Blogs

They just keep coming, the little buggers. Day after day, the child alien invaders—too old to be anchor babies, too young to be put to work mowing our lawns and building our homes—arrive on our sovereign Texas soil from their Central American hellscapes. They want water. They want food. They want to not die before their 18th birthday.

The Librul media, and the kids themselves, would have you believe they are refugees, victims of circumstances beyond their control seeking solace in a land of immigrants. But We Patriots, We Band of Bros, know better. We are not fooled by those wet brown eyes or those stories of persecution, poverty and violence. We know these pobrecitos come bearing gifts of Ebola and TB. We know many of them aren’t even kids, and most of the actual minors are, it must be noted, well past potty-training age. Just ask JoAnn Fleming, leader of Grassroots America and Pearl Burras understudy. Said Fleming at a press conference this week [~8:40]:

“For some reason some people are focused on what represents 20 percent of the problem: the children… Those are horrible circumstances and for those small children it’s heartbreaking. But you know the federal government calls a child somewhere up to like 17 or 18 years old. And I have friends in law enforcement that are on the border who tell me that they have people that are training themselves to be 14, 15 years old… We’re not talking about the cute little kids in diapers. We’re talking about older children.”

And we know they come because of The Magnets (how do they work again?): the ObamaPhones, the free health care, the extended stay at McAllen’s Palm Aire Hotel and its luxurious “green pool” and stained sheets.

It’s just like that scene in Breaking Bad.

And you know what to do… STOP THE MAGNET.

As an invading force, these li’l Ill Eagles are a peculiar one; after a treacherous 1,000-mile journey plagued by murderous cartels, the risk of death in the desert or onboard a limb-lopping choo-choo train pleasantly nicknamed La Bestia and the presence of Rick Perry and Sean Hannity posing with .50 caliber boat-mounted machine guns, they choose to turn themselves in to our Border Patrol. Thank God the tea party and some very brave, very H.U.M.A.N.E. politicians are on the case.

Let’s remember who we are dealing with here. Says Christian pastor and state Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands):

And you know what we do with people who have no right to be on our land?
round em upNow that might seem kind of harsh when you’re dealing with frightened kids. But Americans for Legal Immigration PAC wants you to know, that it’s all about peace, love and civil rights.

 “Our protests are modeled after the successful civil rights effort of Martin Luther King and Ghandi. While civil disobedience and infractions of minor laws may be required to save America and protect our rights please only use passive resistance strategies.”

Hey, ALIPAC, what part of ILLEGAL don’t you understand? Now, to get yourself in the right frame of mind for Solving the Border Crisis, let us go to Breitbart Texas, which Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says uses the “time-tested techniques of investigative reporting.”

BspCZq3CcAAGPIg

Apparently unsatisfied with how much attention the story received, Breitbart Texas went full-on Faces of Death, changing the headline to:

animals prey

 

 

 

 

Mission accomplished:

You scared yet, bro?

Good.

Rick Perry, version 2.0 (eye-wear-equipped, fully Metrosexual-ized), has a plan: Immediate deportation of all the kids—”round ‘em up and ship ‘em out”!—and an amassing of National Guard troops on the border. But the plan has its critics: Eyebrows have been raised and questions have been asked. Such as Fox News’ Brit Hume, who asked Perry what exactly would these troops be doing since soldiers can’t make immigration arrests.

The best Perry could come up with: “…it’s the visual that I think is the most important…” The National Guard: One Weekend a Month, Two Weeks a Year… Unless We Need You to Intimidate Kids Down on the Rio Grande.”

But Perry’s plan—get Obama to use his presidential authority to active the National Guard—falls far, far short for some of Texas’ tea partiers.

“We have all reached the conclusion that Governor Perry needs to stop asking Washington to come save us,” said Grassroots America Executive Director JoAnn Fleming in her opening remarks. “Washington is not on its way to save us. We’re asking Governor Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott…to work together to invoke Article I, Section 10, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution; that gives states rights to declare an ‘imminent danger’…and to call up the Texas National Guard.”

Sorry, kids, there’s no more room in the insane asylum.

Wendy Davis
Patrick Michels
Wendy Davis at her gubernatorial campaign launch.

