Category Archives: City of Houston

Tomas Q. Morin’s Machete

While I am awaiting the arrival of my copy of Tomas Q. Morin’s latest book of poetry, Machete, the Texas Standard provides us an interview with the accomplished poet, Rice U professor, and personal friend of mine from our days at Southwest Texas State University.

In his new collection, “Machete,” Mórin questions how to prepare his son for life in modern America. He explores the country’s legacy of racism and the importance of joy as a survival tool.

Texas Standard

Morin is currently on a virtual tour giving readings of his latest work and will be in Houston on November 2 at the Houston Public Library in conversation with recent Houston Poet Laureate Leslie Contreras Schwartz. More details soon.

Click here for interview. Purchase book here. And read the first poem in the book at Poetry Society, I Sing the Body Aquatic, as well as a few words about it.

Death Rate Soars Among Latinos in Harris County

And, yes, it is because of COVID-19.

Harris County Public Health District Deputy Director Gwen Sims said in 2020 the death rate among Hispanics jumped 46.6 percent from the previous year of which 22 percent of deaths were contributed to COVID-19.

County Commissioner Adrian Garcia said they must address disparities affecting this group and it starts with getting vaccinated.

Garcia said COVID-19 vaccine will save lives.

“It’s not like a hurricane where swift waters are taking someone and we we’re trying to figure out where’s the rope, where’s the ladder, who is the first responders to dive in and rescue a life,” Garcia said. “We can rescue lives today by those who are not vaccinated stepping forward.”

No doubt, the vaccination rate among Latinos in Harris County could be better, while Latinos also make up almost 30 percent of Harris County’s COVID-19 positivity these last few weeks. The weekly percentage of total residents of Harris County getting vaccinated has held steady at around 46% for Latinos. Almost half of vaccinations are going to residents age 12 to 29, according to the weekly average stats.

And Garcia brings up a good point that access to health care is a major issue in all of this as Latino deaths of all causes also rose 22%. Which means, if Latinos do not have access to take care of illnesses and comorbidities that are exacerbated by COVID-19, things will not improve.

I guess it’s a good time to remind Greg Abbott that expanding Medicaid will help in this regard. I guess we should remind voters, too, that Greg Abbott has done nothing but help worsen the death rate among all Texans.

Anyway, get vaccinated, mask up, and stay away from crowds and people outside of your circle.

Leaders Defying Greg Abbott

It’s been heartening to see school and local leaders begin the process of standing up to Greg Abbott’s mask ban; especially as schools begin to open up to students and staff.

Bexar County and Dallas County have won temporary restraining orders that allow them to call for masking up of schools. Last night, Harris County Commissioners voted to authorize the County Attorney Menefee to attempt the same.

Both judges cited public health needs in their decisions. Arteaga said she did not take her decision lightly. She cited the start of the school year and public guidance given by Woo concerning the need for masks in public schools as the highly contagious delta variant contributes to a surge in coronavirus cases across the state. Parker, meanwhile, wrote that “Judge Jenkins cannot be precluded from implementing the mitigation strategies he believes are sound, reliable, and backed by scientific evidence.”

Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton’s responses seem to be coming out of those frontier days when their own ancestors were spreading small pox to the original inhabitants of Texas. They both choose to go full on racist and blame brown people, instead. The facts are on our side, though.

Obviously, Abbott and his minions will appeal and place children and Texans in danger.

The worsening COVID-19 numbers are telling us that we need to mask up again and follow CDC guidelines for distancing. They’ve been telling us this for a while before many wanted to admit it. Over 10,000 Texans are hospitalized and hospitals are in crisis mode regarding room availability and staffing.

Greg Abbott’s “strong encouragement” of personal responsibility is coming late as vaccination immunity will still take time to improve the situation. Action is needed now and masks are the answer to slow the spread, as well as encouraging people to stop acting like fools and filling up venues and restaurants.

Keep masking, folks. Avoid crowds. Keep clean. And if you haven’t yet, get vaccinated. The City of Houston alone has over 30 locations around the city.

