Our readers talk back.
Health Care District Helps All
Great editorial regarding Seton and Children's Hospital in last week's Chronicle. But I'd be grateful if you'd consider using the phrase "health care district" rather than "hospital district." A "hospital district" will be interpreted by the folks out in Voter Land as paying for sick poor people. But a "health care district" is a critical necessity for our community as it can ever be so much more than a mechanism for meeting the health care needs of the less fortunate. Properly structured, it can significantly raise the quality of health care delivery for everybody here, regardless of economic circumstance. It can be a force for everything from health education, to elder care, to childhood inoculations, to wellness programs, to a first-class trauma service.
Michael R. Levy
Founder & Publisher
Smoking Ban a Good Idea
Louis Black's comments in "Page Two" [Feb. 14] characterize those of us who support a 100% smoke-free ordinance as "health fascists" and potential killers of live music in Austin. In his comments Mr. Black is correct in noting the very solid statistics on the hazards of secondhand smoke -- such as bar workers having 50% greater rates of lung cancer than the rest of us -- but overlooks other "rock solid" facts that have to do with the economics of going smoke-free. Because over 45 million people live in places that are fully smoke-free, there have been ample opportunities to analyze changes in bar-and-restaurant revenue after smoking restrictions are put in place. What is clear from these studies is that when smoking ends, business does not decrease.
There is an understandable fear among business owners and music advocates such as Mr. Black about what may happen if smoking is restricted in all public places. But for those of us who have long advocated for clean indoor air, we remember similar fears or resistance being voiced each time smoking was restricted in hospitals, grocery stores, movies, airplanes, and more. Public health advocates we are; health fascists we aren't, and Mr. Black, we promise not to take away your chicken-fried steak.
Chair, Tobacco Free Austin Coalition
Resistance Is Futile; You Will Be a Libertarian
In your editorial ["Page Two," Feb 14], you complain about the "health fascists" pushing for a smoking ban. In doing so, you used a logical extension of their flawed "if it's unhealthy, then government should ban it to protect us" attitude. I enjoyed reading this and was happy to see that on occasion we agree on an issue, but I urge great caution to you.
If you are to continue to use this kind of logic and rational thought in analyzing the role of government, you may find yourself sounding a little too much like a Libertarian. There is no other political party that adheres so strongly to a root philosophy or has members that support the party's ideals even when they run counter to their own self-interest.
It can be a lonely world as a Libertarian. Very few people believe that government should be limited by anything more than their own desires. You will end up "one of us" if you continue to pursue logic and consistency in analyzing the role of government.
Sonleitner's Besmirched Voting Record
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization had a very important meeting Feb. 10. Agenda item 5 was a vote to determine the future composition of CAMPO. Rep. Krusee made a motion to expand CAMPO to three counties. Mayor Garcia offered a substitute motion to expand to five counties. At stake was whether Williamson Co. would have another representative or whether Hayes Co. Rep. Patrick Rose would take a seat on CAMPO.
Commissioner Sonleitner voted against all of the City Council members and all of her Democratic colleagues in defeating a crucial amendment that would have postponed the effective date of the three-county expansion until the Joint Powers Agreement could be amended.
Coordinating the expansion effective date with the JPA amendment would have allowed the current CAMPO members to vote on whether the new addition to the board would be a Republican or a Democrat. By making the change effective immediately, a Republican representative from Williamson Co. is automatically added to the CAMPO board so that the balance of power shifted immediately.
The vote was 13 to 12. Sonleitner was the swing vote. No matter how she votes from now on, no matter how she tries to create a Democratic voting record, she has created a permanent Republican majority for CAMPO from this point forward.
Black's Iraq Logic Faulty
I read your editorial from last week's Chronicle and found a few problems. You argue that this country started going after Iraq while somehow "abandoning" Afghanistan. Last time I read the news, U.S. troops were in a fairly big firefight with some rebels holed up in mountain caves. I also saw that small teams consisting of armed troops and liaisons were going to spread out across the country to help rebuild schools and other infrastructures. You can try to tell me that we have stopped rebuilding Afghanistan, but the facts prove otherwise.
