Our readers talk back.
Fri., May 28, 2004
We Need to Mobilize
I'm writing because I wish there were an organization for Austin like MoveOn.org something that could mobilize people to act quickly in a local situation such as the development near Hamilton Pool, for example. There are countless political/environmental issues involving Austin and the surrounding area about which I think a lot of people would be likely to join forces. I don't feel that I personally have the knowledge or resources to start a Web site like that, but it seems like an idea whose time has come. Any ideas?
I realize that organizations such as SOS (which I applaud and thank every day of my life) exist and send e-mail to large groups. But maybe something even larger and more inclusive?
Penny Van Horn
Vision Not Mine
This is to criticize Envision Central Texas's "characterization" of the results of its "survey" conducted regarding the future of Central Texas: How can ECT say anything about what "desires" were voiced by most Central Texans ["ECT Serves Up Its Vision," News, May 7]? I received the survey (in your paper), where I was invited to choose among various alternatives for the planned development and management of the Austin area over the next decade or so; nowhere was I given the option of "no thanks," i.e., I don't want any micromanagement of development along the lines suggested; I just want the city and surroundings to evolve naturally, informed from time to time by the usual legislative process, without activist meddling by ECT and their ilk. ECT self-appoints itself caretaker of the region and decides which options we have to choose from? There should have at least been a box marked "other" on the survey. Of course, if the number of surveys distributed but not returned was compared with the number of votes received for the various scenarios, I think we'd see how many Central Texans chose "none of the above" in response to the choices offered by ECT's survey and decline to be represented by that organization, myself included.
As I read Mike Clark-Madison's latest article ["Austin at Large," News, May 21], I am struck anew by the impracticality of Texas transportation planning. Oil supplies are down, air pollution and global warming are up, and Central Texas politicians and planners still want to move every single central Texan around by motor vehicle. No transportation system in the world moves everyone by motor vehicle. In cities whose transportation systems work, large numbers of people walk or cycle. This essential fact is ignored not only by politicians and planners but also by reporters in the United States generally.
For example, consider London's congestion pricing, one of the few such experiments mentioned in the U.S. newspapers. If you read the articles in The New York Times, you will get the impression that the entire scheme consists of charging motorists fees to drive into central London. This is far from true. Not only are there too many cars in central London, but the public transit system is also overburdened. So London is encouraging bicycling in a big way. (I read about this in the excellent British cycling magazine Velo Vision.)
There are miles and miles of new cycle paths and bike lanes in London. There is the London School of Cycling, where adults can learn to ride bicycles in city traffic. But somehow these details aren't reported in the United States. They're important. Congestion pricing doesn't work without big encouragement of walking and cycling.
Suppose that here in Central Texas we built even one cycle path linking Central Austin to Oak Hill or Round Rock. People would use it. Habits would begin to change. It's actually quite possible to enjoy cycling in Central Texas. And electric bicycles do exist.
Must we burn all the oil before we start thinking? I hope not.
'Riddled With Nonsense'
Mike Clark-Madison's toll-road piece was so riddled with nonsense it's hard to know where to begin ["Austin at Large," News, May 21]. He never bothers to mention the most critical facts: that Austin has been No. 2 in the entire nation in rate of road building for the last 20 years, adding lane miles at roughly twice the rate of population growth. Yet congestion has only gotten worse (because daily miles driven have increased even faster). The inescapable reality is that expanding suburban highways, tolled or untolled, will not reduce traffic as claimed.
There is no mention that the toll-road board is completely isolated from voter accountability. And nary a word about who actually gets the $2.2 billion, who gets the long-term management contracts, and where the collected tolls go.
Perhaps the suburban commuters who, Madison argues, are "squawking the loudest" but will "benefit the most" know something he doesn't know namely that tolling existing high traffic roads like MoPac, Loop 360, and U.S. 290 will be used to finance the next round of sprawl highways, like the recently disclosed proposal to extend South MoPac down into Hays County. Unaware of this basic fact, Madison suggests the opposite, that tolling these existing roads is "responsible planning for a region that's trying to encourage density and redevelopment."
Please! The proposed $2.2 billion debt-financed tolldoggle is all about super sprawl, highway contractors, Wall Street bond firms, and dodging voters. It is completely contrary to the Envision Central Texas goal of reducing sprawl (and preserving the Edwards Aquifer).
Madison incorrectly claims that the toll system would "replace" the current highway "concrete nightmares." Wrong again. The collected tolls (and the debt financing) will only add another funding source so we can build sprawl highways even faster than the breakneck pace of the last two decades.
