Monday, January 30, 2006

Invasion USA: The Prequel

Author Steve Sailer, writing for the blog -- a website that also answers the question "How can I report an illegal alien?" -- reminds us that the recent border incursion by men dressed in Mexican military uniforms was far from the first time such an incident took place. And many of those early 20th century incursions were part of the Plan of San Diego:
The second half of 1915 and first half of 1916 witnessed 30 terrorist invasions of Texas sponsored by the government of Mexico, and, in response, of Texas Ranger counter-terrorist excesses. Hundreds died and half the population of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas temporarily fled the guerrilla fighting. (his link)
Sailer cites Laredo author Robert Mendoza, who writes that a Mexican revolutionary was arrested in McAllen carrying a document calling for an uprising in the border states. He had been working for the self-proclaimed Mexican president Carranza, who was behind the border incidents:
Carranza's scheme to achieve diplomatic recognition and munitions was disguised as a Texas mexicano irredentist uprising.
Interesting and thought-provoking article.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

NFL Turkeys

Bad news, Dallas Cowboys fans: If you want to watch your favorite team play the archrival Washington Redskins this Thanksgiving, you better be prepared to pay.

The NFL decides to show eight prime-time Thursday and Saturday games next season on its own NFL Network -- starting with the 'Boys and the 'Skins on Turkey Day. The games won't be available on regular cable or broadcast stations. Instead, you have to buy the NFL Network from a satellite company as part of a package of channels.

League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue says, "In the end, we wanted these games on our network, which is devoted 24/7 to the sport of football, and not on a multi-sport network."

Valley fans who don't have a dish or don't want to pay extra to watch the team they've supported all these years are just out of luck. Thanks for killing a Thanksgiving Day tradition, Paul.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Another Brick in The Wall

Not only is the idea of building a fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border impractical, but it would also leave Mexico open to the turmoil that plagues other Latin American countries, the San Antonio Express-News says.

Mexico City Bureau reporter Dan Schiller quotes U.S. and Mexican observers who say that access to the States serves as a "social safety valve" that lets our southern neighbor escape political and economic problems that Central and South American nations endure. If the United States actually managed to shut that valve,
[...] undocumented immigrants no longer would be able to send home the billions of dollars — $16.6 billion in 2004, and a whopping $20 billion estimated for 2005 — that put food on dinner tables nationwide and buoy Mexico's economy.
We need a sensible immigration policy that lets in the people who want to work, so they don't have to risk their lives crossing over here illegally. That will leave the Border Patrol more time to look for violent criminals and terrorists instead of day laborers and migrant farmworkers.

Besides, a wall won't keep determined bad guys out. They'll just tunnel under it or they'll just enter the country with legal entry visas. If we build a wall, we're really just burying our head in the sand.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mapped Out

Mexico won't be handing out maps to potential border crossers after all. But it's not because of U.S. complaints.

Instead, Mexican officials say they want to rethink the idea because they're worried the charts will give anti-immigrant groups a roadmap of likely migrant gathering spots.

Whatcha Gonna Do?

The San Antonio Express-News offers more details on the encounter between cops and bad boys on the Rio Grande in West Texas:

A military-style camouflaged Humvee mounted with a large gun was awaiting two fleeing SUVs carrying suspected drug smugglers. ...

A dozen heavily armed men dressed in dark olive-drab military clothes fanned out into two flanking groups, hid in the brush and aimed their weapons at the police.

Mexico's consul general in El Paso tells the El Paso Times that the suspects were not Mexican soldiers.

But the Inland Daily Bulletin in Ontario, Calif., which first reported about the armed incusions, says Border Patrol agents are upset that officials on both sides of the border won't admit the Mexican military is crossing into the United States.

ADDENDUM: The Brownsville Herald chimes in with an editorial about the border incursions:
Mexican officials must do more than simply deny culpability. They need to determine and implement real strategies that keep people on both sides of the river safe. About the only patrols on the southern banks, however, are members of Grupo Beta, who generally serve to warn people against crossing the border illegally and rescue any who try anyway and get into trouble. These people are no match for any armed group that intends to pass into the United States.

