Friday, February 29, 2008
Some of them have been trying to gather support in the Rio Grande Valley. Others belong to nascent coalitions in small towns in Southwest Texas. Some don't live anywhere near the border but want to help out.
The federal government's plan to erect physical barriers along various stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border has mobilized a hodge-podge opposition movement ranging from border mayors to immigrant advocacy groups and environmentalists.
Yet there has been no unified front — opponents have been doing their own thing without coordinating with counterparts in other areas of the state and country.
This weekend, a small but geographically diverse group of such activists are meeting in San Antonio in a first attempt to give one voice to the "no border wall" effort.
Organized and hosted by the Southwest Workers Union, a labor and civil rights group based near Sunset Station, the strategy conference drew about 50 activists paying their own way from across Texas and as far as Chicago, Atlanta, Washington state and Puerto Rico.
"This issue has the ability to really motivate people," said Stefanie Herweck, who last year founded No Border Wall in the Rio Grande Valley town of Weslaco. "We need to get energized and raise one big fight."
Multiple nods of approval set the agenda for the rest of the day's brainstorming session. The gathering continues today, but by Saturday the ad hoc group had identified the fence's major negative impact in border communities and potential strategies that could soon be taken up to fight it.
Border fencing has existed for years in southern California and most recent construction has focused on western Arizona. But it has run into the most controversy in the Valley, where fierce opposition to 70 miles of proposed fencing has prompted the Department of Homeland Security to sue cities and landowners to gain access for surveyors working on the plans.
The cadre of activists convening in San Antonio argued that fencing further militarizes an already fortified area, that it will split families and cut off crucial communication and basic services that serve as lifelines for border communities, particularly in rural areas.
An example is the 50 or so people who live so remotely in tiny Redford that their nearest hospital is in Mexico, said April Cotte.
They and others in nearby towns like Presidio and Lajitas in the Big Bend area traditionally have relied on dozens of informal river crossings that the government shut down after the 9-11 attacks.
"The Border Patrol stops people all the time now," said Cotte. "All for fighting the war on terror, they say. We all know there's no threat here."
That the public generally accepts such a threat is a perception that must be changed, the group concluded. To draw attention and action to what they believe is the untold downside of the government's border clampdown, particularly the fence, participants considered:
Pushing for legislative changes, particularly the Real ID Act that gave the government unprecedented powers to waive environmental and other laws to build the fence;
Educating affected border residents with know-your-rights workshops, linking them to groups offering free legal help and holding public forums to counter those offered by the government at which public testimony has not been aired;
Expanding the fledgling coalition to include other human rights and religious groups, including the Catholic Church.
Coming away with newfound knowledge of the impact of the border fence in Texas, Javier Rodríguez vowed to enlist help from his base in Los Angeles.
"I didn't realize the complexity and intensity of the issue," said Rodríguez, a community organizer who helped served as spokesman for the coalition that led massive pro-immigrant demonstrations there in 2006, including one that drew around 500,000 people.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Jaie Avila, WOAI Channel 4 video
For nearly two years now, the News 4 Trouble Shooters have been investigating why people living near the former Kelly Air Force Base are dying of liver cancer at a rate twice as high as other parts of Texas. Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila tells us why health officials are now studying whether a very popular food here in South Texas could be responsible.
It's something most of us eat all the time. Corn tortillas. Your tax dollars are being spent to study whether they are causing cancer on the south side of town, even though a known cancer-causing chemical has already been found in the groundwater.
The News 4 Trouble Shooters introduced you to Mary Lou Ornelas nearly two years ago. She worked at the former Kelly Air Force Base for about 20 years, and even lived nearby. She worked with dangerous chemicals, including something called TCE, or Tricloroehtylene, a known cancer-causing agent.
Sadly, Mary Lou died less than a week after our interview. She was part of a large group of liver cancer patients living around the old base. For years, county officials have been trying to determine what's causing the increased cancer levels.
Dr. Fernando Guerra, the Director of the Health Department described the group as, "People who are, who are fairly young still, you know. Their mid to late 40's and 50's, etc."
Many people living in the area are convinced their health problems are the result of the TCE, which was found to have seeped into groundwater. The plume of contaminated water was first mapped out in 1999 and stretched underneath 22,000 homes across the south and southwest sides of town. The area was even dubbed the "Toxic Triangle."In the last few years, the plume has shrunk because the air force is slowly cleaning it up.
However, a number of studies have failed to connect TCE exposure, to the cancer cases. Dr. Guerra told us, "For the most part, we did not find an association in the study that we did, which is reassuring."
