Congress

Sofia Dyer, Plan II and Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies sophomore, performs her mentalism act in front of Tesoros on South Congress on April 10. Dyer and her father are there every Friday to entertain passersby and raise money for Sofia’s college tuition.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

The Tower bell rings Friday afternoon, and Sofia Dyer is finished with classes. Rather than hopping into bed for a well-deserved Netflix marathon, Sofia grabs a blindfold, puts on her turban and makes her way down to the corner of Elizabeth Street and South Congress Avenue. For the next three hours, she will perform on the street as the state’s youngest mind reader.

“It was a really nuts idea,” Sofia, a Plan II and Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies sophomore, said. “The idea of going out on South Congress with a turban on in the middle of the day and getting people to try and stop so that you can read their mind. That’s nuts.”

Sofia began her career in magic and the allied arts, which includes sword-swallowing, juggling, acrobatics and fire-eating, when she was nine years old. At first, she and her dad held séances for friends and family. Later, she moved on to magic shows and, finally, to performing acts of mentalism on the streets as “The Girl Who Knows.” 

Sofia performs at 6 p.m. every Friday. Her act includes guessing cards, random audience objects and serial numbers on dollar bills while wearing a blindfold. She performs alongside her magic-loving father, Jake Dyer, who gathers the crowd and collects tips as the “bottler.”

“The one thing that we stress is that it’s all for fun, and we do this for entertainment purposes,” Jake said. “What we do is in this very weird gray area. We don’t want to be accused of being charlatans or the people out there who take advantage of others’ emotions.”

Sofia said she did not inherit her mentalism from a kooky, psychic grandmother but, rather, from her upbringing in a household that encouraged magic. 

During the act, Jake asks the audience to focus on a card or object that Sofia has never seen before. Sofia then tries to guess the card based on the impressions she receives from the energy of a group of minds focusing on a single object.

Sometimes she’s wrong, but, more often than not, she guesses correctly.

Sofia became interested in busking, or performing on the street for money, when she unintentionally drew a crowd while doing tricks for her friends at the Pecan Street Festival in 2011.

Later that year, she and her father set up on South Congress Avenue. They said their first audience members were the cops who told them to leave.

The next week, the duo returned and successfully made it through a performance. Since then, both the show and Sofia’s abilities have developed. In the beginning, Sofia said she tried various characters for her show that didn’t work. Did she want to be the serious mentalist or the tortured genius mentalist? She eventually settled on a character with a personality reminiscent of her own.

“I think when I started, I was the shy, incredibly awkward ‘Girl Who Knows,’” Sofia said. “But I hope that I have become the shy, mysterious ‘Girl Who Knows.’ The character is very much a reflection of me, and I am very much a reflection of that character.”

Despite this closeness, Sofia manages to keep her life as a mentalist separate from her life as a student.

“It’s odd how easily I have been able to keep these two parts of my life very separate,” Sofia said. “I have my mentalism, but I don’t feel like it overwhelms my everyday life. It’s pretty nice.”

Sofia will perform at the Monday Night Magic Showcase at Dozen Street at 7 p.m. on Monday. The free show will open the stage to guests, similar to an open-mic format, and feature seasoned performers of magic and the allied arts as well.

Like her weekly performances on South Congress Avenue, Sofia said Monday’s show is an opportunity to have fun and get exposure.

“It’s an expression of art and creativity,” Sofia said. “What we are doing is entertainment — we are not trying to talk about some pseudoscience or explain the unknown. We’re there for the crowds, and we’re there for fun.”

Austin restaurants, like Chez Zee, add unique touches to brunch menus, including anything from prickly pear jelly to Chipotle cream gravy to southern style mimosas.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the weekday, but brunch is the most important meal of the weekend, and Easter is no exception. The Daily Texan compiled a list of the best brunch offerings around Austin this weekend. To beat the crowds, you may want to make a reservation.

