I want to begin today’s column with a few words about my friend Arnold Garcia, former Editorial Board Chairman at the Austin American-Statesman. Arnold passed away from pancreatic cancer on August 12. The Statesman did a superb job of giving him his due, in a story aptly headlined, “Arnold García, trailblazing Hispanic journalist and Statesman editorial columnist, dead at 73.” I hope that somehow Arnold had an idea of what they were going to write before he left us, because it really did him justice. Maybe at some point they let him peek into the prewritten parts of obits.
The obit chronicled his early career as a police reporter in San Angelo and then his long career in Austin. It also talked about how he mentored younger reporters, especially fellow minorities. I strongly recommend reading the article.
Since the Statesman did such a good job, here I will just say a few personal words about Arnold and our relationship. He was already well ensconced on the editorial board when I started writing about local politics in 1985. I was very critical of the Statesman of that era. For instance I gave them the name Austin American Real-Estatesman because of what I saw as their boosterism for local development interests.
I generally steered clear of being directly critical of specific reporters — with occasional exceptions — but I was very rough on management. And management included Arnold. I also often took issue with Statesman editorials, which of course were often written by Arnold.
Arnold was perfectly capable of defending himself and going on the offense when he saw fit, and through it all we developed a certain level of hostility. That went on for a few years. After I got on the City Council, despite not being endorsed by the Statesman, he and I got to know each other better. We still didn’t agree on everything, but we eventually developed a friendship based on mutual respect. We began going out to dinner and swapping stories and sarcasm and so on. I don’t think our friendship affected his coverage because Arnold was too professional for that. I do think that our previous time as political enemies helped make for a stronger friendship. I’m proud to have known Arnold and to have been his friend. I will miss you Arnold.
I think Arnold would understand if I go on to other topics now and so I will. Of course the biggest Texas news since my last column is that Mr. Personal Responsibility, Texas Governor Greg Abbott got COVID-19. This happened just as numerous school districts were beginning to defy Abbott’s order that they could not require students and teachers to wear masks.
Along with others I wish the Governor a full recovery. He is evidently well on the way to that since he was vaccinated and because he had the best medical care possible — the latter being something you can’t say for the million plus low income Texans that Abbott has keeps from getting health insurance by opposing Medicaid expansion.
I think Arnold Garcia’s successors at the American-Statesman would have made him proud with their scorching editorial taking off on the Governor’s oft-repeated contention that Texans could handle the pandemic through “personal responsibility.”
“For too long Abbott has advanced the facile narrative that fighting this virus — an airborne menace that spreads from person to person with devastating ease — is a matter of individual choice. Try telling that to the children who can’t get vaccinated, and who now fill up pediatric ICU wards. Try telling that to the vaccinated adults who can’t get surgeries right now to remove tumors or replace painful joints because hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients. Try telling that to the nurses, doctors and emergency responders who carried this state through earlier waves of the pandemic, only to work exhausting shifts now caring for people who didn’t bother to get vaccinated.”
Many other editorial boards weighed in as well, including the Houston Chronicle:
“Personal responsibility, apparently, is for the little people.
The powerful have Regeneron cocktails at the ready.
The powerful have good health insurance and doctors who make house calls.
The powerful can quarantine in the comforts of a taxpayer-funded mansion in downtown Austin.”
Among other lacerating commentary, they added, “How can we trust the governor to protect Texas from this raging pandemic when he won’t even protect himself — or, for that matter, his supporters?”
One aspect of the whole drama that was underreported was how Abbott appears to have backed down on fighting for his mask ban, although he evidently let the Texas Education Agency (TEA) back off for him. Politico, one of the first, if not the first, to report the story, led like this: “Enforcement in the state’s public school systems of Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates has been dropped, for now, the Texas Education Agency said Thursday.” That story appeared two days after it was announced that Abbott tested positive for coronavirus.
Politico continued that the word from TEA came in “a public health guidance letter,” and that “the TEA said enforcement was being dropped because of ongoing court challenges to the ban.”
Politico added, “The letter recommends public school systems consult local public health officials and legal counsel before making final decisions.” Imagine that! What a concept; letting public health officials and local school district officials decide the best health approach for their schools during a pandemic — instead of a Governor pandering to the worst of his supporters.
But, wait where was the Governor on this one? Abbott’s office said he was going to stay in “constant communication with his staff, agency heads and government officials.” It’s understandable if he went back on that vow, even though he said he did not have symptoms, but still it sure does seem here like Abbott tried to use the TEA to get him out of a tough political spot. After all, how does it look to be prohibiting school districts from requiring masks as the Delta variant blazes through Texas; especially when kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated. Yes, it sure looks like the Governor hid behind the TEA to get out of the predicament he created for himself with his own pandering.
Now, let’s move on to the headline of the week, and for once it doesn’t involve Texas: “As covid-19 surges in Mississippi, some people are ingesting an unproven livestock dewormer.”
As the Washington Post reported, “Mississippi State Epidemiologist Paul Byers wrote in a letter to the MS Health Alert Network that ‘at least 70 percent of the recent calls’ have been related to the ingestion of ivermectin ‘purchased at livestock supply centers.’”
Tony Fauci probably went, “I thought I had a hard job.”
It turns out, according to the Washington Post, that Fox News hosts have been promoting this as a COVID cure, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Also, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who happens to be up for reelection next year, has promoted the veterinary drug. The Fox hosts were once again proving there is no depth to which they won’t sink. At the same time you really have to wonder about the people who are so messed up that they fall for this. And, let’s not just blame it on Mississippi. There was an earlier surge of human use of the animal dewormer in Nevada.
Well, I can’t top that one so I’ll just sign off for now. Some readers may remember that earlier this month I advocated for August vacations, but delayed mine by writing a three part series on homicides in Austin. Part 3 appears alongside this story. So my vacation is going to lap over into September. See you after Labor Day.
(Photo at top is Arnold Garcia from his Facebook page)
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