Tag Archives: authority

Dakota Access Pipeline protesters celebrate, remain at camp

Thousands of protesters in North Dakota celebrated after the federal government ruled against a controversial pipeline project but were mindful the fight is not over, as the company building the line said it had no plans for re-routing the pipe.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said on Sunday it rejected an application to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to tunnel under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River.

The decision came after months of protests from Native Americans and activists, who argued that the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline would damage sacred lands and could contaminate the tribe’s water source.
Energy Transfer Partners, in a joint statement with its partner, Sunoco Logistics Partners, said late on Sunday they do not intend to reroute the line, calling the Obama administration’s decision a “political action.” They said they still expect the project to be completed, noting that the Army Corps said they had followed all required legal procedures in the permitting process.

The mood among protesters has been upbeat since the rejection was announced at the Oceti Sakowin camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Activists were seen hugging and letting out war cries in response to the news.

With the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump supportive of the project, activists were concerned a reversal could be coming.

“This is a temporary celebration. I think this is just a rest,” said Charlotte Bad Cob, 30, from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. “With a new government it could turn and we could be at it again.”

The pipeline is complete except for a 1-mile (1.61 km)segment to run under Lake Oahe. That stretch required an easement from federal authorities.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it will analyze possible alternate routes, although any other route also is likely to cross the Missouri River.

The protest camp’s numbers have swelled in recent days, as hundreds of U.S. veterans have flocked to North Dakota in support of the protesters.

Some of those in a long line of traffic along Highway 1806 heading into the camp hollered and honked their horns after the news was announced.

Craig Edward Morning, 30, a carpenter from Stony Point, New York, said he will leave when the tribe says he should and the company agrees to stop building the line.

“They retreat first,” he said. “They’re the ones that aren’t welcome.”

FIGHT MAY BE A ‘LONG HAUL’

Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II, in a statement, said he hoped ETP, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple and Trump would respect the decision.
“When it comes to infrastructure development in Indian Country and with respect to treaty lands, we must strive to work together to reach decisions that reflect the multifaceted considerations of tribes,” he said.

Trump could direct authorities to approve the line, even if before he takes over from Democratic President Barack Obama on Jan. 20 federal authorities will be studying alternative routes. North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer, a Republican, who has advised Trump on energy policy, said the decision ignores the rule of law.

Tom Goldtooth, a Lakota from Minnesota, and a co-founder of Indigenous Environmental Network, said he expects Trump to try to reverse the decision.

“I think we’re going to be in this for the long haul. That’s what my fear is,” he said.

In November, ETP moved equipment to the edge of the Missouri River to prepare for drilling, and later asked a federal court to disregard the Army Corps, and declare that the company could finish the line. That ruling is still pending.

Several veterans who recently arrived in camp told Reuters they thought Sunday’s decision, which came just as Oceti Sakowin has seen an influx of service members, was a tactic to convince protesters to leave.

Those spoken to after the decision said they had no plans to leave because they anticipate heated opposition from ETP and the incoming administration.

“That drill is still on the drill pad. Until that’s gone, this is not over,” said Matthew Crane, 32, from Buffalo, New York, who arrived with a contingent of veterans last week.

On the Web

Stand with Standing Rock.

Chicago teen’s death shines light on police code of silence

For more than a year after an officer shot and killed a black teen named Laquan McDonald, the Chicago Police Department had video footage that raised serious doubts about whether other officers at the scene tried in their reports to cover up what prosecutors now contend was murder.

Not until 15 months later was one of those officers and a detective who concluded the shooting was justified put on desk duty. At least eight other officers failed to recount the same scene that unfolded on the video. All of them remain on the street, according to the department.

The lack of swift action illustrates the difficulty of confronting the “code of silence” that has long been associated with police in Chicago and elsewhere. The obstacles include disciplinary practices that prevent the police chief himself from firing problem officers and a labor contract that prevents officers from being held accountable if a video surfaces that contradicts their testimony.

“If they are not going to analyze officers’ reports and compare them to objective evidence like the video, why would the officers ever stop lying?” asked Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who helped force the city to release the video.

Of the eight officers, six said they did not see who fired and three depicted McDonald as more threatening than he appeared. One claimed the teen tried to get up with a knife still in his hand. The footage clearly showed him falling down and lying motionless on the pavement.

Officer Jason Van Dyke, who emptied his entire 16-round magazine into McDonald, is now awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges. He has been suspended without pay while the department tries to fire him.