 Jack Allen’s Kitchen

For $16.99 per person, Jack Allen’s Kitchen serves a Sunday brunch buffet fit for true Texans. The menu features items such as chicken fried chicken, house cured ham and tomato and basil pie. The restaurant locally sources its food, which varies depending on the produce that’s in season, meaning you can keep coming back for tasty new meals.

Where: 7720 Highway 71 West

When: Sunday brunch,
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Chez Zee

It may be famous for its crème brûlée French toast, but Chez Zee doesn’t stop there with brunch offerings. Gingerbread pancakes, champagne mimosas and Belgian waffles are all good reasons to wake up and get out of bed. If you’re craving something more savory, opt for the southern crab cakes benedict. Chez Zee accepts Easter brunch reservations through a reservation system on its website.

Where: 5406 Balcones Dr.

When: Saturday and Sunday brunch, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar

Seafood fans belong at this South Congress staple. Perla’s serves up rich and enticing brunch fare every weekend. Cold bar oyster options are always a good choice, but, if there’s a picky eater with you, suggest the homemade donut or the brandied baked grapefruit. The lobster and egg-white frittata with roasted tomatoes, avocado and basil will satisfy the egg lover in your brunch club. If the option is available, sit out on Perla’s patio and think about all the South Congress shopping you can do after you eat.

Where: 1400 S. Congress Ave.

When: Saturday and Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Josephine House

Nestled in the quaint and historic Clarksville neighborhood, Josephine House is the place to go for brunch if you want to feel  fancy. It serves fresh baked pastries, such as zucchini-and-carrot bread or buckwheat scones, in addition to hot
offerings from the kitchen. You can’t go wrong with $16 lemon ricotta pancakes served with
house-made cultured butter. Another solid option is the duck hash that comes with a sunny-side-up egg, duck confit, broccoli, potatoes, turnips and red chimichurri. Wash all the goodness down with a fresh beet, orange and ginger juice.

Where: 1601 Waterston Ave.

When: Saturday and Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.

HONK!TX

A band performs on South Congress on Sunday evening as part of HONK!TX. HONK!TX is a local three-day festival that brings brass bands to Austin to perform for free in public spaces around the city.

Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

A trio of traveling gypsy musicians has made Austin their temporary home this week.

With cigarettes dangling loosely from their lips, D.on Darox & The Melody Joy Bakers flooded the corner of Sixth Street and Congress Avenue with a type of music they call “dirty gypsy blues.”

The eccentric trio perform with a single drum, a white string bass and D.on Darox on accordion and vocals. Their sound is a mix of swing and Americana roots music with a New Orleans vibe, although they prefer to just call it “dirty gypsy blues.”

The “dirty” in ”dirty gypsy blues” refers to Darox’s raspy vocals, and the “gypsy” alludes to the band’s nomadic lifestyle.

Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

“We just crash in different cities and play on the streets everywhere,” Darox said.

The Melody Joy Bakers may be street performance veterans, but this is the trio’s first time at South By Southwest. Although they were temporarily hesitant because of the prevalence of EDM shows, Darox said they are happy to be in Austin meeting new people.

“It’s big, it’s nice, it’s fun, it’s good,” Darox said.

The band doesn’t have any official gigs, Darox said, but plans to perform for tips on the streets until Saturday.  They are also selling their second self-released, full-length album, Tango.

“This is what we do for a living — we are professional buskers, and we have a good time,” Darox said.

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

In order to solve the current gridlock in Congress, state politicians should create a non-partisan committee to oversee redistricting, according to former U.S. Reps Tom Davis (R-North Dakota) and Martin Frost (R-California).

Davis and Frost spoke at the LBJ School of Affairs on Tuesday about Congress’s inability to compromise effectively and suggested policy reforms that may help alleviate the problem

According to Davis, the three factors that caused dysfunction in Congress are redistricting, media business models and campaign financing.

 

[With] the advent of single-party districts … these districts are drawn in such a way to where the other party has no chance,” Davis said. 

Davis and Frost’s potential solutions to ending the bipartisan gridlock included requirements on outside donor groups, national primary days for Congress and equal media coverage.