Just Like That, We Are Back At Red

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has placed us back at COVID-19 Threat Level RED (SEVERE) as the infection and hospitalization numbers are expected to worsen.

According to the threat level system, “severe” is enacted when there is a severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19, outbreaks are present and worsening and testing and contact tracing capacity is strained or exceeded.

Some hospital emergency rooms are indeed operating at full capacity amid the surgent and rampant spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.

It seems that those targeted by this threat level change are the unvaccinated since most cases of new infections are indeed from the unvaccinated. It calls for the unvaccinated to stay home. Seriously? But the threat does remain for the vaccinated.

“Breakthrough cases” among those who have been fully vaccinated are inevitable, especially among those without strong immune responses, Shuford said. “We know that no vaccine is perfect. They never will be.”

As I stated earlier, half of the country lives with illness, comorbidities, and/or are immunocompromised. There’s a reason why some of us were spending hours on our laptops trying to get a vaccine as soon as possible. I wish those in power would stop downplaying breakthrough cases and instead promote safety for all. Judge Hidalgo spoke to this reality that infection and spread can happen to the vaccinated, but simply targeting the unvaccinated is not enough. Hands must be held, or we are just doing a different brand of Greg Abbott’s “personal responsibility.”

While we are seeing more vaccination activity, the reality is that some are on their first shot, or on their only J&J shot and will take a couple of weeks to over a month (if 2 shots are taken) or so to reach their immune potential. I agree with the experts, like Dr. Hotez, that we need a vaccine mandate more than anything, but thanks to Greg Abbott’s “freedumb” campaign, it is not going to happen. Obviously, we need something that includes masks and other safety alternatives while the vaccinations happen.

Thankfully, Judge Hidalgo has also shown leadership in asking people to wear masks when indoors and around others, and that includes the vaccinated. At this moment, while we wait for people to reach their immune potential, masks are just about the only way to cut transmission–even a little. Either that, or stay home. For the most part, I intend to do the latter, even contemplating cancelling a vacation that I really need.

I won’t sugar coat how I feel. I’m really pissed off.

As the vaccinations were rolling out early on, I cringed at all of these vaccinated leaders appearing at events unmasked when we had not even reached 50% vaccination. Local self-proclaimed “leader” groups who claim to represent underrepresented people were hosting large events, unmasked, without even a clue as to an event’s vaccination rate when it is the underrepresented who are the least vaccinated! The White House also failed at incentivizing vaccination by unmasking the vaccinated to entice anti-vaxxers toward a shot. Hope springs eternal, but we were nowhere near a post-COVID reality.

The reality is that the unmasking of the vaccinated was too damn soon and incentivized behavior that only weeks before was considered bad or a threat to public safety. It didn’t help that businesses were opened up by Greg Abbott in the same manner with little vaccination effort on his part. You cannot declare victory when it’s not even half-time and this certainly didn’t encourage businesses to re-open slowly as everything seems to be a super-spreader, now.

As far as some of these self-proclaimed “leaders” are concerned, don’t call yourself one if you’re not willing to lead by example. And these leader failures are happening in organizations, school districts, universities, corporations, you name it. No one is willing to take a stand against Greg Abbott and right-wing republicans and for the people they are serving. And most are not leading by example when it comes to at the very least promoting and encouraging mask-wearing and vaccination. We aren’t talking shut-down, we are talking public safety.

Mayor Turner’s employee mask mandate and HISD Superintendent House’s move toward one for students have potential to spread leadership potential to others. Leaders must stand up to Greg Abbott.

The only way these recent and future vaccinations will work in the near future is if people lead today.

Kuff has more.

The Delta Variant Is Real

As I see certain local groups having unmasked mass events and Tejano music concerts filling up venues, I wonder: What’s the vaccination rate in the room?

For me, vaccination has not affected my mask-wearing as much. I still wear it while at the store or at places with a lot of people. Even during a ride on the trails when humans would mass up in certain areas, the mask gets pulled up. Given Harris County’s 50% fully vax’d rate, I’m not too trusting of anyone who gets in front of me.