City officials say they are cracking down on traditions associated with the code and even questioning applicants for police superintendent about how they would stop officers from lying to protect colleagues.

Chicago isn’t the only major city where officers sworn to tell the truth are suspected of covering for each other. In Los Angeles, three sheriff’s deputies were convicted last year of beating a handcuffed jail visitor and then trying to cover it up. In that case, a plea bargain with two former deputies helped prosecutors expose what they said was a code of silence.

The head of Chicago’s police union dismisses talk of a code.

“It’s not 1954 anymore,” Dean Angelo said. “With cameras everywhere, in squad cars, on everyone’s cellphone … officers aren’t going to make a conscious effort to engage in conduct that puts their own livelihoods at risk.”

But the scrutiny that followed McDonald’s death reveals a system that makes it difficult to fire problem officers and reduces their punishment or delays it for months or years after their reports are exposed as lies.

The code of silence also figured into another video: footage of off-duty officer Anthony Abbate pummeling a bartender. Officers who responded to the 911 call did not include in their reports the bartender’s contention that she was attacked by an officer named Tony, according to testimony in federal court. A jury in 2012 awarded her $850,000 and concluded there was a code of silence.

Like other police departments, Chicago’s police force has long insisted that it doesn’t tolerate dishonesty. When allegations surface about officers lying in a report, they are stripped of their police powers and assigned to desk duty pending the outcome of an internal probe, department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

If the investigation determines the officer was, in fact, dishonest, the department says it moves, without exception, to have that person fired.

However, unlike New York, Baltimore and other cities, Chicago’s police superintendent cannot independently dismiss an officer. That decision belongs to the Chicago Police Board, whose nine civilian members are appointed by the mayor.

It is not unusual for the board to reject recommendations of the superintendent and the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings.

That happened when former Superintendent Garry McCarthy recommended sergeant and a lieutenant be fired for lying in their reports about the accidental discharge of pepper spray in a restaurant. The board agreed that the two had lied but decided to suspend them each for 30 days.

Critics say officers are emboldened to cover up their own misdeeds and those of others because the code extends to City Hall. In the case of the beaten bartender, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s administration responded to the verdict by asking a judge to throw out the jury’s finding because it would set a precedent for potentially costly future lawsuits.

The police union contract also plays a role. It includes a provision that officers who are not shown video of alleged misconduct before being interviewed cannot be disciplined for lying about the recorded events.

“All of this sends a message to police who abuse their police powers that they can operate with impunity,” said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, a prominent local minister.

The issue came to a head in the McDonald case. Weeks after the shooting, Futterman, the law professor, and a journalist publicly urged the city to release the video. A few months later, a detective concluded that the shooting was justifiable homicide by an officer trying to protect his own life, and that the dashboard camera video was consistent with witness accounts.

Emails between City Hall and the police department and others make it clear that the mayor’s office was aware of concerns about the officers’ truthfulness. But there is no indication in the emails that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office demanded or even suggested that someone compare the video with the police reports. Instead, Emanuel’s office chose to wait for the results of federal and local probes, mayoral spokesman Adam Collins.

Guglielmi said that the McDonald case highlights the need for the department to pay closer attention to any discrepancies between videos and written police reports.

Hatch is skeptical, pointing out that not only are all the officers still getting paid, but Van Dyke himself drew a paycheck while working for 13 months until he was charged.

“Nobody ever said, ‘Wait a minute, these officers who filed reports inconsistent with the facts are all still working, including the officer who shot the kid 16 times,”” he said. “Accountability in cases of police misconduct, it just doesn’t exist.” 

Public Citizen: ‘Fast-track’ train went off the rails

The “fast track” train went off the rails. The U.S. Senate vote was supposed to generate momentum for fast track in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s in deep trouble, with almost every House Democrat and a significant bloc of GOP opposing it.

The only reason to upend the required procedures for a “revenue bill” and bring up fast track in the Senate first was to get a huge victory to build momentum in the House.

But that strategy backfired and Democrats in the House remain committed to standing up for their beliefs that the trade package would do a lot more harm than good.

President Barack Obama would now enjoy broad support for a forward-looking trade agenda if only he had implemented the reforms he announced as a candidate, including to “replace” the fast-track procedure created by Richard Nixon with a more inclusive, democratic mechanism.

Instead, Congress is unlikely to revive the 1970s fast-track trade authority Obama seeks.

Congress has denied fast track for all but five of the past 21 years, with 171 Democrats and 71 GOP rejecting President Bill Clinton’s request in 1998. Since 1988, only Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush have convinced Congress to delegate Fast Track authority.

