Dispatches from the Badlands

January 31, 2011 - Leave a Response

A freshman State Representative from the Kingsville area (just outside Corpus Christi) is trying to pass a bill this session that would make trafficking illegal immigrants a state crime. This is certainly not a new idea, but a new legislative session is always a good place for old ideas to get another shot. Under State Rep. J.M. Lozano’s bill, anyone caught transporting illegal immigrants would be charged with a state jail felony. As it stands now this is a federal crime. The proposed bill would also kick the offense up to a third degree felony if the illegal immigrants are transported for money or in a way that causes them bodily harm (remember the 19 who died locked in a tractor trailer outside Victoria?). The lonely stretch of highway that runs through Kingsville is certainly a major route for illegal immigrants, drugs and guns, but so are many other highways leading from the border to major cities. If passed, this bill would put a huge burden on local law enforcement. All you have to do is peruse federal court filings to see the dozens of cases filed each week for trafficking and illegal immigration. Many of these cases stem from local law enforcement catching people on the highways then handing them over to the feds. If Lozano’s bill passes then the locals would be responsible for handling all these cases. This would mean jail overcrowding, especially in small counties. Plus, taxpayers would then have to pick up the tab for these counties having to hire more prosecutors to handle all the cases, as well as paying for defense attorneys to represent the indigent. There are already strict laws and penalties on the books to handle these cases at a federal level and local law enforcement is already enforcing the law by catching so-called “coyotes” and handing them over to the feds. Making this a state crime would create a criminal justice bottleneck at the local level and overburden smaller counties that are already stretched thin.

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Anchors Away

January 27, 2011 - One Response

Yes, I know that’s not how “away” should be spelled in the context of the Naval Academy fight song. However, I just received this news release from the Coast Guard regarding orphaned anchors in the wake of the BP spill….

NEW ORLEANS – The Coast Guard, in coordination and consultation with the state of Louisiana, local partners, and other federal agencies, has directed BP to begin the first of a three- phase program to retrieve orphan anchors in state waters. Launching the first phase of this program is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 29.

During the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill response, thousands of 20 to 70-pound Danforth anchors were deployed to keep containment boom in place. After retrieval of the boom in areas where no containable oil posed a threat to the shoreline, it was discovered that some of the anchors were not accounted for various reasons such as storms. In addition, some anchors were solidly embedded in the sediment, and could not be recovered by teams retrieving boom.

The first phase of the program to remove these anchors will involve controlled testing by experienced underwater salvage teams. Crews will place anchors in a selected area and then search for them to find the best procedures and equipment for locating and removing the anchors. Using the best methods developed under these tests, crews will then transition into the second phase, which involves locating and removing the orphaned anchors deployed as part of the oil spill response in select areas of St. Bernard Parish.

If phase two recovery operations are successful in St. Bernard Parish, phase three of the plan will begin, which involves expanding removal operations to include all of the waters in Louisiana affected by the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill.

“The federal government team that continues to oversee this response is committed to ensuring that BP uses a safe and proven method to find and remove orphan anchors so that teams do not break submerged pipelines in the area or further harm fragile ecosystems by causing erosion,” said Capt. Lincoln Stroh, Federal On-Scene Coordinator.

“Teams cannot simply drag the waterways with a hook or trawl due to the risk of breaking a pipeline or causing massive erosion. The program requires BP to undertake careful planning to ensure there is no environmental damage or destruction to existing pipelines and infrastructure.”

When laying boom, response crews used Danforth anchors, which embed in the sediment and collapse flat when not in use. This type of anchor does not protrude above the sediment like North Hill anchors. When the boom was retrieved, every anchor that could be recovered by the boom teams was safely removed.

Free Money!

January 3, 2011 - One Response

Ok, so the title of this post should immediately tip you off that what I’m about to explain is a scam. I just got a call from Local 2 viewer Paula who wanted to let me know about a call she received. The message explained that Paula had won a free Mercedes and $750,000 in cash. All she had to do was call (876) 455-2416 and ask for Peter Williams. Curious, Paula dialed the number and, as luck would have it, she connected with Mr. Williams on the second ring! Paula told me Mr. Williams explained she had indeed won a free Mercedes and $750,000 in cash. Just one little catch. Paula was told she would have to pay a “small amount of taxes on the vehicle and cash.” At this point Paula hung up. I ran a trace on the number and found it originates out of Jamaica. This is a haven for scammers who work the phones and email all day.

