Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Getting Kinky

Sorry, I just had to use that headline.

Anyway, Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman steps up to the podium tonight (Wednesday) at UT-Pan American to talk about school finance and higher education.

There's a reception at 6 p.m. in the lobby of the Student Union Theater, followed by the forum at 6:30. Edinburg's own state Rep. Aaron Peña shares the stage with the Kinkster.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope everyone enjoys this holiday with their families and/or friends. It's nice to have the day off and watch football. Now, let's hope the Cowboys can hold off the Broncos today and let's pray the Aggies can pull off a miracle against the Longhorns on Friday.

Monday, November 21, 2005

See you in December

Final exams start in two weeks, so you won't be reading anything from me until tests are over. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section, though.
Sorry, folks, but I've got A LOT of studying to do. Wish me luck, or just send beer for the end-of-the-semester party.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

'Closer to God'

The Houston Chronicle examines sleazebag ex-sheriff Conrado Cantu's distinguished law enforcement career in Cameron County. He faces up to life in prison at his sentencing next month for protecting drug smugglers.

This gag-inducing quote comes from Cantu's lawyer:
''He's in high spirits, he's found religion, he's closer to God," [attorney Alberto] Pullen said. ''He's got faith everything is going to work out."

The Chron also mentions three other South Texas sheriffs who ended up in Club Fed: Hidalgo County's Brigido Marmolejo Jr., Starr County's Eugenio Falcon Jr. and Zapata County's Romeo T. Ramirez. I'm sure they also found Jesus when they found out they were facing hard time.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Church to workers: Forget it

The Diocese of Brownsville rejects the union contract between church workers and Holy Spirit Catholic Church in McAllen. A church panel declares that agreement invalid under church law because the priest who signed it didn't have permission from Bishop Raymundo Peña. State law, however, might have something different to say about the contract's validity.

"If we have to take this to the Supreme Court, we will," parish employee Ann Cass tells The Monitor. The United Farm Workers union is supporting the church workers in their crusade.

The Associated Press picks up the story as well, and it appears on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website.

Of course, this decision not to honor the contract comes from a diocese whose bishop went out of his way to stonewall a police investigation into rape allegations against one of its priests.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The San Juanistas

More on the San Juan residents who took their opposition to a toll road all the way to Austin: Radio station KURV reports:
... The so-called San Juanistas Thursday presented the Texas Transportation Commission in Austin with a petition full of 15-hundred signatures of people opposed to the thoroughfare. City officials say the nine-mile toll road, as proposed, would cut through prime residential developments and farm lands, and would ruin the city's tax base. ...

Yesterday the commission approved a regional mobility authority for Hidalgo County. Great. County officials get to appoint their cronies to an RMA board to award construction contracts to their cronies.

Driver released

Juan Robles Gutierrez finally walks out of jail, expressing gratitude to his country and his family. Robles was driving a bus owned by Pharr-based Global Limo Inc. carrying a load of Hurricane Rita nursing home evacuees when it caught fire and killed 23 passengers. Robles had been held on immigration charges, but also faced negligent homicide charges that failed to stick.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Toll road protest

San Juan residents, accompanied by United Farm Workers members, hit the Capitol steps in Austin today to protest a toll road that would run not just through that city, but right over the UFW grounds.

They're not alone in their fight: State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Gov. Rick Perry's main opponent in the Republican primary, also opposes the planned tollway.

This is being pushed as a county issue, not a state project, so we really can't blame this on Austin politicians (although the Texas Department of Transportation could still build the road on its own). But this is the Valley, so keep one thing in mind: Who will get the contracts for this toll road?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Kiss my ash

A McAllen politician wants to ban smoking in the city's restaurants. City Commissioner Marcus Barrera wants an ordinance similar to Harlingen's no-smoking rule. He once said:
"I’d rather eat tainted food — food not kept at the right temperature," he said. "Because, what’s worse? Eating food that’s contaminated or sitting next to someone who is breathing smoke in your face?"
OK, commissioner: You fix yourself a salmonella sandwich with a side of E. coli, and I'll eat a burger while sitting next to a dude smoking Marlborough Reds. Let's see who gets sick first.

