Monday, April 27, 2015


By Juan Montoya
The saying that when one assumes "u" make an "ass" out of you and me was never more true than in the latest drivel masquerading as a cute post from local blogger Robert Wightman.
One of our three readers sent us a photo of him standing with District 2 city commissioner (and now candidate) Jessica Tetreau at a fundraiser at the Knights of Columbus hall on Old Port Isabel Road. Apparently, Wightman is a Caballero Colon and as a member invited her to hand out her pushcards in her race against Sergio Zarate, who has been a member for many years.
Now, if you are an elected official you expect that media, social media or just the general public will occasionally take a photo. Wightman and Tereau assumed (here we go) that the photo was meant to discredit her candidacy in some way and did a tit-for-tat and she took a picture of the picture taker and Wightman then posted it on his blog calling the woman a "trained monkey" for Tetreau's opponent.
Maybe the commish is just more irritable now because of her much-heralded pregnancy and feels that the electorate should handle her with kid gloves because Wightman said it was her who took the photo and sent it in to him to get back at the woman.
Unlike Wightman, we aren't in the habit of divulging our sources, but what we can say is that the woman (by the name of Kimberly, we are told) was not the source of the photo. In this days of social media, anyone of hundreds of people might have sent it in cyberspace.
Wrong on assumption number one. It wasn't her.
We also understand that Zarate had nothing to do with the dissemination of the photo. That's another wrong assumption He's got, we assume (a correct one, by the way), more important things to do than to engage in trading brickbats with the help through the local blogs.
Hey, Jessie, when one seeks public office, adulation and criticism come with the territory. Fighting with your opponent's campaign worker is a bit below the caliber of comportment for someone who is seeking public support for their candidacy.
Anyway, why would you object to be seen with misanthrope Wightman? He has – hiding behind the megaphone of his scurrilous blog – insulted and defamed just about all of Adam's children. Could it be because the Caballeo Colon has a big, ahem, assumption? Careful, that might just turn out to be contagious.


Dear Texas Southmot College Board of Trustees,

Word continues to be heard coming out of Texas Southmost College staff  that our community college's accreditation problems are serious.
The word on the campus is that the visit from the Accreditation Committee of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges earlier this month did not go well, similar to the accreditation submissions sent thus far to SACS.
It appears that wishful thinking may be the basis for expecting TSC independent accreditation in 2015. So, one would think an accreditation status report would have been a board meeting agenda item every month since fall 2013 and will be from now on so that the community is not surprised later and there is a trail of accountability.
I understand 2014-2015 was, in fact, a counting year for TSC state funding and the college made a minimal to zero effort to increase enrollment during that period.
To date no obvious effort is being made to increase enrollment for fall 2015.
No student recruitment is the apparent policy at TSC, so one wonders what the plan is for paying the bills when UTRGV stops lease payments. I am hearing that currently TSC is depending on lease money to balance the budget and, if that is true, what's the plan when that income dries up? Obviously, offsetting some costs by building enrollment is not of interest to TSC administration. Dipping into the fund reserve to balance the budget is not good business, raising taxes is not a good alternative and you can forget passing a bond.
 I guess that leaves the tooth fairy.
And what if the University of Texas System decides tomorrow to shed the REK Center, pay off what is owed and leaves it to TSC?
 My guess is TSC will be buying plywood to board it up because the college likely could not afford to open the REC doors again. Right now the former Newman Center and the former UTB/TSC Student Affairs building across the street as well as Tandy Hall may as well be boarded up.
 Two are vacant and Tandy could easily be vacated by the few folks there who are requiring the building be lit, cooled, cleaned, etc.
I do not see the big picture or have access to information you do as TSC Board members.
So, without facts I may only observe and speculate.
 Unfortunately, I am beginning to think things are falling into place for the demise of TSC. Once UTRGV settles in, my guess is we are heading toward the RGV (or South Texas) Community College System.
 After all, TSC accreditation will still be pending, enrollment growth will primarily be in Dual Enrollment students and finances may likely be too weak to sustain operations.
TSC will continue to have excess real estate that the UT System will be happy to take over for a price. That trade would give the balance of the TSC Fort Brown Campus holdings to the UT System and leave ITECC as the Brownsville branch of the South Texas (or RGV) Community College System. Funds from that trade will upgrade ITECC.
State legislators will be pleased to close TSTC and TSC consolidating them with STC. The UT System will be pleased to then have a strong feeder in Brownsville not unlike STC currently is for the UTRGV Edinburg Campus.
If TSC continues to stumble the forgoing may be the better option so that youth and adults in the Lower Rio Grande Valley have community college opportunities available to them.
Someone needs to lead.
Thank you for your ongoing work to ensure TSC is rebuilt into a strong, free standing institution serving Brownsville and neighboring communities.


By Juan Montoya
Voters in this May's City of Brownsville election should send a clear message to the incumbents running for reelection – Mayor Tony Martinez and commissioners Ricardo Longoria and Jessica Tetreau – that they want them "All Out."
They should remind them that when they were given a chance to defend them from major utility rate increases way back when on December 2012, all of them, with no exceptions, blindly followed the lead of Martinez and approved them without even taking the wishes of their constituents into consideration.
When they could have spoken up on their constituents' behalf, they accepted the gag imposed upon them by Martinez and his pals.
Instead, they cleared the way for the Big Shots at the Public Utility Board and the private energy company Tenaska to indebt them to the tune of $325 million through higher utility rates well into 2016 that will never go down again. They, in effect, gave the plant proponents a blank check compliments of captive PUB customers.
And when the public and the media wanted to learn the details of what obligations the city commission and the PUB had placed on their shoulders, both these entities fought tooth and nail to argue that the ratepayers had no business asking what other obligations their "leaders" had agreed to place upon their shoulders.
They fought utility analysts from Virginia, a challenge from Hinogas, and even Freedom of Information requests from local media, this humble Rrun-Rrun blog included.
In less than half an hour that fateful December evening, these fine folks agreed to burden the ratepayers with unconsciously high rate increases and to partner with a private company for a $500 million project with arguable benefits. What's more, they were successful in preventing the public – the very people who will ultimately pay for their grandiose plan – from finding out exactly what they had been burdened with.

When the vote took place, no one asked the citizens whether they agreed with the rate hikes. No one asked them whether they agreed to fund an electric generating plant where their $325 million share of the $500 million price tag (more than half) will only give them only a quarter of the 800 MW of electricity produced. And Tenaska will not start construction of the plant until they have found customers for the other 600 MWs, a shaky proposition because there will be two other electric generating plants in operation in the region before the local startup.
Who were Martinez, Longoria and Tetreau representing? And why have they gone along with keeping the public in the dark?
Those candidates running against them should come to an agreement to support each other if there is a runoff against these incumbents. If you lose, show your commitment to change and don't just take your ball and run home.
We're "all in" on the debt voted upon by these three well into 2016 and decades to come to pay for the bonds in this foible. The city literally can't afford them. This election tell the incumbents they are "All Out."


By Abudi Zein
RBN Enegery LLC
Natural gas producers are probably turning green with envy: Processed condensate exports out of the US Gulf are strong and getting stronger. Since the Department of Commerce threw the doors open to the export of lightly processed condensate, new loading points have emerged, new target markets have been found, and more companies have become involved. Today we describe how attention is now turning from regulatory and logistical issues to the challenge of finding buyers.

