Newsmonger: AG investigation into Daughters, Tracking chips and Devil marks, Climate bomb

Courtesy photo

AG investigation into Daughters

Buried in its 38-page report slamming the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the state Attorney General's office hones in on what led to the group's years-long mismanagement of the Alamo: "inadequate understanding of historic preservation." The Daughters, custodians of the Shrine of Texas Liberty from 1905 until the Lege removed them amid claims of neglect and mismanagement last year, continue to run daily operations at the Alamo under a state contract that's set to expire mid-2013.

The report, culmination of an 18-month investigation into the Daughters' finances and management of the Alamo, claims the organization's leadership "did not properly preserve and maintain the Alamo" and "misused state funds for the organization's own benefit." Maintaining and preserving historic structures is an art that requires expertise, more than just day-to-day maintenance, the report states. The Daughters failed to adequately care for the landmark, in part, "because the DRT did not fully grasp the nature and importance of historic preservation." Daughters President Karen Thompson, in a written statement this week, called the report "outrageously inaccurate," saying, "It seems that this report, which includes only interviews with disavowed members and former employees, is not an accurate description of the DRT in 2012." Thompson claims that since the AG's office began its investigation, officials have denied five requests to meet with Daughters leadership and staff.

Since 1895, only four members have been booted from the Daughters, three of which occurred in the past three years. One of those members, Sarah Reveley, contacted the AG's office with a laundry list of charges against the organization in February 2010, sparking the AG investigation. Reveley was kicked out months after filing the complaint.

The report also outlines the Daughters' recent troubles. Soon after the AG's office began looking into the organization, the Daughters were embroiled in a costly, public spat with the state when it tried to trademark "The Alamo" without state approval. The Daughters then backed out of a near $1 million contract with a Los Angeles-based marketing firm that saddled the organization with $150,000 in debt, though Daughters general counsel falsely claimed the organization didn't owe the company anything during a Legislative hearing last year. (Daughters general counsel later told the AG's office they must have "misunderstood" lawmakers' questions.)

For years the Daughters only allocated about $350 a year for preservation projects, even though employees had identified leaks in the Alamo shrine as early as 1997. After resigning in 2009, former Alamo Director David Stewart petitioned Preservation Texas urging the Alamo be declared an endangered site. The Daughters didn't approve testing the roof for structural integrity until after spring 2010, when a chunk of plaster crashed to the ground. "Even then, no testing actually occurred until the Governor's Office instructed the DRT to confirm whether the public could safely visit the Alamo," the report states.

Since lawmakers transferred custodianship of the Alamo to the General Land Office last year, there has been progress, including repairs to the roof, and better financial oversight, the report states.

Tracking chips and Devil marks

Fears over the "Mark of the Beast" have landed Northside ISD in court over a pilot program that puts tracking chips in student IDs at one of the district's magnet schools. John Jay High School sophomore Andrea Hernandez sued Northside last week after receiving a letter from Northside officials kicking her out of the school, ordering her instead to report at Taft High School when classes resumed this week. A judge granted Hernandez a temporary restraining order last week, keeping the district from expelling her from John Jay until after court hearing set for this Wednesday.

For months Hernandez and her family have fought with Northside officials over the district's new "Smart ID" program, which uses radio-frequency-enabled tracking chips to monitor student movement on campus and track attendance. Hernandez and her family have protested outside the school and spoken out at school board meetings. This month Hernandez tried to pass out fliers on campus criticizing the program, which Northside has said it may expand to all the district's 112 schools in the future.

For evangelicals like Hernandez, Northside's tracking-chip program bears an eerie resemblance to end-times passages from the Book of Revelations warning of the so-called "Mark of the Beast." At a protest last month, Hernandez called the "Smart ID" a violation of her religious rights, telling (the brainchild of Austin-based conspiracy theorist Alex Jones), "I feel that it's the implementation of the Mark of the Beast."

The Hernandez family is relying on help from the Rutherford Institute, an East Coast civil liberties group, to fight the district in court. "The key here is these people have strong religious beliefs, and they stand by them," said institute president John Whitehead last week. "There are a number of Christians, evangelicals that feel any kind of tag or device you put on people like that could be the Mark of the Beast out of Revelation."

In the letter to the Hernandez family this month, district officials offered to let Hernandez back into John Jay if she wore a student ID without the battery and tracking chip embedded. The family, who couldn't be reached for comment, refused, according to Whitehead. "They felt that would be endorsing a program they fundamentally can't support on religious grounds," he said.

"When they brought up the issue of religious freedom and wearing this technology violated religious beliefs, we respected their position and we did offer to give the student the ID without the built-in technology," said Northside spokesman Pascual Gonzalez. "We really don't understand now what the objection is. Every student has to wear some sort of ID."

John Jay students use the new IDs to access the school's library, cafeteria, and to sign up for extracurriculars. "This student could not use the library facilities, the cafeteria facilities, she wasn't even allowed to vote for the homecoming king and queen," Whitehead said. "So she's already suffered damage. She's being treated unequally."

While Hernandez objects on religious grounds, civil liberties groups have loudly decried Northside's pilot program as an Orwellian breach of privacy. Over the weekend, someone claiming to be allied with the hacktivist collective Anonymous, going by the Twitter handle @tr1xxyAnon, attempted to shutter Northside's website, writing on Pastebin that the Northside "is stripping away the privacy of students in your school." Gonzalez said the district's server logged a flood of traffic, but that the site never went down. He said district officials will forward whatever evidence they gather to law enforcement this week.

Climate bomb

Last week in East Texas the Tar Sands Blockade continued to fight against the Keystone XL pipeline with protests and disruption at two construction sites. The direct action came amid speculation President Barack Obama may once and for all sign off on the TransCanada pipeline, slated to run from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Protesters have targeted the new stretch of pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas because it would make huge fields of Canadian tar sands open for development and export if that northern expansion is approved. Tar sands are blend of heavy-oil bitumin, sand, and clay that release several times the global-warming greenhouse gases of traditional crude when developed, and activists fear the damage that could be caused by tar sands spills. NASA scientist James Hansen has called the opening and refining of tar sands "game over" for the planet.

"Valero, Chevron — we need to target these investors," said Grace Cagle, a demonstrator with the Tar Sands Blockade last week. "We need solidarity actions everywhere." With upgrades to their refineries, SA-based Valero has positioned itself to benefit from the tar sands oil that would come from Canada.

Last Monday in Wells, four demonstrators chained themselves to heavy equipment as morning crews worked to clear a path for the pipeline. Three other activists camped out 50 feet above the ground in trees in the pipeline's path. By afternoon all were in custody facing felony charges.

To stop cherry pickers from removing protesters from trees at one site, activists swarmed the road to block equipment. One 75-year-old woman from Nacogdoches was pepper sprayed in the scuffle with local sheriff's deputies. "It was surprising we did not have anyone seriously injured," said Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. "It was very disappointing to see the use of force."

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