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Trump administration denying passports to US citizens born near the border

This is infuriating.

On paper, he’s a devoted U.S. citizen.

His official American birth certificate shows he was delivered by a midwife in Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. He spent his life wearing American uniforms: three years as a private in the Army, then as a cadet in the Border Patrol and now as a state prison guard.

But when Juan, 40, applied to renew his U.S. passport this year, the government’s response floored him. In a letter, the State Department said it didn’t believe he was an American citizen.

As he would later learn, Juan is one of a growing number of people whose official birth records show they were born in the United States but who are now being denied passports — their citizenship suddenly thrown into question. The Trump administration is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and it is undertaking a widespread crackdown on their citizenship.

In a statement, the State Department said that it “has not changed policy or practice regarding the adjudication of passport applications,” adding that “the U.S.-Mexico border region happens to be an area of the country where there has been a significant incidence of citizenship fraud.”

But cases identified by The Washington Post and interviews with immigration attorneys suggest a dramatic shift in both passport issuance and immigration enforcement.

In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings. In others, they are stuck in Mexico, their passports suddenly revoked when they tried to reenter the United States. As the Trump administration attempts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, the government’s treatment of passport applicants in South Texas shows how U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies.

Here’s that WaPo story. I’m going to let Dan Solomon of Texas Monthly sum this up:

First, the administration came for immigrants. Now, they’re expanding who “immigrant” refers to, so that it’s a group that could well include U.S. citizens who were born in this country. Right now, the people feeling the brunt of that are Hispanic people of a certain age, who were delivered by someone the administration has flagged, who live in the Rio Grande Valley. But at this point, there’s no reason to believe that this will stop with them.

It’s going to take a long, long time and a whole lot of work to cleanse the stain this administration is leaving on the country.

Here comes the FIFA World Cup

Three cheers for the three nations.

In a long-anticipated vote on Wednesday, the joint bid of the U.S., Mexico and Canada defeated Morocco, its only challenger, as 200 national soccer federations cast their ballots to cap FIFA’s annual Congress.

The three-nation bid captured 134 votes, with Morocco earning 65 from the panel and only Lebanon choosing neither option.

“This is an incredible, and incredibly important, moment for soccer in North America and beyond,” said Carlos Cordeiro, the president of U.S. Soccer.

The 2026 tournament will feature an expanded field of 48 teams — as opposed to recent editions having 32 — and will mark the first time in FIFA’s history that a three-nation bid has been awarded the showpiece event.

The joint bid’s plans call for 60 of the 80 games to be played in the United States — including all matches from the quarterfinals onward — while Canada and Mexico host 10 apiece. The final is expected to be played at MetLife Stadium, just outside New York.

See here and here for the background. I had previously said that if Three Nations won the bid that Houston would get to be a host city, but that’s not quite true, as this story notes:

In an agreement announced when the bid launched last year, the United States will stage 60 of the 80 matches, including all from the quarterfinals on, while Mexico and Canada will get 10 apiece. Twenty-three cities, including Washington and Baltimore, are in the running to become the 16 match venues. In all likelihood, 11 of the 17 proposed U.S. sites will make the cut. A decision is not expected for another two years.

[…]

Mexican venues under consideration are Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City. Canada narrowed its list to Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton.

The U.S. metro areas in the running are Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium), Baltimore (M&T Bank Stadium), Boston (Gillette Stadium), Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Dallas (AT&T Stadium), Denver (Sports Authority Field), Houston (NRG Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium), Los Angeles (Rose Bowl and the new NFL stadium), Miami (Hard Rock Stadium), Nashville (Nissan Stadium), New York (MetLife Stadium), Orlando (Camping World Stadium), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field), San Jose (Levi’s Stadium), Seattle (Century Link Field) and Washington (FedEx Field).

Given Houston’s track record with Super Bowls and Final Fours, not to mention international friendly soccer matches, I feel good about our chances, but there are no guarantees. In the meantime, US Soccer is involved in a bid for the 2027 Women’s World Cup as well, so who knows, maybe we’ll get a twofer. Slate and ThinkProgress have more.

Time for an update on that other high speed rail line

It’s been awhile.

TexasOklahomaPassengerRailStudyRoutes

Backers continue to move along on plans to build a bullet-train route between Dallas and Houston, but it’s not the only high-speed passenger rail project on Texas drawing boards.

With a proposal to run between cities such as Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo, the project recently got a green light for new money to do further study.

“We’re still an embryo,” said Kevin Feldt, a North Central Texas Council of Governments program manager overseeing the high-speed rail project regionally. “We’re still in the first week or two of pregnancy.”

Nobody has begun buying right of way or buying trains, let alone figured out funding and finance — topics that can fire skepticism about the passenger rail’s ability to break even or turn a profit — but there’s now an environmental impact statement, and potential investors have come calling.

“Suffice it to say, there’s interest in developing (from) Fort Worth southward, possibly to Monterrey, Mexico,” Feldt said. “We’ve had the French and Chinese and Spanish come to us and meet with us to talk about it.

“Some wanted to do one piece; we had others who wanted to do everything.”

The proposed line from North Texas cities — Dallas and Arlington included — is part of an 850-mile project called the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Program Corridor.

[…]

Feldt said that whatever comes out of the next round of study, actually building a high-speed passenger rail — not to mention a Hyperloop system — will be “a lot more complex” than the challenges the private company working to roll out the Dallas/Houston passenger train has encountered.

The Dallas/Houston corridor is not only flatter and easier to run a high-speed train across, but less populous.

Still, like Feldt, Bill Meadows, who chairs the Commission for High Speed Rail in the Dallas/Fort Worth Region, noted the interest from Chinese and French rail representatives in discussing a public-private project here.

And, said Meadows, “They like the (Interstate) 35 corridor better than the (Interstate) 45 corridor.”

See here for the last update that I have, from July of 2016. Since then, the Draft Environmental Study has been completed, which “formally identifies seven Selected Alternatives that will serve as the framework for future investment in new and improved conventional and high-speed passenger rail service in three regions between Oklahoma City and South Texas”. The story also mentions the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, for which Texas remains in contention, though it’s not clear to me from the story how it fits in here. There’s lots of other obstacles that will need to be cleared for anything tangible to happen here, from choosing a single route to putting together financing and governance, to overcoming the inevitable political opposition. But things continue to move, and at this stage that’s about all you can ask for.

Houston makes final cut for FIFA 2026 bid

Now it’s up to FIFA.

The Houston Dynamos might have to make some room: Space City has been included in the bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

On Thursday, officials announced that Houston is one of 23 cities that are a part of the “United Bid,” a joint bid by Canada, Mexico and the U.S. to host the World Cup.