The raft of campaign finance reports that dropped this week won’t do much to change the narrative of the race, especially the headline bout between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis. Davis and organizations related to her campaign, structured in a somewhat unusual way, continue to pull in money—but catching up with Abbott’s gargantuan war chest seems far out of reach.

Even though they raised similar amounts of money over the last few months, Abbott counted $35.6 million on hand at the end of June, while Davis counted a little under $13 million. The next four months don’t offer good odds to close that gap. A much greater proportion of Davis’ money comes from out-of-state donors. There are plenty of Democrats elsewhere in the country this cycle that need money, and as the big-dollar donors figure out how to maximize their impact, the Davis campaign may not be at the top of their list.

Of course, that alone doesn’t doom the Davis effort—campaigns are about a lot more than money. But it does mean that she won’t be able to fight toe-to-toe in the TV and radio air war this fall. Abbott will be able to carpet bomb the state with ads, and other novel efforts, like this unusual ad his campaign placed in Texas movie theaters connected to a mobile phone number registration effort (his appalling attitude towards talking and texting at the movies should disqualify him from any elected office, but that’s another matter.) Davis will have to be more judicious.

None of that’s really new. Two other things about the recent campaign reports are more interesting—both pertaining to the Texas Senate. In the race for lt. governor, Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte are pulling relatively even so far.

Since mid-May, Patrick has raised $1.34 million and spent a little over $789,000. He’s got almost $950,000 in the bank, and his campaign is saddled with over $2 million in loans. Van de Putte’s report covers six full months, and she didn’t have to contend with the pricy, high-stakes primary that Patrick did, so it’s hard to compare like to like.

But there are still figures that will cheer her supporters. She raised more than $2 million—roughly $1.1 million since Patrick won his runoff—and she reported more than $1.16 million in the bank on June 30, though Democratic strategist Harold Cook, associated with the campaign, says the current cash on hand figure is closer to $1.6 million.

As we get closer to November, it will be interesting to see how Patrick’s fundraising fares. He raised a small fortune during his brutal primary, but then he spent it. He’s still likely to outdo Van de Putte’s fundraising efforts by a wide margin, but many in the traditional GOP donor class are uneasy with Patrick. He doesn’t have a particularly good relationship with parts of the business lobby. Will he patch things up before the election—or can he find the money he needs with the GOP’s Tim Dunn wing? Can Van de Putte run a good enough campaign to make him need that money in the first place?

There’s also Senate District 10 in Fort Worth, Wendy Davis’ soon-to-be former seat. Davis held this district twice in election cycles that she wasn’t supposed to win. So the district was rejiggered to tilt further to the right. Here, a Democrat named Libby Willis is running against a very right-leaning tea party leader named Konni Burton, who, thanks to the district’s new form, will be the probable victor.

Between May 18 and June 30, Burton’s campaign spent $125,500, but only took in $35,725. She has only $45,364 on hand, and that’s after loaning herself $250,000. The money she raised came from a very small number of donors. Almost a third of the money she raised came from the Accountability First PAC, one of the familiar groups originally dedicated to kicking out House Speaker Joe Straus. There’s an oil and gas company, a few other PACs, and a handful of individual donors, and that’s it.

Willis’ report covers a larger time frame—from February 23 to June 30. That span is about three times as long, but Willis raised six times as much money—more than $210,000. And she has more than $102,000 left in the bank, despite having spent $138,061 more than Burton. And while she received plenty of big-dollar donations, she counts many small donations as well.

When Burton needs it, she can be sure to count on substantial cash flood from the traditional GOP groups. But Willis’ strong backing by big-dollar donors, especially from unions and Democratic PACs, provides the potential for a counterbalance—though of course she will continue to remain the underdog.

The sheriff and his sons (from left to right) Juan Carlos and Jonathan
Photo from Sheriff Trevino’s Facebook page.
The sheriff and his sons (from left to right) Juan Carlos and Jonathan

Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño, the former sheriff of Hidalgo County and once one of the most powerful lawmen on the border, was sentenced to five years in jail Thursday and a $60,000 fine for money laundering. The sentencing of the former sheriff capped off a two-year corruption scandal that included his son Jonathan Treviño and several other members of law enforcement in the Rio Grande Valley.