So now, the health department is going in a different direction.
Texas A&M and Texas Tech researchers are now studying whether corn, like you'd find in corn tortillas, could be causing the liver cancer.
Dr. Kirby Donnelly, who is heading up the study from A&M's end, said it's not as silly as it sounds, when he sat down with Jaie Avila recently.
Avila asked, "You've got this TCE underground in the ground water, and yet you guys are studying corn tortillas."Dr. Donnelly answered, "Yes, and I'm sympathetic to that frustration. I know on the surface it sounds like, 'Oh, you're coming here and we've got this environmental problem. We know the trichloriethelene's in the ground water. We know that these chlorinated solvents are getting into our households and you're looking at tortillas, and everybody eats tortillas, but not every doesn't get liver cancer.' Well, the issue, the more important issue is, the people who get liver cancer are likely getting liver cancer because of a number of things. Not just their environment. Not just their nutrition. Not just their genes."
Donnelly says a study in Africa found that a toxic mold sometimes found naturally in corn and grains is believed to be a contributing factor to liver cancer cases among some local residents there, but those people also suffered from hepatitis, or had other liver problems.
"There was a study that was specifically done in South Texas that showed that there are certain corn products that do have relatively high levels of these chemicals in them," explained Dr. Donnelly, "So, yes, we are suspicious of corn products."
So researchers are asking residents of the toxic triangle to take a blood and urine test, and fill out a questionnaire in order to examine their diet and medical background for a missing cancer link.
The study is costing taxpayers $90,000, partly through a grant, and partly through the air force, which again, is in charge of the TCE cleanup.
Avila told Dr. Donnelly, "It seems like a conflict to have the military paying for part of this study, when it is in their interest to find something else responsible, other than TCE." Dr. Donnelly responded that the air force was not paying for his part of the study, but added, "I think that is true...what that does for me, is, drastically reduces the costs that I have to do the study."
We asked Dr. Donnelly if he thought we're going to know what's causing the liver cancer rates to go up in these zip codes when the study concludes. "It is a long shot...having said that, I think it's best shot we've got."
You are probably wondering, if corn tortillas are to blame, why don't more of us who eat them get liver cancer? Not just people living near Kelly? Well, researchers tell us they think there may be a combination of factors, unique to that area, contributing to the cancer rate, such as the pollution, genetics, and perhaps, corn tortillas.
For the study to have any chance at success, researchers say they need 500 people from three zip codes to participate. Those are 78207, 78228 and 78237. They only have about 150 people participating so far.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
We celebrate the life and continued impact of our sister in struggle, Jeanne Gauna. 5 years ago we lost Jeanne to a tough battle with cancer. A powerful women committed to social justice, she co-founded the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) based in Albuquerque, NM and is a leader in the movement for economic and environmental justice.
Viva Jeanne Gauna!
- with much love from your comrades at Southwest Workers Union.
With more presidential hopefuls and allies visiting San Antonio this week than in the past 50 years, it's hard to forget that the primaries are March 4th. Here is some info to help you navigate through the process.
**Any registered voter can cast a ballot EITHER in the democratic or the republican primary
** Bring your voter registration card or a form of ID
Early Voting: Now through Friday Feb. 29th
(you can go to ANY site listed to the left)
Election Day: March 4th 2008 7am - 7pm
Where do i vote? what is my precinct? who is on the ballot? Find out here
More Info: Check the Bexar County Elections Dept , 210.335.VOTE
or call SWU at 210.299.2666
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
BAY CITY — Business and political leaders of this rural Texas region lined up Tuesday to tell federal regulators they welcome NRG Energy's plan to build two more nuclear power reactors at the nearby South Texas Project.
"We've all heard of NIMBY — not in my backyard," said Bay City Mayor Richard Knapik. "I stand for PIMBY — please in my backyard."
Elected officials and those in the economic development community who attended the Nuclear Regulatory Commission scoping meeting echoed Knapik's sentiments.
The meeting was set to discuss environmental issues associated with the proposed expansion of the South Texas Project from two reactors to four. San Antonio-based CPS Energy would be a likely partner.
More than 200 people attended the afternoon session, the first of two three-hour meetings scheduled Tuesday. Many disagreed with the focus elected officials put on the economic gains promised by a major expansion of the nuclear facility, arguing that it took the focus off safety, security, water availability from the Colorado River and the lack of a long-term plan to store the tons of radioactive waste created by nuclear power plants.
"We don't believe that nuclear reactors are the right path to take at this time," said Karen Hadden of the Austin-based Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition.
