East Timor. Campaign Finance Reform. Napster. Living Wages. Little Richard.
East Timor Action
John Sayles answers the question, "Why should we care what happens to East Timor?" ["The Road to Independence," May 19]. I would like to follow up with, "What can we do?"
I worked in East Timor in 1989, volunteered as an election observer in Dili on August 30, 1999, then remained for a week to witness the militias and the military burn the territory to the ground and forcibly evacuate at least a third of the population. I recently returned from Washington, D.C., where I met with the delegation that accompanied John Sayles and where I participated with the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) during their annual Lobby Days. There are several important bills before Congress, such as HR4537, the Repatriation and Security Act of 2000 that prohibits miliary relations and assistance to the armed forces of Indonesia until the Indonesian government provides for the territorial integrity of East Timor, the security and safe return of refugees, the safety of the population of East Timor, and has brought to justice those individuals responsible for murder, rape, torture and other crimes against humanity in East Timor.
What can we do? Pressure Congress to call for continued cut-off of support for Indonesia's military and for an increase in aid for East Timor. The single most important thing you can do right now for East Timor (and, not incidently, for democratic efforts in the rest of Indonesia) is to call your representative and senators. ETAN has shown that continued pressure on Congress can make a difference. Please consult www.etan.org for details.
Bradley in Agreement
Dear Louis and Nick,
I really just wanted to thank you for the approach and attitude that the Chronicle took regarding my settlement negotiations with the city of Austin. Believe me, I know that on any given week you could have turned the tide against me. If you had done so, I am confident that the agreement would never have been approved. Your fair treatment at least gave us an opportunity to negotiate in a relatively positive environment.
As I am sure you can imagine, the negotiations were very difficult, but in the end I felt like the decision makers who were involved in the process made the right decision based on the facts. I think it is fair to say that this agreement wasn't easy for anyone, but in the final analysis, it made more sense than the alternatives. Thanks again for your evenhanded approach and your willingness to give us a chance.
Campaign Reform Plans
Dear Mr. Black,
Thank you for your generous offer in your editorial this week to advertise an effort to repeal the $100 campaign finance limits law ["Page Two," May 19]. I want to take you up on your offer.
I hope your offer will include support not only for a repeal of $100 limits, but as well a pro-active effort for a workable new campaign finance reform law. Let me explain.
First, there is going to be a legal challenge to the current law. I have already offered to be a witness in support of a legal challenge, if not a plaintiff, as a losing candidate in this last election. (By the way, back in January of this year, I was preparing a legal challenge to the law. However, if you remember, the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Missouri limits case was rendered at that time. That decision, surprisingly, bolstered the cause for campaign contribution limits such that a challenge to our $100 limits would have been much more difficult, particularly in light of the fact that we had only had one election under the $100 limits.) This last election has made it pretty clear, in the opinion of many, that $100 limits in Austin elections are too restrictive and have limited competition. The Place 5 race, in which I ran, in a field of four other good candidates, made this quite clear, as you reference in your editorial. I think, now, a challenge in federal court is a likely success.
Second, I have been working campaign finance reformers to draft a new law that would put into place a private/public financing system in Austin, modeled on laws that have clearly shown an increase in political competition in other states and jurisdictions. An outline of this was tendered to the mayor several months ago. We are about to begin a community effort to educate the public while urging the council to put it on the ballot in November along with the single-member district plan the mayor is likely to support. This plan, whether there is a successful court challenge or not, would effectively address the problems of how candidates can raise the money they need to effectively compete.
The point I'm trying to make here, Mr. Black, is that although I quite agree with you that $100 limits have proven to be unhelpful at best, I hope we do not go back to the old system of no holds barred. I'm hoping we can agree that this is an opportunity to move forward so that reform can at last happen here in Austin.
Would you be willing to meet with Fred Lewis, with Campaigns for People, who has been our legal advisor on this issue? (Fred, by the way, did not draft the $100 limits law.) We're hoping the Chronicle could really get behind this, which would be way cool.
