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Friday, May 24, 2013

REVOLTING TEXAS

I draw your attention to the events of Friday, May 25, 2007, as a lesson in how we got into our present stagnant swamp in American politics. That exemplar day, the 84th day of the 81st session of the Texas House of Representatives, began with 150 part time politicians lulled by the minutia of governing - hours spent reviewing details of amendments made by the upper chamber to bills the House had previously passed. The yearly session was drawing to a close, and the energy of January had given way to the exhaustion of spring. Having pocketed their $7,500 salary and per Diem, the legislators were eager to get back to their real lives and their real jobs. And then, as the afternoon droned monotonously into evening, Republican Fred Hill stepped to the microphone and tried to spark a revolution. And for the next five and a half hours this room in the state capital, maybe the entire 269,000 square miles of the state of Texas, entered another dimension - a dimension not only of sight and sound but of the mind. Call it the dimension of the crafty Craddick's Catch 22.
“Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.”
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961
Now, at any convenient time any member of the Texas House can be recognized for a motion of personal privilege. And once recognized, Fred's intention was to use his privilege to call for an immediate vote to remove the “auto-Craddick” Speaker of the House, his fellow Republican, Tomas Russell Craddick. The rebel alliance had 70 sure votes, a group of Republicans and Democrats known as the ABC's, “Anybody but Craddick”, eager to remove the diminutive dictatorial empire builder. But the empire also had 70 solid votes from both parties to support their manager from Midland.
“The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likeable. In three days no one could stand him”
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961.
Terrible Tom had represented the east Texas oil town of Midland since he was 25 - since 1968 - since George and Barbara Bush had actually lived there. It was the town where the second Bush First Lady, Laura Lane Welch Bush, had grown up. And it was a deeply conservative place. The last Democrat Midland voted for was Harry Truman. And in 2003, while Tom “The Hammer” Delay was presiding over a Republican majority in Washington, Tiny Tom the toxic traumatizer, was the first Republican Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives in 130 years. He immediately began redistricting Texas to favor Republicans, as it had once favored Democrats. A lobbyist described him as “ the most self-sufficient lone wolf I have ever seen as Speaker. He really does keep his own counsel.” To Republican Byron Cook, Terrible Tom's iron rule was “the convergence of money and power and influence.”
“There were many principles in which Clevinger believed passionately. He was crazy.”
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961.
It was about about seven-thirty when Fred Hill asked to make his point of order. He expected to catch the calamitous Craddick off guard. But tricky Tom (above)  was an Eagle Scout, and always prepared. When Fred said he wanted to introduce a vote to reconsider House Bill One - callous Craddick's January election as Speaker by 121 to 27 votes - twinkle toes Tom simply refused to recognize him for that purpose. Noted the Huston Chronicle, “Hill then asked if the House could vote on overriding Craddick's refusal to recognize him for that motion. Craddick said he would not. Hill moved to suspend the House rules, but Craddick said, "You're not recognized for that motion." Further, Craddick said his ruling was unappealable.”
Doc Daneeka was Yossarian's friend and would do just about nothing in his power to help him.
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961
The rebel alliance was so stunned by Craddick's simple denial of the rules, they failed to even move to print his motion in the record. As far as the diary of the House was concerned, Fred's rebellion never happened. Meanwhile, contemptible Craddick moved on to reconsider HB 3107, “An Act Relating to the Creation and Re-creation of Funds and Accounts in the State Treasury”, then HB 860, “An Act Relating to Management, Investment, and Expenditure of Institutional funds”, and CSHB 4053, “The Galveston Grand Beach Management District”. Finally an old lion, Democratic leader Jim Dunnam from Waco, regained his composure, stepped to the podium and asked to make his own point of privilege. ”
"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961.
