Thursday, June 21, 2007

What's the deal ...

... with Earn My Vote's blog?

Is he/she on sabbatical?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I'm Back ...

... did I miss anything while I was gone?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Editors Swat Down Subpoenas

Interesting news item concerning my previous employer, The Monitor, and a couple of my former bosses:

The region's presiding judge Thursday dismissed subpoenas ordering the top two editors at The Monitor newspaper in McAllen to appear in court over an editorial that called for a judge to recuse himself from a case against another judge. ...

The hearing was to determine whether District Judge Bobby Flores can be blocked from hearing the case against District Judge Rudy Delgado. Delgado has been suspended amid charges he evaded arrest and misused official information during a 2002 arrest on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

When The Monitor revamped its website, readers apparently lost the old web archives. But thanks to the miraculous workings of the Wayback Machine, you can read the original editorial from March 2005. Oh, and here's an earlier editorial with more details on Delgado's case from January '05.

Monday, March 26, 2007

One Protester = Three Cop Cars

An activist stages a one-man march to protest immingrant jails in South Texas -- including jails for children -- and receives a trio of police vehicles as an escort in Port Isabel:

The protest walker had been walking alone all day, without a single reporter or photographer. But there were three cars that had fallen in behind the truck of John Neck[,] who always follows [Jay] Johnson-Castro to keep him protected from traffic. So the feds had the protesters outnumbered.
Johnson-Castro's no stranger to protest walks in the Rio Grande Valley: he recently completed a 200-mile trek to protest the proposed border wall (with Neck driving slowly behind him).

Now the demonstrator wants to bring attention to the fact that our government throws children into prison. In addition to protesting RGV facilities in March, he marched against the Haskell prison last month. Inside these jails, children are treated like inmates, with little to no schooling or play time.

Bitch all you want about "but they took ar jerbs" or "whut part uv illeegul dont u unnerstand?" regarding adults charged with immigration violations -- but don't hold these kids responsible for their parents' actions. To throw them in jail and treat them like criminals is unconscionable.

Not only are children punished like adults, but allegations of sexual abuse by staff members surface at one of these facilities:

The last child left the state-licensed Away From Home Inc. shelter in Nixon, southeast of San Antonio, on March 7. The FBI is investigating reports that young detainees, all illegal immigrant children traveling alone, have been sexually abused.
Of course, no one doesanything at first, other than remove the kids from the facility, in an out-of-sight, out-of-mind move. Now, perhaps, anyone responsible for sexual abuse will be punished.

Meanwhile, Johnson-Castro marches on, hitting Harlingen on his way to the country's largest detention center, a tent prison in Raymondville (a.k.a. "Ritmo") where he concludes the protest walk.

Other than that Action 4 News report, the Valley media fall strangely silent, prompting the editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review to conclude in this blog post that "[t]he newspapers here are basically anti-immigrant and we are not going to get any coverage" thanks to either politics or apathy.

I don't think politics are behind the lack of coverage -- the local dalies' parent company, Freedom Communications, holds a libertarian editorial outlook , and that philosophy includes open borders and immigration reform (I should know; I used to be the opinion editor at The Monitor)-- but rather a lack of resources or lack of knowledge about the event.

Anyway, let's see if this issue gets some more Valley coverage.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Astute Reporting

Over at Grits for Breakfast, blogger Scott Henson gives a shout-out to the Valley daily newspapers' Austin correspondent, Elizabeth Pierson, calling her "perhaps the most astute reporter covering problems at the Texas Youth Commission over the last few years."

He mentions her work in this post on the latest troubles concerning the scandal-plagued Texas Youth Commission -- something Pierson (whom I've known for several years) has followed since the beginning.

Way to go, Liz!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

PSJA Arrests

I just saw this on The Monitor's website:
FBI agents arrested PSJA school board member Roy Rodriguez and two McAllen contractors early this morning in connection with the raids of PSJA school offices and board members’ homes in January 2005.
In addition to Rodriguez, the feds charged Joe Lopez and Pedro Armando Gutierrez, who they say paid the school trustee in exchange for favorable votes and influence on district contracts. Sez NewsChanel 5:
We're told the charges involve Rodriguez's work on the school board and school construction projects
This isn't the first bribery case concerning PSJA. Back in 2005, a federal grand jury charged board member Jaime Santa Maria and contractor Alonso Cardenas Jr. They later pleaded guilty -- and it turns out that Cardenas taped his conversations with the board member, which led to evidence against Santa Maria.