Please let me know and I'll suggest Fred give you a call. And, again, thanks for your generous offer.
Congrats to Constable
I would like to thank you and your readers for all your support and endorsement of my campaign for Constable, Precinct 4. Your readers responded to my vision for the constable's office, and I am honored that I have been elected to serve.
My commitment is to an office with integrity and accountable to the public. My door will always be open.
Very truly yours,
Little *#&!@ Richard!
OK, so Mr. Black has caught enough flack about a concert he went to; now how about some word on an astounding event apparently nobody on the Chronicle staff went to: Little Richard, of all people!, at Gruene Hall, of all places! Minimal advance notice and absolutely no publicity (at $79.50, admittedly a relative few could take advantage). And, no review. Why wouldn't you go, and wouldn't you expect your readers to want to know what it was like?
Sam Householder Jr.
[Ed. note: See this week's "Live Shots."]
Howe Reveals Plans
Instead of running for City Council again next year, I have decided to become a consultant. First, I plan to represent the University of Texas and submit a proposal to the City Council to build a research laboratory on the Austin watershed. The council will pay UT $15.1 million to relocate (hopefully) in nearby land next to the UT baseball field. Next, I plan to represent Advanced Micro Devices and submit a proposal to build a clean room on the watershed. The council will pay AMD $15.1 million to relocate downtown. (My consultant fee will be a mere 10%.) By now the City Council will use their intuitive insight and hire me as one of their $1 million consultants. I will then make sure that the city no longer pays out these $15.1 million deals, saving the city millions of dollars and making me another Austin millionaire.
Chip "knows" Howe
Former Place 5 Candidate, 2000
It is important to mention that the precincts with the largest Latino constituencies voted for Raul Alvarez (vying for City Council Place 2 in the runoff). While Raul also enjoys a well-deserved, wide base of support across Austin, the voter turnout analysis published in the press should also note this significant demographic fact.
We rarely speak out on behalf of a candidate for political office, but Raul is one of those people whose integrity, intelligence and commitment to community, progress and hard work is beyond question.
We have known Raul Alvarez for many years and fully support his candidacy for City Council Place 2.
Lourdes Perez, vocalist/composer
Annette D'Armata, Director, Encanto Productions
Movie Time Snafu
Generally the Chronicle does a good job, but sometimes you screw up, and it makes me angry.
Last night (Saturday) I was one of a bunch of people who showed up at about 11:15pm at the Barton Creek theater to see the movie Small Time Crooks. We showed up because The Austin Chronicle says the film shows at these times (I just copied and pasted this from your Web site):
Barton Creek Square (General Cinemas) 1:35, 4:10, 7:05, 9:45, 11:20
The person who sells the tickets at the theater says there is an 11:20am show, not an 11:20pm show. I asked the theatre manager about this, and he said "we've complained to the Chronicle about wrong listings numerous times. There's nothing more we can do."
There is a simple solution! Why don't you put am or pm next to the first and last showing for each movie? At the very least, this would help your staff get it straight. It would also help your readers figure out the right time for each movie.
[Kim Mellen, Listings Editor, responds: We sincerely regret the inconvenience to our readers and to the theatres when the blame for such errors lies with us. In this case, the showtimes were correct in the print issue, but a technical error was made in the print-to-Web conversion process. Our proofreaders spend several hours each week ensuring the accuracy of the showtimes in print and in our Movie Guide (auschron.com/film/), but we urge readers to call theatres to confirm these times, as theatres often make adjustments to their schedules after the Chronicle has been distributed for the week.]
When I picked up this week's issue of The Austin Chronicle [May 19], based on the cover photo, I was expecting to see an article on Austin's housing market for the middle class.