First elected in 2005, the 65-year-old Treviño was forced to resign in March after being charged by federal prosecutors. Treviño pleaded guilty in April to one count of money laundering. According to prosecutors, he took thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a Weslaco drug trafficker named Tomas “El Gallo” Gonzalez.

At the sentencing, Treviño—who had won his last election with 80 percent of the vote—apologized to voters, his family and fellow law enforcement officers and told U.S. District Court Judge Micaela Alvarez at the McAllen hearing that he was “embarrassed” and “remorseful,” according to Sergio Chapa, from the Rio Grande Valley’s KGBT-TV.

In December 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI arrested the sheriff’s son, Jonathan Treviño, a former Mission police officer. Jonathan’s arrest sparked two years of speculation among Valley residents about whether the sheriff was involved in illegal activities, which he repeatedly denied.

Since at least 2006, Jonathan Treviño had run a street-level narcotics task force called the Panama Unit in Hidalgo County. In March 2013, Jonathan and other officers associated with the Panama Unit—including five Hidalgo County deputies—were indicted for “conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. Treviño and other Panama Unit members are now serving time in federal prison.

Former deputy Miguel Flores was at Treviño’s sentencing Thursday. He became an FBI informant after Jonathan Treviño and members of the Panama Unit tried to recruit him in 2012. Now a corporal with the La Joya Police Department, Flores told the Observer that Treviño’s five-year sentence was fair. But he said corruption is still a problem in the Rio Grande Valley. “I believe it will send a message but not everyone will get it,” he said. “It’s a way of life.”

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams speaks to the Texas Association of School Administrators.
Patrick Michels
Education Commissioner Michael Williams

For 17 years, new charter schools hoping to open in Texas needed a simple majority vote from the State Board of Education—until last year, when a major reform law handed most of the board’s charter authority to the education commissioner. Board members were left with one important power: They could veto the commissioner’s picks.

The board used its power once last year, putting the kibosh on an Arizona-based charter chain’s application to open in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But late last month, board members were startled to learn that Education Commissioner Michael Williams had, by waiving a few state rules, given the school permission to open in North Texas anyway. His move has been especially contentious because of the school in question: Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies, a chain with deep roots in Arizona’s conservative political world, and former Rick Perry chief of staff Ray Sullivan for a lobbyist here in Texas.

This morning, board members grilled Williams about his decision and whether they should expect him to go over their heads like this in the future.

As Dallas Democrat Mavis Knight put it to Williams: “When is a veto not a veto?”

David Bradley, a Beaumont Republican who supported the school last year, told Williams that his decision to go around the veto, at the very least, suggested something wrong with the new system. “It’s ugly and it’s not working well,” Bradley said.

Williams had a neat deflection. “Mr. Bradley, I’d like to say, I did not override your veto. … The commissioner has authority in this area that is broader, that is deeper than you do. I found another avenue to do what I thought was in the best interests of children.”

He added that his call was based on satisfying another aspect of the new law, a mandate to encourage well-established, high-performing charters around the country to open campuses in Texas. “We want to extend the [message] that the doors of Texas are open,” Williams said. More than a year after the law passed, the Texas Education Agency hasn’t produced rules defining what makes an out-of-state charter “high performing,” but Williams said TEA would release a proposal this Friday.

Williams also said his decision wouldn’t set a precedent. “This was a one-time deal and it will never happen again,” he told the board. Great Hearts, he explained, already had a charter to open schools in San Antonio, and under the new law, which went into effect on Sept. 1, the board has no authority over charter expansions. For Great Hearts to expand, Williams waived a requirement that schools be open for four years before adding new campuses.

But Williams’ decision has been so contentious not only because of the procedural issues, but because education leaders question whether Great Hearts—a chain of 19 schools in the Phoenix area (as of this fall), all but one of them in the suburbs outside the city—can replicate its program for Texas students.

Great Hearts advertises SAT scores hundreds of points above the national average, glowing college attendance rates and an “A” rating from the state for most of its schools. Williams told the board this morning that Great Hearts’ track record suggested they clearly fit the bill for a “high performing” network. But critics—like those who rallied to keep the chain from expanding into Nashville—say Great Hearts gets those results because its student body reflects the white, affluent neighborhoods where it opens. None of Great Hearts Arizona’s 7,617 students are classified as “English language learners,” according to the Arizona Department of Education, and just two of its schools have any students on free or reduced lunches—a common shorthand measure of student poverty.