The volume of very light crude oil with an API Gravity above 50 degrees being produced from U.S. shale plays such as the Eagle Ford and more recently the Permian, has expanded beyond the level of domestic demand (see Condensate City).
We have described the loosening of export regulations implemented by the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) since June 2014, to allow lease condensate produced at the wellhead to be exported provided that it is first processed through a distillation tower and is kept segregated on its journey to export marine docks (see Ticket To Export).
Last week we detailed the expansion of Plains All American (PAA) and Enterprise Products Partners (EPD) infrastructure to transport processed condensate from the Permian and Eagle Ford Basins to Corpus Christi and Houston (see When Are You Gonna Come Down)

Maturing Market
Initial exports of Eagle Ford condensate in the summer of 2014 (mostly to Asia) did not necessarily make economic sense because the prices paid were not attractive to shippers once freight costs were factored in. (see No Particular Place to Go). The first few cargoes could be chalked up to the need to prove that “it can be done” – that the logistics work, and that the quality of the material is adequate. That proof-of-concept phase is over. Four cargoes of condensate shipped between the first of the year and the end of February 2015. In March, another five cargoes loaded in the US Gulf, followed quickly by three cargoes in the first few days of April. Clearly Eagle Ford condensate is successfully competing with condensate range material in global markets.

A couple of early issues arose with processed condensate exports. First some traders alleged that buyers had concerns about the lack of consistency in the quality of the product being shipped. However, this does not seem to be depressing the appetite of end users. In fact, many of the cargoes are going to the same buyer. Another early issue was access to an export dock – an issue complicated by the need to segregate processed condensate (see Enterprise Condensate Routes to Market). Cargoes were being exported exclusively from the EPD dock in Texas City and then from what used to be the Oiltanking Houston terminal that is also now owned by EPD (see Starship Enterprise). This limitation to global market access led to some grumbling.
The Wall Street Journal reported that BP complained to the Federal Trade Commission that EPD was abusing its position in the port of Houston and Texas City. EPD brushed off the complaints, telling analysts that companies wanting a service should pay for it, according to Reuters. Since then, an export cargo has loaded at the Texas International Terminal in the Galveston Ship Channel, and another one at the dock jointly owned by NuStar and Martin Midstream in Corpus Christi. The condensate likely came out of Martin Midstream’s tanks because NuStar does not have separate tankage for condensate at that location.

Other operators in Corpus Christi, most notably Plains, are gearing up to handle condensate as well, offering shippers more choice. Flint Hills (part of Koch Industries) and Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) are in an even better position to handle condensate exports because their Ingleside docks at Corpus are outside the congested port channel area and can accommodate bigger ships with a deeper draught.

Diversification of Discharge Destinations

Table #1 shows ClipperData numbers for condensate exports by load port and discharge country so far (June 2014 through March 2015). Texas City has the largest throughput – close to 8MMBbl. The stealth player among export ports has been Brownsville on the Gulf Coast Texas/Mexico border with close to 3 MMBbl loaded – more than Houston or Corpus. 
The emergence of the Transmontaigne (part of NGL Energy Partners) terminal in Brownsville as an export port for condensate took many by surprise. The facility is a rail-to-ship transloading point – meaning that processed condensate has to be shipped there by rail. As the number of export loading docks grows, so does the range of destination markets. 
Brownsville exports, for example, went exclusively to Fos in southern France, but the last ship to load there is now waiting to discharge off the coast of England opposite Rotterdam (Netherlands). 
Of the first five cargoes loaded in the US, one went to the Dutch port. Since then, Rotterdam has become the second largest receipt point for Eagle Ford Condensate after Fos (see right hand column in Table #1).
Table #1, Source ClipperData
Asian buyers were an early target for condensate exporters. Three of the first five cargoes went to Asia, one each to Japan, South Korea and Singapore in the summer of 2014. Since then there has been a long hiatus in the flow of Eagle Ford Condensate to Asia, but that has now ended with Shell recently taking about 0.5 MMBbl to Singapore via the Cape of Good Hope.


The Brownsville Herald
Aug. 6, 2000
Tens of thousands of people have walked through the terminal at Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport over the years.
Most were ordinary people en route to business appointments. Others were tourists.
Others werent so ordinary: visiting top government officials, intelligence agents on assignment, drug traffickers off to enjoy their wealth, fugitives running from the law.
But the ones that most people familiar with the airport remember are the celebrities.
American hero Charles Lindbergh landed at the airport in 1929 carrying 500 pounds of letters during a historic first flight of airmail from Mexico City. He landed at the time of the airports grand opening and was greeted by Amelia Earhart, who received her commercial license in Brownsville.
It was estimated that some 20,000 people were at the airport, and when the plane landed they broke through the restraining ropes and encircled the plane, long-time resident Carl Chilton Jr. said in his recently released book 70 Years of Airport History in Brownsville.
City officials threw a banquet for Lindbergh at the El Jardin Hotel. He stayed the night with a friend and returned to Mexico the following day.
Texas billionaire Howard Hughes kept a suite on the top floor of the El Jardin for many years for when he came through Brownsville.
He was supposed to be in and out of here several times, Chilton said, adding that Gladys Porter once got Jimmy Stewart to come to Brownsville to help promote her zoo.
Ladybird Johnson also came here to see the zoo once, he added. More recently, Prince Phillip of England passed through the terminal, and President Clinton gave a speech at the Confederate Air Force hangar. Former pilot Willis Wilson, 80, has plenty of pictures of Air Force One sitting on the taxiway of the airport. He has photographs of Jimmy Carter and John F. Kennedy.
In 1984, President Reagan arrived in Brownsville and Secret Service agents shut down Southmost Aviation for three days. They didnt want anyone to know they were keeping the presidential limousine there.
Southmost Aviation Manager Ben Douglas said not many people are aware that Secret Service agents arrive in town as much as a month before a presidential visit to ensure the safety of the commander-in-chief. They canvass the city, some of them posing as students, he said.
While the politicians get all the public attention, other celebrities who have passed through the airport preferred anonymity.
Hollywood luminaries that slipped by the airport undetected by fans include Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Robert Redford, Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone, Douglas said.
Comedians Tom and Roseanne Arnold, once one of Hollywoods hottest couples, once came to Brownsville to hide from news cameras that had detected them in Mexico, Douglas said.
The pair left all of their clothes and belongings in Acapulco in their haste to avoid the press, he said.
While hes seen plenty of celebrities at the airport, Douglas said he'll never forget the day Michele Pfeiffer came to look at the airplanes in his hangar. Seeing the actress took my breath away, he said.
Working at the airport, you also briefly get to rub shoulders with important people.
Douglas said he found Gov. George W. Bush a really down to earth guy. Whip-wielding Harrison Ford also came through, vacationing with his family, while actress Grace Jones stopped by in the mid-1980s after wrapping up James Bonds A View to a Kill, Douglas said. Singer Mariah Carey got a glimpse at Brownsville just three months ago, he added.
To read the rest of the story, click on link below:

Sunday, April 26, 2015


"On 4/04/1976 an intravenous drip was started, but doctors wishing to respect his privacy waited too long. Hughes was loaded into his private jet and died over Brownsville, TX on 4/05/1976 at 1:27 PM, on his way to Houston."
Howard Hughes: The Las Vegas Years : the Women, the Mormons, the Mafia By John Harris Sheridan