It’s a daunting task, to be sure. Dozens of people already are being killed in the growing violence along Mexico’s northern edge. U.S. policing agencies have a responsibility, however, to protect residents on our side of the river. If they perceive a need to build up efforts against armed incursions, the results could be tragic, both in lives lost and the loss of good will between the people and governments of our two neighboring countries.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Vote Early, Not Often

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott takes aim at voter fraud in the March primiaries, announcing a statewide initiative to "combat and prevent the persistent problem" of election shenannigans:

“Voter fraud has been an epidemic in Texas for years, but it hasn’t been treated like one. It’s time for that to change,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Trainers from my office are now across the state visiting with prosecutors and law enforcement officers to stop the problem of voter fraud in its tracks. The integrity of our democratic election process must be protected.”

The effort targets 44 counties with either a history of voter fraud or a population of 100,000+. The AG's office has McAllen and Progreso in Hidalgo County on the list "based on historic investigations of election code violations." Cameron County makes the list because of its number of residents, according to The Associated Press.

Ideally, this training will help police and prosecutors locate and crack down on voter fraud. The AG's press release says Abbott has prosecuted four such cases since last year. Unfortunately, none of those cases were in the Rio Grande Valley. Let's hope he comes down to South Texas to do some work real soon.

Gambling = Crime?

Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos, who arrested grandmothers and great-grandmothers at an 8-liner club last week, tells Channel 4 why gambling is so bad:

"We know that anytime you have gambling, it attracts large amounts of money. When you have large amounts of money, you attract an element that wants to control these activities. So you get into organized crime, you get into other types of offenses," says Villalobos. (emphasis added)
So according to the DA:
gambling = a lot of money = criminal organizations = more crime

If that's the case, the district attorney has his work cut out for him. After all, there's an organization in the Rio Grande Valley operating a gambling facility in plain view.

In fact, other groups also conduct wagering activities to gain income.

Worst of all, there's a statewide gambling operation taking place under the very noses of our elected officials in Austin.

Remember, according to the Cameron County DA, "anytime you have gambling" it means more crime.

Invasion Part II?

The Mexican government starts handing out maps of southern Arizona to help cut down on the number of deaths among illegal border crossers, The Associated Pres reports:
[Mexican o]fficials said the maps would help guide those in trouble find rescue beacons and areas with cell phone reception. The maps will also show the distance a person can walk in the desert in a single day.

The Arizona Republic says a Tucson-based human rights group designed the maps, which include tips on surviving in the desert.

This pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter:
Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe, a Republican, said he supports the maps as a way of saving lives. But the best way of keeping migrants from dying in the desert is by helping Mexico create jobs and reforming U.S. laws to better manage migration, he said.

Invasion USA?

The Mexican government orders its troops to stay away from the border the day after U.S. lawmen spotted men in military uniforms on this side of the Rio Grande.

Mariano Castillo of the San Antonio Express-News reports that Hudspeth County sheriff's deputies, Department of Public Safety troopers and Border Patrol agents chased three vehicles.

Two of them made it back to the river, where a "a military-style Humvee ... armed with a heavy machine gun" met them on the American side of the border and escorted them across the river. Another vehicle got stuck, and U.S. law enforcement agents photographed men in civilian clothing unloading the SUV.

The Mexican government said it was drug traffickers, not army personnel:
"The government of Mexico denies entirely that this incident involved the Mexican military," said the Foreign Ministry statement, issued Tuesday. "It was done by organized crime, including drug traffickers who are known to use military clothing and equipment."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said last week that reports of Mexican military activity are overblown.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Politics of Contraband

The San-Antonio Express-News presents a very interesting story by Rio Grande Valley bureau reporter Jesse Bogan about smuggling along the border. But it's not what you think:
In its heyday of the 1970s and '80s, exorbitant tariffs on electronics created an enormous demand and a boon for border aviation and trade economies from Laredo to Brownsville. Anything from Cessnas to doubled-propped DC-3s avoided the tariffs by flying to remote runways.

The lesson sounds familiar: Government-created scarcity (this time the Mexican government) drives prices up, and someone is willing to take the risk for that profit.