Roberto Gutierrez, who leads Great Hearts’ nationwide growth efforts, said in a statement that they’re committed to serving a diverse student body in Texas. “Our first campus in central San Antonio is in a neighborhood that is more than 61% Hispanic/Latino,” Gutierrez wrote. Great Hearts’ school in that city is set to open this fall on two campuses in the Monte Vista neighborhood near Trinity University. “The Dallas and Irving neighborhoods we seek to serve are also diverse, urban communities full of parents and students who support these new public school offerings for excellence.” They’re still looking for a campus in Old East Dallas, Oak Cliff or downtown Dallas.

Speaking to the board this morning, Williams allowed that in Arizona, “the bulk of [Great Hearts' students] are white and probably not poor.” But he said it’s wrong to hold that against them. “There is nothing in Texas law, and nothing in the public policy of this state, that says that one cannot have a charter, or an expansion amendment, that serves kids who are not poor and who are not minority. Quite frankly, I think the latter part would be against the law. … State law doesn’t say that you can only have charters for brown, poor and black kids.”

Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock)
Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock)

Former state Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) earned a reputation as a pragmatic and thoughtful deal-maker and won acclaim for the pivotal role he played in Austin’s sausage factory, so his resignation to become chancellor of the Texas Tech University System caused consternation among some Legislature-watchers. The Texas Senate, having shorn itself of moderate Republicans, and presented with the possibility of Dan Patrick holding the gavel, will tilt away from pragmatism in 2015 whether had Duncan stayed or not. But in a chamber with only 31 members, every new ego counts.

So the race to replace Duncan as Senate District’s 28’s man will be one to watch. District 28, the largest in the state, is a monster, encompassing 50 counties (nearly a fifth of the state) and part of a 51st, where it bulges to include the northwest quadrant of Abilene. Rural in nature, it’s not necessarily fertile ground for the right-wingers who seem set to take other senate seats this cycle—they mostly come from the suburbs of major cities, like Katy or The Woodlands in Houston, or the fringes of the Metroplex.

Low-density West Texas, by contrast, has always been a touch removed from that particular kind of right-wing fervor. Duncan and state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), whose district stretches from the top of the Panhandle more than 300 miles to Midland-Odessa, tend more toward pragmatism than some of their colleagues. This was largely David Dewhurst country in the recent Republican primary for lt. governor—only a few counties in the district went for Patrick in the first round. Patrick won Lubbock County, the district’s largest population center, by roughly 5 points, much less than his margin of victory in other Texas cities. But in Abilene’s Taylor County and Jones County, Patrick lost to Dewhurst by 10 points and 17 points respectively. And Patrick lost Tom Green County, the home of San Angelo, by almost 25 points.

Nevertheless, there is a tea partier of sorts in the race to replace Duncan—state Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock)—and his well-resourced supporters might make him the most formidable challenger in the race to emerge so far. Perry was part of the freshman tea party class of 2010, and he’s benefited from tens of thousands of dollars in funding from Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility/Accountability First, groups connected to the right-wing money man Tim Dunn, the Midland oilman who’s been trying, with a great deal of success, to remake the state’s political landscape in his image. Perry’s also benefited from the patronage of figures like Jeff Sandefer, tied to the recent UT fight, whose well-heeled family has long been a prominent presence in Abilene.

Unlike other tea party legislators, who relished their position as bomb-throwers, Perry was hugged by the establishment early on and kept a slightly quieter profile. But he still clashed with many in his party on spending issues—he criticized the governor’s proclamations on the use of the rainy day fund, and popped his head over the ramparts last session to try to cap spending on water infrastructure, though that effort failed.

He’ll be a favorite in the race simply because of his access to campaign funds and status as a sitting state rep, but there are a few others in the running. There’s Jodey Arrington, a Texas Tech official and former Bush appointee—among other agencies, he served as COO for the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding, a post-Hurricane Katrina agency. Arrington’s new to electoral politics, but people with his technocratic background generally hue closer to the middle than people like Perry.

