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Happy Texas Treason Day!

[ 86 ] March 2, 2017 |

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Hey, it’s Texas Independence Day! That’s the day that Texas declared treason against Mexico to defend slavery. What a joyous occasion. There was a time, many moons ago when Josh Treviño, probably because some nation was paying him, hated me because I talked on my blog that no one read about this issue. He used to call me “the worst history professor in America” and the like, which I assume makes me persona non grata in Malaysia. It was a good time. Anyway, back in 2009, I got sick of his lies about Texas not being a white supremacist slave nation from the moment it broke free from Mexico. So I went to the historiography and wrote this, which I still think holds up well.

Southerners always saw Texas as an extension of their economy and wanted to bring the institution there. Alamo hero Jim Bowie (a notorious wife beater among other things) and his brothers used Texas as a way to smuggle slaves into the United States. In 1808, the importation of slaves into the United States became illegal because of the clause inserted into the Constitution. Slaveholders desperately wanted to get around this and they came up with various ways to smuggle human beings into the country. The Bowie brothers smuggled around 1500 Africans into the United States through Galveston between 1818 and 1820. Texans continued these activities throughout the 1830s; while the Texas constitution outlawed the importation of slaves, this was not heavily enforced and was a sop to international opinion rather than a heartfelt condemnation of the practice. Paul Lack, in his work, The Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History, 1835-1836, writes “In the summer of 1835, many Anglo Texans concluded that Mexico had acquired the will and power to implement an antislavery strategy.” Nothing scared Texans more than this and they acted accordingly.

I’m not going to go into all the details about the events leading to the Texas Revolution. But John Quincy Adams and northern antislavery activists spoke what everyone knew in 1836–that the Texas Revolution was about slavery. Adams said in Congress that “the war now raging in Texas is a Mexican civil war and a war for the re-establishment of slavery where it was abolished.” Texas historian William C. Davis says that “you have the same contradiction [that you do in] the Civil War, when you’ve got several million Confederate citizens and soldiers preaching all the rhetoric of liberty while owning 3 million slaves.” Randolph Campbell, in his book An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865 writes “As the revolution developed in 1835, Texans saw the situation as a threat to slavery, and, ironically, as an attempt to reduce them to the status of slaves.” Horne says “slavery–or rather the “freedom” to engage in slavery –was a “primary cause of the Texas Revolution.”

African-Americans certainly saw the rebellion as about slavery. Slaves looked to rise up across east Texas and whites cracked down hard, including diverting troops away from fighting the Mexicans in order to stay at home and guard against slave revolts. Like in the Civil War, slaves fled to the Mexican lines whenever they could. I can go into much more detail about these revolts if anyone wants to hear about it. Moreover, when Santa Anna was captured and forced to sign the Treaties of Velasco, granting the Texans their independence, key to the conditions for his freedom was that he return all runaway slaves.

William Davis and Randolph Campbell also say that slavery wasn’t the only reason for the Texas Revolution. That’s true. White supremacy over Mexicans also played a role, as did religious differences, the isolation of Texas from Mexico City, that Mexico was an incredibly weak state during the 1830s, and that most of the white Texans always intended for the place to be part of the United States. But Treviño’s argument does not include this complexity; rather, like Confederate apologists, he claims that slavery played virtually no role. It’s not as if Santa Anna was marching to Texas to take away all the Texans’ slaves. But ending slavery was the greatest threat Texans faced. Campbell argues, “Texas could not…have protected slavery had they lost their war with Mexico. Defeat almost certainly would have meant the end of the institution.”

In conclusion, LBJ by no means makes up for the tremendous damage Texas has done to this nation’s politics. But we’ve done far too much to Mexico to demand it takes back Texas. Talk about horrible imperialism.

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Automation and Working Class Displacement

[ 348 ] February 21, 2017 |

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This piece on automation in the Permian Basin oil fields is telling for both why companies want to automate all their jobs and why this is disastrous for working-class Americans. A few bits:

In the land where oil jobs were once a guaranteed road to security for blue-collar workers, Eustasio Velazquez’s career has been upended by technology.

For 10 years, he laid cables for service companies doing seismic testing in the search for the next big gusher. Then, powerful computer hardware and software replaced cables with wireless data collection, and he lost his job. He found new work connecting pipes on rigs, but lost that job, too, when plunging oil prices in 2015 forced the driller he worked for to replace rig hands with cheaper, more reliable automated tools.