In case you are wondering here is a link to the list of complaints this particular number has generated, http://www.numberinvestigator.com/876455.

You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at, http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/index.shtml. Since these calls are originating from a foreign country there is little that can be done by US law enforcement. 

Just remember, nothing in life is free.

A Mystery In The Trash…

November 15, 2010 - One Response

While I was working on my story regarding “lost” NASA equipment, Robert Pearlman told me about a mystery he’s even having trouble solving. If you didn’t see the report, Pearlman operates the website, www.collectSPACE.com. One of Pearlman’s passions in life is authenticating pieces of space history. So when he told me this piece of hardware was found in the trash at NASA I naturally wanted to know what it is. But even Pearlman’s considerable knowledge, expertise and contacts have been stumped for an answer. Can you help solve the mystery? Watch the video and if you know what this is, shoot Pearlman an email at contact@collectSPACE.com.

Don’t use my name….

November 10, 2010 - Leave a Response

The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Interior finally caught up to what we reported in June. The OIG determined the report used to justify the deepwater drilling moratorium was “edited” to make it appear like several nationally recognized experts agreed with the ban. The OIG stated no federal laws were broken since Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar apologized for making it appear as if these experts agreed with the White House’s recommendation. However, I’ve talked to several people who say the damage has already been done. Here’s a link to my original story from June…http://www.click2houston.com/news/23833753/detail.html

Fearsome Flora

November 1, 2010 - 2 Responses

 This was passed along to me by my mom. Just found it interesting, especially if you have pets. Let me know if you come across other deadly, but common flowers.

Seven most beautiful, but deadly flowers in the world.

Beautiful as they may be, some flowers are much more than they appear to be.  Believe it or not, these seemingly harmless plants can really ruin your vacation.  To help you know what flowers to stay away from on your trips, we’ve come up with a list of the world’s most attractive but dangerous flowers:

7. Daphne

daphne

Also known as lady laurel or paradise plant, Daphne is a 1-1.5 meters tall shrub, usually grown for its scented flowers.  All parts of the plant are poisonous, but the greatest concentrations are in the sap and berries.

daphne2

Daphne contains mezerine and daphnin, two powerful toxins that cause stomach aches, headaches, diarrhea, delirium and convulsions.  If Daphne berries are consumed, the victim might fall into a coma and even die.

6. Lily of the Valley

lily-of-the-valley

Just like the Daphne, Lily of the Valley may look beautiful and harmless, but it is entirely poisonous.  Eating one or two of the plant’s bell-shaped flowers won’t hurt you very much, especially if you’re an adult.

lily-of-the-valley2

Eaten in large quantities, Lily of the Valley causes pain in the mouth, nausea, vomiting, cramps and diarrhea.  People with heart conditions should be most careful since the toxins cause the heartbeats to slow down or become irregular.

5. Belladonna

deadly-nightshade

Known as one of the most poisonous plants in the Western hemisphere, Belladonna contains potentially lethal tropane alkaloids.  The entire plant is harmful, but its good-looking berries pose the most danger, especially to kids.

deadly-nightshade2

The symptoms of Belladona, or Deadly Nightshade poisoning are dilated pupils, blurred vision, headaches, hallucinations, delirium and convulsions.  Atropine, the toxin contained by Belladona, can kill a person by disrupting the nervous system’s ability to regulate breathing, sweating and heart rate.

4. Angel’s Trumpet

angel-trumpet

Despite its name, there’s something very evil about this plant.  The toxins it contains can be fatal to humans and a number of animals.  Known as a powerful hallucinogen, Angel’s Trumpet should not be used for recreational purposes, since the risk of an overdose is very high.

angel-trumpet2

Angel’s Trumpet plants contain a variable amount of tropane alkaloids, like atropine and scopolamine, and it is used in shamanic rituals by indigenous tribes in western Amazonia.

