Our readers talk back.
A Prosecutor Weighs In
As a veteran prosecutor in another Texas county, I have come to know John Bradley rather well over the past 14 years. I think he deserves more fairness than he was given in the recent article regarding his office's prosecution of drug dealers from Taylor ["If You're White, It's All Right," News, Sept. 24].
Although I do not claim to be spokesman for my fellow Texas prosecutors, I can say that John is generally well respected among his professional peers, not only for his knowledge of Texas law but for his attempts to keep dangerous criminals out of his community. Aggressive prosecutor, yes. Fair prosecutor, an emphatic yes!
John is considered an expert on Texas law, and is especially regarded for his knowledge of sentencing law. In fact, he co-wrote the book on it.
As evidenced by your article, differently situated defendants with different criminal histories and different levels of criminal involvement should be treated as individuals, and thus there may be disparity in sentencing. An offender with no priors should certainly receive some chance at rehabilitation, while an offender as described in your story who is dealing ounce levels of cocaine while on parole certainly has forfeited his right to live in the free world.
Perhaps if this reporter would spend a few days and nights hanging with some real hardcore parolee crack dealers, and see the misery and violent crime they spawn and the lives they ruin, her perspective might change. If she is lucky enough to return alive, that is.
Plea bargains are not secret and are not above public scrutiny. All it takes to bring them to the light of day is a fair reporter willing to use some elbow grease to sit at the clerk's office and review past dockets and files to learn what the plea bargains were in past cases.
As the son of a now-deceased longtime Texas criminal defense attorney who knows many defense attorneys all over the state, I can say that I have heard many stories of aggressive prosecution in Georgetown, both before and during John's tenure. That the juries support his actions with guilty verdicts and strong sentences tells me that his office is working hard to keep the streets safe.
As a descendent of Austin's Old 300 settlers whose relatives once resided at Gilleland Creek in Travis County, it makes me sad that crack is even found in a wonderful community like Taylor. I am proud that Bradley's office is fighting crime there.
John and his prosecutors deserve more fairness than they were given in your article. He should be given an opportunity to respond to your unfair remarks without being edited so that your readers can learn of his office's dedication to making your part of Texas a safe place for your family to live.
[News Editor Michael King responds: As Jordan Smith made plain in her article, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley refused repeated requests even to discuss county sentencing policies or to answer questions about any cases at all, even after he had agreed to do so. Should he change his mind, we'll be delighted to listen. While we are gratified to hear that Assistant Fort Bend County District Attorney Gilleland is proud of his ancestors and thinks very highly of his fellow prosecutor, his letter presents no persuasive justification for the disparate and disproportionate drug sentences common in Williamson County, and apparently not unknown in Fort Bend County.]
'Chronicle' Staff Disgusting
You people disgust me. I know that the Chronicle is a radical, left-wing rag, but your piece on the Williamson County justice system and District Attorney John Bradley was beyond belief ["If You're White, It's All Right," News, Sept. 24]. It is clear that you decided that Williamson County is a racist hotbed before you asked a single question. You simply went to the usual whiny apologists for the stock "the criminal justice system is bad" answer and then wrote your article around it. Even the statistics you quote in the article contradict the premise of the piece, but that didn't stop you.
For the record, John Bradley is a terrific prosecutor and one of the best human beings I know. He is honest, ethical, and decent. And you can't stand it. People like you live for one thing and one thing only: to foment intolerance and discontent. And, you don't care how often you lie to achieve that end.
If I sound angry, it is because I am. The constant barrage of misinformation and lies from people like you is what creates a hostile relationship between minorities and the justice system. In the process, you apparently have no reservations about slandering good people like John Bradley and his fine prosecutors.
How do you people sleep at night?