I also wonder how you can say we shouldn't go to war with Iraq since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still smoldering. It's been smoldering for years! I think it is safe to say that reinstating Arafat has been a complete disaster. The latest news shows that people in his own country are willing to negotiate with Israel, but those pesky Hamas guys still like to blow up innocent civilians. Hamas recently threatened the life of a high-ranking Palestinian official who wanted to go to Israel for talks!
The last line in your editorial reads, "Despite the best intentions and most astute observations, invading Iraq will be a long-term disaster." On what basis do you conclude that? Your claim would be better served if you preceded it with, "I just have this bad feeling that ..."
No Help for Gehrig's Sufferers
I have a story to tell. I hope someone is listening. Imagine a guy in his 40s, great job, making good money, with a future. He's a musician and singer-songwriter enjoying all that Austin offers to him.
He then notices a twitch in his right middle finger. But it doesn't go away. He then starts to notice how tired he is doing things he's done hundreds of times before. So he goes to a doctor. After four months of blood tests, nerve tests, sticking, and poking, the answer is finally clear. He has ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
I am that guy.
ALS is a neuromuscular disease that destroys your ability to use your muscles. Let's talk simply ... think of it this way. Pick something you do daily: walk the dog, go grocery shopping, anything. Now imagine doing it with only half the muscles you normally use. Sounds harder, huh?
ALS falls under the Muscular Dystrophy umbrella. I never thought I'd be one of "Jerry's Kids." ALS occurs in one to two out of every 100,000. That means in the entire U.S., there are only 30,000 living with ALS. There is no cure for ALS. The average life span after diagnoses is two to five years.
There is no help medically or financially from Texas or the federal government. I am now living on disability. Because of my age, there is no supplemental insurance available. Eventually I'll need to use a wheelchair and machines to assist me in breathing. I have no idea how I'll pay for it.
Being a songwriter, of course, this problem shows up in my songs. Lately when people ask "How are you?" I've used a line from a song I wrote: "I feel like a plant that's been left in the Sun without any rain."
I'm just waiting for the rain ...
'Chron' Bias on Smoking Ban?
As a live music fan, I too am saddened by the decline of the live music scene in Austin, but to suggest that the smoking ordinance will contribute further to its demise ["Page Two," Feb. 14] is ludicrous. The fact is that people don't go out to smoke. They go out to drink, to eat, to socialize, and see entertainment such as live music. They will continue to do these things even if they have to step outside for a few minutes to smoke. However, there is a whole contingency of people out there who don't, or can't, go out because of secondhand smoke. The proposed smoking ordinance would open up businesses to this whole new group of customers at the same time as it protects the health and safety of patrons and employees, including musicians. If Austin claims to love their musicians, the least we can do is provide them a with a work environment that won't give them cancer, heart disease, or chronic respiratory conditions. Those who want to smoke still retain that right, they just need to take it outside where they won't inflict their personal behavior choice, and its consequences, on others.
I also happened to notice a full-page color ad from Winston in last week's Chronicle. Perhaps reliance on tobacco industry money is making it difficult for the Chronicle to be entirely objective on this issue?
Talking About Taxes --
Responding to "What Libertarians Think" ["Postmarks," Jan. 31] ... It should be what healthy people think -- why adding a dollar on cigarettes is a good idea. Especially when it comes to children's health. Hopefully, they will think twice before spending that extra dollar on cancer sticks.
That young couple with the baby that Vincent May wrote about, causing them an added burden and being unfair. Hogwash! They have the option to quit smoking and be a role model to their children. The nicotine does transfer to the infant's blood just like alcohol and other drugs.
I also would support Rep. Naishtat if he would add a dollar in tax on six packs of beer and bar drinks. Just think of all the lives and brain cells we would be saving.
I love those libertarian health bills and add my support to Rep. Naishtat.
While we are talking about taxes. Let's cut out the space boondoggles and military taxes. We have enough here on Earth to take care of (people's health care, education, etc.). Let's oppose the dividend tax cuts and support the "Payroll Holiday" bill that Kerry is carrying. The middle class will then be in better shape as far as their taxes. Let's support more money in building more solar PVs and windmills and fuel cells. That's where we should be going for jobs.
your far-out liberal friend
Condemn the War, Not the Solider
Treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for combat veterans who fought in Vietnam often begins with the words "welcome home." Doctors and therapists at V.A. hospitals understand what those words mean to our veterans.