I guess since all of McAllen's other problems have been solved, like traffic congestion, for example, Barrera can stick his nose into other people's businesses.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Driver cleared

A Dallas County grand jury clears the bus driver in the September accident that killed 23 hurricane evacuees. This comes after the Dallas County Sheriff's Office tries to charge Juan Robles Gutierrez with 23 counts of negligent homicide. The Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle also mention that the driver goes free on bail today.

ADDENDUM: Robles, an undocumented immigrant, wants to return to Mexico as soon as the investigation into the deadly bus fire ends, the Express-News reports.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Voting rights and wrongs

The William C. Velasquez Institute, which conducts Latino voter research, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund will conduct a conference in San Antonio this weekend on "Voting Rights and Poverty: Planning for the Present, Envisioning the Future."

It takes place this Friday and Saturday (Nov. 18-19) at the Holiday Inn San Antonio Riverwalk Hotel. UTPA's president, Blandina Cardenas, is one of the confirmed speakers for the event. According to the brochure, the conference will include panels on poverty issues as well as the Voting Rights Act.

On a side note, while the VRA bans government-erected obstacles to the ballot box, it really doesn't address voter fraud, which disenfranchises voters just as effectively as the poll tax once did. In the Valley, the phrase "voter fraud" goes hand-in-hand with the term "local elections." Let's see some organizations look into how to prevent voter fraud -- local law enforcement hasn't done that much to stop it.

¿Que Onda RGV?

A new arts and entertainment weekly serves as a good indication of the growing Valley media market. ¿Que Onda RGV? is one of the latest publications to hit South Texas, offering bilingual articles on movies, music, food, sports and other events.

¿Que Onda RGV? publisher Melissa A. Zamora worked as metro editor for the Brownsville Herald before leaving to work for the South Padre Island Convention and Vistiors Bureau. She's still doing that, along with her latest project, as she tells me in a recent email:

We're working hard to make it work. I have a supportive husband and family, two great sales reps and great friends who are there for me emotionally every step of the way. It's not easy.

We're on our sixth [now seventh] issue. At this point, the community is just becoming familiar with ¿Que Onda RGV?, and so far, we've got some much-needed corporate support. ... And, I already received my first hate mail! I love it! Once you get hate mail, you're on your way.

Seriously, I'm spending some late nights working on my weekly, working hard to compete against those darn corporate newspapers. We're encouraging the community to buy from the community, and that's how we're promoting ourselves. We're a local, Rio Grande Valley business. Born here. We're offering a reciprocal relationship to the community -- by helping us grow, we help you grow. ... We're slowly growing -- it's a tough process -- but we're pushing for success. ...

Good luck to ¿Que Onda RGV? May its success open the door for other publications.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Border bicyclist

Ryan Riedel is an Arizona State University graduate riding a bicycle all the way along the 1,951 miles of the United States-Mexico border. He wants to learn more about the border region and its people and "attempt to create greater awareness about issues of culture and social justice issues" and maybe write a book about his trip.

He writes in his blog about the first week he spent, riding from Houston down to Brownsville. Then, in the second week, he explores Brownsville and Matamoros, encountering a little culture shock:
... Off my bike and out of my element, I actually had work to do. The first thing I noticed was that almost all the people in Brownsville were Hispanic. A big surprise, right? It was for me. I had spent in enough time in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, to be convinced that, in every border town you're going to come across at least some Caucasian people. Amidst a sea of dark eyes and dark hair, I learned that this wasn't always the case.

It should be interesting to read this Arizonan's perspective on the Rio Grande Valley.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

"A running joke"

Remember Global Limo Inc., the Pharr company that got shut down not long after one of its buses caught fire, killing 23 Hurricane Rita evacuees?