Austin Gas Co. Folly
This letter, from Northeastern Pennsylvania, is to thank the people of Austin for the recent actions of your neighbor, Southern Union Gas. Your natural gas supplier recently bought our local gas company, PG Energy. It seems that during the transaction, or shortly after the deal was done, Southern Union sold 40,000 acres of former watershed land at what seems to be an incredible bargain ($300/acre) to a secret purchaser. Our local papers have identified the buyer as our local scrapyard and landfill owner. In one stroke, much of our most valuable wilderness was placed at risk. Sadly, several of the most valuable parcels were sold out from under organizations negotiating conservation purchases.
The land is already being offered for resale, often at greatly inflated prices.
One wonders whether Southern Union would behave so badly in their own back yard.
Henry F. Smith Jr. MD
Defend Our Watershed
Wilkes Barre, Pa.
Bitter Burrito Brother
Dear Austin Chronicle:
For every ten "alt.country" fans who read No Depression magazine, there's probably only one who can claim any real knowledge of Gram Parsons' music. Serious appraisal of his work is complicated by a tendency on the part of critics and music writers like Jerry Renshaw to portray him as a sort of stoned hippie pretty boy and to glamorize his ugly narcotics-related death. As to whether or not he is overrated, Mr. Renshaw is entitled to his opinion, but his belief that the Flying Burrito Brothers don't stack up when compared with Dale Watson is pure naive delusion.
If one were to attempt to demonstrate Parsons' legacy, the place to start might be any of the first six or eight albums by Emmylou Harris, yet another artist whose voice is gentle and clear, but not particularly strong. Neither is she a guitar whiz. Since when was any of that a prerequisite for the creation of seminal music? Upon Parsons' death, she continued what she and Parsons had been doing, taking his (formerly Elvis Presley's) band, his style, not a few of his songs, and his attitude along with her. She has turned time and again to Parsons' music during her career. It represents a source of inexhaustible inspiration for her.
Mr. Renshaw should stick to reviewing those recordings which I have no doubt he is every bit as well qualified to review as I am not: albums by Old 97's, BR-549, Waco Brothers, Son Volt, Wilco, or any other of the long list of trendy "alt.country" (I just love that word) bands that seem to pop up whenever I'm not looking. Does anyone remember the Long Ryders? Let's see which of these are still being listened to 30 years from now.
Open Your Minds
As an Austin musician for six years, I appreciate music people coming together to support their cause, as they did at the recent Threadgill's town meeting. But if the purpose for uniting is to fight the evolution of Austin rather than nurturing it, then the fight is already lost.
Artists complaining about rising rents may as well bitch about the sun rising every day. Many music people I knew when I first arrived have since relocated to NYC, L.A., or Chicago and haven't looked back. Try finding a place to live in any of those cities at current Austin rates. If you want low rent, try Houston, but you won't find a scene there with any degree of professionalism or soul.
I have watched the transformation of this town along with everyone else, and I too miss the humble and welcoming vibe that embraced me whenever I entered the city limits. It doesn't have to die, and neither do our values. But it is futile to hang on to the past instead of letting it go and making the best of the future. We are missing out on a grand opportunity. The massive influx of young, ambitious minds to this city brings with it new tastes and healthy appetites for hip and diverse sounds. I've spoken to several of these people and while they love it here, they're convinced that they've nowhere to go for the music they like, because it is perilously underpromoted. Those who sit at the helm of the Austin music scene (clubs, advertisers and media) have for years been clinging desperately to the status quo, while giving lip service to anyone whose sound doesn't resemble that of Vaughan, Van Zandt, G. Clinton, or generic punk (an art form designed for self-destruction without relentless nostalgia). If this attitude persists, then the grave of Austin music will already be dug, and we will soon have no choice but to lie in it. Or we can celebrate our diversity, strengthen our reputation, and rise from the ashes as a music Mecca worth leaving the house for.