There’s also Greg Wortham, the mayor of Sweetwater, a town of some 11,000 just west of Abilene. Mayors, too, are generally more moderate than the tea party crowd (having to actually govern does that to you.) Wortham’s a major supporter of the area’s wind energy industry—he founded the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium, and has been an internationally-recognized face of alternative energy development in the state.

His visibility in the Abilene area might help him, especially since Perry and Arrington are both from Lubbock, another of the district’s population centers. (Two more Lubbock-based pols have expressed a desire to run, though they haven’t yet declared.) But Sweetwater is a small town, and he’ll face plenty of other challenges.

The race in District 28 seems unlikely to produce the kind of right-wing bomb thrower that will be showing up to work next session in better numbers than ever before—but it will still be a hugely consequential election for the state, especially since the victor will be replacing a longtime Senate mainstay.

Fracking equipment near homes in Denton.
Fracking near homes in Denton, TX.

Update 7:45am: Denton voters will decide the fate of fracking in their city come November after the City Council voted against the fracking ban this morning shortly before 3 a.m.

The Council seemed partial to the ban supporters during the hearing, which lasted eight hours, but in the end no one seconded Councilman Kevin Roden’s motion to pass the ban. The members voted 5-2 for a motion to deny passing the ban, so the initiative will now be on the November ballot. Activists had predicted their City Council would not adopt the citizen-led initiative, but the news was still disappointing and folks took to Twitter to say that industry won once again in Texas. We’ll be watching this come November, so stay tuned.

Update 12:42am: Word is there are more than 100 speakers signed up at this point, and we’ve heard from about 80 of them so far. They’re mostly Denton residents who are in favor of changing the city’s drilling ordinance to outlaw fracking; industry representatives appear to be gone for the night.

The testimony is starting to get a little repetitive and Council members are asking less questions. One man with Frack Free Denton called out several Council members, who he says promised to vote for the fracking ban if it went to Council during their respective campaigns. Councilman Greg Johnson clarified that he had promised to support the ban if that’s what Denton residents voted for, but none of the others commented. Smitherman’s letter to Council suggesting Russia’s involvement in the petition has provided ample fodder for jokes throughout the night.

Update 10:04pm: The night began with a string of folks opposed to passing the fracking ban in Denton, and about one-third of the speakers who were registered at the beginning of the hearing have now spoken. We’ve heard from two elected officials and a slew of industry reps, as well as some Denton residents. The City Council has surprised ban supporters by grilling industry representatives on inflated numbers regarding the economic benefits of fracking in Denton, as well as dismissing claims of easy solutions.

The Council is frustrated by the lack of inspection of natural gas wells and insufficient enforcement of regulations that are supposed to ensure companies practice “safe” fracking. At one point, Council Member Jim Engelbrecht asked an industry representative to “do a little ass-kicking” to help regulate fracking and another council member suggested Engelbrecht needed some chocolate. (He later announced he had secured the chocolate.)

Various council members have at different times throughout the night acknowledged the city’s shortcomings in creating an adequate gas drilling ordinance and protecting residents. Denton Mayor Chris Watts—who has been far more sympathetic to ban supporters than Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings was in a similar City Council public hearing in Dallas in December—expressed the Council’s frustration that it had “come to this.”

 

Original: The Denton City Council will consider a proposed ban on fracking tonight, after a group of citizens gathered enough signatures to force a vote. The council will likely kick the decision to voters in November, but that isn’t deterring participation in the public hearing tonight. City officials expect record crowds and have hired additional police officers as security. If the citizen-led initiative eventually passes, Denton will be the first Texas city to impose an outright ban on fracking, though Dallas and Flower Mound have imposed strict setback requirements that have effectively ended fracking in their jurisdictions.

The decision is being closely watched because of its precedent-setting potential. If a city in drilling-friendly Texas—which accounts for one-third of the country’s total natural gas production—can ban fracking, then a city in any other state can do the same. That strikes fear into the hearts of oil and gas producers and heartens environmental activists. Denton sits atop the Barnett Shale and currently has 275 active gas wells within city limits (and an additional 212 wells in its extraterritorial jurisdiction).