3. Rhododendron

rhododendron

This popular evergreen shrub, featuring large, beautiful blooms, has been known for its toxicity since ancient times.  Xenophon recorded the odd behavior of a group of Greek soldiers who had eaten honey from rhododendron flowers.

rhododendron2

Rhododendron contains andromedatoxin which causes nausea, severe pains, paralysis and even death.  Azaleas, members of the same plant-family as rhododendron, are also poisonous.

2. Oleander

oleander

Oleander is known as one of the most poisonous plants on Earth, often used in suicidal cases around southern India.  The numerous toxic compounds contained in the entire Oleander plant, including oleandrin and neriine, affect the nervous, digestive and cardiovascular systems, all at the same time.

oleander2

Oleander poisoning leads to drowsiness, tremors, seizures, coma and even death.  The plant’s sap causes skin irritation and severe eye inflammation.

1. Autumn crocus

autumn-crocus

One of the most endangered plants in the world, Autumn crocus is also probably the most poisonous.  It contains colchicine, a deadly drug used effectively in the treatment for gout.  Unlike other toxins found in the flowers above, colchicine, an arsenic-like poison has no antidote.

autumn-crocus2

Autumn crocus poisoning leads to reduced blood pressure and cardiac arrest.

Move Along, Nothing To See Here.

October 27, 2010 - Leave a Response

The site of the largest oil sill in US history will be off-limits to anyone until October of next year. No one will be allowed to come within 750 feet in all directions of the Deepwater Horizon site in the Gulf of Mexico. This move was done to preserve evidence for upcoming civil and, possibly, criminal trials. Here’s a copy of the news release from the Department of Justice….

Security Zone Established Around Deepwater Horizon Wreckage Site

WASHINGTON – In response to a motion by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. District Court in New Orleans has ordered the establishment of a security zone extending 750 feet in all directions from the mobile offshore drilling unit Deepwater Horizon wreckage site and its debris field. The security zone extends from the center of the wreckage site, which is located at the precise coordinates N28-5491/W088-22.0293 (in the area known as the Mississippi Canyon 252) from the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico to the sea surface.

The court found it in the interest of the public to protect the search area and any evidence located in the area against intentional or unintentional loss, the order said. It ordered the United States to inform the public and advise all known parties capable of intruding into the security zone.

 In accordance with the order, the Department of Justice has informed those companies known to have the means and equipment to do so not to enter the security zone.

The order will be enforced by the United States using the full range of security assets available, including vessels, aircraft or other appropriate means and equipment.

The security zone will remain in place until Oct. 8, 2011 unless renewed for good cause, the court ordered.

A Dangerous Paradise

October 25, 2010 - One Response

Before you click on the video of the chase I wanted to give you a little background on Falcon Lake. In 1953 Falcon Dam was built on the Rio Grande River to help provide irrigation and flood control for areas on both sides of the border. The lake was stocked with several different types of fish, which is one of the reasons it is such a popular spot. Falcon Lake is not actually a lake, it’s a reservoir created by the Falcon Dam. When the dam was built it submerged a small town in Mexico named Old Guerrero. Only the town’s church still partially sticks out of the water. Even though it’s on the Mexican side of the lake it is a popular spot for shutter bugs from both countries. This is also the spot where David and Tiffany Hartley were attacked. The other thing that makes Falcon Lake unique is there are no border checkpoints. You do have to have a fishing license, but boaters from the US and Mexico frequently cross the border with little or no checks.  Only metal platforms with no signage, and spaced about a mile apart, mark the border between countries.  Click on the map below to enlarge.

This chase involved the brother of a member of the Zeta cartel. Zapata County Sheriff’s Sergeant Israel Alaniz caught the guy after he turned down a dead-end street. Alaniz said the guy was in the country illegally.

