News Roundup: Cams, Carnage, & Climate
Zimmerman sides with Abbott over Adler
11:30AM, Mon. Nov. 30, 2015
In this week's News Roundup: In opposition to Gov. Abbot's threat to block Syrian refugees from coming into Texas, Mayor Adler says all are welcome in the city; APD plans to announce information on the body cameras for the force; Texans respond to the Planned Parenthood attacks in Colorado; and more.
• Zimmerman vs. Refugees: Last week, Mayor Steve Adler issued a statement welcoming Syrian refugees to Austin, and reiterated that position in a White House conference call, saying in part, "I think it is important for me to lift Austin's lamp to the rest of the world." Locally, the mayor has generally been applauded, but not universally. District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman posted to the City Council message board a proposed resolution supporting Abbott's ban on Syrians, and he plans to consider the resolution today (Monday, Nov. 30, 4pm) at City Hall. It's Item 6 on the Zimmerman-chaired Public Safety Committee agenda, which also includes CMs Ora Houston (D1), Greg Casar (D4), and Leslie Pool (D7) – although Zimmerman has scheduled only 15 minutes (4:50-5:05pm) for discussion and action. Citizens are invited to attend and speak during the PSC's Citizens Communications period. – Michael King
• Stranger and Stranger: The argument continued to rage over Gov. Greg Abbott's determination to block any federal resettlement of Syrian refugees in Texas, along with his directive to nonprofit charitable agencies to follow the same policies, at potential risk of any state support. Nonprofit coalition Texas Impact is circulating an open letter to the governor that reads in part: "Dear Governor Abbott, As fellow Texans of faith, we urge you to reaffirm our state's commitment to welcome all who would call Texas home – especially those displaced by oppression and injustice. … We call on you to use your position as leader of this state to advance the true values of courage, generosity, and faithful service that characterize Texas' ideals, so that Texas can serve as a model of hospitality for the United States and the world."
Meanwhile, the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to Abbott's directive in a Nov. 25 statement: "Our Catholic refugee agencies will continue to resettle refugees in the United States in accordance with our existing agreements and federal law. All cases will be handled in the same manner in which they have been handled in the past, and in agreement with established guidelines, which include sharing information with state and local stakeholders." The bishops said they would cooperate with state efforts to "assure security and public safety," but cited the Gospel of Matthew on charity: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." And in a letter to more than 30 governors who have joined Abbott in attempts to block Syrian refugees, Robert Carey, director of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement reminded the governors that federal law requires that refugees be assisted by states or private charities "without regard to race, religion, nationality, sex, or political opinion."
Apparently unimpressed, on Nov. 26 Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released a statement applauding Abbott's "correct and courageous position," and denouncing the "arrogance and overreach of the Obama Administration" and the "outrageous" risk to "the safety and security of all citizens." – M.K.
• Show Me Your Bod (Camera): APD plans to share its initial findings and considerations concerning the 2016 implementation of body cameras on Austin officers today, Nov. 30, at a community meeting, 6:30pm upstairs at the Palmer Events Center – 900 Barton Springs Rd. No specifics have been released about the forum, including who from APD will be in attendance and what exactly they'll be prepared to talk about, but expect some insight on video storage processes; certain user logistics like activation and notification restrictions; and details about redaction and when videos recorded from body cameras will become available as public record. Already a few patrolling officers are wearing body cameras – most of those equipped are working down on Sixth Street – though APD Technology Commander Ely Reyes recently told the Statesman that those cameras have all been purchased through personal funds. (Department policy still requires officers turn in relevant footage as evidence.) The city expects the first group of officers to begin wearing department-issued cameras by July 4, 2016, with the remainder of patrolling officers getting equipped over the course of the next two or three years. – Chase Hoffberger
• The Paris Climate: Pool won't be at the PSC meeting – like Mayor Adler and Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, she'll be en route to Paris, to attend the U.N. Conference on Climate Change (aka COP21). Pool told the Austin Monitor she's attending in connection with her chairmanship of Council's Open Space, Environment, and Sustainability Committee – Austin is also a member of the C40 Coalition of cities committed to addressing climate change. Adler is attending (on his own dime) at the request of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and Shea via her membership in ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability. On the eve of the Conference, the U.N. News Center released a summary report on latest climate developments, reading in part: "The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached yet another new record high in 2014, continuing a 'relentless rise' which is fueling climate change and will make the planet more dangerous and inhospitable for future generations. Just days later, the agency shared more 'bad news for the planet,' warning that 2015 is likely to be the warmest year on record, breaching the symbolic and significant milestone of 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial era." Conference participants are hoping for a major new international agreement on addressing climate change worldwide. – M.K.
