, but now there’s a very literal reason for that. Authorities are looking at the possibility that former executive director of the Department of Information Resources Karen Robinson “abused her position when she urged companies vying for state business to donate to her favorite charity: Rodeo Austin” in a “pay-to-play activity,” according to the Statesman. “Robinson, who left the agency late last year, denied any wrongdoing, saying any ‘assertion that vendors were instructed to donate to the rodeo is flat-out erroneous.’” As the story notes, however, Robinson “often intermingled her role as a fundraiser for the nonprofit rodeo with her powerful state job. Robinson’s emails, obtained through a request under the Texas Public Information Act, show that in 2013 and 2014 she urged some company representatives to purchase tables at the rodeo’s annual gala, which cost as much as $5,500 each.”
There Is Blood – There are plenty of figures accurately describing the bust of Texas’s oil boom. But there are perhaps no better examples of the collapse’s effect than the human stories. Thanks to the Longview News-Journal, that sketch is filled in just a little better. “The exact job toll is elusive; neither the Longview Economic Development Corp. nor Kilgore Economic Development Corp. has maintained a list of area job losses,” according to the piece. “But earlier News-Journal coverage and notifications from companies required to report job cuts to the Texas Workforce Commission indicate the toll across East Texas is well into the hundreds. And situations such as [one laid-off worker] provide a glimpse of the impact of each job lost.” The News-Journal’s glimpse of the human side, of the losses of work and financial security, among other things, is worth the read.
Fast Money, Slow Cars – In case you missed it, it was literally raining money in Weatherford on Friday. Real, hard cash began pouring out of a Brinks amored truck while it drove down Interstate 20. As one might expect, the sudden withdrawal of fast cash caused something of a gridlock after motorists began getting out of their cars to collect the free money, writes the AP. The total loss is undisclosed, but police said a “majority of the money has not been recovered,” according to the Weatherford Democrat. Officials are hoping people return the money because it’s the right thing to do. They’re also reminding people that it is a crime to take money that doesn’t belong to you and that “detectives would look into pursuing criminal charges against people who don’t return the money.”