“I don’t see a future,” Mr. Velazquez, 44, said on a recent afternoon as he stooped over his shopping cart at a local grocery store. “Pretty soon every rig will have one worker and a robot.”

Oil and gas workers have traditionally had some of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs — just the type that President Trump has vowed to preserve and bring back. But the West Texas oil fields, where activity is gearing back up as prices rebound, illustrate how difficult it will be to meet that goal. As in other industries, automation is creating a new demand for high-tech workers — sometimes hundreds of miles away in a control center — but their numbers don’t offset the ranks of field hands no longer required to sling chains and lift iron.

And despite all the lost workers, United States oil production is galloping upward, to nine million barrels a day from 8.6 million in September. Nationwide, with a bit more than one-third as many rigs operating as in 2014, production is not even down 10 percent from record levels.

Some of the best wells here in the Permian Basin that three years ago required an oil price of over $60 a barrel for an operator to break even now need about $35, well below the current price of about $53.

Much of the technology has been developed by the aviation and automotive industries, along with deepwater oil exploration, over more than a decade. But companies drilling on land were slow to adapt until oil prices crashed and companies needed to get efficient quickly or go out of business.

All the big companies, and many smaller ones, have organized teams of technicians that collect well and tank data to develop complex algorithms enabling them to duplicate the design for the most productive wells over and over, and to repair valves and other parts before they break down.

The result is improved production and safety, but also a far smaller work force, and one that is increasingly morphing from muscle to brain power.

Pioneer Natural Resources, one of the most productive West Texas producers, has slashed the number of days to drill and complete wells so drastically that it has been able to cut costs by 25 percent in wells completed since early 2015. The typical rig that drilled eight to 12 wells a year just a few years ago now drills up to 16. Last year, the company added nearly 240 wells to its Permian Basin inventory without adding new employees.

The problem with automation is not its existence per se. After all, the search for greater efficiency has existed since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The problem with automation today is that as opposed to previous eras where automation might cause short-term displacement but would absorb those unemployed workers in other jobs in a booming industrial economy, today’s era of automation leaves no hope for equally good work in an economy where work itself is being phased out. There might be space for a few workers who can adapt to tech-oriented jobs, but many of these workers cannot. This will likely cause massive social problems. There simply are millions of Americans who will never go to college. They do not have that ability or desire. There has to be good jobs that pay well for them. If we get rid of all of these jobs, as it seems that we are, then what is the future for them?

This is why I think the Trump election may be seen in the future as the first of the Automation Era. The lack of economic opportunity creates desperation, hatred, and appeals to radicalism. It leads to a greater embrace of racism, ethnic nationalism, and violence. Of course Trump has no real answer for these workers in terms of reversing automation or creating a welfare state where the loss of work doesn’t matter. But he very much had an appealing message for white working class voters who long for the better days of the past mythologized or not (and it’s a little of both) in ways that include, but is not exclusive to, stable jobs that paid well and allowed the movement of workers into the middle-class. Yes, that’s racialized too. But it also doesn’t mean that they are wrong about their own position in the economy. The endless amount of data that demonstrate growing income inequality, working-class stagnation, debt, and the fact that nearly all the economic gains of the last 20 years have gone to the 1 percent are very real things. Unemployment may be low right now, but that doesn’t mean that the economy is doing well for working people of any race. It’s not. It means they can get a low-paying job. Or probably 2 or 3 of those low-paying jobs. Working on an oil rig is not a fun job. The Permian Basin in shockingly hot and awful (I would argue it is the single worst place in the United States). This is dangerous labor. There might be good reason to automate it. But it also pays well. And when you are trying to feed your family, you will sacrifice a lot to make that happen. If you don’t feel like you can feed your family, you will do anything to lash out at those who you think are causing your life’s problems. While we might want them to do that lashing at their employers, that has proven fleeting in American history. It’s going to be others they lash out against.

These are very hard questions. I don’t have all the answers. But I do know we have to find a future for working-class Americans of all races where they are paid well for dignified labor, whatever that might be. I have no problem with Universal Basic Income except that everything in American history says that people will largely reject it as a welfare program that is unrelated to work and therefore creates dependence. UBI strikes at core American mythology. So I don’t think it is feasible or even if it is, it isn’t good enough. We need a real jobs plan to put people to work. That might mean some industrial protectionism, even while we do not reject globalism in much of our society. It almost certainly means a massive green infrastructure program that ensures that our wind energy future is built from union-made, American-produced steel. That’s just a start. But we have to support and articulate that future. Because a world without decently-paid working-class jobs is a disastrous, awful, horrible world of massive instability. You don’t want to live in that version of the United States. And you are just beginning to find out why.