Sure, it's not exactly what Glenn Frey sang about, but it's still fascinating.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Conan in the Rio Grande Valley

More geekery: Today, January 22*, 2006, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian and many other characters.

And, it turns out, Howard wrote some of his Conan-related material while visiting the Rio Grande Valley -- a poem about Conan's native land of Cimmeria was "Written in Mission, Texas, February 1932; suggested by the memory of the hill-country above Fredricksburg seen in a mist of winter rain." As the author wrote,

"Conan simply grew up in my mind a few years ago when I was stopping in a little border town on the lower Rio Grande."

Howard visited other Valley cites as well, including Rio Grande City, where he crossed into Mexico to partake of the local culture, as he wrote in a letter:
[...] There is a bar on every street. You get quite thirsty in the heat. I am a temperance man, confound it. Down with all liquor! So I downed it.

Indeed, Howard scholars say Conan is a native of Texas as much as he is the fictional land of Cimmeria. Howard wrote most of his stories while living in the West Texas town of Cross Plains, which recently suffered destruction from the wildfires that swept the state.

Conan, of course, gained fame in a series of stories for 1930s pulp magazines, 1960s reprints distinguished by Frank Frazetta covers, 1970s comic books and 1980s movies featuring a future California governor in the lead role. Today a new Conan comic series offers a retelling of the barbarian's adventures and a computer game gives fans a chance to adventure in the time of Conan, the Hyborian Age.

And, most significantly, a publisher has reissued all of Howard's Conan tales in new editions. Check them out; they're good reading if you like swords & sorcery action-adventure tales.

*Howard's birth certificate says January 24, but the writer and his father always gave January 22 as Howard's date of birth.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Arcade Raid

Cameron County sheriff's deputies swoop down upon another den of iniquity, raiding La Herradura in Olmito and citing the patrons they caught with gambling charges, including senior citizens.

The district attorney is adamant that he only way the targeted arcades will shut down is by going after the arcade owners, property owners and the patrons, and he vowed Friday that efforts will not stop until they are.
Yeah, going after the customers worked so well during Prohibition that we repeated it with the War on Drugs. If he really thinks ticketing little old ladies who want their gambling fix will put a halt to these casinos, he's sadly mistaken. As long as people want something, whether it's a drink or a joint or a pull on the slot machine, someone will pop up to supply them with what they want.

And THAT'S what leads to corruption -- making something illegal that everyone wants anyway.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Who Owns What?

First a former McAllen mayor owns a location housing a suspected illegal gambling joint. Now, a local police chief comes up as the owner of a security firm that the operator of the recently raided casino says belongs to him.

As the Brownsville Herald's Emma Perez-Treviño uncovers:

Public records show that Los Fresnos Police Chief James Harris III owns Coastal Security & Protection in North Brownsville, but Goldmine arcade operator Eduardo Rene Peña claims he owns it as well.

The chief tells NewsChannel 5 his officers weren't providing information to the arcade operators.

Don't forget -- Cameron County DA Armando Villalobos says that after the anti-gambling task force raid, Peña claimed he's under protection from local law enforcement honchos. No wonder the district attorney wants the FBI to investigate.

They're Graphic Novels!

Something of interest to fellow comic book geeks in South Texas:

Although most superheroes dwell in large urban areas like New York City or Metropolis, at least one comic book character calls the Rio Grande Valley home.

The costumed hero El Gato Negro, created by Richard Dominguez and published by Azteca Productions, hails from Edinburg. El Gato, of course, recently guest-starred in the newspaper comic strip Baldo.

According to the International Catalogue of Superheroes, "[s]ocial worker Francisco Guerrero grew tired of watching the way criminals preyed on the weak and innocent. ... Francisco adopted the costumed identity of el Gato Negro, the Black Cat, ... who was to become the scourge of drug smugglers and coyotes. ..."

Another South Texas artist might not draw any comics that I know of, but former Monitor cartoonist Ramon Ramirez created a lot of political cartoons pertaining to the Valley. He's also a big Superman fan.

Speaking of the Big S, if you want to debate vital issues such as who would win in a fight, Superman or Mighty Mouse*, Valley comics fans have created an email discussion group, The South Texas Comic Book Reader, and a weblog of comics reviews called Slugfest.

