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PoliticACL

With prominent anti-war and anti-death-penalty spokesman Steve Earle on the bill at Austin City Limits, there was always going to be a dash of politics. But an unexpected and lengthy round of political applause was reserved for British post-prog rocking headliners (and belated The White Stripes fill-ins) Muse.

They began their encore by playing a recording, and projecting on the screens, highlights of a speech delivered by President John F. Kennedy at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on April 27, 1961. Their edited version is repeated here in full. Just for fun.

"The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence, on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice. It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations. Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no secret is revealed. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people, confident that with your help, man will be what he was born to be, free and independent." - John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 Read More | 2 Comments »

Local 10:34AM Mon. Sep. 17, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Clinton City Limits

The massive cues, the devoted fans, the wrist bands, the security … no, not ACL, the Bill Clinton signing at Bookpeople on Friday.

It was, in many ways, the typical hyper-security, "empty your pockets and spread 'em" presidential book signing. However, since the first hopeful signee got there at 4am, and there were over 100 by 7.30 am, it was perfect grazing territory for political pundits to stalk the lines, hoping to get some signatures/debates/support for whatever cause they were promoting.

Former State Rep Glen Maxey was working the line, convincing people to remember to register to vote (oh, and by the way, did he mention that he's running for Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector?) Then the South Austin Democrats were promoting their Yeller Dawg Awards Event next month. Then, as if to provide some unwanted balance, local self-proclaimed Clinton expert Robert Morrow, running his "anyone but Hillary" campaign. He did this by handing out fliers accusing the affable white-haired gentleman signing books upstairs and his wife of rape, murder and cat stealing. And, of course, some of Alex Jones' acolytes.

The biggest kudos and gratitude was actually reserved for the vendors selling water and breakfast burritos. Read More | Comment »

Local 9:18AM Mon. Sep. 17, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Kibosh Cap Metro's Fee Increase

Quick heads up: the last chance for public comments before the Capital Metro board meets to approve increasing fares is right around the corner. Monday, September 17, 5 pm is last public hearing on fare hikes, at the Capital Metro Board of Directors meeting, Capital Metro Administration building, 2910 E. 5th Street. Bus riders: The Silver Dillo, lines 17 and 300 all run out there.

For more info, check out the Bus Riders Union. Read More | 2 Comments »

Local 11:55AM Fri. Sep. 14, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Iraq Forever

Just one thought on the president's speech last night – or more accurately, on the media coverage of the president's speech last night, effectively keeping American forces in Iraq through the end of his presidency, and returning the "surge" troops under the auspice of reducing troop levels – never mind the fact that they were always destined to be brought home at that time.

Surely, I won't be the only to note it, but while the main three networks billed the Bush speech as a "special report," "presidential address," or somesuch, at the bottom, FOX had "Iraq: Moving Forward." Hmm … Then they segued straight back into "Don't Forget the Lyrics," while NBC, ABC and CBS carried the Dem response. Not terribly shocking, but more bald-faced than usual? Signs of desperation all around … Read More | Comment »

National 10:36AM Fri. Sep. 14, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Single-Member Districts On Tap Tonight

The thankless souls comprising the Charter Revision Task Force are meeting tonight to discuss possible single-member district setups for future City Council elections. (Currently, it's an entirely at-large system critics says don't give sufficient voice or accountability to Austin's citizens.) As Kimberley Reeves' article for us a week or so back made clear, without enough community buy-in, it runs the very-real risk of running into the ground again.

The city must have the same worries, so they're encouraging peeps to show up tonight. Here's their presser:

Charter Revision Committee encourages public input

The public is encouraged to attend and provide feedback at the next Charter Revision Committee meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, in the Boards and Commissions Room at Austin City Hall, 301 W. Second St.

The Charter Revision Committee is charged with reviewing and reporting on the advisability of a charter amendment proposing single-member districts or a combination of single-member and at-large seats for Council member elections. Currently, the City of Austin uses an at-large system.

“It’s very important that the Committee receive as much public input as possible as we move forward with making a recommendation to Council,” said Committee Chair Gus Garcia, a former Mayor. “We’re open to reviewing any suggestions you may have about the future of Austin’s framework for Council member elections.”

Garcia stressed that committee members seek public participation and input at all Charter meetings scheduled through January 2008.

The Charter Revision Committee was established by vote of the Austin City Council on April 5, 2007. Each Council member has appointed a representative of the community to serve on the committee.

Following completion of its review, if the Charter Revision Committee recommends any change to the current election system it will then be presented and considered by the City Council for a Charter Amendment ballot. An election could be conducted as early as May 2008.