The other day, I sort of left my guard down when I was at a restaurant (my first time) for a quick lunch during a med center area visit and actually removed my mask to eat. It was 30 minutes of nervous chewing and wondering if the maskless coming in the door were vax’d or anti-vax maskholes.

Obviously, I took the original COVID-19 seriously from the get-go. Even stocking up on Elderberry gummies to maybe pump up my immune system while waiting for my shot. After vaccination, I’ve still been careful, I’m still exercising, and other than the restaurant visit, still cooking at home. But the Delta variant has me nervous. And back on elderberry gummies.

While the government worries about vaxxing the unvax’d door-to-door (Biden wants to vaccinate people; Republicans want more death), I wonderered how being around those fools (those that choose unvax/unmasked life) would affect me, the vax’d one. Well, I’ve always known that the COVID-19 vaccine was not made to make one immune as much as it was made to reduce chances of hospitalization and death. So, the vaccinated can still get infected, though, the effects may not be as bad. Maybe. Bottom line: I don’t want it and the only way to reduce my chances of getting it is mass vaccination. Yes, even door-to-door to reach those with no access to vaccines. The idiots who whine and moan about masks and shots? They’re a lost cause and I still walk around them at the stores and in life.

So, I’m still not attending large, unmasked events. Even to Democratic Party events whose members seem to have a higher vaccination rate than most other groups. As the majority of people are going back to the office and vaccination rates stall, we cannot let our guard down. Mask up at work–even if your boss is walking around as if invincible. Alas, even the Biden administration’s rush to re-open has convinced many more that they are now invincible, if vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Pfizer and Moderna are now calling for vaccine booster shots for those who have already been vaccinated because of the increase in Delta variant cases and how fast it spreads. And because the effectiveness of the shots wanes after time passes. Sure, you may avoid hospitalization and death, but, again, you can still get infected and spread it to the unvax’d and others. The CDC (and Biden’s) nonchalant attitude toward this call for boosters worries me. Sure, they have the unvax’d to worry about, still, but some of us who were so responsible that we were online for hours searching for vaccines early on wouldn’t mind a boost.

And, don’t even get me started on folks who are immunocompromised, some who are already on a hard-to-get booster with hopes that its effectiveness lasts. There is a segment of the US population that lives in fear, but we don’t hear much about them from anyone at any level of government.

Anyway, I’m still masking. I’m still distancing. And I’m still playing it safe and avoiding large crowds, especially anti-vax maskholes.

Sheriff Ed Goes To Washington?

First of all, congratulations to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez on his appointment by the Biden administration to the position of Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

I met Ed while he helped get Adrian Garcia elected Sheriff back in 2008 and then rooted him on when he ran for City Council District H to take over where Garcia left off. Intelligent, compassionate, and responsive are a few good words to describe him. All-around good guy is probably the better descriptor. Professionally, I’d expect him to do a great job in pretty much any capacity.

That said, ICE has had a lot of problems since way before Trump made it worse. It had problems during the Obama era, too. It is a relatively new agency created after the racism and bigotry that came about post-9/11. No one on either side in DC seems to want to get rid of ICE or the detention boondoggles that come from it. Reminder: While President Biden has banned private prisons in the Bureau of Prisons, he didn’t budge at all on immigrant warehousing and remains steadfast in warehousing children–just through another department.

Whether one points to ICE, or anything under ICE, like the Border Patrol, these agencies were created from racist sentiment and their practices are continually just as racist. It’s easy to say that structural change is needed, and that the culture of these agencies must be changed; however, no one person can do that without really taking a wrecking ball to the entire agency and creating something better. Simply changing a policy here and there will not rid the agency of its racist and corrupt practices. That’s why we say #AbolishICE.

Well, it is obvious that President Biden does not have this in the plan and Democrats are too damn squeamish to do anything about it. Unfortunately, that means Ed Gonzalez will be receive the brunt of criticism from both sides of the issue–those who desire change and compassion versus those who want to round-up and warehouse anyone brown or foreign with impunity and for profit. The centrists will argue for something in-between, but they aren’t the people who have been historically abused and targeted by ICE. The rest of us will just hope for the best and know that whatever happens, it is Joe Biden who is in charge.

