Our readers talk back.
I recently penned a letter to the editor of The Austin Chronicle ["Postmarks," April, 4] wherein I took to task Cris Feldman, a callow young man employed by a group which keeps secret the names of its financial supporters, for both carelessly and consciously misrepresenting my public record.
To the Chronicle's credit, you printed my letter without editing it.
To my consternation, however, the Chronicle reprinted Feldman's original slander with the observation that I had not specified exactly what it was to which I had objection.
Well, here are my specific objections:
1) the snide reference to my being a "purported" open government proponent. There is nothing "purported" about my decadelong successful effort to bring about more openness for the benefit of all Texans to both their public records and public meetings at all levels of government. The bills I have authored and that are now the law of this state are a matter of black-and-white record. For my work on behalf of open government in Texas, I have received awards from the Texas Daily Newspaper Association and the Freedom of Information Foundation. No member of the Texas Senate has a clearer or more definite record in this area of the law than I do.
2) the statement that I am "playing fast and loose with basic financial disclosure requirements." Nothing could be further from the truth. I disclose truthfully everything the law requires and have always done so. The financial disclosure reports I file are sworn to by me and are available to the public. In addition, the political campaign reports I file are also sworn to by me and are also available to the public. They include the name, address, Zip code, date received, and amount of campaign contribution of every contributor who gave more than $50 to my campaign, unlike the organization that employs Feldman which does not disclose the names of its financial supporters to the public.
3) the charge that I "may be violating the letter of the law, and at a minimum is violating the spirit of the law" (emphasis mine). I am doing neither, and it's interesting to note that Feldman was not specific about how I was supposedly doing so. It's much easier, you see, to smear someone's good name when you generalize without being explicit. After all, getting into all the picky little particulars just might disprove one's original allegation and make one look foolish and irresponsible.
State Senator, District 25
In the April 4 Austin Chronicle, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth exhibits significant anger toward me and Texans for Public Justice apparently because we supplied Travis County prosecutors with evidence that he broke longstanding ethics laws ["Postmarks"]. As previously discussed by the Chronicle, Texas law prohibits state legislators from privately lobbying state agencies regarding policy matters on behalf of special interests.
However, as the Chronicle reported, Metabolife, the leading producer of ephedrine supplements (which have been linked to serious and sometimes fatal injuries) handsomely paid Sen. Wentworth to lobby the Texas Department of Health to undermine proposed restrictions on these dangerous products.
Furthermore, in the course of the prosecutors' investigation, it was revealed that Sen. Wentworth has had a longstanding relationship with the law firm of Linebarger, Goggan. This was never revealed in Wentworth's personal financial disclosure statements, as we believe is required under the disclosure laws applicable to state legislators.
Senator Wentworth never addresses or refutes the disturbing facts discussed above. Rather, Sen. Wentworth's recent letter attacks the messenger through name calling.
Indeed, the only new fact that Sen. Wentworth volunteers is that he is older than I. Conceding this, I urge the senator to focus on basic and fundamental ethics laws as opposed to the age of those who question elected officials.
Texans for Public Justice
Is Weird Good?
I read Rick Hall's letter explaining the Keep Austin Weird slogan ["Postmarks," April 11]. I still don't get it. I even went to his Web site and read the very long story about all the weird events that made one Austin citizen weird. All the events were bad. Every time I see or hear the word weird, it is used in a negative way. "News of the Weird," a column in this weekly, is about bad and stupid things happening to bad and stupid people. Weird is the word used most to describe Michael Jackson. I don't want to be weird or live in a weird city. If we have to have a Keep Austin slogan, how about Keep Austin Unique, Keep Austin Different, Keep Austin Local, Keep Austin Austin, or my favorite, Keep Austin Affordable? It's bad enough we are the Live Music Capital of the World and discriminate against musicians (that's weird), now we are proud to be weird? Who comes up with these slogans anyway?
Cpl. Robert Stephenson, USMC, accuses war protesters in Austin of serving to "lower morale among our troops" ["Postmarks," April 4]. He claims that Austin "jumped on the wagon to show the rest of the world how anti-military you are."
I'm friends with a DPS state trooper who served in the Army in Field Artillery, retiring as a captain. He was stationed in front of the Capitol building during the first major war protest in March. When I talked to him about the protesters he told me, "People fought and died for their right to do that. I respect that." A pity Cpl. Stephenson doesn't.
