If you’ve got a naturally sunny disposition (despite the long shadow of those prison bars falling on your shoulders), chances are you’ve got more room to roam on the inside of Bexar County Jail these days. You may even be tempted to crack open a $3.59 can of “no bean” commissary chili to celebrate the new-found breathing room.
Hey. We know surviving the pileup of ’09 was no easy feat. [For background on overcrowding, scary voices, and suicide, see "Hang Time."]
Most of last year, the land of Los Orejones was full all the way up to its “Mother”-tattooed neck. With a capacity just shy of 4,600, Bexar County’s admin found itself juggling another 100 on top of that. Now we’re down in the 4,000 range and things are runnin’ smooth again — unless you happen to be mental.
It seems that despite all our cubic yards of reclaimed turf, the mental-health and suicide-prevention units are still packed tight. That is the initial assessment of national suicide expert Lindsay Hayes, who completed a three-day investigation of the jail policies and procedures with regards to suicide prevention last week. And it’s no wonder.
According to officials at University Health System, “The vast majority of persons screened by mental health at the time of booking had evidence … for a major mental illness.” And yet only a handful (about 25 per week — or the kind of crazy impossible to ignore) are weeded out at the door, according to Community Health Care Service officials.
UHS officials tell the Current that 900 Bexar County inmates (nearly one in four) on average are receiving psychiatric assistance from their staff. And the U.S. Department of Justice estimates three-quarters of county-level inmates nationally are suffering from one mental disorder or another.
“We’re not overcrowded in jail space; the nuance is, we are overcrowded in terms of mental-health space,” said Debra Jordan, deputy chief at the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.
Although UHS had last year recommended expanding the mental-health unit into an adjacent area and been rebuffed by the jail administration, this time it really appears to be happening.
“We’ve asked the Texas Commission on Jail Standards about opening some space across the street at the annex for a mental-health unit,” Jordan said. “Because the classification is what makes all the difference in the world. You can’t just house people wherever you want to house them. We need more mental-health space.”
We can hear the shrinks at UHS breathing a collective sigh of relief from here.
We’ve always thought of the Bexar County icebox as a crazy-making machine: If you’re not crazy going in, you soon will be. So this small victory (if its plays out) goes out to our manic-depressive comrades in stir. You are not forgotten.
By Enrique Lopetegui
On February 25, about three dozen vociferous activists gathered in front of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement building on Fourwinds Dr. to demand the closing of the Willacy County ("Tent City") and Los Fresnosï' Port Isabel (PIDC) detention centers.
As part of the "Dignity, Not Detention campaign organized by the Detention Watch Network, the activists - including members of Southwest Workers Union, Texans United For Families, Grassroots Leadership, and the Reverend Lorenza Andrade Smith, of the Westlawn United Methodist Church - accused ICE of serious human rights abuses against detainees. And none of the activists was louder - or more specific - than SWU's Anayanse Garza, who denounced abuses against hunger strikers at PIDC and pointed to the alleged culprit.
"This is the pain," she said, holding a petition, "these are the 243 signatures of the people at Port IsabeI that have been tortured, beaten and humiliated, and these orders were coming from [ICE's field office director] Michael J. Pitts, who is sitting very comfortably in his air-conditioned room, while other people are being tortured and threatened with force-feeding by having a tube inserted through their noses. I don't care if the government says that immigrants have no human rights. Immigrants do have human rights. It's not a crime to hunger strike, it is your right, and that's why [Pitts] should be tried. He shouldn't be allowed to even be there right now."
She broke down in tears and had to be consoled by fellow activists.
The copy of the petition faxed to the QueBlog reads that "the human and civil rights of our families and those who wish to assist us are ... violated." It is signed by 235 names (our count), each with its respective legal resident number and their city of origin.
The activists tried to present the letter to Pitts, but couldn't get past security.
"We were rejected," Grassroots Leadership's Bob Libal told the QueBlog. "They told us to mail it."
According to Amnesty International's "Jailed Without Justice" report, "immigrants and asylum seekers may be detained for months or even years as they go through deportation procedures that will determine whether or not they are eligible to remain in the United States.
"According to a 2003 study, individuals who were eventually granted asylum spent an average of 10 months in detention with the longest reported period being 3.5 years ... Individuals who have been ordered deported may languish in detention indefinitely if their home country is unwilling to accept their return or does not have diplomatic relations with the United States."
Under U.S. law, those in deportation proceedings can secure legal representation but not at the expense of the government. Therefore, according to Amnesty, "84 percent of those in immigration detention do not have a lawyer, and instead represent themselves."
AI's report says that "detainees are often detained in jail facilities with barbed wire and cells, alongside those serving time for criminal convictions. They are not able to wear their own clothes but instead wear prison uniforms. Immigrants are unnecessarily exposed to inappropriate and excessive restraints including handcuffs, belly chains, and leg restraints ... [and] physical and verbal abuse."
"After mentioning that "lawful permanent residents can be placed in 'mandatory detention' with no right to a bond hearing before an immigration judge or judicial body," AI concludes that "conditions of detention in many facilities do not meet either international human rights standards or ICE guidelines."
In September 2008, ICE announced the publication of 41 new performance-based detention standards, but AI was skeptical: "They are not legally enforceable and do not provide adequate sanctions for violations."
Silky Shah, member of board of directors of Grassroots Leadership and Organizing and Outreach Coordinator for Detention Watch Network, agrees.