“We recommend that [there be] a national primary day, not for president, but that all congressional elections occur on a single day,” Frost said. “The reason for this is there would be more media coverage.”

According to Frost, members of Congress are afraid to vote moderately or compromise because they fear someone with more extreme views will replace them in the primary. Therefore, Frost and Martin said Congress should pass legislation requiring each state to have a non-partisan commission for redistricting. Six states have already adopted this system, including Indiana, which employs a “fallback” commission if the legislature is unsuccessful in passing a congressional plan.

“What this means is if you have two Democrats in the final election, they have to talk to the Republicans in their districts,” Frost said. “They have to actually go out and seek Republican support, and that happened in the last election in California.”

There is a push from Congress members against this system because without term limits, they can stay in Congress indefinitely, according to Frost.

“Incumbents don’t want to pass any laws that would require people to run against them, and that would be the result if you had some states that were required to have commissions,” Frost said.

Meenakshi Awasthi, global policy studies graduate student, said, since many college students realize their vote doesn’t really count, there needs to be more positive incentive to vote.

"Voting is so archaic, and it hasn’t progressed with technology or our society,” Awasthi said. “It’s difficult to vote. … The lines are difficult, and the timing is hard. It’s just something that you have to go do, and it’s not required.”

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin City Council is working to block the construction of a strip club on Fifth Street and Congress Avenue by voting to amend the city code. 

The Austin City Council voted Thursday to begin amending City Code to mandate that “adult-oriented businesses” must be at least 1,000 feet away from cultural services, such as museums or libraries. Current city code only requires a 1,000 feet distance from day cares, schools, churches, parks and other adult-oriented businesses.

Behzad Bahrami, who owns MB & MS Enterprises Inc., filed a site plan application in December to build a strip club on Congress, near the Texas Capitol. Jerry Rusthoven, a staff member in the City Planning Department, said strip clubs fall under the definition of “adult-oriented businesses.”

“The city has specific kinds [of adult-oriented businesses],” Rusthoven said. “Most of them don’t exist anymore because of frankly, the Internet, but we have different adult-oriented businesses — an adult theater, adult novelty shop, adult lounge … Most have gone away but we still have adult lounges, [which are] strip clubs.” 

Rusthoven said the City Planning Department is currently reviewing Bahrami’s application to see if his proposed club would fit all the required criteria to operate as an adult lounge. Under current city code, adult lounges are allowed to operate so long as they meet all criteria, but the Council plans to amend city code to only allow them to operate with the direct approval of the Planning Commission. 

Rusthoven said the City Planning Department is in the process of reviewing Bahrami’s application, and said he does not know if it will be approved before code amendments are put in place.

“If the [strip club] on Congress opens before the code changes, they would be grandfather-ed in,” Rusthoven said. “The question is whether the code gets changed before this application for the strip club on Congress gets approved. If the code changes before the plan is approved, the question is, ‘Would this one still be approved?’ And that’s something that I’d work on with our legal team.”

Randell Salinas, international relations and global studies senior, said he thinks the Council’s concerns regarding the potential strip club’s proximity to a museum — specifically, the Mexic-Arte Museum — are unwarranted.

“I understand the museum and kids going to the museum,” Salinas said. “The kids aren’t going to know what that is. They’re just going to think it’s another bar or club or establishment in the downtown area.”

Molecular biology senior Shane Ali said he thinks the potential of a strip club would significantly change the atmosphere on Congress.

“You’d have people seeking this adult measure,” Ali said. “In that sense, it would be a lot more hyped up. It would also be a distraction for other businesses, because they’d lose a lot of business. It would be tough for businesses, especially independent bars.”

Ali said he believes a strip club close to Sixth Street would draw a larger crowd to Congress Avenue.

“Once they’re sufficiently buzzed, they want to go to something exciting,” Ali said. “A strip club in proximity would be exciting. People go to Yellow Rose and all that, but what’s stopping them is paying for a ride there. And this would be walking distance.”

