Our readers talk back.

Washington Against Hightower

Dear Editor,

Jim Hightower's column on SBA contracting (Aug. 4) is a lie ["Hightower Report"]. He takes the SBA to task for awarding billions and billions in federal contracts to major American corporations. Didn't happen. He either totally misread the report he was commenting on, or he is deliberately lying about it to create a lively column.

The SBA never, ever said that a quarter of the SBA's contracts went to small business. Not so fast, slick! The SBA report said a quarter of the entire federal government's contracts went to small businesses. The issue is over $314 billion in contracts. The SBA's entire annual budget is less than 1% of that.

The SBA report was based on numbers provided to it by the Federal Procurement Data System, a database maintained by the GSA. It collects data that is input by all of the federal governments departments and agencies. SBA didn't award the contracts; it only reported the results.

None of the large companies he mentions got contracts from the SBA. Not one. None of those dollars were siphoned out of the SBA. None.

Mike Stamler

Washington, D.C.

[Jim Hightower responds: This guy's letter is a joke, right? Let's check who's lying. As reported in a front-page article in the July 6 New York Times, the SBA put out a press release last month boasting that it "had awarded more than a quarter of contracts to small businesses." Bush's SBA was taking credit for showering this largesse on small business. My point was not that all of the cash came from this one agency, but that SBA's claim of delivering 25% of federal contracts to mom & pop enterprises is a fraud. Indeed, as I indicated in my column, some $5 billion worth of these "small business contracts" went to just 13 of America's largest corporations, including Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin. The corporations themselves admit they got the money! This is why the president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce says, "The SBA's handling of small business contracting is a mess." If the agency's PR flack thinks I'm lying, he might check with SBA's own inspector general, who issued a damning report last year that declared: "One of the most important challenges facing the SBA and the entire federal government is that large businesses are receiving small business procurement awards." To keep up with SBA's funny-numbers game, contact the watchdog group, American Small Business League:]

Disputes 'Chronicle's View


I appreciated your attempt to provide a fair-minded account of the Accenture contract review conducted by the House Government Reform Committee ["Public Benefits, Privatization Problems," News, Aug. 4]. But in these mean times, context is everything.

Sixty irate House members want to sever our ties to the Bermuda-based corporation called Accenture. These happy islanders have gotten huge rewards from other gullible states. In each instance, cost savings have melted as breath into the air.

Accenture has perfected the glib, oily art to speak wonderfully and purpose not. More than 100 million Texas dollars have flown off to the Bermuda triangle, and $700 million will levitate out of our wallets during the next five to six years. Theoretical savings are to come from whizbang technology and massive layoffs. Poorly trained, $8/hour phone operators replace competent state workers. In the mean time, the best eligibility determination system in the country is sinking to the bottom.

Texas children who fall through the giant cracks in the contract are relegated to too-little-too-late emergency-room care. Who worries about a few missed meals when kids are improperly booted off food stamps? In the eyes of Deputy Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein, huge tax savings gleam at the end of the tunnel. A horrendous track record cannot dull the brightness in those eyes.

Health and Human Services Commission political appointees are serving as enablers for these drunken bingers from Bermuda who get high on tax money while paying none themselves under the guise of smaller government. As a member of the Texas State Employees Union, I urge you to just say no.

Steve Bradley


S. Moser Exasperates Reader

Dear Mr. Black,

Though it is often pretty amusing, the July 14 and 28 "After a Fashion" [Arts] made me question the point of the column's existence. The snarky rantings of a disgruntled Pizza Hut and gas-station customer do not interest me and, frankly, cause me to further question the taste of your so-called "Style Avatar." The blow-by-blow account of his "night-in" left me as exasperated as that manager who rightly treated him like a delusional maniac. If this incident disturbed Mr. Moser enough to fill his column with his vitriol, imagine what the Pizza Hut employees must have done to blow off steam after dealing with him. To follow up that waste of space with another half page filled with self-congratulations on his past column and a detailed account of a rude man saving less than a quarter on bottled water was beyond my comprehension. I would be happy to send him as much as 50 cents if he would direct the attention of his column back on "style" and leave the low-paid workers in our community alone.

Or, perhaps, Margaret could find him employment elsewhere?

Jen Arffmann

Shame on the 'Chronicle'

Dear Editor,

Re: "After a Fashion" [Arts, Aug. 4]: What purpose did this article serve other than a veiled, vague, and pointless slap to the face of some local talent that Mr. Moser obviously takes issue with? My goodness, how frightening that someone could write several paragraphs pouting that these poor souls would think to call themselves designers (the horror!), that he could liken their art to Fear Factor, and that the Chronicle would subject all of Austin to it.

What a bratty, unnecessary, and not at all insightful reprimand to local artists who are simply making a living doing what they are passionate about. Yuck, and shame on you for having any part in that empty, useless rant.