If the bid is successful, Houston could see international teams battling it out at NRG Stadium.

“Canada, Mexico, and the United States have joined together to deliver a United Bid that offers FIFA and its member associations the power of unity, the promise of certainty, and the potential of extraordinary opportunity,” John Kristick, Executive Director of the United Bid said in a news release.

See here for the background. The original list had 49 venues in 44 cities, so it was about fifty-fifty for Houston to make the cut. At this point, if United Bid wins, we’re in. I’ll definitely buy some tickets if we do. US Soccer has more.

Houston part of bid for 2026 FIFA World Cup

Nice.

Houston and NRG Stadium are on an official list for cities and venues that may be considered to host a FIFA World Cup match if the event comes to North America in 2026.

The United Bid Committee of the United States, Mexico and Canada began its outreach for cities to declare interest to serve as a host city by sending Requests for Information to 44 cities throughout the continent.

The list is comprised of 49 stadiums in and around 44 cities that will be considered for inclusion in the official bid that will be sent to FIFA by March 16, 2018.

The list includes 37 stadiums in 34 U.S. cities. Other Texas stadiums are the Cotton Bowl, AT&T Stadium and the Alamodome.

[…]

After cities declare their interest, the UBC will review the submissions and will issue a short list of cities by late September. The UBC will then provide more detailed bid documentation to the cities and conduct meetings to discuss questions as candidate cities prepare their final bid, which is due in early January.

The UBC plans to include 20-25 venues in its final bid to FIFA.

See here for a list of potential host cities and stadia. Basically, for NRG to get one or more games, we would have to make the cut for the final bid, which looks like a strong bet at this time, and then the North America contingent would have to be awarded the event by FIFA; Morocco is the other bidder in competition. The 2026 Cup is the first one with the expanded 48-team field, so there will be more games to be played. FIFA will make its announcement around the time of the 2018 Cup.

The border tax effect on your food

You’re gonna pay more. Any questions?

The idea of a tariff on Mexican imports or a radical change to the North American Free Trade Agreement — another Trump promise — worries many Texas agriculture industry leaders, who say it is in the state’s best interest to continue fostering a positive trade relationship with Mexico rather than imposing tariffs on their imports.

Mexico is the state’s largest trade partner, overshadowing its two closest competitors, China and Canada, by billions of dollars. According to U.S. Census data, in 2015 Mexico imported more than $92 billion worth of goods from Texas, while Texas imported more $84 billion worth of goods from Mexico.

Luis Ribera, an associate professor at Texas A&M University’s Center for North American Studies, said any large-scale tariff on Mexican goods would hurt American consumers more than anyone else by making everything from avocados to tomatoes more expensive for Americans — or compelling Mexico to buy Texas-produced staples like wheat, beef and corn from other countries.

“We’re going to lose that market or (if we don’t) lose it, we’re going to get tariffs on the products that we send to Mexico,” Ribera said. “So it’s going to make our products less competitive when we compete with the rest of the world.”

Steelee Fischbacher, director of policy and marketing at the Texas Wheat Producers Board and Association, said a potential Mexican tax worries the Texas wheat industry because Mexico is the largest importer of hard red winter wheat, the top class of wheat produced in the state. In 2011, the U.S. exported 2.4 million metric tons of hard wheat to Mexico, according to a Texas A&M study.

“Being our number one customer, it’s a very critical market for us, especially in a time where we have low wheat prices,” she said, adding that Mexico has plenty of other potential trading partners for wheat such as Argentina, Canada and Australia.

This is Econ 101 stuff here, simple enough for even a bad high school student to grasp. And given his support for Dear Leader, it’s another way in which Dan Patrick is bad for Texas business and Texas’ economy. How much more evidence do you need, Texas Association of Business?

Houston’s tourism business

People like to spend money here. In particular, people from Mexico like to spend money here.

Mexicans are the largest group of international tourists who visit Houston – and recently, their numbers have grown. In 2015, Houston received 2.5 million international tourists, 1.8 million of whom came from Mexico.

In 2016, the convention and visitors bureau launched a campaign, “Hola Houston,” to promote the city as a cultural and culinary destination.

“We aimed to increase the number of Mexican tourists to 2 million by 2018,” said Jorge Franz, the bureau’s vice president for tourism, “but we are already well beyond that mark for the year 2016.”

Mexican tourists also spend the most money of all Houston’s visitors. In 2015, on an average two-night trip, each spent an average of $1,253.

Franz said that Mexican tourists love shopping in the Galleria and at the area’s suburban outlet stores.

Many also visit the less- crowded luxury boutiques and designer shops of the upscale River Oaks District shopping complex. Mexican shoppers “typically go after the luxury brands,” says Jennifer Rivera, marketing manager for the River Oaks District. “They are big shoppers of Dolce & Gabbana, big shoppers of Hermés, and huge shoppers of Canali and Dior.”

According to the story, some twenty thousand Mexican nationals were in Houston for the Super Bowl. The story doesn’t give a cumulative annual number for the revenue the city and the greater region derive from all this, but between hotel taxes, rental car taxes, sales taxes, and just a whole lot of stuff being bought, I think we can assume it’s a decent chunk of change. Now ask yourself, what would the effect be if all this activity were to be dramatically scaled back, due to some combination of further restrictions on immigration and the well-heeled travelers of Mexico deciding they just don’t need this crap, as some of them featured in the story say is the case for them? It would not be good. If that happens, you can thank Dear Leader Trump and the people like Dan Patrick (are you paying attention, Texas Association of Business?) who enable him.

Dan Patrick and the wall tax

Hey, you know who’s going to pay for Dear Leader’s wall? You and me and everyone else in the country.

The Trump administration sparked widespread surprise Thursday by announcing it intended to implement a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to pay for a coming border wall — followed by extreme confusion when it appeared to walk back the statement later that afternoon.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made the initial announcement Thursday afternoon aboard Air Force One, as President Trump returned from a meeting with House Republicans in Philadelphia.

“Right now, our country’s policy is to tax exports and let imports flow freely in, which is ridiculous,” he told reporters. “By [imposing the tax], we can do $10 billion a year and easily pay for the wall just through that mechanism alone. That’s really going to provide the funding.”

Spicer further indicated that the administration has “been in close contact with both houses” of Congress.

“It clearly provides the funding, and does so in a way that the American taxpayer is wholly respected,” he added.

Later on Thursday, however, White House officials sought to characterize the tariff as one of several options to fund the wall, according to multiple news reports.