"[The abuses that are] happening right now," she said, "will outlast any comprehensive reform that [takes place], and we need to continue working together restoring justice for all."
Sarnata Reynolds, Amnesty International's campaign director for refugee and migrant rights, visited Port Isabel in July 2009 in a rare field visit by a human rights group.
"We were there last June, and besides what we told the media we haven't released an official statement [on PIDC]," Reynolds told the QueBlog on Friday. "I don't want to misspeak. I want to review my notes before I get back to you."
In June 4, 2009, a day after her visit to PIDC, she told the Houston Press that AI's preliminary findings confirmed that detainees are "locked up, and you have no right to a bond hearing. You have no right to ever demonstrate that ... 'I'm not a danger to the community, I'm not a flight risk, so let me out while I proceed [with] my removal proceedings.'"
One of the detainees she spoke to was Rama Carty, a native of Congo who has resided legally in the U.S. since 1971, at age one.
He was detained in Maine in May of 2006 for a drug offense he claims was fabricated. After serving less than two years of prison time, he was held at ICE detention centers in Main, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana, before arriving at PIDC in December 2008.
With two other detainees, he organized a hunger strike at PIDC on April 15, 2009, to expose to the media the conditions of detention.
"We got at least 70 other detainees, maybe 90, but it went down quickly after the authorities started applying pressure on us," he told the QueBlog. "Some people did three weeks [of hunger strike], but they threatened me with cutting me the access to the law library. I needed that, so I stopped."
On June 3, the day he said he was supposed to meet with Reynolds for the second time, at 5 a.m. he was awaken by guards who told him to pack because he was leaving.
"I told them I shouldn't be leaving, since [the Department of Homeland Security] was negotiating with AI to meet with us and I wasn't done with my interviews," Carty said. "I smelled something fishy immediately."
That's when he was attacked, he says, but the guards accused him of assault. On that same day, Carty was transferred to an ICE detention center in Louisiana, but couldn't be deported because no country would recognize him as a citizen.
"I was going to be in limbo until who knows when," Carty said.
In the fall of 2009, Carty successfully sued ICE and obtained a $100,000 unsecured bond that allowed him to walk free in December 2009. After spending time in Massachusetts, he's now back in Texas since February 22, under home arrest at a hotel in Brownsville, awaiting his March trial for the assault
"If I'm a flight risk, why did I come back?" he said. "They offered me [to plead guilty to] a misdemeanor, but I'm not going to do that. I want to go to trial, I didn't do anything."
He also won't go on the record with details of the attack, but wants to set the record straight.
"I don't want to publish specifics that will need to be divulged at trial," he said. "But I do want to let everyone know that I was assaulted, not the other way around. When I could not be deported, I was wrongfully indicted [for supposedly attacking the guards,] in order [for them] to leverage against a possible civil action."
He says he was shaving when the guards jumped on him, and now they're saying that he used a razor to attack them.
"The missing video and the missing razor are two of the most glaring pieces of missing evidence," Carty said. "It's clear in the very little bit of video that the government has produced, which shows my being hit when I was on the floor at the very end of the incident, that the entire video should have been available. The entire video would have made it clear that I should not have been indicted in the first place. But of course, there is no video, because if there is a video, they have no case.
"Everything happens at [PIDC]: Everything from sexual harassment of male and female detainees, assault, pitting black detainees against Hispanics and vice versa, in an attempt to divide and conquer. It's a terrible situation and it has been going on for decades."
"In all my years, I've never seen immigrants raising a hand against guards," said Tony Hefner, a guard at PIDC from 1983 through 1990. "It's always been the other way around."
Hefner, who says he was fired in 1985, got his job back in 1987, and was fired again in 1990, spent years gathering information about abuses at PIDC and will publish his findings, "real names and all," in the book Between the Fences: Before Guantanamo, there was the Port Isabel Service Process Center, due out in May. Some of those names, documents and pictures a la Abu Ghraib can be seen in his website, torchlake.com/hefner.
"The very same thing that happened [in my time] is happening today [at PIDC]," said Hefner. "Stealing money from detainees, beating detainees up ... If detainees from two different countries were fighting, they would handcuff them together and push them into each other and take bets on them."
Hefner will be a witness for Carty during the trial.
"They're framing this young man claiming that he did something that he didn't do," Hefner said. "That's the standard policy there: If you stand up against them, they nail you. What Rama [Carty] is going through is nothing unusual."
Nina Pruneda, spokeswoman for ICE in San Antonio, said the QueBlog's information "is not correct information."
"Torture? That's the first time I ever heard of that," she said Friday. "There are a lot of rumors in the community but, believe you me, there's nothing of that nature going on.
"We need the names of those detainees. For security purposes we don't obtain information like that [letting the activists into the building], they have to mail it. That's the process."
So if we get you the names ...
"Names, dates of birth, and A [resident] numbers," she said. "And Monday we'll get back to you with the other information you requested."
"The other information we requested included whether ICE's 41 new performance-based detention standards have already been implemented, what happens if a detention guard violates those standards, what is ICE's policy in regards to hunger strikes, whether force-feeding is ever used with hunger strikers, and, finally, what actions - if any - Pitts ordered to be taken against the hunger strikers.
We'll be waiting ...
Public doesn't assume the position as gracefully
President Obama announced this morning that the federal government will guarantee $8 billion in loans for two new nuclear reactors of an untested design in Georgia. With the federal blessing, the pair could become the first new reactors built in the country in nearly 30 years.*
At a Maryland headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Obama said it was “only the beginning” — that his new budget would triple the federal money available for other reactors to come. He cast his decision in economic, supra-partisan terms.