An Inaccurate and Unfair Label
Calling Libertarians "anti-government" ["Endorsements," April, 11] just because they favor smaller, more limited government than do Democrats and Republicans is like calling Dems and Reps "totalitarian" just because they favor larger, more powerful government than do Libertarians. Neither label is accurate; neither label is fair. Many Libertarians, in fact, consider themselves pro-government.
These three parties cover a number of philosophies. People know the least about Libertarian views. The Chronicle could better serve its readers if it painted the political landscape with a finer brush. You don't have to endorse Libertarians. Just don't perpetuate misconceptions about them.
Charters Enrich Education
This article ["Who Can Vouch for the Charters?" April 4] is so far off base as to facts. I sincerely regret that the concept instigated by charter schools, to cater to the individuality of students, was not available when my adult children were students. At least someone is making a concentrated effort to approach learning from a different perspective. As one interviewee remarked ... "public schools keep doing the same things, year after year, and getting the same results." Those students who don't "fit" the mold are left behind. Granted, all charters aren't successful ... but, for goodness sakes, why should we throw the baby out with the wash?
Betty S. Moore
This Is Your Brain on Tobacco
Mike Clark-Madison's "Austin at Large: Smoke and Mirrors" [April 11] is just about what I would have expected from a brain-damaged tobacco addict. And no, I'm not trying to be funny or making light of smokers -- tobacco use does indeed damage the brain -- that's how addiction works.
Smokers, you should be mad as hell, but vent your anger at the people that sold an addictive, defective, and lethal drug to you in the first place!
Clark-Madison never mentioned the bottom line: ambient tobacco smoke is a weapon of mass destruction that kills 65,000 innocent Americans every year. This is truly the tobacco holocaust.
Every employee and patron of every establishment deserves smoke-free air, devoid of the many carcinogens and poisons in tobacco smoke.
Each and every public place and workplace should be smoke-free, no exceptions or exemptions. Anything less is unacceptable!
Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Chris Rock
I find your movie review of Head of State [April 4] offensive. Your review ends with a blow to President George W. Bush. When I read reviews that trash our president, usually written by some liberal hack whose mental powers are questionable, I laugh. After all, the hack writing this review has not received degrees from both Harvard and Yale, nor has he/she distinguished himself/herself in any measurable way financially, or he/she would not be writing for your third-rate newspaper. Nor has this third-rate writer ever served as governor of any state, nor head of state of any nation. How nice to cast aspersions when one has nothing at stake.
Party Was a Bust
I do not know Stephen MacMillan Moser but I was at the aGLIFF Oscar Party, and happen to agree with him ["After a Fashion," March 28]. When my boyfriend and I and two friends arrived at 7, the line for the food was long, and when we finally got to it, there was only some tortilla chips and the soggy chicken. Restaurants that were advertised to be serving food were nowhere in sight. We decided not to eat, even though that's part of what we had paid for. Then we discovered the same thing Moser did. The free champagne was not free at all. We shared a table in the center of the room with some other friends and sat down to watch the show. After a little while none of us could see or hear the awards either because of all the noise and people walking around. We had come to see the Oscars but that became impossible so we left early, and so did the people at the table next to us. What bothers me more than any of that is the attitude expressed by David Durham of aGLIFF who says he speaks only for himself ["Postmarks," April 4] but has an agenda a mile long. Stay home if you really want to see the Oscars? A charity must be doing pretty good if they can tell people to stay away from their events. In the future, my boyfriend and I will take Durham's advice and stay home, too.
I read Mike Clark-Madison's response to the smoking ordinance issue ["Austin @ Large," April 11], and I just want to let you know that cigarette smoke is something that does affect how often some people will go out to bars and clubs and yes, Star Seeds. I have no problem with people smoking, I just don't want to breathe their smoke. I guess I believe that what people do is fine so long as it doesn't encroach on others. The bottom line is which hurts the community more, you asking me to live with your smoke (at a club, bar, small restaurant) or me asking you to smoke outside when you need to smoke? Not to mention the fact that cigarette companies are, pretty much by definition, evil.
Smoking cigarettes is definitely not what makes Austin cool or weird. I never understand the macho attitude supporting cigarette smoking. I can't think of a single positive reason to smoke a cigarette. A pithy reply could be to simply not be like me, or you could argue that it's a social crutch that gives people an excuse to communicate with each other, or that nicotine makes them feel good, but all of these are rather weak excuses, and there are better drugs of choice. Choose cigarettes if you want, just understand that it may not be the choice of those downwind of you.
