Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pepper Spray NOT the Answer!

I couldn't agree more with my colleague's commentary on the article about the excessive use of pepper spray in Juvenile Detention Center's across Texas.

While I can't begin to claim that I know what officers at these institution are up against on a daily basis, I have to say that the exponential increase in the use of pepper spray as a means of managing these youths is grossly unacceptable. The free, tax-paying public would love to believe that these detention centers are being used as a means of rehabilitation, but in reality, these facilities typically do little more than detain. Officers that work in these facilities are hardly trained behaviorists, and so it is hard to expect that they would be in a position to use modeling as a means of behavior modification. It's unfortunate, but true; these institution aren't equipped, or even designed to provide the kind of guidance and example that most of us would hope they do. That being said, the general tax-paying public, as well as the advocates in the field, have a right to expect that the officers who are interacting with these youths on an intimate and constant basis would deal with them in a fair and effective manner. I doubt that such is the case; 1200 incidences of pepper spraying in a single year is mind-boggling, offensive, and at best an indication of a developing trend towards excessive use of force.

Thank you so much for posting your comments on this disturbing issue. I agree that modeling is the most effective means of instilling positive behaviors, and particularly with youth, so much potential is at stake. I think that in highlighting this particular issue, it has uncovered an even greater deficiency; our inherently flawed juvenile justice system. Come on Texas, can we slow down on the tazers, pepper spray and overall brazen approach?!?!?!! Especially when dealing with youth, there is just too much potential at stake, and we really can't afford for our juvenile delinquents to be translated into a growing population of adult offenders, with our early approach in part to blame.

Monday, December 3, 2007

TxDOT Plate Censorship; Allegory for Texas Politics

If you've ever wondered exactly what happens when you put in a request through the Texas Department of Transportation's Vehicle Registration and Titles division to obtain a licence plate that reads "PUPPYLUVER," look now further because here lies the skinny on the inner workings of our beloved TxDOT.....

I couldn't help but find myself both amused and bewildered by the scenario described in a recent article published in the Houston Chronicle entitled, "TxDOT shifts gears, allows 'FORNO 1' license plate." Apparently when a Texas driver requests that their licence plate read something specific, it is then referred to as a "novelty" tag. "Novelty tags" make their way through this complex and ever so intricate bureaucracy; first undergoing an initial evaluation, soon to be followed by a recommendation for approval or denial, and the final stage lands the requested novelty lingo onto the program director's desk for a definitive verdict. That sounds like one complicated ritual if you ask me! If only Texas legislation was under such precise scrutiny.....oh, the possibilities.....

Under state law, "the director may refuse to issue a specialty license plate with a design or alphanumeric pattern that the director considers potentially objectionable to one or more members of the public." Good grief, that's a lil' vague, wouldn't you say? I personally find puppy lover's to be objectionable. Am I entitled to sue for some grievances? Seeing that tag last week nearly insighted me to violence, for Pete's sake! Damn that careless director! What are we paying these folks for anyway if they can't even keep puppy loving freaks off the road?!? So what amused me so, you ask?

TxDOT Director Amadeo Saenz and the head of the vehicle titles and registration division signed off on a decision last month not to issue Houston resident Armando Florido the novelty plate he requested; "FORNO 1." Florido is the owner of a chain of restaurants called "Forno's of Italy." The rationale for this decision was sighted by a TxDOT representative: "It was, in fact, rejected because we were concerned Texans might see it as referring to a sexual act." Well hallelujah for the misinterpretations of the clergymen over at TxDOT! When in doubt, CENSOR!

After Florido appealed the decision with TxDOT, the verdict was ultimately overturned, and he has been assured that his plate will be issued, after all. Last year thousands of novelty tags were turned down, a few of the ominous examples included: DA HOWS, KISS IT, OVRSXD, BUTNKD, MS LUST, KWIKEE, AMOR 69 and ASSMAN. Puppylover made it, but DA HOWS was ruled objectionable? I, for one, am offended....

