When the sun rises over the Rio Grande Valley, the cries of the urracas - black birds - perched on the tops of palm trees swell to a noisy, unavoidable cacophony. That is also the strategy, it could be said, that local officials, health care providers and frustrated Valley residents are trying to use to convince Governor Rick Perry and state Republican lawmakers to set aside their opposition and expand Medicaid, a key provision of the federal health law.
The Rio Grande Valley has a load of troubles: high unemployment, low paying jobs, warring Mexican cartels, a meager tax base and legions of people without health insurance. While many of those woes seem incurable, expanding Medicaid to the region's uninsured is to Paula Gomez, who runs several local health clinics, a no-brainer.
"I think if we're not ready, if Texas doesn't buy in in the next three months, shame on us," she says.
Texas has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the nation - one in four Texans has no health coverage - and the rate in the Rio Grande Valley is even higher. Medicaid is closed to anyone earning more than $196 a month, leaving many working adults ineligible and without coverage.
Under the health law, the federal government would pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years, then 90-percent in subsequent years. As it stands, Texas would have to spend about $1 billion a year over the next three years, say Democrats, to receive $27 billion in federal matching funds.
But Governor Perry says Texas can ill afford to expand Medicaid, and he doesn't trust that federal government will pay its promised share. At a press conference last month, he blasted Obamacare's Medicaid provisions:
"Seems to me an appropriate April Fool's Day event, makes it perfect to discuss something as foolish as Medicaid expansion, and to remind everyone that Texas will not be held hostage by the Obama Administration's attempt to force us into the fool's errand of adding more than a million Texans to a broken system."
For now, uninsured patients in the Rio Grande Valley pay what they can for basic medical care, but specialty care - to follow up on a lump in the breast for example - is almost always out of reach without some type of insurance, including Medicaid, according to Dr. Henry Imperial, the Brownsville Community Health Center's medical director: "Once you diagnose a cancer, then what? How are you going to give me chemotherapy or surgery or radiation therapy?"
Hospitals in Texas end up with millions in unpaid bills and the counties, by state law, have to provide basic medical care to destitute residents. That's led a number of counties in the Rio Grande Valley — and elsewhere — to pass resolutions supporting the Medicaid expansion.
For local Republicans, that mild act of defiance against a powerful governor - who is opposed to every provision in the federal health law — can seem like political suicide. It's not something they're eager to draw attention to.
The county's top elected official, Republican Carlos Cascos says "It's contrary to what the [GOP] leadership in Austin is recommending but we thought it was important enough to take a position."
State Representative Eddie Lucio III, a Democrat from Brownsville, faces daunting odds in trying to persuade the conservative Republicans who control the legislature to buck Governor Perry and approve a bill to expand Medicaid in Texas.
Lucio says he's not sure what effect, if any, the resolutions by county officials, including Republicans like Carlos Cascos, are having. There is ample pessimism here in Brownsville that lawmakers 350 miles away in Austin will ever understand life in the Valley.
But since there is no hard deadline for when Texas or any other state has to sign up for the Medicaid expansion, health clinic director Paula Gomez is pressing on. She says she still remembers fighting the state to get drinkable water in the Rio Grande Valley, and she'll patiently fight this war too.
On a bright and warm Saturday morning, there's a steady flow of people dropping off donations at Martha's Table, a charity in downtown Washington, D.C. A mountain of plastic and paper bags stuffed with used dresses, scarves, skirts and footwear expands in one corner of the room. Volunteers sort and put clothes on hangers. They'll go on sale next door, the proceeds of which will help the needy in the area.
It's a scene played out across the U.S.: people donating their old clothes, whether through collection bins or through large charities, to help others.
Melissa Vanouse donates clothes a couple times a year.
"I think it all pretty much stays local, that's kind of the idea," she says.
But it doesn't. Martha's Table, like other charities, only has so much room and can only keep clothes for so long. At some point, charities call in a textile recycling company.
About 80 percent of the donations are carted away by textile recyclers, says Jackie King, the executive director of Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, a trade association for textile recyclers. She says that means about 3.8 billion pounds of clothing that is donated each year is recycled.
"Thirty percent of the materials are made into wiping cloths that are used in commercial and industrial use," she says.
About 20 percent of the donated clothes and textiles are converted into fibers that are then made into a variety of other products, including carpet padding, insulation for autos as well as homes, and pillow stuffing.