Land of the Lost
I just read the Napster article you ran ["No Purchase Necessary," May 5]. I've been out of town for a while, but I wanted to respond to this one. I know there is the popular myth that artists make money from records. In some cases this is so, but in most, it's not. I have no problem with the idea of paying for the service of exchanging MP3 files if I knew that some of the revenues would go to the artists. For the most part, I imagine that all revenue would go to the big record labels.
The real problem here is not that anyone is trading free digital recordings, or that artists like Dr. Dre and Metallica haven't realized that fighting the flow of MP3s on the Web is like fighting the flow of the Nile River, and that their lawsuits will alienate longtime fans. The problem is an entire industry that lacks foresight and intelligence and fears any kind of change it can't understand or immediately generate a revenue stream from. In the end it doesn't matter. Home Digital recording and file swapping is reality whether or not the idiots at the labels want to embrace it and benefit from it. If I were a marketing manager I would be buying all the info I could on every Napster user I could get and e-mailing them MP3 files of artists I think they might like. If I were working at a label, I would be working out a way to combine forces with Napster to generate revenue and marketing advantage from the music-loving Internet users. If I were an artist being traded over the Internet I would be glad anyone still cared enough to make it happen and I would probably be arranging Webcasts and interviews on sites like Napster. Then again, I was smart enough to get out of the record-label business before it imploded like the fat ignorant dinosaur it has become.
Take a Look at Yourself
Re: "Austin at Risk," May 12
I just wonder if you might want to do a survey of all of those high-tech executives who suddenly are taking an interest in what's happening in our city through groups like 360summit, Austin Network, Austin Social Ventures and getheard.org. Questions to ask:
1. Do you live in the DWPZ?
2. Do you live in the city of Austin or in West Lake Hills or some outlying unincorporated area?
3. Does your house have septic or city sewer?
4. Is your office or your place of business in the DWPZ?
5. Do you drive an SUV or other gas-hog vehicle?
6. How many local elections have you voted in?
7. How many times have you attended a council meeting or visited a City Council office or board or commission meeting?
8. Do you know how many people in Austin don't get enough to eat each day?
9. Do you know how many people in Austin don't have a place to sleep each night?
10. How many people of color do you golf with, fish with, or invite to your home on a regular basis?
11. Have you ever ridden the bus in Austin?
12. How many cars do you have in your driveway or garage?
13. How many miles do you drive to work each day?
14. Is your lawn xeriscaped or do you have an automatic sprinkler system?
15. How many acres is your lot?
I think the answers to those questions might just change the tone of your article and take these tech wonderfolks down a few pegs. Um, how do you spell hypocrisy?
'Affordable' to Some
The Austin Living Wage Coalition very sensibly proposes that everyone who works full-time in Austin be paid enough to afford to rent an apartment here. Using out-of-date figures, the ALWC requests a city-wide minimum wage of $9.09 per hour. A wage of $9.09 per hour, 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, comes to less than $20,000 per year.
"Affordable housing," as defined in the Smart Growth matrix, is housing accessible to people who make 80% of the median wage in Austin. The median wage is usually quoted as $30,000 (a figure that dates from 1998). So "affordable housing" is housing for people who make at least $24,000 per year. There seems to be no interest in providing housing for people who make less than this.
The Austin City Council can't make up its mind whether every full-time worker in Austin needs to make $20,000 per year. Many city employees make less than this. I've been told that the minimum wage for city employees is $8 per hour, but newspaper ads tell me that lifeguards at municipal pools are paid only $6.50 per hour.
The City Council just decided to pay each council member $45,000 per year, plus a "car allowance" of $400 per month. That is, each council member now makes $49,800 per year. Gus Garcia says that the enormous increase in salary will allow less affluent people to run for City Council. But many less-affluent people make less than $20,000 per year.
It's time to pass the Living Wage Ordinance. But first let's update the numbers to reflect the current price of renting a one-room apartment in Austin. It would also be a good idea to redefine "affordable housing."