In a related point, you may also find this interesting, but I found it kind of wanky.

Life in Texas

[ 76 ] February 19, 2017 |

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Now that the entire nation is on the road to becoming Texas, let’s see what life is like in the Lone Star Republic.

Texans Carlos Santiago and Mary New, who both went from local schools to careers to partial retirement in Houston may as well live on separate planets when it comes to their lifestyles and financial realities.

While both remain residents of — and plan to end their days in — the nation’s fourth largest city, Santiago and New are on opposite sides of a wide income gap. Texas is home to more than 27 million people, including nearly 50 billionaires and more than 4.5 million people living in poverty.

“Texas is among the states with the highest income inequality,” says a December 2016 article posted on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Texas ranks 10th in the country, with its richest residents – the 5 percent of households – having average incomes 15 times as large as the bottom 20 percent of households and five times as large as the middle 20 percent of households.”

While Santiago and New are neither billionaires nor ranked at poverty level, Santiago’s once-steady work as a public relations consultant and photographer does not allow him to even maintain his high-crime north neighborhood apartment.

“I’m going to move in with my sister in Conroe (north of Houston). Temporarily, I hope,” said 43-year-old Santiago, adding that his sister had health issues, and asked him to come and help out.

Santiago’s general field of communications and information wasn’t even listed in the 2016 list of Texas Growth Opportunity jobs by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). Published by the TWC in 2015, projections for that industry anticipate a growth of 1,000 U.S. dollars, or average wages of 39,000 to 49,000 U.S. dollars annually, from 2014 to 2024. The statistics, however, do not include telecommunications, which is expected to grow from 79,000 to 89,000 U.S. dollars during the same 10-year period.

Santiago eats on a frugal diet at home, sometimes augmented by free bread, butter and jam set out for patrons after shelling out for a cup of coffee at some chain restaurants.

At the same time, New, a retired teacher, and her husband of 35 years, a project manager for one of the country’s top five oil and gas engineering companies, treat themselves to one of their favorite restaurants almost every night.

“I might cook a meal every two weeks,” said New, 68. “Both our parents left us a significant nest egg and they were cautious about their money. Between my retirement and my husband’s salary, I guess we have, in excess of or close to, 250,000 (U.S. dollars annually). We have stocks and bonds. I guess you’d say we’re reasonably affluent.”

The News enjoy traveling, especially on cruises, all over the world, and live in a paid-off, 3,700-square-foot house so filled with furniture, mementos, three dogs and three cats that she described it as qualifying for a reality TV show, “Hoarders: Buried Alive.”

New’s husband recently bought a new truck, but New said she is still driving her high-mileage car.

“He likes to shop for gadgets we don’t need, and I give to quite a few animal rescue groups,” New said.

She said a lot of their money was spent on medical care, and they sent their daughter to an expensive, private university, and gave her an expensive wedding.

“We have two little grandchildren and I went crazy for (buying) their Christmas stuff, and I set aside money every month in an account for them, just as we did for our daughter and just as my mother did for me,” New said.

As her husband approaches retirement, which will almost halve their income depending on how their stock investments fare, New is glad neither of them owes any credit card or personal debt.

New will still receive her own money from government-sponsored Social Security and from a pension from her 35-year teaching career.

Perfect! That it’s mostly people of color living in poverty is the feature, not a bug.

Today in Trump’s America

[ 154 ] January 28, 2017 |

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I imagine the lynchings begin soon.

A Texas mosque was set on fire just hours after Trump signed an executive order restricting migration from Muslim-majority countries.

The Islamic Center of Victoria was set on fire around 2 a.m. on Saturday, according to local reports.

Victoria Fire Marshal Tom Legler told the Victoria Advocate he had no theories about the cause of the fire, but he is seeking assistance from state and federal fire investigators.

“It’s a house of worship,” Shahid Hashmi, the president of the center, told the Victoria Advocate, as he watched the center burning. Hashmi also said he will not speculate about the cause of the fire, but mentioned the center was burglarized last week.

Today in Trump’s America

[ 124 ] November 18, 2016 |

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Not sure my liver can stand up for the next 4 years. Luckily, I’ll probably be in some political prison by 2018.

One of the latest examples came at a high school volleyball tournament in Snyder, Tex., where Archer City High was facing off with Fort Hancock on Friday.