If passed by Congress, such a move is all but certain to have a dramatic affect on the U.S. economy and particularly in Texas, which imports far more from Mexico than from any other country, according to U.S. Census data.

Hmm, so that would be bad for the Texas economy. What does Dan Patrick think about that?

Many business and political leaders in trade-dependent Texas already have expressed reservations about the proposed import tax proposal itself, even without linking it to the wall.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who has championed increased trade with Texas’ southern neighbor since he became governor a year ago, had no immediate comment on Spicer’s suggestion.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, an outspoken supporter of the wall who served as Trump’s campaign chairman in Texas, told Fox News that he was “not too concerned” about any adverse impact of such a tax. He suggested the proposal could be “the first warning shot across the bow” fired by Trump, and that the tax could end up being something less.

It’s only a little tax. You won’t even notice it. Also, of course Greg Abbott had no comment. I don’t know why anyone bothers to ask any more.

Now here’s a statement I got from the Texas Association of Business about this idea:

The following statement may be attributed to Texas Association of Business President Chris Wallace.

“Texas’ number one trading partner by far is Mexico, and imposing a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to fund a border wall would hurt the Texas economy. This proposal could mean a loss of jobs and a hit to state tax revenues. We look forward to working with our Texas congressional delegation and our TAB members to address this proposal and I would encourage our state leaders to make the economic ramifications of this proposal known.”

Dear Chris Wallace and TAB: Dan Patrick cares way more about his pet ideological obsessions than he does about your interests. What are you going to do about that? The Rivard Report and RG Ratcliffe have more.

(Patrick has since said in a Facebook comment about his TV appearance discussing the wall tax that he is not concerned about it because it won’t happen, and he doesn’t actually support it. Which isn’t what he said on TV, and doesn’t say that he would oppose it if it does become a thing that might happen. I think that’s pretty wishy-washy, but in the interests of accuracy, there you have it.)

The coming legislative border battle

Here we go again.

House Republicans on Wednesday said they aren’t backing away from recent efforts to secure the southern border despite an incoming president who made beefed-up immigration enforcement a hallmark of his campaign.

And as a final admonishment of President Obama, they said they intended to bill the federal government more than $2.8 billion for state spending on border security since January 2013. The amount includes a combination of expenses incurred by the Department of Public Safety ($1.4 billion), Texas Parks and Wildlife ($20.2 million), Texas Military Forces ($62.9 million), Texas Health and Human Services ($416.8 million), the Texas Education Agency ($181.1 million) and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission ($671,000), according to House Republicans. Another $723.8 million has been spent by local and state governments related to incarceration, they said.

“We understand the principles of federalism, and while we surely don’t want the federal government meddling in our schools and deciding our environmental policies or setting our health care policies, we sure as heck want them doing their limited duties, which are: enforcing the border, standing up for a strong military and delivering the mail,” said state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Two years ago, Bonnen was the author of House Bill 11, an omnibus border security measure that increased by 250 the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border. The legislation was part of the record $800 million lawmakers appropriated for border security during that legislative session.

Lawmakers learned earlier this week they will have billions of dollars less in state revenue to work with this year as they craft the next biennial budget, even as the Department of Public Safety has said it would ask lawmakers for an additional $1 billion for border security. Bonnen said he hadn’t yet reviewed the request.

Although they said they had high hopes that President-elect Trump would fulfill his promise to secure the border and let Texas off the hook, House Republicans reiterated that lawmakers will need to wait and see what the incoming administration does and how soon it acts on border security before making a decision on future expenditures.

“We’ll have to see, [but] I think the Trump administration has made clear that they intend from day one, starting next Friday, to get to work on this issue,” Bonnen said, citing the day of Trump’s scheduled inauguration.

State Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, left the door open to Texas lawmakers approving more funding for state-based border security efforts if necessary.

“Republicans in the Texas House are absolutely committed to continuous border security — be it from the state of Texas and what we’ve been doing all these years or from our federal government,” he said.

Part of Trump’s proposed solution includes building a wall along parts of the southern border. When asked what he would tell a Texas landowner whose property could be seized by the federal government for that effort, Bonnen said: “My response would be whatever we need to do to make our border secure and controlled by the federal government.”

If you’re going to pass the buck, as it were, why not skip the middleman and send the invoice straight to Mexico? It’s what Trump (says he) would do, and it has about the same odds of getting paid. It’s a stunt, so make it as stunt-y as you can. As for the claims that Dear Leader Trump will spend more money on “border security”, thus enabling the state to spend less, who knows? It’s a bad idea in general to believe a word the guy says, but there is certainly enthusiasm in Congress to spend money on it, so I won’t be surprised if it happens. Note that whether or not it does happen, legislative Republicans plan to spend more on it as well, which highlights again the sham nature of their “invoice” for what they (quite happily) spent in the last session. As Rep. Cesar Blanco says in the story, they all have primaries to win. Look for even more speeding tickets to get written in the area.

The Observer highlights the resistance.

Legislators and advocates on Wednesday announced Texas Together — a new effort that aims to resist anti-immigrant proposals in the Texas Legislature, including those that would revoke funding from so-called sanctuary cities and repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students. The campaign is an initiative of the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, a coalition of immigrant advocates and activists from across the state.

“We are here to stand against the attempt to put anti-immigrant rhetoric into bills,” said state Senator Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, at a Capitol press conference Wednesday. “We oppose these politics that have become poisoned with misinformation about immigrants and border life.”

[…]

Captain Shelly Knight of the Dallas Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that SB 4 would strain law enforcement budgets and damage trust between communities and officers.

“All of that [trust] we’ve built up will be gone,” Knight said. “So therefore they won’t come and report violent crimes, such as family violence.”

Stand and fight, y’all. The Republicans are going to pass whatever they’re going to pass. Don’t give them any help on this.

Another bad year for Kemp’s ridley turtles

This does not look good.

The nesting season for the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is ending with zero nests found on either Galveston Island or the Bolivar Peninsula for the first time in at least a decade, although the number rose for the entire coast.

The decline in nesting on the Upper Texas Gulf Coast comes as a recent study shows that the nest numbers for Texas’ official sea turtle, whose primary nesting grounds are in Texas and Mexico, are at less than one-tenth of their historic levels.

Only five Kemp’s ridley nests were found on the upper Texas coast – four at Surfside and one at Quintana Beach – during the nesting season that runs from April until the middle of July, although there are always a few late nesters.