Information regarding the Charter Revision Committee, its work and information presented at previous meetings can be accessed on the City of Austin Web site at www.cityofaustin.org/charter.

The Committee meets tonight at 5pm in Council chambers; more dates below the fold. Read More | 2 Comments »

Local 11:50AM Thu. Sep. 13, 2007, Wells Dunbar

City Hall About to Explode?

Eclipsed by City Council's adoption of the Fiscal Year 2008 budget on Monday was another item of no small importance. Before the 11th-hour social services spend-a-thon marking the budget passage, the dais unanimously passed an item from council allocating $40,000 for "executive search and recruitment services" in the city's search for Toby Futrell's replacement as City Manger, and a companion item funding it out of the city's one-time funds.

Mike Martinez, who has no love lost with Futrell, called the incident "another joke." "It should've never had to be an item from council," Martinez told Chronic. "It was a directive from the City Manager: 'Mayor, Council, you guys are owning the search [with this item.]' That's fine, the way she portrayed it. But the bottom line is under her administrative authority she wasn't going to add an item looking for her successor. And to say we had to take it from one-time expenditures – there's enough in HR budget." As the City Manager's office is the one preparing the council agenda, it's interesting if she wouldn't put the item up of her own volition. Hell, we probably wouldn't either, but that's probably why we're not in public service.

See Beside the Point in tomorrow's Chronicle for more with Martinez regarding fallout from his Futrell flame-war. Things sound very tense at City Hall right now. "I don't know but I can tell you the sentiment is growing among staff; council members are talking about it," says Martinez. "If things continue to go in the manner they have, they'll have to be some changes." Read More | 2 Comments »

City Hall Hustle 4:26PM Wed. Sep. 12, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Austin City Store: A Taxing Place?

Lee Leffingwell writes in regarding funding for the Austin City Store, which we discussed in our live-blog of the budget adoption Monday. (We said, "Leffingwell's iterating that no tax dollars were used to subsidize snowglobes, just mainly hotel taxes. Wait, that's a tax …") The council member says:

One thing: On the City store deal - what I said was '...there was never any Austin taxpayer money involved..." (very careful in that choice of words.) Of course it was "taxpayer money", but no Austin taxpayers paid it - unless they were in the "doghouse" and had to go spend the night in a hotel and therefore paid the hotel tax for a room there.

The point was that there would be no benefit to Austin taxpayers by closing the store -- the money saved could not be used (by state law) for any other purpose.


Remember kids, the company store closes Sept. 29. Don't let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya … Read More | 4 Comments »

Local 12:21PM Wed. Sep. 12, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Spirit Warriors: Made in China?

Passed along without comment from Chronic's inbox:

A news story featured on Nightline and World News Tonight has made its way to your local area. A Walmart store in your area is currently selling an entire line of Christian Toys called Tales of Glory. This is the first time that a national retailer like Walmart is carrying Christian toys. You have a rare opportunity to cover the story from a local level and get video or pictures of the toys on the shelves at Walmart, something that has not been done.

This toy line includes a Talking Jesus Doll that speaks Bible verses such as John 3:16. The Jesus Doll in particular is selling incredibly well and based on current sales will be sold out before Christmas. Is the Tales of Glory Jesus Doll this years "Tickle Me Elmo"?

To find out which store in your area has Tales of Glory visit our Wamart Store Locator at www.one2believe.com.


And their coda: The Battle For The Toy Box Is On! Read More | 2 Comments »

National 10:46AM Wed. Sep. 12, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Proof that Cops Always Have the Best Stash, Pt. 3

Here’s a tip: If you want to haul a large stash of pot from the border up to Austin, it would probably be a good idea to have a driver’s license, to have a front license plate on your car, and to obey the posted speed limit. And, hell, it’d probably be smart to have a good cover story in place too. (Just a thought.)