We protested the Vietnam War and some welcomed the veterans with "baby killer" and spittle. Many veterans suffered indignities on the very flights bringing them home from the jungles of Vietnam. They were not called heroes. There was no counseling. They risked their lives, and if they survived, they live with flashbacks and nightmares. Many forget that by serving our country, the troops should receive honor and respect from us, regardless of the popularity of the war.
Although war with Iraq seems likely, our country gives us the freedom to protest if we want. If and when our troops return, we must gratefully acknowledge and welcome them home; let's not leave it up to the doctors at the V.A. hospitals to do it for us.
UT Athletic Events Not Handicap Friendly
The message that the University of Texas delivers to its handicapped fans is simple: Stay home. I have attended both UT football and basketball games as an attendant with a wheelchair-bound friend and the experiences have been both mortifying and degrading. If UT is able to sell "handicapped" seats to sporting events, why isn't the university held responsible to see that both parking and seating are adequate? The basketball game with Texas Tech this week is a prime example. Arriving at the Erwin Center an hour and 15 minutes before the game, I am told the only handicap parking available is in a parking garage several blocks away! I'm being told this as I see dozens of luxury SUVs parked outside the front of the arena and able-bodied people exiting the SUVs to enter the arena. The handicap seats were in a row behind a group of students who chose to stand throughout the contest. It's hard to knock the students' enthusiasm, but equally difficult to have my handicapped friend watch the students' backs instead of being able to see the action on the floor. This goes on as the university continues to construct "luxury suites" that will also eliminate handicap seating areas. It's difficult to feel good about your alma mater when you're sitting in a wheelchair at a UT sporting event.
Fun, Love, Peace, and Bikes
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that a bicycle only uses a couple of cups of oil per year, tops. How is that for the spoils of peace? Of course, we all differ in lifestyle choices, but my hard-won money being filtered through the war machine of the IRS, corporate banking, and the military/industrial complex could be better put to use in the production of agricultural products, safe medicine, housing, clothing, even entertainment. There's no fun in the petroleum industry, just ask our politicians and their wives. I mean, when is the last time you saw King George working on a drilling rig? Was it the same summer when Richard Linklater was in the business? No. That was another generation.
w/ love, baby,
Todd Alan Smith
Preaching the Gospel of Truth
I met a young prophet today -- a Christlike teenager who danced for the living. He spoke with the street evangelists who professed the power of Jesus; but they would not embrace him -- fear in their hearts. He did not preach the "truth": He asked me what was the meaning of this or that; prompted me to think. So I ask, are We the People ready for a "second coming"? Are we spiritually and morally that much different from the society who nailed the man's hands and feet to a cross of wood, hauling him up hanging, slowly bleeding to death, giving him salt water on a sponge -- a person who lived to love all people, heal the sick, feed the hungry, defend the wretched, and angrily throw the usurious money changers out of the temple? What is the difference to 500,000 dead children in Iraq, and millions worldwide and here at home in poverty? What do we fear? How does bombing innocents become justice or policy?
So I ask, are you ready to embrace a prophet, love and trust yourself, to be open to the spiritual light that is in all of us? It is time all of us change this system which values objects over life, human and natural, actively sterilizing and poisoning the planet, promoted for the powerful few who lie, steal, and murder. The old is poison; the young are hopeful, ready, and active. We must practice unequivocal verifiable justice. Start with the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, which are being dismembered, corrupted for wicked purposes. World citizens are not by nature criminals.
We can create a society where children are encouraged to love to learn, to strive for all that is beautiful and sacred. Trust each other, be bold, fear not. Educate yourself, your friends, your neighbors. We have done this before: This time let's do it without having to be reminded to be vigilant. Organize. Don't stop dancing.
Co-producer, Un-Common Sense,
ACAC channel 10
Military Isolationism & Unilateral Free Trade
Chronicle readers understand that Republican support for dictators in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Latin America have created enemies of America. I suspect many readers even questioned the Democrats support for U.S. aggression in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Indonesia, and Rwanda, not to mention the bombing of the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory.
But, I'd like to add to the war accomplices the Greens, as unwitting contributors to U.S. aggression and global conflict. It stems from their accurate skepticism of corporate influence, but their fundamental misunderstanding of economics.
