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.