The Weight of Thought


Heavy fuel oil that spilled from a Kirby Inland Marine oil barge after it collided with a cargo ship on March 22, began washing up on Galveston Bay’s shoreline on Sunday. The Coast Guard received its first reports of impacted birds by Sunday afternoon and the Houston Chronicle published a photo of a duck on the beach covered in oil.

There are shorebird habitats on both sides of the shipping channel, including the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. 

Richard Gibbons, conservation director of the Houston Audubon Society, told the Associated Press that the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary attracts 50,000 to 70,000 shorebirds to its shallow mud flats perfect for foraging.

“The timing really couldn’t be much worse since we’re approaching the peak shorebird migration season,” Gibbons said. He added that tens of thousands of wintering birds remain in the area.

Watch live as Edward Snowden speaks via satellite video at SXSW Interactive starting at 11 a.m. CST.

Starting Monday, a federal judge in Waco will hear arguments from the Sierra Club that Luminant Generation Company, the state’s largest electric generator, has been spewing far more pollution into the air from an East Texas coal plant than is allowed by federal and state law.

The case is one of at least three high-profile lawsuits that are being heard in federal court this year in which environmental groups in Texas have taken matters into their own hands. They are suing industries for excess pollution directly, rather than relying on the government to take action. And although such “citizen suits” have been permitted since the beginning of environmental regulation in the United States decades ago, they could become more common as agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency are increasingly scrutinized by politicians and the industry, and they continue to suffer from budget cuts.

To hear the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch tell it, they’re all about business; they don’t give a whit about those messy, so-called “social issues” like abortion, contraception, or same-sex marriage. The billions they dump into the political coffers of the right, they’ll tell you, are to further what they call “free enterprise” (translate: killing unions and regulations on business) and, more generally, “freedom” (by which they generally mean freedom from things they don’t like, such as regulations and unions).

But a blockbuster report published Thursday by Politico reporters Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei shows otherwise. How else to explain why Freedom Partners, a shadowy group that Politico refers to as the “Kochs’ secret bank” gave $8.2 million to the virulently anti-LGBT, anti-abortion Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee (CWALAC), which lobbies for such bills as the recently passed law in Texas that will effectively ban all abortion 20 weeks after fertilization, and includes unnecessary and onerous regulations on abortion clinics that are designed to compel many to close their doors.

At the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, David Koch told Politico’s Ken Vogel that he disagreed with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Yet that didn’t stop his Freedom Partners organization from showering the CWALAC with his millions. Here’s what CWALAC says on its website about marriage equality:

This week:
1. North Pole Freakout
2. Global Warming Greening the Planet
3. Obama’s strip tease
4. Dick Branson’s Plan B
5. Steward Brant’s Mutant Future
6. Tepco nukes the Pacific
7. Frack Off!
8. Stink bombs for miners
9. You can’t drink money
10. Di Nigunim
11. The Endgame of the Tar Sands

“So disgusting!”

That exclamation escaped the lips of District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan on May 21 in her City Hall office, where she was meeting with members of her staff to discuss the city’s proposal to update its nondiscrimination ordinance, adding protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

In the course of the conversation, Chan expressed her unvarnished views on homosexuality, which range from befuddled to intolerant.

She revealed that she believes being gay is a choice and that gay people should not be allowed to adopt children, and she voiced revulsion toward the LGBT community.

Unbeknown to the councilwoman, an aide, James Stevens, was secretly recording the meeting on his iPhone. (He’s now a former aide; Stevens, 28, quit this week.)

In the recording, which Stevens gave to me, the councilwoman and her aides strategize how to oppose the ordinance publicly without revealing her feelings.

“My decision to record in the first place was that, during the staff meetings, we weren’t really discussing the ordinance itself,” Stevens told me. “We were really just talking about ways to appeal to the (voting) base and to get them fired up as opposed to analyzing the ordinance.”

Chan “is only focused on her political future,” he continued. “She’s not focused on the policy itself and how it’s going to really affect the city. We spent 80 percent of that meeting talking about how disgusting homosexuality is.”

Regardlessof whether Republicanssucceed in cutting food stampsthisyear, the 22 million American households relying onthe program will see their benefitsdrop in November.

Thelooming reduction hasreceived littleattention since lawmakers set it in motion years ago. Theaverage household’s monthly benefit from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will drop by $20 or $25, according to theCenter on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington think tank.

"The general public doesn’t realize it," Celia Cole, CEO of the Texas Food Bank Network, told The Huffington Post on Monday. "We certainly know the low income peopleon SNAP don’t know the cut is coming."

Coming down to the final minute as Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst forced Sen. Wendy Davis to end her filibuster, the legislature was unable to pass a widely decried abortion bill. The legislature was able to accomplish another aspect of their pro-life agenda though, a ban on male masturbation.

One Texas lawmaker joyously announced after the passing of the measure, “this marks a milestone for the pro-life movement! We must protect the unborn any way we can; I’m very proud that my fellow legislators voted to protect life, even in its earliest stages!”

The new measure will go into effect on January 1, 2014 which will make many forms of male masturbation illegal. Exceptions include sperm donations, which now must only be performed at a designated hospital facility.

New rules will also require men to sign an agreement when obtaining prescription erectile dysfunction medication which indicates they will not use the medicine for any purposes other than sexual intercourse with a woman.

Amendments added to the bill also require a permit to obtain and possess male sexual toys which could be used to assist people in violating the new law.

Those found in violation of the new law could be sentenced up to two years in prison.

Republicans have stepped out over the ledge and onto a slippery slope. The possibility of civil discourse -let alone sanity – was at the top of that ledge, with which they have now completely lost contact.

Texas Governor Rick Perry announced yesterday that he will no longer tolerate the democratic process in Texas, which he denigrates by calling it “anarchy” and “mob rule.”

At a special session Monday, called to express dismay that their misogynist agenda could be derailed by one courageous woman, Perry said,

Together we can do what they won’t. We can stand. We can stand up together. We can stand up for what’s right. We can stand up for Texas. Texans need someone who will stand up for their values.

Cheers were the sound of democracy dying in Texas.

Perry and his totalitarian supporters were upset that a crowd of people – Texans like Perry himself – shouted “shame! shame! shame!’ as the Republicans tried to sneak their anti-woman bill past the deadline. He claims Texans want what he is offering, saying,

Regardless of whether there is a vocal opposition …Texans and their views will prevail.

Hours after Democrats won a rare victory by blocking a restrictive abortion bill, Republican Gov. Rick Perry called a second special session to take up the issue again.

Perry also put transportation funding and a juvenile justice measure on the agenda for the session, which is set to begin July 1.

“I am calling the Legislature back into session because too much important work remains undone for the people of Texas. Through their duly elected representatives, the citizens of our state have made crystal clear their priorities for our great state,” Perry said. “Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn. Texans want a transportation system that keeps them moving. Texans want a court system that is fair and just. We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do.”

The governor had been almost universally urged by conservative grassroots activists and Republican lawmakers to call a new session after Democrats, with the help of boisterous activists in the Senate gallery, killed abortion restrictions in the final seconds of the first special session, which ended in chaos Tuesday night.