Representative Dunnam asked why it was necessary for the Speaker to “recognize” a member of the house, before they could make a motion of privilege. “Matters of privilege have never required recognition”, he pointed out. “That s why they re called matters of privilege.” But truculent Tom  (above) responded, “ It does present a question of privilege, but there are procedural ways in which you can take care of that matter...It is referred to committee” Dunnam had been in the house for twenty years, and had “few peers and fewer superiors” in the legislative arts, and he now asked a simple question. He asked, “Isn't the chair suppose to leave the chair under any business concerning the chair?” To which Tom Riddle replied, “That is true, that is if you’re recognized.” In other words,.you can't make a motion to remove the Speaker unless you are recognized, and you can't be recognized for a motion to remove the Speaker.
"Then there was the educated Texan from Texas who looked like someone in Technicolor and felt, patriotically, that people of means – decent folk – should be given more votes than drifters, whores, criminals, degenerates, atheists and indecent folk – people without means."
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961
At stake in this circular debate were the Timid Ten, Republicans and Democrats - whom Tiny Tom had intimidated. Their votes might decide the next Speaker, but tyrannical Tom boasted he had $14 million to crush them at the next primary, if they should vote to remove him. Now, the rebels were counting on the T.T.'s votes, once they shoved the first knife in, which is why Craddick the callous had insisted, “The Speaker's power of recognition on any matter cannot be appealed.” It ought to serve as triumphant Tom's eulogy, because without recognition the knives were kept sheathed.
“Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.”
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961
It was at about this point that Republican Todd Smith noticed an interchange between the House Parliamentarian Dense Davis, and the cadodemonic Craddick. Smith now made his own motion for personal privilege, asking, “ Mr. Speaker, is it true in rendering an opinion on Mr. Dunnam's question that you overruled your own parliamentarian...?” Treacherous Tom tried to avoid the question. “Not to my knowledge, Mr. Smith,.” he said “You don't know?” Smith pressed him. Top dog Tom tried to bluff his way out of the corner.“I don t remember overruling my parliamentarian, Mr. Smith.” But the bull dog from the suburbs north of Fort Worth would not let go of the bone he sensed he had hold of. He demanded, “So you re telling me that Ms. Davis...advised you that...your ruling was consistent with (her) advice to you?” Tom terrific began to stammer. “Mr. Smith, I used the rules in front of me and I asked the parliamentarian...I didn t, I didn’t, I looked over and asked her, and I don’t know if she agreed or didn t agree, Mr. Smith.” Then, for good measure Tom added, “Its a privileged conversation between the two of us..”
"Catch 22 required that each censored letter bear the censoring officer's name."
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961
That drove Republican Jim Pitts to demand, “Who employs the parliamentarian?” Craddock (above) quickly responded, “The Speaker does.” But Pitts then asked, “Is she an officer of the House?” Craddick must have felt the great hall closing in upon him. “I was going to say he or she is a House officer”, he replied. Pitts pressed his advantage. “She would be an officer of the House?” Craddick was now forced to agree, and Pitts then asked, “And where does the privilege come in with an officer of the House, with the Speaker?” Obviously, for an officer employed by the entire House, the privilege was with the body, not any single representative, including the Speaker. Trapped, Tom now tried to stake out his final defensive position. “Its a special counsel, so there's attorney-client privilege as well.”  It was a lousy position, and Pitts mercilessly pointed that out. “She is your special counsel for the House, is that correct?” And rather than answer that simple question, at 7:51 p.m., Tom the tease, announced the House would “stand at ease” for ten minutes.
“All they ever told me was to uphold the ethics of my profession and never give testimony against another physician.”
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961
It was closer to a forty minute break. And at 8:39, when they returned, Jim Pitts was waiting. He immediately tried to again bring up the issue of the Parliamentarian’s opinion of Craddick's Catch-22.
There was a lot of pushing and shoving around the hall, as other members, like Democrat Rick Norega, tried to get to a microphone. Democrats would later allege that “Mr. Noriega was physically blocked from access to the podium and members were told that the Sergeant at Arms had a list of members who were to be blocked from certain facilities.”  Just four minutes of this and troubled Tom called the House into recess again, this time until 11 P.M.  Station KEYE reported the House, “broke out in a cacophony of boos as lawmakers swept to the front of the chamber and Craddick, often called the most powerful man in state government, hustled back to his office suite.” The Chronicle reported Dense Davis, Parliamentarian for the last three years, “wouldn't comment as she bounded up the stairs behind the chamber to her office, nearly in tears. "I'm not going to talk about that," she repeatedly said, rushing into her office, crying. The door was locked behind her.”