Turns out the Brownsville, Edinburg, Los Fresnos, McAllen and Sharyland school districts, and IDEA Academy charter school in Donna all used the bus company to transport students, according to The Dallas Morning News:

Nearly every one of the coaches, teachers and administrators from eight school districts surveyed by The Dallas Morning News recalled a bad experience on a Global bus. But 11 Valley districts continued to hire the company last spring because they had limited options and little knowledge about the company's safety record. ...

Before the Global bus exploded near Dallas in September, the company was a running joke among band directors, and Valley schools considered it a last resort.

By the way, the driver, whom the Dallas County Sheriff's Office blames for the deaths, is cooperating with the federal investigation into the deadly crash, and a U.S. magistrate judge has granted him bail.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Is anyone really surprised?

Hidalgo County DA Rene Guerra will not prosecute state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa for accidentally leaving his pistol in his carry-on bag and taking it through airport security.

The district attorney said he can't prove criminal intent on the part of Hinojosa, so he can't prosecute the case. Guerra told The Monitor his office will also dismiss three or four similar charges against other individuals, unless there's proof they meant to sneak a weapon past airport security.

This isn't the first case of special treatment for the senator: He received a get-out-of-jail-free card from a McAllen municipal judge before he was even arraigned. As today's story points out:
[McAllen Police Chief Victor] Rodriguez said this was the first case he could remember that was dismissed as it was being arraigned.

The newspaper article also mentions that:
Guerra acknowledged that the wife of Hinojosa’s chief of staff, Rene Ramirez, works under him in the civil section of his office but that he did not speak with either Ramirez about the case.


So, folks, in Hidalgo County at least, if you accidentally forget to take your firearm out of your carry-on before you board a flight, the district attorney won't prosecute you.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Veterans march update

For nearly an hour, San Antonio cops halt the Rio Grande Valley veterans marching for better health care at the city limits. State Rep. Aaron Pena tells us in his blog that his office had to call the SA mayor office to keep the marchers out of jail:

Valley veterans were detained for 25 minutes at the San Antonio city limits on old Hwy 281. They were thereafter escorted by approximately nine police cars within the city limits. After a brief rest veterans were once again detained for another 25 minutes as police argued with organizers about placing a $13000 bond before being allowed to continue. A representative from the Mayor's office appeared and tensions grew to the point where at least on police officer was heard saying "we are going to have to arrest all of you."

Again, the men in blue seem to have nothing better to do than hassle citizens exercising their rights to peacefully assemble and petition the government for a redress of their grievances. It's called the First Amendment, officers. Maybe you should try reading it.

Legal maneuvers

Maybe you courtroom junkies are familiar with the concept of legislative continuance. That’s when a lawyer who’s also a legislator asks the judge to delay the trial he’s working on while the Texas Legislature’s in session.

The idea comes from the fact that our state representatives and senators are part-time legislators (they do less damage that way) with actual careers. It wouldn't be fair to their clients if they had to drop a case while the Lege is in session, and it wouldn't be fair to their constituents if they ignored their lawmaking duties because of a court date.


It's subject to abuse. It leads to what Public Citizen 's Texas office once called "rent-a-legislator." Some defendants end up hiring a state lawmaker while the Lege is in session just to drag out the trial. It's usually a large corporation defending a personal injury lawsuit.

Of course, they say it's purely for the legislator's legal expertise. The fact that the lawyer/lawmaker immediately files for a legislative continuance is purely coincidental.

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa did this in January in a lawsuit against Vioxx, then withdrew the motion, claiming it sprang from a miscommunication.

Well, state Rep. Jim Solis did the same thing, back in April, defending a lawsuit against Ford. The trial judge even rejected the continuance, as did the appeals court, but the Texas Supreme Court upheld the motion, and the trial didn't start until October. Meanwhile, there's a paralyzed woman in need of medical care.