• Mistakes Were Made: "The frightening catalog of errors outlined today illustrates gross negligence on the part of U.S. forces and violations of the rules of war. The destruction of a protected facility without verifying the target – in this case a functioning hospital full of medical staff and patients – cannot only be dismissed as individual human error or breaches of the U.S. rules of engagement." That was the response of Christopher Stokes, the general director of the medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders (also known by its French initials MSF, for Médecins Sans Frontières), to the release of a report by the U.S. military concerning its investigation of an attack on an MSF hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan last month. According to U.S. Afghanistan commander Gen. John Campbell, the Oct. 2 attack by an American gunship that killed 30 hospital staff and patients and destroyed the hospital was a consequence of "human errors" and "technical failures." Campbell said the gunship crew confused the hospital with a military target some distance away, ignored corrected information, and failed to take standard precautions under the rules of engagement, to avoid attacks on civilian targets. Stokes said the report "raised more questions than it answers," and Doctors Without Borders continues to call for a truly independent investigation. "It is shocking that an attack can be carried out when U.S. forces have neither eyes on a target nor access to a no-strike list, and have malfunctioning communications systems," Stokes told the Washington Post. "It appears that 30 people were killed and hundreds of thousands of people are denied lifesaving care in Kunduz simply because the MSF hospital was the closest large building to an open field and 'roughly matched' a description of an intended target." – M.K.
• Political Collateral From Colorado Springs: The GOP presidential primary has seemed so like a deranged dervish whirling ever faster to the right that it seems impossible to believe that any candidate would ever dare strike a less radical pose. However, the murder of three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood may have created an opportunity for Republicans to differentiate themselves from the increasingly fascistic pronunciations of Donald Trump, and the increasingly debunked claims of Ben "the pyramids were grain silos" Carson. Cue political whiplash as the hopefuls attempt to condemn the shooter while still savaging the healthcare provider.
On Saturday, the day after the shooting, Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeted "Praying for the loved ones of those killed, those injured & first responders who bravely got the situation under control in Colorado Springs." Not to be outdone, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee went on CNN's State of the Union to condemn suspect Robert Lewis Dear, saying, "What he did is domestic terrorism, and what he is did is absolutely abominable."
However, these statements are probably not enough to make anyone forget that Cruz previously called Planned Parenthood a "criminal enterprise," and attempted to cut all its federal funding as recently as September. Nor that he recently touted the endorsement of Troy Newman of hardline anti-choice group Operation Rescue, which advises its members on how to harass patients and staff at clinics, and has previously called for medical staff who provide abortions to be executed. And, as if to mitigate the decency of his statement denouncing the Planned Parenthood murders, Cruz later in the weekend floated the possibility that the shooter was a "transgendered leftist activist."
Huckabee, who has also called for the complete defunding of Planned Parenthood, went on to tell CNN that it was "a little bit disingenuous" for the organization to blame the anti-choice movement for Dear's actions (even though Dear reportedly quoted the now-infamous doctored tapes of Planned Parenthood staff when he said "no more baby parts" before shooting started). Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Carly Fiorina went even further, calling attempts to connect Dear to the anti-choice movement "typical left-wing tactics."
Meanwhile Trump, who called Dear a "maniac" on NBC's Meet the Press, similarly cited the debunked tapes, claiming that they showed Planned Parenthood staff offering to sell fetal tissue like they're "selling parts to a car." – Richard Whittaker