By Juan Montoya
Whether one believes that account or whether the aides of Howard Hughes fudged the site of his death to prevent Mexican law from complicating the probate of his estate, Brownsville has figured prominently in the history.
It is often surprising to see how often this border city shows up in narratives of different times, sometimes as fact, others as fiction.
There is, for example, the story of the capture in 1917, of German couriers arrested a few miles upriver from the Gateway International Bridge carrying copies of the infamous “Zimmerman Telegram” where Germany was inducing Mexico to join it against the United States in WWI in return for the territory it lost in the southwest.
There are now some historians who say the telegram was a clever British forgery to draw the United States into the war on its side, and that debate continues.
Various authors, like Sheridan above, place billionaire recluse Howard Hughes' place of death in the airspace over Brownsville as his private jet flew across the border. Whether this was necessary to place the billionaire’s will well away from the hands Mexican authorities or whether he really died immediately upon entering U.S. airspace has become pretty much academic.
Charles Lindbergh’s presence here to promote international air mail is well known, as is the fiction that Dr. William Gorgas worked at what is now Texas Southmost College and found a cure to eradicate yellow fever that enabled workers later to continue the digging of the Panama Canal.
Brownsville also was known as a strategic point in the Civil war.
The Union navy had blockaded many southern ports, including Point Isabel. However, Puerto Bagdad and other Mexican ports served the confederacy to smuggle cotton and receive contraband from other nations, notably England.
The Sept. 22, 1862, Emancipation Proclamation by Lincoln that on Jan. 1, 1863, all the slaves in all the rebelling states would be free unleashed unexpected fallout across the world.
The motivation was clear. Lincoln had recently told an anti-slavery group in Washington that no other step “would be so potent to prevent foreign intervention.”
The Chicago Tribune agreed, describing the proclamation as “a practical war measure ... to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion.”
Most British observers did not believe that the proclamation was a moral or humanitarian measure. It was more an attempt to bring down King Cotton from within, with which Britain carried on a brisk trade running the Union blockade.
They feared that emancipation would incite a slave revolution that would grow into a race war.
The British government feared that a terrible slave revolution would ensue. This would upset the entire commercial relationship with the American States and, as a result, it would pull England into the conflict too. The British asked the chargé in Washington to make the point to Secretary of State William H. Seward that a race war would “only make other nations more desirous to see an end to this desolating and destructive conflict.”
Seward was infuriated with the British reaction. He said Union victory “does not satisfy our enemies abroad. Defeats in their eyes prove our national incapacity.”
Seward promised that British intervention would turn the conflict into “a war of the world.”
As the demand for manufactured goods from the Lancashire textile factories was high, the conditions and temperaments of the workers hit by the cotton famine were improving.
France was suffering from the reduced supply of cotton and Napoleon publicly condemned the war that had exhausted “one of the most fruitful of (French) industries.”
Meanwhile Union patience was running out with Britain since, despite her words, Britain's continuing dereliction of neutral responsibilities implied favor to the South. English vessels continued to compromise the blockade and confederate warships were being built in England.
Yet, the British government made no moves to condemn these actions on the part of her subjects. Neutral obligations with respect to the warships had been defined in the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1819. This stated that “No British subject ... could engage in equipping … any ship or vessel, with intent or in order that such ship or vessel shall be employed in the service of a belligerent.”
Things came to a head off the Texas coast when a vessel carrying goods to the Confederacy, The Peterhoff, en route to Puerto Bagdad, off Matamoros, was intercepted by the blockade off the coast of Brownsville.
(We used David Herbert Donald's "Lincoln", 1996, as a prime reference for this article. However, recently we have found divergent accounts of how the ship was seized in other sources such as Wikepedia. Unless Donald's account is discredited through other academic works, we will continue to use it as the most credible source.)
Although the British argued that the seizure was illegal as goods were bound for Mexico when on the ship, the incident resulted in a decision by Lloyd's of London to stop underwriting such trips.
The British protested this as a violation of international law, while U.S. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles defended the navy, claiming the Peterhoff was carrying contraband intended for the Confederacy. The mails aboard the Peterhoff posed a specially touchy issue because they might prove the vessel was really a blockade runner.
Secretary of State Seward insisted that under international law, mails were inviolate, while Welles argued that they had been lawfully seized.
Although a minor affair in the context of the civil war, the incident had the potential for becoming an explosive issue and occupied the secretaries of state and the navy until the middle of 1863, when Lincoln decided to release the mails.
He reminded his secretaries “we are in no condition to plunge into a foreign war on a subject of so little importance in comparison with the terrible consequences which must follow our act.”
And so, with Lincoln proclaiming that the U.S. could not fight two wars at one time, the incident off the coast of Brownsville came within a hair's breadth of instigating a major international incident when the divided country could least afford it. 


By Juan Montoya
It seems like just yesterday that local blogger Robert Wightman (the one at right in graphic) had sworn off any association with the likes of City of Brownsville Commissioner Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa.
In a vicious post on his blog, Rotund Wightman called her and three other women out for not having the ovarios to duke it out in defense of their pristine reputations.
Well, those of us who have witnessed his dramatic assertions about this and the other knew the mercurial (as if Freddy) Wightman would in time have a change of  heart and come back to the cyberfold. How many times has he closed his blog only to reappear by popular acclaim?

Tetreau is facing a credible challenge from Sergio Zarate for the city's District 2 seat. She gained that seat after local voters roundly rejected former officeholder Charlie Atkinson's reelection bid.
With the support of the Lucio clan behind him for good or ill, the challenger could well unseat the incumbent in this race.
Tetreau has never said one way or the other how she fills about the insults heaped upon her and her female colleagues in public positions, but apparently, they patched up their differences just in time to have his support for her reelection bid this May. Early voting starts Monday and the election day is May 9.
Wightman, who has made it a full-time campaign to go after her opponent, just happens to be a member of the Knights of Columbus, where this photo was taken today. There was a fundraiser held there by the Caballeros de Colon and Tetreau apparently got an invite from a member to pass out her pushcards.
It just so happens that Zarate is also a member in good standing at the Knights and it was probably a bit awkward for some of the members to see the opponent of one their members running against him in his own turf, so to speak.
Politics, the saying goes, makes strange bedfellows, and this Colon Caballero and the Feisty Commish have apparently kissed and made up and let bygones be bygones.


By Melissa del Bosque
Editor, La Linea Blog

In 2009, Congress passed a statutory quota requiring Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep 34,000 immigrants in jail on a daily basis. 
But immigration patterns are cyclical, and apprehensions – with the exception of an influx of Central Americans in the Rio Grande Valley – are at a 40-year low. Nevertheless, congressmen like John Culberson (R-Houston) want ICE to keep the detention facilities at capacity at all times. Apparently, Culberson wants immigrants locked up even if there’s no legal reason to do so.

Culberson got into a heated debate last week with Sarah Saldaña, the new director of ICE, during an appropriations hearing, over locking up more immigrants in the country’s growing patchwork of private for-profit prisons. Culberson sits on the subcommittee that oversees funding for ICE and Saldaña to her credit pushed back.

In Congress, Geo Group, Corrections Corporation of America and other private prison companies spend millions on lobbying. Much of that lobbying is focused on powerful members of the appropriations committee like Culberson, who received campaign contributions from CCA, which runs detention facilities including Dilley’s controversial South Texas Residential Center, which detains women and children.

A new study by the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership finds that the private prison industry has increased its share of immigrant detention beds by 13 percent since the 2009 quota was passed. For-profit corporations now operate sixty-two percent of ICE immigration detention beds.

At one point during the U.S. House Appropriations Committee hearing last week, Saldaña tries to explain to the tea-partier Culberson that she can’t put people in detention “just for the heck of it.”