Funny thing -- Solis never showed up for that trial, which ended in a settlement earlier this week. In fact, the plaintiff’s attorneys in that case filed a motion for sanction against the representative. According to the court document:
Although both Solis and Ford Motor Company argued that his retention in the case was not for the sole purpose of delay, the course of litigation both before, and subsequent to Solis’ appearance contradicts these statements. ...

Apart from making an appearance and immediately seeking a continuance on the basis of his appearance, Rep. Solis did not appear prior to or subsequent to this written “appearance.” ...

... Rep. Solis did not draft or sign any motions, pleadings, or correspondence, nor did he respond to any correspondence on behalf of Ford.

Solis told the Spanish-language newspaper RUMBO (and this is an approximate translation) that the law does not require the legislator/litigator to be present in court, just to take part in the process.

C'mon, folks. If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and sounds like a duck ...

Throw the bums out

Could voters' ouster of an Elsa city councilman in Tuesday's election spark a countywide recall trend? Let's hope so.

UTPA political science professor Sam Freeman tells The Monitor that the move could inspire other recall elections -- or it could cause local officials to strike recall provisions.

Although incumbents don't like the possibility of being yanked out of office before their term ends, these measures give voters a much-needed tool to keep elected officials in line.

First Amendment? What's that?

Rio Grande Valley veterans are marching from Edinburg toward San Antonio to raise awareness of the lack of medical care for veterans. But just outside the city, Bexar County deputies tell them that they don't have "permission" to peacefully assemble, and if they set foot across the county line, they'll be arrested.

State Rep. Aaron Pena, accompanying the veterans on their journey, writes in his blog:
We are only 22 miles away from our destination and the news was met with shock. Here we are so close to our destination only to be stopped by authorities who do not fully understand the law. As I would hope to explain to the authorities in San Antonio, the United States Constitution protects everyone's right to travel.

Thankfully, San Antonio leaders came to their senses and reined in these overzealous law enforcement officers. Still, what were these cops thinking? As I saw on the San Antonio news last night, we had a couple of robberies and a home invasion -- but deputies want to "protect" us from veterans exercising their First Amendment rights? Someone mail these people a clue.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

On the taxpayer's dime

In Tuesday's election, Brownsville voters defeated 12 of 14 changes to the city charter, including one that would have raised the pay of city commissioners.

However, since 2000, Brownsville's elected leaders received benefits not provided under the charter. According to the Brownsville Herald's Sunday story, taxpayers forked over $200,000 in insurance premiums -- and the politicians can't even come up with a good excuse for it:

Asked to explain the change that was made during his term, [former Brownsville Mayor Henry] Gonzalez said, “I don’t remember how that happened. Really, you’re talking about a long time ago.” [...]

“I never would have supported it. It was a group deal, and everybody got it — I think,” he said. [...]

“I don’t know what to say to you, man,” [Current Mayor Eddie] Treviño, a local lawyer, said. “You caught me off-guard. I really don’t know what to say, but it is my understanding that these benefits were established by legal counsel and authority.”

Nice tap-dancing, fellas.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Vote NO on Prop. 2

Tuesday is election day in Texas, with quite a number of proposed changes to the state constitution on the ballot.

While some of the propositions are bad, the one generating the most headlines is Proposition 2, "The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

This brilliant piece of work not only has the support of the KKK, but because of its wording, the proposition might even invalidate traditional marriages.

But the main reason to oppose this measure is that it's wrong to forbid a certain group of people the legal protections of a civil union. All Proposition 2 would do is further restrict the freedom of consenting adults.

It doesn't threaten traditional heterosexual marriage. Heterosexuality is doing that on its own -- just look at the divorce rate.

You don't have to call it marriage, but two individuals who love each other and are willing to commit to each other morally and legally -- regardless of their sexual orientation -- deserve protection and equal rights under state law.