U.S. corporate and union interests have duped the Greens into supporting trade restrictions on the dubious grounds of supporting the average American and protecting foreign laborers. But, Third World laborers work in sweatshops because they pay better than sweaty unemployment. Third World prosperity depends solely on the freeness of their economies as dictated by their governments.
Trade embargoes against Cuba, Iraq, and South Africa were intended to inflict damage. Anti-global, anti-trade initiatives are just milder forms of the grain embargo against Russia and the food and oil embargoes against Japan, which provoked the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Editor Black is wrong in saying "Any simplistic attitude about the Iraq situation does it a disservice" ["Page Two," Feb. 7]. The good news is that we aren't stuck with an inherently fucked-up world. There is a simple, win-win, Christian, atheist, Muslim, pacifist, pro-American, world-peace, world-prosperity answer. It's American military isolationism, and American unilateral free trade. It creates no foreign enemies, and requires no foreign alliances.
Nader and Hightower are wrong. There's only one worthy peace freak I know of in Austin. His name is Terry Liberty Parker. He's a freak, he's a libertarian, and he's right.
I've been hearing the words "national interests" a lot lately, and I'm wondering just what those interests are. If people far away are threatening American citizens, then what are the reasons for those threats? Are we to believe that it's envy for our way of life, or could it possibly be resentment of a military occupation by a world power that wants to protect its "interests"? Will this war stop terrorist attacks or increase them? Will it bring about prosperity or a continuing of the economic downward spiral? Will we work together with the other nations of the world to build a global community for all or will we continue to be viewed as arrogant? Do we know who our real enemies are? Is it the Iraqi people? Should they die in order that we might "liberate" them? What is the best way to deal with a civilization that continues to utilize an archaic, finite means of energy controlled by gang warfare, while many more advanced forms of sourcing energy that use benign, natural methods exist? Is our army invincible or can a low-tech enemy bleed it to death? What if this enemy believes it is righteous and willing to die to prove it? Are we also willing to die? When will we stop thinking of this as a nation and start thinking of it as a planet in a universal community or is that concept beyond our grasp?
Don't Fund USA PATRIOT Act
You know what an unfunded mandate is. The city has a deficit, and we cannot afford to incur oppressive financial burdens imposed on us by the federal government. That is why I support the effort by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (www.bordc.org) to help cities across the USA to oppose using city resources to enforce the PATRIOT Act. Currently, 34 cities have passed such resolutions.
The PATRIOT Act is a horrible imposition upon our liberties, and we wish legislators such as Ron Paul success in seeking its repeal. However, the least we can do is join other cities in prioritizing our resources in these difficult economic times.
Yours in Liberty,
Patrick J Dixon
Chair, Travis County Libertarian Party
Barbara Jordan's Legacy
Today we worry about our leaders and the decisions they are making. Are our leaders ethical? Are they responsible? Are the leaders of the United States, Texas, or Austin committed to our best interests? Answers to these questions will only be revealed by history.
Thirty years ago there was a leader we never had to question. We just knew she stood for what was right. Her voice echoed across our country with richness and thought-provoking repartee. Her voice was one of responsibility and leadership and when she moved to Austin after six years in Congress, the city, the University of Texas, and the LBJ School of Public Affairs all became better places to be. All thanks to Barbara Jordan, a leader -- without question.
Today professor Jordan is gone, but her message and her belief in responsible decisions, ethical leadership, and commitment to others survives. For the seventh year, the students at the LBJ School celebrate this legacy through the Barbara Jordan National Forum on Public Policy. This year they go straight to the heart of professor Jordan's beliefs with a forum dedicated to "Rejuvenating Ethics, Responsibility, and Commitment in Today's America."
All are welcome to be a part of this stimulating and thought provoking conference. On Feb. 27 and 28 and March 1, speakers from throughout the Austin area and beyond will cover areas such as Community Engagement, Serving Others, Leadership, Ethics, and, of course, Barbara Jordan's legacy. I invite you to be a part of history. Simply go to www.utexas.edu/lbj and register.