For rest of story, click on link:


By Daniel Tyx
Texas Observer

When I arrived at the prison on an overcast Tuesday afternoon in March, the first thing I noticed was the trash. Piled up along the razor-wire fence were hundreds of plastic garbage bags bulging with pieces of broken toilets and destroyed electronic surveillance equipment—the leftovers of a prison revolt that rocked Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville just a few weeks earlier.

On Feb. 20, prisoners wielding pipes, sharpened broomsticks and kitchen knives seized control of the privately run federal prison for nearly two days. The prisoners—undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation while serving federal criminal sentences, many for illegally entering the U.S.—mutinied after years of built-up exasperation over inadequate medical care, filthy toilets and maggot-infested food.
They set fire to three of the 10 Kevlar tents that lend the South Texas prison its nickname, Tent City, and damaged the plumbing and electrical systems. The FBI was called in to negotiate; armored vehicles were sent inside; tear gas was fired. Somehow, the inmates managed to slice open the tents that hadn’t been torched. 
Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence told reporters that inmates were “pouring out like ants coming out of an ant hill.” By the time prison authorities regained control of the prison, the $60 million facility was reduced to a shambles; the federal Bureau of Prisons declared it “uninhabitable.”

In the riot’s wake, all 2,834 inmates were transferred to other facilities. Nearly all of the 400 people employed by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), the private company the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) paid to run the prison, were laid off. 
When I traveled to Raymondville, an impoverished town 50 miles north of Brownsville, Willacy County leaders were waiting to see how long it might take for the prison to reopen—or if it would reopen at all. A decade ago, persuaded by a consortium of private prison salesmen. The county had entered into a kind of Faustian bargain, staking its financial future on a continual supply of state and federal prisoners. 
Now, as Willacy County faces a gaping hole in its budget, $128 million in debt still owed on Tent City, and the loss of its largest employer, I’d come to find out if the prison that was supposed to be the county’s economic salvation would end up being its undoing.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


By Juan Montoya
This period leading up to this election has been eye-opening in the level of viciousness and mean-spirited dialogue loosed upon the candidates, their supporters, and political pundits.
Whether it's from self-righteous bloggers letting loose upon one another, bloggers letting loose upon candidates, or commenters preening for public attention at the expense of others, the vitriol has been extreme.
We have learned more about private personal relationships, wayward fathers and mothers – even children – about alleged moral failings, and perceived offenses against the Almighty than we really cared to.
Candidates for office have been called cowards, bootlicks, panderers, puppets, you name it.
The bar has been lowered below any acceptable measure and we fear that it will remain so or dip even lower than the gutter level it has reached.
We have one less blogger in the cybersphere. And anyone who dares tread in their perceived private realm of political or moral superiority best be braced for the onslaught of these self-appointed defenders of  the moral, spiritual and human virtues of this community, even if they are recent arrivals or don't even live here.
Snarkiness has replaced thoughtful and respectful debate over differences of opinion. A well-placed insult is preferred rather to a reasoned response. Others' discomfort gives these folks a perverse pleasure. It comes, we guess, with the Internet where no one knows who you are, or where if someone has a difference of opinion, they can simply attempt to silence you rather than debate it.
This may seem trivial to some. But there is a more insidious motive here. If these self-righteous keepers of our morality succeed, there will be no diversity left in the blogosphere. There will only be one correct way and that way, unfortunately, will be theirs and theirs alone.
The campaign against the bloggers goes way back. It is, at its very basis, an attempt at controlling political speech. It is the imposition of one way of thought over everybody else's based on the authors' imagined superiority over others.
It's hedonism pure and simple, a principle of attaining some sort of sick pleasure at the expense of others. There is no denying that there have been excesses. Jerry pushed the envelope many times. But then again, so have his detractors.
We are now at a moment when the word has become flesh, when a scurrilous social recluse can, by mere fastidiousness and wicked passion, wag the dog. And once the tail wags the pooch one time, he'll do it again because he found out that he can.
The campaign against Jerry had its roots in his excesses, to be sure. But there has always been a germ of truth to his posts. McHale sniffed out the Hernandez's continuing criminal enterprise long before anyone else did. Even the Brownsville Herald and other pundits fell in line as revelations of the wrongdoing of this group and their acolytes became obvious. Jerry was the canary in the mine.
There is something sinister in the campaign waged by commissioner Jessica Tetreau, Cameron County District Attorney Office PIO Melissa Landin (AKA Zamora) and their Cardinal Richelieu, local blogger Robert Wightman. Wightman's own criminal past and excesses are too numerous to list and this post is becoming way too long, so we will just include the link to a small number of his misdeeds.
Just as Richelieu sought to consolidate royal power and crush domestic factions, so has Wightman in his defense of these fair damsels. More than once he has told his readers that they have sought his counsel on how to deal not only with Jerry's criticisms, but also with other bloggers and their perceived political opponents. Wightman has been wily, condescending, deceitful and vicious in his attacks on local residents, all the while cloaking himself in a mantle of righteousness, religion, and morality, all refuges of the scoundel.
His sense of "justice" is also highly selective. In a recent post he agonizes over candidates campaigning adult day cares (a photo of city commissioner candidate Cesar de Leon) but never once did he post one showing Norma and Erin Hernandez who had been doing the very same thing accompanied by their politiqueras for decades.
He (and the two ladies) seem to overlook the fact that Tetreau and Landin are public figures in the full sense of the word. No one told Tetreau and Landin to seek public office. They did it on their own. As such, they are open to criticism, valid or not, from the public.
Landin, for example, was goaded into action by Wightman to file an information request from the school district, McHale's employer. That followed Wightman's complaint that she had done nothing to defend herself from what he saw as vile attacks against her purity and chastity. Tetreau got the same treatment. He was told – and he believed it – that there was a letter sent to her by Jerry that proved he tried to extort advertising money from her, although it was never produced by this "document-driven" disbarred attorney. Then he published parts of McHale's divorce proceedings and said that he was sending a package to Google to show that he had violated the court's order. The aim here was to silence the pesky blogger.
He emailed Landin on April 16, 2013 to her office at the D.A. that "Montoya - Zeke (Silva), and Duardy (Eduardo Paz-Martinez) are never going away - it would be nice if you could find a pro bono lawyer to sue the lot for internet harassment. Common law could be applied - it would be more of a shut them down for good - Duardy would end up in a mental hospital from the stress, Montoya would get stoned drunk and get arrested (he did that each of the three times he was sued) and Zeke would simply fade away."
And the Wightman formula: "For Google to shut them down all you need is an order that they have defamed you - you do not need damages - just a court finding the statements false."
It doesn't matter that none of the rantings are true, anyone who has wasted their time reading Wightman is used to him stating his assumptions as if they were Gospel. It's always "It is clear," "it is a fact," "there is no dispute" when he makes his sonorous and pompous claims and assumptions based upon his extensive legal knowledge.
"Eunuchs," "vindictive dicks,"homophobics," etc., are some of his predictable epithets to describe his targets. He did it against Landin's boss DA Luis Saenz, and against innumerable other local people.
Silva was doubly targeted because he once ran against Tetreau for city commissioner and was Melissa's co-worker at the DA's Office.
 The writer of this blog has also been targeted by the Grand Inquisitor and his minions. He once filed an affidavit and sent it to Saenz to have me indicted. Again, the aim is to silence.
But first, there is the veiled threat of a lawsuit against the perceived offender. Landin sent us an email that is tailored to the Wightman formula after we posted a photo this past St. Patrick's Day where she is partying with some (obviously intoxicated) friends:

"Juan, As one of 108 employees of the District Attorney's Office, I don't quite understand why you are so interested in my employment here – and my life, for that matter. Could it be that a former disgruntled employee/convicted felon is obsessed and funding your booze-fueled diatribes? Someone who pretends to be your friend, shakes your hand, then anonymously goes on a cyber-bullying rampage? Surely if I file a civil lawsuit, Google would identify where these many defamatory/libelous comments about me, my husband and my family are coming from. City Commissioner Carlos Cisneros' wife was successful in doing just that when she sued Capt. Bob over what he posted about her under ficticious names. Please advise your employer that this photo was taken at an evening BBQ with friends a few days before St. Patrick's Day in 2014. I made it my Facebook cover photo during my lunch break (which is not a designated hour) on March 17, 2015. Melissa Landin PS: Please let your employer know that."