Clumped in the stands, according to the Dallas Morning News, a group of Archer City students holding Trump/Pence signs and wearing wigs, trucker hats and fake mustaches directed a chant toward their opponents on the other side of the gym: “Build that wall.”

Fort Hancock is about an hour south of El Paso, along the Mexican border. The Fort Hancock Independent School District’s student population is 97 percent Hispanic, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Archer City is about two hours northwest of Dallas, near the Oklahoma border. The Star-Telegram, citing the Texas Education Agency, noted that Archer City High had an enrollment of 384 students last year, 83 percent of whom were white. Just 9 percent of the students were Hispanic.

The Archer City students also held a Texas flag and a second one declaring, “Come and Take It.” The latter is an iconic emblem of the Texas revolution that was flown at the Battle of Gonzales, the first military clash between Texans and Mexican forces. Known to anyone who’s taken an eighth-grade history class in the state, it remains a source of antagonistically tinged pride among some Texans who look down upon their southern neighbor.

Home town of Larry McMurtry, FWIW.

Reading in Prison

[ 85 ] September 25, 2016 |

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Above: A man too dangerous for Texas prisoners

The U.S. prison system is primarily designed to lock up people of color, control their labor, and humiliate them. There is very little about justice in the criminal injustice system. Anything that potentially empowers prisoners is something to be eliminated. In Texas especially, that includes reading anything that might possibly inspire prisoners.

Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison Legal News, says Texas has 15,000 banned books but the list “is growing exponentially. Once a book goes on it never comes off.”

The Texas list is not just long but diverse. It includes former Senator Bob Dole’s World War II: An Illustrated History of Crisis and Courage; Jenna Bush’s Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope; Jon Stewart’s America; A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction; and 101 Best Family Card Games. Then there are books banned for what TDCJ calls “racial content,” such as The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, the Texas football classic Friday Night Lights, Flannery O’Conner Everything That Rises Must Converge, and Lisa Belkin’s Show Me a Hero, which depicts the struggle to desegregate housing in Yonkers, New York in the face of institutional racism.

But don’t worry: Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, David Duke’s Jewish Supremacism, and the Nazi Aryan Youth Primer are all kosher. (Clark would not directly respond regarding this issue.)

Prison Labor: Modern Slavery

[ 75 ] September 7, 2016 |

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I don’t see how we in this nation can claim that slavery no longer exists. Because a state with 140,000 prisoners is forcing them to work for free without the ability to quit without punishment. The combination of a lack of payment and inability to quit your job is in fact the definition of slavery. That 68% of the prison population is black and Latino is surely coincidental, right?

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has the biggest prison population in the United States (over 140,000 prisoners) and the most prisons of any state (over 100). It is also known for being one of the most self-sufficient and profitable prison systems in the nation, thanks to prison labor.

Beef, pork, chicken and vegetables are raised, processed and harvested by prisoners. Soap and clothing items are manufactured through prison labor as well. Prisoners in Texas grow 24 different crops and tend to over 10,000 head of cattle. They also act as painters, electricians, maintenance workers, cooks, janitors and dog trainers.

It is wrong that this labor, which is managed by Texas Correctional Industries (TCI), is being forced upon prisoners, who are required to execute it for free. If they refuse, they receive discriminatory punishment and thus longer stays in prison.

That’s right: prisoners in Texas are working for free. Total sales for TCI in the fiscal year 2014 alone were valued at $88.9 million, and not one dime of it was used to pay those who produced this handsome reward. Whenever TCI is scrutinized by the public for this practice, they note that prisoners receive other rewards for their labor, such as time credits called “Good Time” or “Work Time.”

On paper, these credits are supposed to cut down the prisoner’s sentence and allow them to be released on mandatory supervision — earlier than they would if these credits didn’t exist. But in reality, mandatory supervision is discretionary. This means that the parole board doesn’t have to honor these credits. It can keep denying a prisoner’s release until they have served their entire sentence.

TDCJ claims that the prisoners’ free labor pays for their room and board, while the actual work gives them job skills to successfully seek and maintain employment upon their release. Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama are other states that utilize this money-making scheme. The other 46 states — one way or another — pay prisoners for their labor with funds that can be used to purchase items off the prison commissary.

Some prisoners work — for free — up to 12 hours a day. This is flat-out, modern-day slave labor and it will continue as long as society accepts the notion that prisoners deserve less.

Remind me how this is not slavery?