The Truth is Not a Crime
I was arrested at an anti-war protest on March 20. I did not block any traffic. I was arrested because I tried to take photographs of a group of undercover Austin police officers who were trying to instigate violence with peaceful demonstrators. I took these photographs so that I could identify them to their superiors for misconduct.
Eight officers assaulted myself and two other peaceful demonstrators. They put us into an unmarked van. They did not identify themselves as police to me until after I was in the van. They threatened me. They injured my friend. They took my camera. They developed my film. They took away the pictures that I had taken. Taking the pictures rendered me unable to identify the violent officers for a complaint against them.
They gave me a ticket for jaywalking. That was the only charge against me.
I spoke to your paper about what happened. After your article ["APD 'Documents the Instigators,'" March 28] came out, the police decided to elevate my charges. Now I might go to jail for six months. I face losing my freedom, my apartment, my small business, and a part of my youth. The Austin Police Department is trying to take away my freedom because I told on them. I told the truth and now the APD is trying to "punish" me for it.
Again, the Austin Police Department gave me a ticket for jaywalking. Two to three weeks later an article came out in your paper about what they did to me for allegedly "jaywalking." After this, the Austin Police decided to elevate my charges.
It is very frightening to me that the Austin Police Department feels that I should have to live with murderers in jail because I spoke truthful words about them.
Thank you, Austin Chronicle, for standing up and telling the truth. Thank you for the coverage you have given to the injustices that peace demonstrators, myself included, have received from certain elements in our police force.
Your article on April 11, "Biennial Gay-Bashing," did not mention that the same groups that berate others for discriminating against gays themselves actively discriminate -- against ex-gays. Each year, thousands of men and women with same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave homosexuality. However, some refuse to respect that choice. As a result, ex-gays are subject to an increasingly hostile environment where we are reviled simply because we dare to exist.
For example, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educational Network widely distributed a school booklet labeling ex-gay participation in public schools as "harassment." The gay Human Rights Campaign publicly demanded that a contributor (AOL's Mrs. Steve Case) reconsider her sizeable donation to a children's school merely because it had indirect ties to an ex-gay ministry. The list is endless because every day brings new hostile acts against the ex-gay community.
The harassment of ex-gays by gays themselves is a sad end to the long struggle for tolerance by the gay community. That ex-gays are now oppressed by the same people who until recently were victimized themselves demonstrates how far the gay rights movement has come. We now need to face the other side of sexual orientation -- intolerance of ex-gays. Please remember that former homosexuals are also worthy of respect.
PFOX -- Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays
Fort Belvoir, Va.
An Unrealistic View of Protest
Jason White's claim that the Iraqis would have happily surrendered had it not been for those darn peace protesters ["Postmarks," April 4] is quite comical. Unfortunately, it has little to do with reality and more to do with a Turner movie classic (where joyful natives fire their rifles into the air as the heroes roll into their town). Since the invasion began, we've seen cases of Iraqis welcoming Marines and taking personal risks to rescue American soldiers, yet the protests around the world have not subsided (though you'd never know from most of the American media). Now if the protesters were really determining their actions, why on Earth would they be doing that?
No matter, logic and rationality went out of the window long ago as far as the right is concerned. Borrowing an entire chapter from Goebbels that a lie repeated often enough and forcefully enough will eventually become "fact," they have gone around squawking "Remember 9/11, remember 9/11" like demented parrots. Try pointing out that there's not a shred of evidence (unless you consider the administration's forged documents to be evidence) to support any connection between Iraq and 9/11 and that none of the 9/11 hijackers were even Iraqi. So what? Those Middle Eastern guys are probably all in it together, so let's go and get 'em! To see the not-so-subtle racism at work here, imagine that this is 1939 again and we're up against Germany. Would these guys be calling for the bombing of France or Italy or even Switzerland and Austria because "you know those Europeans are all in it together"? Probably not.
With luminaries such as Limbaugh and O'Reilly spreading their verbal diarrhea over the airwaves, most of the public doesn't even get a chance to debate any of these issues. So it's left to peace protesters to risk getting teargassed and fired upon (now remind me again who's freeing who?) to remind folks like Mr. White that there is a whole other world out there.