The angry suburbanites also know they will pay the tolls everyday. This stark reality has, just possibly, motivated them to learn a bit more of the truth about the CTRMA plans than Mr. Madison.
If CAMPO approves the $2.2 billion toll scam in just two months, then voters will lose their last real voice in the matter. This cram-it-down-their-throats-before-they-figure-it-out approach should alone set off alarm bells. Austin desperately needs the Chronicle to pay considerably closer attention to this extremely important issue.
Save Our Springs Alliance
[Mike Clark-Madison replies: We'll be writing more about the toll-road plan, and about Capital Metro's commuter rail proposals, in next week's issue. I hope our continuing coverage of the issue will address Bill Bunch's concerns.]
Too Much Construction!
What in the world is going on in Austin? There is construction on almost every street: Ceasar Chavez, South First, Lamar, Bee Caves, South Congress, 45th, 15th, Koenig, and Guadalupe. You name the road and the city will find a way to put a construction crew on it. I am one Austinite who's tired of it. The old cliché applies here: It takes one guy to dig and five guys to watch him dig. Every morning I'm awoken by the sound of metal clanging, drillers drilling, and tractors beeping. What happened to the birds? Used to be the road crews would at least give me a break on the weekends, but now they work on the weekends. Is this supposed to help them finish faster? If so, it's not working. I live off South First, so maybe you can understand where I am coming from. I've spoken to the project manager overseeing the South First project. He listened to my concerns then told me to find an alternate route to and from work. Said he lived off South First and that's what he does. Come to think of it, his receptionist and everyone I spoke with in his office lived off South First and all said the same thing. Find an alternate route, it's that simple. Well you know what, I don't want to find an alternate route. I want them to finish. Finish? Is that word in the city's vocabulary? Remember how long it took to finish Barton Springs Road? Something like three years. Seems like the city liked the way that turned out so much they decided to turn all of Austin's roads into Barton Springs Road. I belong to my neighborhood community group, to get involved. But this does nothing to stop what's going on, it only helps to become aware of what's going on. Here's hoping that something will come along and clear this all up because I don't believe the city, I don't like their track record, all I want is peace and quiet and for them to finish the work on time. But hey, it's our tax dollars at work, plus they've created how many new jobs with all this construction? It's sad and sickening. The only other option is to move, and I don't want to do that just yet.
Cliff Brown Jr.
'Page Two' Error
To whom it may concern:
In his "Page Two" column [May 21], Mr. Black mistakenly wrote that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld never served in the military. According to his official U.S. secretary of defense Web page (www.defenselink.mil/bios/secdef_bio.html), he did. Either Mr. Black intentionally lied, didn't check his facts, or this Department of Defense biography page is lying. If it's either of the first two, please take corrective action; if it's the latter, that most certainly should be reported on.
Black Is the Enemy
In your "Page Two" column [May 21] you published excerpts from a letter (written by someone in San Diego!) that questions John Kerry's record as a Vietnam war hero, while at the same time you bemoan, "Make a point so far out that any discussion legitimizes it. Even if the point is preposterous, if covered enough, bits of it will lodge in people's memories."
Gee, Louis, with friends like you, who needs enemies? Yes, attacks will stick, unless people know the truth, which is easy to find. People can read John Kerry's citations for his Bronze Star and his Silver Star on his Web site, www.johnkerry.com. Click on "About John." From there, click on "John Kerry's Service Record," then on "View John Kerry's official naval records by clicking here." This takes you to a page that has military records listed in alphabetical order, including entries for "Bronze Star" and "Silver Star."
Even if you don't think this is an important issue, the citations are worth reading, just to find out how far off the mark Kerry's detractors are.
No Good Deed Goes ...
Stephen Moser's column of May 21 ["After a Fashion"] devoted quite a bit of space to the Club de Ville spring fashion show but neglected to mention what we feel is the most important piece of information about the production that it was a benefit for Dress for Success Austin, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income women make "tailored transitions" into the work force. More can be learned at www.dressforsuccess.org.
And, while we have enjoyed Stephen's attention and critique over the years, we hope that in the future he will spell our name correctly it's Club de Ville, small d, very french, very fashionable.
Ooh la la,
Club de Ville
[Editor's note: The misspelling of Club de Ville occurred in the copy-editing stage and was in no way Stephen Moser's error.]
Neighborhood Traffic Problems
Tell the folks in the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association that we share their pain over cut-through traffic and the city's inability (and unwillingness) to deal with it. Along with speeding cars, we in the Morningside-Ridgetop and Harmon Triangle neighborhoods also contend with 18-wheelers periodically cruising down our residential streets, which has frequently resulted in ripping down television and phone cables. Although we've asked the city to do something (how would you like having your phone box ripped off your house every three months?), nothing has happened.