Any bets on whether that case or the current prosecution will lead to more indictments of PSJA officials?

UPDATE: The Monitor (whose archives disappeared when it remodeled its website) has posted its 2004 two-part series on Joe Lopez:
In addition, the U.S. Attorney has details on the charges:
The indictment, returned under seal on February 27, 2007 and unsealed today, charges all the defendants with conspiracy to commit extortion, mail fraud, and bribery concerning a federally funded governmental agency, and interstate travel in aid of a bribery scheme. PSJA-ISD, a large school district which receives substantial federal funds, is located in Hidalgo County, Texas. Rodriguez is accused of receiving cash payments totaling $65,000 from his co-defendants between 1997 and 2004 in exchange for the use of the official power of his elected office to arrange and assiste Lopez and Gutierrez with bids the submitted for PSJA-ISD design and construction contracts.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Omar Hits the Streets (Soon)

The Running Man gets out on bail.

That's right; Real Man of Genius Omar Guerrero, charged with aggravated sexual assault of a minor and retaliation, who was on the run for two months, who got kicked out of Mexico, will soon be out of jail:
A district court judge granted Omar Guerrero a $1 million bond Thursday, but a technicality will probably keep the former Hidalgo County district clerk in jail over the weekend.
This is a Law & Order twist as applied to a Jerry Springer episode.

As Rio Grande Valley blogger Truth Be Told said in a comment in my previous post, "Hope he doesn't embarrass the valley anymore and just stays put this time."

For more local takes on this embarrassment to Hidalgo County, check out what Earn My Vote has to say at Edinburg Politics.

BONUS JERRY SPRINGER MOMENT: Omar's former wife tells NewsChannel 5 that she still supports her ex, and "she doesn't count out the possibility that she and Omar might some day get back together."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Heeeeeeeere's Omar!

Wanted fugitive and Rio Grande Valley embarrassment Omar Guerrero gets caught in Reynosa and marched back to the United States:

The FBI brought Guerrero across the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge about 11:45 p.m. Saturday, Mission police officials said. Guerrero was cooperative with authorities, according to [Mission police chief Leo] Longoria.
Action 4 News has breaking news of the extradition, including a long video clip. (at about 5 minutes into the first "Omar Guerrero Extradited" video link, you can see the skinny, goatee-wearing, yellow shirt-clad Real Man of Genius get booked into the Mission city jail.

This has been a bizarre story. In case you've forgotten some of the wierdness, this Monitor story gives a nice recap of the former Hidalgo County District Clerk's antics:

Since he disappeared in early December, police have found a large amount of marijuana and cocaine in Guerrero’s North McAllen home; a justice of the peace said Guerrero threatened her; Guerrero lost his job; his wife divorced him; and he turned 30.
That's in addition to the charges of sexual assault of a child, DWI, marijuana possession, and a civil suit over a defaulted loan.

Nice work, Omar. Now let's see if any judge would be stupid enough to let you out on bond.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Remembering Molly Ivins

Liberal columnist Molly Ivins dies of cancer at age 62. Her old employer, the Texas Observer, has an obituary -- but the site's experiencing capacity problems as I post this, so good luck reading it. QUICK UPDATE: The Associated Press collects some of her quips; Molly's editor reminisces; and even Shrub (as she called him) weighs in on Molly Ivins.

I met Molly Ivins for the first time in 1992 at a student journalism convention in Houston. This was right after the publication of her book, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? The political columnist spoke to us about how the media obsessed too much over politicians' personal lives -- I recall her talking about how she once saw John Tower so drunk he was face-down in a bowl of chili, but that didn't stop him from being an effective politician. What I remember even more, however, is when she and several other journalism professionals retired to the hotel bar and swapped war stories, as we wide-eyed students sat and listend.

Molly Ivins made an appearance down in the Rio Grande Valley a couple of years ago, at a fundraiser at Cine El Rey. Before the event, at a meet-and-greet at a nearby club, she made her way to all the tables and introduced herself to everyone in the room. Very gracious.

She influenced me in my journalism, making me realize that I shouldn't be afraid to call bullshit when I saw it -- and that colorful prose is more effective than the usual bland newspaperese.

I ran her columns in The Monitor when I was opinion editor, and boy she knew how to piss off people. Damn, I'll miss her attitude and her perspective.