Less Funding for Texas Arts
An addendum to last week's "A Lege Too Far" [April 11]: Last I heard, our elected representatives were advocating slashing the Texas Commission on the Arts Budget by a whopping 44%. They are finalizing their budget recommendations this week, and things could get even worse. Artists and lovers of arts need to contact your state representative and senator now to help preserve Texas Art funding.
Traffic Disrupters Deserve Full Punishment Under the Law
I would like to publicly thank the Austin Police Department for their decisive reprisal against the Spy Kids III production. As we all know, there is no room in this community for anyone who wants to block traffic in order to express themselves. When Robert Rodriguez shut down Congress Avenue on Sunday for his production, the APD responded in the only manner a free country can condone: beatings and pepper spray.
When the skirmish line of riot cops moved in on those production assistants, I practically cried with pride. And when our men in black armor soaked Robert Rodriguez with stinging chemicals, I thought, "Serves him right for delaying traffic for up to four minutes." I particularly liked the part where our cops dashed the camera-crane operator to the street. If that bastard hadn't wanted a concussion, he shouldn't have been up there in the first place.
I talked to a cop with a "Linklater Supporter" button, he said that it doesn't matter if it's one person bringing money into the community or a thousand, if they interfere with the sacred right to speed from one point to another, then they deserve the full brutality of the law.
God bless America.
What Price War?
Well, the bombs, missiles, and artillery have been falling for weeks now. Think about young soldiers on both sides, along with Iraqi mothers, fathers, girls and boys, entire families: All have been run through the death grinder, torn limb from limb, dismembered, burned, cut in two. So, after this orgasm of vengeance and blood, are we any safer here at home? What has been purchased with all those lives so violently cut short? Is the world any safer from the "evildoers"? We must be honest with ourselves and answer this question, because a vulgar, sickening, unthinkable price has been paid. We owe it to the mangled to at least answer honestly before we move on to the next population of "evildoers." To the self-sure righteous: What has been purchased with all that blood?
France Loves Texas Music
Boycott French products? I wonder who the Einstein was who thought of this concept?
The music business has a friend in the French: Dixie Frog Records, which signs American and British artists such as: Neal Black (San Antonio), Johnny Winter (Texas), Tommy Castro (San Francisco Bay, Calif.), Popa Chubby (New York), Chris Duarte (Texas), Coco Montoya (Los Angeles), John Mayall (Britain), Charlie Musselwhite, Calvin Russell (Texas), Duke Robillard (Rhode Island), as well as the likes of Buddy Guy, Billy Joe Shaver, Van Wilks, and a slew of other non-French artists.
So those Americans who choose to boycott French products are also choosing to put the American artist and artists from other parts of the world in an economic struggle.
These artists are welcomed with open arms in the French culture. Especially artists from Texas. It's a big deal for Texas artists to perform in France. The French embrace the American artists, when those same artists may have a hard time filling a room with 200 seats in some areas of this country. The French actually appreciate the American musician.
As many of us did not have a choice whether or not our government chose to send troops to Iraq, the French people don't have a choice in what their government chooses to do about the situation either. Why would Americans even think about boycotting American-made products simply because a company in a country such as France was smart enough to represent those artists?
Many citizens of this country opposed the war and openly demonstrated against it. Many French citizens did the same. For either country to even contemplate boycotting products from the other country is an insult to the artists and other hardworking citizens of both countries.
Blue Cobra Music
Political Point of View
As the fog of failed diplomacy clears, I see 500 innocent children burned alive; Bush sees a "historic moment."
I see 300 more innocent children now without arms, legs, or eyes; Rumsfeld sees a "job half completed."
I see an entire planet stunned as Baghdad smolders in chaotic ruin; Cheney sees "opportunity."
I see an election coming up where we will have a clear choice: Republicans -- who will continue to rejoice in the aftermath of quick and violent wars, or, Democrats -- who will put a stop to this unnecessary pre-emptive madness and return the U.S. to solving the world's problems through diplomacy, dignity, and morality.
Libertarians Are Not Anarchists
Your recent endorsements for city elections contained an absurd statement: "We generally don't find ourselves endorsing Libertarians for the self-evident reason that being anti-government is usually not a good qualification for public office" [March 11].
That Libertarians are anti-government is a common misconception, but one that the Chronicle -- if it considers itself to have a serious political page -- should not screw up. Other newspapers, while still not endorsing our candidates, have managed to get the facts straight.