And, with this said, a recent article regarding the Biden administration’s upcoming review of the extremist threat within Homeland Security (which includes ICE) gives some hope, as long as it is an honest and thorough assessment. Or, as DHS Secretary Mayorkas stated, “As we work to safeguard the nation and our values, we must be vigilant in our efforts to identify and combat domestic violent extremism within both the broader community and our own organization. Violent extremism has no place at DHS and we will work with urgency and focus to address it.”

Detention Watch Network said it best in regards to Gonzalez’s appointment:

“People uniting for the rights and dignity of immigrants will soon have a new face to direct demands to at ICE, which include:

  • Releasing people from immigration detention halting deportations (including Title 42 expulsions) amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the interest of the health of those detained and the public.  
  • Closing detention facilities, including immediately ending all contracts with private prison corporations and state and local governments as a first step towards ending the harmful detention system entirely.
  • Adopting generous prosecutorial discretion guidelines in order to protect as many people as possible from detention and deportation. 
  • Ending state and local entanglement with immigration enforcement, reducing the pipeline to detention and deportation.

“Under Gonzalez’s leadership, we are eager to see immediate shifts in ICE’s culture and operations. During the Trump era the agency saw a constant revolving door of short-lived, draconian leadership that double-downed on cruel and punitive enforcement practices. If confirmed, Gonzalez must hit the ground running to meet immigrant rights advocates’ demands and peel back the layers of secrecy that have created a deadly culture of impunity at the agency, where accountability is evaded at every turn.”

“And while we are looking for transformative culture change at ICE, we know that the racist underpinnings of ICE will continue regardless of who’s in charge.  Ultimately, ICE’s premise for existing is rooted in white supremacy, rendering the agency rotten to its core. ICE needs to be abolished.” 

Houston organizing group, FIEL, had this to say:

We have worked with Sheriff Gonzalez for a number of years and what we can attest to is the fact that he has been and continues to be a man who listens to and takes input from the community.  We understand that the role he is about to undertake is a huge and controversial role and we wish him well in this endeavour. However we have some things we would not like to see again such as massive raids, lack of prosecutorial discretion and continued separation of hard working families.  Some of the things that we hope to see in policy changes would be: 1. We would like a more just and uniform application of prosecutorial/administrative relief. 2. No more massive raids which send a shockwave of fear into our communities destroying community and government relations. 3. A definite end to the 287G program and Secure Communities which are policies that Sheriff Gonzalez understands hurt communities. 4. Treat people more humanely by suspending the use of ankle monitors for people who do not pose a flight risk. 5. Ending the ‘Collateral Damage’ policy when it comes to ICE enforcement in our communities. We are hopeful for a more positive future for ICE and at the end that we will see the agency’s power diminish as we move forward on immigration reform.

FIEL Press Release 4/27/2021

Obviously, when someone you know “makes it,” you can’t help but be excited for that person. ICE, though, is one of those agencies whose history reeks of hate, racism, corruption and more. While the leadership of the agency under Biden may say one thing, it is the rank and file and their bigoted Border Patrol union and associated groups that get more attention from the media and add to the bigotry already promoted by the Republican Party and white supremacists, thus roadblocking any change that is proposed. It is my hope that Director(-designate) Gonzalez is able to change the culture of the organization to one that is more compassionate in the realm of migration and that controls its messaging from the top. It is long past due that migrants be treated with compassion–in policy and rhetoric–rather than criminalized and hunted by the largest police force in the country.

Best of luck to Ed Gonzalez.

Don’t Be A Maskhole!

While the Official State Bigot (Greg Abbott) is whining and blaming “the other” down in South Texas, his followers today begin to shirk their responsibilities and exercise their right to kill others as the Texas mask mandate no longer exists and Texas businesses have permission to open back up to 100% capacity in the middle of a pandemic that very much continues.