Rest in Peace, Molly.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Here's something from a couple of weeks ago that you might find interesting:

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tours the border and announces a law enforcement grant for South Texas. As a reader pointed out, the AG addressed and discounted concerns about terrorists infiltrating the United States via the southern border, a claim the hysterical anti-immigrant crowd loves to make.
Gonzales, who was born in San Antonio, also responded to media reports that Middle Eastern terrorists were training to cross the southern border illegally into the United States. The possibility of terrorists sneaking through the Mexican border is a concern, but there's no specific or credible intelligence to say it is happening, he said. [emphasis added]
Cue NewsChannel 5's Will Ripley, who mentions the $300,000 grant but then, about a minute-and-a-half into the broadcast report about the visit, invokes "Homeland Security" and asks Gonzales if he thinks there's a real danger of terrorists sneaking across the border. "We are concerned about terrorists coming into our country."

But as my correspondent pointed out, the TV station ended the sound bite and omitted the part about "no specific or credible intelligence to say it is happening." To quote the reader (who will remain anonymous until I hear otherwise):
Ripley cut the AG's sentence in half to feed the terror monster he created.
Of course, this isn't the first time Rio Grande Valley broadcasters tried to grab viewers by crying "Terrorist!" Remember that South African woman arrested at the McAllen airport? TV made a huge deal about the "suspected al Qaida operative" right here at home. Turns out there was no connection to any terrorist groups.

So take what television reporters (or print journalists -- or bloggers, for that matter) tell you with a grain of salt.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Valley In Exile presents ... Real Men of Genius

Real Men of Genius

Today we salute you, Mr. Embarrassment to Hidalgo County

Mr. Embarrassment to Hidalgo County

Some county officials get arrested for drinking and driving. You, oh Villian of the Valley, get charged with drinking and driving and marijuana possession, and domestic violence, and statutory rape.

At least I didn't jaywalk

Not only that, but you try to use your religion as a shield. But the voters don't buy it, and you get your ass kicked in the primary election.

I still got 13 percent

This sort of personal crisis would cause anyone to question their faith. But you, oh True Believer, do more than question: You switch religions like you're changing clothes.

Can I get an Amen?

And when it comes time to pay the piper, you're nowhere to be found. Your lawyer says you'll turn yourself in tomorrow, but that was yesterday. Now, the feds think you're on the lam.

Nyah, nyah, nyah, can't catch me

So keep on running, oh Coward of the County, because this dud is you.

Mr. Embarrassment to Hidalgo County

Valley In Exile Blogging Company, San Antonio, Texas.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Newroom Operations

For all you non-journalists out there, here's a graphical representation of how newsrooms really work (compared to how editors think they work).

You journalists are already familiar with this model of operation. It's funny because it's true.

By the way, Romenesko is a media blog referenced in the chart -- and it's also where I found the link. Circular, huh?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Aftermath

By now everyone knows about the Dems routing the GOP in Tuesday's elections. An unforeseen consequence of the power-shift: because Texas lost a bunch of long-serving Democratic congresscritters after the Tom DeLay-inspired gerrymandering, in the Democratically controlled House of Representatives, the Lone Star State will come up short when the D's hand out the committee chairs in January. Thanks, Tom!

Closer to home, a Republican candidate pulled an upset in the perennially Democratic Rio Grande Valley: GOP challenger Carlos Cascos ousted incumbent Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa. Perhaps it's karmic payback for how Hinojosa gave away Isla Blanca Park to fat-cat developers.

Also locally -- and unsurprisingly -- a computer glitch screwed up the vote count in Hidalgo County, according to the Associated Press:

The county's top election official discovered the mistake when early voting results in House District 28 put long-shot Constitution Party candidate Ron Avery ahead of popular Democratic incumbent Henry Cuellar by almost 2,000 votes with roughly 2,200 tabulated. ...

Election Systems and Software, which employs the programmer, provides voting equipment to 145 of the 254 counties in Texas, according to the secretary of state.

No word on electronic voting problems anywhere else in the state.

For another RGV blogger's take on Tuesday's turn of events, check out Rico Politico's election wrapup over at Rio Grande Valley Politics.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Baptist Church Fraud

The investigation into mishandling of startup money for Baptist churches in the Rio Grande Valley reveals that more than $1.3 million in donations was misused to create churches that existed only on paper:

The 2.5 million-member denomination missed numerous red flags -- including an FBI probe -- that should have prompted an internal investigation earlier, the report showed.
Furthermore, officials with the Baptist General Convention of Texas ignored warnings from other pastors:

Investigators noted BGCT leaders failed to investigate thoroughly charges of impropriety, even though some staff knew about irregularities in the church-starting program in the Valley.