The nuclear power industry in the United States has been at a virtual standstill since the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979. A combination of the need for clean energy in the face of global climate change and economic subsidies and incentives in the 2005 Energy Act has re-energized the industry, putting the South Texas Project expansion at the forefront of what some term a nuclear renaissance.
In Bay City, public officials warmly endorsed expanding the facility, speaking of it as a project that could offer future generations of local children a reason to stay close to home when they reach adulthood and need to find good jobs.
"STP has been an amazing corporate citizen and brought amazing economic strength," said Owen Bludau, executive director of the Matagorda County Economic Development Council.
Bay City resident Susan Dancer, who was in high school when the first two power plants were being built, had a different take. Dancer said she remembers all the hype about the economic boom in store for the community and said residents should be more wary this time around.
"Our unemployment rate is still high," Dancer said.
"Our school district is still extremely poor, and the owners and the operators of the plants still don't live here."
Dancer said the community was disturbed in 2005 when NRG Energy said it would outsource 117 jobs out of about 1,100 at the two power plants.
"Where is a 50-year-old engineer going to go? Some people were 20 years into a 30-year mortgage and they were in a state of shock."
Dancer said a grass-roots organization she founded, Matagorda County Coalition for Nuclear Industry Accountability, seeks a binding agreement with South Texas Project management to guarantee that the jobs for the new reactors would be kept local.
STP President and CEO James Sheppard acknowledged that management considered outsourcing jobs in 2005, but he said the company ultimately decided not to pursue that plan.
"We intend to be here for the next 60 years," Sheppard said. "The vast majority of our employees have to be here."
CPS Energy owns 40 percent of the two power plants currently operating at the South Texas Project and is considering partnering in the proposed expansion. The utility's board recently approved $206 million for preliminary design work on the two new plants, which are tentatively scheduled to be running by 2014 and 2015.
Several members of the San Antonio-based Southwest Workers' Union made the 200-mile trip to voice their opposition to the proposed expansion. They were particularly upset with the way CPS Energy has, in the organization's opinion, stifled public participation in its decision-making process.
"We have been left in the dark," said Genaro Rendon of the Southwest Workers' Union.
Like many at the meeting, the union pushed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to require NRG and CPS Energy to fully investigate alternatives to nuclear power, particularly solar, wind and energy conservation, as part of its environmental review process.
Tuesday's meeting was intended to give the Nuclear Regulatory Commission input on the types of issues it should include in the plant's environmental impact statement. The whole permitting process could easily take more than three years, said federal officials, particularly since the agency has suspended work on the safety portion of the permit application because of incomplete information.
Bay City Daily Tribune, NRC hears STP backers, detractors
San Antonio Current Curblog (with foto of sleeping NRC dude), Bay City Troller
By TOM FOWLER
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
BAY CITY — The nuclear power debate returned to the public square in Texas on Tuesday when activists, politicians and citizens lined up to speak up about proposals to expand the nuclear power plant near Bay City.
In a pair of public meetings, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission took comments on what issues should be considered in evaluating a proposed expansion of the South Texas Project, the 2,700-megawatt power plant in rural Matagorda County.
The two new reactors could be the first new units approved for construction in the U.S. in 30 years.
"We are not here to promote nuclear energy," said Nilesh Chokshi, deputy director of environmental review in the NRC's office of new reactors. Rather the agency is focused on the safe construction and operation of the nation's nuclear power plants, he said.
Located south of Bay City near Wadsworth, the plant broke ground in 1976. The work was completed in fits and starts because of cost overruns — from a $1 billion estimate in 1973 to $6 billion when finished in 1986 — and a change of contractor because of quality concerns.
The plant has ranked high for energy output in recent years, however, with Unit 1 named the top producing nuclear power generator in the world last year.
New Jersey-based NRG Energy, Texas' second-largest power producer, owns the largest stake in the plant, 44 percent. Public utilities in San Antonio and Austin own 40 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
The proposed expansion drew political support during Tuesday's meetings.
"You've heard of NIMBY — not in my backyard?" said Bay City Mayor Richard Knapik. "Well, I'm for PIMBY — please, in my backyard. What community would not welcome a $6.4 billion investment in their backyard, 4,000 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs?"
Waste storage issueBut many speakers opposed the expansion, citing among other concerns the lack of a permanent storage site for nuclear waste, the possible effects on groundwater of uranium mining in the U.S. and abroad and insufficient attention to conservation and energy efficiency as alternatives to new power plants.