“On an issue which affects our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we cannot continue to be mired in the same old debates between left and right; between environmentalists and entrepreneurs,” he said.
“Our competitors are racing to create jobs and command growing energy industries. … And the commitment of these other countries isn’t just generating jobs; it’s generating demand for expertise and new technologies. Make no mistake: whether it is nuclear energy, or solar or wind energy, if we fail to invest in these technologies today, we’ll be importing them tomorrow."
The U.S. Department of Energy decision to back a new reactor design, one that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered refigured out of fears that strong winds could blow it over, bodes poorly for the NRG Energy/CPS Energy gamble on an already approved, older design for new reactors in South Texas.
Writes Katherine Ling at The New York Times:
Southern estimates the two new reactors will cost $14.5 billion. Under the loan guarantee program, the government may guarantee up to 80 percent of a nuclear project's cost, but the recipient must pay a percentage as a "credit subsidy" fee set by DOE and the Office of Management and Budget. The size of the credit subsidy fee has been the focus of squabbles among the government, industry and advocacy groups.
Details of the loan guarantee are still being finalized today, an industry source said.
The perils of DWM in the Alamo City
By Enrique Lopetegui
(Update on 2/16/10: CBP press officers contact the QueBlog)
If you are brown and drive a pick-up truck on San Antonio Highways, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a message for you: Whether you’re undocumented or a U.S. citizen, watch your butt.
OK, the CBP didn’t say that. But based on several official documents brought to the QueQue’s attention by two local immigration attorneys, that seems to be what the CBP is doing.
“The public should be concerned that the CBP is out there profiling drivers,” said Andrés Pérez, an attorney with De Mott, McChesney, Curtright & Armendáriz. “The obvious problem with CBP patrolling the streets and highways of San Antonio is that they are not legally justified to stop drivers for no reason or based on a reasonable suspicion that a driver may or may not be doing something illegal. San Antonio is well outside of this [special] zone, and CBP knows this.”
The “special zone” Pérez is referring to is what’s jokingly referred to as the “Constitution-free zone” that extends about 125 miles from the border inland. While the U.S. Fourth Amendment and the Texas Constitution require probable cause for any detention or traffic stop by a law enforcement officer, ports of entry and that special zone are the exceptions to the rule.
“CBP can stop drivers inside the zone based only a ‘reasonable suspicion’ of illegal activity, a slightly lesser standard than probable cause,” said Pérez. “But because the standard is so low and victims of these arrests frequently do not challenge the arrest, CBP operates with relative impunity.”
Arrests without probable cause and illegal profiling seem to be the norm, and not only in the special zone.
“CBP can stop people based on suspected criminal activity [smuggling drugs or aliens, for example], but not simply because they believe someone is not in the U.S. legally,” said Pérez. “There is no way to suspect a driver is documented or not without racially profiling him.”
José [last name withheld], an undocumented Guatemalan, was stopped and detained by CBP on March 19, 2007. His case has all the common elements found in most of the cases the QueQue looked at: The driver and passengers were brown, they were in a pick-up truck, were construction workers and, according to the CBP officer, looked “stoic” and “nervous” when they noticed that a CBP car was nearby.
CBP Agent Rolando Salinas spotted José driving westbound on the 410, and pulled alongside. The agent says José “became very nervous” and always looked “straight ahead.” He decided to stop him after José supposedly began to “switch lanes quickly.” The officer arrested José and sent him to the SA Border Patrol station.
According to José, who had no criminal record, as soon as the CBP car turned its light on he pulled over. The agent, he said, ran towards his car, opened the passenger door and asked him, in English, if he had a driver’s license. José replied he didn’t speak English, so the agent asked him again in Spanish. José said no, and the agent asked for work permit (José said no) and nationality.
“Then, he physically pulled me out through the passenger side and put handcuffs on me,” said José, who was then sent to detention.
According to the written decision of immigration judge Glenn P. McPhaul, at José’s hearing on February 14, 2008 agent Salinas said that when he is patrolling “he looks for passengers in the back seat of cars, the expressions on the faces of the passengers, and how they react to the Border Patrol vehicle in assessing whether to stop a car.” Salinas also testified that he often stops “construction workers or smugglers.” The judge wrote the agent was “non-responsive when asked how one Hispanic person might stand out from another as an illegal alien when the Hispanic population is so high in San Antonio.”
After saying that José “looked stiff and nervous, clenched the steering wheel” and “did not look at him,” Salinas finally said José “looked like an ‘OTM,’ that is, someone ‘other than Mexican,’ because of his cheekbones, jaws, ears, and forehead, but not because of his skin color.”
“The agent testified that he thought [José] was nervous because he was looking straight ahead,” wrote the judge. “He also said that if a driver gives a quick glance to the side and then looks straight ahead, that too appears as a nervous reaction. Since both looking straight ahead and quickly glancing to the side can be considered suspicious activity, [José’s] failure to look at the Border Patrol vehicle cannot be considered a factor in assessing whether to stop him.”
The judge also noted that the clenching of the steering wheel argument is bogus. “Obviously, cars are driven by gripping the steering wheel.”
The judge dismissed the case after concluding that “the only basis for the agent’s stop was that [José] ‘looked like an alien.’ ”
“Further,” wrote the judge in his concluding paragraph, “the fact that [Department of Homeland Security] officers receive training in Fourth Amendment law, as the agent did in this case, supports the inference that when a DHS officer makes a stop solely based on race, he has deliberately violated the law or has acted in conscious disregard of the Constitution.”