We're one of the neighborhoods surrounding Mueller. Traffic issues relating to the old airport's redevelopment have been a huge concern with the neighborhood groups dealing with Mueller, especially with the idea to put regional retail in the northwest corner of the site. Once construction starts, the cut-through traffic will increase. One would think that this would be an issue that the city would act on immediately. But one, apparently, would be wrong.
Orwell Off by 20 Years
You can tell Jordan Smith and the DPS that they're about two years too late on the rave phenomenon ["Naked City" online, News, May 14]. Way to keep up with current trends.
The DPS's and Federal government's Gestapo-like tactics worked the first time around with the Rave Act. That legislation is in place (it was slipped in with the Amber Alert Bill) and more or less outlawed "raves" and any other group event deemed "dangerous" by our esteemed lawmakers.
George Orwell was off by 20 years.
Pleased by Galveston Coverage
I was pleasantly surprised to see such a wonderful article about Galveston Island as part of your Summer Fun issue ["Love Song to an Island," May 14]. As a native son of the island, I am particularly proud when others recognize that Galveston is indeed the "gem of the Gulf Coast."
Kate Messer is to be commended for truly capturing the style and spirit that makes Galveston a unique and pleasurable place to both live and visit. Part of what makes Galveston unique is that, unlike other beach communities, it has much more to offer than just "a day at the beach." Equally significant are the great strides that have been made toward restoration of historic homes and structures that recall the elegance and culture of an important era in Galveston's colorful history. Add to that the wide array of hotels, restaurants, art galleries, shops, and attractions, and you can well understand why Galveston continues to draw visitors year after year. Your article managed to successfully convey this overall image of the island in a relaxed and enjoyable style.
Thank you for bringing such glowing recognition to our very special island on the Texas Gulf Coast.
George P. Mitchell
As if there were any doubt about the priorities of the Republican leaders in the lege, this wasted special session blasts it to smithereens. Re-redistricting took weeks of bulldozing through the regular legislative session and two special sessions to reach an outcome. Education finance goes out with a whimper before the session is even over. Tom DeLay seems to be the only one who can put Perry, Craddick, and Dewhurst on speaking terms. Too bad DeLay doesn't give a damn about education.
What Is Wrong With the Democrats?
I wish there were a less rude way to ask, but I seriously would like to know: What the hell is wrong with Democrats? Do you people have something wrong with your brains, or have the Republicans finally installed orbital mind-control lasers? Did Ralph Nader egg your car?
The election in Florida was rigged, people. Rigged. Maybe you didn't notice? Dubya's brother was governor and his campaign manager was secretary of state, polling stations in minority districts were moved without notice, and several ballot boxes are still missing. Nevertheless, Gore won the damn vote in Florida, even with Nader in the race, but Bush is president now because Clarence Thomas' wife was on his campaign staff and Antonin Scalia's son was one of his lawyers.
God bless Nader. He's been a tireless consumer advocate for half a century, but he is politically irrelevant. While organized Republicans are goose-stepping their way into power, Democrats will only line up to take shots at an unelectable Nader; trying to organize them for anything else is like herding cats.
Do you just not want to admit that it can happen here, that banana-republic election fraud is possible in America? That didn't help Democrats put Samuel Tilden into office in 1877, and it didn't help Gore in 2000 either. Is pretending that fascism could never take over worth sitting around and wringing your hands while it does? Climb up off your own high-horses and start going after the Republicans!
It Is the Soldier Not the Declaration of Independence ...
I received a book titled Northland Spirit. In it is a statement by Dennis Edward O'Brien regarding freedoms. I would appreciate you printing it in your letter to the editor column.
"It is the soldier not the reporter who has given us the freedom of the press.
"It is the soldier not the poet who has given us the freedom of speech.
"It is the soldier not the campus organizer who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
"It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag."