We Need More Time

October 22, 2010 - Leave a Response

The joint panel investigating the cause of the BP oil spill has asked for and received a 60-day extension for delivering a final report on the disaster. The panel is composed of members of the US Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (seriously, was there a long name contest that day?). The panel has been holding a series of meetings since last May delving into every aspect of the spill. The panel was to have submitted a final report in January, but the deadline has now been extended until March 2011. The findings and recommendations of this panel will likely serve as a blueprint for civil, and possibly criminal trials, in the future. The panel asked for the extra time to finish forensic testing and to allow for a final public hearing on the matter. After spending a considerable chunk of my professional (and personal) life covering every tentacle of this disaster for the last 6 months I can attest to the Herculean task this panel has undertaken. The more than 100 hours of testimony has been peppered with complicated, convoluted answers and legal posturing. There has been shouting from attorneys (one even stood up during this month’s hearing and demanded the co-chair of the panel, Capt. Hung Nguyen, recuse himself), claims of incompetency on the part of panel members and threats of federal injunctions throughout the proceedings. So many lawyers crowd each hearing it is like watching a real-time, live deposition for a civil trial (the only fun part is one lawyer, who shall remain nameless, who becomes a pinata for every other lawyer in the room every time he gets up to question a witness). Still, the panel is tasked with not only getting to the bottom of what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, but also making recommendations for both off shore drilling and safety on the water. One thing is certain, this is not Texas City. Many of the decisions made on that well and on the rig itself will be debated ad nauseam for years to come. So what’s another 60 days?

Here is a copy of the news release sent by the panel..

NEW ORLEANS — The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) / Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Joint Investigation Team (JIT) today announced that it has requested and been granted an extension of the deadline for its final report.

This approval was provided by USCG Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp and BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich. The extension was requested to allow for additional time needed to complete forensic testing, as well as provide sufficient time for a final public hearing on the forensic evidence.  This hearing is tentatively scheduled for the week of January 24, 2011.

The April 27, 2010, order convening the JIT directs that “the JIT issue a single report containing the evidence adduced, the facts established thereby, and its conclusions and recommendations within nine months of the convening date.” That original deadline is January 27, 2011. The order further states, “if this deadline cannot be met, at least thirty calendar days prior, a written explanation for the delay and the expected completion date shall be submitted to the Director, [then-MMS], and Commandant, USCG.”

Today’s approval is a 60-day extension of the deadline to March 27, 2011.

I Pledge Allegiance….

October 14, 2010 - One Response

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Texas pledge of allegiance is constitutional. Here is a copy of the news release.

Fifth Circuit Upholds Texas Pledge of Allegiance

Federal appeals court rejects plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge to the State pledge

 
AUSTIN – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today ruled that the Texas Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional. The federal court’s decision rejected an appeal filed by a Dallas couple, who unsuccessfully argued that the State’s Pledge violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

“Today a federal appeals court rejected a challenge to the Texas Pledge of Allegiance and found that it is constitutional for the State to acknowledge religious faith,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. “This ruling marks not only a second consecutive victory for the
State pledge, but also a victory for all Texans’ constitutionally protected rights and freedoms.”

The words “under God” were added to the Texas Pledge of Allegiance in 2007. That year, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging the phrase’s constitutionality and sought an injunction banning its use. In the district court, the State successfully argued that reciting the Texas Pledge is a patriotic exercise – and is protected by the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion. The federal district court issued a decision rejecting the plaintiffs’ challenge in 2009, and the plaintiffs appealed their loss to the Fifth Circuit.

In today’s ruling, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision, ruling that the Texas Pledge “. . . is a patriotic exercise, and it is made no less so by the acknowledgement of Texas’s religious heritage via the inclusion of the phrase ‘under God.’”

The appeals court also denied the plaintiffs’ argument that the Texas Pledge endorses a particular religious belief. Rather, the ruling acknowledged: “A pledge can constitutionally acknowledge the existence of, and even value, a religious belief without impermissibly favoring that value or belief, without advancing belief over non-belief, and without coercing participation in a religious exercise. Texas’s pledge is of this sort and consequently survives this challenge.”

The Texas Pledge of Allegiance reads: “Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.”

Here is the copy of the court’s ruling….pledge

According to the Handbook of Texas Online, “In 1933 the legislature passed a law establishing rules for the proper display of the flag and providing for a pledge to the flag: “Honor the Texas Flag of 1836; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one and indivisible.” The pledge erroneously referred to the 1836 national flag, known as David G. Burnet’s flag, instead of the Lone Star Flag. Senator Searcy Bracewell introduced a bill to correct this error in 1951, but the legislature did not delete the words “of 1836” until 1965.  The pledge was again amended by House Bill 1034 during the 80th Legislature with the addition of “one state under God. The revised wording became effective on June 15, 2007.”