But similar traffic stops continue.
On December 31, 2008, a construction worker named Juan and his three passengers where arrested by CBP officers Leija and Delgado after their pick-up truck drove by the officer’s assigned area on Highway 151. The reason? They looked “stoic and nervous.”
On May 15, 2009, a Guatemalan named Israel was a passenger in an eastbound truck on I-10 when “agent Salinas” (the same Salinas?) noticed they were “very nervous” and had “an uncomfortable-looking forward stare.” Israel and the driver were followed and pulled over by three CBP cars. In his sworn statement, Israel mentions that, while he was handcuffed in the back of one of the patrols, he saw something that suggests the CBP doesn’t waste any time.
“Two of the agents that were standing outside the third BP vehicle pointed at the agents that had put me in the Border Patrol car, to look at a red Ford pick up truck that was passing by,” Israel said. “The first Border Patrol car (the one I was in) flashed its lights and went after the red truck, [and] the other two [Border Patrol] cars then followed. I saw them surrounding the truck, and they got three young men from the truck, handcuffed them and put them in the second Border Patrol.”
On January 15, 2009, an undocumented, San Antonio-bound Mexican construction worker named Damián and four passengers in a double-cab truck, were stopped just outside of San Angelo. “I asked [the agent] why he had stopped us,” Damián testified, “and he told me because of the stuff we had in the truck and because we looked ‘Mexican.’ ”
Melchor, another Mexican construction worker, and his three passengers were arrested by agents Salinas, Leija, and Delgado on November 25, 2008, because they “believed the truck may be disguised as a construction vehicle so as to transport illegal aliens further into the United States,” according to the official report. “The agents also noted that the passengers were stoic and appeared to be extremely nervous when encountered by the agents.”
“Being present in the U.S. without valid documentation is not a crime, it is a civil violation only,” said Pérez. “The catch is that, since the Supreme Court has determined that immigration violations are civil in nature, due process does not apply in immigration proceedings. There’s no right to counsel, there’s no right to evidentiary rules — government hearsay is commonly admitted — [and] there’s no right to cross-examine government witnesses, etc.”
“Technically speaking, the person in removal proceedings does have the right to cross-examine government witnesses, but as a practical matter that right is not very enforceable,” said David Antón Armendáriz, a partner in the law firm. “As to the right to counsel, [the detainees] have no right to appointed counsel as in criminal proceedings, but they do have the right to pay a lawyer to defend them.”
In the case of Melchor, he was detained for at least 16 hours before he was allowed to speak to a lawyer. As in most cases, he was given the option of signing an I-826, voluntary return to Mexico, which he signed before obtaining the representation of Armendáriz.
“[What the CPB is doing is] entirely illegal but they do it because they know they can get away with it,” said Armendáriz. “That is to say, there is no effective deterrent for their illegal conduct.”
But didn’t the judge on the first case questioned the agent’s credibility and threw the whole thing out of the window? Yes, but the CBP is a foxy bunch and, according to Pérez and Armendáriz, they’re now no longer bringing the agents forward to defend their actions.
“The last thing they want is to have to bring an agent into the court room to swear as to the legality of their actions,” said Armendáriz. “It might be that they know what they’re doing is illegal. What happens when they do bring an agent to the stand is what happened on that first case: The story falls apart and the judge throws the case out. So they attempt to defend their cases in other ways.”
The government can provide alternative evidence of “alienage,” an immigration law term to describe the fact of being an alien, or not a citizen of the United States. For example, a landlord can testify that the detainee showed him a fake ID in order to rent an apartment.
“Essentially, the government is trying to sidestep the whole issue of the illegal arrest,” says Armendáriz. “By producing alternative evidence of alienage, the government is taking the position that the issue of the illegal arrest is irrelevant to the administrative removal proceeding, because independent evidence of alienage exists and that is enough to deport the person.”
So the other option is a federal court action, and good luck with that one.
“First of all, the system deliberately creates financial burdens or disincentives to bringing a suit,” says Armendáriz. He explains that, theoretically, a person could either file an FTCA suit (named after the 1946 Federal Tort Claims Act, passed by Congress in order to provide a limited waiver of the federal government's immunity when its employees are negligent), or a Bivens Action (named after Webster Bivens, who in 1971 successfully sued six federal agents for illegal search and arrest), but it is unlikely that anyone in, say, Melchor’s position, could have the means to take advantage of either one.
“Attorneys fees are capped by statute at a ridiculously low rate for an FTCA suit, making this kind of suit unattractive to most attorneys” Armendáriz said. “And without a competent attorney, it is unlikely an affected person will have the will, knowledge, and means to bring an FTCA suit. As for a Bivens suit, the defendant is a government agent, someone with shallow pockets, which again makes this kind of suit unattractive to most attorneys because the prospect of a decent payout is not great. “
Besides the money issues, it would be hard for an undocumented person to take advantage of the law given the fact that he/she are often deported within hours of the detention.
“But even if you aren’t deported right away, it is most likely that you will remain detained, so how likely is it that you will have the strength, will, knowledge, money, time, etc., necessary to know your rights and to find a lawyer willing to take the case while you simultaneously fight to avoid deportation and avoid losing your home, job, or family?” said Armendáriz. “Not very likely at all. And, even if you are a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, you're not likely going to want to sue the government.”
