Setting New Standards in Stupid: The 2014 Turkeys of the Year

Setting New Standards in Stupid: The 2014 Turkeys of the Year
John Ueland

Albert Einstein once said that the only difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits. Obviously Einstein didn't factor the Turkey of the Year, a creature with a seemingly infinite capacity for senseless, ludicrous and ill-advised decisions, into the equation.

This has been a remarkable year for turkeyism and we had to make some truly tough choices in determining which turkeys had outrun, outflapped and out-dumbed all the competition. It was the best of times -- because there were so many turkeys to choose from -- and it was the worst of times -- because seriously, there were so many viable befeathered options.

There was the sheer brilliance of NFL player Adrian Peterson: After being arrested and let out on bail for allegedly hitting his kid in what some people called child abuse, Peterson showed up at his court date in Montgomery County and admitted to the drug test administrator and the judge that he had "smoked a little pot" before taking his drug test.

Deputies in the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department managed to crash their $250,000 drone (secured with a 2011 grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security) into Lake Conroe during training exercises. Ryan Chandler, a Houston Police Department homicide detective, was fired for failing to investigate more than two dozen cases. Robert Talbot Jr., a New Yorker who had recently relocated to Katy, hated Muslims so much that he came all the way to H-town to start his terrorism cell, only to inadvertently hire undercover FBI agents and end up in a cell.

The Houston branch of Open Carry Texas attempted to hold an Open Carry march through Fifth Ward -- at one point, the march was slated to be held on Juneteenth -- neglecting to consider that some in the historically black neighborhood might not be thrilled to see a bunch of white guys with guns there to "liberate" them.

Most scientific types keep a low profile, but Michael Honeycutt, the head toxicologist at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, grabbed our attention after he declared that the federal Environmental Protection Agency was wrong and Texans don't need to have better air quality because most Texans don't go outside.

And we're not done yet. After landing the top spot last year, Sen. Ted Cruz did his best to earn a practically unheard-of two-in-a-row nod. He forgot the key role he had played in shutting down the government last year when he criticized the shutdown this year. He showed up at an event for Middle Eastern Christians and started spouting off about Israel to the point that Cruz, an invited guest, was practically booed off the stage. In a year when Gov. Rick Perry got indicted and Rep. Louie Gohmert exercised his virtuosic talent for saying something offensive and crazy every time he opened his mouth, Cruz really shone for his sheer tenacious determination to ignore paltry things like facts or common sense in his bid to talk his way into a run at the White House.

In honor of September 11, wannabe Texan Ted Nugent warned that this year's anniversary would be another "date of infamy" and advised all Americans to grab their guns and keep them close and loaded. Ever classy, the Nuge also referred to President Obama as a "subhuman mongrel." Even Republican gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Greg Abbott had to back away from that one.

Then Mayor Annise Parker and company issued a controversial subpoena to Houston-area pastors demanding their notes and sermons. That backfired just a bit. On the upside, anyone looking for a Bible should swing by Parker's office. After the mail-in campaign, she's got hundreds.

But in the great scheme of things, these were just also-rans. And thus we give you the 2014 Turkeys of the Year.

 

Turkey of the Year, Gov. Rick Perry and company were so sure they had the Texas solution to handle the Ebola crisis, right up until it became clear it wasn't going so well.
Turkey of the Year, Gov. Rick Perry and company were so sure they had the Texas solution to handle the Ebola crisis, right up until it became clear it wasn't going so well.
Photo by AP Photo/LM Otero

Turkey of the Year: The Texas Ebola Response

There are all kinds of ways to handle a potential Ebola crisis. We know this now because Texas gave a master class in how not to deal with it when a guy with the disease landed in Dallas.

The matter was epically mismanaged from the start. We all knew that Ebola was devastating West Africa, killing most of those who were infected with a virus for which there is no FDA-approved vaccine or treatment. But whenever anyone worried about Ebola coming to the States, there were all kinds of blithe reassurances that it wouldn't be an issue -- the not-even-a-little-subtle subtext being that West Africa couldn't contain Ebola because, well, it was West Africa, after all.

Then Thomas Eric Duncan caught a plane from disease-ravaged Liberia and arrived in Dallas in September. Within days he had a fever, severe stomach pains and intestinal troubles, and Duncan and his family went to the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian, a nonprofit "premier" hospital in Dallas. (Our much-vaunted superior system should have kicked in right about here.)

When Duncan arrived at the hospital, he had a 103-degree fever and severe gastrointestinal problems, including vomiting and diarrhea. Duncan and his family reportedly told the nurses and doctors who saw him that night that he had flown in from Liberia. The medical team sent Duncan home with antibiotics.