“You know, that might be the answer - to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That's a trick that never seems to fail.”
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961
Outside the capital a crowd of aides and political junkies gathered in the warm Austin night to smoke and gossip. Rumor had it that Terrible Tom was going to try to break the quorum, by sending his own supporters home. That would shut down the session entirely. But those desperate Representatives who had shepherded bills this far were determined not to lose them to what they saw as a political hussy fit. There would be no quorum busting. Terrible Tom and been forced to go another way.
"That's the way things go when you elevate mediocre people to positions of authority."
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961
The House was called back into session promptly at eleven, when crafty Craddick (center) announced a new Parliamentarian, Terry Keel (left), and his new Deputy, Ron Wilson (right). A Texas blogger observed, “the most enduring image of this strange and historic session will be that of Craddick at the podium....looking like nothing so much as a ventriloquist's dummy, as he repeated verbatim whatever Wilson or (more often) Keel said”. Wrote another blogger that night, “12:42AM. Talton raises a point of order.  Craddick tells him to bring it up front. Talton asks if he can stop by his desk to get it. Craddick just stands there. Until Keel prompts him, “Tell him yes!” And Craddick says, “Yes.” Eventually, Terrible Tom is forced to admit Denise Davis and her deputy had both resigned after Speaker Craddick ignored her opinion on recognizing Fred Hill's motion. But by that time the chamber had descended into a snarling, argumentative ungovernable bee hive. The local CBS affiliate reported, Democrat Dunnam asked, “Will you recognize any member of this chamber for a motion to elect an impartial parliamentarian?” and Craddick replied that would be against the rules,  “Dunnam said, "We're gonna follow House rules? When?" to a burst of applause from a packed House gallery and lawmakers “
“The men were perfectly content to fly as many missions as we asked them as long as they thought they had no alternative. Now you've given them hope, and they're unhappy.”
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961
The 2007 Texas House of Representatives did not end its session that May night, nor the next day. The bitter arguing continued for another forty-eight hours, while the people's business was delayed and ignored. In the midst of the bloody mess that Sunday, Republican Mike Krusee, “who had been one of the speaker's most loyal and implacable lieutenants in the bloody 2003 re-redistricting wars”, was driven to thunder, “"Since the days of Jefferson... questioning the leadership of the presiding officer has been the most fundamental right of the members who elected that leadership...The Republican Party is now engaged in trying to spin this,” Mike said, “as a partisan issue...What a perversion,...Absolute power to deny the right to question authority is not a principle of the Republican Party, or any party. Not in this country. Not in this country.” What a shame that by Sunday, most politicians in Austin were too exhausted to hear him.  And Tom had now earned a new nickname - "Chicken Craddick".
"Clevinger was dead. That was the basic flaw in his philosophy."
Joseph Heller - “Catch 22” - 1961
Cold, callous Tom Craddick was eventually removed as Speaker, but not until January of 2009. And even then Midland has continued returning the man who put the bully in the bully pulpit back to Austin every two years. In 2013 the 68 year old Tom Craddick became the first part time Texas legislator to qualify for the maximum lifetime pension. He will now received $125,000 a year for the rest of his life, his reward for all his good work. And in January of 2011, he was re-elected Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

THE SHOOTER


I admit that the only element of this story that truly surprised me was that the assassin planned to use a church congregation as a cover for his get away. After he had murdered his target, he intended upon blending into the parishioners leaving Wednesday evening services. It was diabolical and inspired plan. And it was about the last smart thing he did. From that moment on, he started to shrink in stature, and intellect..And oddly, the same had been true of his intended victim.
The target lived in a two story Craftsman style home at 4011 Turtle Creek Boulevard, in Dallas Texas. The assassin realized the boulevard was too busy for a safe shot, and the front of the house set back too far from the street to provide a reliable shot. But his reconnaissance revealed there was a dead end alley in the rear which would get him to within a hundred feet of the windows. At that range he couldn't miss.