Paula Rivera, public affairs liaison for the Border Patrol in Houston, returned our message on February 16, but the QueBlog couldn't reach her when we called her back. Minutes later, CBP press officer Yolanda Choates told us she would put us in touch with a "Border Patrol public affairs specialist that runs the [SA] area." She also said, "That's fine, that's not a problem," when told about the nature of our story.
“People should not dismiss this problem as affecting only the undocumented,” says Armendáriz. “They should be very concerned that there are government agents who care little about breaking this land's highest law in order to enforce the administrative rules governing immigration. All people everywhere should care if only because, when the Fourth Amendment rights of any of us are trampled upon by government agents, the Fourth Amendment rights of all us are endangered.”
Citibank ranks nukes potential ‘corporate killers,’ but CPS still wants a taste
Thursday morning, San Antonio Council members are expected to vote on increasing electric and gas rates for CPS customers. Though the 6.5- percent and 7.5-percent 7.5- percent and 8.5-percent* increases — the first of an anticipated decade of rate hikes the utility says it needs to keep up with capital development projects and the area’s growth — do not include future payments for the expansion of STP nuclear complex.
It’s no wonder some San Antonio residents nearly messed themselves when a small-town newspaper editor published a story suggesting San Antonio was about to recommit itself to the planned expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear complex. It turns out that when cover-ups over increased cost estimates were souring the public here in San Anto, none other than Citibank was warning off potential investors in the United Kingdom.
In a starkly titled financial assessment, “New Nuclear — The Economics Say No,’ Citibank reps suggested in November that any number of hurdles to construction of new plants represented “corporate killers.” Though the clarion call followed just announced commitments to new nukes in the UK, it could now be applied in the United States. President Obama said earlier this month he hopes to pony up $54 billion in federal loan guarantees to kick off a new wave of nuke construction.
Daniel Weiss cites San Antonio’s sticker-shock experience — and the lack of Wall Street enthusiasm — as he picks apart Obama’s move for Climate Progress.
Julio Godoy at the Inter Press Service (reposted by Infoshop News) writes:
"Thomas Ford did not kill Dana Clair Edwards, and he doesn't know who did," said defense attorney Dick DeGuerin. Ford was arrested this morning for the January 1, 2009 murder of Edwards, with whom he'd had a serious romantic relationship. DeGuerin referred to the "cloud of suspicion" that has surrounded Ford almost since Edwards's death (which the Current wrote about in October 2009; see Missing Pieces) but said he doesn't know whether the police have investigated other suspects. SAPD told the Current last fall that they had eliminated other persons of interest, but Ford's previous attorney, Cecil Bain, alleged police set their sights on Ford early and exclusively. More in next week's QueQue.
The San Antonio Police confirmed today that Thomas Ford was arrested for the murder of Dana Clair Edwards, 32, whose body was found in the early hours of January 2, 2009.
Ford, who reportedly has retained top-notch Houston defense attorney Dick DeGuerin, is expected to make bail today. Ford has not yet been indicted, but he has been the focus of the murder investigation for several months. He attended a New Year's Eve party with Edwards* -- who family and friends say had recently ended a serious romantic relationship with him -- but left early. Edwards was murdered sometime after she returned home in the early hours of January 1. There were no signs of theft or sexual assault, but Edwards's Jack Russell terrier, Grit, was missing and his body was found some two weeks later in Olmos Basin.
According to the police, recent results from crime lab tests were the impetus for Ford's arrest.
* A clarification: Dana Clair and Thomas Ford did not attend the party together -- they were both in attendance as mutual friends of the hosts.
It can be a hard job running a small-town weekly. I know. I did it for three years.
Practicing good journalism there can be risky. Expose official corruption in a big city and you have the instant support of a dozen candidates hoping to replace the alleged embezzler/wife beater/criminal of the hour; expose it in a small town and you may have just lost 40 percent of your advertising revenue.
I never quite got the hang of the required community boosting, which partly explains why I’m not still making those weekly Rotary Club meetings.
So it is not without a degree of empathy this morning that I called Mike Reddell, publisher of the twice-weekly Bay City Tribune, to discuss an article he penned in yesterday’s edition.
Several local folks forwarded it to me, alarmed from the opening paragraph, which asserts the City of San Antonio is about to pass a resolution in support of the expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear complex.
Reddell’s article makes a string of questionable statements, but the main falsehood, repeated twice, is that the City is poised to pass a resolution affirming its continued participation in STP 3&4.
It’s not all about a Jimmy Carter-eggplant cross and a Palestinian comb over king.
Those of you who suffered through the two-way Democratic Primary debate this week (or follow the race in virtually any of the state media) will be forgiven for not knowing that a full seven contenders are actually vying for the Party’s favor. You see, KERA, which organized the affair, found nearly three quarters of the candidates even less photogenic than former Houston Mayor Bill White and Farouk Shami, hair products magnate, seeking Perry’s seat as Texas Governor. (See our last post, "Dem Dam: Candidates we won't hear.")
“It’s gotten to the point where if you’re not one of the chosen, or one of the elite, one of the blessed … you’ve got no chance,” said Star Locke, a Port Aransas builder running for Governor on the higher-faster pro-border-wall ticket. “That’s like 99 percent of the people in Texas. I mean, my God, we’re all working slobs.”
Now Locke and three other excluded candidates have lobbed a $400-million lawsuit at the North Texas television station alleging it violated their rights of speech, due process, and equal protection under the law, among other quaint notions of a long-ago America.
