Our readers talk back.
Gas Tax Instead of Tolls
I'm also a former Easterner, but my toll memories are not nearly as benign as yours seem to be ["Page Two," Jan. 21], and I have no desire to see a local replica of the Garden State Parkway.
I don't doubt the need for additional road revenues, but the logical source in my opinion is increased fuel taxes. This would still be pay-as-you-go, but at least the gas hogs would pay accordingly, whereas tolls hit everyone equally.
In my opinion, politicians who support tolls are not courageous, but are taking the easy way out to avoid Governor Pinhead's "No new taxes" mantra.
Support the Future
Last week you called on your readers to "really ponder" toll roads ["Page Two," Jan. 21]. Two sentences later you wrote, "I'm really not even current with the issues or the facts." The remainder of your column demonstrated the accuracy of this statement.
However, buried within, you wrote something that is extremely important: "Carefully planning and building roads can drive growth in the most ecologically desirable directions."
Perhaps you are aware that over the last 25 years and now in the proposed toll road and CAMPO 2030 plan our elected officials have completely ignored this point. Having ignored this fundamental of planning, we have polluted the Edwards Aquifer, destroyed scenic Hill Country vistas and endangered species habitat and caused (not reduced) traffic congestion on MoPac and other roads.
We've spent billions extending and expanding roads into the Hill Country. Now our planners want to spend billions more, mostly on projects for which tolls will only pay a small fraction of the cost. The draft long-range road plan which will be up for public comment in February and March calls for spending more than $1.5 billion (with a "b") on road projects in the Barton Springs watershed alone.
The Envision Central Texas survey shows overwhelming consensus from rural, suburban, and urban residents for the kind of "careful planning" you seem to want. Whether, when, and how tolls are involved are important questions, but disagreements on tolling should not confuse the question of which projects support and which harm the future we want for our region.
Save Our Springs Alliance
A Tough Decision
I have not heard the toll road issue so well put ["Page Two," Jan. 21]. Thank you Mr. Black for telling a true and balanced story. If Austinites tried to recall a mayor or council every time they disagreed on an issue, we'd never get anything in Austin done.
Sal Costello may think he is the 800-pound gorilla in this issue, I think he's a mean-spirited bully that obviously forgot to pack his manners when he moved from New York.
Thank you to the Mayor and those on the Council who stuck by their resolutions and supported a tough decision.
I also commend those who didn't support the toll plan, but respectfully asked that folks involved follow the Golden Rule ... Mr. Costello obviously missed the meaning of this.
So, to make it clear for him and his minions, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Driving Is Not Free
As Louis Black says, motorists are encouraged to believe that driving cars is free ["Page Two," Jan. 21].
Driving is far from free, but it's not primarily the individual driver who pays for his/her own driving. People pay about the same amount for driving cars whether they themselves use cars or not. People who neither drive nor ride in cars still pay a heavy toll for other people's driving.
The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that in 2003, 42,643 people were killed on U.S. roads and 2,889,000 were injured but not killed. Of the 2,889,000 nonfatal injuries, 313,000 are listed as incapacitating, 812,000 as nonincapacitating, and 1,764,000 as unknown.
When crashes damage city/state property, the taxpayers pay. We all also pay to haul away wrecked motorcars, spilled cargo, and dead or wounded people.
The sealants used on roads contain the worst toxins found in Barton Springs. In sufficient concentration, these pollutants give people cancer. Who pays?
Building roads destroys farmland and human and animal habitat, encourages human population growth, poisons the land, air, and water, and makes money for some people.
The war in Iraq is being fought on the principle that U.S. citizens are entitled to use as much of the world's oil as we want, forever. This really is not practical.
We don't need more roads. The city and state do not have the money to maintain the roads we have. We need to slow down, take a walk, smell the roses and exhaust fumes, and think about how we really want to live.
News and Not Agendas
Boy, you really show your bias, don't you! You either are as equally biased as Waxman, or else you are incapable of reading and comprehending biases, the likes of Henry Waxman ["Abstinence Makes the Head Grow Softer," News, Dec. 17, 2004].
If you want to do your readers a service and report the truth, you would do well to read other reports (do your research) and point out the errors in his biased report! He obviously has an agenda he's promoting, and it seems you do too, instead of doing honest, truthful reporting. Please give the people an honest report, instead of just rubber-stamping some biased report of a representative to Congress. In other words give us news and not agendas!
Who is this band, and why won't anybody book them ["The Outsiders: The Next Generation of Red River Rebels," Music, Jan. 14]?! The band is the Skullening, and they are playing at Emo's (a rather desirable and difficult place to get booked) Sunday the 23rd. I guess somebody will book them, and I guess your headline was just sensationalistic bullshit. Maybe there's an opening for Darcie Stevens over at the Statesman.