Anarchists, not Libertarians, are anti-government. Libertarians are pro-government, but Libertarians believe a limited, carefully proscribed role for government is best. The founding fathers of this country (those that wrote the Bill of Rights and ensured freedom of the press) were Libertarians. Libertarians are pro-freedom on every issue.
But if I grant you that being anti-government excludes one from public office, it follows that being ignorant about politics should preclude one from writing about the subject.
We Need a New Leaders
It is ironic that the pro-war crowd tried to micromanage this war from the safety of their armchairs. William Safire and the AM radio demagogues offered their critiques about how the military "should have taken out the TV tower first," "shouldn't be so cautious about avoiding civilians," etc.
I, who have opposed this war, have always trusted the military to do a good job, which they have. What I don't trust is our president's ability to pick the right fights. Radical Muslims are as strong as ever, only now more motivated. I frankly don't feel any safer today than I did on 9/11.
The top questions in the 2004 election must be: Who is most able to determine real threats to national security? Who is most able to act at the right time in the right manner, so that our international relationships are not destroyed and our treasury is not bankrupted? And most importantly, who is able to fashion energy policies that move us toward alternative sources, thus reducing the need for future wars?
Liberation by Death
Thanks for publishing the link to Iraq Body Count (www.iraqbodycount.net), an organization that culls from reputable press reports the number of Iraqi civilians killed ["Get Your War On(line)," April 11]. It's at least 1,160 and counting.
I had sent the question to the notoriously liberal Associated Press' "War Q&A" section in the Statesman online. But the AP only answers what folks really want to know, like how the troops clean their uniforms and what the Australians are doing (no fooling).
Undeniably, removing Saddam from power is a good outcome, but the subjects of Operation Iraqi Liberation paid a dear price.
I suppose there is some metaphysical sense in which death is the ultimately liberating experience, but I doubt that's what our political leadership had in mind. And I suspect it's an academic question for those Iraqis who -- willingly or not -- gave the last full measure of devotion to depose Saddam.
Child-Support Laws Invade Privacy
According to the attorney general's office, effective March 1, all noncustodial parents whose divorce was adjudicated in Texas will be required to have their child-support payments deducted from their paychecks by their employers. To accomplish this action, the S.A.G. has notified all employers of noncustodial parents, past and present, of this decision and are compelling them to deduct the support payment or be held in violation of the court order. Additionally, noncustodial parents must report any employment change or employment status to the S.A.G. The decision to take this action was based upon, again according to the S.A.G., the "vast majority of nonpaying, noncustodial parents [who] refuse to make their required child-support payments." The action, it was felt, would benefit those children who have received little to no support. Unfortunately, the small minority of compliant noncustodial parents is punished. At what point did noncustodial equal nonsupportive? When did my agonizing, moral decision to leave my precious children in the custody of their mother become an act punishable by public humiliation? Why, when I pay my child support without external influence and play a positive role in my children's young lives, must I be portrayed as a deadbeat to all of my employers, including those for whom I no longer work! The state's attorney general has violated my right to privacy. I am a good man, and I have suffered enough!
Pass HB 3437
Dear Sir or Madam:
I'm writing in support of Texas HB 3437, to be introduced by Austin Representative Eddie Rodriguez.
The major points I'd like to make are:
Texas has never been able to provide a truly equitable system of financing public schools.
This bill would eliminate Robin Hood. It will abolish the corporate franchise tax. It will replace the revenue from these taxes with a progressive graduated income tax.
Thus property owners will be relieved from an increasingly burdensome tax.
The bill is mostly about voter control because it requires a vote to have an income tax and then requires a vote of the people if the state ever wants to raise that tax.
This bill will create an equitable system to replace the current regressive and unstable system.
This bill should have full bipartisan support because it is good for Texas schools, good for taxpayers, and most importantly it is good for Texas children.
As a regular reader of the Chronicle, I would very much appreciate your public support of Rep. Rodriguez and HB 3437.
Libertarianism Is the Answer
Your comment questioning the appropriateness of Libertarians running for elected office for being "anti-government" ["Endorsements," April 11] reflects a myth you should avoid propagating.
The fundamental problem is that the complex social systems which government addresses do not lend themselves to simple analysis. A presumption that an elected official is not doing his or her job unless he or she is expanding the body of rules and rule enforcers is indicative of such simplistic analysis.
