New Mexico is preparing to carry out its first execution since 1960. In an effort to ensure things are done properly, they've consulted the experts -- us. Texas, that is. The Dallas Morning News reported last week that our neighbors to the west have hired two unidentified Texas "execution experts" from the Texas Corrections Dept. Texas officials said the experts are independent contractors, not representatives of the Lone Star State. The Morning News quoted Cathy Ansheles, coordinator for the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty, who said, "This puts a whole new twist on killing for hire."
In other death penalty news, hundreds of folks marched last Saturday in favor of a state moratorium against capital punishment. The following day, hundreds more turned out for a march and rally against Bush's "War on Terrorism," attracting groups from across the state. Hosted by Austin Against War, the march signified the first time that peace activists from Dallas, Houston, Austin, and elsewhere demonstrated against the Aghanistan war as a unified, statewide coalition.
Sam Allred and Bob Cole of KVET-FM continued to beat the free campaign drum for Eric Mitchell this week, even managing to skew a poll of their already pump-primed listeners further in Mitchell's direction. In an instant and admittedly unscientific "mini-poll" of callers Monday morning, Cole counted 21 votes for Mitchell, 3 for Gus Garcia, and a couple for David "Breadman-- Blakely, giving Mitchell a whopping 84% of the potential vote. However, one listener alone had called in three votes from registered voters in her family for Garcia -- and at least two others had also called for Gus. So the blatant push-poll -- with Sammy rooting for Mitchell throughout -- confirmed at least one other unsurprising factoid: Sammy and Bob can't count.
While the new USA Patriot Act of 2001 (signed into law Friday by Prez Bush) has civil libertarians up in arms over the broad access it grants to law enforcement officials (broader wiretapping limits, for instance), at least one area of private life remains off-limits to cops: info about what citizens watch on cable television. A section of HR 3162 titled "Clarification of Scope," declares that access "shall not include records revealing cable subscribed selection of video programming from a cable operator." That's right: While any telephone a suspected "terrorist" may ever use can be tapped (forget about whether the suspect actually uses the line or not), the suspect's predilection for watching Emeril five days a week will never be known. That's taking it up a notch.
They call it denial: While debating the new anti-terrorism legislation, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said, "I don't know anybody in this country who's afraid of their law enforcement people at this time. They're afraid of terrorism.'' Surely he's joking: Hatch knows plenty of lobbyists and corporate leaders who cower before law enforcement so consistently they've turned it into an art form.
The Texas Center for Policy Studies and Environmental Defense has developed a new "Texas Environmental Profiles" Web site at www.texasep.org. Info on Texas air quality, water quality, water supply, waste disposal, wildlife, and biodiversity features prominently on the site, as well as county data, mapping tools, and a "take action" section.
Another month, another cutback: Less than 30 days into the city's new fiscal year, City Manager Jesus Garza is already telling departments -- except police, fire, and EMS, of course -- to offer up sacrifices for another 5% across-the-board budget cut. Garza has left the door open for deeper trimming, which would almost certainly mean laying off city employees and/or closing city facilities. The downward spiral in sales tax collections, already dismal before Sept. 11, is to blame. So go out and buy stuff: books, Cipro, antiques, Lee Greenwood CDs ...
The SOS Alliance's annual Soul of the City celebration met its fundraising goal for ticket sales before doors even opened Sunday at the Backyard. That's the word from SOS leaders, who frankly weren't sure how their effort would merit during a time of uncertain economic ticks. This year's annual celebration was delayed by several months due to scheduling conflicts of musical guests Jimmy LaFave, Ray Wiley Hubbard, and Slaid Cleaves.
Gov. Rick Perry neglected to appoint a fire fighting representative to his new Homeland Security Task Force, provoking resentment among the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters and the state AFL-CIO. "Fire fighters are the first people to respond to any emergency," said TSAFF Legislative Director Ken Bailey. "We feel [Perry's decision] is very inappropriate."
Todd Main, former director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, has tied the knot. Main, who moved to Washington, D.C., early last year to become the national field director of Ralph Nader's presidential campaign, married Nader's national campaign manager Theresa Amato.
Speaking of things that take forever, the Austin Revitalization Authority cut the ribbon last weekend -- five months behind schedule, and about nine years after the project was first conceived -- on the restored Haehnel Building, more commonly known by its last incarnation as Shorty's Bar. The pre-Civil War building on East 11th, which has also been a residence, a grocer, and a brothel, will now be the offices of Balcones Recycling. The renovation budget for the 4,200-square foot structure was $695,800.
Effective Nov. 1, Shelley Davis, district director for Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, will leave Texas and head north to work with the Rev. Jesse Jackson at Rainbow/PUSH Coalition's Chicago headquarters. Georgetown native Davis has been with Ellis since 1997, and served as a G-town city council member for four years. He was unseated in 1999 by current Council Member Clark Lyda.
It's official: Passenger traffic at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was down in September -- off 34% from the year before. (ABIA's official press statement assumes you know why this was so.) However, even with the post-Sept. 11 shutdown and fallout, year-to-date traffic for ABIA's first three quarters was only down 2% from 2000. In other words, if the U.S. aviation industry is at death's door, it's not Austin's fault.