Now, Melissa is not just some disgruntled reader.
She is a former city commissioner and a current employee of the Cameron County District Attorney's Office. Tetreau is also a public official. Don't they realize that they carry around the power of those public offices when they write stuff like that above? And has Saenz allowed the power of his office to threaten and to settle personal vendettas?
Just as Wightman trashes his so-called friends, he has done the same to countless other public officials who were gullible enough to engage him in a dialogue. Ask Rick Zayas, Otis Powers, Carlos Cascos, Cris Valadez, and lately, Minerva Peña, just to name a few. Lulled into a false sense of security, they soon found themselves being threatened with the disclosure of the most intimate personal details they had allowed themselves to confide in this malingering misanthrope.
He wails at length about "Bela's," treatment in local schools, but fails to tell the readers that the little girl is his relative. He blasts local court-appointed attorney Louis Sorola and Judge Arturo Nelson for their role in the trial of a certain Hector Negrete – and Saenz for not seeking victims' compensation for the two Harley motorcyles allegedly damaged by criminal mischief after an altercation in a bar – but doesn't say that one of those "victims" is his nephew who is seeking $3,000 to fix his bike.
His generalized demands for a fair judiciary is dubious, as a judge asserted, because his personal self-interest in these cases is so obvious.
We will predict this: Wightman will publish my mug shot again. He will call us liars, convicted drunks, homophobic eunuchs, etc. We have never claimed we were angels. But some people still value free speech and dialogue in this country. And we don't place public officials on a pedestal. The media (including social media) was not meant to be a lap dog for officialdom. If that be the price to exercise our First Amendment rights (albeit responsibly), then so be it.


(Ed.'s Note: A massive traffic jam on southbound U.S. 77-83 Friday afternoon (or is it I-69?) resulted after a pileup of several vehicles directly on the overpass on Price Road. Traffic was detoured on the frontage road which clogged the arteries all around the accident site. In the photos sent by Oliveira Middle School student Marisol Montoya – one of our three readers – an SUV is being loaded on to a wrecker on top of the overpass. In the bottom picture, a hook-and-ladder firetruck can be seen as firefighters clean up the accident site and the SUV is being lifted on the wrecker.)

Friday, April 24, 2015


(Ed's Note: The year was 1946. Everywhere, the vestiges of the last war were were evident in Brownsville. Gold Stars adorned front doors, although the residents probably hoped they didn't. But nowhere was patriotism more evident than in the Blanchard family's home on Eighth and Ringold streets. In that home, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps had recruited six fighting men to serve in this nation's wars. Some of their descendants, we're sure, remember the local daily running the picture of these warriors in uniform. Does anyone know what became of these guys? We thank Rene Torres for his research and for bringing our attention to this photo. After we posted the picture of the six Blanchard veterans from Brownsville. We received this from one of their relatives."You didn't mention Raymond Blanchard. I would really like it if you did. (brother to "Bert" Blanchard. He still lives on Tyler st. (1727 E. Tyler) his health is great, well into his eighties.)" We thank our reader Eduardo Martinez for bringing that to our attention. Here he is.


By Juan Montoya
At last Tuesday's City of Brownsville commission meeting, this bunch lived up to its true character.
Not only have they encumbered the city with outrageous $325 million debt through the agreement with private energy company Tenaska while simultaneously hiding the actual contract form the public, have promised the UT System 80 acres of prime real estate and a public park at bargain-rate prices, but they have also livede way beyond their means by going to debt well time and time again.
On Tuesday they did it again.
Under the item:
6. Consideration and ACTION on Ordinance 2015-1599, to authorize the issuance, sale and delivery of approximately $9,500,000.00 in aggregate principal amount of “City of Brownsville, Texas Combination Tax and Revenue Certificates of Obligation, Series 2015”; securing the payment thereof by authorizing the Levy of an annual Ad Valorem Tax and a pledge of certain surplus revenues of the City’s Municipal Landfill System; and approving and authorizing the execution of a paying agent/registrar agreement, a purchase contract, an official statement and all other instruments and procedures related thereto. (Pete Gonzalez – Deputy City Manager), they once again dipped into future property tax income and increased landfill costs to make ends meet.
This latest $9.5 million brings the total of COs issued without taxpayer approval in the last three years to more than $30 million.
Add this to the fact that the city funnels $7 million annually from the Public Utilities Board budget, and an additional $4.5 million in free utilities, and you have a picture of a commission that is simply not living within its means.
The new money will be used to buy a new bus, three ambulances, install traffic signals, improve some streets and drainage, and bicycle trails and park improvements, according to the bond issue. It states some of the funds will also be used to remodel the Stegman Building for use as an arts facility.
Those, of course, are worthy endeavors.
But  we do have a budget process which is approved at the beginning of every fiscal year. When they pass that, it's as if they were doing it with a nod and a wink. Let's go ahead and pass it, anyway we can always come back and add more debt without getting approval from the voters with COs. 
The mayor and the city commission has already foisted a 36 increase in electric rates in the last four years while Martinez, Ricardo Longoria and Jessica Tetreau have been in office.

So, over the past three years, the city commission has lived way beyond its $78 million in revenues by raiding PUB yearly for $12 million, plus the additional $30 million in COs over the last three years.
That's $36 million more than they had (PUB's $12 million times 3) and  an additional $10 million a year in COs ($30 million divided by 3). That's $66 million they spent that they didn't have.
If you add the $325 million in debt that PUB (and the city commission) approved for the construction of the Tenaska plant, it is obvious that these people won't think twice about borrowing yet more money and digging the city deeper and deeper in the hole.
This city election, All Out.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