[News Editor Michael King responds: It's reassuring to learn that Brazos County Assistant District Attorney Shane Phelps hasn't lost the winsome charm he has brought to his several unsuccessful runs for public office, here for district attorney in Travis County and most recently in the Republican primary race for 272nd district court judge. Particularly amusing is his charge that the relationship between the minority community and the justice system in Williamson County for good or ill is somehow attributable to The Austin Chronicle and our many (unspecified) lies and slanders. Apparently the voters of Brazos County were unpersuaded that Phelps has a judicial temperament; judging from his letter, they knew their man.]
Hike Gas Tax, Not Tolls
I noted that Mike Clark-Madison failed to note that a viable and very obvious option to toll roads was offered and even debated at the last CAMPO meeting (Sept. 13) ["Austin@Large," News, Sept. 17]. Not only did many of the speakers mention increasing the gasoline tax as a more appropriate means of funding the building of Texas roads, but several of the CAMPO board members either agreed or pointed out that CAMPO cannot change the gas tax.
However, CAMPO can and really should forward such a recommendation to the Texas Legislature and governor's office. Indeed, half of the CAMPO board members are currently elected officials in the Texas House and Senate, not the least of which is Sen. Barrientos.
The gas tax is highly political, and it's very difficult to get through a Texas congress that is underwritten by petroleum and chemical refining corporations. However, we do have it, and it's fixed at 25 cents per gallon. It hasn't changed since 1991, but gas prices certainly have! If nothing else, this tax should have been set as a percentage, as any other sales or property tax is set.
A gas tax is more proportional and fair to all vehicle operators. A toll road can never do that. If the argument is keeping taxes within the geographical area where they are collected, I would argue that function can be implemented, but I think it's not necessary. Roads are built by the state for the good of all citizens, and while I think Austin has been shorted, that funding still needs to be focused on the more highly populated cities, because that is where the most expensive interchanges and freeways are needed. Toll roads are the worst option, most expensive, and most likely to invite corruption. That has certainly been the history of toll roads in other parts of the U.S.
People for Efficient Transportation
[Mike Clark-Madison responds: Mr. Hodes is right that I didn't say enough about the gas tax. Some quick points:
1) The challenge of getting either a statewide hike or a regional local-option gas tax through the Lege and past the governor is worse than just "very difficult." Half of CAMPO knows this, because they are legislators. Even the House members on CAMPO who oppose toll roads have yet to present a tax-supported alternative. The toll road craze and RMAs and the Mobility Fund and debt financing of highways and all the rest are, quite explicitly, ways for the state to go around the tax-hike mountain. If hiking the tax were practical, we wouldn't be here.
2) In my very first toll road piece ["Austin@Large," News, May 21] I argued that gas-tax financing is even more "socialist" than the public schools (or public transit), and while I don't want to presume Mr. Hodes' personal beliefs, I haven't heard very much from the PET/Toll Party side that makes me think they're into such a thing. Quite the opposite, in fact. I find it very hard, logically, to square the PETters' oft-expressed recourse to private-sector business models (i.e., supply and demand), and concerns about the inflationary effects of tolls, with a higher, across-the-board, proportional gas tax. Perhaps I can be enlightened.
In any event, the gas-tax debate does nothing to resolve public dissension about the roads themselves, which is motivating the left flank of the anti-toll contingent. Resolving that tension is job No. 1 for the opposition here. Beyond that, those who would like to see a bill in the next Lege authorizing a regional, local-option, voter-approved, supplemental gas tax would do well to use their energies to lobby for that outcome right now, instead of seeking to recall City Council members who really do have absolutely no power on that score.]