Even an FBI investigation in 2000-2001 regarding allegations of fraud failed to prompt a serious internal investigation, the report noted. Investigators said they determined the FBI terminated the investigation because the BGCT—as the injured party—did not pursue the complaint.

The investigative team, including Brownsville lawyer Diane Dillard, offers some suggestions to prevent financial abuse in the future. Last, but not least, they suggest "trust but verify." If anyone wants more details, the complete report is available online.

The Valley: where corruption flourishes among every faith.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

R.I.P. Freddy Fender

UPDATE: The San Antonio Express-News posts an obituary of Freddy Fender (see also the discography (scroll down) and this story from 1993 on one of the SAEN's blogs, and reader comments); The Monitor's Andres R. Martinez interviews local music personalities about the musician; and the Valley Morning Star's Bruce Lee Smith has a story as well.

South Texas music legend Freddy Fender died today in Corpus Christi at age 69. From the Associated Press article:

Fender, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2006, died at noon at his Corpus Christi home with his family at his bedside, said Ron Rogers, a family spokesman. ...

"I feel very comfortable in my life," Fender told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in August. "I'm one year away from 70 and I've had a good run. I really believe I'm OK. In my mind and in my heart, I feel OK. I cannot complain that I haven't lived long enough, but I'd like to live longer."

Fender, who was born in San Benito, leaves a great musical legacy not just for the Valley, but for the world. Austin American-Statesman music writer Michael Corcoran provides a more detailed obituary. You can read more about the musician in blog posts here, here, here, and here, and see a pic of him from the 1996 SXSW show. Oh, and I had forgotten that Freddy played a role in The Milagro Beanfield War.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Museum Update

Viva La Revolucion, the person in charge of the blog At The Museum, offers an update on the IMAS situation in a comment on my previous post about the International Museum of Art and Science.

According to Viva, the annual IMAS fundraiser was "a failure with only 150 attendees including staff," and the museum board president is unhappy with The Monitor's article last month about the facility's current status.

For more about what's up with the (partially) taxpayer-funded IMAS, see Viva's post from last week.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

One Million Hits

The Paper of South Texas, the Rio Grande Valley's latest and greatest alternative weekly (and a publication I freelance for), received the one-millionth hit on its website today.

This comes on the heels of The Paper's political cartoon lampooning McAllen's mayor and the city commission over their refusal to negotiate with the police union. That image by cartoonist Ramon Ramirez ran on the cover of last week's issue.

The drawing proved extremely popular (at least outside City Hall), prompting television Channel 4 to do a news story on the cartoon and KURV 710 Talk Radio to run a People Poll (scroll down) asking if the 'toon upset listeners (78 percent said no).

Word is getting out that there's a new source of information in town. Congrats to the folks at The Paper of South Texas!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

IMAS Audit

The International Museum of Art & Science passed recent audits, but The Monitor's Marc Gellar reports that it's not all roses and sunshine at the McAllen facility.

According to the story in the Sunday paper, IMAS has climbed out of its hole two years after a 2004 city audit revealed cash-flow problems, misuse of museum property, and other problems. However, the audit also said "management needs to pay more attention to certain cash accounts to ensure the funds are used properly and in a timely manner." Furthermore,
The auditor also noted that inventory records didn’t match up with the general ledger; the museum didn’t have a written purchasing policy; some purchase orders weren’t prepared in a timely manner or didn’t have authorized signatures; and electronic membership records didn’t match up with manually recorded membership records.
This finding comes as IMAS wants the city of McAllen to bump its contribution to the museum by $100 grand, to about $772,000.

The story also mentions the huge amount of turnover at the museum. For an insider's perspective on what's happening at IMAS, check out the blog At The Museum, especially the comments in this post, which points out that IMAS doesn't even offer any art classes or programs.

Current and former museum employees and volunteers, what do you think of this newspaper article?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Meet the New Boss ...

... Same as the old boss:
LA JOYA — The La Joya school board’s three newest members campaigned last spring against what they called a long tradition of cronyism and corruption in the school district.