In anticipation of tonight’s vote, Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman sent the Denton City Council a letter denouncing the ban. In the four-page letter, Smitherman suggests that Russia may be behind the effort, pointing to reports of Russia “secretly working with environmental groups in Europe.” In an editorial in the Denton Record-Chronicle, the president of the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association blamed East and West Coast activists “seeking to slow responsible hydrocarbon development through fear” for the petition.

North Texas drilling-reform activist Sharon Wilson, who helped organize the petition drive, joked that she hasn’t received her check from Russia yet. She said the suggestions of outside influence are insulting to Texans.

“We’re being influenced by our direct experience of living next to fracking,” Wilson said. “The problem that is terrifying industry is that Texans know fracking better than anybody, so if we can’t live with it, nobody is going to be able to live with it.”

If Denton outlaws fracking, it’s possible that at least some of the 19 companies active in the city will sue. After Dallas passed a de facto ban on fracking in December, a company with gas drilling permits sued the city for more than $30 million. The case is ongoing, but opponents point to a protracted legal battle as one of many potentially negative consequences Denton could face if it adopts the ban.

According to a study commissioned by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce released Monday, Denton will lose more than $250 million in economic activity as well as more than 2,000 jobs and $5.1 million in tax revenue over the next 10 years if the city outlaws fracking. The report was conducted by Waco-based Perryman Group, a firm frequently hired by business interests to make their case.

The hearing is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. As of 5:30, at least 79 people had registered to speak. The city expects that upwards of 500 people will attend, so the vote will likely take place well past midnight. We’ll be following via livestream, so stay tuned for updates.

Follow @pmozkeda for updates tonight. 

Support the Texas Observer

radio-logo
This Land Press

Let’s face facts: Magazines can be difficult to read while you’re out and about. Flipping pages on a crowded bus? Forget it. Reading cover to cover on your bike commute? An impossibility. Luckily, there’s a way to get your Observer fix hands-free.

We’ve partnered with This Land Radio (a production of This Land Press) to bring you classic Observer stories repackaged in a pleasant audio format. The first to roll out is “Walmart, I Can’t Quit You” by Joe R. Lansdale and originally published in 2010.

When This Land Radio produces more audio Observer stories, we’ll link to them here. In the meantime, check out This Land Press on SoundCloud for more audio goodness.

Migrantchildren
Eugenio del Bosque

While fears of immigrant children carrying disease persist, public health experts on the front lines offer reasons for calm.

The Dallas Morning News reported over the weekend that “the likelihood of [these kids] spreading disease is low.” The story cited health officials who have documented just three cases of flu, three cases of tuberculosis, and 23 cases of chickenpox among the 57,000 children detained in Texas.

This report comes while Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins—acting on his idea that “in Texas, we don’t turn our back on children”—prepares his county to receive 2,000 unaccompanied migrant kids.

The physicians and state health officials interviewed by the Morning News emphasized the same message that the Observer reported last week: The Central American kids streaming across the border pose very little threat to the health of Texans. They do need medical care—mostly for the fatigue, dehydration and twisted ankles that have resulted from their journey.

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has repeatedly emphasized, each child receives a screening for infectious disease.

Texas Department of State Health Services spokesperson Carrie Williams told the Morning News that health risks in the detention facilities spring mostly from “the lack of hand-washing facilities.” The occasional cases of lice and scabies, which have excited the ire of a Border Patrol union, do not seem to impress the medical professionals much.

Astute readers will have noted that chickenpox (also known as varicella) is in fact a vaccine-preventable disease. In 1995, the U.S. became the first country to recommend universal vaccination against chickenpox, which is typically a mild disease. (I had it. You probably had it. Serious complications are rare enough that many American physicians questioned whether vaccinating against varicella was worth the trouble.)

Since the mid-’90s, only a handful of nations have adopted universal varicella vaccination. In developing countries that face more pressing health issues, it wouldn’t be cost-effective. Agencies like the World Health Organization and UNICEF don’t include rates of varicella vaccination in their worldwide reports, because it’s not a global health priority.

In tropical regions such as Central America, chickenpox tends to occur more in teenagers and adults, rather than exclusively in young kids. That’s another factor in these few cases at the border: Kids from a temperate region might’ve already had chickenpox; many kids from Central America are still “immunologically naive”—that is, they haven’t been exposed to the virus.