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson increased opportunities for Americans of all social classes by passing legislation focused on civil rights, voting rights and health care, according to Julian Zelizer, author and history professor at Princeton University.

Zelizer spoke about the history and impact of Johnson’s “Great Society,” a collection of programs in the 1960s set up to eliminate poverty and racial injustice, during a lecture hosted by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law on Friday.

“The most iconic image of Lyndon Johnson that I’ve seen … is where he hovered over opponents, where he hovered over his supporters, and he seduced them, cajoled them, lobbied them into voting for what he wanted to do,” Zelizer said. 

Today, Americans underestimate the struggles Johnson faced to pass his historic pieces of legislation because liberal and conservative forces polarized politics in the 1960s, Zelizer said.

“Congress was dominated from the late ’30s to the early ’60s by a conservative coalition of Southern Democratic committee chairs and Midwestern Republicans, who teamed up on committee and who teamed up on the floor to block everything that was liberal,” Zelizer said.

Johnson maintained close relationships with members of Congress and understood the limits of presidential power, according to Zelizer. The president carefully cultivated his relationships on the Hill, and he would even instruct his cabinet staff to call members back within five minutes of receiving a phone call.

“We don’t put Johnson in the context of the times,” Zelizer said. 

Ellen Scholl, global policy studies graduate student, said she thought the relationship between the president and interest groups was the most interesting part of Zelizer’s talk.

“There is a tendency in the post-George Bush era to talk about the presidency as an all-powerful, dominating institution,” Scholl said. “As LBJ thought, there were actually some real limits on the presidency, and I think it’s important to remember those limits.”

Congress is an important part of the government, but the legislative branch has been difficult to work with throughout history, according to public affairs and history professor Jeremi Suri.

“The most important part of the lecture is … how extraordinary it is that in a particular moment, Congress and President Johnson were able to work together for civil rights the way they did,” Suri said.

Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio applaud President Barack Obama, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, during his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

In his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama called for wider access to higher education and implored Congress to fully subsidize the cost of community college for qualified students.

“Forty percent of our college students choose community college,” Obama said. “Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt. … I want to work with this Congress to make sure Americans already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn’t derail anyone’s dreams.”

History professor Jeremi Suri said he appreciated Obama’s emphasis on training people for higher-paying job fields, such as coding, nursing and robotics.

“More and more, anyone who wants to succeed in society needs a college education, needs to be a knowledgeable worker,” Suri said. “It’s also true many people are priced out of the market, so providing them with better aid makes better sense.”

University Democrats President Michelle Willoughby said she does not think financial burdens should keep people from going to college.

“I think that public education is the most important thing that the state and country funds, because it educates future leaders,” Willoughby said. “But public education is taxpayer dollars, so, if we stop after 12th grade, we’re not maximizing on our investment. I think it’s important that everyone who wants access to higher education can have it. Just from a financial standpoint, it doesn’t make sense.”

Suri said while access to higher education is important, he had hoped the president would address issues of quality of education as well.

“Getting [people] to school is the most important thing, but equally important is providing them with the best college education,” Suri said. “I think they could also do more by investing in research, teaching, in infrastructure of community colleges and less well-endowed institutions.”

Obama urged Congress to set aside politics to work with his “practical, not partisan” ideas. 

“We believed we could prepare our kids for a more competitive world,” Obama said. “And today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record. Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high. And more Americans finish college than ever before.”

Suri said Obama’s speech would not affect how well Republicans and Democrats work together in Congress.

“His saying won’t [change anything]; the question is whether voters and public interest groups start saying that,” Suri said. “What’s going to change is if those watching say we don’t want anymore government shutdowns, partisanship.”

Greg Abbott, attorney general and governor-elect, challenged President Barack Obama’s immigration order on Wednesday, saying he stepped out of his bounds.