Intervention in complex systems is fraught with unintended consequences. If every such intervention had only the effects promised by its proponents, and only cost the taxes raised and spent in official budgets, many such efforts might seem justified, but a closer examination will show, more often than not, that the benefits don't materialize, there are hidden costs that are unfairly borne by people as higher prices and compliance costs, reduced productivity and employment, public corruption, and frequently, effects opposite to those promised.
Complex social systems are counterintuitive, not just for ordinary citizens, but even for the experts, or certainly for the legions of government workers that draw paychecks without benefiting the public more than they could by being employed in the private sector.
Libertarians engage the problems more comprehensively, and this prevents them from offering the simplistic measures that tend to win elections, and leads them to advocate undoing what is not working as intended. That is not being "anti-government."
For more on this I recommend Jay Forrester, "Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems," Technology Review, Vol. 73, No. 3, Jan. 1971, www.constitution.org/ps/cbss.htm.
School Financing Solution
Now that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has announced a plan to finance our schools by raising the sales tax, I hope all Texans will instead give their support to HB 3437: Rep. Eddie Rodriguez's sensible plan to create a fair and stable system of school financing through a state income tax. Revenues from sales taxes are inherently unstable. As we have seen in the last week, sales tax receipts are down, as people cut back on their spending in uncertain economic times. Sales taxes are also regressive. If I have $100 and you have $10, and we both pay $1 in sales tax for the same purchase, I have paid 1% of what I have, while you have paid 10% of what you have. With a progressive, graduated income tax, such as that proposed by HB 3437, the taxes are based on one's ability to pay.
HB 3437 would also significantly reduce other taxes that are increasingly burdensome to business and persons with lower or fixed incomes: It would abolish the corporate franchise tax, and eliminate the maintenance and operations portion of school property tax (or 85-90% of people's local property taxes).
For those who complain about state income taxes being unfair to upper-income taxpayers, I invite you to pay close attention to the instructions for your federal tax forms. State income taxes are deductible on Form 1040, Schedule A. Sales taxes are not.
Smoking Ban Won't Hurt Business
The Austin City Council is considering a law banning smoking in bars, nightclubs, and all restaurants. Like many people, I enjoy the smoke from my own cigarette, but not from everyone else's. I hope the council passes the law. It's long overdue.
Unfortunately, some Austin businesses are fighting the proposal. They assume it will result in lost revenues, but there is simply no evidence for that assumption. Everyone should take a close look at what has happened in California. That state prohibited smoking in enclosed public spaces in 1998. A year after the ban took effect, the state Department of Health Services collected revenue data from businesses affected by the ban. The department found there was actually a greater percentage increase in taxable sales for bars and restaurants during 1998 than in either of the two preceding years. In 1997 many California businesses made the same dire predictions about lost profits that Austin bar owners are making right now.
Those opposed to smoking restrictions here in Austin are using a specious argument to support their case. They point to one local smoke-free nightclub (the Acoustic Cafe) that closed after a few months, and they say the smoke-free policy is the reason the club failed. But as they know full well, a bar or nightclub can fail for any number of reasons. Location, food, service, and music (among other things) all play a role in the success or failure of that kind of business. To put it another way, there is no causal link between the smoke-free policy and the failure of that one nightclub.
New York City just enacted a law modeled on California's. The New York City Council investigated the possibility that the law would hurt local businesses. They found no solid evidence to that effect.
Keep Your Smoke Out of My Lungs
Mike Clark-Madison in "Austin @ Large" [April 11] suggests a number of motivations underlie the proposal by Mayor Gus Garcia to regulate smoking in public places, none of which come close to the intended and actual motivation: public health. The column expands the effort to involve political expediency, environmental purity, constitutional rights, subservience to Round Rock (he fails to note that we're still ahead of Manor -- please give us credit for something) and general lack of weirdness. But most of all, Mr. Clark-Madison puts forth the same countering argument that others employ -- they're out to get the smokers and make them give up their habit.
What Mr. Clark-Madison, the self-confessed smoker, fails to address is that every time he lights up in a public place, the byproduct of his pleasure negatively affects someone else's health, and that extends to patrons and employees alike. We fully realize that there is a tradition of smoking in public places, mostly but not exclusively bars, and that those who enjoy smoking will be forced to change if the ordinance passes. But Mr. Clark-Madison himself recognizes that in other places where such a law is on the books life hasn't ended and smokers can still light up -- though not inside -- and documented studies show no decrease in business activity. It should be noted that 20% of all Americans now live in areas that prohibit smoking in all public places, including bars.