But since Rita Garza-Uresti, J.A. "Fito" Salinas and Johnn Valente Alaniz took office in mid-May, the seven-member board has installed several people with close family and political ties to board members.
Pete Townsend was right.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Local Bloggers

The Monitor offers a story on Rio Grande Valley bloggers from recently departed reporter Victoria Hirschberg. The article mentions some local blogs, including Shaine Mata's RGV Life and state Rep. Aaron Peña's A Capitol Blog:
Blogging for Mata has been an off-shoot of his journal writing, which he started after he recently enrolled in classes at the University of Texas – Pan American. Mata’s inspiration to start blogging came from a radio interview with state Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, who started his own blog in January 2005.
What, no mention of Valley In Exile? Victoria, I'm hurt. (just kidding)

By the way, Shaine has another site, Spin RGV, which rounds up posts from several South Texas blogs and newspapers. It's a daily must-read for anyone who wants to keep up with the local chisme.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Message for Journalists

A writer for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach, an alternative weekly, blogs about the media in South Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach). In that region, just like in the Rio Grande Valley, a lot of corruption takes place. Also like in South Texas, those bastards keep getting away with it.

At the end of this post on local corruption, the writer has a message for his fellow reporters, one that every journalist should hear:
I want every reporter who reads this thing to make a vow today to uncover some corruption this year. Go all the way. Don’t just touch it and say you’re finished. Close the fucking deal. And then fight for it against the sap-headed editor who quit living years ago and doesn’t want to actually feel anything like adrenaline touch his or her tepid bloodstream. It’s time to wake up.
Community watchdog groups and a few local bloggers try to keep an eye on public officials who are up to no good, but think how much more gets done when someone (that is, a reporter) gets paid to root out corruption full-time.

That's why I'm glad the Valley has its own alternative weekly, The Paper of South Texas (which I freelance for). That's one more guardian looking out for taxpayers. Let's hope other RGV reporters wake up and heed this call to uncover corruption in their own backyard.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

School Drama

A McAllen ISD high school principal loses her legal bid opposing her transfer to Central Office. But what was the reason for the transfer in the first place?

The Paper of South Texas (DISCLOSURE: I do freelance work for this publication) fills in the blanks that the mainstream media left empty:
  1. The McHi principal fires the head boys basketball coach.
  2. Angry parents, who like the coach, call for the principal's head.
  3. But a behind-the-scenes player in McAllen politics comes out in the principal's corner.
  4. So the superintendent tries to please both sides by creating a new administrative position for the ousted principal -- something the principal's lawyers say goes against state law.
  5. A district trustee tells The Paper that as far as he knows, the board hasn't created such a position.
Which brings us to where we are now.

Oh, the person advocating to keep the principal? Accused head-butter J.J. Avila, who said McAllen superintendent Yolanda Chapa "owes me big time" for his lobbying for last year's $98 million bond issue.

I'm not sure how this will all play out, but if Avila doesn't get his way, maybe Chapa should start wearing a goalie's mask.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

School Accountability

The Texas Education Agency releases its 2006 accountability ratings for public schools throughout the Lone Star State.

How did your district perform this year? Look it up yourself; I'm feeling lazy today.

Meanwhile, the TEA will investigate several school districts where suspected TAKS cheating occurred, including the Brownsville and Rio Grande City districts.

And Dallas Morning News columnist Macarena Hernandez, who taught high school in the Valley, says the focus on standardized testing hurts our children's education:
[Tests are] completely changing the way teachers teach and students learn. Practice-test drills are common, teachers tell me, and they also complain they have to suppress their creative juices as supervisors demand they play it safe with dumbed-down, rigid curriculums. ...
But something even more troubling than these misplaced priorities is happening in our schools — a growing culture of cheating. And it's contaminating not only students, but also teachers, principals and higher-ups. ...

I've said it before: We're graduating kids who don't know anything but how to game the system on a standardized test. And until state legislators decide to do something about it, the situation will only deteriorate.

Two New Blogs

A couple of new weblogs spring up, and Rio Grande Valley readers might find them of interest:


The first site, Bloggin' All Things Brownsville, aims to "shine a spotlight on those dark corners where political and social issues ... lurk untouched." The author, going by the nom de screen The Spotlight, says local media fail to do their jobs and wants to lend a hand:

... I say, because I've been there, that Brownsville is saturated with news, and a small, overworked, underpaid reporting staff is spread too thin to cover it all. ...

Still, there are couple of standouts in the press here annually garnering top investigative reporting awards in the state, and I want to help. When I mean I want to help, I mean, I want to help aim that spotlight.

