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Long Night's Journey Into Day Print E-mail
Written by Ken Martin   
Wednesday, 05 November 2008 20:25

Long Night's Journey Into Day

(With apologies to Eugene O'Neill)

ken-2On election night, November 4, a score or so loyal Democrats gathered at a mutual friend's house to watch election returns in the Obama-McCain presidential contest. Over the hours we cheered as state after state returns showed most favored Obama. We flipped channels and occasionally landed on Fox, only to see the living example of all the ill wrought on the world by the man Texas Monthly magazine called "Bush's Brain," Karl Rove. Loud boos all around. We complimented John McCain's generous concession speech. As Barack Obama took the stage in Chicago to acknowledge his historic victory, we wept along with Jesse Jackson and tens of thousands of others as President-Elect Obama thanked his supporters and conveyed his vision of our country's future. We were more than impressed that Obama never gloated over his victory, in fact never smiled, and instead focused on laying out the overarching themes of his presidency. (At his request, there were no fireworks, either, The New York Times reported.) As McCain reached out to the victor and promised cooperation and support, Obama thanked McCain and reached out to those who did not vote for him and invited all Americans to close ranks as a people to focus on working to address the sobering challenges we face.

Later, in personally reflecting on the election of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth president of the United States, I thought about the national blight we've suffered for the past eight years under the inept leadership of George W. Bush. The interminable war in Afghanistan. The endless and unnecessary war in Iraq. Our shattered economy-indeed the world's panicked economy-brought about by reckless executives and foolhardy deregulation.

Yet even now in the waning days of the Bush Administration there is a push by this impotent leader, one of the most unpopular presidents in our nation's history, to further weaken environmental regulations that are supposed to protect the quality of our air and water. The minions of President Bush are as eager to wield the last vestiges of power as those in the financial industry were to extract profit no matter the risk. These Bushites pray to deliver a few last favors to the soulless profiteers who put Bush in office. One example: The Washington Post reported that the Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing new air quality rules to make it easier to build coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other major polluters near national parks and wildlife areas—even though half of the EPA's ten regional administrators have formally dissented from the decision and another four criticized the move in writing.

Given Bush's basement-level approval ratings and given Obama's landslide victory, I'm left nearly speechless at the audacity of this last-gasp, last-grasp to exert power over the regulatory processes. I think the words of Joseph Welch, delivered on June 9, 1954, to then Senator Joseph McCarthy during the senator's abusive attacks on the reputation of a young attorney, are applicable.

Welch, aghast at the ferocity of McCarthy's assault, launched a strong counteroffensive.

"Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness," Welch said, according to the U.S. Senate's historical minutes. When McCarthy tried to continue his attack, Welch angrily interrupted: "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?"

I would ask the Bush Administration the same question.

Ken Martin is editor of The Good Life.
Thoughts about the presidential election Print E-mail
Written by Robert Singleton   
Tuesday, 04 November 2008 20:18

singleton-robertWilliam Ayers and Khalid Rashidi—McCain's campaign shouted these names like they meant something to most of us. Reminded me of a small, yappy dog chasing a mouse around the house, barking hysterically, knocking over the furniture and then bringing you the mouse and looking at you as if to say: "See what I saved you from?" (For those of you who have lost their scorecards, Ayers is the former Weatherman that Sarah Palin says Obama "palled around with." Rashidi is a former PLO spokesman the Elephants tried to link to Obama, even though Rashidi is more closely tied to McCain than Obama. McCain's International Republican Initiative gave almost a half million dollars to Rashidi.)

Rush Limbaugh and others on why the election went to Obama—I've been reading a lot of right-wing blather since the election, and most of it bears the same theme: "If only we'd gone further right." Ann Coulter suggested that "Conservative candidates never lose." (I guess she's forgetting Barry Goldwater.) Do these people really think if they'd been more conservative, some people who voted for Obama would've voted for McCain?

I can't wait for the 2010 election. (On second thought, I can wait for 2010.)