Regarding Abbott’s whining at the border, I remind all that people migrate from Central America because of the poverty and violence in their home countries. It doesn’t help that US policy in Latin America is a joke–no matter what party is in charge. Biden has proposed some ideas, but any assistance for those countries likely will come with rules–like whom they should elect as their leaders, instead of whom the poor and indigenous elect. And that’s a whole other debate. The US has only worsened the root causes of migration, whether in the form of political, military, or commercial intervention, and usually all forms at once. Abbott supports those policies, he just whines about how Biden deals with the effects of those policies because he longs to be the next Trump. The effects have always been the same, no matter who is in power, because the root causes remain in effect.

Meanwhile, we still have COVID-19 to address and Greg Abbott has been a complete failure in this regard. Thanks to the Biden administration, the vaccines are slowly increasing, as is access to them. The Democrats will finally pass a COVID-19 relief package that will bring the US closer to a safer re-opening (for most), if not normality. And this is Biden’s fault–I’ll give him that much credit. But I also see it as just simply doing the job that is demanded by the people.

Abbott’s and his followers tactics are all for the purposes of delaying whatever progress can be achieved while there are other challenges that must be addressed by the Biden administration–like immigration reform. The Republicans have always run on a delay and deny playbook when they are not in power (and a few “moderate” Dems have always helped them with that). Democrats should act like they have all the power in the world and make the changes that need to be made. Screw bipartisanship!

Anyway, MASK-UP! Practice physical distancing when out and about. Stay away from gatherings. Wash hands. And follow the CDC for the latest opportunities that may help open things up safely. Moreover, IGNORE Greg Abbott!

Abbott Signs Death Warrant on Texas

We’ve already talked about Greg Abbott’s intentional failures, but he has decided that Texas’ failures are a political opportunity for himself.

On March 2, the day some celebrate “Texas independence day,” Greg Abbott chose to show off Texas’ fake rugged independence and individualism by rescinding an order to comply with CDC mask guidelines and opening up the state to 100% capacity. Abbott always talks tough, but the numbers show he is more than willing to sacrifice Texans for his political career.

Abbott shot off opposite numbers during his campaign rally-slash-presser to make his case. In other words, instead of deaths and infections, he stated how many people had gotten better after contracting COVID-19 as an exhibit to prove why he needed to rescind the mandates. Plus, Abbott seems to think that with a miniscule amount of Texans having been vaccinated, that we are in the clear. The reality is that over 2 million Texans have been infected, with over half being people of color. Over 42,000 Texans have died with 60% being Brown and Black.

Because of a botched fight to control COVID-19, a too late effort by Trump and Abbott to enact mask and protocol mandates, and a botched vaccine roll-out while Trump was in office, the economy of the nation and Texas has tanked. Perhaps controlling the virus through earlier efforts could have lessened the economic toll, but what has actually happened is the opposite. Now, Abbott uses the background of a Mexican restaurant in Lubbock to show off a business willing to go along with 100% capacity to save itself, but not its customers. Thankfully, many small businesses are still requiring masks to enter. Unfortunately, Texas corporate hero HEB is only “urging” customers to mask up.

All that said, those who follow Abbott (and Trump, still) are plainly stupid or heartless or both. They live off of that feeling of faux independence and rugged individualism that has been written in the history books, yet are the first to whine when disaster strikes and blood is left in their hands. As some celebrate Texas, we must all realize how far this state has not come and how many people have been willfully killed through bad public policy since its inception.

And then we must ask,’ Who’s in charge?” And rid ourselves of stupidity and willful ineptitude.

My Vax Experience – Part 1

I got lucky on Thursday evening when the Houston Health Department opened up some slots for shots–the COVID-19 vaccine. I was quite surprised when I clicked the link and lo and behold, a page actually opened up that allowed me to sign up. Why was I surprised? Because, most times, the slots filled up within a few minutes. I felt quite lucky. So, I signed up and moments later received confirmation of my appointment for Friday morning.

With paperwork in hand, I drove over to the HHDs vax facility at Bayou City Events Center on Knight Road. Thankfully, I got in line early and made it into the parking lot within 15 minutes. (HPD and COH Mobility did a great job!) Another 15 minutes later, the staff in the lot had scanned the QR code on my printed-out email, checked me in, and I parked in a great space.