Texas Conservatives Are Winning Their War on Women

[ 55 ] August 23, 2016 |

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Good god Texas.

The rate of Texas women who died from complications related to pregnancy doubled from 2010 to 2014, a new study has found, for an estimated maternal mortality rate that is unmatched in any other state and the rest of the developed world.

The finding comes from a report, appearing in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, that the maternal mortality rate in the United States increased between 2000 and 2014, even while the rest of the world succeeded in reducing its rate. Excluding California, where maternal mortality declined, and Texas, where it surged, the estimated number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births rose to 23.8 in 2014 from 18.8 in 2000 – or about 27%.

But the report singled out Texas for special concern, saying the doubling of mortality rates in a two-year period was hard to explain “in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval”.

From 2000 to the end of 2010, Texas’s estimated maternal mortality rate hovered between 17.7 and 18.6 per 100,000 births. But after 2010, that rate had leaped to 33 deaths per 100,000, and in 2014 it was 35.8. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 600 women died for reasons related to their pregnancies.

No other state saw a comparable increase.

In the wake of the report, reproductive health advocates are blaming the increase on Republican-led budget cuts that decimated the ranks of Texas’s reproductive healthcare clinics. In 2011, just as the spike began, the Texas state legislature cut $73.6m from the state’s family planning budget of $111.5m. The two-thirds cut forced more than 80 family planning clinics to shut down across the state. The remaining clinics managed to provide services – such as low-cost or free birth control, cancer screenings and well-woman exams – to only half as many women as before.

No one can say that Texas conservatives don’t know what they are doing. I would like to see how this specifically affects Latinas, because dollars to donuts, the biggest impact is in south Texas. But this article doesn’t explore that.

Today in Terrible Republican Governance

[ 42 ] June 5, 2016 |

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Example A) Texas leaving billions on the table because it won’t expand medical care, dooming its poor to illness and death.

Example B) The impending disaster in Illinois, most notably in higher education, but throughout state services, because the state’s voters wanted a fresh voice and elected a right-wing extremist.

Texas Education

[ 35 ] May 12, 2016 |

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I didn’t really mean this to be “pick on Texas” day, but don’t blame me, blame Texas.

Remember those nice Texas history standards from a few years back that decided that slavery was a “side issue to the Civil War” and mandated that McCarthyism be portrayed in a positive light?

Well, one of the former state Board of Education members who pushed through these standards is now contributing to what seems to be the only acceptable book on Mexican-Americans on the state level, although the state did allow school districts to choose their own books. It naturally enough claims that the Chicano movement “adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.” Here’s some more nice things about it:

The former BOE member:

Cynthia Dunbar was a member of the SBOE from 2007 to 2010, in the thick of the debate over social studies standards that cemented the board’s stoogish reputation and steeped yet another generation of Texas schoolchildren in a retrograde sense of history. “No one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses,” she said in 2010, during her opening prayer for a board meeting. Dunbar’s appointee to a panel of expert reviewers recommended removing Cesar Chavez from the standards altogether.

So, it’s fair to say that Dunbar’s time on the board did not reflect a great interest in Mexican-American history. She did have some notable publishing experience on the board, though. Her 2008 volume One Nation Under God — which was released while she was on the State Board of Education — called public schooling a “tyrannical” and a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.” The book’s back cover bears a call to action: “America needs people who know the truth, speak the truth and stand for the truth. Unfortunately, many of us are simply not aware of the clear constitutional and biblical principles that initiated and governed the course of this union.”

And the content:

What’s most notable about the text, on first glance, is how little attention is given to the history of Mexican-American people, and how much is rote retelling of the separate histories of the United States and Mexico. In a 500-page book, only the last few chapters confront civil and labor rights issues. Most is subject matter you’d expect in any U.S. history book — the Declaration of Independence, the Kennedy assassination, the Cold War.

“Every year, Mexican-American festivals feature mariachi bands and traditional Spanish dancing,” one passage reads, before going on to mention the not-quite-so-Mexican salsa, tango and rumba. “Latino celebrities in general are considered to be full of talent, drama, and appeal,” it reads. A passage on “Latin Literature” features the beloved Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez — who at least lived in Mexico — along with the Chilean-American Isabel Allende and the Brazilian Pablo Coelho, who wrote in Portuguese.

Really, they’re all the same, amiright?