By Juan Montoya
I was working the cop beat for the Saginaw News, an afternoon newspaper in Michigan in 1986.
I had filed my stories before the 10:30 deadline for the city edition and was ambling back to my cubby hole to prepare for the afternoon's assignments when the city editor and publisher walked by on their way to an early lunch. We put the News to bed at 11:15 and no matter how hot the story, everyone in the newsroom knew it was the absolutely drop-dead deadline for everyone.
Almost as an afterthought, Paul Chaffee, the city editor, stopped in the corridor between desks and handed me a piece of scratch paper with a name scribbled on it.
"A bomb just blew up a plane over Athens," he told me. "There's probably nothing we can do for today, but there are supposed to be some local people on the plane. See what you can do."
The name was Paez, and I had come across someone with that name while doing a story on Hispanics in local politics and a person-on-the street interview over the Challenger explosion earlier that year in January.
One woman I had interviewed had been named Eleftheria Paez, an unusual – though not uncommon – combination of Greek and Hispanics immigrants surnames intermarrying in the Saginaw Valley.
I still had her number in my notes and I called the house on the outside chance that someone may be home. Miraculously, someone was. Apparently, everyone from the family of four had gone to visit their Greek family in Athens except for a teen who had stayed at home because he had school work he couldn't miss. It was, after all, April and classes were not out.
"Did your parents, by any chance, leave you a contact number with your grandparents in Athens?" I asked him.
"Yes," he answered. "Do you want it?"
I said I did and then told him that the plane where his parents were aboard had been bombed, but that we had not ascertained they had been hurt. "Have they called you?"
"No," he answered.
I got the number, dialed Greece and a woman answered.
"Hello," I said. "I'm calling from Saginaw, Michigan, in the United States. I'm looking for Eleftheria. Is she there?"
"No English," she replied.
"Spanish?" I asked.
"Si, si hablo español,"(Yes, I speak Spanish) she replied.
"No le han llamado sus familiares del aeropuerto?" (Have your relatives called you from the airport?")
"Si, ya vienen para aca." (Yes, they're on their way.)
I called the brother who hadn't gone to Athens and told him his family was fine and that they were almost to their home. I asked him if I could have our photographer go over to his house (across the Saginaw River) and get photos of the family members who did. He acquiesced and photog Dave Sommer rushed to get them.
This took less than five minutes and I yelled over to the desk that might be able to get the Saginaw residents on the line. They listened as I dialed and called. Eleftheria and her husband and daughter were already there. I quickly asked the perfunctory questions about what it had been like aboard the plane when the bomb exploded and we got a first-person interview that we tacked on to the wire copy coming over the wire.
The Saginaw residents had been three of 114 passengers aboard TWA Flight 840 were nestled in their seats, the Boeing 727 cruising at 15,000 feet over the Peloponnesus peninsula, when the bomb went off.
 Eleftheria and her husband said that they were descending when the next moment they noticed the passengers sitting in the row behind them were no longer there. "All of a sudden, while we are watching the beautiful scenery from the plane window, this great tragedy struck. It is horrible," she said. Paez hung on to her family and prayed they would not be the next to be sucked through the 3-foot-by-3-foot hole in the fuselage. "I didn't want to lose my husband or my daughter," she said. "I was praying all the way until we landed."
By now the area around the copy desk was a frenzy of activity as the front page was redone and the photos brought to us by the photographer were processed and pasted onto the national and local story next to the photo of the plane with a gaping hole in its fuselage.
In the middle of the hubbub I asked Eleftheria if they had thought of taking any pictures during the emergency and she said her daughter Melina, then 10, had.
"Could we have an international delivery service (DHL) send them to us overnight and we will pay for the processing of the prints and keep them for for you until you return?"
They agreed. By the time we arrived the next morning, the package was there.
In the meantime, it was getting right up to the deadline and the first city run was rushed to the newsroom for proofreading. To their credit, the folks at the copy desk and back shop had performed like the professionals they were and we had redone an entire new front page with sides and printed it on time.
It was near noon when city editor Chaffee and publisher Gunnar Carlson came back into the newsroom. They went to their individual offices to look over the early edition and bolted out in surprise.
"How did you do it?" Chaffee asked.
"They understand Spanish in Athens," said the copy editor.
The next day we had a follow-up featuring Melina Paez's photos of the airline stewardesses handling the crisis and oxygen masks dropped over the seats and a gaping hole can be seen far in the interior.
And the fact that I was a Spanish speaker in the newsroom and that Europeans are polylingual was the only thing that made the coverage possible.


By Juan Montoya
They met in a busy courthouse corridor to discuss fixing a $9,000 small claims case.
One, former Justice of the Peace 2-2 Erin Garcia Hernandez. The other, case fixer go-between Mari Elvia Silguero, sister of the JP's clerk Liliana Cantu.
Silguero told Garcia that she had a family couple – Vanessa and Jaime Mercado – who wanted to file a $10,000 claim against family member Griselda Mercado in her court and wanted to know what it would take to fix if for a favorable ruling.
Standing in the hallway, Silguero said that Garcia said that her court had jurisdiction below $10,000 and that the couple should lower it to $9,000. And since it involved Silguero's family, Garcia would leave it up to her to come up with the price.
These and other revelations are contained in rambling 117-page transcript of a tape recording made by Silguero to District Attorney's Office investigator Victor Cortez and DA Asst. Prosecutor Zack Rhinehart and filed in the 103rd April 21, 2015. The tape is 46 minutes and three seconds long, an affidavit accompanying the translation states.
"She was very discreet," Silguero told the investigators.
After the initial agreement was made between Silguero and JP Garcia, a comedy of errors ensues. Payments made to JP Garcia get mixed up with a BBQ fundraiser for her reelection, with money owed to Silguero by Vanessa Mercado for "merchandise," and the reluctance of Mercado to pay the rest of the $800 after Garcia rules in favor of Griselda Mercado.
Garcia had issued a default ruling in the couple's favor before leaning to Griselda Mercado after they failed to appear for a hearing. That coincided with the appearance of former DA Armando Villalobos who was hired by Griselda Mercado to represent her in Garcia's court following Garcia's adverse ruling in her relative's favor.
In her interview with the law enforcement investigators, Silguero recalls getting payments from Mercado in a taco shop on International, a ballet school behind a gas station near the corner of Central Blvd. and Los Ebanos, and in her home.
Silguero remembers getting between three or four payments from Mercado but isn't sure whether the total amount got to Garcia because she was mixing the money Mercado owed her, the fundraiser tickets, or the payments to fix the case.
She also recalls counting out $600 at the JP office window in partial payment for the fixing of the case and paying for BBQ fundraiser being held for JP Garcia's reelection. She said she put the mney in a plain unmarked envelope and handed it to her sister Cantu at the court.

CORTEZ: And how much did you count?
SILGUERO: Six hundred dollars.

CORTEZ: Where did you say you gave the six hundred dollars at?
SILGUERO: At the court, at the window.

RHINEHART: Did you sell the tickets, or what did you do with the tickets, or you kept them for yourself or what?
SILGUERO: No. I threw them away...
CORTEZ: And why?
SILGUERO: I had a lot of problems with my sixteen-year-old...and I had no time to sell them. By the time I realized it, it was going to be the following day.

SILGUERO (Toward the end of the interview): I do not want to affect the judge. I don't want to say anything against her. I did not want to say anything about this. I did not want to jeopardize anybody.
RHINEHART: Why is that?
CORTEZ (translating): I didn't want to hurt anybody.
CORTEZ: But do you understand she is doing...what she is doing is something wrong, and that does not...does is not good in the United States. That's why there are laws and she took a...
SILGUERO: But all the judges do it...They all do it.
CORTEZ: We cannot get all of them. We need to start and set an example. So then they have...they have made an oath...
SILGUERO: And why did they just fire Lili? Well, if Sylvia Rodriguez also fixes tickets."