My thanks to owner Chris Salazar of Hobbies and Heroes in McAllen for pointing me to that listserve and that blog.

*Superman, of course. Mighty Mouse is just a cartoon character.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Border Crossings

The Mexican military crosses into the United States on a regular basis, the head of Homeland Security confirms.

But Homeleand Security chief Michael Chertoff tells the Dallas Morning News it might just be criminals dressed as military personnel.
"It's a regular occurrence – military incursions, paramilitary or Mexican military holding off sheriffs or Border Patrol agents," said Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, one of five Texas lawmakers who toured the Laredo area with Mr. Chertoff this month. He said he had spoken with sheriffs and Border Patrol agents who have had standoffs with "uniformed, machine gun-toting military people."

Last week, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario, Calif., reported that the Department of Homeland Security had documented 216 incidents since 1996 in which Mexican troops crossed the border. The Washington Times repeated the assertion Tuesday. Nine incidents were reported last year, down from a peak of 40 in 2002.
There's a lot of corruption in Mexico, fueled by the obscene profits resulting from drug smuggling. If we legalized drugs, the price would fall and the corruption would decrease. After all, how many cases of alcohol smuggling are there today?

ADDENDUM: The Associated Press article takes the angle that Chertoff is downplaying the incursions as overblown:
"I think to create the image that somehow there is a deliberate effort by the Mexican military to cross the border would be to traffic in scare tactics," he said Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Investigative Reporting

Journalist Bob Woodward, who led the way in reporting what became known as the Watergate scandal, takes the lectern at UT-Pan American on Feb. 13 as part of the university's Distinguished Speaker Series.

Woodward tells Texas Monthly he plans to talk about President Bush and the current war and about President Nixon and Watergate.

I wonder what Woodward might find if he started digging in the Rio Grande Valley. With all the scandals at various school districts and cities around South Texas, he would have his hands full. Of course, he's busy hobnobbing with all the Washington insiders, and looking at local affairs is too far beneath him.

Too bad there's no local media outlet willing to pay a reporter or two to do full-time investigative work here in the Valley. He or she might not uncover anything as important as Watergate, but they would certainly find a lot of corruption.

Workin' in New Orleans

Latin American immigrants -- with and without papers -- come here to do work Americans won't do, and many of them get screwed over by shady employers.

This time it's not Texas or California or Florida, but the Crescent City, where the Dallas Morning News reports Latinos might comprise one-fifth of New Orleans' population after Hurricane Katrina:
In New Orleans, as in other cities, Latin migrants can be found in some of the most menial jobs. Yet even as employers readily snap up the new workforce in a city that has lost two-thirds of its population, some politicians and residents decry the arrivals as an economic threat.

And, like elsewhere, many encounter poor working conditions, get gouged for housing and endure mistreatment from bosses who stiff workers. There are some worker advocate groups in New Orleans -- the National Immigration Law Center and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network have people in the city -- but it sounds like these immigrants really have it tough in what the DMN headline calls a "Wild West" town.

Of course, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin doesn't help with by wondering how to "stop New Orleans from being overrun by Mexican workers" back in October. His remarks on Martin Luther King Day that "This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be." convey the message that New Orleans doesn't want Hispanic immigrants.

Meanwhile, these workers are busting their asses to rebuild his city. Some gratitude.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Newspapers and Labor

Getting back to the Los Angeles Times' four-day series on the United Farm Workers, here's some more reaction to the stories from Times readers. The UFW points out that the paper's claim that the union fails to organize California farm workers "is directly contradicted by reporting ... from no less than 22 Los Angeles Times reporters and two columnists."

In addition, a California professor wonders why the LAT doesn't devote more resources to covering day-to-day labor issues:
Up until the 1980s, most major newspapers, including the Times, had a regular labor reporter. Today, few papers, the Times among them, have even one reporter exclusively assigned to cover labor.

Which leads me to this point: There are some compelling stories out there. In fact, The Monitor ran a great series last fall on migrant workers from South Texas.

In the weeklong P'al Norte series, Monitor reporter Victoria Hirschberg and photographer Joel Martinez accompanied a migrant family from the Valley on their annual trek north to Wisconsin.