Fast track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership is an especially bad idea. After six years of negotiations, the text is almost complete. Yet under the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill, the pact would remain secret from the public until 30 days after its text is locked. That this would occur 60 days before the formal signing ceremony is irrelevant, because it would be too late to fight for needed changes.

The rhetoric being used to sell the trade package is really far off from the reality of what is in it. It is like being in the twilight zone. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know the TPP includes an expanded version of the investment provisions found in the North American Free Trade Agreement that incentivize the offshoring of high-wage American jobs and the investor-state dispute settlement system that exposes U.S. policies to attack in foreign tribunals.

The administration chose to use the weak labor and environmental standards that President George W. Bush included in his last trade deals. It was the 2007 Peru Free Trade Agreement, not the TPP, that was the first U.S. trade agreement to have labor and environmental standards it in core text enforceable by the same terms as the commercial provisions. A 2014 Government Accountability Office investigation found these labor and environmental standards now also used for the TPP failed to improve working conditions.

What has leaked out already is deeply troubling. Many members of Congress who — unlike the public — are allowed to read the TPP are warning us that this is a bad deal.

At Nike, Obama said that those concerned about the TPP rolling back food safety, environmental or financial regulation “are making stuff up” and no trade agreement can do that.

In fact, that already has happened repeatedly under past pacts. The “sovereignty” provisions found in Section 8 of the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill are nothing new and appear in implementing legislation for past U.S. trade agreements under which U.S. food safety and environmental policies have been rolled back already. Examples of rollbacks due to trade deals include:

• Gutting rules about importing only food that “meets or exceeds” U.S. safety standards, so we now import food that does not meet U.S. standards; and

• Rolling back environmental laws and regulations — from Clean Air Act regulations to U.S. labeling of dolphin — tuna and more.

Lori Wallach is the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.








Broad coalition works to sideline fast-track authority

A growing coalition of progressive groups — more than 2,000 as of May 6 — wants Congress to derail the drive for fast-track trade authority.

The coalition — consisting of labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith, Internet freedom and other organizations — wrote Congress in late April and urged defeat of a bill to provide fast-track authority for a Trans-Pacific Partnership deal. The coalition members cited threats to U.S. jobs and wages, food safety, affordable medicines, the environment and financial stability.

“While we are not currently permitted to see the terms of the new trade deal, what we do know is the fast-track process enables trade deals that hurt everyday Americans and stack the deck in favor of corporations,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “It limits public and congressional oversight and does not allow effective enforcement. We need trade policy that strengthens our country — ensuring the rights of workers and protecting consumers and the environment. We need a democratic and transparent trade process that offers a fair shake for American workers. Fast track fails these standards and should be rejected.”

Also, the legislation would allow the president to enter into the TPP with a guarantee that the deal would be voted on within 90 days after it is submitted to Congress. There would not be a routine congressional review and amendment and debate procedures would be forbidden.

If enacted, the legislation also would allow a president — the next president — to select trade partners, launch new negotiations, set the terms and enter into agreements before Congress approves the contents of the pact or trade partners.

“Who knows who will be president next and, if Congress approves this fast-track bill, that unknown president would get unacceptable powers to unilaterally dictate trade policies that are do or die for American jobs and wages and the consumer and environmental safeguards on which all of our families rely,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The administration’s position that TPP is modeled after the Obama administration’s biggest trade agreement to date — the 2012 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement — further fuels opposition. Critics of TPP say the Korea pact was supposed to lead to more exports and more jobs. However, U.S. exports to Korea have declined 5 percent and the goods trade deficit with Korea climbed 84 percent, which equates to the loss of an estimated 85,000 American jobs using the same trade-jobs ratio that the administration used to claim the pact would create 70,000 jobs.

Organizations that signed the letter opposing fast-track authority include Moveon.org, the National Resources Defense Council, 350.org, Action Aid USA, Alliance for Retired Americans, American Sustainable Business Council, Consumers Union, Defenders of Wildlife, Electronic Frontier Foundation, League of Conservation Voters, Presbyterian Church USA, NAACP, National Nurses United, Presente.org, SEIU and Union of Concerned Scientists.

The size of the coalition reveals the width of the rift in the Democratic Party, with liberal constituencies challenging the president on the issue and urging presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to take a firmer position against the emerging TPP deal.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who announced in late April that he would seek the Democratic nomination for president, has been an outspoken critic of the TPP deal and fast-track authority, which have broad GOP support. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is not running for president but is the focus of a draft effort, also is an outspoken critic.