Hospital officials would later claim that the nurse taking Duncan's information didn't tell the doctors Duncan had come from a country where Ebola was rampant. Then the story became that the nurse had entered the information but a glitch in the computer system (a modern dog-ate-my-homework, if you will) prevented this key detail from being recorded. Then it went that the nurse didn't screw up, the infallible technology didn't screw up, but somehow the doctors didn't know. It's no coincidence that Texas Health Presbyterian settled with Duncan's family for an undisclosed amount about a month after his death.

Duncan was brought back to the ER three days later, admitted, diagnosed and quarantined for Ebola. Eventually. See, he was only suspected of having Ebola those first couple of days. Thus it made absolute sense that his doctors let him stay in an open ER with other sick people for those first hours while he secreted and excreted incredibly contagious bodily fluids in staggering amounts. It was also the smartest move in the world not to give the nurses caring for him hazmat suits in those first two days before doctors knew for sure that he had the disease. (The hospital was supposedly following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that didn't require anything more than impermeable gowns, face masks, gloves and goggles. The CDC updated the guidelines after two nurses became infected. The CDC also mucked things up royally, but our awards are restricted to Texas turkeys, alas.)

Meanwhile, city, state and federal officials had this whole Ebola thing under control. Except for the part where they quarantined Duncan's family and friends in the apartment Duncan stayed at before returning to the hospital but failed to decontaminate the apartment or even remove the sheets and linens Duncan had used while ill.

Remember that original line according to which only a few people likely were exposed? And then remember how "a few" blossomed to more than 100, including a homeless man who rode in the same ambulance right after Duncan and whom authorities didn't bother to actually quarantine or keep track of until he went missing? And remember how the medical staff at the hospital wasn't included in that initial quarantine watch, and days after Duncan died, two nurses who had cared for him tested positive for Ebola? But once they took care of that, everything else was covered. Well, except for the people who were supposed to be quarantined and that nurse who was allowed to fly with a low-grade fever days before she was formally diagnosed with the disease.

Every day seemed to reveal some new bit of ineptitude at some level of government. We attended to Ebola so badly that other states have undoubtedly looked at the Texas approach and made sure to do the opposite with their Ebola scares. Despite all this, Gov. Rick Perry still walked around forming advisory boards to provide a Texas solution to the next Ebola threat. Because the Lone Star State controlled this one so well.

 

Political Turkey of the Year, soon-to-be-former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a.k.a. the incumbant Republican who actually lost to Dan Patrick.
Political Turkey of the Year, soon-to-be-former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a.k.a. the incumbant Republican who actually lost to Dan Patrick.
Campaign photo

Political Turkey of the Year: David Dewhurst

When it comes to political turkeys, we always have a veritable cornucopia to choose from in Texas, but this year, soon-to-be former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is the clear winner.

When Dewhurst moved into the 2014 primary season, he was the Republican incumbent, having held for more than a decade what some say is the most powerful office in the state. He was running against a handful of candidates, to be sure, but still he had plenty of personal wealth (from his days in the Houston energy industry) and political experience to back him up.

Somehow, Dewhurst went from being the front-runner in what should have been an easy primary campaign and subsequent electoral win to desperately grappling for the Republican spot with none other than Houston's own state Sen. Dan Patrick.

Patrick, a former shock-jock radio announcer and TV sports reporter, was dubbed one of the worst legislators of the year by Texas Monthly in 2013. He started the Tea Party caucus in the Texas Legislature. Patrick once defended Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson after Robertson compared homo-sexuality to bestiality in a GQ interview. Patrick claimed that Robertson was "doing God's work." Even those who are ardent Texas Tea Party supporters fall silent when Patrick's name comes up. It should have been easy for someone, you know, already holding the office to beat him. And yet.

After neither of them secured the Republican nod in the primaries, Dewhurst and Patrick started campaigning in the runoff election. That was when things went from the traditional campaign-level sniping to a mess of mudslinging that made it clear these two would as soon punch each other in the face as breathe, if either of them could get away with it. There were super-tasteful revelations about Patrick's history of mental-health issues (actually dumped in the media by another wannabe lieutenant governor, but they blew up in Dewhurst's face). Then there were some truly bizarre campaign ads run by the Dewhurst camp. (Our favorite was "Danny Goeb," sung to the tune of Disney's "Let It Go." Was Dew-hurst even watching this stuff before it went out?)

End of the day, Dewhurst ran such a bad campaign that he managed to make Patrick look like a viable option to voters, Patrick got the Republican nomination and that was the end of any actual campaigning for the office as far as Patrick was concerned. Now Dewhurst is talking about running for mayor right here in Houston, and we're girding whatever needs to be girded against the day that Patrick formally takes over. It didn't have to be this way.

