Don't 2nd Street My City

Michael Barnes at Out & About had some musings yesterday on "What would it cost?" to repave and revamp all of the sidewalks in downtown Austin to look like the AMLI-fied 2nd Street District. At first blush, one can get drunk off the twinkling strands of lights, slender, adolescent trees and mini-benches lining the curbs of the self-defined Wine & Cheese District. With a price tag of an estimated $250M to replicate these "Great Streets" across downtown Austin, Barnes suggests that perhaps the same amount of federal stimulus money bound for flyovers and freeways might best be spent on this project instead -- encouraging "density, green transportation and development of small businesses."

But beyond the glow of the W's show room floor and the silk tunic society, I can't imagine Austin being improved by such improvements. Perhaps it's just my 78704 roots, before the Barton Springs Road trailer parks were cool, but old Austin lives in its craggy concrete; the old bricked bones of 6th Street rising up through trodden asphalt. Congress Avenue's granite sidewalk pavers act as the red carpet leading up to the Capitol building -- once at an Obama rally I discovered the word "PEACE" scrawled into the concrete on 11th and Brazos. The Stairs of Doom on the corner of 4th and Colorado act as the ultimate field sobriety test for anyone wearing more than 2-inch heels or more than two drinks into their night. Fanning off of a wobbly concrete sidewalk big enough for passerbys and late-night pizza fans sitting outside the Roppolo's cart -- La Condessa wouldn't dream of letting these schleps through her doors. Alleyways and parking lots, mashed together by time and erosion, sometimes contain musicians drumming on empty paint buckets or tin cans. The homeless congregate on street corners in growing numbers, dotting Wooldridge Square like cattle grazing in an urban field. They've answered your calls for density.

The 2nd Street District, Kate Spade-quaint and suitable for the condo-dwellers, has its place. For the rest of Austin, it's hardly affordable, hardly a necessity (there's never been a time I needed to buy snowboarding gear in downtown Austin) and hardly representative of the majority of Austin. And while paving over the grime and gunk of downtown might bring a few boutique furniture stores to the area, the true grooming of Austin's downtown streets needs to start with addressing affordability and homelessness -- two issues which, increasingly, go hand in manicured hand.

Party Like It's 1999 (Dot-Com Style)

Don't forget to stop by Molotov Lounge on West 6th Street tonight from 7-9 PM where will be hosting our launch party. Tito's Sweet-Os, food & live music. What more could an Austinite ask for.


Guest Blog: It’s time to let the sunset on the Builders Commission

This is a guest blog and an excellent read from a fellow TPA member. John R. Cobarruvias has been an advocate for new homeowner rights and is a member of Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings. He has testified against the TRCC and has provided research on the Commission and the rules and procedures.

In 2003 the Texas Legislature passed the Texas Residential
Construction Commission Act, creating a Commission to regulate the
home building industry and provide consumer protection for new
homebuyers. Six years later the Texas Comptrollers Office and the
Texas Sunset Commission have called for the abolishment of the TRCC
(trick). As the reports stated, the Commission is nothing more than a
“builder protection agency” with “fundamental flaws that do more harm
than good”. The fate of this ill-conceived Commission is currently in
the hands of the Texas Senate. They should stand with the consumers of
this state and let the sunset on this fatally flawed Commission.

In response to the concerns of the Sunset Commission, House Bill 2295
by Representative McClendon (D-San Antonio) has been filed. According
to the rules of the Sunset Commission, if this “sunset” bill is not
signed into law, the TRCC will be abolished. The bill has passed the
House and is currently lingering in the Senate with time running out
in the legislative session.

The facts concerning this Commission, which supposedly was created to
help homeowners with construction defects, are undeniable and
unbelievable. The Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Bob
Perry Homes wrote the bill that created the TRCC. Governor Perry later
appointed him to the Commission. The State Legislator who sponsored
the TRCC bill owns a lumber company and sells to the home building
industry. He is a member of the Texas Association of Builders (TAB)
and received an award after passing the bill. The National Association
of Home Builders also named him “Legislator of the Year”.

Since its creation, the board has been stacked with builder friendly
Commissioners. The Arbitration Task Force, charged with researching
the abuse of mandatory binding arbitration in new home contracts, was
stacked with home builders and members of the American Arbitration
Association (AAA). The Commission, heavily in favor of the home
building industry, established a statewide standard for new home
warranties that provides one single year of protection, while
repealing the implied warranty of good workmanship granted to
homeowners in the sixties.

In 2006 the Texas Comptroller’s Office conducted a detailed
investigation of the TRCC prompting the Comptroller to state "...if it
was up to me personally, I would blast this TRCC builder-protection
agency off the bureaucratic books". The report by the Sunset
Commission issued in 2008 had a key recommendation of “Abolish the
Texas Residential Construction Commission and repeal the Texas
Residential Construction Commission Act.” Both reports were very
clear, the $10 million/year TRCC is not providing a useful service to
the consumer and deserves to be abolished.

HB2295 continues to deceive. The bill calls for licensing of home
builders, but exempts over 28,000 builders currently registered with
the TRCC. The licensing oversight will be controlled by the TRCC an
agency with 6 years of failure, instead of by the Texas Department of
Licensing and Regulation with 100 years of outstanding service and
experience in oversight. And the requirements for licensing are
nothing more than paying a fee, taking 8 hours of training, and
passing a test administered by the inexperienced TRCC.

The mandatory State Sponsored Inspection and Resolution Process
(SIRP), a process to help mediate complaints, continues to be a
convoluted, complicated, legal nightmare that requires legal
assistance to navigate. The bill offers an optional, extremely
expensive mediation process chalk full of legal loopholes that will do
more harm than good for the consumer. The bill also reduces the time
required to complete the SIRP, but does nothing to reduce its
overwhelming complexity and legal ramifications.

In 2003 testimony from the home building industry claimed the TRCC
would provide much needed consumer protection for new homeowners with
construction defects. Instead it has been an expensive failure causing
financial ruin to many homeowners and allowing the industry to run
wild with no fear of being held accountable.

The facts are clear. It is time to let the sunset on this
bureaucratic, expensive, nightmare called the TRCC.

TPA Weekly Round Up

It's Monday, and that means it is time for another edition of the Texas Progressive Alliance's weekly round-up.

At Bluedaze, TXsharon asks: What are the chances that an industry in charge of conducting its own testing to determine waste disposal methods will find toxin levels too high if that means disposal of the waste will be more
costly? Landfarms: Spreading Toxic Drilling Waste on Farmland. With VIDEO.

BossKitty at TruthHugger sees lessons never learned ... it is NOT about religion, ya'll! How does it fit that US Military crusader evangelists want to save these souls right before we blow them away. How can we justify putting Mulims on death row, by their own people, just because we convinced them to become APOSTATES?! General Order Number One, Forbid Proselytizing ? Evangelists Cannot Protect Murtads - Wars fought using 12th century religious mentality means that civilization has made two steps backwards!

Mean Rachel is reminded on Mother's Day of children, the lack thereof and why The Pill should be available over the counter.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants to know how can Rick Perry brag about how well Texas is doing when over 22% of our children face hunger every day?

Gary at Easter Lemming Liberal News showed a video from the Texas
Freedom Network
of our own Texas Department of Miseducation in action.

WhosPlayin covered the Denton County Democrats' election of a new County Chair, after previous chairman Neil Durrance resigned to run for U.S. Congress in District 26 in 2010.

The bad news is that unemployment keeps rising in Texas. The good news is that means there's more federal stimulus money available for unemployment insurance, if the Lege and Governor Perry take it. Off the Kuff has the details.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts on the latest stunt by our member of Congress, AusChron asks a question about Rep. John Carter - is he a nutball?

Neil at Texas Liberal is very glad that the left won a big election victory in India, Strong Victory For Center-Left Congress Party In India?World?s Two Largest Democracies Now Firmly Reject Conservatives, and that now the world's two largest democracies have firmly rejected conservatives.

Harry Balczak is a little upset. Come by McBlogger so you to can understand how much he hates the idea of Texas becoming so $%@*$%%^ puritanical.

John Coby at Bay Area Houston says it is Time to Sunset Bob Perry's Builder Commission.

This week Teddy at Left of College Station covers President Obama?s decision to continue to use the Bush Administration ?con-missions? to prosecute detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Also, Wednesday Teddy will be a co-host of Biased Transmission, a progressive talk radio show on the community radio station 89.1FM KEOS. This week Jim Olson, Texas A&M University Senior Lecturer and CIA-Officer-in-Residence, will return to the show to discuss the ?enhanced interrogations? used during the Bush Administration.

Over at TexasKaos, liberaltexan takes on the Obama administration's decision to continue the military Con-Missions. He seems to believe we should, like, trust our own judicial institutions and not make up new, untested ones with no demonstration of necessity or superiority.. See his diary, President Obama to Continue Con-Missions?

Xanthippas at Three Wise Men takes heed of journalist Ahmed Rashid's warnings about Pakistan, which teeters on the brink of chaos.

Good ol' boy Gene Green got real scared by some progressive activists who came to his office this past week. PDiddie recounted the poor Congressman's terror at Brains and Eggs.

Mother's Day Reminds Me of The Pill

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post.

On Mother's Day, I participated in my usual Sunday morning ritual: reading the headlines on my Blackberry, checking my @replies on Twitter and scrolling through my friends' Facebook status updates. Among the chatter of "Happy Mother's Day" and dreary "Headed to the in-laws..." was another update -- words from one of my female friends, a musician in a committed two-year relationship. Her status was a "shout out for those of us that have successfully not become mommies."

Her status did more than update me as to "what's on her mind" -- it reminded me of what has been on mine. Not becoming pregnant is, for most non-religious, non-family-building women, a regular source of anxiety. I discuss birth control with just about every female I know. The cost of it, the difficulty getting away from work to get a prescription for it, procedures and pills that aren't covered by health insurance, on and on. These are smart, gainfully employed women who are actively trying not to get pregnant. What becomes of the woman who doesn't have the time or the finances to obsess over these ovarian strategies? Wait, wait, don't tell me -- I know how this ends. She gets pregnant.

In the storied reclamation of our gender, women forgot to claim one thing: our right to control our reproductive systems. While the fight is by no means over, it does seem like the contractions subsided with the invention of sports bras and shoulder pads. What happened to the big push?

When it comes to obtaining oral contraceptives, I get especially infuriated. We're not talking about abortions here -- what's wrong with prevention? The two most effective forms of birth control, after the mythical abstinence, are IUDs and other hormonal options, like The Pill. Why The Pill is not available over the counter is something that no one has been able to successfully answer for me. Certain forms of The Pill which don't include estrogen, called progesterone-only pills, are less likely to cause blood-clots and are often prescribed to women who cannot take higher-doses of hormones. A study done in 2007 by the Contraception Journal showed that a sample of random women could screen themselves for oral contraceptive contraindications nearly as well as medical professionals. Only 6.7% of the women incorrectly thought they did not have any contraindications/risks when, in fact, they did. Even with medical screening under normal circumstances, approximately 6% of oral contraceptive users in the US show contraindications for pill use. The study ultimately concluded that since the percentage of women who incorrectly misdiagnosed themselves is similar to the proportion of actual pill users in the US who are contraindicated for use, the over the counter sale of birth control pills would likely be safe.

Conservatives should get behind the numbers if nothing else. A study done in 2001 by the Institute For Women’s Policy Research showed that making birth control pills available over-the-counter (OTC) would dramatically increase its usage, which could result in potentially $2.08 billion dollars in medical savings from preventing unplanned pregnancies. The same study estimates that the number of abortions would be reduced by 220,000 a year. How's that for Choose Life?

Yet after all of these comprehensive studies, women still take time off of work, go to their doctors, wear see-through gowns, patiently explain they're still with the same partner, remind the nurses they've have been tested for STD's, stare at plastic models of fallopian tubes, pay for co-pays and office visits and wait for our golden tickets.

Those little white hormones packed in foil and plastic aren't the controlled substance here: women are. And if anyone wants to tell you differently, ask them why you can buy condoms and cigarettes in a 7-Eleven. It's our issue. They don't get to make it a partisan issue or an abstinence-only issue. We need to take out our reality TV epidurals and get back to our bra-burning roots. We're not yet mothers, but we could at least do something for the next generation we might one day decide to have.

The Pantsuit Prejudice

Tonight, as I sat around with my cat and pondering my compelling life story, I was forwarded Jeffrey Rosen's self-satisfying oophorectomy by a fellow blogger Alexander Wolfe at Three Wise Men, and found myself, in reading Rosen's Napoleon-complex piece, reliving the recent dismissal of Perla Cavazos as being "committed" but --alas-- not ready for the job.

Rosen, who writes for The New Republic, makes "The Case Against Sonia Sotomayor: Indictments of Obama's front-runner to replace Souter." Rosen, while admitting he hasn't "read enough of Sotomayor's opinions to have a confident sense of them," opens with the usual compelling life story that we've all come to associate with women, but then deems her a "gamble," citing anonymous sources who describe her as a "bully." She is later referred to as not being a "wilting violet." I guess he couldn't find an anonymous source to agree to call her a "strong, empowered woman." Huh.

The most testosterone-fueled argument against Sotomayor is found in a quote that Rosen manages to frame up against yet another anonymous source's less-flattering portrayal of Sotomayor being "domineering" during "oral arguments." The quote comes from a 1995 New York Times interview of Second Circuit judge Jose Cabranes. Rosen refers to this as proving the aforementioned "domineering" point "more charitably." 'Cause us womenfolk need a handout, y'know. Remember, this quote is supposed to be pointing out a bad thing:

"She is not intimidated or overwhelmed by the eminence or power or prestige of any party, or indeed of the media."

Rosen's desire to undermine Sotomayor's potential, due to nothing more than her barren lifestyle, the fact that she's a woman, and that she takes her clerks to Harry Potter movies, completely hurts his own argument. The qualities of a fairer judge - one that is not intimidated by outside pressures - could not be more summarized in that one sentence.

Rosen, in his haste to discredit Sotomayor, stops short of indicting childless women, women who are not married, and (ipso facto) women with cats. But don't overdose on The Pill just yet, ladies! This is just the first in a series of reports he plans to do, so anonymous sources and those of us with vaginas still have something to look forward to.