This ordinance is not about getting people to quit; most smokers are sufficiently familiar with the hazards of their habit. What it is about, despite Mr. Clark-Madison's assertions, is eliminating the significant health hazards of smoking in public places. It's not about whether one smokes -- it's about where one smokes.
Tobacco Free Austin Coalition
Taxation Is Violence
I applaud Missy Bolbecker and Patrice Mallard of the American Friends Service Committee for their pacifist views ["Showdown in Texas," April 11]. I, too, oppose pre-emptive warfare (but will oppose aggressors with force).
There is an incongruity, though, in AFSC's position. Missy and Patrice are supporters of that form of violence known as taxation. Ninety percent of all taxation is nothing more than extortion under threat of losing your home, your freedom, or your life.
AFSC should return to its classical liberal tradition of supporting voluntary measures to accomplish social goals. I contend that there would be no war in Iraq if warhawks (chickenhawks) had to pay the entire cost of the war instead of socializing the bills.
The welfare state and warfare state go hand in hand -- both born in violence -- and you will never abolish one without the other. As the nation descends into moral and economic bankruptcy, time is short.
Vincent J. May
Hemp for America
Thank you for printing "Please Don't Eat the Hemp" [April 11]. I have been purchasing imported Canadian hemp seed oil for four years and do not think the Drug Enforcement Administration should be allowed to re-interpret the laws pertaining to cannabis hemp in order to ban the sale of foods containing hemp seed or oil.
I do support the Drug Enforcement Administration changing the laws so to allow America's farmers to grow hemp, which allows me to buy hemp oil from American farmers.
It is time to reintroduce hemp as a component of American agriculture.
More Compassion for 'Aliens'
The topic of immigrants usually evokes more than just a disapproving frown from the general public. True, for undocumented "aliens," the "illegal" aspect of it seems to justify our right (and need) to restrict their presence. Yet, have we considered how much their labor has contributed to the development of this city? As the documentary Los Trabajadores has shown, we value their labor but not so much their humanity. Even before analyzing immigrant-related policies, I feel that we need to examine our attitudes first. Those who come here to find work out of sheer desperation to keep their families alive will mostly likely find this nation to be fraught with mixed messages -- there is a need for construction work and hard labor, but employers may not always feel the need to pay them. Moreover, even when immigrants have legal status, their socioeconomic situation often renders them in need of public benefits, much of which is inaccessible even for those who have obtained legal status.
Texas houses the third largest immigrant population in the U.S., but turned down the state option to provide Medicaid and TANF for qualified immigrants who have been here for five years or less. Think about how this impacts millions of families in our state. Some argue that they have no right to impose their presence on our land and steal our jobs or access benefits. Well, how many times have we imposed our presence on other lands? And, are they really stealing the jobs that we want the most? It is time for Austin to model more compassion toward our hardworking "aliens." It is time for Texas to be an example for the rest of the country by advocating for one of the most vulnerable groups who are major contributors to our economy.
Bill of Rights Is Crucial
Why do we even have a bill of rights? Or for that matter, why do we even need a bill of rights? Strange questions, I agree, but according to some people recently, for a country to have a democratic, free society all one needs is a "representative government." Thus, for these people no bill of rights is necessary. For example, in the past two years two countries have had their regimes forcibly changed by the U.S. In both cases, first Afghanistan as retaliation for 9/11 and next Iraq on a whim, when talk has turned to reconstruction, the Bush administration only mentions helping them set up a "representative government." No one, to my knowledge, has ever mentioned the second, and as equally important, half of the democratic equation, a bill of rights, as being essential to the complete liberation of both Iraqi and Afghan citizens. So, I read with shock and awe this week that the chief justice of the Afghan supreme court has declared that Sharia, or rigid, religious fundamentalist Islamic law like the Taliban and al Qaeda imposed on Afghanistan, will be the official law of the land. Shouldn't he be in Hotel Guantanamo Bay enjoying a nice, Caribbean vacation alongside the other religious fundamentalist fanatics? So I can see what is about to befall the Iraqi people, because of what Bush has stupidly allowed to re-emerge in Afghanistan. Shame on him. When Bush promised the Iraqi people a democracy, he only meant they would have a "representative government," but no bill of rights. What a bizarre, half-assed view of democracy. Thus, no First Amendment (or any other Bill of Rights amendment) will be in place to prevent a religious fundamentalist dictatorship, or whatever type of dictatorship, from seizing control of the Iraqi "representative government" and the rest of Iraqi society. So whatever hope either Iraqi or Afghan citizens had for freedom, Bush has destroyed by omitting a bill of rights for the citizens of both liberated countries. Which makes me wonder if Bush and the people in his administration really give a damn about our own country's Bill of Rights. (Anyone for PATRIOT Act III?)