 

Rick Ross may not have gone to Festival Turkey of 
the Year Houston Beer Fest, but Action Bronson showed up.
Rick Ross may not have gone to Festival Turkey of 
the Year Houston Beer Fest, but Action Bronson showed up.
Photo by Francisco Montes

Festival Turkey of 
the Year: Houston Beer Fest

The Fourth Annual Houston Beer Fest was going to be a wonder. So many kinds of beer! And this time it would double as a music festival, complete with rapper Rick Ross headlining. Timothy Hudson, event organizer extraordinaire, hired Ross and supposedly paid the man more than $150,000 pre-show as part of the contract. But the days leading up to the festival were filled with harbingers of trouble. For some reason or other -- perhaps something to do with lack of payment (this will be a theme) -- Ross abruptly canceled the appearance because of a "medical emergency."

But there was still the beer! And lots of people! Beer Fest was built and the people did come -- more than expected, in fact -- plunking down between $20 and $200 to get in, long before they'd even started purchasing the actual beer. With ticket sales like that, the festival should have been making money hand over fist. You'd think, right? This is where it all got weird because somehow Houston Beer Fest failed to turn a profit, according to the -organizers.

Although an estimated 30,000 people poured into Sam Houston Park for the two-day festival in early June, event director Hudson had some unforeseen problems. Namely, he somehow failed to foresee he was going to have to actually pay the bands, the concession workers and the guards providing security and for the beer itself.

After the suds were downed and the glasses drained, strange rumblings started to be heard. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission reported that brewers were filing complaints alleging that Beer Fest owed more than $100,000 for the beer they had provided. Then it was the workers who hadn't been paid, and neither had the bands that actually did show up for the gig. Initially the security guards were stiffed, though they were paid the more than $16,000 owed them via a not-at-all-sketchy-sounding backpack full of cash.

The owners eventually admitted they were a little short on funds but not because of epic mismanagement or anything like that. There were about 300 temporary workers, and they all allegedly stuck their hands in the till during that beer-soaked weekend. And that was the official explanation (or at least as close to an official explanation as anyone ever got).

We have to hand it to the organizers for sheer optimism, though. Despite the messy aftermath, the great minds behind the event weren't discouraged. They've already announced Houston Beer Fest 2015.


Turkey Sportsman of the Year, Johnny Manziel flipped off the Washington Redskins during a preseason game. Classy.
Turkey Sportsman of the Year, Johnny Manziel flipped off the Washington Redskins during a preseason game. Classy.

Turkey Sportsman of the Year: Johnny Manziel

Not everyone could manage to launch himself into the NFL and secure his very first Turkey award all in the same year, but not every-one is Johnny Manziel. This time last year, Johnny Football was adored by most Texans (particularly the Aggie variety) for his prowess on the football field, and he was skilled enough that his various youthful hijinks were viewed as just this side of adorable by his enthused fans.

This year saw us move from the Johnny Football era to the time of "Johnny Manziel, Consummate Professional Football Player." The youthful tomfoolery was over because Manziel was going pro. Or so we thought. After a disappointing turn on NFL Draft Day, Manziel was picked up by the Cleveland Browns and everyone thought the team had won itself a new face for its franchise, a goose that would lay only golden eggs and make everything wonderful for the Browns.

Take a 21-year-old with a defiant streak, put him in the NFL and give him gobs of cash, access and the other perks of fame, then set him loose on the world. What could possibly go wrong?

By draft night, Manziel was spotted spraying champagne on club-goers. He was suddenly, clearly, unfortunately not just a talented newcomer to the NFL world but the Justin Bieber of promising newcomers. And social media was there to glory in all the shenanigans. Manziel ended up on the back of an inflatable swan, swigging from a bottle of bubbly and looking for all the world like a jackass of epic proportions.

It didn't end there. He came to Houston itself and tried to do the money phone -- the thing where very cool people, usually rappers, hold a massive stack of money to the ear as if it's a phone -- and did the worst money phone ever, which promptly graced the interwebs.

The exploits continued with trips to Vegas, where the Football Hero of Texas was photographed rolling up a bill in the bathroom. (Perhaps he rolled it to make it easier to carry?)

Manziel capped the whole thing off by pecking his way down to a new low, hanging out with the Biebster himself. Whether Manziel was trolling his teammates, his still--ardent fans, his increasingly unamused bosses, the country and the entire world, or had simply found a like-minded spirit in Bieber, we'll never know.