King says nearly half the donated clothes - about 45 percent - is exported.
A forklift shuttles large pallets stacked with bins of donated clothes at Mac Recycling on the outskirts of Baltimore. A large section of the warehouse is packed with colorful 800-pound bales of clothing ready to ship out.
Robert Goode, the owner of Mac Recycling, says textile recycling is a huge international industry. He says his small warehouse alone ships about 80 tons of clothes each week to buyers throughout the world, including Central America, South America, Asia, Africa and Europe.
"Pretty much you can pick any country and there's a market for these items," he says.
Goode says when the shipment arrives overseas, a wholesaler will break down the bales and send the clothes into different markets. At each step along the way in this process, someone makes money from the donated clothes.
"It is an extremely competitive business ... items are bought and sold by the pound and you can literally make or lose a deal over half a cent a pound, quarter of a cent a pound," Goode says.
He says the business has changed dramatically over the years. Customers in foreign markets are now setting up their own operations in the U.S., cutting out a middleman. King, SMART's executive director, says textile recyclers are still finding strong demand for used clothing. But she says selling cheap garments, like those made in Bangladesh, is becoming increasingly difficult.
"I think one of the problems when they're trying to sell the clothing abroad is the distinction between what's good quality used clothing versus clothing that has maybe not been manufactured to the highest standards," she says.
King says ultimately she hopes that more clothes — of good quality — are donated every year. Her organization, SMART, says 85 percent of all the clothing sold each year ends up in landfill.
Tech giant Apple used a "complex web of offshore entities" to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes in the U.S., a congressional investigation has found.
In a statement Monday, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said:
"Apple's claim[ed] ... three key offshore companies are not tax residents of Ireland, where they are incorporated, or of the United States, where Apple executives manage and control the companies. One of those Irish subsidiaries has paid no income taxes to any national tax authority for the past five years."
"Apple wasn't satisfied with shifting its profits to a low-tax offshore tax haven," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who chairs the panel. "Apple sought the Holy Grail of tax avoidance. It has created offshore entities holding tens of billions of dollars, while claiming to be tax resident nowhere."
The Senate subcommittee holds a hearing Tuesday on the company's practices.
Sen. John McCain, the panel's ranking member, called Apple "among America's largest tax avoiders."
The subcommittee's statement detailed some of Apple's practices:
"Apple established at the apex of its offshore network an offshore holding company that it says is not tax resident in any nation. That subsidiary, Apple Operations International, has no employees and no physical presence, but keeps its bank accounts and records in the United States and holds its board meetings in California. It was incorporated in Ireland in 1980, and is owned and controlled by the U.S. parent company, Apple Inc. Ireland asserts tax jurisdiction only over companies that are managed and controlled in Ireland, but the United States bases tax residency on where a company is incorporated. Exploiting the gap between the two nations' tax laws, Apple Operations International has not filed an income tax return in either country, or any other country, for the past five years. From 2009 to 2012, it reported income totaling $30 billion."
Another example offered by the panel:
"A second Irish subsidiary claiming not to be a tax resident anywhere is Apple Sales International which, from 2009 to 2012, had sales revenue totaling $74 billion. The company appears to have paid taxes on only a tiny fraction of that income, resulting, for example, in an effective 2011 tax rate of only five hundreds of one percent. The third Irish subsidiary is Apple Operations Europe. In addition to creating non-tax resident affiliates, Apple Inc. has utilized U.S. tax loopholes to avoid U.S. taxes on $44 billion in otherwise taxable offshore income over the past four years, or about $10 billion in tax avoidance per year."
Levin and McCain plan to issue a 40-page memorandum with findings and recommendations on Tuesday. Among those testifying at the hearing are Apple CEO Tim Cook and other top executives at the company.
Our colleague Andy Carvin has scanned Twitter in search of reaction, including photos and video, from the massive tornado that swept through central Oklahoma on Monday.
Among the tweets:
Sidney Montoya of Oklahoma City says he is "Praying for my little cousins in Moore, their elementary school just got hit by the tornado."
And Dennis Varghese, who also lives in Oklahoma City, says: "Just overheard a lady break down and say, 'my house is gone!' and now worrying about her kids. Please pray."
A warning that some of the language below on Andy's Storify page could be offensive to some of our readers.