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Curve busters: the SBOE, and hunger

 

Hunger busters

Texans take pride in asserting they live in the most opulent of states, but recent figures released by the USDA suggest we live in illusion. In fact, we’re the second hungriest state in the nation, just behind Mississippi.

According to the USDA’s annual report released last month, 1.3 million Texans experience hunger on a daily basis, and 22 percent of those younger than 18 don’t know where their next meal will come from.

Further, 16.3 percent of Texans were “at risk” of hunger between 2006 and 2008, an increase of 1.5 from the previous period. And that was before the recession hit the state.

Rather than being satisfied with passing out turkeys and going home, The Texas Hunger Initiative non-profit collaborative is looking for a long-term fix and angling to make San Antonio the state’s first “hunger-free” city.

The idea sprung from a Tuesday meeting between Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, SA Mayor Julián Castro, USDA’s Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig, and local food bank reps and faith folk.

Hunger in San Antonio? Looking around at San Antonians, the word “malnourished” doesn’t come to mind, but that’s precisely one of the problems that most affect our city.

“Obesity and hunger have been rising at the same time,” J.C. Dwyer, Texas Food Bank Network’s state policy coordinator, told QueQue. “In places like San Antonio, people trying to stretch the check to go the full month [who] don’t have enough to buy food, often buy cheaper, filling foods like breads and processed foods. Good meat and good vegetables cost more money, so they end up eating these more unhealthy foods in an effort to avoid going hungry.”

With the holidays approaching, the more immediate task of food distribution to the homeless is particularly urgent this year. On December 5, the San Antonio Food Bank participated in the annual Christmas Under the Bridge program and has launched several donation drives to collect food to help families during the holidays. And, in April 2010, they’ll be taking over the kitchen at the new Haven for Hope campus.

While they’re thankfully booked up for volunteers this holiday season, “Hunger knows no holiday,” says Cooper. Give it a few weeks, then visit safoodbank.org or call (210) 337-3663.

Muro mayhem

For a while it looked like the Border Wall was going to be a boon for Martha Gay and her Gringo Pass gas station in Lukeville, Arizona. Homeland Security’s subcontractor Kiewit was paying out $100,000 per month for Gringo Pass land to host a cement-batching plant and store equipment. A water deal at 50-cents a gallon had the company owing Gay another $2 million in short order.

Then the flood came.

Gay’s attorneys allege that after that water hit the wall it channeled directly into her convenience store, doing an estimated $6 million in damages. All of a sudden the wall wasn’t such a hot item at Gringo Pass. And in the Rio Grande Valley, where it slices across private property and through federally protected wilderness, future risk is still being questioned.

Nancy Brown, spokesperson for U.S. Fish and Wildlife at the South Texas Refuge Complex said flooding is still a concern. “From the beginning we have asked ‘What about hydrology studies?’ and to my knowledge that has never been addressed,” Brown said.

The Good Neighbor Environmental Board, Obama’s advisory board dedicated to matters pertaining to U.S.-Mexico borderlands environmental justice, chronicles the wall’s failures in a December 2 letter: flooding in Mexico at Nogales, Sonoyta, and Palomas; fragmentation of wildlife corridors; unearthing of Native American remains.

In a series of recommendations, the group urged that elements of the REAL ID Actthat had allowed former Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff to waive dozens of federal laws to build the wall be repealed, and that future “border security infrastructure” conform to federal environmental laws under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Border Wall activist Scott Nicol of the No Border Wall Coalition said repealing the REAL ID Act section is critical. “Much of the environmental damage that the Environmental Board wants to address would never have occurred if DHS was required to obey all of nation’s laws,” said Nichol.

Eloisa Tamez, involved in a class-action lawsuit against Homeland Security for placing an unwelcome wall across her property, holds out little hope Obama will rouse himself on the issue. “Obama and [Homeland Security Secretary Janet] Napolitano have done nothing but take the place of the previous administration. … We have been totally abandoned.”

Soto’s SBOE designs

Michael Soto, the willowy, curly-haired candidate for the State Board of Education District 3, officially launched his campaign the night of December 1 with a high-caliber host committee that included grocery magnate Charles Butt, a supporter of the Texas Freedom Foundation and a financial factor a few years back in the surprise win of former State Representative Juan Garcia; former State Senator John Montford, whose resume reads like any three overachievers’ CVs combined; and the Honorables Mary Esther and Joe Bernal.

Soto, whose run last spring for the San Antonio Independent School District’s board was derailed by a certain former SA mayor, says he was reluctant at first to jump into another race so soon. “But the more thought I gave to it, the more upset I became with the current state of affairs,” he said. “For too long the [SBOE] has been out of touch with the population of public-school students.” He mentioned the heated battle over the language-arts curriculum (“they disregarded three years of expert work and decided to play politics”), although he might as well have mentioned the recent wrangling over opening the door to intelligent design in the science curriculum, or diversity in the social-studies curriculum’s cast of historical characters. Of intelligent design, Soto says, “I suppose it makes sense to talk about it in a civics class, but it doesn’t belong in a science classroom.”

A native of the Valley, Soto has been a professor at Trinity University for more than a decade (he specializes in 20th Century American Lit), and is the father of a first grader. Perhaps a lesser-known achievement: For a short period during the George W. Bush administration, he channeled the spirit of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s inner Chicano activist for a series of Current Last Words memos. If Soto takes the SBOE seat, the QueQue will compile a special edition of his pieces in his honor.

District 3 represents the lower half of Bexar County on the 15-member elected board. Outgoing incumbent Rick Agosto characterizes the job as “Strap yourself onto a lightning rod and go into an electrical storm.

“Elected officials are basically writing a curriculum for Texas, which can influence much of what’s being read and studied in most of the United States for the next 10 years.”

But, Agosto says, “The most important job we have is protecting the investment of the Permanent School Fund,” the 150-year-old land bank that pays for those controversial textbooks.

The filing deadline is January 5. Soto he says he hopes to use the campaign “to inform people about the SBOE and how important it is to be involved in the process.”

Geis to know you …

(a farewell)

It took some doing, but Mayor Julián Castro appears to have finally wrested the resignation from CPS Energy’s top (sleeping?) watchdog: Board Chair Aurora Geis.

Geis was repolishing her resignation Tuesday afternoon after two weeks of badgering, while stating she felt strongly she had helped set the utility on the path to a successful future despite numerous challenges ahead, including severe funding needs ($8 bil, on the quick), coming federal carbon regulations (EPA-who?), and a strategic energy plan in limbo over stalled nuclear-expansion plans.

“The timing of it is not what I would have preferred because there is so much stability that needs to be put in place,” Geis said. “But now the greater challenge that we face is identifying a candidate who will be willing to serve.”

Names of possible replacements are already on the wind. Valero’s CEO Bill “torpedo the climate” Klesse, for one. Color us thrilled.

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