So please, VOTE NO on Proposition 2.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Nice work, if you can get it

The Brownsville Herald brings us the story of a nonprofit organization that hires workers with disabilities to produce military gear under government contracts. The CEO of ORC Industries, Barbara Barnard, received more than $680,000 in compensation in 2003 -- meanwhile, some workers there make less than minimum wage. From the article:
A recent Senate committee report blasted ORC Industries Inc., a Brownsville nonprofit that employs disabled workers, criticizing its performance and calling its CEO’s pay an "inexcusable waste of taxpayer money."

This company started out in Wisconsin and opened a facility in Brownsville in 1998, with an incentive package from the Brownsville Economic Development Council.

My favorite part of the story: When reporter Chris Mahon tried to ask Barnard about the report, she ducked the questions and hung up on him. Note to the ORC Industries board of directors: If you're gonna pay someone more than half a million a year, make sure they have the guts to answer questions about the company.

If you're interested reading more about the Senate committee's report, here you go.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Hidalgo County DA race

Another challenger has entered the race for Hidalgo County District Attorney.

Mauro Reyna III throws his hat into the ring tonight, according to The Monitor. He's a former municipal judge in Mission and Palmhurst. Reyna currently works as La Joya's city attorney.

Reyna joins former prosecutor Alma Garza in the Democratic primary against incumbent Rene Guerra.

I'm glad to see another candidate in this race, but some of what Reyna's talking about seems totally outside the scope of the DA's duties:

If elected, Reyna said he would provide increased training to police departments and implement a plan to regionalize law enforcement resources.

"My goal is to form a regional authority to provide law enforcement services to the entire county," he said.

That's not the DA's job. What should a district attorney be doing? How about, I dunno, prosecuting offenses? Reyna does say he will reopen the Irene Garza case, a crime the current DA has avoided taking action on.

At least in this election, Rene Guerra will have to spend his campaign funds on his own election, instead of spending his money on his nephew's ultimately unsuccessful campaign.

Mack, you ignorant slut

Newschannel 5 television reporter Manuel De La Rosa tells me I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to local TV news. I'm posting his response (unedited, except for fixing a couple of typos, adding links and separating it into paragraphs) with his permission:

I saw your entry about the sale of KGBT-TV. I think you are little harsh and off-base on your comments.

First off, Channel 48 KNVO-TV will be starting up a Fox newscast probably early next year. It's going to be run as a duopoly with Univision. So some of the news you get on Univision will double as your news on Fox. They'll hire some English-language staffers and have a newscast at 9 pm similar to the old Fox newscast which was run by Newschannel 5. So it will offer consumers another option for news and give Newschannel 5 some competition.

The sale of KGBT-TV actually is good for the consumers. Initially, Channel 4 will be ignored while they're up for sale, but the station with some new owners may buy new equipment and hire more staff to compete with the other English-language stations. So consumers will have a choice and that's good. Competition will drive the stations to invest more and present a better newscast.

KVEO will probably never offer a newscast. They feel they can make more money with syndicate programming rather than investing in a news department.

Lastly, Newschannel 5 doesn't providea sensational approach to news. It's true some of our stories are like that, but not fair to say all of the stories are presented that way. We cover a variety of news.

Speaking from experience, Newschannel 5 actually does a pretty good job for a small size market. They also do a good job of paying OT to the staff on big stories. You may remember our coverage of the near-miss hurricane in the summer as an example. We did a great job because we had the resources to cover that story.

You rarely find stations like ours in this size market with investigative teams. That's only seen in big cities. There isn't enough news to have an I-team. Newschannel 5 has actually done some investigative stories, which shows a lot about the our commitment to news.

You missed a story we did about a former band director who plead out to having sex with a student and was able to find another job in San Benito. Our story uncovered his previous problems with the law and led to his dismissal.