Outback Fan's Review
Mick Vann's review of Outback Steakhouse does not represent my experience ["Austin on the Hoof," Food, Jan.14]. I go regularly to the Highland Outback on Huntland Drive. If I have steak, I order the Victoria Center Cut Filet (7 oz. size). My steak is always cooked as requested and is wonderful. My salad is never "swimming" in water, and the blue cheese dressing is very tasty. The baked potatoes are fine, and I have no complaints about the condiments that are on the potato. I don't eat the bread, so I cannot address the bread and butter at least they serve real butter, and the bread is usually warm.
Over the years, I have found Outback Steakhouse to be consistent in the quality and preparation of their food. The service is always attentive and helpful. As a diner with celiac disease who cannot eat any gluten wheat, barley, rye, and related foods Outback Steakhouse gets exemplary marks. They were pioneers in having a GF menu available to diners in their restaurants and at www.outbacksteakhouse.com. I can eat there and know that the offending gluten is not in what I order.
p.s. Dessert was not mentioned. The Chocolate Thunder From Down Under is gluten-free and a real treat for diners with celiac disease as well as others.
In Defense of KOOP
Last week Jim Ellinger again tooted his anti-KOOP horn ["Postmarks," Jan. 14]. This, after the Chronicle named KOOP's 10th anniversary one of the 10 best media news stories of 2004. While Jim still focused on "the folks who killed [his] dream," he completely discounts the "many others who envisioned and built the station."
KOOP Radio is an ongoing experiment in community radio that is being built right now. Sure, six years ago the shit hit the fan and Ellinger was a casualty of that crisis. But, how long can he sit at the grindstone? It reminds me of a recent conversation with my grandmother about tsunami relief: She said she couldn't donate money to the Red Cross because they were a bunch of anti-Semites. Her proof of this was the lack of a Red Cross establishment in Israel (instead Israel started its own "Blue Cross") and her veteran friends who claimed the Red Cross treated gentiles before Jews during the second World War, I said, "Gram, you realize that what you are talking about happened over 60 years ago?"
I must say I'm worried that Jim actually intends to be in Morocco in 2626 talking about the KOOP meltdown of 1999. At exactly what point does he realize this station was rescued from peril by another wave of dedicated visionaries? And, it is he who is now killing the dream.
As for those who "would choose to air [his] voice on tape": Yes Jim, there are many here who remember you fondly and work toward your original vision. As for those who are "currently claiming to be in control of KOOP Radio": We threw a party that was extensively promoted by local media. No one received an individual invitation. Clearly, you heard about the party. I only wish you had been there.
91.7FM KOOP Radio
Where Would Ventura Rather Live?
Pleeeeeease ... "No concept lies more firmly embedded"???? ["Letters @ 3AM," Jan. 21] Anyone who thinks that we are No. 1 in everything is missing their brain. What an exaggerated premise. Also, I would just like to know what country Ventura would rather live in? What country is No. 1 in his book?
Toll Tax Is Flat Tax
An epiphany occurred while I was reading (with great interest) your article last week on the reaction of the public to the proposed toll tax ["Page Two," Jan. 21]. It happened about halfway through the article, in the paragraph that began, "The term 'paid for' is often ... ." I promptly tossed the paper down, sternly cleared my throat at my companion, and demanded undivided attention. I said, "They have it. They have a flat tax now." The response was "What?" I replied, "Don't you get it? It's the toll tax. That's why environmentalists and others oppose it."
Everyone will use the roads, so everyone is taxed at roughly the same rate, all things being equal. I agree with Black about the cut in social programs due to lack of funding, and I would even go so far as to admit that toll taxes could be a good thing, especially in current conditions. After all, if it comes down to completely eliminating income taxes (and social programs), we need to have some sort of revenue, albeit a tiny source.
I do think, however, the theory behind a toll tax is the ultimate Republican goal: Karl Rove pays the same as John Doe.
Marc Savlov should take pride in the fact that his movie reviews have inspired me to create a new game, called "Pick Out Savlov's Factual Errors" (patent pending). This week's game-winning selection appears in Savlov's review of Elektra, [Film Reviews, Jan. 21] in which he refers to Catwoman as a Marvel Comics character. Sorry, Savlov: Catwoman is a DC Comics character (whose traditional adversary is Batman).
I can't wait to read next week's reviews.
[Marjorie Baumgarten responds: We regret the error.]