“We’ve had some extremely high tides and a lot of flooding this year, and many times the ocean was right up to the base of the dune,” which could have discouraged turtles from digging nests, said Christopher Marshall, lead turtle researcher at Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Nesting numbers were up for the entire Texas Gulf Coast and at the main nesting grounds in Tamaulipas, Mexico, near the Texas border. But scientists and conservationists remain concerned that the increases are far below those prior to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

“We’ve got two years of increases, however it’s discouraging that we have not gotten back to the numbers we were at in 2009,” said Donna Shaver, chief of the division of sea turtle science and recovery at Padre Island National Seashore.

So far this season, 185 Kemp’s ridley nests have been found on the Texas Coast, said Shaver, who tallies every discovered nest and oversees a turtle egg incubation program on Padre Island. The real indicator of the health of the Kemp’s ridley is the number of nests at the main nesting grounds in Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas. The count this year is 17,000 nests, up from 14,000 last year but still far short of the record 22,000 in 2012. The record that year was barely higher than the 2009 number and far less than what scientists expected.

“It came up, but it didn’t come up anywhere close to what we hoped it would if it had grown at the same rate as in 2009 and it didn’t keep going,” said Thane Wibbles, a biologist at the University of Alabama. Wibbles said there should have been more than 30,000 nests in 2012.

“It’s still not back to its historical levels where we were seeing a 12 to 15 percent increase every year,” said Pat Burchfield, who heads the U.S. contingent of the Binational Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Recovery Project and is director of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville.

[…]

Most scientists speculate that either the oil spill caused a temporary pause in Kemp’s ridley reproduction and that it will rebound, or that conditions in the Gulf have become inhospitable for the turtle’s historic population size, Wibbles said.

“It may be that the carrying capacity of the Gulf of Mexico may not be what it used to be,” Wibbles said. “I would say in five years if it hasn’t got on an exponential recovery trend then we have to look at the possibility that the Gulf of Mexico is not allowing them to come back.”

If the Gulf can’t support as many Kemp’s ridleys as it once did, he said, then the Gulf may be in trouble. Said Wibbles, “The ridley could be considered a metaphoric canary in the coal mine.”

See here for some background. I sure hope things start to look up, but it’s getting harder to feel optimistic. I don’t care how much that oil spill cost BP. It wasn’t enough.

Alignments proposed for Oklahoma City-South Texas passenger rail

Check ’em out.

TexasOklahomaPassengerRailStudyRoutes

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) have released 10 service and route options for new and improved conventional and high-speed passenger rail service connecting Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and South Texas.  The options are evaluated in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

“This corridor is home to major financial, energy, and education centers that people rely on every day,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “Providing efficient, more reliable, and faster higher-speed passenger rail options to move between cities is crucial for the economy and the population to thrive.  I encourage those along the I-35 corridor to participate in the comment and public hearing opportunities so that they are able to learn more and share their input.”

During a 45-day public comment period, FRA and TxDOT will take comments on the 10 options and the seven recommended preferred options that the two agencies identified.  Four public hearings will also be held to give residents a chance to learn about the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study, understand how their communities may be affected, and provide comments.

Current passenger rail service along the Interstate 35 (I-35) corridor includes three intercity Amtrak services from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth (Heartland Flyer), Fort Worth to San Antonio (Texas Eagle), and Los Angeles to New Orleans through San Antonio (Sunset Limited).

The DEIS addresses the relationships of the major regional markets within the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Program corridor in three geographic sections, and preferred alternatives are recommended for each geographic section separately.  The three sections of study are:

  • Northern Section:  Edmond, Oklahoma, to Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas
  • Central Section:  Dallas and Fort Worth to San Antonio
  • Southern Section:  San Antonio to south Texas (Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley)

More than 10 million people currently live along the 850-mile corridor, which is expected to grow by 39 percent in Texas and 25 percent in Oklahoma City by 2035.  As a state with some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, spread out over hundreds of miles, Texas is now in high demand for alternative modes of transportation.  Since the majority of the state’s population is centered in the eastern half of state, along I-35 stretching into Oklahoma City, the highways have experienced increased congestion.

“More passenger rail service will help relieve already congested roads along the I-35 corridor and help this region manage the significant population growth on the way,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.  “I encourage everyone to provide feedback on the 10 options that FRA and the Texas DOT have presented to continue moving this effort forward.”

In fiscal year 2012, FRA awarded a $5.6 million grant to TxDOT to fund a study of new and improved passenger rail service to meet future intercity travel demand, improve rail facilities, reduce travel times, and improve connections with regional public transit services as an alternative to bus, plane, and private auto travel.  The Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study evaluates routes and types of service for passenger rail service between Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and South Texas.

More information about the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study can be found here.  The Final EIS is projected to be released by early 2017.

There are three public hearings scheduled to discuss these alignments, on August 9, 10, and 11, in Laredo, Austin, and Arlington, respectively. Relevant documentation is here if you have a few hours to spare and an enjoyment of poring over PDFs, while TxDOT’s page on the project is here. Just looking at the map, which I have embedded above, doesn’t give a clear picture of where the tracks would be. Streetsblog says it wouldn’t actually stop in “urban Austin”, but the map seems to indicate it would go near or by the airport, so perhaps this is a question of terminology.

This project has been kicking around for awhile – Oklahoma got a federal stimulus grant in 2009 to study rail between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, which isn’t actually part of this proposal but may have been the genesis of what we now have – with TxDOT creating the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study page in late 2013; as you can see at that link, there’s a separate project to link this rail line, if it happens, to the Houston-Dallas high speed line, if that happens. An extension into Mexico has also been floated, though I have no idea if we’re even allowed to say that sort of thing out loud any more. As this is a TxDOT project, one presumes that there won’t be any questions about whether or not this qualifies as a real railroad for eminent domain purposes, which is not to say that there won’t be any resistance to the possibility. I’m never sure how seriously to take this, as TxDOT has never been all that interested in anything but roads and there are plenty of ways for the chuckleheads in Congress and the Lege to put up obstacles, but we are at the DEIS stage, and that’s progress. What do you think? See here for the impact statement, and KVUE has more.

Birth certificate denials only started happening recently

Funny how these things work, isn’t it?

Texas has for seven years said it won’t accept Mexican identification cards when issuing birth certificates for children of people in the United States illegally. But it doesn’t appear to have stepped up enforcement until recently, amid mounting political pressure to get tougher on immigration, records obtained by The Associated Press show.

That could validate complaints from immigrant parents suing in federal court, claiming the state is denying “birthright” U.S. citizenship for their Texas-born children guaranteed under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The AP used open records requests to get annual “self-assessment” surveys completed by local registrars. They show that officials in at least five cities and counties along the U.S.-Mexico border told the Texas Department of State Health Services during the past three years that they were allowing parents to get copies of birth certificates using a Mexican identification known as the matricula consular.

