Off the Desk:
The field of candidates in the Place 6 race is still not clearly defined. Will Toni Luckett run against incumbent Eric Mitchell? Despite reports that she was putting her campaign ducks in a row, Luckett says that she "didn't think it was a good idea to have two people in the race against Mitchell." She pledged her support to Willie Lewis' candidacy. Lewis has not yet filed to run and it remains to be seen if he can gather the financial backing to challenge Mitchell... -- K.V.
The in-house conflict simmering at the liberal Texas Observer rose to a full boil last Friday, Feb. 21. Publisher Geoff Rips canned managing editor Rebecca Melançon over "irreconcilable differences." Seems there were some meetings about big changes at the Observer -- only editor Louis Dubose didn't know about them, and threatened to walk. In the end, the ax came down on Melançon, who says she was invited to two of the meetings. Rips says the staff will huddle soon to decide the paper's future... -- A.S.
The more you tell a lie, the more truthful it becomes. That must be why Mayor Bruce Todd, city staff, and the local daily keep claiming that $1.84 million in state and federal grants will be revoked in1999 if the city doesn't hire a general contractor to begin construction on the Lamar Bridge. The three make a great team -- all want the bridge expanded from four to six lanes, and apparently don't mind stretching the truth to layer the proposal with urgency. In reality, just under $1 million is on the line, since $889,000 in state funds from the Urban Streets Program can be spent on any city roadway project, says Austin Neighborhoods Council VP Karen Akins. It is in no way linked to the bridge, but hey, politics is a grimy game. The proposal, sponsored by Todd and Eric Mitchell, is up for a vote today, Thursday the 27th. -- A.M.
CyberPatrol at LibraryResponding to complaints from parents, patrons, and staff, Austin Public Library (APL) administrators last week installed a filtering software on 52 library computers to ensure that information accessed on the Internet will meet "community standards."
That was Thursday. By Saturday, David Smith, president of Austin's Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF-Austin), was already fielding complaints from library patrons unable to access innocuous websites. Smith says his group is considering a lawsuit to restore unlimited access.
The access issue is a dicey one for librarians who historically have always stood their ground on free speech. "I'd hate to tell someone they can't access a legitimate, constitutionally protected piece of information because we have a bunch of pimple-faced kids in here looking at nudie pictures," says library union steward David Pluenneke. But he adds that there have been times when irate parents, waving pornographic material printed off the Internet, have accosted library employees demanding an explanation. And librarians, he says, have reason for concern about their personal liability.
By specifying topics and keywords, the CyberPatrol software package, running at $30 a pop, will prevent the Austin Freenet-supplied computers from searching for potentially offensive material. The software, however, would also make it extremely difficult to search for topics such as breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, and gay and lesbian rights because of sensitive keywords.
Although APL had originally chosen a policy of unlimited access when Freenet installed the computers a year ago, administrators and staff began to feel uncomfortable with the material some patrons were accessing, and were concerned about their legal accountability in providing the material to minors. Brenda Branch, director of libraries, points out that library collections are screened for community standards already, and defends APL's policy as similar to efforts in the libraries of Boston, Houston, and Dallas. -- K.V.
School of CrooksU.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) was in town last week to bad talk the "School of the Assassins" -- his words. Officially, that's the School of the Americas, in Fort Benning, Ga. Kennedy has filed a bill, time and time again, to close the military institution.
The U.S. Army has trained Latin American military officers there for decades. The school's goal, according to spokesmen, is to teach our Latin-uniformed guests about the virtues of democracy and the role of the military. The problem, said Kennedy, is that the school produces not better officers, but better totalitarian regimes. Among the school's distinguished alumni are former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and some of El Salvador's most vicious right-wing military leaders.
Kennedy delivered a brief -- a very brief -- speech at Las Manitas Cafe on Congress Avenue. Thanks to the throng of progressive types packed into the tiny Mexican eatery, it may have actually taken Kennedy longer to make his way out of the building than it did to deliver his speech. Nevertheless, the crowd was inspired. The bill, meanwhile, has little chance of passing. The mood in Congress isn't exactly anti-military. But Kennedy isn't discouraged. He plans to speak out against the school at every opportunity. And joining him in his crusade these days is our very own local liberal, Rep. Lloyd Doggett. Kennedy praised Doggett's willingness to co-sponsor the bill. -- J.G.
Freeport ScoresLast Friday, a state district court judge in Louisiana dismissed a civil lawsuit brought by tribal leaders from Irian Jaya against Freeport-McMoRan. The case, filed last year in Orleans Parish by New Orleans attorney Martin Regan, is similar to a federal lawsuit filed last April by Amungme tribal leader Tom Beanal.
The state court suit was dismissed on the grounds that the conduct at issue (environmental damage, human rights violations, etc.) occurred at Freeport's vast gold, copper and silver mine in Indonesia, not in Louisiana. Regan told the Chronicle that he will appeal the ruling. In a Feb. 21 press release, Freeport attributed the dismissal to the fact that the case "had no legal basis under Louisiana law."
In other Freeport developments, the company has appointed former U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston to the board of directors. That's no surprise. When Bennett represented Louisiana in the Senate, Freeport could always count on his help. Freeport turned to Johnston, for instance, after the company's $100 million political risk insurance policy on its Indonesian mining operation was cancelled by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) because of environmental damage. According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Johnston called OPIC's president, Ruth Harkin, shortly after Freeport was notified of the cancellation to quiz her about the matter.
Johnston carried water for Freeport in 1989 when OPIC was planning to deny Freeport's application for increased insurance coverage on its mining project. Johnston sent a letter to OPIC seeking reconsideration and praising Freeport as "an excellent corporate citizen." Johnston can look forward to a lucrative sinecure at Freeport -- an annual fee of $25,000 for serving on the board, $1,000 for each board or committee meeting he attends, $2,000 for each committee he chairs, and stock options. -- R.B.
Rebuilding GuatemalaLuz Marina Delgado says she is an American by accident and a Guatemalan del corazon -- a Guatemalan in her heart. Born in San Diego and educated in the United States and Europe, Marina Delgado's life's work today is as a teacher and grassroots activist in the Guatemalan highlands.
She has devoted her life to helping Mayan Indians in Guatemala recover their cultural heritage. She does that by conducting workshops with villagers in some of the Central American nation's most remote regions. Author of the book Manos de Mujer (Women's Hands), Marina Delgado was in Austin last week on the first leg of a U.S. tour to raise money for her latest project: printing 10,000 copies of her book, which she distributes free to students in her workshops. The first edition of the book was published by La Ruta Maya Foundation, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the Maya people of Central America.
Getting the book reprinted cost money. Hence Marina Delgado's U.S. tour. "The Maya have been conquered in many ways," she said. "The thing is that they often believe themselves -- and everything about their culture -- to be lost. You see, poverty and misery are just one of the many effects of having strangers in their land. In a way, it's more devastating than war or isolation. There has been a forgetting of knowledge and traditions."
Guatemala signed a peace pact recently, ending nearly 36 years of civil war. More than 140,000 Guatemalans are believed to have been killed or disappeared during the conflict. And although prospects for peace seem promising, observers say it will costs billions to begin rebuilding the economy.
Marina Delgado said her workshops teach Guatemalan villagers to empower themselves, culturally and economically. She said the book also carries a message for U.S. Latinos. "I am aware that there are a lot of Latin American people who live in the states who live in bad conditions," she said. "Much of what I talk about, I think, can be addressed to them."
Organizers of the author's trip say they want to print another 10,000 copies of the book, which would cost about $40,000. If you want to help, call Ruta Maya Coffee at 472-9637. -- J.G.