And for an escape, running north through the alley would lead him to the parking lot behind a Presbyterian Church, which fronted on Oak Lawn Avenue. And just past the church, on Oak Lawn, was a bus stop, which would provide an inconspicuous getaway. It was, again, diabolical and inspired. By using the bus, he would not have to borrow a car. And his overcoat would hide the rifle from fellow riders.
The target was Edwin (Ted) Anderson Walker, a man with many enemies, almost all of them of his own choosing. A West Point graduate, he had been a hero in two wars, World War Two and Korea, being awarded both the silver and the bronze star, the latter with an oak leaf cluster, as well as the Legion of Merit. He had risen to the rank of Major General. But he had failed at the transition to peace time. He remained married only to the Army.
In 1957 the six foot two inch combat veteran had been ordered by President Eisenhower to take command of the 82nd Airborne and the Arkansas National Guard, and to oversee the court ordered desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School. So personally repulsive was this task Walker that the general had tendered his resignation. The President, and old soldier himself, had refused to accept it, and told Walker to get on with the job. Reluctantly the General followed his orders, seeing to it that 9 black teenagers were admitted and attended classes at the Little Rock Public High School.
But Walker remained a racist and a radical. He tried to resign from the Army a second time in 1959, in protest of American participation in the United Nations, and of the “fifth column conspiracy and influence in the United States” of communists. Again his resignation was rejected. Instead the Joint Chiefs transferred him to Augsburg, Germany, where he took command of the 24th Infantry Division. But the General was beginning to shrink.
It was there, in the spring of 1961 that Walker delivered a series of lectures to the troops on a program called “Pro-Blue”. As Dick Thornton remembered it over fifty years later, “As Gen Walker addressed us, he pulled down a huge wall map of the world. It was rendered in various shades of red and pink. This was, he said, to show the degree of communist influence in each country. The United States got off easy with only a medium red color. We all looked at each other…rather mystified and uneasy with this commanding officer who seemed, to all intents and purposes, to be flat out crazy. Gen Walker stated that it wasn't enough to be anti-red - you must be PRO-BLUE! He gave us a list of books to be placed in all the day rooms - required reading for everyone.” The General was growing too small for his uniform.
The required readings included many publications of the John Birch Society. Then, a small civilian newspaper aimed at U.S.Servicemen, the “Overseas Weekly” (colloquially known as the “Oversexed Weekly”) quoted Walker as calling President Harry Truman, ex-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, as being “pink”. The paper quoted Walker as calling journalist Edward R. Murrow a “confirmed Communist” and adding that 60% of the American press was Communist controlled. Walker counter attacked, calling the paper “immoral, unscrupulous, corrupt and destructive” - three of which it defiantly was. But the two star general then stepped over the line when he published a list of “Pro-Blue” politicians his soldiers should vote for. They were all conservative Republicans, of course. It almost seemed like he was trying to get fired.
Walker was relieved of his command and ordered to report for a psychiatric examination. Instead, on November 2, 1961, Walker resigned from the Army for a third time. And this time the Pentagon accepted. Having resigned, Walker would now receive no pension and no benefits. Walker explained he wanted to be “free from the power of little men who, in the name of my country, punish loyal service to it. It will be my purpose now, as a civilian, to attempt to do what I have found it no longer possible to do in uniform.” Out of uniform for the first time in his adult life, he immediately shrank several sizes.
What he did first, in February of 1961, was to run for Governor of his home state of Texas. He managed to draw only 10% of the vote in the Republican Primary, and now many noticed he had not really been that large. In September of 1962 he helped to organize protests to the admittance of James Meredith, a young African-American, to the University of Mississippi.  Walker’s public statement, on September 29, called the use of Federal troops in defense of integration  “a disgrace to the nation", adding that :"This is the conspiracy of the crucifixion by anti-Christ conspirators of the Supreme Court in their denial of prayer and their betrayal of the nation.”