Don't Let Us Down, 'Chron'
Ironic how this week we got the Chronicle's candidate choices but on your civic calendar not one notice of candidate forums. Nothing about Windsor Park's last Saturday or the forum by the Austin Area Human Services the following Wednesday or the bond issue to be discussed at the Tarrytown Baptist Church the evening before. All that should have been in the last Chronicle issue, and now it's too late. Forum dates aren't hard to get. Just ask any candidate.
The fact is, like the low voter turnout, the Chronicle reflects the public's (lack of) interest -- and it shouldn't, not on the eve of the biggest real estate deal in Austin's history. Citizens might want to hear from candidates on this, that who should end up owning the Mueller tract, the developer or Austin, which affects taxes and revenues, will be equally investigated. Not to mention candidates' views on other urgent questions like transportation. So please, on your civic calendar, from now on tell us in time where and when the candidates will assemble. The League of Women Voters will sponsor three occasions and wants to hear from the public well in advance.
Regarding candidates, the roster seems unusually good this election, and choices must have been hard, but couldn't the Chronicle have come up with a better reason not to endorse Robert Singleton than kind of wishing he would return to doing what he does so well? What does that say about the other candidates, incidentally? Not so effective out of office? Surely effectiveness needs the same qualities in office, and that sharp-witted Ben Franklin has them.
Austin's Economic Cane Toad
"Caulerpa taxifolia" is a man-made algae-plant! A clone of the original species mutated and was sold to decorate aquariums in France and Monaco. It found its way into the Mediterranean and grew from a few square yards in 1989 to 11,000 acres in 1997.
From the Mediterranean it spread to Africa and many [places] like Australia and Carlsbad, Calif. It smothers and kills all indigenous sea plants and forces all local sea life forms to die or flee as it contains a high level of toxic poison. It is taking over the oceans and scientists are at a loss as to how to stop it!
The analogy to Austin's toxic Smart Growth "incentives" planning is weirdly obvious.
Austin's Smart Growth-Caulerpa property-tax-ifolia was first spotted in 1998 and quickly spread from Austin's City Hall. This Smart Growth-Caulerpa property-tax-ifolia wipes out all lower-income residents/homeowners and small businesses, it's weird!
This awful SG-C property-tax-ifolia is taking over Central Austin! It is driving away indigenous Austinites with its toxic effects! It quickly spread from infested City Council members and wiped out Liberty Lunch and the beloved Palmer Auditorium and City Coliseum.
Austin's SG-C property-tax-ifolia was carried back from Portland. It was stuck on the shoes of the Austin city manager after he attended a Smart Growth-Caulerpa property-tax-ifolia conference in Portland.
Any little piece of the Smart Growth-Caulerpa property-tax-ifolia can reproduce in any new local environment especially when given City Hall "incentive$."
Mid-Sixties Smart Growth-Caulerpa property-tax-ifolia was first noticed in the in suburbs of London. From London it has spread around world. The most noticeable outbreak occurred in the 1990s in the city of Portland. It rapidly covered almost that entire city.
City Council members unethically continue to allow it to ravenously feed on Austin!
The Right to Birth Records
Senate Bill 174 -- Filed by Jane Nelson, District 12, of Grapevine, makes it impossible to access information on marriage records by the public, including genealogists and family historians. SB 861 and HB 1778 seek to make birth records remain closed for 75 years. Currently they are closed for 50 years. This makes it increasingly difficult, and for some impossible to research their lineage and family history. DD 214 legislation is also being passed in a futile attempt to stop identity theft. There is a petition online and the link to it is www.petition-them.com, then click on human rights tab. Please help us to stop the government from taking away access to our heritage. We would appreciate any mention in your newspaper regarding this issue or any other help. Thank you for your support.
Rosanna Urban Parra