I Believe in Nader
Michael Ventura's anti-Nader fanaticism is positively hilarious [Letters @ 3am," Oct. 1]! He starts out his venomous article lambasting Nader for throwing the 2000 election to Bush without mentioning a word of how Bush, with no help from Nader, literally stole the Florida votes. Then Ventura attempts to persuade us that Nader has to run in the current race "because not to run would be a tacit admission of the damage he's already caused." I guess, by this logic, Al Gore is admitting his error in running for president in 2000 by not running in this election. It gets funnier after that! Ventura points out the extremely small portion of money in Nader's campaign that comes from a Republican donor (as an individual donor, mind you; no corporate money here), while failing to mention the millions of dollars that Kerry has raked in from the same corporate giants that fund the Republicans. What favor does the Republican donor ask of Nader? Only to run a campaign; to help "split" the vote against Bush. That part is fairly obvious (though there are people, like myself, who wouldn't vote for Kerry under any circumstances). What do the right-wing donors want from Kerry (assuming he actually finds enough people to vote him into office)? They want favors: tax breaks, Washington "access," deregulation, etc. If Clinton's presidency is any suggestion, Kerry will give them that and more. That's why I find Ventura's rant so damned funny; it's so twisted and biased. I for one will not be swayed by Mr. Ventura's fear-mongering to vote for a pro-war, pro-PATRIOT Act, anti-gay marriage candidate just to get another pro-war, pro-PATRIOT Act, anti-gay marriage candidate out of office. I vote for what I believe in. I believe in Ralph Nader.
Nathan E. Hensley
Bicycle/Walking Paths Needed
Recently, New Orleans was evacuated for Hurricane Ivan. Everyone who had a car got into it, and a grand traffic jam was the result. My brother and sister-in-law, who live in New Orleans, planned to drive their car to Austin to wait out the storm. They didn't get that far. They sat in their car for six hours and went 10 miles. That's slower than a slow walk. Finally they stopped in Baton Rouge.
If there were bicycle/walking paths between cities, it would be much easier to evacuate them in an emergency. Bicyclists and pedestrians don't jam up and stop moving nearly as fast as cars do. In the case of New Orleans, there were 100,000 citizens without cars. If there were intercity cycling paths, people without cars and without much money would also be able to get out.
If Austin needed to be evacuated, there would be big traffic jams, and all roads out would be blocked by stalled cars. So please, for the sake of public safety, let's connect the cities of Texas with paths for cyclists and pedestrians.
We Should Learn From History
Politicians prove themselves most dubious when they manage to transfer certain "hard truths" to the realm of a higher purpose. The 9/11 attacks, for instance, quickly developed into a spectacle, exploited for clearly ulterior motives. Reactionary forces, which are always present in our government, displaced freedom in the name of "freedom," repeating the rhetoric of the most ancient tyrants. Thus, the signs of democracy were substituted for the more difficult conditions of democracy. We stood silent as a national tragedy was transformed through the quick-change artistry of Democrats and Republicans alike into a war on terror as if terror could be conquered. Terror is a duration, or, as the Sufi poet Kabir sang, "no man is terrified forever."
The scope of our basic civil liberties was narrowed with a speed that rendered many of us speechless, and what we failed to put across in our political dialogue was quickly lost. Now, it must be understood that the people are, first and foremost, a language. The media grasps this point, and surrounds its sadistically repetitive messages with a dull and mollifying noise, pushing dissent to the outermost zone where protest is portrayed as an impulse to open the gates of chaos onto the world. Democracy is, after all, a loyalty to something deep and irrational, an acknowledgement of the altruistic impulse in humanity. Democracy finds its greatest potency in some beautiful shared vision, though, of course, what democracy at street level must first address is a behavioral issue order. The concept of order is essential to democracy, and we find that the baser the action of an "enemy," the more jubilant the public reaction, according to the extremity of steps taken to restore order.
What we are left with is a sham, a mere modicum of democracy. Just enough wiggling room remains to keep the workers at their station until the great apparatus of capitalism can afford to readmit fuller liberties. One can only hope that we will learn from history in time that a nation is a finite resource, and tappable just like energy to the point of exhaustion.
Registered to vote,
What About the Hurricanes?
Mr. Louis Black,
Last night I was watching CNN when the question came up inquiring why Florida was experiencing four hurricanes in one year (a historical event of biblical proportions), and I immediately thought: Well, God is punishing Florida for getting Bush appointed to the presidency. I considered pretending to be a Christian fundamentalist and sending a letter to the editor of our local daily. However, being an atheist and morally opposed to hypocrisy and deceit (hence the atheism) I did not. Then today I picked up a copy of the latest edition of the Chronicle and read your editorial ["Page Two," Sept. 24]. My jaw dropped when I reached the conclusion! I am not alone! Thanks.