Barbara Jordan National Forum
LBJ School of Public Affairs
Living in America
Artists Mo and Shala Jamal, along with their four sons, left Austin on Jan. 29 to start a new life in Canada after the U.S. rejected their long-standing plea for asylum ["Holiday Greetings From the INS: Hit the Road," Jan. 10]. They were given less than 30 days to pack their belongings and leave the country. Whether their asylum status was rejected as a bureaucratic glitch or Middle Eastern paranoia, the fact remains -- they are gone. The Jamals contributed to our society, our tax base, and our economy, but were forced to leave the U.S. despite hundreds of phone calls, e-mails, and letters sent to Congressman Lloyd Doggett -- a member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus -- and to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison -- a member of the Congressional Arts Caucus.
Hutchison's office explained to me that this matter is "judicial" and the senator has no jurisdiction regarding the Jamal's case. I had to explain to the senator's staff that the INS is part of the Justice Department, which is a part of the federal government that is overseen by the U.S. Senate. The staff member then admitted that the real reason is that if the senator got involved with this immigration case, it might set a "precedent." (What precedent? That if you help one human being you may have to help another human being.)
I attended the Jamal Farewell Concert on Jan. 27 ["Naked City," Jan. 31] and was overwhelmed by the support from hundreds of artists, musicians, citizens, and friends who gathered on behalf of the family. I was proud to be an Austinite and a Texan that night. The next day, as the Jamals packed up their lives, I witnessed as student after student came by in tears to wish their beloved violin teacher -- Mo -- a last farewell. I remembered what Sen. Hutchison's office said to me, and I was ashamed to be a Texan and an American.
A Libertarian History of Health Insurance
In 1910, a one-year health insurance policy sold in America for $1. Most people had coverage or were able to pay for medical services out of pocket. With inflation, that would be about $20/year today. Of course, the menu of services today is greatly expanded, and there have been quality improvements so a policy might have increased to $200/year. Why are we paying $2,000?
In 1912, the practice of medicine was regulated, creating a monopoly. Prices soon began an inexorable rise. In 1914, the income tax was instituted. Having a monopoly confers the power to shift taxes on to consumers and prices began rising faster as doctors forced the patients to pay more.
In 1910, people used co-ops to buy health care. When insurance was regulated, the co-ops were effectively shut down. Now they're illegal. Regulation caused insurance premiums to rise inexorably.
Having outlawed voluntary socialism (co-ops), reformers created state socialist alternatives (Medicaid, Medicare).
This created more problems. Bureaucracies are inherently inefficient and wasteful. Costs went up inexorably. To pay for this, taxes had to be increased again and again. We have already seen that state-licensed monopolists have the power to shift taxes on to consumers by raising their prices (in this way doctors serve as tax collectors -- not taxpayers). Inexorably higher and higher.
To make health care affordable, Democrats call for more regulation and higher taxes, while Republicans call for more socialist programs (Bush's $400 billion seniors' drug plan) paid for with deficits (taxes on children). Libertarians call for free markets and abolition of income taxes. Break the monopolies, legalize alternative medicines, and legalize voluntary socialism for consenting adults.
When you see doctors advertising "Satisfaction guaranteed or your money cheerfully refunded," and you have $9,000 more in your pocket every year, you'll know that Libertarians succeeded.
Vincent J. May
We Have a Constitution, Use It!
The call for a new trial by five jurors, who had previously voted to convict Ed Rosenthal on federal charges after becoming informed of excluded evidence and argument, indicates the need for procedural reforms.
Interestingly, most of the reforms needed are a return to the standards that prevailed when this country was founded, when all issues of law were argued in the presence of the jury, and motions to exclude evidence and argument were only made against the prosecution, not against the defense.
It should also be made a rule that when a judge gives his opinion to the jury on what the law is, he should do so only as an expert witness, subject to cross-examination and rebuttal. In a republic with a written constitution, what is and is not law is itself a fact issue that must be decided by the jury like any other question of fact.
Lost Souls of Woman and the Democratic Party
Mr. Sean Vanity says the Democratic Party and woman have lost their soul. He told me so on his radio show. He thinks they have lost their bearing; I thought he was going to start swearing. I could picture him sitting there at his altar of a pitchman, across from his instrument, mounted onto his cashboard, a plastic Jesus figurine, mumbling to his little action-figure friend something about blowing those liberals to smithereens.