“By ‘disqualifying’ & ‘excluding’ plaintiffs from these debates the ‘melt down effect’ takes place across Texas with all the media,” Locke wrote in the complaint filed Tuesday morning in federal court in Travis County. “The ‘snow ball effect’ comes into play and soon all efforts by Plaintiffs to speak or be heard or campaign turns into a joke and Plaintiffs are even ridiculed as ‘publicity seekers’ or ‘even weird.’”
Other candidates signing onto the lawsuit include San Antonio's Dr. Alma Aguando, Dallas teacher Felix Alvarado, and East Texas professor Clement Glenn.
Go to town. Read it your own self.
When North Texas television news anchor Karen Borta earnestly shoots her first question to the Democratic candidates for Texas Governor at tonight’s debate, there is no risk viewers will find themselves assaulted with any rants about “foreign”-owned motels proliferating across the state or schooled on the secret plan to scrap the American dollar for a multi-national currency called the Amero.
Thanks to KERA’s decision to whittle down a seven-way race to a mere two candidates, we’re going to sidestep a dollop of race baiting and conspiracy theory, evident in the campaigns of Bill Dear and Star Locke.
Locke (left) is the only (I hope) candidate boasting multiple images of mushroom clouds on his campaign site.
But with nearly three quarters of the candidates excluded from what will likely be the only Democratic primary debate we get, we’ll also be missing the chance to hear San Antonio doctor Alma Aguado decry the injustices of NAFTA at home and abroad or consider Dallas teacher Felix Alvarado’s pitch to slash our school drop-out rates.
Instead, there will only be two flavors of thought to choose from: three-term Houston Mayor Bill White and Houston-based hair care magnate Farouk Shami.
KERA states on its website that the other five candidates failed to meet the station’s three-part criteria for inclusion.
Those qualifications include:
Cavalier blog post of the week:
"Factory farms not so bad after all"
Written by Texas Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall, it argues that if you just look at the plain meaning of the words, not only are "factory farms" not "vile" or "evil," but "efficient," "productive," and "beneficial." I've read it three times and can't find any mention of "pesticides," "Monsanto," or "water subsidies."
Some other maligned phrases that might happily accept his PR assistance:
"Pork Barrel Spending"
"First Degree Murder"
Also, says Hall, no one really wanted to farm anymore, which is why we need factory farms (nonetheless, he writes, factory farms supply some 20% of American jobs -- so, the jokes on us, I guess?).
Hall does point out that we consumers have come to rely on cheap groceries and ready availability of everything in every season -- but again he skirts the underlying mechanisms of the industrial farm economy (and its multifarious lobbyists) to summarily conclude that you can have affordable food or organic, sustainable food -- not both.
"There would be consequences for outlawing this kind of agriculture," Hall writes. "We can send everyone back to the farm. We can all keep some chickens, a milk cow and grow a garden."
I can't wait till he parses Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
University Health System staff worried about the impact of jail over-crowding at Bexar County Jail and fought to change jail practices like housing suicidal inmates in parts of the jail not intended for suicidal observation, recently released emails show.
“There is a lot of confusion regarding housing for suicidal inmates,” Lydia Mesquiti wrote to staff members on March 13, 2009. “The jail administrator is allowing suicidal inmates to be housed in PODs that are not designated as a Suicide Prevention Unit. Our Department (UHS-DHCS) policy has NOT changed. When we find someone with a suicide potential and place him on suicide precautions he is to got the SPU or OB (if female) or MT-O1.”
Mesquiti, the director of mental health services over UHS’ jail contract with Bexar County, instructed her staff to continue correctly classify every suicidal inmate even if they weren’t being housed in under the right conditions.
“We are not authorizing any suicidal inmates to any other units,” she wrote. “If a suicidal inmate is taken to another unit not designated for suicide prevention then you are to call the UHS Vice President Theresa Scepanski.”
Jail Administrator Roger Dovalina told the Current last month that overcrowding likely contributed to the high number of suicides at the jail that ended up tripling the national average. A review of jail records showed cases where the inability to house inmates in the suicide unit because of overcrowding appeared to contribute to hanging deaths.
Later, UHS staff began lobbying hard for changes in housing these at-risk detainees that Chief Dovalina apparently was not willing to make. (Calls to Dovalina were not immediately returned Thursday.)
On March 14, UHS VP Teresa Scepanski wrote staff after hearing that jail personnel were placing suicidal inmates in the required smocks but not in the suicide prevention unit. “I spoke to Shift Commander [Capt. David Salinas] and explained this “new” policy cannot go into effect until we can meet and discuss a process that does not conflict with the regulations. … I requested this inmate be placed in MT01. Shift Commander did not cooperate with my request,” Scepanski wrote.
UHS mental-health employees had been lobbying to turn an open area of the jail (MT01) into a makeshift suicide watch area, a suggestion that was ultimately rebuffed.
However, a month later, a little progress was made when Dovalina instructed jail staff to up their observation rounds from every 30 minutes to every 15 minutes wherever suicidal inmates were being housed.
After 412 suicide attempts (see chart, right) and three hanging deaths, a sheriff’s deputy wrote in August of a “circle of frustration” existing in the booking area over continued failures to get suicidal inmates properly housed and treated.
“The mental health staff blame the medical staff, who in turn blame classification, then the blame is back on mental health staff. It is a circle of frustration and during this time the inmate creates problems for the booking staff," the Bexar County deputy wrote. "I am under the impression that an inmate evaluated and found to be suicidal, should at least be monitored or at least check on occasion by mental health unit, that hardly happens.”