Sarah Rabe

This Is Not Compassion!

Dear Editor,

Re: Crisis pregnancy centers ["Having Your Baby," News, Aug. 4]: Where is the compassion? These people are supposed to be offering a public service to women/couples in crisis. Instead, those seeking help receive faulty information from automatons parroting their programmed script. At least robots have an excuse – they don't have hearts. There is no room for judgmental, crystallized thinkers when dealing with the public's private matters. What is needed is a good listener with an open heart who operates in truth and provides accurate information to empower others to make their own decisions. This is compassionate care.

Sylvia Acuna

Los Angeles

Defending Documentary

Dear Chronicle Editor,

I would like to comment on Marjorie Baumgarten's review of Aaron Russo's documentary America: From Freedom to Fascism [Film Listings, July 28]. Marjorie does a disservice to readers, as well as to the tax-honesty movement by mischaracterizing Russo's argument as being based on the lack of ratification of the 16th Amendment. Aaron touches on this fact (check it out ... ) as one of many examples of how the federal government will lie to the public to line its pocket. In the film there are several conspicuous Supreme Court case sites that confirm that the 16th Amendment "confers no new taxing authority" to the federal government. Ratification is irrelevant to the issue of income tax. The ratification issue is now promulgated as a straw man that is easily knocked down. It serves to cloud the issue instead of to clarify the facts.

The fact is the income tax as written does not apply to the income of most Americans working in the 50 states. It is only applicable if he requests that his "income" be treated as taxable. This erroneous confession is typically perceived as a requirement for employment as it is presented as such by uninformed employers. This confession is in law voluntary, hence their term "voluntary compliance." It is unfortunate that the reality of this voluntarism is reinforced by ignorant and vindictive agents, backed by corrupt judges, and executed by morons with guns and shackles.

In what is left of our country, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. Our ignorance is the strength of the state. It is time for this ignorance to end. I applaud Aaron Russo for his effort in this matter because "expecting to be ignorant and free is to expect what never was and can never be."

Brian Jurek

Strayhorn Cover Too Much!

Dear Editor,

You know, I tried to see your side of things when the cover was a picture of a woman in gynecologist's stirrups with a Bible between her legs ["The New Texas Family Planning," News, Jan. 27]. I could understand the point of putting euthanized animals on the cover ["What Happened to the No-Kill Millennium?," News, Nov. 18, 2005]. But the latest image really went too far ["She's Her Own Grandma," News, July 28]. And as if McClellan (or whatever her name is now) herself wasn't enough, she's holding two children, one wearing a T-shirt with her Web address on it ... just thinking about it makes me a little sick.

She wasn't my mayor then, back when the destruction of Barton Creek began. She isn't my "Grandma" now – never was, never will be. (Perhaps your cover should have shown her with two airport baggage handlers; I read in another local publication that she claims baggage handlers at airports call her "Grandma.") And she will never be my governor. I hope she'll never be the governor of any Texan.

Please, keep in mind that your publication is distributed in restaurants, coffee shops, and other places that serve food. It's difficult to look at that cover without feeling revulsion. Seriously, look at it and think of who she is, what she's done, and how she's posing in that photo. If that's not enough to make you lose your appetite, I don't know what is.

Please, bring back the stirrups and dead kitties.


Mary Dallas

Upset by Anti-Israel Screed

Dear Editor,

I am very disappointed you published Michael Ventura's anti-Israel screed in the Aug. 4 edition ["Letters @ 3am"].

It is one thing to question the logic of Israel's recent actions but quite another to assert that "the greatest danger to Israel, in the long term, is its dependence on the United States."

Actually, Michael, the greatest threat to Israel are states such as Iran and Syria and terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas that are committed to killing every Jew and wiping Israel off the map.

One would have to be living in an alternate universe (or writing articles while stoned at 3am) to believe that the Israeli-American alliance poses a greater threat to Israel than, say, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's belief that Israel "is a fake regime [that] cannot not logically continue to live" (Associated Press, April 24) and his country's continued efforts to obtain nuclear weapons.

The Israel-American alliance has been very beneficial to both countries and is more important than ever in our post-September 11 world.

The present situation in Lebanon was caused by a terrorist group (supported by governments) crossing over established international borders and kidnapping Israeli soldiers. I would love to see the reaction in this country if a Mexican terrorist group crossed the Texas border and kidnapped a few U.S. soldiers. Does Mr. Ventura think we would – or should – simply sit back and not respond to such a brazen act? And what if this Mexican group then started shooting rockets at El Paso? Would we just take it and not respond? Of course not.

But for some reason, writers like Mr. Ventura hold Israel to a higher standard and use this incident to implicitly suggest that the United States should abandon the only democratic and free society in the Middle East.