The TxDOT representative sighted these vile attempts, and commented, "This is what we're up against." These folks are taking their responsibilities pretty darn seriously. Come on, are my tax dollars paying the wages of those who are employed to make these discretionary decisions? There is certainly a place for saying no to the "OVRSXD" tag seekers of the state, but the 4-stage evaluation process seems a little extraneous to me. If we can afford to spend our transportation dollars over censoring, we should be well on our way to solving the transportation crises facing our state highways.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Give the Immigrants a Break!

As a recent convert to the "Texan" way of life, I have heard enough immigration talk to last me a lifetime. Part of my indoctrination into the Texas way of life has included spending too much time in my car, which in my world has equated to a near fatal overdose of KUT. And let's just say...immigration is a sizzling hot topic, and while I respect your bottom line in all of this, I wonder if you've heard all sides of this debate...

I get the "go home" point of view, the "just cause" it's illegal premise. However, my understanding of this issue is that it is actually much more complex than meets the eye. If we can send a man to the moon, believe me, our government would not have much of a problem monitoring illegal immigration if it were really a priority.

The truth is, according to many economic analysts, illegal immigrants serve a vital role in keeping our economy vibrant. Particularly in Texas, illegal immigrants have been a mainstay of small business "success," particularly in the service industry. I've heard testimonial after testimonial coming from these business owners, and the resounding theme seems to be that there is a serious shortage of "American" workers who are willing to wash dishes for $5/hr, and those that business owners are able to recruit have high turnover rates and an overall poor work ethic. The kinds of jobs that illegal immigrants are "taking away from us" are the jobs that we simply don't want. While I actually take issue with the cycle of poverty and often exploitation that this situation breeds, I just have a hard time figuring out where people have gotten the idea that illegal immigrants are stealing our jobs and destroying our economy; it simply isn't the case. If it were, I'm pretty sure Republicans wouldn't be advocating for "paths to citizenship."

Another point that I found to be a little off was the stark rejection of the notion that Hispanics are being objectified. An important thing to keep in mind; just because you haven't experienced it first hand, doesn't mean that it isn't going on. And while the water fountain reference may have been slightly hyperbolous, the point was very much legitimate, and Hispanics are absolutely experiencing discrimination, and even exploitation in disturbing numbers, on U.S. soil.

There's a lot to be said about illegal immigration, and much to be remedied from the standing of our current policy. What I worry about the most is a citizenry that blindly defends its "right-doing;" a position that is all too reminiscent of a mentality that can be traced back to the civil rights era, hyperbole aside.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Houstonites Take Back the Corner Store

"Taking border battle to the streets In Houston, debate gives way to confrontation of illegal immigrants, their supporters"

In a recent article featured in the Houston Chronicle, a disturbing scene was depicted. Regardless of where you might stand on the ever-controversial issue of illegal immigration, this article should get you fired-up.

A national anti-immigrant group that generously calls themselves "The U.S. Border Watch," is implementing aggressive tactics to oust illegal immigrants. While they claim that their motives are not fueled by a "racist agenda," I found their actions to speak volumes beyond their words. In many cases, I might add, their words actually reflected just as poorly on them as their overall brazen presence.

Last Saturday, US Border Watch showed up in the parking lot of a local corner store in Houston, TX, a place that is known to be a gathering point for day laborers (illegal immigrants looking for work). Two dozen volunteers from the organization showed up bright and early on Saturday morning, many wearing COMBAT BOOTS AND MILITARY-STYLE clothing. This image alone was enough to to render me completely incensed, and at the very least diminished this groups credibility in my eyes from the get-go. In response to statements made by the counter-protesters present, the president of Border Watch was quoted as saying:

''To be racist, you have to target someone because of their race," Collier said. ''We don't care who you are. If you're here illegally we want you to go home. It's not about being brown-skinned, it's about being illegal."

The president further justified the group's vision by stating;

''There have been reports of Spanish-speaking schools popping up in the Middle East and teaching people in that part of the world to speak Spanish so they can blend in easily."