(Making a) Better Living Through Chemistry

The decades-long operation of the Hayes-Sammons pesticide warehouse in a Mission neighborhood results in chemical-related illnesses, decreased property values and slow government response.

And lawsuits. Lots and lots of lawsuits.

Now, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers involved in the case might be in trouble because he agreed to split attorney fees with a non-lawyer (lawyers don't like to give non-attorneys a cut). According to The Monitor:
Lawyer Mauro Reyna III’s signature on the agreement to share attorney fees with Mission resident Ester Salinas is prohibited by the Texas State Bar because Salinas is not an attorney.
Salinas, of course, is the longtime community activist fighting to keep this issue in the spotlight. I guess it's because she gets a commission. She's not saying; she "hung up the phone in tears" when a reporter called to ask her about it.

Just to make things interesting, the agreement mentions another high-profile lawyer -- Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, a lead attorney in one of the class-action suits.

And if that wasn't enough, Mauro Reyna's running for Hidalgo County District Attorney in the Democratic primary. Incumbent Rene Guerra tells The Monitor he won't investigate until after the election:
"My general policy is, I don’t investigate candidates during the campaign," he said, adding, "I cannot stop anybody going to a grand jury and asking a grand jury to investigate allegations against anybody." (emphasis added).
Remember these words, people. They might come in handy later on.

Getting back to the pollution in Mission, don't overlook that the Environmental Protection Agency's long-awaited report on site contamination says chemicals saturate the soil at 100 times what the state says is safe. Meanwhile, "Mission’s mayor, city manager and the site’s owner all said they hadn’t made up their minds yet" about the findings and what to do about them.

A Mission blogger wonders why didn't these residents just move away once they learned of the contamination? The writer says in another post that they shouldn't wait on a settlement to leave:
The right way is to help them with their housing and medical costs. Most importantly, do these things now, when they need the help.

Friday, January 13, 2006

(Re)Drawing the Lines

In its brief before the Supreme Court, LULAC says the Texas Republican Party used outdated census data to draw redraw congressional districts and dilute the strength of minority voters, according to the San Antonio Express-News:
"They diluted the voice of Latinos by using this old data," Rolando Rios, a lawyer for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said Thursday.

A tip of the hat to all-around nice guy and Republican embarrassment Tom DeLay, for placing the Rio Grande Valley in a congressional district that stretches from the Mexican border all the way up to Austin.

And the next GOPer who says, "But the Democrats did it when they were in power" gets my foot up his ass. It was wrong when the donkeys did it, and it's just as wrong when the elephants do it.

As E-N columnist Carlos Guerra points out:
In the decades the four attorneys have been fighting for minority voting rights ... they have shared plaintiffs' tables with Republicans and Democrats. And both parties betrayed them.

The best, fairest solution is nonpartisan, computer-drawn redistricting. We have the technology. Unfortunately, our elected leaders in both parties don't have the balls to use it.

Bet On It

Turns out a Los Fresnos building housing an illegal gambling operation belongs to a former McAllen mayor -- and hizzoner could lose his property.

Leo Montalvo rented the structure to Eddie Peña, whom a Cameron County anti-gambling task force busted last week. Cameron County DA Armando Villalobos warns citizens that he's going after customers next, and even landlords might feel the heat because "real estate seizures are possible."

To quote TV anchor John Stossel, "Give me a break." Why is the DA wasting cops' time busting gambling parlors? Sure, it's against the law. And I'm willing to gamble (pun intended) that there are some pretty high-profile patrons of these clandestine casinos, along with ordinary people who chose to play video slots.

But these customers are consenting adults, and if they want to wager their money, why stop them? We allow bingo parlors, greyhound and horse tracks and even the state-run Texas Lottery.

If the district attorney wants to fight the "perception of corruption," he should take a closer look at, say, the Port of Brownsville. What's going on there creates a lot more mistrust than some eight-liners.

UFW leaves AFL-CIO

United Farm Workers split from the AFL-CIO labor federation, going with the Change To Win federation, which includes the Service Employees International Union.