He's really feeling his oats; he's ready to lower the boom; it must be because he purchased his fourth TV, to go into one of his 13 rooms. Maybe the mirrors room! Nah. Maybe the cigar room! Hum. I think I understand what Mr. Vanity is saying: Don't go away mad, just go away. Isn't it all so confusing and frustrating, this political process? Just walk away, forget about it, leave it alone (let your heart not be troubled), be happy.
That's what some very shrewd citizens are counting on, in fact banking on. To so disgust you regarding the political process that you simply disengage, because they think you're too simple-minded to pump your own gas. Oh wait! That was 20 years or so. And so many fewer carcinogens ago.
So some of you may think it despicable the way I chose to reference Jesus in the same article with Mr. Vanity, and not mention the American Flag Pin, strategically placed on the Lord's Lapel. Available with a set of pictures of the president aboard Air Force One looking out the window to see if Heaven's Gates are open. Immortality is just $89.99, C.O.D. only.
Irony, that Ruler Planet of ours, must have gotten a huge laugh from Thomas Paine. The citizen must take back the citizenry or suffer further at the hands of? Exactly what (We the People) suffer from now, the very things he warned those who would listen then, are what we allow to happen today.
I wonder what Irony thinks of Mr. Vanity's statement that the Democratic Party and woman have lost their soul, while it looks down upon us, in our fishbowl.
Susannah Alabama Ohltorf
Plea for Peace
A large and growing segment of the U.S. population agrees with the premises in your recent editorial that a) Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator, b) he has biological and chemical weapons, c) he may well use them in the future against his neighbors, and d) he is in violation of UN resolutions including 1441. Yet, we strongly oppose the invasion because its consequences are much more damaging than the problems it is seeking to solve.
Here is a limited list:
a) The invasion will set the precise timing for the use of the dreaded biological and chemical weapons as well as their targets: American troops and Israeli and Kuwaiti civilians.
b) The invasion is sapping financial, military, and "first response" resources that could be used against the real threat to our security posed by al Qaeda and North Korea.
c) The invasion will activate al Qaeda "sleeper" cells to sow terror upon the U.S. civilian population.
d) The invasion will sow terror upon Iraqi civilian population and disrupt the fragile food distribution system, leading to massive famine.
e) The invasion is distracting the administration from dealing with the real economic, educational, medical, and shelter problems confronting our people.
f) The invasion will burden our children and grandchildren with a huge national debt incurred in paying for the massive military and "nation-building" costs.
g) The invasion will isolate us further from world public opinion, the United Nations, and the NATO Alliance and will cast the U.S. as the world's bully, rather than the champion of peace and justice.
The invasion is not inevitable. To be sure, we have invested a great deal in preparing for the invasion, but this effort served a purpose of impressing Saddam Hussein and other evil dictators with our ability to mobilize our military might in faraway lands.
Iraq is not our top problem, and even most of its next-door neighbors are not worried. It certainly cannot strike while the inspectors are roaming. Let the United Nations and the inspectors do their jobs, as we focus on our real problems at home and abroad.
Save the Libraries!
Unless we act quickly, the ability of all Texas academic, public, and school libraries to provide public access to reliable electronic information will soon be in jeopardy.
The information that our libraries provide electronically is not available on the Internet, and it's not free. For several years, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission has purchased access to high-quality electronic databases for all academic, public, and school libraries in Texas to provide free to their users.
This program is known as the Texshare Databases. The current cost is about $10.5 million per year.
That seems like a lot, but it's really a bargain for the people of Texas. If each library in the state had to purchase these databases individually, the total cost would be about $140 million per year.
Almost $7.5 million of the $10.5 million comes from a multiyear grant from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, which will expire in fiscal year 2004. The remaining $3 million comes from the state.
Without this funding, only the largest, most affluent libraries would be able to afford all or part of these databases. Millions of Texans would find themselves without the basic information they need for education, consumer, health, social, and business research.
The cost of the databases would simply be pushed down to the cities, universities, and school districts. The taxpayers of Texas would end up paying far more than they do now, and access to the information would be distributed very inequitably.
The cost-avoidance argument for continued funding of Texshare databases might be persuasive, but I haven't yet mentioned the economic and social value provided by the databases. They were used more than 16.5 million times last year by thousands of Texans.