Voters Leave Children Behind
Reading The Austin Chronicle online, I noted the successful passage of the school bond proposal in Austin ["School Bond Proposals Roll to Victory," News, Sept. 17]. Very impressive! Unfortunately, the voters in my own school district here in Monterey, Calif., turned down a bond proposal, and we are experiencing school closures and teacher layoffs as a result. Too many voters were counting on George Bush to "leave no child behind" and didn't realize he failed to provide the funds necessary for that program to succeed. I hope the citizens of Austin will vote Democratic in November so our country can get serious about leaving no child behind.
Show Immigrants Compassion
I just read Lee Nichols' article regarding the recent U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention held here in Austin last weekend ["¿Adelante Con Bush o Kerry?," News, Sept. 24]. I had to write after reading Hector Barreto's remarks that the Bush administration deals with illegal immigrants compassionately. Obviously Mr. Barreto does not see Univision or Telemundo, because if he did he would have seen the number of cases where illegal immigrants have joined our military, served in Iraq, and returned stateside to be held in detention centers to be deported or had already been deported. Moreover, he would also have seen where illegal immigrants who've lived here for years and have children who are American citizens are deported, leaving their children here to fend for themselves. Oftentimes, these American children, who do not speak their parents' language and/or have never set foot in their parents' native countries, are deported along with their parents.
It's an outrage in both instances and a disgrace. So much for family values. Barreto needs to get a clue and see the reality for what it is. When it comes to illegal immigrants and either their service in Iraq or their American-born children, Bush and his administration have no compassion.
Tooting His Own Horn
Last week's Austin Chronicle article "UT Idles on Los Alamos" [News, Sept. 24] got me thinking. I usually don't toot my own horn; however, I mulled it over and hey, why not? The organization I was part of, UT Watch, has been vindicated numerous times over the summer regarding arguments we've used in opposing UT's possible bid for Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Last spring, some students with "not so much brain as ear-wax" and slightly more than tone deaf administrators chose to ignore our warnings of the numerous safety, security, and environmental problems at the lab. But since the excrement hit the fan the lab's normal operations have been shut down for over a month. Now even large corporations such as Lockheed Martin have decided they don't even want to touch Los Alamos with a 10-foot pole, citing costs.
It's no surprise the UT System Los Alamos Welcoming Committee has been silent of late. Instead of a "temple of science," rather this nuclear weapons laboratory is a white elephant. And thus UT Watch continues, winning this debate because the facts are on our side parry, thrust, but no retreat.
Please check out www.utwatch.org for a fountainhead of information on Los Alamos.
Former UT Watch member
Position Completely Absurd
"Okay, as one who fears that we will suffer the consequences of the Bush administration for generations yet to come and regards the Iraqi invasion as a military disaster, I feel the heavens have spoken and the fundamentalist Bush should respect the message" ["Page Two," Sept. 24].
Louis, I just don't buy that Bush should no longer be in power because "the heavens have spoken." Your position reflected in that statement sounds completely absurd, particularly coming from a more secular person such as yourself. That you point out Bush is a fundamentalist and the heavens speaking reduces the tragedies resulting from the hurricanes and the president's actions to little more than cartoonish caricature.
"But even if you feel this is going too far, you have to accept that, at the very least, the heavenly powers have made their feelings about Florida Gov. Jeb Bush so clear as to be obvious even to the most hardened of atheists."
And no, I don't have to accept the idea that the heavens made their feelings known about the president's brother. I don't see your point. (If it has anything to do with the Schivo case, then you're really stretching it. I don't think you were making that point.) Keep convincing yourself of it all you want.
If your last paragraph was meant to be a joke, you undermined any attempt at credibility.
I don't consider myself atheist, but I don't align myself with any one religion or philosophy.