The president has said the authority he seeks is the same exercised by past presidents of both parties — beginning with Richard Nixon. And the pact his administration is negotiating would prevent countries — such as China and Japan — from having a leg up in global commerce.

“Being opposed to this new trade agreement is essentially a ratification of the status quo, where a lot of folks are selling here, but we’re not selling there,” Obama said earlier in April.

AP contributed to this report.

In the news …

TPP: The United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations — Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan — are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement.

Fast track: The authority allows the president to negotiate international agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster.

Audit cites issues with Wisconsin elections board

An audit critical of the board that oversees ethics and elections in Wisconsin fueled calls from Republicans to dismantle it, while Democrats said no such dramatic changes were needed.

The Government Accountability Board, unlike the widely panned Ethics and Elections boards that preceded it, is made up of nonpartisan former judges. It handles both ethics and elections issues and has drawn the ire of both Democrats and Republicans over the years on a variety of issues.

Recent criticism focused on the board’s decision to approve an investigation into alleged campaign finance violations by Gov. Scott Walker’s recall committee in 2012 and more than two dozen conservative groups.

While the long-anticipated report pointed out a variety of problems, auditors did not recommend that the 6-year-old board be overhauled or dismantled. In fact, auditors suggested ways the Legislature could increase its authority over elections and improve its operations.

Still, that didn’t stop Republicans who have been beating the drum to do away with the board to use the audit as further evidence to back up their position.

“The audit is another illustration of why we must change the GAB,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement. Vos has said he wants to oust the board’s director, Kevin Kennedy, and possibly replace the board or lessen the influence of staff. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said last month he was looking into returning to a partisan model.

“We have long known that the GAB has exhibited some troubling inconsistencies in its oversight of election law and ethics requirements in Wisconsin in recent years,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “This audit affirms those concerns.”

Walker’s spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the audit shows that the board is “ripe for reform” and the governor will be working with the Legislature on it.

Democrats, and Kennedy, rushed to the board’s defense.

“This audit should not be used as a reason to dismantle this agency for partisan purposes,” Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said in a statement.

Kennedy said that while the audit raised concerns, it did not target any of the core duties or performance of the board and its staff.

“By every objective measure that has been published since the board’s inception, Wisconsin is a national leader in clean, fair and open elections, ethics, campaign finances and lobbying,” he said in a statement.

The audit said that board staff did not consistently follow a penalty schedule for enforcing campaign finance, lobbying and code of ethics laws; did not conduct 16 reviews required by law over a four-year period to identify felons who may have voted illegally; and did not put in place written procedures for considering complaints.

Auditor Joe Chrisman noted that the audit was limited, however, because the attorney general determined in July that state law did not allow the board to turn over any of its investigatory records.

The audit recommends that the board improve how voter registration records are maintained, improve oversight of campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws, and improve their procedures for considering complaints.

In his written response to the audit, Kennedy said it is impossible to fulfill the GAB’s duties without more staff. He also said the board is in compliance with all but a handful of its 154 separate responsibilities required under the law.

About the audit…

WHAT DID THE AUDIT INVESTIGATE?

The Audit Bureau report looked into the responsibilities of the Government Accountability Board related to elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics. The audit was limited because the board did not give access to its investigatory records after the attorney general said in July that state law did not allow for those to be turned over.

WHAT DID IT FIND?

The audit said that board staff did not consistently follow a penalty schedule for enforcing campaign finance, lobbying and code of ethics laws; did not conduct 16 reviews required by law over a four-year period to identify felons who may have voted illegally; did not put in place written procedures for considering complaints; and the staff did not provide the board with complete information on enforcement efforts.

WHAT ARE THE RECOMMENDATIONS?

The audit said the board should improve how voter registration records are maintained; improve oversight of campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws; and improve its procedures for considering complaints. The audit also recommended that the Legislature change the law to allow for access to the board’s investigatory records; require the board to determine whether any votes were cast in the names of people who died before the election; and give the board the power to do election-related work currently done by local clerks.

WHAT IS THE BOARD’S REACTION?

Board director Kevin Kennedy emphasized that the audit found no problems with GAB’s financial accounting or spending, and called for no significant changes to its core duties and performance. Both he and the audit noted that the board has been under a heavy workload in recent years given its role helping to administer recall elections in 2011 and 2012, the 2011 statewide recount in the Supreme Court race, implementing redistricting legislation and working on photo identification issues.