"You're being given a false choice here, either two new nuclear reactors or no new jobs," said Laura Cushing, an organizer with the Southwest Workers Union from San Antonio, who spoke against the project.
A number of speakers criticized the licensing process and what they said was a small window of opportunity for the public to intervene.
Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, noted that two key parts of the plant's expansion application are incomplete and that Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials stopped review of them until the operator works out technical issues with the firm designing the reactors.
"How can we in the community have a fair and adequate opportunity to review all of the application to determine if we want to intervene or raise issues if the application isn't even complete?" Smith asked. "Will you guarantee us a free pass on documents that might later come across your desk from the company?"
Provision to interveneJim Biggins, an attorney with the commission, said a provision lets the public intervene at a later date if applicants file documents that raise new issues.
Georgia Rice Herreth, a former Bay City council member, said she thought the community was better prepared to handle the challenges that might come with the building of two more reactors than it was when the first two were built.
"There was a lot of controversy then, as there is now, but that's good because it brings out things that may not have been considered," Herreth said.
Comments from Tuesday's meetings will be used by the agency in considering the expansion application, particularly the draft environmental impact statement that is expected to be filed in the next year or so. Another public meeting will follow the filing of that document.
Monday, February 04, 2008
By SIG CHRISTENSON
San Antonio Express-News
The good news on the Army recruiting front is that Texas is No. 1.
The bad news: The young boots are less educated.
A report released Tuesday by the National Priorities Project found that
But the number of "high-quality" recruits has continued a downward slide nationwide since 2004. Recruits in that group hold a traditional high school diploma and score in the upper half of the Armed Forces Qualification Test. Only 44.6 percent did that last year, down from 60.9 percent in 2004.
"All of this is going to impact on the ability of the (Army) to perform the mission," University of
The nonpartisan Northampton, Mass.-based group analyzed Army Recruiting Command data on more than 67,000 first-time recruits who entered basic training in the 2007 fiscal year. It found that 70.7 percent of recruits nationwide graduated from high school in 2007, down from 83.5 percent in 2005.
Army Recruiting Command spokesman Douglas Smith said the service's numbers for recruits with traditional diplomas were higher than those in the National Priorities Project's report. He said 79.07 percent of active-duty recruits held high school diplomas last year.
But Smith agreed the numbers reflected a general downturn in graduates from the past 81.2 percent in 2006, 87 percent in 2005 and 92.45 in 2004. He said his office had not seen the report and declined comment.
Are wars to blame?
One apparent difference in the numbers is the Army's inclusion of recruits with military experience. Once small, the segment of prior-service recruits has risen substantially since 2005. The National Priorities Project's Anita Dancs said her group has not included them in its analysis because the primary focus of past Pentagon and congressional research has been on first-time recruits.
Dancs said the percentage of
Bexar County and Harris County, which produced 1,025 recruits, bested the nation last year in that category, too, but Texas reflected the nationwide drop in both the number of recruits and their quality — 85.6 percent Tier 1 recruits in 2005 compared with 76.1 percent the following year.
The number of Texans joining up, meanwhile, peaked at 2.4 per 1,000 in 2006 and fell to 2.2 last year, Dancs said. Harris and Bexar counties showed a similar drop-off, but both were higher than the national average of 1.6 per 1,000.
Dancs did not have education data for the
The San Antonio Recruiting Battalion, No. 1 in the nation the past three years, signed 1,510 active-duty recruits in 2007 and 333 for the Army Reserve, said Maj. Neil Mahabir. When asked to explain why fewer recruits here held diplomas, he said, "The demographics in
National Priorities Project Executive Director Greg Speeter blamed the war in
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ted Stroup, deputy chief of staff for the Army from 1994-96, said a dichotomy is developing as the war rages in
People support the troops in places like airports, but authority figures known as "influencers" may be warning young people away from service. "You could say that 2008 may be the make or break year for Army recruiting," he said.
Not a 'hollow' Army
The last time the Army looked this bad was in 1980, Segal recalled, when the service's then-chief of staff Gen. Edward C. "Shy" Meyer warned Congress that the service was going "hollow," becoming a shell of its former self.
"I don't think it's hollow yet, but that's the direction we're going in," Segal said.
"We are weakening the Army, we are staining the Army, we are nowhere near a hollow Army," said Brookings Institution analyst Michael O'Hanlon, who added that the Army is "in far better shape than in that era."
But former Reagan administration assistant defense secretary Lawrence Korb disagreed.
"The Army is low-quality," he said, noting that the service allowed 1,620 felons to join last year. "I think when you get down that low, you're broken."