I'll be brief. I pick up my Austin Chronicle because it's a nice combination of information, polemics, and quirkiness. I could not have been more pleased with this week's edition. Marrit Ingman's review of the DVD release of Staying Alive ["DVD Watch," Screens, Jan. 21] was one of the most cleverly written, entertaining, and well, just so damn funny that I think the Chronicle staff might have a Sedaris-type wit in their midst. Let's hope it doesn't go to waste.
Tiffany M. Conner
Dr. King's Dream
Monday [Jan. 17] I joined the annual Martin Luther King Jr. march. It was rejuvenating to me to see so many young people there. They are the new generation to celebrate Dr. King's legacy and pay homage to him by committing themselves to his cause of humanity and the struggle for justice. Alongside Dr. King's "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" banner were posters for Palestinians' rights and against the death penalty and the war in Iraq. Dr. King was intelligent and conscientious enough to recognize and empathize with global injustices. It is up to those who share his ideals to help move us forward into becoming a just society, especially since Bush's right-wing movement seems dedicated to overturning the gains made by the civil rights movement. It would do us all good to reread about Dr. King's stance against war that he felt was cruel, unjust, and costly. He wrote about war being the enemy of the poor and how it played havoc on our domestic destinies. I congratulate all of the youth who have joined King's continuous struggle to bring about peace, justice, and equality everywhere. They seem to know that the fruition of Dr. King's dream still has a long way to go.
Truly Ashamed of Jury Decision
Please note that Tom Coleman, the former undercover narcotics officer who falsely brought charges against and imprisoned 39 black and seven other individuals in Tulia, Texas, was convicted of perjury and sentenced to probation late last Friday evening in a Lubbock, Texas, courtroom. The trial and sentence coming just before the Martin Luther King Jr. extended holiday have had the effect to lessen the notoriety and importance of this trial and its conclusion. Probation I would hope that a crime against not only the Tulia 46 but the whole of society might be punished much more harshly or in such a manner that it would symbolize our distaste for such despicable actions. We should send a clear message to our law enforcement community and to others who might be so inclined to perpetrate like crimes. One would suppose that the all-white jury in Lubbock was saying that it is OK to falsely imprison a black man and ruin his life but that would be too harsh for the very white policeman who brought false witness against them to be imprisoned. The jury was heard to say that, "They didn't want him to get hurt in prison." I am saddened that something as obvious as this white washing could happen in this day and time and in my state and my hometown. I am truly ashamed that America allows such behavior to exist within the law enforcement community and that society applies such a double standard. He should be locked up for life and controls put into place that ensure that this sort of thing ceases to exist. Hearsay testimony without corroborative evidence should never be allowed into any court of law whether it be federal or state. Unfortunately the rule of law is not the same for both the accused and the accuser. I would hope that this sham trial does not symbolize a step backward in American civil rights. Former President George H.W. Bush once stated at a luncheon in Lubbock, "This is the heartland of America, as Lubbock goes so goes the rest of America."
Charles Eldon Lokey
Enough Is Enough
Call them taxes or penalties or fees or tolls; however, collectively they are means of taxation on the general public. Currently we are paying top dollar on property taxes, health care, prescription medication, homeowner insurance, public education, energy costs (gas, oil, electric), toll costs, additional charges to utility bills, higher education tuition, etc.
Where does it end? It ends with legislators looking at the big picture and saying, "Enough is enough."
Special interests have made a bundle during the past several years, and it's time they take a back seat to taxpayers and their families. There is no reason why taxpayers and special interests can't be provided a reasonable quality of life. Taxpayers have been overburdened with special interest protocol, and it's time "to put the brakes on."
Legislators must start to bring the financial pendulum back toward the middle so that everyone in society has an opportunity to live a productive life and to get a good eight hours of sleep at night. With the legislature in session, now is as good a time as ever to begin. Believe it or not, it benefits everyone in our society to do so.
What We Must Do ...
This Sanctity of Life Week, we reflect upon the egregious court decision of 32 years ago known as Roe v. Wade, and the resulting deaths of 40-million-plus babies.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Constitution: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Do you notice which "unalienable right" was mentioned first? The right to life. If we cannot even guarantee the right to life of a child who has not left his mother's womb, where are we? This child has already been created, in essence, already born by God's standards. Yes, I said God's standards, by which everything must measure up, as He is our Creator. When we deny this right, all other rights become totally superfluous. We must remain vigilant in protecting the most precious right of all, the right to life!