Robert Singleton writes The Good Life's environmental columns.
Proposition 2: Do the right thing Print E-mail
Written by Rebecca Melancon   
Wednesday, 01 October 2008 00:00

rebeccaOur community has had many studies, plans, discussions and debates about what we want Austin to look like in the future. One inevitable fact is growth will occur. While we ponder the simplistic upward-or-outward question about where to put all the people moving to Austin, a small revolution has been building in our community.
While many confrontations of the past have been framed as the developer vs. the environment, the current fight takes on the developer vs. our tax dollars.
On November 4, in addition to voting for president, you will be asked to vote on a complex amendment to the Austin City Charter. Proposition 2 would prohibit the City of Austin from providing incentives to development or redevelopment projects that include retail and would prohibit the city from paying incentives currently contracted to The Domain and potentially others. No doubt you’ve heard the cry of Stop Domain Subsidies (www.stopdomainsubsidies.com) to pass this amendment to prevent the city from paying the rebate of sales tax dollars to Simon Property Group Inc., the current developer of The Domain.
But first a bit of history. Municipalities routinely grant incentive packages to create a thriving economic and cultural environment. Economic policies drive the addition of desirable jobs, recruitment of viable business sectors and development of specific areas of town. These policies can also express the desires of the community for the shape and feel of our city.
The term New Urbanism has been put into play here. New Urbanism seeks to provide neighborhoods that are scalable (no enormous skyscrapers) and contain jobs, a variety of housing options, public spaces, shopping and a walkable community. This translates into mixed-use development. The Domain is an example of this, as is the Mueller redevelopment, The Triangle and others.

This is where it gets complicated

In 2003, the city entered into a contract with the developers of The Domain to offer financial incentives to create a desired project that included affordable housing, park space, jobs, locally owned businesses, high-end retailers and a showcase of mixed-use planning. Among the incentives was a rebate of taxes collected on retail sales at The Domain. These taxes would otherwise flow into the city’s general fund coffers to help pay for our community’s needs including public safety, libraries, parks and numerous other necessities. You will hear estimates of how much these rebates cost that range from twenty-five million to sixty-five million dollars or more. The difference in these figures is the twenty-five million is a cap at net present value. That means in 2003 dollars. Over the life of this twenty-five year agreement this could stretch to sixty-five million in real dollars.
In 2004 Brian Rodgers, a local real estate investor, brought a lawsuit against the city and the developers to stop the refund of sales tax dollars to the developer. This ended in a settlement that allows the city and the developers to walk away from the agreement. (I wrote about this issue in November 2007 and explained the pros and cons in more detail. That article can be found at www.goodlifemag.com/archives/2007/11-07/11-07_Lagniappe.pdf.)
Rodgers and others led the petition drive to get Proposition 2 on the ballot.
Recently a new group has formed to defeat the proposition. Keep Austin’s Word (www.keepaustinsword.com) carries the voice of former Council Member Betty Dunkerley. Dunkerley is a well-respected advocate for local business and supported, among others, the Austin Independent Business Alliance throughout her time on the council.
Keep Austin’s Word maintains that the original deal with The Domain should be honored. According to a recent review to be presented to the City Council October 2 (after our press date) The Domain has not only met its obligations under the agreement but has exceeded them.

Banishing the politics of fear Print E-mail
Written by Rebecca Melancon   
Saturday, 01 March 2008 00:00

rebeccaMy father used to tell me that both cream and scum rise to the top. Of course we lived in Louisiana, where the air is thick, the gumbo sublime and the politics are a muted shade of green scum. The only cream is in café au lait. I left my home in New Orleans many years ago to chart my own course in the world. But the wit and wisdom of his words have stayed with me.

An absolute and unapologetic idealist, I have often been disappointed in politics—especially of late. I am appalled by the politics of fear that permeate our society today. Of course there are things to fear in the world—terrorists, nuclear bombs, extremists, global warming, things that go bump in the night and more. As our leaders work to actively feed these fears, the news media lends a supporting cast of thousands to the chorus of “Be afraid, be very afraid.”
By fanning the flames of fear we have allowed hate to rise in its smoke. We are a country divided—by issues, by shades of red and blue, by haves and have-nots. We have been fed solutions to our fears that look viable only through a heavily smoked lens. The problems of the world are real, but we have manufactured the fear ourselves.
Where is the leadership that will stand by us one and all and banish these fears? Who among us will bring courage and vision into the fold? We are a great nation but we haven’t been acting like one.
A key leadership trait is the ability to motivate a group of people to work toward a common goal. More than pointing out a direction, a great leader can inspire us to be great ourselves, to bring out the best in each of us and not the worst.
As I watch the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate debates and take in the policies, sound bytes and spin of the candidates, I find refreshing and inspiring words and ideas coming from Barak Obama. He is the only candidate talking about us as a nation, one nation, rising to meet the challenges of our world.
Both Obama and Clinton have similar views on the problems facing us. Each has plans, policies, programs and solutions that will require legislation and consensus. Obama has something more—leadership that can inspire us to be more than we otherwise would be. It is not required that any president have all the answers or even that they master the minutiae of economics or global warming (although it would be good if our leaders at least acknowledged the existence of global warming and worked to address it). Our country is rich with experts and advisors. What our president can bring to the office is leadership that inspires.