 

Judicial Turkey of the Year: Denise Pratt

We honestly feel this one is pretty self-explanatory, but in case y'all missed it, we're going to take out the carving knives and dig in.

We get it, it's tough to be a judge. There's a lot of work involved in family law, as mercifully former-judge Denise Pratt should know, but that's nothing compared to the trials of being a family court judge. Maybe that's why Pratt, upon being elected judge of the 311th Family District Court in 2010, stopped actually doing the work.

Her rulings were issued long after the hearings had been held, and there were stacks and stacks of cases that needed only a signature. It got so bad that the 14th Court of Appeals reprimanded Pratt in May 2013 for "unreasonable delays" and ordered her to rule on a case she'd heard ten months earlier (even in our sluggish legal system, that's a really long wait). This judge was so bad at her job that even lawyers got together to file a complaint against her.

A lesser soul would have looked at all this -- a stint in public office that might generously be called disastrous -- and been discouraged over the thought of running for another term. Not Pratt. She plowed on, filing for re-election even though the rank and file of her own party must have cringed at the very idea. But Pratt had a plan. The plan basically seemed to be that she was going to run and by golly she was going to win!

It was all going swimmingly, too, right up until the pesky fact surfaced that Harris County prosecutors were investigating her for dismissing hundreds of cases. With that revelation -- but only after a tie in the primary race for re-election, ensuring her name would still appear on the primary runoff ballot in May -- Pratt abruptly resigned from office, citing the damage "relentless attacks by my political opponents" were having on the court, the local Republican Party and her family as her motivation for vacating the gig. She left behind an administrative mess -- masses of files and court orders vaguely sorted with pastel-colored sticky notes -- most charitably described as "random chaos."

Though Pratt had already fled the political stage, her name was still on the ballot for that May runoff. Luckily, enough people seemed to have noticed that the incumbent Republican candidate was also epically incompetent, but there was a brief moment when Pratt could conceivably have been re-elected (disturbingly, she still got about 22 percent of the votes). That didn't happen, for which we are all truly thankful.


Sports Network Turkey of the Year: Comcast's CSN

It's not often that you see a good idea -- say, a regional cable channel devoted entirely to local sports -- taken out and flown into the ground with the determined skill of a turkey flapping its wings off the top of the JPMorgan Chase Tower. But the hydra-headed turkey of Comcast SportsNet Houston is a most unusual bird.

The original plan was that CSN would be a regional sports channel on which people could, you know, actually watch the Astros, the Rockets and other Houston teams. Houston fans would get to have remote communion with their sporting teams of choice, and the Astros, the Rockets and Comcast -- each of which owned a portion of CSN -- would rake in the dough from selling the carriage rights. It was a solid plan, one that would have totally worked if anyone besides Comcast subscribers had been able to actually get CSN.

Alas, this wasn't the case. For some reason or other (popular wisdom calls that reason Astros owner Jim Crane), Comcast was never able to make a carriage deal with any other cable providers. Not that the other providers didn't want the Astros and the Rockets and company in their channel lineup: They just balked at paying crazy carriage fees.

When Crane bought the Astros from Drayton McLane, he paid more than $600 million for the team. It turned out that price tag was more puffed up than a Thanksgiving Day parade float, and a huge portion of the inflated cost was based on selling those broadcast rights to other non-Comcast cable providers. (Crane sued McLane for fraud over this, and that case is ongoing.) Crane expected a mint of money from those broadcast rights.

However, when CSN premiered in October 2012, only about 40 percent of Houston could watch the channel and our home teams, while CSN remained unavailable to the rest of the city. Comcast was never able to make a deal to share those carriage rights and was unable to actually pay the broadcast rights fees, and the network swan-dived into bankruptcy in September 2013.

Even after that, all the players continued to grapple over how to handle CSN, failing to hit upon a compromise that would satisfy all parties for more than a year. In October it seemed like a solution was at hand. A judge signed off on the Chapter 11 reorganization plans, clearing the way for the remnants of CSN to be sold to AT&T and DirecTV. Well, almost. Comcast officials opposed the plan to sell CSN to AT&T and DirecTV, and their attorneys asked for a stay on the judge's ruling.

After it was finally dragged out of legal limbo in November, AT&T and DirecTV gutted CSN and replaced it with Root Sports Houston, which is accessible to most people who have cable and satellite in the area. Root Sports Houston is undoubtedly a lesser thing than CSN. So basically, all this infighting and legal wrangling took a great network and managed to destroy it. And it's being replaced by something comparatively crappy. The whole debacle racked up millions of dollars in court costs and lost rights fees and left more than half of CSN's employees jobless. Now that's some fine turkeying.


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