By Juan Montoya
Indictments involving employees of local Justice of the Peace courts in Brownsville have revealed that at least one tape recording made by a defendants reveals widespread cash for favors and influence peddling in both JP 2-1 and JP 2-2 courts.
JP 2-1 is run by Linda Salazar. JP 2-2 was run by Erin Garcia Hernandez during the period covered in the indictments.
According to a timeline put together based on these cases, the trouble began soon after January 2013 when a couple paid a bribe to a clerk for JP Garcia in the expectation that she would rule favorably in their case against a relative. The case involved a money dispute between the couple – Jaime and Vanessa Mercado – and relative Griselda Mercado. At dispute was a small claim for $10,000, whittled down to $9,000 to come under the jurisdiction of the court.
The couple was under the impression that payments they had made on a $800 "arrangement" through go-between Maria Velia Silguero and sister Liliana Cantu, Garcia's clerk, would guarantee them a favorable judgement against Griselda Mercado, only to find out that Garcia – after reportedly having taken about $400 in separate payments, some of it in the form of payments for campaign BBQ tickets – backed out of the agreement when former DA Armando Villalobos appeared on the scene following a judgement she had made on the couple's behalf.
Instead, Garcia overturned her judgement on behalf of Jaime and Vanessa Mercado and issued a default judgment on behalf of Griselda Mercado, Villalobos' client.
Among the documents filed in the bribery case against Silguero by Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz is a translation of a tape recording made by the Mercados (Vanessa Mercado hid the tape recorder in her bosom) in a 15 minute, 45 second conversation with Silguero where they are demanding to know why the court did not live up to the arrangement. The translation was filed on April 1, 2015.
Already, Vanessa Mercado and Cantu are in the process of wrapping up their cases with plea agreements in Judge Janet Leal's 103 District Court. Silguero's case is continuing since the defrense is allowed 45 days to examine such translations before having to go to trial.
It was the Mercados' tape recording of a conversation they had court go-between Silguero and which was obtained by the DA's Office that lays bare the widespread fixing of traffic tickets and community service obligations in return for cash payments.
In one section, the two women recall the beginning:

VELIA: "Let's recall all the data from the beginning of all this problem. Ever since it started, she (JP Garcia) was in agreement because they were told you all were her (Liliana Cantu's) family, and she said yes, and there was a way to help you all. The whole problem was told to her just the way you all told us. And didn't she tell you there how to file the petition, and what she was going to do an everything? The Liliana said, when they told us how much it was going to be...You remember that?
VANESSA: "Eight hundred."
VELIA: "That we must pay them in full."
VANESSA: "But in the beginning they did not tell me that in full."

VANESSA: "So then Jaime asks me, 'Hey dude, so then ask Velia, I mean, what is going on, dude? Was the money given to her? Was it not given to her? I mean, what happened? Why does the judge..."
VELIA: "From the very beginning she said yes when we talked to her and I told you, 'Yes, she is in agreement with that...' but she wanted the money all together, and I told you."

VELIA: "Then we tried giving her half or a part, because aside from that, you were giving it in payments, friend. You gave one hundred and fifty, and then I don't remember if you gave another hundred and fifty and thst is how you went along. She was not going to take that from me...When the first time you won that she said you all had already won..."

Following her issuing of the judgement on behalf of the Mercados ordering Griselda Mercado to pay them $5,486, April 3, 2013, the court was contacted by former DA Villalobos the very next day who said he had not been notified of the order setting the hearing and asked for it to be reset.
That apparently caused Garcia to reconsider and the recording alludes to that:

VELIA: "The first conversation we had, I told you the money was in full. Then when the...whe we went to talk to her, that I gave Liliana the money because she was no longer going to talk to me...the judge. The judge no longer wanted to. When she found out the attorney was Villalobos, she no longer wanted to. After the first hearing that you all had already won because the other side didn't show up, and then Villalobos was sending her letters, she no longer wanted to take the money. The money stayed in a file underneath a drawer which Liliana showed me."

The Mercado's money was apparently mixed in and left with money that was being gathered from sales of BBQ tickets for a Garcia fundraiser, partly as a way to distance Garcia from the scheme and to giver he a plausible denial that she knew anything about the arrangement.
With Garcia backing out of the deal, Cantu apparently had no other recourse but to give extensions hoping Villalobos' legal woes would remove him from the scene. Her sister tells Vanessa Mercado in the tape:

VELIA: The only ting Liliana was doing was giving extensions and more extensions pushing the courts to see if this fucking idiot (Villalobos) would remove (lose) his license because the judge no longer wanted to help out. In other words, she no longer wanted to charge. She was going to help (Villalobos) on her own behalf...without charging..."
VANESSA: "She told me if I would have shown up this morning or not, she was still going to take their side."

Silguero also alerted JP 2-1 court clerk Cynthia Rodriguez, then in JP Linda Salazar's court, to come to her home and retrieve some of that court's documents relating tyo cases before the JP court just in case law enforcement searched her house.

VELIA: "And I told Cynthia, 'Cynthia, I have some of your documents here.' I said, 'Yours and your boss's.' I told her, 'I need to turn them in to you because if any kind of officer shows up or something, well I have to tear up everything I have here at the house. Because why do I have...? Why do I have documents belonging to other people? Why? What explanation regarding the documents am I going to have for so and so that comes from the city police or that comes from the courthouse? 
VANESSA: "Well, if you would like I can take Cynthia's or I can give them to the other idiot (Sylvia Rodriguez, Cynthia's sister-in-law).
VELIA: "I am going to turn them in to her. I need to give them to her in my house. Which I do not even feel like doing."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


By Juan Montoya
Like a recalcitrant child who has to be dragged kicking and crying, the Brownsville Independent School District says its seeking to exempt the settlement documents for the district's lawsuit against HealthSmart from disclosure to the public.
The HealthSmart lawsuit was filed by the district through a McAllen law firm picked by BISD general counsel Baltazar Salazar. Before that, it had died a quiet death until a new board majority overturned that decision and referred it  for litigation.
Last November we made an information request to the BISD inquiring about the rumored settlement between HealthSmart Benefits Solutions Inc. and the district over an alleged $14.5 million in overcharges on its employees health payments.
When we inquired, we had information from within the legal community that the settlement was for far less than what those proposing the reinstatement of the lawsuit against HealthSmart. The legal community has more holes than a sieve and – if the indications we get are credible – the district ended up with far less than it anticipated, and the contingency lawyers (and referrals) got the lion's share of the booty.
Date: December 9, 2014
"This is the district’s response to Public Information Request #7735 which was received on November 18, 2014.
As per the BISD School Board Attorney, the district does not have documents responsive to this request at this time because the agreement between Health Smart and BISD has not been fully signed and executed. Therefore, the documents are not yet available. This concludes the district’s response."
Then, after the delay in the "school board attorney (read Baltazar Salazar)" allowing the information to filter out, we made yet another request for the documentation and asked on March 30 of this year for "the final terms and settlement for the BISD vs. HealthSmart lawsuit including attorneys' fees and the terms of cash payments made to the district."
Now we are in receipt of a registered letter from BISD staff attorney Miguel Salinas informing us that the district will request an opinion from the Texas Attorney General to try to keep the final settlement terms from the public. That should buy the district a couple of months time to figure a way to keep from disclosing the issue.
But there are other sources out in Litigation Alley and here's what they are saying:
First: The settlement was negotiated by the McAllen civil law firm of Garcia and Karam, a firm which was hired by the BISD on a contingency basis last March 2014. As such, they stand to gain a nice chunk of change (more than 45 percent plus expenses) for reaching the settlement. Board counsel Salazar referred the case to that law firm and handed over legal confidential information even before he had gotten approval from the board to contract them.
Second: BISD at first withdrew from the lawsuit on 2001, but a new board reinstated it three years later. The HealthSmart lawsuit was based on the board majority's contention that the rising costs of its employee health plan was based on overcharges by that company. But consider this: Under HealthSmart, from 2007-2008 to 2009-1010 BISD's health costs rose from $34 million to $41 million ($7 million). Under MMA (its replacement), costs were projected to increase from 2009-2010's $37.8 million to 2011-2012's $51 million ($14 million, twice as much). MMA hasn't gotten sued, as was HealthSmart, for fraud and breach of contract...yet.
Third: The scuttlebutt is that the settlement will be less than $3 million, far less than the $14.5 million that those proposing the initial filing and then the reinstatement of the lawsuit were claiming. Those $14.5 million were dangled in front of the electorate when candidates against former trustee Lucy Longoria and current trustee Catalina Presas-Garcia ran against them. Both women joined the then-majority to withdraw from the lawsuit.
Fourth: If the McAllen civil law firm Garcia and; Karam collect their half of the settlement, the BISD will be lucky to get $1.5 million for its troubles. Garcia and Karam will get the rest, or more. And get this, we understand that HealthSmart can only come up with $1.2 million as a lump sum cash payment and is negotiating to make the rest of the settlement up in annual payments.
Given these rumors (and we repeat, these are rumors in the legal community), it is plain to see that the main beneficiaries aren't "the children of Brownsville" as political candidates liked to say. Rather, it has fattened up the wallets of conniving lawyers from here to McAllen and beyond.