But please don’t flip out, Internet. Most Americans are immune to this pox, thanks to vaccination or prior infection. Here in Texas, 90 percent of kids are vaccinated against varicella by age 3, according to the Department of State Health Services.

Like lice and scabies, chickenpox spreads more quickly in crowded and unsanitary conditions. The refugee kids who get chickenpox are likely to be itchy and miserable—and quarantined—for a couple of weeks, until the virus subsides.

If we want to spare them that ordeal, adequate hand-washing facilities in the detention centers might be a good place to start. We could also offer the children prompt varicella vaccination, as a recently published article in the journal International Health recommends. We should also move kids quickly from detention centers into the safety of families.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Texas medical system has its problems. But if the biggest “health threats” these kids from Central America bring are head lice, some twisted ankles and 23 cases of chickenpox, well, Texas can handle that.

Support the Texas Observer

Broadsword-Student-Advantage

Predatory student loan services are on notice this week after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed lawsuits against two “scam operations that prey on student loan borrowers.” It’s the first lawsuit of its kind, and one of Madigan’s targets is Carrollton-based Broadsword Student Advantage.

Broadsword uses radio ads and other marketing tools to lure potential customers to its loan repayment services, capitalizing on a growing demand—the nation’s climbing student loan debt has tripled in a decade, and surpassed the $1 trillion mark two years ago. Broadsword is part of a new world of debt settlement firms, which promise to lower monthly payments in exchange for up-front fees, getting into the student loan business.

Some loan repayment services are already available for free through the U.S. Department of Education, but Broadsword claims that people are “turned off by its complexities and paperwork.” Instead, Broadsword and other loan repayment businesses charge high upfront charges and monthly fees to process loan repayments.

According to the lawsuit, Broadsword ads target specific professionals with claims that their loans can be forgiven:

“Attention teachers, nurses, social workers, government employees, police officers, and firefighters if you’re still paying on student loans get ready for a special announcement. Your entire student loan can be forgiven. You heard correctly. Broadsword Student Advantage has free information on how you could potentially have the remaining balance on your student loan debt forgiven.”

Madigan’s suit says that these ads, along with Broadsword’s domain www.getforgiven.org, are a violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

The domain appears to be a “source for consumers to obtain student loan debt forgiveness,” according to the lawsuit. In fact, student loan forgiveness is a federal program through the Department of Education with specific requirements. Broadsword doesn’t inform its consumers of these requirements, either, the suit claims.

In one instance described in the complaint, a public school teacher in Illinois called Broadsword after hearing a radio ad. She was pressured into giving her bank account number so the company could debit $499 for services (though the company’s ads claims it offers free information). After being told she qualified for loan forgiveness, the teacher found out several months (and $898.60 later) that her job as a teacher made her ineligible for loan forgiveness.

The lawsuit also alleges that Broadsword and its affiliates try to get power of attorney from their customers so the company can file documents, get information and even intercept communication from the loan servicer to the borrower.

When customers are charged for Broadsword’s services, they are billed by a separate financial planning firm called Affordable Life Plans. This company shares an address and phone number with Broadsword, and its About Us page includes the Bible verse “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

The lawsuit included complaints from people who hadn’t signed up with Affordable Life Plans, or gotten any financial advice beyond the loan service, yet were billed by Affordable Life Plans—possibly to minimize Broadsword’s risk. “Defendants are directing fees to Affordable Life Plans as a subterfuge in an attempt to escape liability for offering student loan debt relief services in violation of the Illinois Debt Settlement Act,” the lawsuit states.

Broadsword Student Advantage, LLC, was organized in August 2012 by its president, Kenneth L. Talbert, the man behind other financial firms like EFA Processing (a debt settlement company), DebtXS, Eckity Capital Markets, Safeguard Capital and CocoaLife of Texas, to name a few. Talbert’s interconnected business entities have been scrutinized before, and he’s been compared to Bernie Madoff by a former employee for his debt settlement business.

If the court finds Broadsword intended to defraud its customers, the firm could be charged a civil penalty up to $50,000 per violation. Broadsword didn’t return the Observer’s requests for comment.