HERO's Arch-Nemesis, the Alliance Defending Freedom

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Photo by Aaron Reiss
It's no coincidence that the City of Houston, Mayor Annise Parker, City Attorney David Feldman and company asked for any communication between the five local pastors and Alliance Defending Freedom (other parts of the subpoena were likely ill-advised, but that's neither here nor there) when they sent out that controversial subpoena that has been getting so much attention. After all, the ADF is a religious right organization dedicated to opposing LGBT rights the way the rest of us are dedicated to breathing and love of the Beatles, so if ADF lawyers have been advising local pastors on how to repeal HERO, that would certainly be worth knowing.

But what exactly is the ADF? The organization, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, was created in 1994 by group of high-profile activists from the religious right, including including James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.

The group operates with a budget of more than $30 million, an army of more than 2,000 lawyers who adhere to ADF principles, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. They specialize in legal work where they believe that religious freedom is being violated, though of course "religious freedom" only entails the views of those who agree with ADF. Basically these people see themselves as the anti-ACLU, a group that they contend has been working to promote "an anti-Christian, pro-abortion, pro-homosexual agenda on the Body of Christ in Europe, Canada, Latin America, and elsewhere," according to the ADF website.

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AG Goes After "Celebrity Nutritionist" Lindsey Duncan

Categories: Courts

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This man has traveled the world "in search of superfruits." (Hey, his website says it, not us.)
The Texas Attorney General's Office is suing a dude it says isn't a doctor, but who plays one on TV -- and makes a bundle doing so.

Filed last week, the suit accuses Austin-based Robert Lindsey Duncan, a.k.a. Dr. Lindsey Duncan, of inflating his credentials in order to hawk nutritional supplements on shows like The View and Dr. Oz. Duncan calls himself a "naturopathic doctor," but the state does not recognize such a degree, according to the suit.

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College Football, Week 8: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

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A few weeks ago, we had maybe the most thrilling college football weekend of the last ten years (possibly since the 2005 weekend that included, among other fantastic finishes, the "Bush Push" game between USC and Notre Dame). It was twelve hours of dramatic endings and pinball scoring stats, everything that's great about this time of the year and the age we live in (multiple games on television, computer streaming, social media).

The great thing about college football, though, is that you don't need great finishes for the sport to be compelling. This past Saturday we had plenty of buildup to marquee match ups and potential career altering twists for some head coaches. However, in the end, there were a lot more blowouts and popcorn farts on Saturday than there were Instant Classics.

And yet, even from the ashes of numerous boring thrashings, we get storylines. Sure, we love the hits, the physicality, the game day pomp and circumstance of a football Saturday (or Sunday), but no other sport has the episodic advantage and storyline arc that college and pro football have.

The games are great, but now they're over, and now we essentially have six days to pore over what it all means. THAT'S AWESOME. So let's commence poring with the winners and losers from this weekend's college football action...

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Greg Abbott Held a Twitter Townhall, and It Was Hilarious

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In his continued quest to win hearts and minds and, you know, the governor's seat, state Attorney General Greg Abbott held a Twitter town hall on Friday. Yes, for one brief, shining moment, Abbott (or someone that does a pretty good Abbott-on-social-media impression) was on the Twitter and people could ask him stuff. There was even a hashtag, #AskAbbott.

The questions lobbed at Abbott ranged from the pointy to the pointless-but-oh-so-hilarious, so we rounded up some of our favorites.

On Abbott's a tort-reformer yet was awarded $10 million after he sued because of that tree that fell on him in River Oaks and left him wheelchair-bound (recently mentioned by opponent state Sen. Wendy Davis in that controversial ad):


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City Removes "Sermons" From Pastor Subpoenas, Blames "Media Circus" and Anti-HERO Lawyers for Stoking Outrage

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Natalie Harms
Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman at a press conference Friday.

Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman shifted more blame in the subpoenaing-anti-HERO-pastors debacle that's riled up Christians across the city -- and, thanks to Twitter and the #HoustonWeHaveAProblem campaign, the nation. Parker and Feldman blamed their pro bono lawyers, the media and the opposing lawyers, without shouldering much blame themselves during a press conference Friday.

Parker, visibly frustrated, said that her legal representation could've been more sensitive when it subpoenaed five local pastors last month in the city's legal fight against anti-HERO activists who want to repeal the city's equal rights ordinance. But Parker doesn't "read those kind of legal documents in detail," she said. Feldman, who also said he didn't read the subpoenas before they were sent last month, said the entire controversy could have been avoided had the other side's lawyers brought their issues to him, rather than the media.

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Updated: Dan Patrick Has Ebola Covered

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Know what this Ebola crisis needs? A little more Dan Patrick, of course.

Update: Gov. Rick Perry and his presidential hair have returned from their European jaunt and the two (Perry and his hair) held a press conference on Friday to reassure us all that while Patrick and Sen. Ted Cruz have opinions about what to do, Perry is the guy getting things done.

Perry stated that he had joined Patrick, Cruz and the rest of Republican chorus in calling for President Obama to enact an air travel ban from the countries affected by the Ebola outbreak (he actually asked Obama to do this during a phone call between the two on Thursday.)
"Air travel is how this disease crosses borders, and it's certainly how it got here to Texas," Perry says, though he went on to stipulate there should be exceptions for aid workers.