WHAT ARE LAWMAKERS SAYING?

Republican critics of the GAB increased their call for changes in light of the audit. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the board has “no accountability whatsoever” and must change. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the audit affirms concerns about the board’s operations. Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the Legislature’s powerful budget committee, called it a “rogue agency” and said that a complete overhaul is necessary. Incoming Senate Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said there’s always room for improvement at the GAB, but the Legislature should be focused on creating jobs and economic development. 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The Legislature’s Audit Committee will hold a hearing on the report, but no date is set. The board is scheduled to discuss the audit at its meeting on Tuesday. Proposals to overhaul the board, or do away with it, are being discussed in both the Senate and Assembly and are likely to be introduced early next year.

Probe could complicate Rick Perry’s prospects in 2016

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spent 14 years in office vanquishing nearly all who dared confront him: political rivals, moms against mandatory vaccines for sixth graders, a coyote in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But with eight months left on the job and a decision to make about the 2016 presidential race, the long-serving governor known for his Texas swagger is now the focus of a grand jury investigation that could cause more difficulty than any adversary has.

What should have been a political victory lap for Perry could now wind up in a final tussle that has implications for his political future.

“Gov. Perry is used to being challenged every step of the way in almost every issue. In that sense, this is not significantly different,”said Ray Sullivan, Perry’s onetime chief of staff and a former spokesman. “This just comes with the territory.”

A judge has seated a grand jury in Austin to consider whether Perry, who is weighing another run for the White House, abused his power when he carried out a threat to veto $7.5 million in state funding for public corruption prosecutors last summer.

Aides to Perry say he legally exercised his veto power. Others say Perry was abusing his state office and is finally getting his comeuppance.

The state Public Integrity Unit operates under Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat who has been the subject of Republican grumbling that the office investigates through a partisan lens. Lehmberg, who took office in 2009, was convicted of drunken-driving last year and filmed in a jailhouse video berating officers following her arrest.

Perry called on Lehmberg to resign and torpedoed the funding when she didn’t.

Craig McDonald, whose public watchdog group filed a complaint that a Texas judge took seriously enough to hire a special prosecutor, said the veto embodied a brash governor who’s gotten too accustomed to dictating to others.

“He threatened her in broad daylight just like it was high noon,” said McDonald, the executive director of Texans for Public Justice. “I think it’s indicative of perhaps someone in the office a little too long.”

Lehmberg, who served about half of a 45-day jail sentence, has called Perry’s attempts to remove her partisan. The public corruption unit, which prosecuted former Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in 2010 on charges of laundering campaign funds, now runs on a smaller budget with local taxpayer funds and a scaled-back staff.

Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum has said he has specific concerns about the governor’s conduct but refused to elaborate. Perry’s office has hired a high-profile defense attorney, David Botsford of Austin, who is being paid $450 hourly and with public funds.

The grand jury is impaneled for three months. In the original complaint, McDonald accused Perry of breaking laws related to coercion of a public servant and abuse of official capacity.

Perry never lost an election until his run for the Republican presidential nomination flamed out in 2012. If he makes another bid upon leaving office in January, he’s positioned to boast of an even more robust Texas economy and to project a slightly toned down image: he now wears a pair of thick-framed glasses and seldom slides on his cowboy boots anymore.

But the grand jury probe could draw attention back to more contentious issues, even if Perry is not indicted. And if the panel does pursue charges, “that would be very, very hard to overcome, particularly because voters already have a perception of him in their mind, and right now he’s been busy cleaning that perception up,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist in Washington. “It would put him on life support as a presidential candidate.”

A Texas governor hasn’t been indicted since 1917. Democrat James E. Ferguson was eventually convicted on 10 charges, impeached and removed from office for vetoing funding for the University of Texas after objecting to some faculty members.

Some legal experts see the allegations against Perry as shaky.

“If the governor were to pressure someone to not prosecute someone, that would be some violation of some clear legal duty. Pressuring them to quit? That’s a little less clear,” said David Kwok, a law professor at the University of Houston.

Rules, policies toning down gay Pride spark debates

Initiated as small, defiant, sexually daring protests, gay Pride parades have become mainstream spectacles patronized by corporate sponsors and straight politicians as they spread nationwide. For many gays, who prize the events’ edginess, the shift is unwelcome – as evidenced by bitter debate preceding the parade in Dallas on Sept. 15.