As has been observed before, if all the Arab states and terrorist groups put down their weapons, there would be peace. If Israel put down her weapons, she would no longer exist.

That is the reality of the situation and the reason that Israel must defend herself at all times.


Adam Loewy

100% Want the Truth?

Dear Editor,

In his reply to Carl Swanson ["Postmarks," Aug. 4], Jim Hightower did more damage to himself than Carl ever could have. Though he skillfully rebuted Carl's use of the epithet "wee Jim," he let stand unchallenged Carl's claim that he (Jim) had deliberately given minimum-wage numbers 14 times higher than those supplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For goodness sake, Jim, if somebody calls you a liar, at least disagree with them! Say that it was an honest mistake. Conceding the point without argument was the worst thing to do.

In another part of the letter, Carl chose to make an issue out of Jim's use of the word "us" to describe people making a dollar or less over minimum wage. Had Jim said that this was a meaningless quibble over a word that was irrelevant to his overall point, I'd have agreed with him. Instead, he came up with this insanely convoluted argument that the term was correct merely because he empathized with such people. Rationalizations like this call Jim's veracity into question (again). If he tells us (for example) that a million people suffer from Frob's disease, most of us would feel lied to if we later found out that the truth was that one person suffered from it and 999,999 felt sorry for him.

This is still ultimately a quibble, however. I don't really care if Jim said "us" instead of "them." However, I do care that, when accused of deliberately misrepresenting numbers, he tacitly concedes the point and justifies it by saying that 82% of Americans want a minimum-wage hike anyway. While that may well be true, I would venture to say that closer to 100% of Americans want to be told the truth about it. How many of Jim's numbers can be believed?

Graeme Cree

[Jim Hightower responds: For goodness sake, Graeme, save some of that breathless outrage for real problems, not statistics. Here's the trick with the Bush numbers that downplay the low-wage reality facing so many Americans today: The roughly half-million people cited by Mr. Swanson are those making precisely $5.15 an hour. This statistic cleverly ignores those who are paid just a penny more, a nickel more, or even a quarter more. Technically these folks are not at the minimum level, but realistically they are. Even trickier, it ignores the 1.4 million Americans who are paid less than $5.15 an hour. We can argue over statistical niceties, or we can deal with the real-life experience of poverty pay in our land of plenty. The crucial point is that 7.3 million Americans are directly dependent on a minimum-wage increase. Raising it to $7.25 an hour would elevate all of these people, and an additional 8.2 million would also see their wages bumped up. A good source for deciphering "official" government numbers to find reality is the Economic Policy Institute:]

Who Is He to Lecture Others?

Dear Chronicle staff,

I was sitting down today to relax and read the current issue [Aug. 4] when I flipped to the "After a Fashion" column. I feel disgusted that you would publish such an immature rant.

It would be wonderful to see the Austin fashion scene actually covered in the Chronicle. It is one area that is truly lacking coverage in your publication. Mr. Moser's column is a gossip column and nothing else.

Yet again, Mr. Moser has proven that he takes great pride in writing nasty, personal attacks on persons in the fashion community. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, for sure. But what good does it do anyone to read such a mean-spirited column? The only person enriched by this is Mr. Moser himself – whose self esteem is obviously shaky enough to need the firm footing of someone else's back.

I, for one, am glad there are many upstart designers in town. Not everyone wants to shop in overpriced boutiques where the size range stops at 10. Not everyone cares if his or her items are perfectly stitched, or 100% original. Many people, gasp, purchase locally designed clothing, accessories, and art to support someone else's dream.

Who is Mr. Moser to tell someone to throw away his or her dream? Wouldn't positive and uplifting coverage of this subject be more beneficial to everyone? Wouldn't it be nice to extol the stars and upstarts of Austin's fashion community and give them the credit they have worked so hard to earn?

For all your open-mindedness in so many areas, it is saddening and frustrating that your editorial staff refuses to put a real effort into supporting the Austin fashion community. What a pity.

Anne Marie Beard

Beauty of Interpretation

Dear Editor,

Re: "The Hightower Report" [Aug. 4]: It isn't just Texas where political honchos get ridiculous gifts; it happens all over the country. These people seem to be just slightly bending our freedom of speech as written in the Constitution, but hey, that's the beauty of open interpretation.

Donald Carter

What Would You Do?


I read many letters in your paper condemning Israel for its attack on Lebanon ["Postmarks"].

I have yet to read one containing the answer to this question: If the writer were the prime minister of Israel, with enemies on two borders firing rockets into your country, what would you do differently from what Israel is currently doing?

Please leave out the naive "offer land for peace" and the ridiculous "offer to negotiate" – and then, in your next letter, instead of just wagging an admonitory finger at Israel and feeling that you've done your liberal duty, tell us what you would do.

Or, failing that, keep quiet.