Abbott issued a statement on Wednesday after filing a lawsuit with 17 other states – including the states of Texas, Alabama, and Wisconsin – claiming that the president’s executive order violated the Constitution’s Take Care Clause, which mandates the president “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

“The Constitution's Take Care Clause limits the President's power and ensures that he will faithfully execute Congress's laws – not rewrite them under the guise of ‘prosecutorial discretion,’” Abbott said in his statement. “The Department of Homeland Security's directive was issued without following the Administrative Procedure Act's rulemaking guidelines and is nothing but an unlawfully adopted legislative rule: an executive decree that requires federal agencies to award legal benefits to individuals whose conduct contradicts the priorities of Congress."

Abbott spoke about his lawsuit at a press conference on Wednesday after filing it with the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. He said Obama’s order differed from those of President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush.

“There was never any legal action that determined the legal validity of what President Bush and President Reagan did,” Abbott said. “But most importantly was what President Bush and President Reagan did; [it] was an effort to fulfill legislation that was passed by Congress. In this instance, President Obama has said he is taking this action because Congress will not act. His own words show he is violating the Take Care Clause. He is trying to enact laws himself because Congress will not act. He does not have that authority.”

The lawsuit clarifies that the issue is not with immigration, but about the “rule of the law.” Abbott repeated this on Wednesday, calling Obama and the Department of Security and other agencies’ subsequent orders unconstitutional and illegal.

“Texas and other states that have joined with us are asking for declarative judgment and conjunctive relief,” Abbott said. “We are asking the president to go through the prescribed constitutional process rather than making them up himself.”

The defendants of the case have already acknowledged the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and federal government’s failure in enforcing the laws, as well as the consequence of Obama’s executive order, Abbott said.

 “As the defendants have acknowledged themselves, Texas will suffer as a consequence of this most recent presidential order,” Abbott said.

Texas and the other states that joined the lawsuit have a strong case, Abbott said. He referenced the Supreme Court case of Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, and said the outcome of that case proved Texas’s valid suit.

“If you look at the Supreme Court decision of Massachusetts v. the EPA, the Supreme Court granted standing to Massachusetts,” Abbott said. “A doctrine called parens patriae [said] under damages that the people of Massachusetts may suffer from global warming. I will submit to you that the standing of Texas is far stronger than what the Supreme Court granted to Massachusetts in that case.”

Gov. Rick Perry and Governor-elect Greg Abbott both expressed disapproval about President Barack Obama’s executive action to reform the United States’ immigration system.

Calling the country’s immigration system “broken,” Obama said he plans to make the immigration system more fair using executive action. In a speech Thursday, Obama announced the U.S. would improve efforts to stop illegal immigration and take steps to deal with people who have already immigrated to the U.S. illegally, including allowing immigrants who meet certain criteria the opportunity to temporarily remain in the U.S.

Obama said criminals who crossed the border illegally must be held accountable. Law enforcement would focus on those threats instead of children.

“We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day,” Obama said. “But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants in every state, of every race and nationality, still live here illegally. And let’s be honest — tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic.”

Obama said he intends to work on passing a more permanent solution with the help of both parties. He criticized those using the term “amnesty,” saying it does not apply to his plan.

“Amnesty is the immigration system we have today — millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time,” Obama said. “That’s the real amnesty — leaving this broken system the way it is.”

After the speech, Abbott, who is currently the state’s attorney general, criticized Obama’s decision to work around Congress. In a statement, Abbott promised to challenge the president in court.

“President Obama has circumvented Congress and deliberately bypassed the will of the American people, eroding the very foundation of our nation’s Constitution and bestowing a legacy of lawlessness,” Abbott said. “Texans have witnessed firsthand the costs and consequences caused by
President Obama’s dictatorial immigration policy, and now, we must work together toward a solution in fixing our broken immigration system.”

Perry was also critical of Obama’s speech, saying his plan would only serve to exacerbate the problem of illegal immigration.

“In Texas, we know firsthand the problems brought by illegal immigration and bad federal policy,” Perry said in a statement. “As we saw with the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who came across the border, a bad policy led to children being put at risk. The president’s decision tonight will lead to more illegal immigration, not less. It is time for the president and Congress to secure our border, followed by meaningful reforms.”