If you are going to attack the broadcast news media in the Valley, I think you need to have some more knowledge about its background and history of this type of market size. As a broadcast journalist, I feel your comments were off base.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Taking a chance

A systems analyst with the Texas Lottery says the state agency "misled lawmakers about an emergency control center that doesn't work, blocked open record requests and bullied employees into secrecy," according to the Houston Chronicle.

The lottery employee makes this claim in an email to Mission's state Rep. Kino Flores and another legislator.

Sure, I gave Flores grief a couple of years ago over wasting time on making chips and salsa the state snack when there was real work to be done, but as chairman of the House committee that oversees the Lottery, Kino doesn't take any crap from its officials. This agency needs a serious overhaul.

My congressman went to Asia ...

... and all I got was this renamed courthouse.

From the Brownsville Herald, a story about U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, who succeeded in renaming the Brownville federal courthouse after the late Judge Filemon B. Vela -- and received a $4,000 campaign donation and an $11,000 trip to Singapore from his son. It's just coincidence that the trip happened after the bill passed, Ortiz says.

Ortiz, you might recall, is the same politician whose firm just happened to land a security contract with the Port of Corpus Christi that raised eyebrows several years ago.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Judges and politics

A story in the Houston Chronicle examines the fallout from U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's successful bid to remove the judge in his campaign contributions case. DeLay, the House Majority Leader until his indictment in September, argued that the judge in the case would be biased against him because he donated to Democratic candidates and political organizations.

As the Chron points out: "If political contributions are grounds for disqualifying judges in Texas, the judiciary may be in trouble. Texas civil and criminal court judges in the past five years have made more than $775,000 in partisan political donations."

Of course, given the history of Valley politics, I'd be more worried about the contributions to judges than the money they give to someone else. But then, I'm a cynic.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

TV station for sale

English-language TV news in the Valley hasn't always been that scintillating. With just two stations bothering to maintain news departments, "it bleeds, it leads" sensationalism often overshadows investigative reporting, except during sweeps months. (By the way, anyone remember the Fox affiliate from four or so years ago and its attempt at local TV journalism? That newscast was literally unwatchable.)

Well, now one of the two stations that bothers to run a news department is up for sale, according to the company that just purchased it. Raycom Media wants to sell KGBT Channel 4, along with 11 other television stations it owns.

Raycom's boss says the sale "will benefit not only Raycom and the eventual purchasers, but also the stations and their employees."

The unanswered (and unasked) question: How will this sale benefit the viewers?

Unless KVEO 23 out of Brownsville decides to start a news operation, the English-language TV journalism picture in the Rio Grande Valley won't change much -- and it's Valley news consumers who miss out.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Dia de los Muertos

Rio Grande Valley native Macarena Hernandez has a nice column about the Day of the Dead that came out in Friday's Dallas Morning News.

An excerpt:
When I was in college, I attended a professor's funeral in Waco. When the service was over, I stayed in my seat, as everyone else headed home. I thought the crowd would come back to watch her coffin lowered into the ground. Instead, a bulldozer was nearby.

At most Mexican funerals I've attended, women wail openly, and goodbyes are long. You toss the traditional fistful of dirt onto the coffin after it has been lowered into the ground. Gravediggers, usually relatives, shovel the dirt until the coffin is buried and the flowers arranged on the fresh mound.

Hernandez used to cover the Valley for the San Antonio Express-News, before taking a job as editorial writer and columnist with the Dallas paper.

If only ...

As part of his bond requirements, the mayor of the small town of Bartlett (south of Temple and east of Georgetown, in case you're wondering) won't be allowed inside the city limits until his case is resolved. Authorities accused Mayor Bobby Hill of writing thousands of dollars in checks to the city for cash and utility bills, then ordering the city secretary not to deposit the checks.

What's this got to do with South Texas?

If judges issued similar orders in Rio Grande Valley corruption cases, half the city halls would be deserted. Then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing.