The Land Grabs and the Carelessness of Fracking

By Nick Braune…

I am new to this issue and it has some technical sides, but I’ve learned enough about fracking lately to be concerned.

“Fracking” is short for hydraulic fracturing. A narrow hole is drilled deep down into the ground.  According to the website for the excellent documentary “Gasland,” produced by Josh Fox, drilling can go down 8,000 feet, 24 football fields down. Then a mix of water, sand and chemicals is repeatedly shot down the hole, with very high pressure, cracking open the hard shale and rock and releasing treasured natural gas.

Although across the country there is opposition to it, and although some areas have stopped fracking because it ruins the land and the water and causes mini earthquakes, it’s rampant in Texas. Remember when candidate Perry bragged about the Texas economy? — Well, fracking did contribute to that little boost in employment.  You can see signs of fracking driving from McAllen to San Antonio; it’s all over the state. (Incidentally, have you noticed all the ads recently for “clean,” “natural” gas?  These ads alone make me suspicious.)

The “Gasland” documentary received a 2011 Academy Award nomination.  One famous scene features a fellow in rural Pennsylvania where fracking is happening.  He showed the camera team that if he turned on his kitchen faucet for water, there would also be gas and chemicals coming out.  He held a lighter to the faucet and it looked like a flaming torch coming out — that’s how much gas and chemicals were in his water!  Matt Damon also is planning a film about the fracking craze, “The Promised Land.”

According to the “Gasland” website, in 2005 a Bush/Cheney energy bill created what’s called the “Halliburton loophole,” preventing environmentalists from objecting to fracking on the basis of the Clean Water Act, and exempting companies from disclosing the chemicals used in the process.  Now there is a speculative rush all over the country to get into it; the riches being promised by natural gas fracking are causing quite a burstable investment bubble.

A Reuters report (October 3) on gas “land grab” practices interviewed a couple in Arlington Texas who did not want to sell drilling rights to Chesapeake Energy Corporation — the couple opposed fracking.  (Watch how Gov. Perry’s Texas really respects property rights.)  The couple was pressured and offered money but would not sell, so Chesapeake went to a Texas state agency, got what is called an “exception,” and drilled under them anyhow.  The couple received no money.  Reuters investigated and found that Chesapeake has asked Texas for 1,628 such exceptions.  The state agency has turned down only five exception requests and granted all the rest.  And Exxon-Mobil has received about 800 such exceptions. 

I emailed Alyssa Burgin, an environmentalist who watches land and water issues and directs the Texas Drought Project, and I asked if the Reuter’s article was exaggerating about “land grab” practices. She agreed with the article.

Burgin said, when “landmen” approach landowners they often lie. “Landmen lie about how much money owners will receive, and about how clean they will leave the land. Worse, even when people clearly own both surface and minerals, landowners are told that they had better sign, or the companies will drill right next door, horizontally burrow under, and get their oil or gas anyway — so they ‘might as well sign.’”

Fracking is mean business, from beginning to end.     [This article first appeared in “Reflection and Change” in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, 10-7-12, but let me add here the following paragraphs as a postscript.] 

I also asked Alyssa Burgin a follow-up question about water issues, which I know she follows.  I had attended a presentation she helped organize in Corpus Christi, but had arrived late and didn’t quite understand if franking was a water-issue problem because it uses too much water or because it poisons the water somehow.  Her answer was interesting:

“There are two issues with water. First, I will address ‘produced’ water, the water that is used to frack and then either left in open pits or hauled away to who knows where. They use seven to ten million gallons of water per frack per hole in the Eagle Ford. That water is polluted with a laundry list of toxins–benzene, toluene, and a couple of hundred more chemicals, many of which are “proprietary,” and thus not revealed to the public. Some drillers say they can clean up the water to make it potable. Not possible. Even if there were a way to remove all the chemicals, in South Texas, there is so much uranium below ground that the water becomes radioactive. Now, the areas where they are fracking are among some of the most active farming areas–corn, cotton, alfalfa. Most of those crops died in this year’s drought, and it was not unusual to see dead corn next to fracking fields. The drillers compare their water use to water acreage used for agriculture in this state. But the agricultural water used returns to the hydrological cycle through trans-evaporation. The produced water does not.  

“And additionally, the second issue–there are some recorded incidents of contamination of wells and underground water resources from fracking. The industry says this is not true, but that is because they literally pay people to shut up; their legal awards to the victims require a gag order. No joke. You can drive through areas in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania where every single house has a big water tank in the yard, furnished by the same exact company. Clearly they are getting water as a result of an agreement with the drillers.  Unfortunately, because of short-sighted Texas law, and because we have a patchwork of water regs that vary from county to county, we have almost no way of determining how much of our water is gone. Forever.”


A Grassroots Leadership Report on Operation Streamline

By Nick Braune…

Back in 2005 a very profitable federal policy started up, Operation Streamline — for whom it is profitable would be worth exploring. It was a bad immigration enforcement change.

Historically, there has always been “unauthorized entry” into this country by people leaving poorer countries and looking for work. This is not surprising, this being the famous “nation of immigrants,” for goodness sakes. To be out of sorts with your paperwork, to be “undocumented,” was always a civil offense, a compliance issue, not a criminal offense. But in 2005 that changed considerably with Operation Streamline.

Back in 2005 the Bush crowd, and all their Republican and Democratic Party politician friends, were yelling about illegal immigration hurting the economy and even about “Arab terrorists” sneaking in from Mexico. At that time the “Minutemen” got plenty of press coverage, posing for pictures as they leaned against their pickups. (Minutemen groups were silly and miniscule, but the press liked them, and wacky Lou Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly, the anti-immigrant “populists,” praised their “patriotism.”) In 2005 Representative Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin was pushing his hate bill, HR 4437, which would almost make it a felony to talk to an undocumented worker. It nearly passed. That was the crazy year Operation Streamline started.

During the hoopla and hate climate of 2005, in Del Rio Texas — it’s a small, sleepy town about halfway between Brownsville and El Paso — the Border Patrol announced the new policy, a policy which they now use all along the Mexican border, except in California where there is opposition to it. (The Del Rio Operation Streamline started as a policy toward Central American immigrants, not Mexicans, but courts later felt that was discriminatory and so now Streamline targets Mexicans too.)

The Streamline policy runs undocumented civil offenders into court on criminal charges. Since 2005, many thousands of immigrants have been picked up (their wrists and legs shackled) and “streamlined” before magistrates. These immigrants, in assembly-line justice, immediately plead guilty and then are sent back to Mexico or Central America with a severe warning that they now have a criminal record and that a further pickup will bring surefire time behind bars. (If they hesitate to plead guilty, they are told they must wait in jail until a trial can be arranged. So, they all plead guilty.)

Bob Libal, the Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership, a human rights advocacy group, has coauthored a 27-page report, Operation Streamline: Costs and Consequences, and he forwarded me a copy. The report describes how $5.5 billion has been spent since 2005 “turning undocumented immigrants into federal prison inmates,” and enriching private prison corporations.

The report describes companies like Corrections Corporation of America getting rich through conveyor belt justice, which starts in local court rooms. For instance: “In Laredo, Operation Streamline client volumes are such that a Federal Public Defender must provide counsel to 20 to 75 clients in a span of just two hours. On Mondays, that number is regularly at 75, leaving each defendant less than two minutes to meet with an attorney.”

In Tucson, there used to be a procedure where perhaps 70 people together would all plea together, “guilty.” But a judge ruled that it violated the fine rules of criminal procedure, and now they all say it individually: “Guilty,” “Guilty,” “Guilty.” It sounds like Money, Money, Money for Corrections Corporation of America. The report is available online at

*** ***

Follow-up. The piece above first appeared in my regular column in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, 9-25-12. In order to publicize the report better, I emailed Bob Libal from Grassroots Leadership and asked him for a quick paragraph highlight of the report for carry-over purposes. He wrote back:

“Our new report explores the impact of Operation Streamline, the immigration enforcement policy that is driving unauthorized border crossers into the criminal justice system instead of the civil immigration system. This policy has overwhelmed border courts, has resulted in a historic shift in prison demographics with Latinos now making up more than 50% of those entering the federal prison system, and has become a $5 billion give-away to private prison interests, all at the expense of tens of thousands of immigrants who are sitting behind bars due to this policy.”

Libal also wanted to remind people in the Rio Grande Valley that because of Streamline, the Criminal Alien Requirement prisons are expanding, and the hated Tent City in Willacy Country (Raymondville) is now one of them.)

Ramsey Muniz Uncategorized

Ramsey Muniz: 'The world is not going to let them bury me in the prisons of America'

As supporters of Ramsey Muniz gather today in Houston, we share a recent letter forwarded by his wife, Irma.–gm

Dear Friends:
I share a personal letter sent to me by Ramsey.
–Irma Muniz

Your father has given lectures like you have no idea or thought. He takes me all the way back to when we, the roots of our Chicano cultural, political, and spiritual movement, would speak about freedom, justice, and about having a voice in America’s process like never ever before in our history. I would ask why it was that we, Mexicanos, were the majority of population in the entire South Texas and we would at times not even have one city council or school board member.

The conservative establishment was against me because I was arousing the consciousness of our people like no other in history. Before they knew it, Mexcianos, Chicanos, and Hispanic candidates were stepping forward in the life of democracy like never ever before. That is a history that was created with the help of God. Now we have Latinos, Hispanics, Chicanos, Mexican American U.S. Congressmen and Congresswomen and even Republican women as governors in New Mexico and in Nevada and all because we had a vision that one day we would be the majority and counted in this world. I sought happiness, peace, love, equality, and family love like never ever before and all of that has now gradually come to pass.

Even our young people are going to witness changes in the entire Southwest of the United States like never ever before in our history and they can mark that down because it is going to happen. How do I know? Well, they would have to communicate with the spirits who are in heaven and those spirits only communicate with those that God has chosen.

We will forever keep our hearts open and our souls ready to forgive those who never ever gave me a drink of water for my thirst, a piece of bread for my hunger, or a blanket to cover my body which was naked for days, weeks, and months shackled and chained the entire time.

The world is not going to let them bury me in the prisons of America which is what they desire to do. Otherwise they would be up front seeking my freedom. We do not wish to die in the prisons of America and we are going to do everything possible because my freedom is the freedom for the masses of humanity out there in the so-called free world



Whitewashing Election Fraud

By Greg Moses

IndyMedia Houston / North Texas / Austin / NYC /
Michigan / Atlanta / DC /

ILCA Online / Portside / CounterPunch / DissidentVoice / OpEdNews

Racism is best

known among white folks for the overt
ways that bigotry chooses to abuse. This is what

white liberals to excuse themselves from
charges that they are racist, because (God bless ’em)

they don’t set out to hurt anybody. But Ralph Ellison
titled his classic novel Invisible Man,

because racism
is a grim problem also of what white folks do not see.
And this problem persists

insufferably, right down to
this morning’s news.

On this day after the election-fraud

hearings led by
John Conyers and his Democratic colleagues at the
Judiciary Committee, I am

beginning to feel the
effects of racism’s one-two punch. On the overt side,
we have the written

testimony of Judith A. Browne,
acting co-director of the Advancement Project in


For Browne, whose testimony to the Conyers committee
is posted online, “voters

of color” have been targets
of Republican-led disenfranchisement in the elections
of 2000 and


Click to access brownevotestmt12804.pdf


2004,” writes Browne, “it became clear that there
were efforts underway to dust off Reconstruction

statutes in order to disenfranchise voters,
particularly minority voters.”

“There were clear warnings that challenges would be
used to disenfranchise voters,”

says Browne. “Prior
to Election Day in Nevada and Ohio, 17,000 and 35,000
challenges were

filed, respectively,
disproportionately in urban areas. (Over 17,000 of
the Ohio challenges were

filed in Cuyahoga County.)
In addition, poll observers registered in
unprecedented numbers in

Florida and Ohio, with the
intent to engage in massive challenges inside


Browne is referring to laws that allow pollwatchers to
act as

self-deputized vigilantes at voting precincts,
thrusting their bodies between ballot boxes

voters, demanding proofs of identification and

If you have never

seen this process at work, then you
might not feel the nausea. But I have seen them, the

shaven, starched-pants Republicans who show up
on election day to a black community center and

over old women with their dirty questions. Makes you
want to spank them on their freshly

cut heads. Didn’t
their mothers teach them no manners?

“The targets,” Browne

reports, “were new voters in
urban areas.” Or to put it more plainly, new Black
voters, the

“Vote or Die” crowd that P-Diddy was
trying to mobilize.

Add to this the “felon

purge” technique, in which
Republican Party officials, knowing that they are
working with

“felon” lists “tainted by racial
discrimination”, set out to challenge thousands of
voters by

the batch.

“This,” says Browne, “is voter suppression in 2004.”
And this is what

we may call racism of the overt
bigotry kind. Racism type one. On this form of

Browne’s statement continues for several more
pages at the Conyers hearing


Which brings us to racism type two, the invisibility
maneuver. For this type

of racism, it’s best to begin
with liberal columnists. Scan their morning-after
reports for

words like “minority”, “black”, “civil
rights.” Or try this Google test. First do a

search for Conyers hearings. Very good, lots of fresh
hits. Now try a news search for

Judith Browne
Advancement Project under “News.” See there. Your
search did not match any

documents (at 9:25 am CST).

Overt racism by right-wing Republicans is the core

at work here, but it is aided and abetted by
invisibility racism found in left commentators

media reports, who fail to center the civil rights
struggle. An issue that is clearly about

racism and
civil rights has been whitewashed into “voter fraud”
generica. Type one racism

answered with type two.
Browne’s careful citation of race-based discrimination
followed by

Browne’s invisibility in the press. The
one-two punch continues.