A 15 hour riot broke out on campus that night, during which two were killed and six federal marshals were wounded. Walker was arrested and charged with sedition and insurrection, but in January of 1963 a Mississippi grand jury refused to indict him, and he returned to Dallas, hailed as a hero. His supporters seemed unaware at this additional loss in stature. Yet, if anyone had cared to look closely, he was now shrinking more, every day.  And it was his hero's welcome to Texas that inspired the would-be assassin, a small man all his life, to order a rifle, using the alias “A. Hidel”.
In early April the the would-be assassin insisted that his wife take his photo with his new rifle. He even told his wife, “If someone had killed Hitler in time, it could have saved many lives.”
After 8:30, on the night Wednesday April 10, 1963, the shooter walked down the alley from Avondale Avenue. In sight of the rear of the house on Turtle Creek, he crouched behind a wall, cradling his Mannlicher-Carcano 6.5 mm bolt action rifle. He balanced the rifle on the top of the chain link fence, and using the telescopic sight, aimed at his target’s head behind french doors, just 100 feet away. It was Nine O’clock when the assassin pulled the trigger.
Walker was sitting at his desk in his dinning room, working on his taxes. The lights were on and the shades were up. He heard a crack and thought it was a firecracker. Then he heard glass break, and he felt a sting in his arm.  He rose and walked around the desk, and saw a hole in the wall behind where he had been sitting. Immediately Walker went upstairs to retrieve a pistol, and so armed and feeling bigger, he went into the back yard.
Seeing nothing, he turned to face his house, and spotted a chip in the window frame. It was only then that Walker was certain that someone had taken a shot at him, and he called the Dallas Police. He did not suspect for a moment that the bullet might have missed him because he had grown so much smaller.
A Dallas Police officer dug the remains of the bullet from General Walker’s dining room wall, but it was too badly deformed to be of much value. However he saved it in an evidence bag. Following the path of the bullet showed that after clipping the window frame, the tumbling slug had missed Walker’s head by less than an inch. It came so close that part of the disintegrating shell's metal jacket had struck Walker in the arm. Had he been in his full size, it would have killed him. But then, had he been full size the shooter might not have shot at him...maybe.
Seven months later the assassin pulled the trigger again. This time he hit his target, twice. This time his target was riding in the back seat of a limousine. This time his target was President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. It was only when the Warren Commission interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald’s wife that they stumbled upon the solution to the mysterious rifle shot taken at General Walker. At the time Oswald had admitted to this wife that he was responsible for the attempt, and had also admitted it to George De Mohrenschildt, the husband of his wife’s only friend in Dallas. Fourteen years later, a Neutron Activation Analysis of the bullet recovered from Walker’s wall confirmed its connection with ammunition used on November 22, 1963.
The hatred inside Edwin (Ted) Anderson Walker, mocked by ex-five star general and President Dwight David Eisenhower as a “super patriot”,  had long since consumed so much of his soul that he was now  isolated from his old friends. He made a meager living from speeches to local John Birch Society groups across the nation...until he was arrested again, at the age of 66, on June 23, 1976.
On that night, just three blocks from his home, Edwin Walker followed a Dallas undercover police officer, R.J. Stevens, into a public restroom in Cole Park. There Walker made a “physical advance” and was arrested on the spot. The officer had no idea who Walker was. Like another conservative Republican decades later, Walker pleaded no contest, posted $200 bail and later paid a $1,000 fine. He received one year probation. But history repeated itself again, less than a year later. On March 16, 1977,  this time in Dallas' Reverchon Park. This time the general was charged with public lewdness and making “suggestive overtones.” Now, even the John Birch Society isolated him.
In 1980 the one organization he had given the most to, the U.S. Army, quietly restored his medical benefits. And in 1982 it even forgave his resignation and restored his pension, in full; $45,120 a year. He died of lung cancer, in his own bed, on October 31st, 1993, still a little man, shrunk because his inner demons were so large.
I thank General Walker for his service to the nation we share. I am glad they restored his pension in the end. But, I must admit, I also believe the world would have been a better place if Lee Harvey Oswald had not missed General Edwin Walker on that April night in 1963.  Perhaps the notoriety the little assassin would have gained from that murder, would have made feel big enough, he would not have felt compelled to pull the  trigger that November.
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