A Good Use of Resources

[ 73 ] May 12, 2016 |

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Since Texas obviously has the best system of education and most fair social programs in the United States, they have nothing better to spend public funds on. So might as well have a race to the top for high school football stadiums:

Massive budget cuts to Texas schools in 2011 are still having ripple effects throughout the school system in the state, but apparently not in McKinney, Texas where a new $62.8 million stadium project passed with 63 percent of the vote on Monday.

Texas schools may have been forced to increase class sizes, cut bus routes, fire teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses and more staff, but when it comes to high school football, they’re willing to raise taxes, according to CBS Sports.

The new stadium is expected to come in right at $50.3 million but there is an additional $12.5 million needed for roads, sewage and other infrastructure associated with the building itself. But compared to the $1.15 billion they spent on the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium in 2009, $62.8 million is just pocket change.

The new 12,000 person structure will be just four miles from Eagle Stadium in Allen, Texas, which was the previous home of the most expensive high school football stadium in the country at $60 million.

Texas Prison Museum

[ 26 ] May 3, 2016 |

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When I lived in Texas, I kept wondering if I should go to the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville. It was both horrifying and fascinating at the same time. Why would someone go see an electric chair in a prison largely dedicated to celebrating law enforcement? But maybe the answer is that I would go to see who would go see that. In any case, I never actually went. But evidently, prison museums are a burgeoning set of tourist attractions across the country and the Texas Observer has what is actually a really interesting article on the Texas Prison Museum.

But while the museum may reinforce a message of humane treatment as progress, it also reflects prison administration to the exclusion of inmates, says Elizabeth Neucere, a history master’s graduate from SHSU who wrote her thesis about the museum. While panels throughout the museum explain the work inmates do, few exhibits feature prisoners’ voices. Most inmates mentioned by name were executed, tried to escape, or were considered “famous and infamous.” A photo exhibit featuring executed inmates is one of the few displays that allows visitors to hear the voices behind the bars.

“The Texas Prison Museum … inhibits the possibility for public forum by creating silences in its historical presentation through the active choices made in exhibit design or display that makes a narrative superficial or absent,” Neucere writes in her thesis. “Impropriety in the Texas prison system goes unnoticed by museum visitors, making contemporary inmate battles for human rights seem unwarranted.”

For instance, Neucere says, the exhibit on inmate punishment displays handcuffs, a ball and chain, and old padlocks, as well as the bat, a leather strap with a wooden handle legally used to whip inmates until 1941. The card next to the bat says “Used for corporal punishment on convicts until the mid 1940s,” omitting the 1909 state investigation that uncovered abusive use of the bat, debates about banning it during the 1912 governor’s race, and its temporary replacement with the “dark cell,” an early form of solitary confinement. The bat returned to widespread use in the 1930s before being banned in 1941. But none of this information is present in the display.

The museum’s selective silences, Neucere says, are partly a response to Ruiz v. Estelle, which resulted in federal oversight and major reforms to the prison system after the 1980 ruling that it was unconstitutional. “Ruiz is not remembered fondly among the prison system and this is reflected in the museum, along with any other court case against the system,” Neucere writes. The plaintiffs’ accounts of overcrowding, inmate-on-inmate violence and inadequate medical care brought negative publicity. She suggests that, consciously or not, the case likely influenced the museum founders’ presentation of the story.

Pierce, the volunteer archivist, says there’s probably some truth in that argument. Many people who helped with the museum were directly involved with Ruiz compliance issues, “and they were preoccupied with people being sued and fired,” he says. “I think the thing they liked about the museum is that it gives a sense of authenticity, history and importance: ‘Yeah, I worked at the prison system, and there were some bad things about it sometimes, but we have a history.’”

Asked if he thought some of the decade-old informational panels should be updated, Willett, the museum director and retired warden, was hesitant. “History doesn’t change, so a lot of what’s out there is, in my mind, never going to be updated other than to just refresh it from the fading,” he said. “Some of the stuff is historical, and it’s over with, and it won’t be changed.”

It won’t be changed? Now that’s some wishful thinking! In fact, the article goes on to note that Neucere is taking over as curator next year and certainly will change some things. But curators don’t have full power. Most museums has something like a board of governors. Who tends to serve on these boards? Often they are staunch conservatives, either political appointees or people who are very invested in telling specific stories. So I’d be awfully skeptical that any changes to this museum will be fast. Law enforcement’s influence is likely to remain high, not to mention that I’m guessing the average visitor to this museum does not tend to skew as a Sanders voter. Yet such a museum actually has a ton of potential to tell really interesting stories about the past and present.

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