One picket sign at this make-shift rally read, ''Thou Shall not Steal America." While I certainly don't claim to be a religious gal, can we please leave references to God's divine will out of the mix when we show up to scare the begeesus out of marginalized, underpaid, often abused and needy migrant workers? I'm pretty sure there's a clause in "God's book" that says something like "do unto others..." If you ask me, these vigilante-combat-boot-wearing thugs are the ones "stealing" America, by acting aggressively and inappropriately. They function as unelected representatives of our cultural values when they take to the streets shouting and video-taping, wearing COMBAT garb...did I mention that they were costumed, with WAR MONGER MILITARY ATTIRE being the theme of their shindig?!!? I believe I may have.....

Mark Potok, director of Southern Poverty Law Center's intelligence project, which monitors organizations like Border Watch, says that "the most significant danger posed by these groups is the poisoning of the democratic debate" about immigration levels, Potok said. Instead, the groups have turned ''the discussion into a diatribe about how Mexicans are destroying our culture, bringing diseases to our country and killing dozens of Americans every day." I looked into this a bit, and found that the group is, in fact, perpetuating such rhetoric. What a novel idea! Let's create fear in the public, because everyone knows that fear breeds justice and reform. In fact, we may even want to create a separate color coding system to alert the public when there is an increased risk for Mexican-born disease or if that day-laborer at the corner store is having a bad morning and may just break out into a homicidal rage. Is the tan-skinned eight year old that rides the bus with your Anglo-Saxon child of Mexican descent? Are his parents legal? This may be information you are entitled to know, considering the savages among us. Is that child coughing, as well? No worries, Border Watch is raising the security color from fuscia to magenta. Phew, now our culture is safe...

Americans are fortunate enough to have been born into a society where equality of opportunity is generally considered to be a birth-right. Our political system depends on "involvement" in order to fully actualize the principles of democracy; I get that. However, this seems to be an issue in which mayhem and descent are unwarranted, and my objection lies not with the groups position, but with their approach. Border Watch's means of "involvement" is in poor form, and in the end quite ineffective in meeting the goals of their agenda. That's assuming, of course, that they are actually mobilized by the motives which they claim. I am embarrassed on their behalf. Be careful, America, we've got an ugly past, and history has a tendency to repeat itself.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Juvenile offenders get the justice low-down

I hate to be a critic, BUT.... is this a case of good idea, bad execution, or am I just a cynic? Read on and decide for yourself...

The Houston Bar Association has recently launched a "juvenile delinquent orientation program" that is intended to "orient" juveniles with the juvenile justice system of Harris County, and ultimately act as a deterrent to prevent these "delinquents" from re-entering the system once their sentences have been served. The program will soon be mandatory for youths who have been issued a "deferred prosecution" sentence, apparently the lightest a juvenile can receive through the courts for first-time and minor offenses. To be clear, the program is targeting youths that have not been issued an in-house detention sentence, but rather a probationary or out-of-house term.

When I read the introductory information about the program, I thought, "wow, great idea." Then, the details of what the program actually entails jaded my perspective a bit....story of our society, story of my life. Ugh! So here is what the program actually offers:

1. A panel of speakers that includes a representative from each segment of the justice "system." This consists of a representative from law enforcement, the courts, the defense and juvenile probation.

2. Actually, that was it. The game plan ended with the speakers. And the speakers lived up to what their titles would imply; they spoke. They spoke, to a room full of adolescents who were each cheerfully accompanied by a perturbed parent.

So, what did they say, one might inquire. Well, they said things like:

"If you're not supposed to have it in school, don't take it to school."

"Don't let your friends get you in trouble."

"There is surveillance everywhere."

"It never hurts to be respectful and polite."

"This juvenile justice system brings all of you in and it's almost like a sausage factory: you get processed, packaged and stamped."

These folks aren't really crowd-winners, are they? Forgive me for not being impressed by these striking pearls of wisdom, but really, were they aware of their audience? Every pot-smoking teenager knows that you shouldn't bring pot to school. Every shop-lifting adolescent knows there are cameras in a department store. So, what, exactly, was the point of this orientation? To remind these teens of the truths that any quasi-intelligent U.S. native would hold to be self evident? PR?