Granddaughter, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, and cousin of soldiers
In Favor of Preferential Voting
I must disagree with my colleague Ray Heitmann ["Postmarks," May 21] when he tells us that preferential voting is too hard for many voters to understand. Selecting a first choice, second choice, and third choice is a skill most folks pick up in kindergarten. Furthermore, the so-called "instant run-off" method of employing preferential voting is a particularly appropriate way of allowing voters to select the candidate of their choice without having to worry about being spoilers or "throwing their vote away." In this method, if no candidate has more than 50% of all first choice votes, the candidate with the least number of first choice votes is eliminated, and the second place choices on these ballots are treated as first place choices. This process is continued until one candidate is the first choice on a plurality (more than 50%) of the ballots. Had we had such a system in place in 2000, the outcome of the election between Bush, Gore, and Nader would have been quite straightforward. Most Nader voters would have selected Gore as their second choice; Nader would have been eliminated after the first round of tabulation, and these votes would have gone to Gore; Gore would have won the election. No invasion of Iraq; no record deficits; very likely no terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center, as the Clinton/Gore administration was very focused on containing al Qaeda, a threat the Bush administration did not take seriously until after 9/11.
Oh, and we probably wouldn't be the most hated country in the world, as we are now, either. I disagree with Mr. Heitmann that Gore would have clearly won had Nader not run in 2000. The Nader voters might very well have stayed home, with the outcome being the same. Instant run-off is the only thing which will bring equity and diversity to our political system!
Iraq = Oil
May 14th's "Page Two" asked the question "Why are we in Iraq?"
You wrote eloquently about the effects of fear on common sense, and as much as I agree, I'd also like to offer up the obvious: We're in Iraq to protect our lifeblood oil.
Consider the preinvasion period: Did Bush abort the inspections process because of the urgent threat of attack from Iraq, or because of the very real possibility that the inspectors would ultimately report that Iraq was indeed free of WMDs? If the inspectors were to find no evidence of WMDs, the UN would probably lift sanctions against Iraq, thereby initiating the lease contracts and oil exploration rights that the Russians, French, and Chinese held regarding Iraq's oil fields. The Bush administration would not allow other nations an important foothold over Iraq's oil reserves and, just as importantly, for those reserves to be sold in euros.
This administration didn't give urgency to the invasion so as to protect us and innocent Iraqis from Saddam and the "evildoers"; rather, the Bush regime felt an immediate need to dominate Iraq's oil reserves and protect the value of the U.S. dollar. Consequently, in May 2003 they presented Resolution 1483 to the UN Security Council, a proposal that aimed to drop all oil sanctions against Iraq and transfer control of Iraq's oil revenue to the U.S. and Britain. The Security Council passed the resolution later that month, effectively voiding all existing oil contracts under Saddam and converting Iraq's oil exports back to the dollar. (The currency that dominates oil transactions is generally the currency that dominates the global economy.)
In the wake of 9/11, the neocon brain trust knew that Americans would be susceptible to manufactured canards designed to scare the shit out of us. They generated propaganda disguised as "intelligence" knowing that the corporate-controlled, so-called liberal media would dutifully repeat the "intelligence" without mentioning the abundance of competing information that ultimately proved more reliable. As long as the Bush administration could keep attention focused on bunk analysis about weapons of mass destruction and those cheese-eating surrender monkeys in France, most Americans would overlook the root cause of the Iraq War: American imperialism.
Forgotten Facts About 2000 Election
There are two facts being forgotten in this long-extended debate over Ralph Nader's role in the 2000 election: Texas is a winner-take-all state in electoral votes, and Texas was not a swing state in 2000.
Sure, nationally Nader cost Al Gore the election. The lackluster campaign he ran also cost Al Gore the election. So did 19,000 confused Florida voters, so did Gore's backing away from the progressive issues he briefly flirted with, so did Powell's endorsement, so did the post-election maneuvering in Florida, so also perhaps did the funny stuff with the overseas military ballots, so did the U.S. Supreme Court decision to not count all the Florida ballots. So did Al Gore's decision not to affiliate too closely with Clinton and his years of relative peace and prosperity (remember peace and prosperity?). That election was so close that each of these factors and many more had to fall Bush's direction to clear the way for him to be inducted.
But in Texas in 2000 for an individual Republican or Democrat voter, there was no real point in voting for president. Texas was going solidly for Bush, and being winner-take-all, there was no chance of Gore picking up a single electoral vote here. In Texas in 2000, a vote for Nader was a valid vote toward establishment of a viable third party in America. If more than 5% of the total American voters vote for a third political party in the presidential election, that opens up federal matching funds for the next election. This country is so overwhelmingly partisan by geography these days that substantial numbers of voters have no hope of being able to influence their state's vote. Only 16 or 17 states were presidential swing states in 2000. Might as well use some of those millions of otherwise wasted votes to encourage a possible way out of our current two-party death match.
Apparently though, this strategy confused many Nader voters in swing states like Florida.
I think the real unanswered question from the 2000 election is, "Why did the national political reporters not examine and report on Bush's record as governor before the presidential election?"