The Associated Press reports the farmworkers union hopes to boost recruiting efforts:
The UFW, with about 27,000 members, joins the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers, Unite Here and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners in forming the dissident coalition. The Laborers International Union of North America also is part of the new federation, but has not left the AFL-CIO.

According to the Washington Times, the UFW informed the AFL-CIO of the move last week.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

UFW Followup

The Los Angeles Times receives some more letters about its four-day series on the United Farm Workers and the legacy of Cesar Chavez.

Times columnist Patt Morrison chimes in with her thoughts on how the Farm Worker Movement has turned into "Cesar Inc.", neglecting the fields for lobbying efforts and real estate ventures:
At least the leaders were honest when they snipped out of the preamble of the UFW constitution the part about the people who have "tilled the soil, sown the seed and harvested the crops" and about struggling "as long as it takes" to build a union for them.
And the blog LA Observed offers more reactions to the stories, including quotes from someone calling the series "tough reading for the friends of labor."

More Edcouch-Elsa Embarrassment

A dozen-odd individuals sue the Edcouch-Elsa school district for wrongful termination, saying they were suspended or fired for supporting the wrong side in the previous school board election.

Meanwhile, teachers have elementary students write ass-kissing letters to the indicted E-E school board president Aaron Luis Gonzalez, who faces federal charges of "conspiracy to commit extortion, mail fraud, bribery relating to a federally funded government program, and interstate travel in aid of a bribery scheme."

Some parents say the board member's arrest sets the wrong example for kids, and they shouldn't be writing letters to him. The E-E superintendent tells Newschannel 5 that no one forces the kids to write the letters; "They do it on their own."

Give me a break. Grade schoolers know who they principal is, but that's about it. No way they pen notes of support to a school board member without prompting.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

... And Sometimes "Y"

Sure, the head of Hidalgo County's Democratic Party kicks Jessica Reyes-Martinez off the ballot because she didn't include her address when she filed to run against her ex-husband.

And unopposed state Rep. Kino Flores of Mission messes up when he writes his name in the blank where he's supposed to put which office he's running for.

At least they spelled their names right.

Not independent gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who left the "y" out of her last name when she filled out her paperwork.


No Regrets

The Los Angeles Times wraps up its series on United Farm Workers with a story on a former UFW organizer who now serves as a top official in the Service Employees International Union.

If not for Cesar Chavez, [Eliseo] Medina might still be in Delano, picking grapes and shooting pool at People's bar. Instead, he is the preeminent example of a generation of activists nurtured by the UFW and its founders.

But Medina is organizing janitors and healthcare workers, not farmworkers. His life illustrates another part of the Chavez legacy: The UFW founder drove out many of the union's most committed labor leaders, who quit the fields and turned their talents to other causes.

Medina tells blogger Marc Cooper he has no regrets about the series: "This all had to be said. It was time."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Times and the Union

The Los Angeles Times continues its series on the United Farm Workers. Today's installment explores how founder Cesar Chavez drove out longtime labor organizers in the late 1970s and early '80s:

Whether Chavez initiated the changes or responded defensively, the net result was the same. By 1982, he had driven out dissenting voices on the board, among the staff and in the fields. Key staff and architects of the union's early success were gone, along with the next generation of leaders in the fields. The UFW never regained the same momentum as a labor union for farmworkers.

How have Californians responded to the Times series? Here are a couple of LA Times letters to the editor about the stories. The blog LA Observed says the UFW saw the series coming. One journalist says the Times is simply following reporting by him and the Bakersfield Californian. And the blog LAist questions the timing of running a series maligning Chavez's legacy the week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I'm curious, though: What does the Valley think of this story?

Monday, January 09, 2006

UFW Fires Back

United Farm Workers responds to the Los Angeles Times series on the UFW's tax-exempt organizations and whether they're still helping farmworkers (details below).

In a newsletter posted to the UFW listserve, the union calls the stories "inaccurate, dishonest and untrue ... viciously attacking the Farm Worker Movement and Cesar Chavez":
The Farm Worker Movement is continuing the legacy of its founders, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who believed the movement had to go beyond the work place through non-profit, independently-run groups with distinct missions and staff. Annual independent financial audits give all the organizations clean bills of health.