How about a tour of a juvenile detention center? Don't these public servants watch television? Teens do, and this is a media-crazed, drama loving meet these kids on their level if you really want to "get through" to them. Crappy conditions, no video games, no cable, and definitely no pot...that's the reality of a juvenile detention center, and THAT would scare the bejesus outta any teenager. Why not bring to their attention that the decisions they are making now will affect them for the rest of their lives. If they think high school is fun, remind them that college is a blast, and is right around the corner if they clean up their acts. Why not remind them that there are actually a lot of LEGAL ways to be young and silly once you get there, and now! Problem is, lots of schools won't let you in if you have a criminal record. Back to TV...bring em' a video clip of a day in the life of a student at college vs. a day in the life of a same-aged youth who couldn't get there and is trapped in a perpetual state of between-minimum-wage-jobs-crappiness.

Is the message here "don't get caught," or is the message, "make good choices now, because your chances will run out." Are we trying to encourage their futures that are coming and building from now, or are we reinforcing the idea that they are only a number to be "packed and processed."

One of the things they brought up in the orientation was the amount of paperwork and hassle it is to get into trouble. Let's be honest, life is all about paperwork and hassle, the real issue is what kind of paperwork do our young people want to spend the rest of their lives filling out? I walked away from this article with the sense that we are telling these young people what they already know; getting into trouble is "bad." The most crucial element that was missing was the positive alternative, demonstrating to them what is "good." We should redirect irresponsible behavior, and encourage hope and hard work, and illustrate the fruits of such labor in ways that make sense to young people.

The last thing that Texas needs is another mandatory program without any sustenance. Too many of our programs that are aimed at "rehabilitation" do little to help those at risk for really becoming "part of the system." Good start Houston, but you may want to work on your logistics.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Bumper Sticker: "Keep Dallas Square"

"Dallas may tighten up rules on slack pants"

Been thinking of taking that promising new job in Dallas, TX? If you have a teenage son, you may want to think twice...

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, a member of the Dallas City Council, is considering a proposal for a city ordinance that would fine people who are seen in public wearing "saggy pants." Are you wondering if you read correctly? That's right, it could potentially be ILLEGAL to wear "pants that fall below the waist and expose skin or underwear."

I'm not saying that I embrace the strange trend, but if thong-bikinis are allowed at public beaches, why on earth would it be a finable-offense to wear your pants so low that you might expose an ugly pair of boxer shorts? Maybe big hair should have been banned in the 80's-God knows nobody liked looking at that! And the "exposing skin" issue is moot, since there are already laws that prohibit indecent exposure. Have these folks forgotten about a little piece of paper called the U.S Bill of Rights? I'm pretty sure that there's a clause in there, called the FIRST AMENDMENT, which protects freedom of speech, freedom of expression? Please, correct me if I am wrong...

The argument gets even better, in case you were wondering exactly how these thoughtful individuals have been able to make sense of their proposal. Here's the logic; the Dallas city councilman says he wants to protect people "who don't want to see someone else's private parts," while at the same time "helping young adults improve their self-image." Maybe we should also ban low-cut blouses? But maybe those are "socially acceptable" private parts....yea, that makes sense.

Another supporter of this ordinance was quoted as saying, "...we also have a right to try to teach and nurture our young individuals (about) what it takes to make it and be successful." WHAT???? Are you outraged yet? I am!! So what, exactly, are we teaching our young people? Success is measured on a cookie-cutter scale? In order to have a strong "self-image" you should dress and think like the main-stream politician, or maybe like their teenage sons? I guess "successful people" aren't swayed by fashion or trends, at least not the poor-folk kind. Can someone explain the time I saw my high-school principal at a concert dressed like an early-90's rock star? She still showed up in a three-piece suit, frown in tow, bright and early Monday morning. Maybe her PhD didn't teach her what "success" is really all about; what you wear in public.

I've actually spoken to some saggy-pant-wearers, and some of them actually believe themselves to be making an artistic, or even political statement by choosing to wear their pants so low. Many choose to dress this way because it is a way that they identify with their cohorts. Maybe it's a fashion issue, a fleeting trend...why is this any of the governments business? What's next? Will people be fined for exposing tattoos? Will your 15-year old teenage daughter have to forfeit her weekly allowance to cover a fine she was issued for exposing her recently-died-pink, crazy-lookin' head of hair? Will your Muslim neighbors be fined for wearing headscarves, or your Jewish neighbors be asked not to wear a Star of David pendant around their necks at a public school?