The Spotlight delivers, with a post on campaign donations to city commissioners from a law firm that landed a bill collecting contract with Brownsville. In addition, the firm has contracts with several local school districts, including McAllen ISD -- and "board members Javier Farias and Myrna Garcia each received $1,000 in campaign contributions from the firm."

There are more recent stories on the Lucios and other items of interest to Brownsville taxpayers.


The second blog, Valley No Car Tolls, proclaims "Working people of Hidalgo County don't need toll roads!" The author says support for the companies that build and operate these tollways will eclipse the public interest.

It is time to raise the awareness of the Valley community in order to keep the Texas Department of Transportation in line with OUR interests! This community’s interests do not include car tolls.

No recent updates on the blog, but more eyes on government are always welcome.


Thanks to El Rocinante and Spin RGV for tipping readers like me to this pair of recent additions to the South Texas blogosphere.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Endorsers

***UPDATE: The Monitor doesn't have the story online (even though its reporter covered the event), but the Brownsville Herald has the article on its website.***

Straight from the campaign website of my fellow Aggie, the list of Rio Grande Valley politicians supporting Gov. Rick Perry for re-election:
  • DONNA: Mayor Ric Morales
  • EDCOUCH: Mayor Ramiro Silva
  • ELSA: Commissioner Cain Cazares
  • HARLINGEN: Mayor Rick Rodriquez
  • HIDALGO: Mayor John David Franz
  • LA VILLA: Mayor Rene Castillo
  • MISSION: Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas
  • McALLEN: Mayor Richard Cortez
  • PHARR: Mayor Polo Palacios
  • PALMHURST: Mayor Ramiro Rodriguez
  • PROGRESO: Mayor Omar Vela
  • RIO GRANDE CITY: Mayor Kevin Hines

Perhaps unaware of the irony, Gov. Goodhair's campaign news release states:

Perry said that this endorsement sends an important message to Valley voters that regardless of what party they belong to, Texas needs a governor that can put partisanship aside for the good of Texas and will seek common ground whenever possible.

Am I wrong when I say this endorsement will hurt these local politicians come Election Day?

For more on the group's support of the Republican candidate for governor, check out Hector Gomez's post at RGV Politics, Valley Politico's thoughts at Rio Grande Valley Politics, and state Rep. Aaron Peña's observations at A Capitol Blog.

You Gotta Be Kidding Me

From the Rio Grande Guardian:

At least 11 mayors from Rio Grande Valley cities will today publicly endorse Gov. Rick Perry, a top Valley Republican tells the Guardian. Perry holds a press conference at the Club at Cimarron in Mission later this afternoon.

Valley Politico at Rio Grande Valley Politics reports that the group includes the mayors of Brownsville, Edcouch, Elsa, Harlingen, Hidalgo, La Villa, McAllen, Mission, Palmhurst, and Rio Grande City and says, "No wonder Chris Bell cannot get any money from the Valley."

If this mass endorsement is true, it explains the reason for Perry's trip to the Valley, which Aaron Peña told us about last night on his blog.

Considering Perry's hand in cramming an unconstitutional redistricting plan down the Valley's throat -- he called all those special sessions on the topic -- I gotta wonder what these politicians are thinking.

Folks, remember Roberto Gutierrez? When most every other Democrat in the Texas House left the state to fight this Republican-led congressional redistricting, Gutierrez stayed home and became Tom Craddick's bitch. Voters remembered this, and booted his ass out of office in the next primary.

I'm sure voters won't forget if their mayor endorses the man who called those redistricting special sessions.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

RGV (Migrant) Life

Many Rio Grande Valley residents live in South Texas only part-time. During the summer, they leave the state to follow the jobs.

For those of us who don't know what it's like to travel north for work each year, Mission blogger Shaine Mata offers a firsthand glimpse of the migrant experience on his blog RGV Life.

He and his family agonize over whether to tough things out in the RGV or take a chance and leave:
My wife, whose opinion matters to me, has effectively given me her blessing. There are other people who matter to me who are opposed to my leaving the RGV. The reason why I believe that my future lies outside of the RGV is that most of the people with whom I grew up have left and made something of themselves. ... The point is, nobody who wasn't already connected has "made it" here. They made it somewhere else and came back.
Shaine describes the fiddly little details that you have to take care of when you travel more than a thousand miles to the other side of the country:
Other things we did included paying our Post Net mailbox through November, depositing the money from the sale of my wife's van, cancel our car insurance, and other little errands for family. My son and I got haircuts. ... Tomorrow, we need to do laundry. ... We also need to pay CPL and T-Mobile.
He shares details of the journey, including a quick post about how they "got pulled over by border patrol north of san manuel because they saw our luggage in plastic bags." There's also photos from a trip to the Mall of America.