Schuylar W. Crist
'Leading Voice for Environmental Protection'
With all this post-election soul-searching going on, I thought I would add something to the mix. While perusing the February 2005, issue of Field & Stream, I found this challenging statement by conservation Field Editor Bob Marshall: "If history was made in this election, it was because the winning ticket, through its rhetoric and its actions during the campaign, elevated the hunting and fishing community to a position it hadn't held in decades that of being the leading voice for environmental protection in America."
Urbanized preservationists, extreme eco-feminists, haters of firearms and lovers of Bambi biology, please read the quote again and see if it does not comport with reality.
I am heartened to see that Mayor Will Wynn is sounding out a plan to float municipal bonds that would finance the protection of natural areas and wildlife. Here's hoping he meets up with the "leading voice for environmental protection in America."
Stephen W. McGuire
Make a Positive Difference
After merging my individuality into an optimistic person of self-realization, I feel challenged to make a positive difference in this universe, and so should you.
I believe, if we apply the golden karma principles, from the creator of the universe, which are to love unconditionally, and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, our lives would be coupled with happiness.
Raise 'Coastal Protection Fee'
In the 1950s, produced oil sold for $3 per barrel and imported oil sold for $1 per barrel. There was no sales tax, state income tax, or ridiculous property taxes, because the oil industry supported the State of Texas government.
Imported oil is almost entirely imported by major oil companies, the same companies that are continuously gouging us with higher and higher prices. According to the Texas Comptrollers' Office, imported oil has a "Coastal Protection fee" of only two cents per barrel. If the two cents per barrel were raised to 25 cents per barrel, the effect would be a half cent per gallon, instead of further hurting businesses with more taxes at a time when we are trying to attract more businesses to Texas. I would imagine that this would fund the schools once and for all. But watch certain politicians come to the rescue of the major oil companies.
Defending Pit Bulls
"Problem Dogs," the rant against pit bulls submitted in the Jan. 21 letters column ["Postmarks," Jan. 21], is so inaccurate that it calls into question whether Jack Bishop has even seen a pit bull. I, however, have met more than a dozen pits in my life (including my grandparents'), plus innumerable mixes, and in all that time, the most danger I've been subjected to was a puppy who ate my volunteer nametag at TLAC.
Mr. Bishop claims "centuries" of fighting use for the pit bull. But the breed isn't that old, and less than a century ago, people were already seeing them as lovable animals to be spared the pit, not kept there: the Little Rascals' Petey, Buster Brown's dog (the same dog, in fact), and the original RCA dog (Thomas Edison's). Pits were even used on pre-World War I propaganda posters to represent America! The bulldog is centuries old, but how mean are they?
Bishop claims pit bulls are more likely to attack, without quoting sources. But statistics show the pit is one of the least likely dogs to bite, the pack being led by poorly bred "family" dogs: the overbred German Shepherd and Dalmatian (thank you, Disney), the standoffish Chow, and even the Cocker Spaniel and Chihuahua! Pits are some of the most popular dogs in Austin; if they're dangerous, why did it take so long for the recent attacks to happen?
Meanwhile, "locking jaws" and other supposedly damage-causing [traits] are pure fiction, media hype that scientists disproved years ago.
Lastly, Bishop says only pit owners defend them, and that their objections can be "ignored." Think again: It's the ASPCA and similar groups that have gotten "breed-specific legislation" banned in several states, and they'd know the facts. Try and ignore them.
Nicholas Ivan Hentschel
To whom it may concern at The Austin Chronicle,
I believe The Austin Chronicle covers special events/places/characters in Austin. In this ever-changing town, new commercial development will mark the end of an era in the very southern part of South Congress Avenue. A bar called Beverly's Bar will be demolished in the next few months. This building has existed there since the turn of the 20th century, virtually unmodified since construction. It was a true cowboy hangout back in the day of horses and is now a biker bar hangout (in essence, the modern cowboys that traded horses for motorcycles). This place used to be called "The Last Chance," as it was the last chance for travelers to have a beer before getting to San Antonio. The Newton boys used to stop there for a beer after robbing banks in Austin. Several movies and video clips (including Willie Nelson's "Pancho and Lefty") have been shot there due to the uniqueness of the visual environment. It is a true time machine experience as it takes you back to the fiber of American old Western days and to modern American rebels days: a place where old highway bandidos and new Bandidos bikers hang out. The owner of the bar hosted the singing of Janis Joplin when she was a UT student in Austin. There is no place like this anymore in Texas and maybe the USA anymore. If anybody at the Chron is interested in writing an article about this historical place, please do it now before it is too late. You will be recording the history of real marginal counterculture in Austin. The history that you will record will be the only history ever recorded from this dying exceptional place.
Luis F. Zapata, MA