During his decade in office, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has named Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck as "honorary Texans." He may be the first Lone Star State governor to use the award to such brazen political ends, but he's sure not the first to use it to get attention. Here's the lowdown on 10 of the most interesting honorees.
Governor: Alan Shivers (D)
Honorary Texan: General George MacArthur (1951) Lowdown: The three-star general received the honor in Austin while on a tour to promote a stronger military stance against Korea. His son was named "Honorary Junior Texas Ranger." The general later led a parade in Houston attended by 500,000 people and visited Galveston, where he was to receive a Cadillac.
Governor: John Connally (D) Honorary Texans: 100th and 442nd US Army Regiments (1962) Lowdown: Composed of Japanese-American soldiers enlisted from WW II internment camps, these regiments suffered the highest casualty rates of any Army formations. Particularly severe were the 800 deaths sustained in rescuing the "Lost Battalion"—221 Texans trapped in eastern France.
Governor: Preston Smith (D) Honorary Texan: Shirley MacLaine (1972) Lowdown: Upon receiving her award, the actress-activist said, "Next time I'm in Texas, I hope I'm awarded this by Cissy Farenthold." Farenthold was the congresswoman who'd lost the Democratic nomination to Smith that spring.
Governor: Dolph Briscoe (D) Honorary Texan: Christi Worthington (circa 1976): Lowdown: Worthington's father, a Texan jeweler who'd relocated to Iowa, wrote his mother and asked her to send a bag of dirt so that his baby would be born on Texas soil. He then successfully petitioned the governor to make his daughter an honorary Texan.
Governor: Bill Clements (R) Honorary Texan: Deng Xioping (1979) Lowdown: A decade before the Chinese leader stood behind the massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, he was made an honorary Texan, given a cowboy hat, and treated to a rodeo and barbecue. Looking back on the affair, the Houston Chronicle wrote, "Herein lies a lesson for all Americans concerning the diplomatic conventions of civility and hospitality, and the harsh realities of totalitarian dictatorships."
Governor: Ann Richards (D) Honorary Texan: Bob Hope (1992) Lowdown: Richards handed the actor his certificate of Texan citizenship and said, "This entitles you to come to the mansion and see me anytime you want, honey."
Governor: George W. Bush (R) Honorary Texan: William Hague (1999) Lowdown: "I might be persuaded to wear the boots, but I'm certainly not going to wear the hat," the leader of Great Britain's Conservative Party said upon receiving the honor. Honorary Texan:Bob Dylan (1999) Lowdown: In 2009, after mentioning his Texas citizenship in an interview with the UK's Sunday Times, Dylan had this to say about Bush's legacy: "As far as blaming everything on the last president, think of it this way: the same folks who had held him in such high regard came to despise him. Isn't it funny that they're the very same people who once loved him? People are fickle. Their loyalty can turn at the drop of a hat."
Governor: Rick Perry Honorary Texan: Russell Crowe (2001) Lowdown: The Gladiator star received the award from Perry shortly before his band played Perry's daughter's 15th birthday party. Honorary Texan: Glenn Beck (2010) Lowdown: When Perry presented the award to the Fox News host at a "Taking Back America" rally at the Oil Palace in Tyler, Beck says he asked the governor, "Is there ever going to be a time when I'm going to need to use this as a passport?"
Forget cowboy hats, wide vistas, or the mileage on the typical F-350 ranch truck. The biggest thing in Texas is the state's outsized sense of identity. Ever since the Battle of the Alamo immortalized Davy Crockett, the Lone Star State and its residents have loomed larger than life in popular mythology. Texas has its own rugged archetype in Hollywood, its own ethnic cuisines, and its own "national" beer and magazine. No state is better known as a cultural standout.