“Most of applicants are here illegally as they claim, and are therefore unable to obtain a valid form of identification from the United States,” Janie Madero, then-registrar in McAllen, wrote in a 2013 survey response. “Therefore our office accepts the matricula consular so they can obtain the birth certificate for their children who were born here.”

[…]

The Department of State Health Services oversees Texas’ Vital Statistics Unit. It reports issuing just one cease and desist letter to a county registrar in Brownsville who was accepting the matricula consular, and that didn’t come until this July.

Two months later, it wrote letters instructing against accepting the Mexican document in response to inquiries from registrars in Dallas and nearby McKinney.

Those three letters were all the state provided when asked for correspondence related to the matricula consular since 2008. Health services spokesman Chris Van Deusen subsequently said his department had “identified some additional communications with local registrars about the matricula” but that the lawsuit made those confidential.

When and how strictly Texas began enforcing its ID rules are important since more than two-dozen parents in the country illegally have sued, saying the state is effectively denying citizenship the U.S. Constitution guarantees to all born on U.S. soil.

Immigration attorneys suggest that the state only got serious about enforcement after women and children from Central America began pouring over Texas’ southern border last summer. Further raising the political stakes was President Barack Obama’s announced executive actions on immigration in November 2014, which sought to temporarily shield from deportation up to 4 million people in the U.S. illegally.

Efren Olivares, one of the lawyers representing immigrant parents suing, said there was a “tightening of the screws” amid Obama’s announcements and Central Americans crossing into Texas at record rates.

“We believe there is an intent behind this,” Olivares said.

See here, here, and here for some background. Basically, the state is trying to rewrite the rules while hoping that no one notices, but their actions belie their words. The only reason this is an issue now is because of politics. The bottom line is that everyone deserves a birth certificate, and last I checked the 14th Amendment was still in effect. It’s time for this charade to end.

The Mexican abortion option, part 3

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Misoprostol

Between 100,000 and 240,000 Texans have attempted to terminate their pregnancies without medical assistance, according to new research released Tuesday. Based on interviews and a statewide survey, the unprecedented study by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) estimates that between 1.7 and 4.1 percent of Texas women between the ages of 18 and 49 have attempted to end their own pregnancies outside of a clinical setting.

According to TxPEP’s interviews with Texans who’ve attempted self-induction, the top four reasons they tried to end their pregnancies on their own fall into four categories: financial constraints for the cost of the procedure or travel to the nearest clinic, clinic closures, recommendation from a family member or friend, or an intention to avoid shame or stigma of going to an abortion clinic, especially if they had had an abortion before.

“I didn’t have any money to go to San Antonio or Corpus,” one woman living in the lower Rio Grande Valley told researchers. “I didn’t even have any money to get across town. Like I was just dirt broke. I was poor.”

The study also found that Latina women living near the Texas-Mexico border are more likely to have attempted to induce their own abortions, or know someone who has, than non-Latina Texans.

[…]

Researchers believe the likelihood of self-induced abortion in Texas is higher than elsewhere. According to a 2008 national study by the Guttmacher Institute, less than 2 percent of American women reported taking something to terminate their pregnancies on their own. In 2012, TxPEP conducted a survey of Texans seeking abortions and found that 7 percent of women interviewed spoke to reported taking something to induce their own abortion.

Lead TxPEP researcher Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at San Francisco, warned that clinic closures after HB 2 may lead to an increase in self-inductions.

“This is the latest body of evidence demonstrating the negative implications of laws like HB 2 that pretend to protect women but in reality place them, and particularly women of color and economically disadvantaged women, at significant risk,” Grossman said in a press release. “As clinic-based care becomes harder to access in Texas, we can expect more women to feel that they have no other option and take matters into their own hands.”

The most common method women reported using to induce their own abortion was a medication called misoprostol, also called by its brand name, Cytotec.

Spoiler alert: we have heard this before. I have often heard it said that trying to ban or regulate something – guns, drugs, gambling, what have you – doesn’t work and can’t work because people will still want those things, so the net effect is to push the activity in question underground and thus make it more dangerous for everyone involved. Funny how that never seems to be applied to abortions, especially by those who so piously intone that they’re just making them safer because they care so much about women’s health. Thankfully, at least some federal judges have been willing to point out the dangerous absurdity of the recent spate of anti-abortion laws; whether SCOTUS follows suit or not remains to be seen. The AusChron, the Press, and ThinkProgress have more.

The Mexican abortion option, one year later

Exactly as predicted.

Misoprostol

The Alamo flea market sits right off South Texas’s lengthy Highway 83; a sprawling, dusty, labyrinth of a place. Under canopies in the converted parking lot, vendors in dark sunglasses stand behind tables heaped with piles of clothing, barking in Spanish and hawking their wares. The air is hot and muggy, thick with the scent of grilled corn and chili.

Customers browse simple items—miracle-diet teas, Barbie dolls or turquoise jeans stretched over curvy mannequins—but there are also shoppers scanning the market for goods that aren’t displayed in the stalls. Tables lined with bottles of medicine like Tylenol and NyQuil have double-meanings to those in the know: The over-the-counter drugs on top provide cover for the prescription drugs smuggled over the border from nearby cities in Mexico. Those, the dealer keeps out of sight.

I’m here to look for a small, white, hexagonal pill called misoprostol. Also known as miso or Cytotec, the drug induces an abortion that appears like a miscarriage during the early stages of a woman’s pregnancy. For women living in Latin America and other countries that have traditionally outlawed abortion, miso has been a lifeline—it’s been called “a noble medication,” “world-shaking” and “revolutionary.” But now, it’s not just an asset of the developing world.

As policies restricting access to abortion roll out in Texas and elsewhere, the use of miso is quickly becoming a part of this country’s story. It has already made its way into the black market here in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, where abortion restrictions are tightening, and it is likely to continue its trajectory if anti-abortion legislation does not ease up and clinics continue to be closed.

Over the past several years, dozens of states have restricted abortions. Since 2011, at least 73 abortion clinics in the nation have shut down or stopped providing services; and more than 200 abortion restrictions were legislated throughout the nation. Despite the passage of Roe v. Wade more than 40 years ago, states with pro-life politicians are still gunning to reverse the ruling—in the words of Rick Perry in 2012, “my goal is to make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past.”

