Naked City

Edited by Louisa C. Brinsmade, with contributions this week by Roseana Auten, Nelson England, and Alex de Marban.

REP. SUSAN COMBS RESIGNING EARLY? A story in theOak Hill Gazette on July 6 reported that Republican State Representative Susan Combs will resign her post early, possibly in anticipation of an appointment by Governor George Bush. Combs has already announced that she will not seek re-election. The story, written by Deana Ricks, quotes an unnamed aide to Rep. Combs confirming her early departure. "She's done what she wanted to accomplish in the Legislature," said the aide. "I believe she considers the resignation a self-imposed term limit."

Rep. Combs denied the story on Wednesday, July 12, saying it was "incorrect," and that she was neither leaving early, nor seeking a state appointment - at least not right now. "Not as of today, I'm not," said Combs. "I have no plans, today, to leave my office early."

According to the Gazette, Republican sources say the appointment Combs is seeking would involve a state committee on water and natural resources. Combs served on the Land and Natural Resources Management and Natural Resources committees this session. Governor Bush will be allowed to make two appointments to the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) during his term. The TNRCC is the state agency that sets policy on water, air, and land resources issues. Such a position for Combs would give her the power to affect state policy on land use issues, and water and air quality standards. Much of Combs' legislative agenda focused on land use and property rights issues.

Oak Hill Gazette publisher Will Atkins says the paper has very reliable connections within the Republican political community, and despite Combs' denial, the paper "stands by its sources." - L.C.B.

FIRST-CLASS PASSENGERS: If current estimates ring true, the city will have spent $477 million by the time the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport gets off the ground. To date, nearly $90 million has been authorized for various airport projects, some worth millions of dollars. Needless to say, private entities have engaged in frenzied competition for the contracts. But oddly enough, one of the most lucrative prizes - the construction and operation of a $14.5 million air cargo warehouse - has only one suitor: Austin CargoPort Development, LLC.

The trophy is a contract to build (at the city's expense, eventually) and operate the 200,000-square-foot warehouse for 20 years, while collecting untold amounts of rent from cargo carriers. Aviation officials refuse to disclose CargoPort's expected revenue before the council approves a contract, but as an indicator of the project's value, the city alone will get $243,000 (inflation not included) of CargoPort's revenue per year for the next 20 years.

The paucity of bidders for such a big-ticket project seems curious considering that the aviation department sent out 73 requests to companies. The requests were sent out in March. One month later, Austin CargoPort was incorporated. The council is expected to approve the company for the contract today, Thursday, July 13.

So who makes up this very lucky outfit? For one, there's ex-City Councilmember Lowell Lebermann, a principal of the firm. While he no longer holds a public seat, Lebermann still gets around. He owns Centex Beverage, where state Senator Gonzalo Barrientos does public relations work when he's not filing bills to de-annex portions of Austin. Also, Lebermann has poured hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars into the campaign purses of all the current councilmembers except Brigid Shea and Max Nofziger. Another CargoPort operative is Pete Winstead, of the law firm Winstead, Sechrest & Minick. Winstead and his firm are one of the council's biggest financiers, and are especially charitable towards Mayor Bruce Todd, having donated tens of thousands of dollars of "in-kind" contributions to the mayor's re-election campaign. Winstead has also been a fixture at city hall throughout the years as a lobbyist.

The mayor disputes any possibility of foul play and is hankering to approve CargoPort. Citing ever-increasing demand for cargo storage, Todd says "We should make a decision and move forward with the project." Aviation staff agree and have recommended the company for council approval. However, city staff yanked the item from the agenda on June 29, since it contained no fiscal note predicting the total costs to the city.

From the dais that day, Councilmember Gus Garcia openly wondered why there was only one respondent. In an interview the following week, aviation official Frederick Scott said maybe the initial investment to operate the warehouse was too much for everybody but Austin CargoPort.- A.M.

INTERCOURSE WHAT?: Glencoe Health, one of four state-approved textbooks that met with the least resistance from conservative Christian and far-right groups in Texas, has been dubbed "unacceptable," "outmoded," "outrageous," and even "irresponsible and dangerous" by a pediatrician, a science educator, and a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. Writing in a recent edition of The Textbook Letter, a national, independent newsletter for practicitioners and policymakers in education, the three reviewers were unanimous in damning Glencoe Health, for errors of omission and fact.

Physician Jeana D. Levinthal criticizes the authors for "refus[ing] to deal with practical, critical aspects of sex." She notes that "though the book mentions `intercourse,' it doesn't explain what `intercourse' means..." and that no descriptions of treatments against pregnancy or venereal disease following rape are offered anywhere. Furthermore, the book insinuates that most genetic birth defects can be anticipated and prevented before conception takes place, which is not the case, she writes.

David Stronck, a health and science education professor, is similarly critical of Glencoe Health's fuzzy treatment of sex. He pronounces a section on HIV prevention "mysterious," for the tract fails to explain what a condom is, why one would discuss using a condom with one's partner before intercourse, or, again, what intercourse is.

Levinthal's and Stronck's objections to Glencoe Health are by no means limited to the book's failure to relay complete and accurate information about sex. Other blatant errors of science, medicine, and common sense include: Genes are "tiny protein molecules;" bacteria need darkness to survive; rabies can be treated; and the idea that whether meat contains amino acids is just a matter of opinion. They are joined in this phase of criticism most powerfully by William Bennetta, president of the Textbook League, who excoriates Glencoe Health for its naïve presentation of "pseudomedical nonsense: chiropractic, acupuncture, and homeopathy."

But the bland, non-threatening, and incomplete manner in which the subject of sex is presented has become a major selling point of the book. In January, Glencoe regional Vice President David Irons touted in a letter to Texas school superintendents that the book is "the only health text that is endorsed by the Texas Council for Family Values, American Family Association of Texas, and Concerned Women for America" and that the book "does not contain a discussion about alternatives to abstinence such as `protected sex by wearing a condom'."

"As far as we know, this is the first time publishers are using political propaganda to sell their products," said Cecile Richards, director of the Texas Freedom Alliance, a watchdog group devoted to counteracting activities of the religious right. If Glencoe Health is used, she added, vital information will be kept from Texas students. "It's terrible that organizations with an extreme political agenda are dictating what books are going to be used," she said.- R.A.

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