There may not be

much that can happen to change the
results of the presidential election, so the
whitewashing of

“election fraud” may not have an
immediate consequence for those who are focused on the

machine today. But here in Texas, Republicans
are taking three newly elected Democrats into a

process of hearings before a Republican-controlled
chamber. “Election fraud” is the

allegation that
Republicans are bringing against the Democrats.

In Texas, therefore,

the generic cry of “election
fraud” will very likely make invisible the crucial
civil rights

component that ties together the fates of
three would-be state legislators with racist powers

Ohio and Florida.

In particular, take the case of Hubert Vo, a

immigrant who beat a Republican powerhouse
by about 30 votes. If the Vo election is

by a Republican-led Legislature on whitewashed charges
of “election fraud”, then the

losers will be a
coalition of urban voters who worked hard on this
grassroots coup. And the

winners will be white
suburban voters, again.

Yet, if the pattern of injustice in

“voter fraud” is a
pattern that seeks to favor white suburban voters over
struggling urban

voters, wherever they are, then
making this pattern visible, for once, could tip this
30 vote

scale in Vo’s favor, and reverse for the first
time in more than 30 years a steady trend

Republican domination of Texas politics.

The white left is meaningless without

a civil rights
coalition. The sooner the white left embraces this,
in deed and word, the sooner

we’ll be able to see a
real future in front of us. The sooner, also, that a
national movement of

progressives can make a real
difference in the


Higher Education Uncategorized

Opinon: Perfect Backlash

The November feud between the Texas A&M University administration and the Young Conservatives of Texas over the impropriety of an “affirmative action bake sale” reveals that the concept of “diversity” need not entail a commitment to civil rights. Soon after the president of the university appealed to the YCTs for civility and diversity, he suspended civil rights in admissions.

Whether one opposes civil rights loudly and uncivilly, as with the bake sale, or loudly and civilly, as with the suspension of affirmative action, the common bond is opposition to civil rights as we know them in the 21st Century….

The administration’s emphasis on a strategy of “diversity” without civil rights serves to frame the process of admissions as something the University confers solely by its own good graces. This construction of the matter evades recognition that some applicants, as members of protected classes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, hold civil rights that the University is bound to respect.

The Texas Civil Rights Review documents the essential history of how Texas pledged to undertake affirmative action as a way to meet its responsibilities under civil rights law. The decision to suspend affirmative action breaks that promise and declares that Texas A&M will serve as its own authority in matters of civil rights enforcement.

(I don’t know where these recent developments leave the athletic department, which has been quite vocal in its opposition to the YCT bake sale antics. Now the coaches and recruiters work under a president who is telling the state’s elected leaders of color that he’s not going to respect their demands for civil rights at Texas A&M.)

Adding all this up, it is tempting to conclude that the administration is mostly irritated by the YCT lack of tack, presenting the Aggie attitude in ways that make the administration’s policies much more naked than they otherwise might have seemed. The YCTs also serve as a more scary alternative to leadership that at least recognizes the importance of diversity.

The YCT’s opposition to “diversity” policy as such reveals that attitudes of racist supremacy still thrive. They could not even tolerate the administration’s appointment of a “diversity officer.” In this context, the administration’s promise to provide “diversity” without civil rights may be viewed as a way of pandering to a climate of racist opinions.

The dramatized tensions displayed between the YCTs and the president over the question of holding an “affirmative action bake sale” served to keep the focus of the community mired in reactionary alternatives to the status quo.

Thanks to the YCT flap, the president is able to swoop in to “defend” his new diversity chief, announce a “bold new program” of pure salesmanship, and never mention that he is deliberately breaking commitments made by the state of Texas to federal offices of civil rights.

140 years after the emancipation proclamation the party of Lincoln returns triumphant to the South, so Southern that Lincoln is surely wincing at the meaning of it all. Whether we consider the “affirmative action bak sale” by the YCTs or the unilateral suspension of affirmative action by the administration, Texas A&M provides evidence that it is still a pre-eminent incubator of racist leadership. Keep an eye on those YCTs as their careers blossom before your eyes.

(Gates taught the YCTs a lesson all right: Looks kids, stop pushing cookies. Watch a real pro at work.)

In the end, the showcase dispute over the value of “diversity” does not mask the fact that there is no disagreement between the YCTs and the administration about the substance of civil rights. And without any clear commitment to civil rights there can be no “excellence in leadership.”

If we sum together Texas A&M’s suspension of its civil rights commitments and the Republican-driven redistricting plan that is now under judicial review, then we come up with an image of perfect backlash in Texas.

gm–last revised Dec. 12, 2003