The Austin Chronicle

News Roundup: Pressley, Jackson, CapMetro, and more

By the News Staff, November 17, 2014, 7:00am, Newsdesk

In this week's news roundup, we ask, among other questions, what does it matter what a Council candidate thinks about 9/11, as long as she supports a 20% homestead exemption? Will Larry Jackson's killer ever go to trial? How many different ways can Donna Campbell think of to try to discriminate against gay people?

Is the Earth flat? Opinions differ. In the latest episode of the Laura Pressley Fiasco, Saturday the Statesman repeated its misleading gloss of the District 4 Council candidate’s embrace of conspiracy theories concerning the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, reporting that Pressley had commented on “the possibility [emphasis added] that explosives were planted in the buildings that collapsed on 9/11.” In fact, in the recorded 2012 public forum on the subject, Pressley had said she was “convinced … 100 percent, something was planted in the buildings.” The “evidence” she cited was a self-published paper by 9/11 truthers claiming that four tiny fragments found in the general area of the wreckage (and otherwise unidentified) exhibited traces of explosive nanothermite – subsequent investigation concluded these were paint chips. Nevertheless, also in the Statesman, Politifact Texas weighed in at length (“In Context: Laura Pressley’s ‘something was planted’ in the World Trade Center”), interviewed Pressley (“We ought to ask more questions”), and ran down the rabbit hole fanatically re-opened by conspiracists but closed many times by actual scientific review. Reporter Dylan Baddour treats the debate as serious science, when even a cursory look at the paper (which Pressley insists was “peer-reviewed” — it was not) reflects that the researchers had no way of confirming even the actual source of their “nearly microscopic metallic particles.” For its efforts, Politifact instead confirms the bankruptcy of “true/false” approaches to journalism — the same sort of false equivalence mainstream papers have applied to scientific “debates” over climate change, thereby lending credibility to nonsense, like Pressley’s similarly paranoid theories on smart meters and cordless phones. Next week in the Statesman: “Will your iPad make you vibrate? Some candidates say yes.”

About 40 people gathered last Wednesday, Nov. 12, at the Travis County Courthouse to protest the continued delay in the trial of former police Det. Charles Kleinert. A pretrial hearing scheduled for that day has been pushed back to Dec. 5. Kleinert is charged with manslaughter for the 2013 killing of Larry Jackson Jr. Among the crowd were Jackson's sister and young niece. Another protest is planned for the evening of Dec. 5.

ATU 1091 wins settlement. Last week Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091, which represents Capital Metro drivers and mechanics, announced a settlement of the National Labor Relations Board action against Travis Transit Management Inc., subcontractor of McDonald Transit Associates — CapMetro’s fixed-route management contractor. The union had filed an unfair labor practices complaint against TTMI, which assumed management in 2012, charging that TTMI unilaterally increased employee health care costs, cut retirement benefits, imposed a no-strike rule, and refused to hire Local 1091 President Jay Wyatt because of his union activities. The NLRB’s action initially sought $1.3 million in damages; under the settlement, TTMI will pay designated workers $665,000 in damages, and will publicly post notices at the workplace guaranteeing no further illegal actions and informing workers of their rights to organize. In a press release, Wyatt thanked the NLRB and called the settlement a vindication of workers’ rights and “a major victory for TTMI employees.”

It turns out the Wendy Davis campaign was embroiled in some pretty intense in-fighting (contrary to how they portrayed staff changes in the media), according to memos released to the Texas Tribune. “The campaign is in disarray and is in danger of being embarrassed,” Democratic operatives Peter Cari and Maura Dougherty wrote in a January memo addressed to Davis’ former campaign manager. “The level of dysfunction was understandable in July and August, when we had no infrastructure in place — but it doesn’t seem to be getting better.” The two also wrote that the Davis camp wasn’t doing Wendy justice by transforming her into a “generic Democrat” instead of a true Texan.

In the flurry of bills filed ahead of the 84th legislative session, state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, offered up a resolution earlier this week that seeks to add a constitutional amendment protecting “religious freedom.” (“Government may not burden an individual’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion or right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief unless the government proves that the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest,” Senate Joint Resolution 10 reads.) That didn’t go over too well with LGBT activists who see the legislation as a thinly disguised maneuver to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender residents. Thankfully for allies and advocates, a similar resolution by Campbell, filed in 2013, washed away in committee.

Last week in The Intercept, Chronicle alum Jordan Smith took a look at the progress of an ethics complaint against 5th Circuit Judge Edith Jones, alleging that she "made a host of improper and racist statements that ... violated her duty to be impartial and damaged public confidence in the judiciary." A panel of judges tasked with reviewing the complaint found that "[s]ince no one actually recorded her speech ... there was no way to prove that Jones actually said any of the things she’s alleged to have said — even though some of the statements did indeed violate federal judicial ethics rules." The ruling has been appealed, but, as Smith writes, "[t]here is no timeline for the appeal to be considered."

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