Instead, suicidal detainees were being forced to sit on a stool in front of the sergeant’s desk until a cell was located for them. This process could take up to 48 hours, the deputy wrote.
On December 4, Chief Dovalina issued Administrative Directive 09-30 ordering staff to conduct 30-minute surveillance of inmates housed in Intake (including detox where at least one suicide occurred last year) or the jail annex. They had been making the rounds every hour.
According to the department’s Suicide Prevention Log, 769 inmates attempted to take their lives at the jail in 2009. As reported in Hang Time, Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz invited a national expert in suicide prevention to come examine the jail and its operations after the 6 suicides of ’09. More than 50 pages of UHS emails released to the Current show a health department grappling with a problem far beyond their power to control.
With San Antonio’s nuclear-play creeping toward dissolution, blasts of cold weather and artificially inflated gas prices have started edging up local power bills. Come March, that edge will almost certainly be sharper for already-struggling families. That's when a proposed CPS rate increase is expected to be folded into the batter.
At a Council hearing Monday night, the first of three scheduled on examining the rationale behind CPS Energy’s expected 7.5-percent electric and 8.5-percent gas rate-increase request, the tag-teaming Electron Queens, Acting GM Jelynne LeBlanc-Burley and CFO Paul Gold-Williams, ran down the numbers. The utility needs to finish the Spruce 2 coal plant this year, unwrap new gas peaking units, and shovel more than $200 million into new sub stations and keep pace with new development, they said.
This “capital cycle” will mean going deeper into debt, a proposition that didn’t sit well with Councilman John Clamp: “If we get too confident on the debt side, that will eat our lunch one day.”
Several Council members expressed squeamishness about sticking ratepayers with higher bills at a time when so many are in need — and as CPS talks about slowing environmental projects like putting scrubbers on existing coal plants and rolling out a smart grid to pave the way for solar’s arrival in SA.
The scrubbers, for instance, won't "need" to be installed until 2015 to comply with expected new federal requirements, Gold-Williams said.
While the rate increase does not include the most aggressive march forward on the green-energy front, it also doesn’t include any funds for the expansion of the STP nuclear complex at Bay City, Burley said.
A final nuclear decision, which could go down as San Antonio’s most visible stillbirth since Main Plaza, is expected at a CPS Board of Trustees meeting next week. If they choose, after all, to try to revive that beast, expect the rate-hike request to rise even higher.
However, with recent positive reception in district court, CPS should be able to separate from its nuke partner NRG Energy with a good share of its investment covered. We’ll be watching to see if the utility and City will be satisfied salvaging all those already-misspent monies or if they’ll press forward dumping millions more in the hopes of one day turning a profit for their troubles. This is where things get sticky — and not in a good way.
The second hearing on the proposed increase is being held at 5:30 pm tonight at the City Hall Complex, 114 W. Commerce. Emphasis at tonight’s meeting to be on energy conservation and green initiatives: how far? how fast?
By Enrique Lopetegui
(Update on 2/1/10: Jim Knotts clarifies status of communication department, newly created position, and reveals his salary)
On January 20, the national office of the San Antonio-based military charity Operation Homefront eliminated nine positions, four of them locally, even as donations have greatly increased since at least 2006.
“We actually didn’t do any layoffs, we did a restructuring,” Amy Palmer, Operation Homefront’s chief operational officer, told the QueQue. “We’re trying to reduce our ongoing operational expenses, and we restructured the national staff.”
Operation Homefront, founded in 2003, provides “emergency and morale assistance for our troops, the families they leave behind and for wounded warriors when they return home,” according to its website. It has more than two dozen independent chapters around the country which operate under the national charter. One third of the national staff of 27 is based in San Antonio, one-third in Washington, D.C., and the rest are virtual employees scattered around the country. Ashley Matta, administrative assistant for the Texas chapter, also based in San Antonio, confirmed that the job losses didn’t affect the chapter’s staff.
Two of the eliminated positions were already vacant, so the decision affected seven positions in human resources, marketing, administration, and Operation Homefront Village, the OH apartment complex that since March 2008 serves as short-term transitional housing for wounded vets. But there is also a new San Antonio office assistant position created that is currently open.
"We are in the process of developing the job description and advertisement," said Jim Knotts, who took over as CEO in November 2009. "We eliminated a marketing specialist and an administrative assistant positions. We are taking the most important responsibilities of those two positions to create the new office assistant position. So, in effect, the position was created when we announced the restructuring on January 20. With one new position created, we have 28 positions on the national staff after the restructuring: Twelve are in San Antonio, six are in D.C., and the other 10 are virtual across the country."
Any more "restructuring" in the near future?
“We hope not,” said Palmer. “We have to monitor our fundraising progress and continue to reassess our financial position. But we do not intend at this time to make additional restructuring decisions. A lot of organizations have gone through changes in the last couple of years, with the economy the way it is. We’re no exception, but we’re looking at ways to get more money to the families that we’re trying to serve. Our services weren’t cut. This is not unique to military charities, and it’s not unique to operation homefront.”
Knotts told the QueQue that those whose positions were eliminated should be able to receive unemployment benefits.
“We pay into the state for unemployment insurance, like every employer,” said Knotts from Ecuador, where he has just adopted a son. “It was explained to us that, yes, they’ll be able to apply for unemployment insurance.”
