Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Texas Prisons: Punishment or Education

I also have to agree with the author of this post on criminal rehabilitation.

I also can see the two sides, while falling more in the middle just the same. On the one hand I have to wonder about some of these 3 strikes laws you see other places where people commit crimes and are punished for subsequent crimes they commit that could really be blamed on the nature of incarceration people faced. On the other hand I see other places like foreign countries that send people to prison only 15-20 years for things like murder. I understand people make horrible mistakes, but some are so bad that these people need to go away so they don't have the chance to make them again.

As far as Texas goes, I think it's way too in love with the death penalty. I don't really feel that executing a person is the best way to demonstrate that murder is wrong. As a matter of principle I don't think any person has the moral authority to kill another person for reasons other than self-defense. That said, I hadn't heard about this recent focus on rehabilitation.

I too think prison should be no picnic and just based on the lack of freedom of movement it really isn't. It should take away enough freedom to make people never want to go back. I think what would be equally effective, though, would be if rehabilitation gave inmates enough hope for their prospects in the world that they didn't want to come back.

Like my colleagues mentioned, it saves money if people aren't in and out of courts and prisons over and over again, but also it saves lives. More US population is institutionalized in its prisons than most any other country. This is a drain on taxpayers, but it's also just plain sad. If people can learn from mistakes in prison and gain hope for their life after being there, they won't end up back there.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Primary Derby

With only a little over a month left until the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary and seeing as I've yet to shut up about how I'm from NH yet this semester, I thought I'd keep with the trend and relate my favorite political event to Texas politics.

Being a loyal Granite Stater and as big a fan of Bill Gardner as the next one, I would never propose a state try to move in front of NH in the nominating process, but living the better part of the last 7 years outside of NH has gotten me to thinking, maybe the world doesn't revolve around it and maybe other states ought to get a little more excited about primaries. Texas has a primary in March right now (see irrelevant). Just guessing but I would expect turnout somewhere around 10-20% give or take. When I cast my vote in 2004 I think the turnout was 80-90% on a day with a high of 20 degrees. People know when they matter and that's why New Hampshirites always make it out to vote. Seeing the disinterest in the process when all they're doing is rubber-stamping a nominee makes me think Texas ought to try and have an early primary and get more candidates to come here.

Right now the candidates do all come to Texas, to be fair, but they're not kissing babies or having town-hall meetings. They're flying into Houston and Dallas for $2300 a plate fundraisers and using the proceeds to tell Iowans how much they love their corn on TV. I think it'd be a little fairer if they let us ask them some questions and participate in the vetting process. I mean I'm not the biggest Texas pride guy there is, but this is the 2nd largest state in the union by either measure and you'd think that'd be good for some input in the presidential nominating process.

I wasn't wild about the idea of other states moving up but since they did and I don't live in IA or NH right now, I kind of like the idea of doing something more binding than slapping a bumper sticker on my car. I'd like to go out and cast a vote and have the feeling of not knowing who'll win until the news does results that night. The kind of excitement that everyone gets wrapped up in and follows and participates in like a football season or something. The difference is that people are getting excited about government and more people are participating in it. That's the goal. I think that kind of excitement of an important, binding election where your choices are more than A vs. B might be just the thing to cure some of the apathy here in Texas. It's the reason this average 24 year-old watches MSNBC like it's the superbowl everytime there's an election.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Bible as Our Constitution

In response to my colleague's blog, blueoasisaustin , I wanted to offer my whole-hearted agreement to his assessment of the issue of stem cell research. Lucky for me I haven't been directly affected by any such disease or disorder as my colleague has been, but it doesn't mean I don't have strong feelings about it as another human being in the world.

For years people have been going into doctors offices everywhere and some of them get the terrible news that they have a disease or disorder like ALS, Alzheimers, Cancer, etc. That list goes on forever. These people are being told, in essence, that are in the descent phase on a trail that leads to death. Until very recently there was scarcely a glimmer of hope. Medicine doing as it always has is now discovering drugs and other forms of treatment that are literally stopping death in its tracks in some cases. One of the most promising areas of research is in embryonic stem cells. This stem cell research has provided the exciting possibility of cures for diseases that have long been virtually untreatable.

This offers a great hope for people who are, as my colleague put it, "...waiting for nature to run its course." Oh but it's not so easy, both here and across the nation religious zealots are campaigning against this research because it "kills innocent life." In this case innocent life is microscopic cells in petri dishes that will be destroyed anyway if they're not used for this research. I'm pretty sure by this definition of innocent life masturbation ought be tantamount to murder according to those who would crusade against stem cell research. And their ignorance might be funnier if it wasn't such a formidable roadblock to this promising research that may well lead to the cure for so many diseases and other conditions that are taking away lives.

I'm not saying the cure is right around the corner, but you never find out without doing the research. What that research offers might be just as important for those afflicted and their loved ones... hope. You can't put a price on that and no one should have a right to take that chance at hope away from someone because of their chosen religious scripture.

Friday, November 2, 2007

What's the Deal with Texas Elections?

I hate to seem like I'm always railing on Texas' politics but this is my blog, so I thought I would call into question the way elections go here in celebration of this coming Tuesday's elections. At the risk of sounding like Dennis Miller, Andy Rooney or some horrible hybrid of the two I will proceed.

First of all, who are we voting for? I understand electing the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor but some of the other stuff is absurd to me. The Attorney General? I don't really feel great about entrusting the selection of the state's top law enforcer to what amounts to a fund raising and popularity contest. Then when he or she gets elected it's only to build name recognition to run for some higher office. I didn't even know what a comptroller was when I moved here as we didn't have one in NH, but once I found out it seemed kind of foolish to be electing someone to be in charge of our tax dollars. There are a bunch of other examples but the most heinous to me is the idea of electing judges. All of these positions I mentioned require education and special skills that would seem to make selecting people for them better suited for a meritocracy than democracy. Don't get me wrong, I like being able to influence my government but I don't trust many average joes or even myself to be picking who is the best person to decide court cases, try them or manage public accounts. It's not just that... the more things people have to vote for, the less they research each one and just pick the nicest name or something equally random.

Second thing is that it seems like people try to keep the election a secret here and the paltry voter turnout is evidence that speaks to that. I hardly so any ads in the recent elections save for presidential ads in 2004. Back in NH elections - and not just the "world famous" primary election - were veritable holidays. I ask people if they voted on election day here and they look at me like I'm crazy. They either have no interest or no idea that elections are taking place. I just don't know how people can't know or aren't old an election is coming up and how important it is. I remember people standing out in 20 degree temperatures just to hold their candidates signs at the polling place or waiting in lines in that cold to go vote. Here I see no people with signs and I can scarcely find the polling place and it's usually empty when I go in. It boggles my mind.

One thing I like about the elections here and that might be skewing my evaluation of turnout and interest is early voting. I understand how a lot of people can't get out of work or get transportation to a certain place on a certain day, so stretching it out into a window of time like Texas has done is a fantastic idea to me. Anything that gets more voters to the polls is a good thing in my estimation. That way we're coming closer to a consensus on who we've elected.

So in review, I think Texas would do well to follow the model of the federal government and give the Governor the levity to appoint people to jobs that ought to be based on merit rather then have us elect them. Also I'd like to see a little more promotion of the elections, whether by the state or the individuals' campaigns. Lastly, I commend Texas on the early voting system and admit that it could be why turnout looks low to me. Overall though, I think elections could be more voter friendly here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

So There Are Democrats in Texas

When I moved to Texas from New Hampshire almost 4 years ago, Texas' reputation seemed to precede it, at least politically. It's a bright red republican state - hopelessly so to a "Northeastern Liberal Elite" like myself. Obviously I knew about the history of LBJ and long-standing Democratic dominance here, but that was a different party I surmised. Texas was now "doomed" to being the preeminent conservative state in the union. You can imagine my surprise when I looked at the Dallas Morning News this week and saw this: Battle Brews as Democrats vie for Texas House

Of course I knew there were some Democrats in Texas like here on this blue island in Austin and down in the valley, but I was genuinely surprised to find that the Democrats are a scant 5 seats away from evenly splitting the House between they and the GOP. I would also guess that I'm not the only one a little taken aback by this in the place Americans associate with the Bushes, Tom Delay, etc, etc.

Obviously the article points out that it's hardly a shoe-in for the Dems, but the fact that they're within striking distance and trending in the right direction is quite the revelation. And if the Democrats are making waves locally, one would think they can't be that far behind in contests in Texas' 34 US congressional districts and eventually Senate and other statewide elections. I'm getting ahead of myself, but when you're talking about Texas it means 34 seats in the US House and 36 electoral votes. That's a huge impact on the nation that I had taken for granted as being forever lost as though Texas voting Republican were endemic. I guess Texas Democrats might be climbing out of this grave I'd assumed they were in.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Look Ma, No Red Tape

The state legislature passes a lot of pretty mundane laws and resolutions. In fact, most legislatures pass some stuff that's pretty ineffectual or just plain leaves you shaking your head. It seems like one thing they got done last session actually was pretty worthwhile and at the very least, neat.

The bill, penned by Mark Strama, mandated that state expenditures be listed online by the comptroller's office so that ordinary citizens can look at them at their leisure. "From Dollars to Doughnuts..."

Government has always seemed like something of an exclusive country club to the American masses, but the statement made by that is even stronger today when most of America not knowing how politics works means hundreds of millions of people in the dark about who's making the decisions that affect their lives. There's partisan bickering and representatives debating resolutions that don't effect the law and countless other wastes of time that people get fed up.

With all that going on, it's just nice to see a bill put through the legislature by members of both parties working together. What's more, the bill adds a transparency to government that's usually missing. Like the article says, anyone with a computer can see where their money is being spent pretty easily with just a few keystrokes. It's nice to feel like we know what's going on every once in a while. After all, it is our money.

Friday, September 21, 2007

GOP Finds New Target - The GOP

Apparently the Texas GOP has little tolerance for many of the same things the national GOP has similarly low tolerance for. Their agenda didn't fall into line with Representative Kirk England's (Grand Prairie) and he decided this past Thursday to jump ship and switch the (R) in front of his name with a (D). England Switches Parties.

What, you might ask, are the values England espouses that have left him out of step with the state GOP? Healthcare for children, better schools and fiscally responsible practices. This isn't exactly a unique Republican priority (or lack thereof) as evidenced by the recent battle over the SCHIP program in the US House.

Perhaps the representative's motives weren't all on principle as he was facing a tough battle to win the GOP's nomination next election, but it's certainly a boost for Texas Democrats hoping to take control of the house.