Case in point: On Sept. 5, Travis Co. Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brett Hellerud spied a black Chevy Camaro (sans front plate) speeding northbound on IH-35. He pulled the car over only to find that 20-year-old driver Frank Gabriel Martinez didn’t have a driver’s license – but he did have a female passenger, and a lame story to tell. In an affidavit for Martinez’s arrest, Hellerud wrote that Martinez told him that he was driving to Austin from Brownsville to see his girlfriend’s suicidal brother. But when Hellerud asked Martinez’s female passenger (traveling with her two-year-old child) where the two were headed she said they were on the way to Houston to “just hang out.” (Apparently she lacks a keen sense of direction and, quite possibly, any sense of fun – hanging out in Houston? Yikes.) Read More | Comment »

Reefer Madness 4:28PM Tue. Sep. 11, 2007, Jordan Smith

Feds: More Roads Will Save Us

It used to be that the future of transport was going to be atomic-powered jet packs strapped to our foreheads. Now it's corridors.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has decided that as part of its Corridors of the Future project, to solve what it calls "national congestion relief," it's going to spend $17 billion in federal funds on six major highways. Big chunks of two of these roads run through Texas: I-69 (aka the infamous Trans-Texas corridor) and I-10 from California to Florida, running parallel to the Mexican border from El Paso to Orange. Texas is on-line to get $6 billion of the I-69 cash, plus potentially part of another $8.6 billion for easing up congestion on I-10.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, they're expecting total travel on the whole length of I-69 to be 23 million vehicle miles per day by 2015. Just a thought, but any possibility of some of that de-congestion cash going on, say, investing in long-distance rail freight? Read More | Comment »

State 1:26PM Tue. Sep. 11, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Saying Goodbye to the City Store

Well, of all the complaints you can make about the city, message discipline ain't one. Minutes after a motion from Brewster McCracken shitcanned the Austin City Store – the gift shop in City Hall requiring subsidies to stay afloat (this after it was revealed the city's since-departed Chief Financial Officer's wife landed a consulting gig opening the place – how hard was it to line up some plush armadillos and Leslie magnets?) – the city sent out a press release announcing the store will close its doors forever Sept. 29. Can this be the beginning of the end of Enron on the Colorado?

The presser:

The Austin City Store will formally close its doors following normal business hours on Saturday, Sept.29. The store’s closure follows a unanimous vote today by the City Council to eliminate funding for the store in the Fiscal Year 2008 Budget.

Through the end of this month, the City Store will work to sell its existing inventory of Austin-focused items. When the store closes its doors, the remaining inventory will be sent to the Austin Convention Center where items will be sold at kiosks during major events.

The Austin City Store, located at the northwest corner of Austin City Hall (301 W. Second Street), has operated in the thriving Second Street Retail District since December of last year. Featuring more than 1,400 square feet of shopping space, it was designed to spotlight products that promote City services and Austin’s history, cultures and environment.

The Austin City Store is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Customer parking is available in the Austin City Hall parking garage.
Read More | 3 Comments »

Local 10:33AM Tue. Sep. 11, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Straw Pollsters

In the interminable crawl to next year's presidential elections, the tiniest of events can become fascinating, (even if it's just to break the tedium.) There's few events tinier than non-binding straw polls, and both Texas Dems and Republicans have had theirs now.

First off, the Republicans had their "pay to vote" straw poll in Houston on Sept. 1, which handed Californian US congressman Duncan Hunter what may be his only victory of the campaign. Meanwhile, on Monday morning, the Democrats announced the results of their wholly unbinding, unscientific and fairly worthless ePrimary, an online exercise in wild surveys. The winner was not as wildly unexpected as in the Republicans: John Edwards, often regarded as the Dem dark horse, won with 37%.

However, the Dems – and especially the Edwards camp – played it smart. The winner's wife, Elizabeth Edwards, turned up for the photo-op. So instead of it being a "remember, folks, this is just for fun" event, it became a stump speech that all the Austin-based print and broadcast media turned up for (and then scratched their heads over how they would turn this into a news item.) By turning this into a bragging rights affair, Edwards may have made the Texas straw poll more useful in their race for the White House than the actual primary may be. Read More | Comment »

State 9:14PM Mon. Sep. 10, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Beware the Perry-nator

It was Gov. Rick Perry vs Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this past weekend, and the prize seems to be the future of the Republican party.

Perry had been invited to attend the California Republican Party Convention in Indian Springs, CA last Friday. The major thrust was supposed to be Arnie warning the party faithful that yelling for God, Guns and Small Government strips votes away and alienate independents.

So what does Perry do? Play to the base. In a rip-roaring, moderate-bashing speech, he said that the only true Republicans were conservative Republicans, and evoked the spirit of Ronald Reagan. He went after all the traditional targets – global warming, a nuclear middle east, and the specter of a second Clinton administration. He even went after his host, muttering darkly about Republicans that vote and act like Democrats, saying "It’s a sad, sad state of affairs when liberals campaign like Republicans to get elected, and Republicans govern like liberals to be loved. We need to hold the line on what it means to be a Republican which is, of course: being conservative." Read More | 2 Comments »

National 12:33PM Mon. Sep. 10, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Live-Blogging the City Budget Adoption

So here we are – about to start adoption of the final Fiscal Year 2007-08 Budget for the City of Austin. But, despite there being three days scheduled to do so, odds are your boy won't be typing that long. (I hope not!) The previous couple years were short, sweet and literally scripted; each council member taking turns to announce funds for their pet project, it was like some awesome Christmas morning the kept going.