The UFW asks readers to remind the LA Times of all the union's accomplishments by sending letters to the editor.

Is the paper attacking the union? Or has it raised legitimate concerns about how the organization's affiliates are being run?

Is La Unión Broken?

Has the United Farm Workers organization strayed from its roots of helping the workers? The Los Angeles Times says yes in its investigative series "UFW: A Broken Contract."

According to the LA newspaper, the union has become a shell of its former self that doesn't do much for farmworkers:
Today ... Chavez's heirs run a web of tax-exempt organizations that exploit his legacy and invoke the harsh lives of farmworkers to raise millions of dollars ....

The money does little to improve the lives of California farmworkers, who still struggle with the most basic health and housing needs and try to get by on seasonal, minimum-wage jobs.

Instead, in California at least, farmworkers depend on volunteers and legal aid organizations for services.

Meanwhile, the Chavez family runs a series of linked charities that "enrich each other" and "do business with friends," the Times reports. And in one case, a UFW-related organization sold property meant for low-income housing to its lawyer, who then sold the land to a developer for a $1.1 million profit.

The UFW in Texas has helped out many people in the Rio Grande Valley, but what does this latest report say about the organization's national leadership? Is it time for this union to retire? Valley residents, what do you think?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Battle of the Spouses

Why did Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chairman Juan Maldonado reject the candidacy of incumbent state Rep. Mando Martinez's future ex-wife in the race for his spot?

It seems she didn't fill out the paperwork correctly when she filed to run against her estranged husband. But Jessica Reyes-Martinez claims the move is "a political scheme between Maldonado and her husband."

Probably Maldonado is using the paperwork oversight as a face-saving way of avoiding additional political embarrassment for Hidalgo County Democrats. (Insert your own snide comment here.)

Of course, the soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Martinez could always run as an independent. It seems to be the popular thing to do these days.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Advice To Flee

A former employee with the Mexican consulate in Dallas says a diplomat told crime suspects -- and victims -- they're better off running back to Mexico than seeking justice in the United States, according to the Dallas Observer:

"He said, 'My advice to you is to go bond him out now and go back to Mexico,' " [former consular employee Susana] Loera says. "He said, 'If he stays here, he's going to get convicted. The American justice system is very corrupt. He's going to get an outlandish sentence, so you need to bond him out now and run to Mexico.' " ...

[V]ictims, too, were often told they would be better off escaping to Mexico than looking for justice from the U.S. legal system.
The Consul General refutes Loera's claims, saying "all of her assertions are absolutely slanderous, all of them."

But if these allegations about the Dallas consulate are true, is this behavior an exception, or is it typical of other Mexican consulates as well?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Attention Valley School Officials ...

If you spoke to contractor Al Cardenas Jr. in the past couple of years, you might want to contact your lawyer.

Turns out the feds had Cardenas tape his conversations with PSJA school board member Jaime Santa Maria. As The Monitor reports:
Cardenas, who pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges in August, had been secretly cooperating with federal officials since at least May 2004, and brought a recording device to meetings he held with former Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School Board trustee Guadalupe Jaime Santa Maria, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Eastepp.

This probably sparked last year's FBI raid of the school district offices and the superintendent's and board members' homes and offices. If PSJA Superintendent Arturo Guajardo, along with board members Vangie Garcia De Leon, Roy Navarro and Roy Rodriguez, aren't worried by now, they should be.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Single-Party County

The Monitor story about incumbent state Rep. Mando Martinez's wife challenging him in the Democratic Primary also mentions other candidate filings.

The most significant fact in that article, however, is that the Hidalgo County Democratic Party fields 47 candidates for its primary, while the Hidalgo County GOP can't find anybody to run for office locally.

C'mon, Republicans; give people a reason to show up to the polls for the general election in November. If you don't, the Democrats will continue taking Hidalgo County voters for granted.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Couples Therapy?

Weslaco state Rep. Mando Martinez has a challenger in the upcoming Democratic primary: his (estranged?) wife, Jessica Reyes-Martinez.

She tells The Monitor she's "actually running for office, not against him. It just happens he's in office right now."

Right. The two live in separate houses and recently fought a custody battle over their son. No hard feelings, right?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

It's 2006