By Stephanie Elizondo Griest
Oxford American

The first object revealed itself immediately: a man’s black Reebok, size nine. That there was only one, inches from the steel bars, implied struggle. The absence of dust on the shoe—which coats everything in this swath of Texas—meant it hadn’t been here long.

“It wasn’t there when I took my walk this morning,” said Mark Clark, a painter who lives half a mile away.

I noticed a second object in the dirt: a water bottle. Like the sneaker, it was also stranded in the no-man’s-land on the other side of the wall, between the eighteen-foot-tall barrier and the Rio Grande. My friend, the artist Susan Harbage Page, saw the bottle too. After making a photo with her Canon 5D, she slipped her fingers through the three-inch gap between the bars. She unscrewed the bottle’s cap. Carbonated water fizzed out, drenching her sleeves. She drained and tugged the bottle through the wall—our border wall.

We walked along, and objects cropped up every fifteen to twenty feet. A belt. A shoelace. A toothbrush snapped in two. Page photographed each one, then put them inside her oversized shopping bag emblazoned with La Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.

Page has been making annual trips to the Texas-Mexico borderlands since 2007, and one of her projects is walking along the river in search of objects people leave behind when they’re crossing. She photographs the items in situ, then brings them back to her studio in Chapel Hill to add everything to her “anti-archive,” which will eventually become an online searchable database. The last time she counted, she had collected nearly eight hundred objects, ranging from Bibles to pill bottles, combs, wallets, passports, clothing, and slips of paper scribbled with telephone numbers.

“The first one I found was a toothbrush. When I saw it, I just felt it in my whole body. I didn’t even know whether I should pick it up,” Page said. “It was a powerful remnant of that person’s life, and I felt it needed to be seen. That’s what the anti-archive is: the unofficial history of immigration. The one nobody wants to look at or deal with.”

Many of the archive’s contents were found right here in Hope Park, a leafy strip of green that slopes down to the Rio Grande. Standing on its bank, you are either a seven-minute walk to downtown Brownsville or a seven-minute wade to Matamoros. Long ago, the city built Hope Park to commemorate its close ties with Mexico. Tree-lined and bike-trailed, it would be beautiful were it not for the eighteen-foot steel wall cleaving through.

“They have painted it black to make it look better, because it’s rusting like a motherfucker,” said Clark, gripping a stake in his fist. In his mid-sixties, he has a regal gait and a beard straight out of Quixote. “It has two or three coats of paint on it, and it’s only three years old.”

He pointed out an imprint of a hand about halfway up a steel bar. As Page focused her camera lens, I noticed that, at a certain angle, the sun revealed dozens of other handprints—shoeprints too. Clark said that after a good rain, immigrants leave a trail of mud all the way up one side of the wall and halfway down the other.

“I once saw some guy get thrown out of a four-door sedan, run across the street, scale the fence, and hop over the other side in fifteen seconds flat,” he said.

Down the path, we came upon a storage facility surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with concertina wire. A gray jacket was trapped high inside the coils. Page stood on her tiptoes and pulled. In her mid-fifties, she has pixie blonde hair and was wearing turquoise glasses and a bright red vest. After a struggle, she released the shirt from the razor blades and stuffed it inside La Virgen. Clark unearthed a shirt half-buried beneath the trail. “Sometimes you come out here and it’s like a ropa usada,” he said, using the Spanish term for a used-clothing store.

The border wall ended a few feet later at the offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where a chain-link fence began. Clark showed me a section where some of the links had been snipped, creating a gaping hole. Half of it had been mended with plastic, but the breach was still big enough to slide a package through. He picked up one of the broken links in the dirt and dropped it into my palm.

“Take it,” he said. “It’ll be your souvenir of Mexican ingenuity.”
88 Griest Page4White shirt, Brownsville, Texas (2007). Photo by Susan Harbage Page

Border walls have a history of serving as public art spaces. The west side of the Berlin Wall was long a canvas for artists like Keith Haring, who deemed his work “an attempt to psychologically destroy the wall by painting it.” In the West Bank, both Palestinians and Israelis have adorned the twenty-six-foot concrete slabs that split their respective territories, and China’s Great Wall hosts music festivals and other events.
Certain sections of our border wall have become bi-national art spaces, too—most notably at Friendship Park in San Diego (though the U.S. side is largely blank). Granted, much of the wall is constructed of mesh or steel bars and is therefore tough to paint—but then, the Mexican side is too, and people there have embellished the wall as fast as the U.S. government has constructed it. Politicians plaster campaign posters; immigrants inscribe their names, home villages, and dates of crossing. Muralists and graffiti artists layer image upon image. Artists have nailed up coffins and crosses to memorialize the immigrants who have perished during their crossing. In Tijuana, the artist Ana Teresa Fernández tried to erase the wall altogether by painting a stretch of it pale powder blue so that it blended into the sky.

In the United States, artists’ chief deterrent is the Department of Homeland Security, which has fortified our portion with infrared cameras, heat sensors, stadium lighting, drones, and the bulk of its twenty thousand Border Patrol agents. Anyone wishing to embellish the northern side must do so covertly.
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By Juan Montoya
We had heard about the edict from SpaceX that its logo or prototype not be used by candidates running for the city commission races.
Of course, candidates can get very creative and insinuate that they support SpaceX's plans to construct a commercial vertical launch pad for private clients out at Boca Chica Beach.
We also know that some candidates like Da Mayor Tony Martinez is pulling out all the stops just short of painting the label of the space exploration company on his campaign literature. The mass mail-out sent to Brownsville voters by the Martinez campaign is a close approximation to SpaceX's "vision" of one of its craft complete with a space crew.
If you look closely, it even appears as if ignition has already happened and that the kid is going up in a blaze of fire.
Now, the company has made it clear that there are no manned launches planned for the Boca Chica site, and that at best, it's a far reach for that to be insinuated.
In fact, SpaceX managers have said that the satellites it launches from Boca Chica planned for sometime late 2017 will not be done for NASA and will not be destined for the International Space Station.
Of course, this hasn't stopped local space boosters from crowing up claims of a space launch to Mars planned by SpaceX Elon Musk.
After all, according to Martinez, when Musk was asked what he saw out in the Gulf of Mexico horizon, he is said to have muttered something about "the future."
Musk could well have said that he saw the $15 million transfer of public money into his pockets as incentives for him to bring his company to South Texas. Martinez, too, apparently sees a bright political future riding the SpaceX coattails as can clearly be evidenced from the maudlin graphic accompanying his political message.


By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.

The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989

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