The first stop just inside the door was with the temp-taking guy who also wrapped your wrist with a green band. Then I was led into a room and told to go to a station. The nice woman at the station looked over my paperwork and a minute later, I was sent to another room–the main ballroom–where there were numerous nurses stations. I went to where I was pointed, sat with the nurse, answered a few questions, and a minute later, I was already sitting in the ballroom waiting for 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t grow fangs or have some reaction. One nurse walked by and even checked on me–I’m that special. Then, I was on my way.

I must say that the HHD staff and volunteers are running a tight ship. Along with great intake and nursing staff members, maintenance staff was on top of keeping things clean and sanitized. A lot of sanitizer was available and the bathrooms were clean. Also, I’d never been to this facility, but if anyone ever has an event and needs a DJ (when all this is over), give me a call. I offer great rates and great music!

Did it hurt? It was an injection through the muscle. You’ll feel something. Hours later, my upper arm felt sore, yet, no fangs grew out of me and the Russians have not tried to communicate with me. It’ll be different for everyone, I’m sure. I hear the 2nd dose is doozier, but I’m alright with that if it gets us closer to some sort of herd immunity.

My hope is that we get to a point very soon where we don’t need a race to the needle by way of a computer. Accessibility is as important as the community education that helps convince people to get inoculated, but more important is actual availability at-large. Also very important is the need to take the shots to the community members who are not able to drive to a location. As CM Letitia Plummer stated on Friday, while the FEMA vax site is a great thing, we must address accessibility for those who do not have access to an automobile.

Obviously, there is still a lot to be done. Out local leaders are doing their part and President Biden’s visit today provided some assurance that things are happening, including more vaccine production. But Congress must still pass the COVID-19 bill to ensure the supplies needed to provide the vaccines are purchased.

Well, that’s my experience. I will say that my stress levels are much lower now. Missing out on some of the vaccine sign-ups was indeed stressful. Now, I wait a month for dose #2. Hope you get your doses, as well.

On a more serious note, I cannot help but think about all of those whom we’ve lost. It didn’t have to happen. Of the 500K+, we’ve all known a few. My family has lost relatives and long-time family friends. The least we can do is get vaccinated ASAP so we can continue living and serving in the name of all of those humans.

Mask up, keep distancing, wash hands, and get your shot when you can!

Video of HPD Killing Nicolas Chavez Released

Four Houston PD cops were fired for the killing of Nicolas Chavez.

A well-prepared, yet, sickening video showing the various police bodycam vantage points of the Nicolas Chavez killing was released to the public  Thursday afternoon, with a play-by-play of the killing by the HPD Chief. The Chief and the cops union seem to have provided some points of defense for the fired cops, from a criminal case point of view.

It was not lost on me that the Chief (and therefore the City of Houston) took somewhat of a middle road in stating that at least two of the bullets shot into Chavez were “justified,” but that the final multi-cop volley of 21 shots were bothersome enough to fire the cops.

Of course, the cops union felt that all of the bullets were justified–even the last 21 shots. The Chief disagreed as the cops have been trained to use time as a means of deescalating a situation. I would think that allowing for more time in this situation would have effected a better outcome. The cops had already taken the time and used their training in attempting to do so.

I could go into what I think after watching the video, but I’ll leave that to the experts that I hope are utilized in explaining it to a grand jury. I just think that an already spent taser (left on the ground by one of the cops) that Chavez pulled toward himself using the wires that had already been shot into him would have done more damage to Chavez than to the cops based on what I’ve read about those contraptions. Therefore, 21 shots fired at will by four cops were not justified and such a violent reaction by the cops was not necessary.

The DA Kim Ogg has stated that the case will be presented to the grand jury once her people have reviewed the evidence. I hope it is presented well.

It is disappointing that it has taken over four months to get to this point. It would seem to me that the elaborate video presentation was more about defending the firing of the cops than about prosecuting a crime. The Chief has a knack for putting on a show when calling out crime and criminals to the cameras, but not in this case.

To watch the Chief’s presentation, click here.