Dear Mr. Black,
On your "Page Two" column in the April 28 Chronicle, you raised some questions concerning the importance and style of endorsements. When you stated, "I am beginning to really question whether [the unsurprising pattern of endorsements produced by the Chronicle] is of the most use to our readers," I wanted to scream out, "Of course it is." Unfortunately, no one, including you, was around to hear me. So, today I write to say, "Of course it is."
I see your concern for the endorsements published by the Chronicle -- that they may be unsurprising or even expected. Yet, endorsements must still be accessible to the people so that the ideal purpose of newspapers, to educate the public, is maintained. Within a democracy, journalism has an obligation to inform and engage the citizens, and endorsements are a clear tool to fulfill this responsibility. Robert McChesney explains the above interdependence in Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy. "Democracy requires that there be an effective system of political communication, broadly construed, that informs and engages the citizenry, drawing people meaningfully into the polity."
Endorsements can be a tricky journalistic tool because many readers fall into the trap of supporting every endorsement they read, rather than forming their own judgment about the candidates. Therefore, everyone -- including the writers and the readers -- need to remember, endorsements do not state, "There are the best candidates; you have to agree with what we print or else you are absurd." Instead, the endorsements encourage the reader to formulate their own opinions based upon the information given to them by the newspaper or other outside sources.
And speaking of other outside sources, I wanted to respond to another concern of yours from the same column -- the redesigning of the endorsements. I agree that endorsements are not enough to form educated decisions about the candidates. Additional information is often needed to make an adequate opinion. So, when you ask if the public needs more dialogue and less ranking, I believe the answer is no; instead, the public needs both. The public needs to have access to the dialogue of the candidates, yet still receive an "authoritative rank." One way around the dilemma between space limitations and additional information (the dialogues) is to publish the endorsements in the Chronicle, and create a link, containing the dialogue of the candidates for the readers with computer access. Then, these readers would have a more sufficient amount of data to base their judgments upon, and you would feel like you had given the readers more of the knowledge they need. Just a thought -- but a thought with possibilities!
And with that, I will close with a quote from James Madison to serve as a reminder that, "A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both."
Ignorance Isn't Bliss
I can't help it. I know it is criminal. "Voters" approving of the Dell Diamond weren't warned that no single player in Round Rock, Georgetown, Austin, Hutto, or Taylor would be recruited into the Express. No director, no coach, no trainer was ever found among two million people in this region boiling off the tops with pendejos! I'm sure the locals are there cleaning, landscaping or selling tickets. Why in hell do you want a mayor or a City Council that bow heads behind their people's dignity to Hebrew praying privileged? Why don't they read the damned Chronicle? Because all these people are busy producing food, working long shifts or wasting their lives for the overwhelming hordes from Ireland, India, the Middle East, etc. I stopped briefly to walk downtown Taylor, and those old buildings made me wonder what the natives felt like as they witnessed them arising 150 years ago. The children celebrating primera comunión on Mother's Day, with some Comanche or Apache bloods still splashing those forced smiles for the pictures, assured me that just like those structures falling apart from old age, the opportunities that are denied to their parents now will result in a course that will destroy all that has been done for their demise, with the help of Mother Nature.
Greens See the Light
The Green Party of Texas is attempting what many thought impossible, and is very close to pulling it off ... a mostly volunteer effort to get 60,000 signatures by May 26 on a petition to put Green Party candidates (for local, state, and national offices) on our ballots come November. Texas is one of the five toughest states in the nation for ballot access, but the candidacies of Ralph Nader for President and his Native American running mate, Winona La Duke, are pulling passionate supporters out of the apathy crevices into which many progressives have fallen over the years due to a lack of enthusiasm for the corporate-controlled major parties. Those willing to sign such a petition can pull it down off the state Green Web site and mail it in or bring it by to 1817 E. Sixth, Austin 78702. You must be a registered voter who didn't vote in the March primaries to sign. Signing does not obligate you to vote Green; it just indicates you believe in more choices for your votes.
Susan Lee Solar