POLITICAL INTELLIGENCEI I BORDER FEVER. Slather on that insect repellent extra-thick before standing near any stagnant water along the Texas-Mexico border, a serious problem in the impoverished colonias on both sides. The Centers for Disease Control reported last month that incidents of dengue fever doubled in the U.S. in 1995, with eighty-six confirmed cases. Twenty-nine were in Texas, which usually records only a couple of cases a year. The border cases may have originated in a widespread outbreak in Mexico, most notably in Reynosa. 1995 also marked the first time that dengue fevertransmitted by the aedes mosquito, usually during travel abroad was contracted on Texas soil. Good ol’ American mosquitoes in Cameron and Hidalgo Counties caused seven cases of the so-called “bone-break fever,” which brings on flu-like symptoms and a pesky rash. Dengue is not directly contagious, but any mosquito who dines on an infected person can spread the infection, increasing the risk of an epidemic. \(So far in 1996 only four cases have been reported, and all were No word yet on a border-length mosquito netting to keep the offending insects from immigrating. PRAYING FOR CONCRETE. People who grew up thinking of Sunday School as a kind of prison may find poetic justice in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to turn the state’s prisons into Sunday Schools. State prison directors recently voted to turn over the pre-release programs for 200 inmates incarcerated at the Jester II Unit near Sugar Land to the Prison Fellowship, a fundamentalist Christian group headed by ex-Watergate figure Charles Colson. The Prison Fellowship will provide “values-based” counseling, life-planning seminars, and as many as nine different Bible study courses. According to prison officials, inmates enrolled in the work release program will spend their days on the job, returning to the prison each evening for more “programming.” The same day that the plans for the spiritual uplift of the prison population were being announced, a report from the Texas State Board for Registration for Professional Engineers revealed that the state had no licensed engineers overseeing its $1.5 billion prison construction program. According to the report, private construction management companies with multi-million dollar prison contracts did not fill supervisory positions with licensed engineers, as required by state law. A spokesperson for the registration board also said that there were indications of “some substandard construction,” and that the filing of criminal charges was a possibility. The Observer was unable to verify persistent rumors that the prison board has plans for launching its own Bible study group. Proposed topics for discussion are said to include the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho, and what to do if the walls suddenly start tumbling down. WEEVILS IN COURT. An ambitious plan to rid the state of the boll weevil has not gotten rid of the pesky cotton-destroying insect. Instead, the statewide spraying program has caused an infestation of lawyers. On November 20, proponents and opponents of the statewide boll weevil eradication program had a showdown at the Texas Supreme Court. Supporters said the Legislature was correct in using its police powers to rid the state of an economic menace. Opponents argued the eradication program is unconstitutional, because it has not been uniformly applied to cotton farmers and because the revenues collected by the eradication foundation are a form of occupation tax. The lawyers are swarming because last year’s cotton crop was disastrous in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and in farms around San Angelo. In all, cotton producers in the two regions lost some $300 million worth of cotton due to infestations of the beet armyworm, an infestation that two scientists from the Weslaco office of the Agriculture Research Servicean arm of the U.S. Department of Agricultureblamed on overzealous pesticide applicatioii, including the spraying done by the eradication program. In, the wake of the disaster, Valley farmers voted in January \(by a margin of nearly the first time in the 22-year history of the boll weevil eradication effort that farmers voted to quit the spraying program. The Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation has also come under scrutiny for its management practices. While farmers in the Valley took heavy losses, Frank Myers, the TBWEF s executive director, is earning more money than the governor. Myers is paid $124,000 per year to administer an agency with 330 employees; the governor receives $99,000 per year. Myers defended his pay package, saying, “Anybody that runs a corporation of this size is paid eminently more than that.” The court is not expected to issue a decision on the matter for several weeks. OBSERVER UNCENSORED. At press time Observer received word that three stories published here this year have been selected as among the top twenty-five “most important ‘censored’ or under-reported stories of 1996,” and are under consideration to be ranked as among the top ten “censored” stories for the year. The articles were “Shell’s Oil, Africa’s Blood,” about the relationship between Shell Oil and military repression in Nigeria “Poisoned Welcome: EPA and Texas Waste Firms Roll Out the Red Carpet for by “Project CENSORED,” an annual journalism project of Sonoma State University, designed to call attention to those stories under-reported in the mainstream press. 32 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 6, 1996
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