At issue was a warning from police and organizers that rules related to nudity and sexual behavior would be enforced more strictly than in past years. Police said anyone violating indecency laws in front of children could be charged with a felony.

The warnings outraged some local activists, whose reactions swiftly echoed through gay-oriented social media nationwide.

“To make the parade more `family friendly’ and to accommodate comfort for the increasing number of attending heterosexuals and corporate sponsorship, participants are being asked to cover up!” activist Daniel Scott Cates wrote on his Facebook page. “The `queer’ is effectively being erased from our Pride celebration.”

Another activist, Hardy Haderman, wrote an aggrieved column for the Dallas Voice, a weekly serving the gay community.

“The assimilationists insist we tone down and throw away all our joyous sexiness,” he wrote. “Why? To do that turns the Pride Parade into a We-Are-Ashamed parade, and I refuse to be part of that.”

Despite the controversy, the Dallas Voice reported that the parade was “business as usual,” with larger than normal turnout marking the event’s 30th anniversary. The only reported arrests were for intoxication, not for nudity or lewdness. Some marchers did dress in skimpy underwear, despite pre-parade speculation this would not be allowed.

The parade is organized by the Dallas Tavern Guild, an association of gay bars. Its executive director, Michael Doughman, said the change this year did not involve any new rules – but rather a warning that existing rules would be more strictly enforced.

These rules, he said, were drafted to conform with the city’s public nudity ordinance and the state’s anti-obscenity law, which bars the parade from featuring sexual paraphernalia and “real or simulated sex acts.”

“Most people abided by the rules – but we had some individuals who decided to push the envelope a little to see how far they could go,” Doughman said of recent parades. “So we asked our police security officer to bring it up as a reminder.”

“We aren’t trying to stifle anybody’s right to be gay or express themselves,” he added. “We are trying to create a friendly environment for everybody. We can be gay without being naked.”

Among gay activists beyond Dallas, the dispute elicited sharply divided opinions. Those agreeing with Doughman included John Aravosis, a prominent Washington-based blogger.

“I got involved in gay politics 20 years ago in order to win the right to serve in the military, have a job, and get married, among others,” he wrote. “It had nothing to do with public nudity… I’m open to a good explanation of how this links back to our civil rights, but I’ve not heard a good one yet.”

However, Michael Diviesti of Austin, Texas – leader of the state branch of the gay-rights group GetEQUAL – said Pride parades were in danger of losing their essential character.

“This is my celebration of myself,” he said. “Why should I have to tone that down because someone else might be looking? It’s like putting yourself back in a closet.”

Nationally, there’s no question that Pride parades have become more mainstream and family-friendly as more gays and lesbians raise children, and more heterosexuals turn out to watch. With the surge of corporate sponsorships, they’ve become a big business in some cities.

As a result, there’s disagreement within the gay community as to what sort of imagery the parades should present.

“It’s something we’ll continue to struggle with,” said Gary Van Horn of Pittsburgh, a co-president of InterPride, which represents organizers of pride events across the U.S. and abroad.

InterPride avoids taking sides in disputes over the character of a given parade, Van Horn said. “I don’t think there’s one-size-fits-all answer.”

Richard Pfeiffer, an organizer of Chicago’s annual Pride parade for 40 years, said rules on lewdness and nudity vary from city to city, dependent on local laws and attitudes.

“We have our rules in Chicago, and on the whole our entries follow them,” he said. “If people step over those guidelines, we will just say, `For next year, don’t do that.’ We don’t pull people out of the parade on the spot.”

One group with a keen interest in the debate is Family Equality, which represents families in which the parents are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

The group’s executive director, Gabriel Blau, says he and his husband marched earlier this year in New York City’s Pride parade with their 5-year-old son – even though there were parts of the parade they considered too risque for him to see.

Blau described the debate in Dallas and other cities as “a healthy conversation” and said Family Equality encouraged parade organizers to keep children in mind as they orchestrate their events.

“We are not a family-values organization that’s going to say what children should and shouldn’t see,” he said. “But we’ve been working with pride celebrations to create family-friendly spaces, so that the whole community can participate.”

These areas might include a “bouncy castle” or kid-oriented entertainers, Blau said.

A gay father, Chase Lindberger, who recently married in Minnesota, said he and his husband had no qualms about taking their two young children to the Twin Cities Pride Parade this summer.

“It’s an important event for the community that my children are a part of,” Lindberger said. “They see people being very dramatic and colorful, and I think that’s wonderful.”