Palmer said that for the last year several employees have been reassigned to different areas within the charity. But, for the outsider, the loss of positions came as a surprise: According to the organization’s last three 990s, OH received donations of $3.5 million in 2006, $12.7 million in 2007, and $16.4 million in 2008. And as late as December 1, 2009, Operation Homefront earned its third consecutive four-star rating from Charity Navigator “for its ability to efficiently manage and grow its finances.”
“Only 13 percent of the charities we rate have received at least three consecutive four-star evaluations,” wrote Charity Navigator’s president and CEO Ken Berge, in the December letter addressed to Palmer, “indicating that Operation Homefront executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way, and outperforms most other charities in America.”
But some comments written on Operation Homefront’s Charity Navigator’s page accuse OH of “dismantling” its communications department, and of having “internal issues,” illustrated by the fact that here have been three presidents in the last few years.
"Operation Homefront has had three CEO's in three years," Knotts wrote the QueQue. "However, the organization has also grown each of those years in terms of needs met for our military families and total revenue, which is a testament to the depth and professionalism of the staff."
On the issue of the communications department, Knotts sent us two emails.
"Earlier in 2009, we rearranged some reporting structures within the national office, changes that had nothing to do with this restructuring,” said Knotts in the first email. “As a result, our online communications team moved from communications to operations. So before the restructuring we had two positions in communications. Both are currently vacant, and we plan to fill both."
An hour after this posting, Knotts sent another email for clarification:
"We did have a VP of Online Communications take a job outside of Operation Homefront in November," Knotts wrote. "At that time, we chose not to refill that position. That was the same time we changed the reporting structure so that the online communications group began reporting to Operations instead of Communications. Since it was unrelated to the restructuring, I had overlooked the change, but your specific questions about eliminated positions in Communications reminded me."
Although the personell info in the Operation Homefront Charity Navigator page is outdated, Knotts said he makes $175,000 a year, "which will be public record when we file our 2009 taxes." His predecessor, Mark Smith, made $125,648 a year.
No matter what changes Operation Homefront goes through, Palmer says the four-star status is not in jeopardy.
The sophisticated hacking of a major UK climate research center two weeks before the would-a-been-historic international gathering on climate change in Copenhagen last December “bore all the hallmarks of a co-ordinated intelligence operation,” according to Sir David King, former science advisor to past British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
King told the Guardian, “it was an extraordinarily sophisticated operation. There are several bodies of people who could do this sort of work. These are national intelligence agencies and it seems to me that it was the work of such a group of people.”
Such a group, he added, could be marshaled only by a foreign government or, perhaps, the well-funded “anti-climate change lobbyists” in the U.S.
The hacking preceded the United Nation’s global conference on climate change, where representatives from around the world were hoping to cobble together a successor to the Kyoto Protocol with a binding reductions agreement intent on stabilizing the planet’s climate.
The hacking — and subsequent mass misinterpretation and mischaracterization by U.S. media outlets like FOX — played a central role in squirreling the deal.
Obama, widely criticized for turning Copenhagen into a photo-op to announce agreements that hadn’t actually been reached, came back to Washington with an edict for the federal government: reduce global-warming gases by 28 percent by 2020. In response, the U.S. Department of Defense committed to doing one better, or four better, with plans to cut by 34 percent by 2020.
However, these are “non-combat” emissions we’re cutting. The ill-defined War on Terror continues to rack up monster carbon costs.
One of the top beneficiaries of the DOD’s fossil fuel purchases is San Antonio-based Valero — ranked fourth among the agency’s fuel contractors with Fiscal ’08 earnings of $1.04 billion. The hometown crew just edged out The Bahrain Petroleum Company ($1.02 bil) and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company ($918 mil) for the honor, according to the Defense Energy Support Center.
Seems a plausible alternative explanation for the company’s pump-based anti-climate legislation ad campaign … but is it enough to motivate top officers to fund a band of federally trained cyber-warfare renegades to remotely storm the East Anglia Climate Research Unit? Utter conspiratorial nonsense, I’m sure.
However, the profits do make American Apparel’s $14-million arrangement for battle uniforms, coats, and trousers for the U.S. Air Force (being stitched together in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas) sound like small (American-grown, organic) potatoes.
Still, there are plenty of other San Anto outfits earning less than a bil per-annum. Recently announced new or renewed contracts fueling the all-points conflict with ground stations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, include:
* LaBatt Food Service and Sterling Foods are keeping those Meals Ready To Eat as real as possible with continued $9-mil and $38-mil contracts, respectfully, for “full line food distribution” and bakery goods.
* Valero Marketing & Supply Co. earned another bump of federal largesse with $118 million for “aviation turbine fuel” out of the Corpus refinery.
* Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney Military Engines bagged another $6-million contract for continued “maintenance, logistics and engineering supplies and services” performed in San Antonio for F-16A and F-16B engine parts.
* Decypher Technologies, Ltd, P3S Corp., and SpecPro Technical Services, each took a $93-mil contract for hyper-technical gobbledygook, ie. “administrative and functional support, medical and biomedical research assistance, clinical and clinical hyperbaric medicine services, environmental bio-terrorism support, technology evaluation and research studies support services to Brooks City-Base and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base units.”
* Three percent of an $8-mil Lockheed Martin project expected to showcase the possibilities that dedicated space for conducting “cyber security experiments” is also coming to San Antonio.
Remember, war is today’s growth industry. It’s the one front Obama’s new fiscal conservatism won’t touch — unless its something-less-than-surgical drone strikes we're talking about.
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