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TribWeek: In Case You Missed It

Grissom's three-part series (here, here and here) on prosperity and peril along the U.S.-Mexico border, Hu on the Division of Workers' Compensation audit report, Stiles puts more than 3,000 personal disclosure forms filed by politicians, candidates and state officials online, M. Smith on attempts to curb the practice of barratry (better known as ambulance chasing), Ramsey interviews the chair of the Texas Libertarian Party, Hamilton on attempts to improve the success rates of community colleges, Galbraith on whether electric deregulation has helped or hurt Texans, Aguilar talks to a chronicler of the bloody narco-wars and Ramshaw on doctors who most often prescribe antipsychotic drugs to the state's neediest patients: The best of our best from July 12 to 16, 2010.

The best of our best from the week of July 12th.

As the savage drug war rages on in Juárez, both the fun and the business have fled, bringing to El Paso, its sleepy sister city, a vibrant new culture and an economic boost. In a tragic irony, a measure of El Paso’s recent fortune results directly from the suffering of Juárez. But experts warn that El Paso leaders rely on Juárez’s decline at their own risk. Ultimately, as Juárez goes, so goes El Paso, they say.

For decades, residents of impoverished Mexican border towns have toiled in the cotton and alfalfa fields or in the giant factories of Juárez. Those seeking more than paupers’ wages worked for the cartels. Yet their communities remained peaceful until the horror of the drug war bled into the farmland. As the violence worsens, law enforcement has rushed to both sides of the Rio Grande — but greater security brings little comfort and little hope.

For years, the sister cities of Presidio and Ojinaga watched jealously as other border cities prospered. Now when they look east to the Rio Grande Valley and west to El Paso and Juárez, they see fear and bloodshed, and the envy fades to thankfulness. The poverty and isolation that have held them back keep the violence at bay. But for how long?

State auditors found muddled chains of command, missing files and a massive backlog of cases when they dug into the enforcement process at the Division of Workers' Compensation, according to a report released Thursday. The findings support the claims of former employees who exited the division this year amid complaints of stalled action on dozens of cases against workers' comp physicians accused of abusing the system.

Politicians, candidates and other state officers are required to disclose their personal finances, to discourage conflicts of interest and, according to the law, "strengthen the faith and confidence of the people of this state in state government." Yet getting these documents isn’t easy, so we've put all 3,070 available online.

Curbing the practice of barratry — "ambulance chasing," in the vernacular — has prompted an uneasy alliance between tort reformers and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association: They agree on reform ... just not on the form it should take.

Texas Libertarian Party Chairman Pat Dixon helped get the Party on the ballot in 2004 and to keep it there ever since. He talked with the Tribune about Libertarians, how they relate to the two major parties in Texas, what's going on with the Green Party right now, and whether third parties stand a chance in state elections.

The majority of students who enroll in community colleges never make it out with a credential. Some Texas schools are turning to Achieving the Dream, a national initiative that requires them to own up to their problems and improve those success rates.

Since 1999, when then-Gov. George Bush signed a law that deregulated the Texas electricity market, a debate has raged about whether and how much the move has benefitted ordinary Texans. Who's right?

Charles Bowden, the author of Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields, talked with the Tribune about how he keeps his sanity, when the narco-wars will end and Mexican President Felipe Calderón's Pandora's box.

A Houston psychiatrist who uses clinically controversial brain scans to diagnose everything from anxiety to marital discord. A Plano music therapist who believes his Peruvian pan flute tunes cure mental illness. And a Beaumont child psychologist reprimanded for continuing to prescribe to a proven drug abuser. These physicians have written more prescriptions for potent antipsychotic drugs to the state’s neediest patients than any other doctors in Texas.

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