Once Shaine arrives in Wisconsin, he begins working for Head Start, leaves that for a better-paying job at a canning facility, and then rejoins Head Start, which really needs bilingual teachers.

Best of all, Shaine lets us know what migrant life is like from an insider's perspective. He describes work at the green bean processing plant:
At first, work was sporadic. We'd work a day or two and have a day or two off. It appears that we are now entering full production. ... The thinking amongst the migrant workers here is "nomas son tres meses". Three months of 80 hour work weeks. Some people are earning minimum wage, which is $6.50/hr in Wisconsin; others are earning more. The work is easy and boring. If you can stand the monotony, there is plenty of overtime available.
In the same post, Shaine tells readers about his coworkers, legal and illegal, from Texas and Mexico:
There are hard workers; and there are some who make you wonder why they came at all, if they don't want to work. There are even families that come to work here together and then go back to Texas or Mexico to live off their earnings. Even at minimum wage, they can earn about $2,400/month each. Those who are returning workers or have jobs higher on the pay scale can take home much more than that.
RGV Life has much more about the migrant experience than I can do justice to in one post, so go check it out for yourselves. Shaine, thanks for giving readers like me an idea of what some families go through, and the best of luck in your endeavors.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Cash To Go

Remember that missing money from La Joya's municipal court? The sheriff busts someone for the theft, The Monitor reports, and it probably won't be the only one:
Angela Flores, the city’s finance department assistant, was charged with stealing between $8,000 and $10,000 in cash payments for fines and fee made to the municipal court. She posted bond about a month ago but remains suspended from her job while the sheriff’s office investigation continues, her supervisor said.

Flores’ arrest will be the first of several, the sheriff predicted. (emphasis added)
In response to the missing money, La Joya won't accept cash payments. While this is understandable from an anti-fraud standpoint, it's also hard on those who don't have bank accounts, although the city is making certain exceptions for the elderly.

But back to what spurred that policy, I wonder who else might be a suspect in this case. Who at La Joya City Hall looks nervous these days?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Flunking the Ethics Test

Watchdog group Texans for Public Justice releases a report on just how carefully politicians comply with a 2003 law calling for candidates to report their donors' jobs and who those contributors work for, and legislators fail miserably:

Texas lawmakers collectively flunked a test of their own campaign reform law, which requires state candidates to use their “best efforts” to report the employers and occupations of individual donors of $500 or more, a Texans for Public Justice report card found.
So how do Rio Grande Valley politicians end up looking in this report card?

Pretty crappy.

Just one of the people we elect from South Texas scores as good as a C. At the head of the class is state Rep. Ryan Guillen of Roma, with a score of 72.2%. Fellow blogger state Rep. Aaron Peña Jr. earns a D with 67.5%. Most of the rest have scores that sound like what Dean Wormer would give to the members of Delta House ("Zero point zero, Mr. Blutarski.").

SENATE: First, our senators show their ability to ignore the rules, as the report card shows:
The Senate’s weakest performances came from Sens. Jon Lindsay (R-Houston), Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). These senators collectively reported a total of 306 large contributions totaling $412,150. Yet they left the occupation and employer field blank for every one of their large donors. (emphasis added)
And the one Valley senator who bothers to fill in all the blanks still earns an abysmal score:

  • Eddie Lucio Jr. (Brownsville): 0.0%
  • Judith Zaffirini (Laredo): 0.0%
  • Chuy Hinojosa (McAllen): 22.0%
HOUSE: Next, our representatives -- two of whom didn't even bother to fill in the blanks. As the report card points out:

An extraordinary 28 members of the House (19 percent) not only flunked disclosure but left the occupation and employer fields blank for every one of their large donors. Three members accomplished this feat while raising more than $100,000 apiece in large contributions. They are Reps. Kino Flores (D-Palmview), Veronica Gonzales (D-McAllen) and Sylvester Turner (D-Houston). (emphasis added)
Anyway, the dishonor roll for Valley members of the Texas House:
  • Kino Flores (Mission): 0.0%
  • Veronica Gonzales (McAllen): 0.0%
  • Jim Solis (Harlingen): 0.0%
  • Juan Escobar (Kingsville): 39.0%
  • Mando Martinez (Weslaco): 42.6%
  • Aaron Peña (Edinburg): 67.5%
  • Rene Oliveira (Brownsville): 69.2%
  • Ryan Guillen (Roma): 72.2%
Get this: House Speaker Tom Craddick (74.9%) scores higher than any of our South Texas legislators! In fact, the Republicans beat the Democrats overall, 64% to 48%.