John A. Blackley

Stop All Immigrants – Illegal and Legal

Dear Editor,

We should face the music and legislate a temporary moratorium on all immigration, legal and illegal, until our nation can integrate all current legal immigrants and remove all illegal immigrants, so important for our future.

Our USA has historically been generous and welcomed immigrants who are willing to live by our rules, work hard, and become truly American, but we cannot continue to absorb the huge number of illegal aliens who come and milk the system for government services, free education, and free benefits.

Our bureaucracy in Washington can't handle incoming legal aliens, much less the millions of illegal aliens already living here. Our high level of immigration is responsible for siphoning billions of dollars from the American economy through crime, terrorist acts, and abuse of government services and benefits. Support legislation to put a temporary moratorium on nearly all immigration until we can fix the broken system.

Gerard Kern

Cars' Enormous Downside

Dear Editor,

I know that people regard cars as so "normal" that they overlook cars' enormous downside, even though it is catching up with us: global heating, air and water pollution, endless parking lots, and plenty of violent deaths and injuries. Car crashes cost $230 billion per year, and heaven knows how much cars cost us all in other ways. That's why it seems highly absurd for Bruce Todd, who drives a car for transportation, to announce that unhelmeted bicyclists are putting a big financial burden on society because there is a small chance that they will fall on their heads and sustain a brain injury ["Bicyclists Collide in Helmet Law Debate," News, Aug. 4]. A car driver, with or without a seat belt, puts a much bigger burden on both society and the environment. The car driver can kill or severely injure half a dozen people with a moment's inattention. Whether motorists wear seat belts is immaterial; they can easily kill and injure people other than themselves. It's shameful for Todd to imply that it's more responsible and moral to drive a car while wearing a seat belt and endanger other people's lives and health than to ride a bicycle without a helmet, risk only one's own life, and refrain from polluting the air. A bicyclist who eschews the use of a motor vehicle is doing a very positive thing. And doctors consider utility bicycling healthier than driving cars.

I do wear a helmet, gorgeously customized by myself, mostly to cool my head and help keep the sun off my face. I also ride a very stable recumbent bicycle that hasn't crashed in 10 years. Some people ride faster, less-forgiving bicycles. Some don't wear helmets. Some don't even wear sunscreen. If they're riding a bicycle instead of driving a car and treating pedestrians with respect, then more power to them, whatever they may be wearing.

Yours truly,

Amy Babich

Please Bring Attention to July 21 Cover Story

Dear Editor,

It is with a heavy heart that I write to urge you to do everything in your power to help save the buildings and the businesses on Congress between Second and Third streets, including Las Manitas Avenue Cafe, Tesoros Trading Company, and Escuelita de Alma ["My Migas, My City," News, July 21]. I support growth, but I am a firm believer that growth and development should happen in a thoughtful way that preserves the character and livability of our great little city. It is precisely places like these businesses in their lovely old buildings that entice the people here to stay here and the people not here to come here. What a shame to lose that charm and those local landmarks. It is not enough for those businesses to relocate to another location or to move into a newer building on the same spot. As tasty as the food is at Las Manitas, what makes it such a great place is the building and the atmosphere.

There is no need to destroy these buildings in order to build a hotel on the property. We have seen numerous examples, in our own Downtown, where new buildings are built around historical ones. The same could happen here.

Please help bring attention to this story. We should not allow our town to become a bland, homogeneous speck on the map, no different from every other place that does not hesitate to mow down green spaces or charming landmarks in the name of development. Our city should grow in a way that enhances who we are and what people love us for instead of destroying that very thing.

Lisa Rawlinson

McDonald's Fictions

Dear Editor,

I read with amusement Vance McDonald's letter to the editor regarding "facts about Iraq" ["Postmarks Online," Aug. 7].

It's interesting that the administration itself has even disavowed Saddam's involvement with 9/11 (even though it was a grudging admission). Yes, Mr. McDonald, they did try to tie 'em together to justify their invasion so they could fool folks just like you! Sad to see that there's still some out there who refuse to face the facts – but hey, that's how this administration stays in power – that's its legitimacy.

Another possibility is, over time, Republican minions write letters and articles such as Mr. McDonald's, falsifying facts so as to subtly change the public's perception as to what really happened – the cliché is that the public has a short memory (another reason the Repubs stay in power). Nah ... that's paranoid thinking.

The truth here is that HalliBush Inc. got us into a war under false pretenses against a sovereign country that had nothing to do with the attack against us, all the while letting the real culprits go free. This presidency is all about the wealthy few who are engaged in a gluttonous feeding frenzy at the expense of the rest of us, knowing full well that it can't last – and that they better get what they can before we finally wise up and get rid of the bastards.

Unfortunately, Mr. McDonald is either experiencing a severe case of denial (which will require some serious medication changes) or, as Mr. Gump sez, "Stupid is as stupid does."

Bill Jackson

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