All that such a city ordinance would do is perpetuate discrimination and probably further the profiling of young minorities who tend to embrace "saggy pants" in the greatest numbers. To enact such a city ordinance would be nothing short of a clear violation of the first amendment right to freedom of expression, and would probably result in a series of appeals that my tax dollars would inevitably fund. My verdict? Stay in Austin, where "weirdness" equates with our success! Oh yea...and write those idiots a letter! They say they're "waiting to hear from the public" before they move forward to push for the ordinance. Ignorance and discrimination have the tendency of spreading like wildfire, and Dallas is only a few hours up the highway. Let your voice be heard before trousers become mandatory under local law!

Happy reading and ranting!


Friday, September 21, 2007

"Toll road foe sues over TxDOT ad campaign"

You didn't have to be a political activist to be aware of the controversy that was a recent buzz (or, for many, buzz-kill) here in Austin over whether or not tolls should be put up on local highways. Many were indifferent, plenty were enraged, a good amount were frustrated, and then there were the politicians who were oh-so pleased to get the green light on putting those big-boy money gobblers up all over town. Whether or not you chose to stand on one side of the fence on this issue, or fell into the category of "indifferent's," you can see how the volatile issue of Texas tolls could arrive TxDOT in the position that the below mentioned article reveals....

The title of this article pretty much says it all; a Texas activist names Terry Hall is suing TxDOT over what she claims is inappropriate spending of state transportation funds. Ms. Hall is a San Antonio activist who is arguing in court that TxDOT's "Keep Texas Moving" campaign violates a state prohibition on state officers or employees using their authority for political purposes. From her perspective, the advertising promotes toll roads; an issue she contends is very much unsettled, and thus those ads give an unfair advantage to the success of that one point of view prevailing. Her main point; state transportation money should not be funding this multi-million dollar, one-sided campaign.

TxDOT defends that the campaign is intended to be educational and to insight further participation from the public in helping solve the issues of transportation in Texas.

I found the article to be quite interesting; though brief. I would recommend reading it, if not for sheer entertainment (TxDOT's defense seemed to evade the true premise...kinda funny, no?), then at least to broaden your perspective. I wonder if I would have watched one of these ads, before reading the article, and thought, "Where did the money to pay for this come from? Is that sage?" If TxDOT is using our state funds to promote one agenda, I should probably be ticked too! Read on, and decide for yourself if this should turn into a "class action suit"...get it, "class" action?!! Just read the article!!!


P.S. I also looked up the "Keep Texas Moving" campaign on their website, and have to say I left the site feeling like Ms. Hall has some excellent points. Here's the link:

Friday, September 7, 2007

Viva Tejas!

I've only been in Texas for five years, and have to say one of the first things I noticed was the inordinate amount of political bumper stickers; hence the title of my blog! It's one of those endearing things I've come to appreciate about Austin, and certainly excuses (to some degree) the ridiculous amount of traffic I'm constantly stuck in around this town! The bumper stickers really seem to reflect the diversity of thought here in Texas, not to mention an atmosphere that really promotes participation. To quote a few off the top of my head:

"God is not a Republican"
"I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could."
"My Governor is a Jewish Cowboy."
"Impeach George Dubya"
"Christian Democrat"
"How Many Lives per Gallon?"
"Abortion is Murder"
"Keep Austin Reading"
.....and who could fail to include the world-famous "Keep Austin Weird"

The list goes on....

I was really interested by the "best intro everrr" article that Professor Seago posted; it certainly helped to clarify why on earth Texans are so darn, well...proud to be Texans! I am looking forward to learning more about this grand ol' state, and the dynamics that have contributed to the political atmosphere here. The undeniable cure for my ignorance of the political workings of Texas...."Keep Austin Reading!" We really are in bumper sticker heaven!!

Here's to a great semester........