Yet these myriad restrictions on women and abortion providers have set the stage for women to skirt medical institutions to take charge of their own health. A similar story has already been written in many countries around the world, where pro-life legislation has inspired similarly creative solutions. Today, throughout Texas—from the Rio Grande Valley to El Paso—miso’s story is being drafted anew. And in this narrative, it is Latin America that has answers for the United States.

There was a NY Times story about this less than a month after HB2 passed last summer, and so far things have played out exactly as expected. I guess it’s good that there’s still an option for so many women, one that’s clearly better than coat hangers and the like, but it sure is depressing that said option is a black market pill that’s supposed to be taken in conjunction with another pill and which can be harmful if not taken in the proper dosage. How any of this is good for women’s health is of course a mystery. But it’s where we are today, and it’s where we’ll be tomorrow and the next day until we get a Legislature that will undo all this damage and a federal appeals court that doesn’t suck.

Feral hogs cross the border

You can’t stop them, and hoping to contain them is not looking so likely, too.

If nothing else, the voracious wild hogs that years ago destroyed the lucrative melon and cantaloupe harvests in this isolated border city — and are now ruining the alfalfa, corn and oat crops — have discriminating tastes.

“They like vanilla. It really attracts them,” Leonel Duran, an animal control agent for the state of Chihuahua, said as he stirred two bottles of Vera Cruz vanilla extract into a blue barrel of fermented corn.

When the concoction was ready, the crew hauled it to a large octagonal trap in a fallow field near the dry, narrow channel of the Rio Grande. The mix was quickly spread inside, followed by dry corn and stale rolls.

With the sun going down, the wily, nocturnal hogs would soon be up, and drawn to the trap.

The people who farm the oasis-green irrigated croplands around here, just across the border from Presidio, are just the latest to suffer from hog predations.

Omnivorous and intelligent, the non-native beasts now roam almost all of Texas, as well as most of the continental United States and Hawaii.

Some 5 million feral hogs are found throughout the country and in almost every habitat, spreading as far north as Canada from their original territory in the South.

“They have expanded their range from 17 to 39 states in the last 30 years, and cause damage to crops, kill young livestock, destroy property, harm natural resources, and carry diseases that threaten other animals, as well as people and water supplies,” said Edward Avalos, a U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary, noting in a news release that hogs cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage and control costs each year.

In April, the USDA launched a $20 million hog-control program, a move some see as a long overdue.

“We’ve been singing about pigs from the choir loft for years. Congress finally caught on. They didn’t hear us, they heard the landowners,” said Mike Bodenchuk, state director for Texas Wildlife Services, a federal-state cooperative.

We’ve been exporting feral hogs domestically, so I guess this was the natural next step. I’m sure that somewhere Ted Cruz is muttering incoherently about “sealing the border”. Beyond that, the most interesting thing I learned from this story is that El Paso is the only one of Texas’ 254 counties to not have any hogs in it. I don’t know what your secret is, El Paso, but good luck maintaining that.

Abbott’s border surge plan

A whole lot of not much here.

Still not Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, said Tuesday he wants to nearly double state spending to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border, proposing a “continuous surge” with 1,000 new boots on the ground and millions of dollars worth of high-tech equipment.

The proposal, dubbed his “Securing Texans Plan” and unveiled Tuesday in Dallas, would also include tougher laws against sex crimes, gang activity and domestic violence.

At a cost of more than $300 million over two years, the proposal represents the largest government expansion he’s proposed as a candidate for governor. The border security package would entail the hiring of 500 new Department of Public Safety officers over four years — plus additional overtime and support staff — to help create what he called a “permanent border shield.”

“We must do more to protect our border going beyond sporadic surges,” Abbott said. “As governor I will almost double the spending for DPS border security. I’ll add more boots on the ground, more assets in the air and on the water, and deploy more technology and tools for added surveillance.”

Abbott would not specify any existing sources of funding to pay for the new programs. He said only that it would come from existing general revenue dollars.

“These are going to be budgetary priorities that must be paid first,” Abbott told reporters after his speech. He said seized dollars and asset forfeiture programs eventually would help pay for the border security portion, which exceeds $292 million over two years, but he wouldn’t say how to pay for it before that money kicked in.

Asked if there were any programs that would have to be cut to pay for the dramatic spending increase, Abbott said, “I couldn’t identify them.”

“It would be whatever legislators may come up with they want to have funded. That is left to the ideas that will be articulated by the 150 state reps and 31 senators,” he said.

Abbott said he would not rely on “any new form of revenue,” including taxes or fees, to pay for the proposals.

“To be perfectly clear right now and forever: absolutely no tax increases whatsoever for any of my programs,” he said. “The Abbott administration will not have any tax increases.”

The first thing you need to realize is that there’s absolutely nothing new here. Remember Operation Border Star? Or Rick Perry’s border cameras? Or how about the fact that President Clinton sent the Marines to patrol the border in the 90s, as a commenter at BurkaBlog pointed out. That ended after 17-year-old Ezequiel Hernandez, Jr was shot and killed. I wonder if anyone in the media will remember any of this and ask Greg Abbott about it.

Beyond the un-originality of the idea is the unlikelihood of it doing anything. The Texas-Mexico border is really long; adding 500 agents means one more agent every two miles or so. The refusal to say how he’d pay for this little scheme is typical Abbott hand-waving. Does anyone really think these 500 new agents could collect $300 million in asset forfeiture funds per biennium, more than what the entire border patrol collects now, without the entire operation turning into Tenaha? It’s a scandal waiting to happen.

There is a way forward here, and that is for Greg Abbott to call on his Republican colleagues in Congress to quit screwing around and support comprehensive immigration reform. You know, like the plan that the Senate passed but the House refuses to vote on, with the explicit blessing of Abbott’s former employee Ted Cruz. The Senate plan is hardly the end of the rainbow, but it’s a big step forward. If Abbott wants to push for a better plan than the Senate’s, one that fetishizes the shibboleth of border security less and seeks a realistic and compassionate way to let more of the many people who really want to come to the US but are being kept out by our broken and byzantine process, then more power to him. I expect to be appointed to the board of the Koch Brothers’ evil empire before that happens.

Abbott isn’t actually interested in solving the problem, though. He’s just throwing red meat to his base, despite having the primary in the bag. As much as the locals didn’t care for his “Third World country” rhetoric, I doubt he even noticed, or cared if he did. He knows who he’s talking to. It’s what he does.

One more thing:

Abbott also proposed introducing the so-called E-Verify system, used to determine whether a particular employee has legal status, in state government.

Even though he said the system was “99.5 percent” effective, Abbott said he would not apply that new enforcement program to the private sector, where the vast majority of undocumented immigrants work.