These are not recreational databases. People use them to find information essential to their education, health, and jobs and on social and economic issues. If a very conservative value of just $5 per search is assigned to that usage, the value provided by the databases last year was more than $82.5 million. The true value is probably many times that figure. Obviously, if funding of these databases ceases, the social and economic loss to Texas would be enormous. The loss would seriously damage Texans' ability to compete educationally and economically with people in other states and countries who have access to these databases.
Please contact your legislators and urge them to vote for an extension of the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund and continued state funding of the Texshare databases.
Beth Wheeler Fox, Library Director
Westbank Community Library District
Watch Your Words
I generally welcome your paper's announcements about hard-to-see films, but I found its description of a recent screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown both troubling and misleading ["Naked City," Feb. 14]. A documentary about the Israeli Defense Force's assault on Palestinian refugees in Jenin was summarized in your paper as follows: "On Sunday, Feb. 16, Jenin Jenin focuses on Israeli army activities and the Palestinian inhabitants of the notorious refugee camp."
The description of the camp as "notorious" implies that the refugees are to blame for the violence carried out against them, while the description of the Israeli Defense Force's crimes against humanity as "army activities" suggests condonation of its killings and demolitions, in addition to overlooking its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. No responsible writer would describe the recent film The Pianist as focusing on German "army activities" and the Jewish inhabitants of the "notorious" Warsaw ghetto, so why does one of your writers indulge in such ignorance and insensitivity with reference to this film?
If he or she had any questions about what happened in Jenin, it wouldn't have taken the writer in question more than a few minutes to visit the Web site of, say, Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org) or Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org). In a November report on the violence in Jenin and Nablus, Amnesty described what it termed "war crimes" committed by the Israeli Defense Force: "These acts include some of the unlawful killings described in this report; the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners; wanton destruction of property after the end of military operations; the blocking of ambulances and denial of humanitarian assistance; and the use of Palestinian civilians to assist in military operations." Contrast this description with that of your writer, and ask yourself whether more thought could have been put into your paper's summary. As it happens, the writer didn't even bother to list what time the film started.
Here's an Idea: Quit Smoking
Vincent May of Elgin recently wrote concerned about a young couple, barely scraping by financially, who would be pushed into poverty if forced to pay another $1 per pack cigarette tax, as is being proposed by one state legislator ["Postmarks," Jan. 31]. If Mr. May's statement that the couple is now paying $1,500 a year in cigarette taxes is correct, then the couple is smoking a combined four packs a day!
Here's a solution that would put a lot more money in that couple's checking account while improving their health -- stop smoking. Easier said than done, I realize, as cigarettes are an addictive product that can be very hard to quit, but many people do so successfully each year.
Kicking the habit would save the couple the cost of smoking-related medical expenses, in addition to the price of cigarettes and current cigarette taxes. More importantly, they would be protecting the health of their baby by eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke.
Texans Investing in Healthy Families, a nonprofit coalition, is urging Gov. Rick Perry and legislators to raise the cigarette tax by $1 per pack, with 5 cents dedicated to statewide smoking prevention and cessation programs that could help all Texans, including that young couple.
The tax is a win/win. Not only would it generate $1.5 billion in new revenue, but it would save lives and cut health care costs by spurring smokers to quit and deterring youth from ever picking up the deadly habit.
A Dangerous Example
I have a few questions for Mr. Standiford and Mr. Nixon regarding their remarks in last week's "Postmarks" [Feb. 7]. Mr. Standiford argues that "many suffer from the liberal psychosis" and yet, if the growing anti-war voice is solely a liberal one, then why is it that a group of conservative Republican businessmen have recently placed an anti-war ad in The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 13)? What about the National Council of Churches' enlistment of Bishop Melvin Talbert of the United Methodist Church (Bush's faith) as its spokesman in an anti-war television ad? Also, one could hardly argue that the pope is your average liberal and yet the pope opposes the war. The list goes on, but I understand I am limited to 300 words. If Mr. Standiford admits that the government doesn't give a damn about dissenters' opinions, then Mr. Standiford must also admit that we don't live in a democracy. And if he does admit this, what does he feel the need to defend?