Plus, Perry had news from his Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, created earlier this month. Despite Patrick's claims in a release issued this morning that the task force wouldn't have recommendations until December, Perry had a whole list of things his team is already recommending:

"Establishment of two Ebola treatment centers in Texas; Establishment of specialized patient transport teams; Expanded training of infectious disease protocols for health care workers;
More testing labs for infectious disease; and increased authority for Department of State Health Services chief to issue enforceable control orders."

Those who have been worrying about the dreaded Ebola can stop right now because the guy who will most likely be the next lieutenant governor of Texas has determined both the cause of the epically mishandled Ebola mess and the solution. Yep, you can turn those frowns upside down and put down the industrial-sized barrels of hand sanitizer because state Sen. Dan Patrick has got this one.

In a statement issued Friday morning, Patrick explained that while Texas has been at the center of the repeatedly mismanaged containment of the nation's first Ebola patient, the fault for the many, many missteps lies with the federal government. Specifically:

"It's no surprise the first case of the Ebola virus to present itself in the United States was in Texas. We are this nation's leading economy and a hub for international travel. This otherwise enviable position in the global economy comes with unwanted risks.

It's also no surprise that Washington has failed us once again; failure to properly screen all travelers at ports of entry, and a failure to provide meaningful support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."


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Why Didn't the City Think Subpoenaing a Bunch of Pastors Might Be a Big Deal?

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Paul Aningat
It's hard to understand how or why the City of Houston didn't anticipate a clamorous backlash before it sent sweeping subpoenas to five local pastors critical of the city's anti-discrimination ordinance.

Maybe it's because Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman truly didn't understand the scope of those subpoenas, which asked for not just any internal records related to "equal rights, civil rights, homosexuality, or gender identity," but also the pastors' "speeches" and "sermons" that reference the city's fight to ban LGBT discrimination. The excuse floated Wednesday by Parker and Feldman that they aren't to blame, since an outside legal firm filed the broad request for documents, rings somewhat hollow, given Feldman's unwavering stance supporting the subpoenas earlier in the week and the less-than-apologetic tone coming out of Parker's office...

Beneath the outrage and the demagoguery, there's an underlying question: is there a legitimate legal basis for the city to subpoena this stuff? And, does the city's request (which Feldman says he'll amend to be a bit more narrow) violate the pastors' religious freedom protections?

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Lance Berkman Goes (Back) to College

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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Guess who's gone back to college?
It's a beautiful October Tuesday afternoon in Houston, Texas. There's a high, blue sky. The humidity is nonexistent and the temperature's in the mid-70s. It's a great day for outdoor activities, and the Rice Owls baseball team is going to take full advantage of it for a day of afternoon practice.

Players slowly emerge from the clubhouse into the dugout and then onto the field. They come out first singly, then in pairs, then groups of players come out. Some put on gloves and grabs balls and start playing catch, while others go up to the batting cage and start taking swings. An older gentleman emerges from the clubhouse into the dugout, looking to be in his late thirties. He's wearing gray shorts, a white Rice T-shirt. There's a blue Rice cap on his head, sunglasses on top of the cap, and there's a touch of gray in his beard, but there's no mistaking Lance Berkman.

Rice coach Wayne Graham has long said that star pupil Lance Berkman was welcome to return as a coach whenever he desired. And Berkman, finishing up his first year of retirement from Major League Baseball, has taken Graham up on his offer, kind of. Berkman's not really a coach. His actual title is student assistant because Berkman's not officially on the coaching staff. Berkman's a student at Rice, 40 hours short of his degree, and he's decided to finish what he started back in the 1990s before he was drafted by the Houston Astros, so now he's working on his kinesiology degree while spending his free time with the baseball team.

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Harris County, Industrial Companies Meet in Court Over Toxic Waste Dump

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Photo from the EPA
An aerial photo shows the 20-acre San Jacinto River Waste Pits situated beside Channelview and Highlands.

On Thursday Harris County attorneys went head-to-head with Fortune 500 companies they blame for polluting the San Jacinto River nearly 50 years ago.

With $3.7 billion worth in penalties and attorneys' fees on the line, the county's opening statements in the long-awaited environmental enforcement trial hinged on the responsible companies' intentional abandonment of a former waste dump. The companies counterargument: environmental regulations weren't enforced until well after they started dumping.

The fact of the matter is there are currently 20 acres of toxic paper mill sludge sitting in the San Jacinto River, nicknamed the Waste Pits. They were created when the Pasadena-based Champion Paper contracted with McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corporation to dispose of its industrial waste in a man-made enclosure inside the river, bounded by clay levees. After the Waste Pits filled, McGinnes elected to abandon them. Over time, carcinogenic chemicals leaked out into the river system.

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CDC Director Grilled by Congress Over Ebola Mess

Categories: Public Health

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Photo from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday, and boy, was it rough.

Frieden, previously known as the guy who urged New York's then-Mayor Bloomberg to go after cigarettes, soda sizes and trans fats, is now the face of the organization that appears to have repeatedly dropped the ball since the country's first Ebola case was confirmed in Dallas on September 30.

Things looked bad enough for Frieden after another of Thomas Eric Duncan's nurses tested positive for Ebola this week. Then it turned out that the nurse, Amber Vinson, flew from Cleveland to Dallas with a 99.5 degree temperature the day before she started showing clear-cut symptoms of the disease. And then it turned out that the CDC had cleared her for travel, a move that flies in the face of the agency's own protocols.

And then Frieden and other public health officials had to appear before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday. There are probably worse circumstances under which to head into a grilling by a House subcommittee, but off the top of our head, we can't think of any.


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