The big-business lobby, representing many companies that have for years relied on cheap immigrant labor, has long resisted increased worksite enforcement in Texas and elsewhere.

“I think that Texas should establish the leadership position by employing this first as a state body, show that it works, set the standard for what it should be, before the state goes about the process of imposing more mandates on private employers,” Abbott said.

I’m just curious here, but how many undocumented immigrants does Abbott think are currently working undetected in state government? If this is a problem, why wasn’t he calling for E-Verify to be implemented before now? Surely Rick Perry and the Legislature wouldn’t have opposed the idea. And suggesting that maybe private businesses might consider voluntarily adopting it if he sets a good example for them is just too precious for words. If the system is so damn effective – not an incontrovertible claim, of course – and if undocumented immigrants are such a huge problem, why wouldn’t you push to make it a requirement? Burka is right, we don’t have policy in this state, we just have ideology. And it’s just insane.

US-Mexico high speed rail?

What goes north can also go south.

Like this but with fewer mountains

A high-speed rail line connecting San Antonio and Monterrey, Mexico, could be less than a decade away from welcoming its first passengers, according to federal and Texas officials who met with Mexican officials in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to discuss the project.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-San Antonio, hosted the meeting in which Texas and Mexican officials offered a joint presentation to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx about the project, and Cuellar said Foxx was receptive. It was the third meeting between U.S. and Mexican officials related to the project, Cuellar said, following a meeting in the summer and another in October.

“From the Mexican side, they are very interested,” Cuellar said. “From the Texas side, they are very interested.”

Supporters say the rail line, if completed, could move passengers from San Antonio to Monterrey in two hours. The trip takes nearly five hours traveling by car.

Cuellar said he became interested in such a project after learning that the Texas Department of Transportation had received $5.6 million in federal funds last year to study possible rail projects between Oklahoma City and South Texas.

[…]

Both Mexican and U.S. officials envision a large portion of the project’s funding coming from the private sector, perhaps from a single company investing in the project in both countries.

We are familiar with one private investor for high speed rail in Texas, and we heard about that FTA grant recently. Obviously, all this is a long way from happening, but if both do happen – I’m reasonably confident about the Houston-Dallas line – then it would make a lot more sense to connect them, since that would have more value than two separate, disconnected lines. That would mean finishing the rest of the so-called Texas Triangle, which would then have offshoots continuing on to Oklahoma City and Monterrey. That would be pretty cool, don’t you think? The Highwayman and the Express News have more.

The Mexican abortion option

Get ready for it.

Misoprostol

At the Whole Woman’s Health center here, a young woman predicted what others would do if the state’s stringent new abortion bill approved late Friday forces clinics like this one to close: cross the border to Mexico to seek an “abortion pill.”

“This law will lead a lot more women to try self-abortion,” said Jackie F., a 24-year-old food server and student who was in the health center last week for a follow-up medical examination after getting a legal abortion.

The woman, who requested that her last name not be used to avoid stigma, was referring to a drug that can induce miscarriages and is openly available in Mexico and covertly at some flea markets in Texas.

In Nuevo Progreso, only yards past the Mexican border, pharmacists respond to requests for a pill to “bring back a woman’s period” by offering the drug, misoprostol, at discount prices: generic at $35 for a box of 28 pills, or the branded Cytotec for $175.

When asked how women should use the pills, some of the pharmacists said they did not know and others recommended wildly different regimes that doctors say could be unsafe.

“The women see it as “a pill to make my period come,’” said Andrea Ferrigno, a vice president of Whole Woman’s Health, which runs a network of abortion clinics. “Often in their minds, it’s not abortion.”

No question, if the new law is upheld you will see a large increase in border crossings for the purpose of acquiring abortion drugs. I predict that within six months of the law taking effect there will be a feature story about it in Texas Tribune. I also predict that if this happens there will be an even greater focus on “border security” by Republicans, in Congress and in Austin, to crack down on this practice. It’s just a question of who gets to author the bill that makes carrying misoprostol across the border a felony. Anyone disagree with me on this?

Lacking health insurance or fearing the stigma of being seen at an abortion clinic, thousands of Texas residents every year are already making covert use of this pill or trying other methods to induce abortions on their own, according to Dr. Dan Grossman, an obstetrician in the San Francisco Bay Area and vice president of Ibis Reproductive Health, a nonprofit research group.

When used properly in the early weeks of pregnancy, misoprostol, which causes uterine contractions and cervical dilation, induces a miscarriage about 85 percent of the time, according to Dr. Grossman. But many women receive incorrect advice on dosage and, especially later in pregnancy, the drug can cause serious bleeding or a partial abortion, he said.

The looming limits on legal abortion follow deep cuts in state support for family planning. Planned Parenthood clinics here in Hidalgo County do not perform abortions, but in 2010 provided subsidized contraception to 23,000 men and women at eight centers; as financing dried up, four of them have been closed. This year, the group will serve only 12,000 clients, and other organizations have not taken up the slack, said Patricio Gonzales, chief executive of the Hidalgo County chapter of Planned Parenthood.

If legal abortions become inaccessible in this part of the state, Mr. Gonzales said, “Planned Parenthood may have to step up” and try to raise $1.5 million or more to build a new surgery center that meets the requirements of the new law.

Lucy Felix, a community educator here with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said that many of the women she works with do not have legal residency and cannot drive north in Texas through Border Patrol checkpoints or even cross the southern border to buy the pill directly for fear that they may not be able to return to their families in Texas.

“The only option left for many women will be to go get those pills at a flea market,” Ms. Felix said. “Some of them will end up in the E.R.”

[…]

In a tour of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic here, Ms. Ferrigno noted some of the design and equipment requirements in the new law that would force the clinic to shut down. The clinic, part of a chain in Texas and other states, performs about 1,900 abortions a year using doctors that fly in from other states.

The clinic, like most in Texas, performs abortions only through the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, using medications or a suction method that takes 10 to 15 minutes and involves no incisions. The center uses donations to offer subsidies to many women, Ms. Ferrigno said.

The suite does not have the wide hallways required of a surgery center to facilitate the movement of stretchers in an emergency. In nine years and thousands of abortions, she said, the McAllen clinic has sent only two patients to the hospital, both for readily-treated bleeding.

Remember, this is all about the health and safety of women. Because Texas Republicans care so much about those things.

Hobby jobs claims

There’s been a lot of discussion about how many jobs the proposal to expand Hobby Airport and allow Southwest Airlines to begin flying internationally from there may or may not create. This story gets to the heart of what really matters.