However, that was then. This budget's been far more politically charged, with council members bucking against the City Manager's preparation. Plus, as she budgeted most of the discretionary spending already under the auspice of "council priorities," there's far fewer scraps to fight over – a move more Machiavellian readers might ascribe to a divide-and-conquer ideology on Futrell's part.

More in a moment.

Sitting behind the AV control-table, I see iTunes running, raising the frightening prospect of a theme song. Last year, when the budget was adopted, the PA started blaring – no shit – "My Future's So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades)." Guess "My Future's So Bright (I Got no Choice but to go with the Highest Property Tax to Close a $27 Million Gap") was unavailiable.

Kate Alexander suggests the Star Trek theme, bringing this whole endeavor full circle.

Whole gang is finally on the dais. Should start any moment now …

Wynn has called the meeting to order, describing the process. "Lots of input, lots of analysis … Big and complicated."

Items 1 and 2 pertain to the search for a new City Manger - authorizing up to $40,000 for a search to find Futrell's replacement. And it passes …

Read the continuing coverage inside … Read More | Comment »

City Hall Hustle 9:56AM Mon. Sep. 10, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Score One for Michael Moore

Medical insurers can no longer say that some sorts of unpaid insurance claims are the Federal government’s responsibility. On August 31, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that five Texas hospitals can sue health care benefits provider Aetna Inc. directly without having to go through a complicated appeals process.

The hospitals - Christus Health Gulf Coast, Christus Health Southeast Texas, Gulf Coast Division Inc., Memorial Hermann Hospital System, and Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas – claimed Aetna had attempted to avoid being sued under state law by using the Federal Medicare Act as a shield. The hospitals did not have a contract with Aetna, but with North American Medical Management of Texas. However, Aetna’s wholly-owned subsidiary NYLCare paid NAMM to provide healthcare under the Medicare+Choice program.

When NAMM was placed into supervision conservatorship by the Texas Department of Insurance in August 2000, they were alleged to have underpaid on 6,000 individual claims for a total of $14 million. The five hospitals sued Aetna in Harris County, arguing that, under the Texas Insurance Code, Aetna was liable for NAMM’s underpayment. Aetna argued that the hospitals would have to appeal each claim fully through the federal administrative system. Initially, the Harris trial court and the Court of Appeals both dismissed the lawsuit, finding they had no jurisdiction. Describing those judgments as turning the Medicare administrative system into a “de facto claims administrator”, the Supreme Court overturned them and returned the case to the trial court. Read More | Comment »

State 2:27PM Fri. Sep. 7, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Dennis the Menace Under Attack

So while you're stuck in your car, pumping out fumes, keep listening to the radio for the latest campaign against the state's biggest friend to polluters. Eco-lobby group Environmental Defense is to launch a series of radio and billboard ads against Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. He's chair of the House Environmental Regulation Committee, which made more than a few eyes roll when that appointment was announced.

Nicknamed Dennis the Menace, Bonnen is notoriously charmless, bullying and dismissive of any contrary viewpoint in committee (Chronic once saw him lay into Austin City Assistant Manager Rudy Garza for no good reason, and it was ugly.) More importantly, he's got a solid rep for killing in his committee any bill that might put a bigger burden on polluters. As Environmental Defense points out on their website, last lege session 15 bills that would have improved air quality never got past his tender ministries. Meanwhile, Bonnen sponsored a bunch of bills that would have made life easier for polluters, like House Bill 2875, which if passed (which, fortunately, it didn't) would have made "I didn't know it was polluted when I dumped it" a decent defense against litigation.

To catch the ads, go to StopDennisTheMenace.com. Read More | 1 Comment »

On the Lege 12:27PM Fri. Sep. 7, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Clear?

Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst were doing the rounds of schools in Austin, Houston and San Antonio today to ceremonially sign (i.e. photo-op) Senate Bill 7, the defibrillators in school bill.