Mayor Kirk Watson was honored last week with a Peacemaker Award from the Dispute Resolution Center for his "civic leadership in consensus building." The independent nonprofit -- lawyers and mediators who provide dispute resolution services in Travis Co. and surrounding areas -- also gave a Peacemaker Award to city Special Projects Director Tracy Watson -- a former "Best City Bureaucrat" winner in the Chronicle "Best of Austin" poll -- for his work on the city's land-use dispute mediation program to resolve zoning battles before they go to the Planning Commission and City Council.
On Tuesday, state District Judge John Dietz formally ruled to uphold a jury decision that awarded a Dripping Springs couple $32 million against Farmers Insurance. Melinda Ballard and Ron Allison got the judgment this summer after proving to a jury that Farmers mishandled a water damage claim that resulted in their Hays Co. home being overrun by toxic mold. The ruling comes after court-ordered mediation between the couple and Farmers broke down earlier this month.
Georgetown City Council Member Clark Lyda has filed two open records requests with the city of Austin, seeking access to a myriad of personnel information about Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield, chairman of the Citizens for Georgetown political action committee and one of Lyda's most outspoken opponents. Lyda said the city has appealed one of his requests to Attorney General John Cornyn's office as being exempt from public disclosure. The other seeks "any and all" correspondence to or from Sheffield (including phone logs, e-mail, and memos) that mention any of 92 people, places, or phrases Lyda has listed, including reporters and editors from the Austin American-Statesman and the Chronicle. Lyda's requests seem aimed at determining whether or not Sheffield has been working on PAC-related issues on Austin city time, a charge Sheffield denies.
The Capital Metro board has voted to buy two hybrid diesel-electric buses for a pilot project to test the technology. Made by General Motors and Allison Transmission, these buses are said to be cleaner, quieter, and less expensive to operate than conventional buses.
The city's public safety departments -- police, fire, EMS -- are holding Community Safety Forums throughout town to address anthrax concerns and "other issues" that may arise in Austin. Scheduled forums (all times 7-9pm): Nov. 1, Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, 6830 S. Pleasant Valley; Nov. 6, North Austin Christian Church, 1734 Rut-land; Nov. 8, St. Ignatius Martyr Church, 126 W. Oltorf; Nov. 13, Westminster Presbyterian Church, 3208 Exposition; Nov. 15, Cristo Rey Catholic Church, 2200 E. Second; Nov. 16, Waller Creek Plaza, Room 104, 625 E. Tenth.
At press time, four Americans had died in the days since Sept. 11 from anthrax, which has flu-like symptoms. In the same time, some 2,700 Americans have died of flu, if this is what the Centers for Disease Control calls "an average year."
Looks like UT journalism professor Bob Jensen has another critic on his back: loony-right syndicated radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Friday morning, she spent roughly 15 minutes reading excerpts from articles by a dozen or so "Marxist," "liberal" U.S. professors who have had the nerve to oppose the "war on terrorism." Jensen -- who in September wrote an anti-war editorial in the Houston Chronicle -- made Schlessinger's McCarthy-like list. She said that his article made her cross UT off the list of universities she would ever allow her precious son Deryk to attend. Perhaps UT Prez Larry Faulkner -- who wrote a bizarre and demeaning response to Jensen's article in the Houston paper (see War of Words) -- can persuade her to reconsider.
The Capital Metro board unanimously pledged $500,000 to the Central Texas Regional Vision Project, which covers the five-county Austin metro area. The RVP, expected to cost between $1 million and $2 million, is also seeking $400,000 support from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which will vote on the request later this month."
On Monday morning, 27-year-old bicyclist Krishan Walters was run over by a Capitol Metro bus and killed. The bus driver has not been charged. Walters was riding on the sidewalk when she accidentally ran into a garbage can, hit the bus, and then fell under it. Our sympathies.
Residents of Allandale, Brentwood, and Rosedale have flooded City Council offices with a stream of letters, calls and emails in opposition to a blood plasma center planned for 5335 Burnet Road, the former site of an Eckerd drug store. Council was supposed to consider a conditional use permit for the facility (already approved by the Planning Commission) both last week and this week, but delayed the item until next Thursday evening. Allandale Neighborhood Association and Carr Development have filed appeals against PC's decision.
The Daily Texan reported on Wednesday that KUT has hired a news director, who will be charged with developing a news department at the University of Texas' NPR affiliate. Emily Donahue, currently the producer of Marketplace Morning Report in Los Angeles and a former international correspondent for NBC, will start work Dec. 12, and KUT's local news programming is expected to begin sometime after the first of the year.
To the surprise of no one, Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and Houston Congressman Ken Bentsen told the State Democratic Executive Committee last week they intend to run for the open U.S. Senate seat of retiring Republican Phil Gramm. Bentsen flatly declared his campaign, while Kirk was a little more coy, saying he'll make a formal announcement in a couple of weeks. Yet to be formally heard from are former AG Dan Morales and perhaps once-and-future-candidate Victor Morales -- wrassling for the right to face currently unopposed Republican candidate, current AG John Cornyn.