Mr. Nixon argues that the U.S. must use Saddam Hussein as an example to deter future terrorists. One of the few Iraqis left unhurt, after over 10 years of sporadic bombings and sanctions, is Mr. Hussein. Isn't that the man the U.S. must use "as an example"? How can we expect poor and desperate nations to cow to American finger wagging and "behave," especially in light of the fact that the U.S. (which enjoys relative material comfort) finds no alternative to the tragedy of the World Trade Center than to react with violence? There are, however, countries learning from the example set by the Bush administration. North Korea, for example, is claiming that since the United States can pre-emptively attack Iraq, then North Korea can use its nukes against the U.S. ... hmm.
Iowa City, Iowa
Days of Infamy
As Gulf War II looms in the coming weeks, we should all take a moment on Feb. 27 to solemnly remember the anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, which led to the creation of the USA PATRIOT Act and the Office of Homeland Security and eventually to "Regime Change" in Afghanistan and Iraq. Oh, wait a minute ... silly me; that was September 11, 2001. Feb. 27 is the anniversary of the Reichstag Fire in Berlin in 1933, which led to the creation of the Decree for the Protection of People and State and the Gestapo and eventually to "Anschluss" in Austria and the annexation of the Sudetenland. Never mind.
Oh, I suppose it's not really a fair comparison -- sure, Hitler was appointed chancellor by President Hindenburg and Dubya was appointed president by Chancellor Rehnquist, but Hitler took office by murdering the hell out of his political opponents, and Dubya's never been involved with anything like that, right? Just ask Sen. Wellstone and Gov. Carnahan, or any of the other fellas over at www.bushbodycount.com.
Play the Odds America
I offer this gut-check analysis in light of our impending pre-emptive war on the citizens of Iraq, given that the administration's stated reasons for this war are related to Iraq's ability to wage terrorist attacks on U.S. citizens.
A quick Internet search revealed the following statistics from 1999 on the odds of dying in the U.S. from various causes, in descending order of probability. This is just a small sample of the dozens of cited causes of death:
Car accident: 1 in 18,752
Fall: 1 in 20,728
Drowning: 1 in 77,308
Fire/smoke: 1 in 81,487
Bicycle accident: 1 in 341,025
Airplane crash: 1 in 381,566
Choking: 1 in 426,281
Lightning: 1 in 4,262,813
Spider bite: 1 in 45,470,000
I think all readers would agree that the odds of dying at the hands of a terrorist attack would be very near the bottom of this list, if not dead last by a long shot. We all live with very real odds of dying every day, in a myriad of ways. It's human nature to want to control these factors and reduce the fear that they produce. But we are all morally obligated to ask ourselves this question: Is it worth spilling innocent blood and spending untold billions of dollars in order for us to shuffle death by terrorist between lightning strikes and spider bites? There is a staggering toll to be paid for that illusion of safety. Not to mention that there is a valid argument that an attack on Iraq would actually make the death-by-terrorist category rise in the above list.
The administration's pre-emptive Wild West gunslinger mentality may feel good to those with an excess of testosterone and ill-formed feelings of immortality. But the cost is unbearable when stacked up against what -- if anything -- is gained after the gun smoke clears and the innocent Iraqi women and children, and our own sons and daughters, are carried off the battlefield.
Local Government Is a Sham
The middle section of "The Budget" commentary on your "Page Two" [Feb. 7] reflects the worries of many cities around the globe. Of course, it is intended for consumption of the middle class and up (didn't mention the weather). But what is collapsing is not the economies of those cities, including Austin, but the economic system of absentee ownership. Clinton's failures or Bush's successes didn't make Argentina fail, where the rich were forced to come back to Israel and Spain, while the natives stayed on, hungry. Brazil may be next, and Mexico is shaking. In Austin, the governmental-assistance programs are corrupt and wasteful. If just Strayhorn or Futrell would get out of their offices and ask neighborhood leaders how to trim government healthily, I'd say: AISD and UT are rather a burden for many Austinites forced to work hard to keep them running. Some of the small-business support agencies just pass on pamphlets and catalogs; Internal Affairs is a sham, and so is the police monitor; detectives at APD never get out of their cubicles; judges side with cops against low-income Austinites; Capital Metro has never been profitable and shelters outsiders; health care doesn't reach the poor; art agencies do not serve ignorant Austinites; and every local artist is a hobo, tired of competing against New Yorkers. Austinites can't even afford to swim in Barton Springs pool, etc., etc. Maybe the war with Iraq has something to do with budgets and who pays for them.