SB 7 requires all schools to carry an automated external defibrillator, and have one available at all sporting events. According to House Research Organization stats, 15 Texas students have died of heart attacks in the last 10 years. The fiscal note expects the state will have to buy an extra 11,200 defibrillators: at $1,500 a pop, that’s over $20 million just to buy, never mind maintain and replace. There will be a training program, which is a good thing, because studies published in journals Resuscitation and Academic Emergency Medicine both say even short exposure to an AED increases the ability to use it correctly. The bill also ensures that staff will not be liable in court if they use the paddles.

There would seem to be even less doubt about the medical benefits if the other half of this bill, which introduces heart health examinations for school kids, at a cost of roughly $58 per child. There is to be a pilot program under which six-year-olds will receive a free electrocardiogram and echocardiogram, to look for any possible cardiovascular problems. But there may be a downside. If every child in Texas is being screened for heart conditions, doesn’t this give medical insurers a fantastic opportunity to say, “oops, sorry, pre-existing condition, can’t cover you”? Read More | Comment »

State 4:14PM Wed. Sep. 5, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Texas Constitution Gets Polished Up

The House Research Organization put out a list of all 16 constitutional amendments that will be appearing on the November 6 ballot papers. Before you get all excited about the possibility of some new rights (pants back on, nude hitch-hiker advocates of Texas) most of them are basically house-keeping and book-keeping.

First, there’s the money money money, and there’s a lot of bond issues on the table. All bonds have to be approved, and this year there’s a total of $9.75 billion waiting to be released. $500 million of that goes for student loans, so doesn’t actually count towards the state debt limit. Over half the rest – $5 billion – goes on road repairs; $3 billion for cancer research; $1 billion for state agency construction and repair projects; and a teeny-tiny-but-we’d-still-take-it $250 million for water and sewer services for economically distressed areas.
But while bonds may be going out, property taxes may, well, at least go up less. Prop. 3 would limit ad valorem tax hikes to 10% per annum, while Prop. 5 gives cities with less than 10,000 people the power to freeze taxes if they’re applying for certain development grants. Best of all is Prop. 10, which finally brings Texas’ rules on tax breaks for disabled veterans into line with Veteran’s Administration recommendations.

But for anyone looking for a change in the rules of governance, there’s always Prop. 11, written by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas. This would automatically enter into the journal which way all reps and senators went on a record vote on a bill. This would replace the current system whereby it takes three legislators requesting it be recorded. Keeping track of how the lege votes? Now that’s crazy talk. Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 2:10PM Wed. Sep. 5, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Brother, Can You Spare a Council?

Likely looking to cut off controversy before it began, Jennifer Kim started off last week's City Council meeting by pulling an item concerning a new anti-panhandling ordinance off the agenda. Citing a "need to come together and think about this a little more," she deep-sixed the item setting a September 27 public hearing and possible adoption of new, broader rules against solicitation; instead, she asked city staff to instead prepare a presentation for that day, describing "where we are" with respect to current panhandling laws. (Solicitation is currently outlawed in the central business district, encompassing Downtown up to the campus area; also, state laws prohibit panhandling on roadways.) Brewster McCracken, the item's co-sponsor, characterized it as settling old business; after "aggressive" panhandling was criminalized Downtown, he said the ordinance was due to be expanded citywide after the city's second day labor site was opened – presumably after any potential overlap was resolved (i.e., peep the Home Depot parking lot). "Now it's time to move forward," said McCracken. Read More | 7 Comments »

Local 10:06AM Wed. Sep. 5, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Fighting the Drug War One Urine Sample at a Time

Six Texas school districts will get a total of just more than $618,000 from the U.S. Dept. of Education to establish random student drug testing programs during the 2007-2008 school year, according to the DOE. And that’s a good thing, White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy drug czar Director John Walters said on Aug. 31 – in fact, the czar was quite “pleased” to share the news. “By providing students with a reason to say ‘no,’ we empower them to resist negative peer pressure and make healthy decisions about drug use,” he said. While encouraging kids to resist peer pressure is always an admirable goal, there is little evidence that tossing federal funds toward the establishment of random student drug testing is actually a means of achieving it. In fact, a January 2003 study on the effectiveness of random testing programs, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found no link between testing and decreased drug use. The truth is this: adolescent drug use rises and falls like the ocean – and whether an individual uses drugs appears impacted more by the influence of parents, peers, and mentors than by the ONDCP and its various programs, including the much-derided anti-drug media campaign and the much-hyped drug testing program. The RWJF study data, for example, suggested that, “drug testing, as practiced in recent years in American secondary schools, does not prevent or inhibit student drug use.” Surprise, surprise! Read More | Comment »

Reefer Madness 6:14PM Tue. Sep. 4, 2007, Jordan Smith

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