Off the Desk:
As if there weren't already scads of special-interest surveys political candidates are asked to fill out in their bids for public office, there'll be a new questionnaire added to the heap for state office seekers this election year. Texans for Public Justice (TPJ), a non profit consumer-oriented advocacy group, is asking state candidates if they intend to accept campaign contributions from the tobacco industry -- particularly in light of the state's anti-tobacco lawsuit that seeks to recover $14 billion in damages. The TPJ watchdog group already has singled out a few existing Texas politicos who have accepted tobacco cash. At the top of the list -- Gov. George W. Bush, who has reportedly pocketed thousands of dollars from tobacco-industry lobbyists. The group also cites outgoing GOP Chair Tom Pauken; he has sworn off tobacco money in his campaign for the Attorney General's seat, but TPJ points to Texas Ethics Commission records that show the Republican Party of Texas accepted $96,000 in "soft money" contributions from Philip Morris and the Tobacco Institute -- money which came in, TPJ says, during the three years that Pauken led the state GOP... -- A.S.
You'd think if anyone could get along, it would be the folks at the studios of KOOP radio. That's KOOP, as in KO-OP-eration? Unfortunately, the typically like-minded, progressively inclined volunteer staff at the Austin community radio station finds itself in a bit of collective funk. While right-wingers would be hard pressed to detect anything resembling an encouraging word on KOOP's airwaves, they might recognize a particularly acerbic phrase being bantered about at the station's board meetings. It's called "playing the race card." In this case, however, it's hard to tell the race card players from the playees.
Consider this less-than measured verbal attack by "liberal" producer and KOOP volunteer chief engineer Jerry Chamkis in a letter directed at "progressive feminist" KOOP board trustee Aida Franco: "Do you imagine that you were brought on to this [board of trustees] for your knowledge of the operation of the radio station. In my opinion, you are exactly as qualified to sit as a trustee of KOOP as Clarence Thomas is to be a judge of the Supreme Court, and I believe you were appointed for the same reason."
Later in the letter, Chamkis blasts Franco for being "totally unfamiliar with the personnel of KOOP," including those who are physically disabled: "Are you aware that the [community board] meets off-site because of access problems for mobility impaired folks at KOOP?"
Reached Tuesday night by telephone, Chamkis defended his comments, though he admitted that the letter is almost universally unpopular among KOOP volunteers. He says he wrote it after an October board meeting in which Franco accused him of resenting the growing influence of Hispanics at the radio station. "I thought that was pulling the race card," Chamkis said. Chamkis, who audiotapes regular board meetings, says he was so incensed by Franco's comments that he has posted them on the Internet (at http://www.radio4all.net.org).
Eduardo Vera, an outspoken KOOP community board member and programmer, doesn't agree with Chamkis but says he is entitled to his opinion. Still, Vera and Franco say, things have taken an even uglier turn for the worse. In recent weeks, editorial cartoons depicting Vera and his brothers and sisters in arms as rats and "FemiNazis" -- a term first popularized by right-wing radio god Rush Limbaugh -- have been appearing in the mailboxes of the radio station's volunteer staff. Vera says the implication is that people of color, gays, lesbians and others have begun to wield too much power and influence over the station's operation and programming.
But Vera argues that KOOP's mission statement defines a central objective of the station's programming as being to serve underserved communities. Radio programming that serves the white conservative males, for instance, can be found ad nauseam on several other radio stations in Austin. -- J.G.
As the Network Turns
At a specially held Council Committee for Telecommunications Infrastructure (CCTI) meeting last week, city staffers presented their business plan for Austin Music Network (AMN). Despite the fact that this was a fairly anticipated event, there was only moderate discussion on the finer points of the plan (which, incidentally, proposes that the city fund $408,600 for four new full-time employees and some much-needed equipment upgrades).
The livelier discussion ensued when a steady stream of folks came to speak on behalf of Gary Bond, of all people. Bond is the film liaison at the Austin Convention and Visitor's Bureau (ACVB). This demonstration of loyalty grew out of the Nov. 25 CCTI meeting when Carlyne Majer, the chair of the Austin Music Commission (AMC), briefly presented the AMC's recommendations for a business plan for the Music Network. One of those recommendations involved transferring three ACVB employees -- the music liaison, the film liaison, and the assistant -- to the city's Cultural Affairs department so that they could work to market the AMN. That would effectively give the AMN three new full-timers.
However, the problem is that those people already have full-time jobs; and, as the film liaison, Bond is responsible for helping to bring in about $90 million to the city annually. So a handful of people showed up to let the councilmembers know what a bad idea it would be to distract Bond with additional duties for which he hadn't asked. What's troubling, though, is not so much the questionable recommendation, but the manner in which it came about. Majer had canceled the AMC meeting scheduled for Nov. 11 and rescheduled one for Nov. 17 -- calling it instead a meeting of the Austin Music Network Music Commission Committee, a group of representatives from the AMC as well as staff from the AMN and others. Nonetheless, recommendations on the AMN business plan were made at that meeting.
One problem: only four of the nine AMC members were present. That's not a quorum. So the revised recommendations could not have been approved by the AMC at that meeting. Bigger problem: The controversial recommendation about transferring Bond et al. from the ACBV to the city was added after the meeting had taken place, which also means it was done without official approval and without the knowledge of the entire AMC. Still, the original document submitted to the CCTI was titled "AMC Recommendations" -- though it was later revised to "Recommendations from the Austin Music Network Music Commission Committee." More to come. -- M.B.
To hear Texas Observer founder Ronnie Dugger tell it, the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) -- an international trade treaty being negotiated by 28 of the world's wealthiest countries -- is, in a word, hogwash.
"This secretly concocted MAI treaty is all-out war by the transnational corporations on democracy itself," Dugger said at a Dec. 3 forum sponsored by his latest love, the Alliance for Democracy, and by Public Citizen, a Ralph Nader consumer-rights organization.
The MAI, which would give sweeping new rights to foreign investors, has been in negotiation for the past two years in a basement room at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). A draft copy of the agreement leaked to the Internet last January is the only reason the Alliance and Public Citizen were cognizant enough to hold the second-ever U.S. forum on the MAI. In fact, according to Mary Murphy of the Alliance, even Congressman Lloyd Doggett claimed to have no knowledge of the agreement.
MAI proponent Renato Ruggerio, director general of the World Trade Organization, boasted to his peers back in 1996, "We are writing the constitution of a single global economy." Others, though, have referred to this new "constitution" as "NAFTA on steroids." A key provision, for instance, grants foreign investors the right to sue national governments, a right the average citizen does not even enjoy.
Public Citizen's James Scott gave a not-so-hypothetical scenario of how this could affect Austin. Let's say a foreign-owned corporation builds a development near Barton Creek that adversely affects water quality. Austin citizens then come together and successfully pressure the city council to pass a law making the corporation more accountable. Under the MAI, this corporation could sue the City of Austin for impinging upon its ability to make a profit.
"We can't tolerate this," Dugger said. "We have a tremendous opportunity to show people that we... are being superseded by an unmistakable international aristocracy. There is only one way to fight this... and that is by people organizing in their own interest." -- C.B.