In Austin, where state identity is the manna of politics, governors have long upheld the tradition of naming worthy outsiders "honorary Texans"—a title that Crockett, a Tennessee native who died fighting for Texas, would have deserved. Foreign dignitaries, actors, and musicians have been the most popular picks, though some governors have gotten more creative. (Check out the stories behind 10 of the more unconventional picks.) Ann Richards named a breast cancer victim and a women's basketball star. George W. Bush named a Catholic nun and an insurance lobbyist. And Rick Perry named Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin.
On the blog of the respected Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Vedder, a researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, recently made a strikingly counterintuitive argument against expanding access to college. Using a regression analysis of 2000 census data, he found that states with higher college graduation rates had worse income inequality. He also found that the opposite was true of those states in the 1970s, when the nation's college graduation rate was much lower on average but wages were more equal.
What's going on here? "I suspect the law of diminishing returns is at work," Vedder writes. "When college attendance/graduation is relatively rare, expanding it does bring in a number of able students who graduate and become productive members of the labor force." But when the number of graduates outstrips the number of available high-paying jobs, "the incremental graduates do not fare as well economically."
Vedder is no doubt onto something here. His findings illustrate why we can't save the American middle class by investing in education alone; we'll also have to figure out how to revive unions, fix tax and trade policy, and make the kinds of investments in technology and infrastructure that put Americans back to work.
That said, Vedder's findings are no cause to give up on publicly funded higher education. The five states with the highest college graduation rates all rank above average for median income. So college graduates aren't doing worse than non-graduates per se. In economically stratified (and highly educated) places like New York, Connecticut, and Silicon Valley, income inequality is to a large degree a gap between the affluent and the spectacularly affluent.
More important, Vedder fails to account for how inequality is widening between colleges themselves. Between 1999 and 2009, private research universities increased their per-student spending by about $7,500, to almost $36,000. Meanwhile, spending on the average public community college student stayed nearly flat, at slightly more than $10,000 per student. It should come as no surprise then that graduates of prestige schools continue to outpace other collegians.
As a conservative, Vedder wants to see schools tighten their academic standards and teach people the kinds of skills that they need to get jobs. Those are fine ideas. But we also need to stop eviscerating the budgets of public universities and colleges even as they expand enrollment. You don't have to be a Harvard grad to understand that you get what you pay for.
Fire raged in a neighborhood near the west end of Bastrop, Texas, on September 5.
On Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry left the presidential campaign trail in South Carolina to attend to the most destructive wildfire in his state's history. Touring the flames in Bastrop, which has lost 600 homes to the blaze, he urged people to be "incredibly careful" because "people's lives, pets, livestock, and frankly, legacies of generations to come can be put in jeopardy." Perry was warning against sparking fires with cigarette butts, but not, it would seem, against sparking them with his own risky brand of climate change denial.
According Jianbang Gan, an environmental science professor at Texas A&M University, global warming is strongly tied to an increase in wildfires. He predicts that if the temperature climbs by 7 degrees Fahrenheit—what climate experts predict for Texas by the end of the century—the number of wildfires will more than double. Increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere will cause plants to grow faster, while higher temperatures will dry them out more quickly, setting the stage for the kind of intense blazes that have consumed 3.5 million acres in the Lone Star State this year.
The direct causes of this year's wildfires are a record-breaking heat wave and the worst single-year drought in state history, which is itself linked to climate change. The drought has been the result of storms shifting northward—the same conditions predicted by climate change models. Though it may also be caused by the naturally occurring La Niña weather pattern, human-induced global warming "is almost certainly making this extreme event worse," Texas A&M climate scientist Andrew Dessler toldThinkProgress Green. "There is absolutely no way that you can conclude that climate change is not playing a role here."
You've got to hand it to the Taiwanese for doing whatever it takes to educate the masses about politics. Ok, so maybe Karl Rove didn't really have a snake shooting out of his mouth when he convinced Rick Perry to become a Republican, and maybe Slick Rick has never ridden an elephant or shot up the governor's mansion with lasers, but who cares? It's a metaphor, dude. If you still think those Carly Fiorina Demon Sheep clips are weird, you've obviously never seen this masterpiece from Next Media Animation: