Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Let's Educate Our Immigrants!!!

A colleague of mine, Frankie Volpicella, recently posted a blog titled, “Financial Aid of the Illegal Kind,” commenting on how he believes that illegal immigrants should not be eligible for financial aid, or for in-state tuition in Texas. I have to disagree with him on this one. Illegal immigrants are going to be here in Texas whether we like it or not. It is just part of living in this wonderful border state. We must somehow find a way to get over the negative aspects of this situation and start looking towards the future, and finding a solution to the “problem.”

Volpicella states, “The bottom line is that Texas citizens pay taxes for these schools and in turn receive benefits. Illegal immigrants don't pay taxes, yet are still offered other citizens' hard earned money in the form of financial aid.” What I think may be being overlooked here is the fact that illegal immigrants do pay taxes. They contribute greatly to sales tax as well as property tax. I know that most people who are against benefits for illegal immigrants would love to believe that it’s a free ride for them, but that is simply not the case. According to former Texas Comptroller, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, ““The absence of the estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants in Texas in fiscal 2005 would have been a loss to our gross state product of $17.7 billion.” That is quite a lot of revenue, considering that the amount of illegal immigrants that actually attend college in Texas is very low; we should be looking at this objectively.

If Texas were to decide against educating illegal immigrants, I truly believe that the state would suffer greatly as a result. With Texas having such a high level of poverty, would barring anyone from a good education in this state solve that problem? Unfortunately, most residents of Texas living in poverty tend to be of Hispanic origin. So because of this fact, I am almost certain that most illegal immigrants in Texas are not able to afford a higher level of education. Contributing to an undocumented citizens’ education will, I believe, only help the Texas economy in the long run. They will become educated, most likely seek citizenship, and become a taxpaying resident. These educated illegals will most likely begin contributing   to society financially, instead of relying on social services, which have been such a heavy burden for Texas to carry thus far. This could quite possibly lead to a decrease in the amount of poverty in Texas, being that the poverty cycle will be able to stop with this generation, if just given the chance.

Another issue that Volpicella brings up in his blog is the issue of these illegal immigrants who have graduated high school not yet having obtained their citizenship. Volpicella states, “Any parent or student receiving financial aid for their studies should seek out citizenship first. Though the process is known to be lengthy, many students can easily obtain it before finishing high school.” The first problem that I have with this statement is that you must be at least 18 to even apply for citizenship, which would make it impossible to obtain citizenship before finishing high school, if your own parents are not yet citizens. The other problem with this statement is that, unfortunately, these young adults may not yet be knowledgeable enough about the process of obtaining citizenship.  Especially if their parents don’t speak English and are uneducated, they are most likely not receiving any real information about the process. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the following requirements are necessary to obtain citizenship:

·         “Be 18 or older

·         Be a green card holder for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization

·         Have lived within the state, or USCIS district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence, for at least 3 months prior to the date of filing the application

·         Have continuous residence in the United States as a green card holder for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date of the filing the application

·         Be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application

·         Reside continuously within the United States from the date of application for naturalization up to the time of naturalization

·         Be able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government (civics).

·         Be a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during  all relevant periods under the law”

Although I do believe that if you want to come to this country, you should do it legally, many illegal immigrants were brought here by their parents. Is it morally responsible to suppress a generation of young adult immigrants? I think not. Let’s make sure that if you are living in this country, you are educated enough to want to be an active citizen and contribute to society instead of being a burden.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Who Leads the Texas Educational System?

The challenges our children will face as Texans will forever be about what we did for them when we had the chance. I want to write about the serious changes that need to be made before my daughter is old enough to realize that she has missed out on an education that teaches fundamentals, that enable her to be an informed and active citizen. Public school in Texas is not going well at any level. Looking back at my K-12 education, I feel like I learned the same thing year after year. Every year would be a review of the previous followed by some more in-depth coverage. U.S History, English, Social Studies, Science. Now the real kicker is that I did attend middle school in Albuquerque, New Mexico for my sixth grade year. In science we were dissecting eyeballs, starfish, learning the elements. I was astounded, and my fellow students were like, ‘yeah we dissected a lamb heart last year.’ I’m telling you, my middle school in Texas was nowhere near that level of education. What’s the problem? Who tells public schools in Texas what to teach their students? So I found out what is really going on.

The State Board of Education has 15 members on the Board. The committees of this board are the Committee on Instruction, Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund, and the committee on School Initiatives. Well…that’s it! Can we get a Committee on Let’s Cut the Crap? Fifteen people are deciding the fate of the future of Texas. These members are elected by their districts. According to the website, “The State Board of Education periodically updates the state’s curriculum standards called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Textbooks and other instructional materials are then written for children based on those standards.” The site also states, “The State Board of Education (SBOE) has legislative authority to adopt the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for each subject of the required curriculum. SBOE members nominated educators, parents, business and industry representatives, and employers to serve on the review committees.”  

An article in the, “Austin American-Statesman”, titled, “About half of the state failing,” by Melissa B. Taboada, informs us about what the State Board of Education and the Texas legislature are doing, or not doing, to solve the educational problems at hand. Taboada states, “Forty-eight percent of schools in Texas were classified as failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards, which can bring down sanctions on schools if they are repeatedly not met.” Apparently U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave states permission to file for a waiver to be relieved from federal standards. Texas however, refuses to file the waiver. How surprising! We need the federal funding desperately in this state. It’s time to follow the rules in order to ensure a good education for the children of Texas.

I am urging citizens to get out a vote to make a difference in our public school system and give our future leaders a fighting chance to truly make a difference in other’s lives.

  “America will not succeed in the 21st century unless we do a far better job of educating our sons and daughters… And the race starts today.  I am issuing a challenge to our nation’s governors and school boards, principals and teachers, businesses and non-profits, parents and students: if you set and enforce rigorous and challenging standards and assessments; if you put outstanding teachers at the front of the classroom; if you turn around failing schools – your state can win a Race to the Top grant that will not only help students outcompete workers around the world, but let them fulfill their God-given potential.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Re: Welfare and Drug Testing

To assume that people who receive government aid are on drugs is a mistake. That is extremely judgmental and hurts a great deal of good, hardworking people.  Most people receiving government aid are required to have a job or be looking for one; With the exception of pregnant women and mothers with children under the age of five. People who are receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) must start the Choices program provided by the Texas Workforce Commission as soon as they are able. According to the US Welfare Information website, “the TANF grant requires that all recipients of welfare aid must find work within two years of receiving aid, including single parents who are required to work at least 30 hours per week opposed to 35 or 55 required by two parent families. Failure to comply with work requirements could result in loss of benefits.”

There are a lot of people who do work and still qualify for welfare because of low wages and various other hardships. To say that people receiving government aid are unemployed is simply untrue. With the economy the way that it is right now it’s shocking to me that people are actually criticizing someone who can’t find a job in the first place.

A colleague of mine, Seth Arteage, recently posted a blog titled, Welfare and Drug Testing, which supports the concept that recipients of government aid should be drug tested before receiving benefits. I happen to disagree with this idea. In his commentary Arteage quotes U.S. Representative, Jack Kingston, who states, “The screening would not increase federal spending. The estimated cost is $12 per person.” Arteage states that there are “around 333,435 people on welfare in Texas.” So I did the math and found that these drug tests would cost citizens of Texas…$4,001,220!!! Let’s note that, that is just for initial testing. How often would these tests be required? What happens if the individual fails the test? Would they then be required to admit themselves into some state funded drug rehabilitation program? How much would that cost? Would their children be taken away? This brings up a whole lot of other questions and issues that would need to be addressed.

I can guarantee that the majority of people who do have to accept services from the government are not proud of it. To demean them to the level of making them get drug tested is despicable. Furthermore, would requiring drug testing of welfare recipients be unconstitutional? According to the Fourth Amendement of the Constitution:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

If deemed constitutional, then should recipients of Financial Aid be drug tested as well? What about government employees? The taxpayers are, after all, paying for those services as well.

Friday, July 27, 2012

License Plate Readers Leading to Loss of Privacy

Texas Law Enforcement are now using license plate scanners to look up information on our vehicles. Much like a scanner used to read the speed at which your car is traveling, they just point and shoot. When they verify your plate, they have a database which pulls up the information on your car. It shows the officer if your registration is current, if your insurance is current, and also who the owner of the vehicle is. I know this because the police officer who falsely arrested me, after using one of these very scanners to pull me over, straight up told me! He had ran my license plate, and supposedly it had said that my insurance was expired. It wasn't, and I showed it to him. I had a suspended license at the time and was arrested. A few weeks later, when I went to court, the case was dropped. All due to the inefficiency of these scanners. That seems like a pretty big problem to me.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) released a document called, the Privacy Impact Assesment Report for the Utilization of License Plate Readers, in September of 2009. According to the IACP, the reason for releasing this document is to inform the public of the impact a License Plate Reader (LPR) can have on their privacy. In the introduction, the IACP states, "Agencies interested in operating a LPR system do not have access to a uniform set of rules
governing or even suggesting the appropriate uses and sharing of LPR data." Agencies? Who else is going to use a License Plate Reader besides the cops, right? Oh great, no uniform set of rules for that one. I feel better already!

Another problem that I have with LPR's is the fact that the information obtained through using this system is no doubt, going to be abused.  The reasononing behind the fact that using these scanners is not considered illegal, or an invasion of privacy, is that your license plate is in public view for anybody to see. Therefore, police officers have the right to do with that information what they will. Fine, I can accept that. It is one thing if your information is in public view. It is quite another if the officer then goes on to look up information on the citizen whom the vehicle is registered to. That, I consider to be an invasion of privacy, as well as an illegal search. 

According to the IACP, "even though LPR systems automate the collection of license plate numbers, it is the investigative process that identifies individuals." Virtually validating the fact that it is very possible, and extremely easy, for a law enforcement officer to match you to your license plate, the IACP states: "An individual with access to both databases may be able to link together information from the two databases and distinguish individuals. If the secondary information source is present on the same system or a closely-related system, then the data may be considered linked."

Furthermore, the IACP, very graciously, go on to inform us of why our First Amendment Rights are not being infringed upon by stating, "In order to associate with others in political activities or pursue religious beliefs, one must be able to go to the place where their associations meet. To assemble
and participate in a rally on behalf of a political candidate, or alternatively to demonstrate against a government policy, traveling is a prerequisite." So I am assuming that the streets of our cities and towns are no longer an area to be free, but to live in fear. Well citizens, is freedom really free? I guarantee you, we are getting further and further from it everyday.

I am truly worried about this new LPR system. I believe that it is only the first step in the government monitoring every move that we make. I truly wish that Texas was not participating in this. It is interesting, however, that a state so dead set on limited government would approve of using such an invasive product. Which leads me to ask myself, what is next?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

As I was skimming through some links to Right Wing Texas blogs, I found one that caught my attention. The blog is called Empower Texans, and the particular story, GOP Battle Brewing Over Texas Taxes, is in the least, an interesting one...and very entertaining. Written on July 20, 2012, Michael Quin Sullivan, writes about how one of our genius...uhm...Republican...State Representatives, Harvey Hilderbran, is toying with the idea of completely doing away with "residential and commercial property taxes." Yes, just what we need right now, less taxes. This is not the way to go people. When first reading this, I thought to myself, this is a hoax, they can't seriously be considering this?? Oh that's right this is Texas, where the Republicans have officially lost their freakin' minds.

I belive that Sullivan is trying to reach out to Republican business and land owners who have somehow come to the conclusion that they deserve to be an exception to all of the rules. After all what is Texas if not exceptionally above the rest of the United States? Joking!! This becomes apparent when Sullivan writes, "This is no doubt welcome news for many Texans struggling under one of the nation’s highest property tax burdens."

Sullivan goes on to quote the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. They state that property tax, “abridges private property rights: if one can never take full ownership of land or a house, the constitutional right to private property is a false promise.” Uhm, you do own your house, you're simply paying for your city to run in a civilized manner, and for your children to be able to go to public school. Of course, the rich can just send their children to private school right? Oh, is that why this is an issue for them?

Actually Sullivan does get one thing right when he writes, "Of course, the devil is in the details of which property taxes are abolished, and what – if anything – replaces those revenues" Yes, that's because right now, that would take the Texas economy in the opposite direction, right?

Another, very crap "source" Sullivan uses for validating the idea of this nonsense is, the Republican Party of Texas. They say the solution is to shift commercial and property taxes onto consumption based taxes. Ok. So, let's take from the poor and give to the rich. Tax everyday consumers for products and services that they desperately need. Yet, leave the homeowner to own their little piece of Texas free and clear.

Next, Sullivan goes on to give some good insight of a more down to earth State Rep, named Jim Keffer. Sullivan explains that Keffer recently ran a study and concluded that a consumer based tax would, increase sales tax, as well as food and medicine being taxed.

Here's a great idea, how about a fixed interest rate on property taxes? That seems like a much more feasible idea to me. Also, putting a cap on spending will improve our economy. It is time to weed out the corruption that is going on in Texas. That is the way to a brighter future and a brighter economy.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Solitary Confinement in Texas

A commentary posted in the Austin American Statesman on July 13, 2012, by John Elford, takes a look at the solitary confinement issues in our state prisons. I believe that the audience that Elford is trying to reach is one that feels compassion for those who are affected by this cruel punishment. I, personally, have the same feelings as Elford towards solitary confinement.

For those of you who don't know, solitary confinement is when an inmate in jail or prison is confined, by themselves, to a small room or cell. Usually, this occurs when the inmate misbehaves or is ordered by the court to do so, depending on the original charge they received. This room has a matress, blanket, and toilet. The inmates meals are handed to them through a slot in the door, and are only allowed out for one hour a day for excersize, alone. They usually have no books, no special privileges, and absolutely no human contact. They are alone in a cell with nothing but their mind. Sounds absolutely horrific to me, I think I would loose my mind. And according to John Elford, most of them do.

In the commentary Elford explains his feelings while visiting the Hughes Unit in Gainsville, Texas. It is interesting that what really stood out to him were the men who inhabit these confined rooms. Even after touring the entire prison, he found those rooms to be most disturbing. Elford also mentions a comment made at the first Congressional Hearing on solitary confinement last month. According to him, Senator Dick Durban stated that the U.S. holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other Democratic Nation in the world. Elford also touches on a testimony given by Anthony Graves, who was wronfully imprisoned in Texas for 18 years, 10 of which he was in solitary confinement. Graves stated that he would watch men go into prison, and by the time they were leaving, three years later, had completely lost their minds from being in confinement. He also mentioned a man ripping up sheets, wrapping them around him, and setting them on fire.

According to Elford, other states are finding better and more humane ways, to take care of prisoners who are causing problems within jails and prisons. He states that Mississsippi reduced its solitary confinement population by 75 percent "by critically evaluating and reforming the policies determining how prisoners are classified for placement in isolation." According to Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, violence fell by 50 percent. Elford states that Mississippi has saved millions of dollars by reducing the amount of prisoners in solitary confinement.

One disturbing comment in Elfords commentary is as follows: "Prisoners in prolonged isolation typically suffer from sleep disturbances, compulsive cleaning and pacing, paranoid ideas and free-floating anxiety." Elford goes on to describe how solitary confinement can be very disturbing for people who already have pre- existing medical conditions. He states, "Those with pre-existing mental illness, which in some facilities is nearly half the population, frequently have psychological breakdowns, self-mutilate or attempt suicide." That is a very disturbing picture.

Elford is stating that it is time to change this system like many other states have. I absolutely agree with Elford on this one. There has to be a better way. Throwing people in cells like dogs sounds absolutely inhumane to me. People need physical contact and human interaction. The U.S. should not be torturing our own people. I urge anyone reading this to let their voice be heard on this one and try to get solitary confinement reduced to punishment for only extremely severe crimes.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Perry's Pride

Well our knight in shining armor Governor Rick Perry has saved us all once again. I picture him riding up on a big white steed, sword in hand, as all of his Republican supporters chant his name and clap with great vigor. If only they were smart enough to realize that they will be the one's paying for his mistake and dragging Texas further down into the pits of hell. Yes people, hell.

There is an article I found on the Austin Chronicle website informing us about Perry's decision to reject the very constitutional Affordable Care Act for Texans, and heck govern his own little country down here. This article is very effective in giving you a clear idea of what will happen if we don't get some help her for our health care system. I have summarized below.

 Perry anounced last week that he will not be putting the Affordable Care Act into effect for us Texans. Nor will he be accepting any Federal funding to explicate Medicaid coverage. Now let's keep in mind that a lot of children are in great need of Medicaid coverage, as well as the parents who care for them. When someone doesn't have health insurance, they have to go to the hospital, where they can not be refused. I was there the other day and got a bill for about 3,000 dollars. Luckily, I have health insurance to cover PART of it. Lightbulb?

I am not willing to pay for Perry's pride...are you? Texas ain't it's own country people! By the way, if it was we wouldn't be doing so well, that's for sure.