Expanding Hobby Airport so Southwest Airlines can begin flying to Latin America will create more than 10,000 local jobs, perhaps as many as 18,000.

Or it will eliminate 3,700 jobs in the Houston area.

To City Council members preparing for a historic vote on whether Houston should have two international airports, competing studies, with their statistical formulas that extrapolate jobs from airplane passengers, are dueling crystal balls that offer radically different visions of Houston’s economic future. Will Southwest’s new flights to Latin America lower fares by all carriers, increase the number of passengers at both Hobby and Bush Intercontinental airports and create jobs to serve that growth? Or will it divert so many passengers from Bush that United and other airlines cancel flights and dry up employment opportunities that rely on those lost passengers?

[…]

Such a discussion, [Houston Airport System Director Mario] Diaz said, misses the point.

“We’re trying to be precise about a forecast, and that’s where people are getting wrapped around the axle,” Diaz said. The larger question is, does Hobby expansion help Houston more than it hurts it, he said. Tapping into the growing Mexican middle class market by offering lower air fares to Houston will bring in more visitors with money to spend at restaurants and hotels, he said.

“When you ask the (Greater) Houston Partnership, when you ask the Convention & Visitors Bureau, when you ask all of these chambers, they’ve all come to the same conclusion, that whatever the numbers are, it’ll be a net benefit to the city,” Diaz said.

That’s been my sense all along as well. The job creation projections strike me the same way that the obligatory economic projections of a sporting event like the Super Bowl or the Final Four do, more voodoo than anything else. I think Diaz frames the issue correctly, and I believe there’s another group of people who will use this service and benefit from it. There are loads of bus companies in this town that provide round trip service into places like Monterrey and Mexico City. A check on Greyhound’s website told me that a trip to Mexico City takes literally all day – 22 to 26 hours, with transfers – and cost $118; a trip to Monterrey ranged from 10 to 15 hours and cost $53. I doubt Southwest or any air carrier can match the prices, but don’t you think there will be plenty of people willing to pay a bit more to turn a 24-hour trip into a 2-hour trip? That may not be something that will benefit most of the people making most of the noise about this proposal, but it will benefit a lot of Houstonians. That is what this really comes down to. More choices, more options. I have a hard time seeing how that won’t be better for us.

Corruption on the border

Very interesting article from the AP about official corruption along the US-Mexico border.

An Associated Press investigation has found U.S. law officers who work the border are being charged with criminal corruption in numbers not seen before, as drug and immigrant smugglers use money and sometimes sex to buy protection, and internal investigators crack down.

Based on Freedom of Information Act requests, interviews with sentenced agents and a review of court records, the AP tallied corruption-related convictions against more than 80 enforcement officials at all levels — federal, state and local — since 2007, shortly after Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels that peddle up to $39 billion worth of drugs in the United States each year.

U.S. officials have long pointed to Mexico’s rampantly corrupt cops and broken judicial system, but Calderon told the AP this isn’t just a Mexican problem.

“To get drugs into the United States the one you need to corrupt is the American authority, the American customs, the American police — not the Mexican. And that’s a subject, by the way, which hasn’t been addressed with sincerity,” the Mexican president said. “I’m waging my battle against corruption among Mexican authorities and we’re risking everything to clean our house, but I think there also needs to be a good cleaning on the other side of the border.”

In fact, U.S. prosecutors have been taking notice. Drug traffickers look “for weaknesses in the armor,” said former prosecutor Yolanda de Leon in Cameron County, Texas.

It’s a little depressing to read the whole thing. I don’t know what can be done about this, and it’s not clear to me that the folks in charge of border security really know either, as the only solution they seem to have is “keep doing more of what we’ve been doing”, which includes spending more money on it. I do still think we could solve some of these problems by recognizing that as long as the demand to enter the US outstrips the supply of visas and work permits, many people will try to enter by whatever means they can, which in turn helps the smugglers and drug traffickers do their business. Unfortunately, as comprehensive immigration reform isn’t in the cards for this year, that isn’t going to happen. Better hope spending more to keep doing what we’ve been doing will help.

The real Coke classic

True aficionados know, if you really want the kind of Coca Cola they used to make before the “New Coke” fiasco, you have to get one that was bottled in Mexico.

Coca-Cola Classic, as it has been known since then, wasn’t exactly the old formula, because it no longer contained cane sugar. Instead it was sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Regardless, sales skyrocketed and order was restored to the universe.
Now, decades later, iconic glass bottles of Coca-Cola sweetened with cane sugar have been appearing on store shelves around the U.S. Ironically, this arguably more real version of the real thing happens to be made in Mexico, where soft-drink bottlers still use cane sugar.

The surge of popularity of Mexican Coca-Cola in the U.S. doesn’t make the corporation happy, partly because of territorial rights, but more important, because cane sugar is a more expensive ingredient in this country than HFCS, thanks to tariffs and farm subsidies.

HFCS is cheaper because it comes from corn. The sweetener is made in a complex process that uses enzymes to partially convert nearly pure glucose corn syrup into fructose; the fructose is then recombined with glucose to create a high-fructose mixture of varying percentages, depending on the intended use. The soft drink ingredient, for example, contains 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose.

Cane sugar, on the other hand, is sucrose, a disaccharide of glucose and fructose obtained from sugar cane, which is not widely grown in the U.S.

There’s a big debate over the effect of HFCS, which is in so many foods these days, and the agriculture policies that enable its widespread use by effectively subsidizing it. Ezra Klein and Grist would be good sources to learn more about that. The issue at hand here is which one of these taste better in an ice-cold Coke?

Mart Martin, a spokesman for Coca-Cola’s North American division in Atlanta, says there is “not a perceivable taste difference” between U.S. and Mexican Coca-Cola, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

To find out, we conducted a blind tasting of Mexican and U.S. Coca-Cola with the help of the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio. Unmarked samples, both taken from glass bottles, were served to the students and faculty, who rated their relative sweetness and overall flavor.

Interestingly, people who had been raised in or near Mexico often instantly identified the Mexican Coca-Cola and universally preferred it, while those raised in the States preferred the U.S.-made Coca-Cola. In other words, we tend to like what we’re used to.

One thing that wasn’t tested is how much influence the shape of the Mexican Coca-Cola bottle and the label might have on taste perception. After all, nostalgia is a thirst for something sweet from the past.

I agree with the bit about the shape of the bottle. There’s something about the 16-ounce glass bottle that just feels so right. It doesn’t matter that I really can’t tell the difference, or that I switched to Diet Coke years ago. Hoist one of those bottles, and all is well in the universe.