Political Intelligence



No official announcement has been made, but word is that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has picked Florida prison chief Michael Moore to replace current executive director Wayne Scott, who is voluntarily moving on after five years. Moore, a Texas native, has said he wants to return to his home state. But does his home state want him back? If he comes to Texas, Moore will leave behind a very troubled system in Florida, where black correctional officers have filed suit against the agency, claiming system-wide discrimination and retaliation for complaints. According to the St. Petersburg Times, the suit alleges that prison officials have tolerated a racist clique of white guards, who identify themselves with knotted cord key chains. The system has also been rocked by the killing of death row inmate Frank Valdes, beaten to death during an altercation. Seven officers are facing second degree murder charges in the incident, which has led to the closing of the wing in which Valdes was housed, as well as the use of video cameras for cell extractions, according to the Times. Moore received an unfavorable state audit in December of last year, in which his staff reorganization was criticized for failing to save money and damaging employee morale.

Moore wasn’t exactly a hit at his previous position, as head of the South Carolina state prison system in the late 1990s, according to Cliff LeBlanc, a reporter with South Carolina’s major paper, The State. “He came in with a reputation as being tough as nails,” LeBlanc said. “He tightened down inmate dress codes, inmate movement, and access to inmates in general,” he said. Moore’s clampdown was widely blamed for two prison riots, one of which resulted in several injuries. Moore lost his position when the state elected a new governor, but Moore was already under fire, LeBlanc said. The system is now being subjected to a wide-ranging corruption investigation, which extends back through Moore’s tenure at the agency.


After almost a decade of on-time (but not eagerly awaited) deliveries, Sierra Blanca’s poo-poo choo-choo will shut down this month. Since 1992, the train has hauled in roughly 450 tons of New York City sewage sludge (that’s shit to you and me) per day, which the Merco Joint Ventures company has spread on 80,000 acres of desert surrounding Sierra Blanca, the tiny town 100 miles southeast of El Paso better known for it’s long, successful fight against a state nuclear waste dump. Local residents, led by Bill Addington, fought the sludge operation for years with little success, butting up against the same permissive state environmental agency that sought to bring nuclear waste to the area. New York’s sewage sludge is known for its high toxicity, due in part to the heavy metals found in the sewer system there. Area residents also complained about wind-borne pathogens from the sludge, which becomes flaky and dusty (and smelly) as it dries in the desert. Sludge opponents also had to contend with Hudspeth County Judge James Peace, who welcomed any kind of dumping, nuclear, sewage, or otherwise, as sound economic development.

In the end it was a business decision that killed the sludge dump: It turned out to be uneconomic for New York to transport its waste 2,500 miles for disposal. (Who knew?) According to the Big Bend Sentinel, New York will still be shipping their waste to other states, just not quite so far. Merco was their most expensive contract. James Peace (who does not live in Sierra Blanca) lamented the loss, claiming that the economically depressed county will lose 39 jobs. Many of those workers, Addington pointed out, were actually from nearby Van Horn or El Paso. Still, Merco will be missed, Peace told the Sentinel. “They gave out turkeys at Thanksgiving.”


Those of you who thought you could breathe a sigh of relief after the toxic sludge decision in West Texas, can just forget about it. Fighting the environmental fight in this state is a little bit like slaying one of those thousand-headed hydra beasts. Chop off one head, and there’s another to take its place. And what a whopper this one is: Recently “an unnamed source close to the White House” leaked to the Washington Times that the Navy is considering a huge swatch of coastal land south of Kingsville as a possible replacement for the bombing range in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Earlier this month, President Bush announced that in 2003 the Navy would leave Vieques, where it has conducted military exercises for 60 years. That decision comes after years of an intense campaign by residents of the island to put an end to the bombing exercises, which have resulted in environmental devastation, along with high rates of cancer and other diseases (“Vieques, Puerto Rico,” TO, March 30, 2001).

But talk of environmental devastation and frightening health statistics apparently doesn’t scare away Solomon Ortiz (D-Corpus Christi), a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Ortiz is among those saying, Hey, if Vieques doesn’t want the bombs, just bring them on down here. Talk about a boost to the local economy. The site is located across from the Padre Island National Seashore, home of the endangered Ridley turtle, and a former bombing range. Bombing exercises were conducted on the island beginning in World War II. They ended in the mid-1960s, with the creation of the National Seashore.

“Some people’s knee-jerk reaction would be that we’re going to impact the environment,” Gary Bushell, a consultant with the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, told the San Antonio Express-News. “We would think, having done an initial look at it, that this would have some very positive environmental impacts,” he said.