From a section of the report about mystery donors (contributors who are incompletely or misleadingly identified, like calling Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton a "self-employed rancher or investor") comes this tidbit:

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), a champion of tobacco-control legislation, failed to identify the employers or occupations of three trial lawyers who litigated Texas’ $15 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
To be fair to Zaffirini, she explains in this San Antonio Express-News story that she didn't know about the law and is hiring someone to catch up with all the paperwork. And some politicians take issue with how TPJ scored the report, because the law doesn't say you have to list a person's previous occupation or family tree.

Still, this report shows our elected officials have a long way to go when it comes to complying with campaign donation reporting requirements.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Saving the Park

Cameron County commissioners back off from their plan to hand over public land to developers.

NewsChannel 5 reports that public outcry over the deal (which would have given the developers a 50-year lease that allowed them to do pretty much anything to Isla Blanca Park) makes county officials to change their minds:
Today, commissioners asked legal counsel to keep Isla Blanca on South Padre Island available to the public. After months of lobbying, county commissioners agreed to back out of the controversial project.
Cameron County residents weren't happy with how the commissioners court tried to sneak the plan past them, and began a grassroots effort to keep the park out of developers' hands. It looks like that work might have paid off.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Object of Objectivity

A while back, someone with the screen name Fair & Balanced queried me in the comments section of this post:

Hello Mack Harrision. I would like to ask you one simple question? Are you objective?

MEDIUM ANSWER: I call bullshit when I see it, and if that makes me unobjective in some people's eyes, then so be it.

LONG ANSWER: When I was opinion editor at The Monitor (and in my years as a reporter before that), whenever readers agreed with what I wrote, then according to them I was objective and fair. Whenever they didn't agree with what I wrote, I was horribly, horribly biased.

In other words, if you like what I have to say, you won't complain about lack of objectivity. On the other hand, if you hate what I'm telling you, it means I must have some sort of slant against your beliefs.

So if I slaughter someone's sacred cow, it must be because I'm not objective -- not because their beloved institution or individual screwed up.

LAWYER ANSWER: My dictionary (Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984) defines the word "objective" (adj.) as "Uninfluenced by emotion, surmise or personal opinion."

Since the whole point of this blog is for me to rant about "the political idiocy" taking place in the Rio Grande Valley, of course it's influenced by my emotions (I do some of my best writing when I'm pissed off), conjectures (it's easy to put two and two together and make an educated guess about what's going on) and opinions (supplemented by my education and experience). So no, I'm not objective according to that definition.


The dictionary lists another definition for objectivity as "Based on observable phenomena (an objective forecast)." I try to base my posts on facts, whether obtained from the media, other sources on the Internet or my own personal knowledge. However, I also have more than a dozen years experience as a journalist, as well as my time in South Texas and my education and other life experience (including somewhat obscure pop culture references) upon which to draw. So I take what I see and factor all this other stuff into the observation to come up with something (hopefully) relevant.

Just like the weatherman applies his knowledge, observations and experience to make a report, I use what's already in my head to offer a new take on what's going on in the world (after all, a forecast is just the meteorologist's opinion on what the weather holds). I try to add to the conversation, not just parrot what everyone else is saying.

So if you want to apply the second definition of "objective," then yes, I am objective. If that's stretching it a little too far, then see my short answer above.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Mexico picks PAN

At least, that's what the official count in the Mexican presidential election says, according to the Associated Press, but the losing candidate refuses to back down:

With the 41 million votes counted, [Felipe] Calderón of President Vicente Fox's National Action Party [PAN] had 35.89 percent or 15,000,284, to 35.31 percent or 14,756,350, for [Andres Manuel] Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party [PRI].
Calderón edges out Lopez Obrador by less than 0.6 percent of the vote, so you know this race is about as settled as Bush v. Gore in 2000.

The best news about this contest: Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the notoriously corrupt former ruling party, gathered less than 23 percent.

The San Antonio Express-News has a blog about Mexico, Beyond the Border, with more information on the election.