Friday, August 3, 2007

A government of the people

Abraham Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address said "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." The phrase "a government of the people, by the people for the people" is often quoted as being a very apt definition of democracy; from this definition, you can extract that the government should, first and foremost, serve the citizens. This serving government should be created and maintained by the citizens and it should be staffed by those same citizens. In Texas, though, this is not necessarily the case.

In Texas, our population is just at or less than 50% non-hispanic white. Hispanics make up about 35%, blacks make up about 12% and the rest are comprised of Asians, Native Americans, Hawaiians and other minorities. However, 69% of our Representatives are White and 70% of the Senators are White, 20% of our Reps and 22.5% of our Senators are Hispanic, 9.3% of Reps and 6.5% of Senators are black and 1.3% of our Reps are Asian American. Despite the fact that our population is roughly 1/2 female, only 22% of all state legislators in Texas are female. This IS a problem. Another big issue is the fact that our legislators are almost all rich lawyer types. Honestly, if we have demographics so disjointed (no government of the people) we obviously don't have government by the people, so how could we possibly have a government for the people.

Human nature makes us short-sighted. We tend to see other people as a reflection of ourselves. As an obvious result, when given the opportunity to help others, we will seek out those in need who have the most in common with us. When our government is mostly rich, most lawyers (and almost all of the rest being businessmen), and mostly white male, it isn't shocking at all that we tend to have a lack of legislation aimed to help those who are underrepresented in Texas. We have horrible social services, we have some of the lowest levels of health care in the nation, the number of women taking care of their bodies (pap smears, mammograms, etc) are some of the lowest in the country and we pass very little in terms of actual effective environmental regulation. Unless we can increase the diversity in our legislature, these issues will not change.

However, the issue is a sort of never ending cycle; it feeds itself. Our minority population has horrible health care, they make very little money and get taxed, proportionately, far more than the richer population, and have some of the worst education levels in the state. These are all due to problems in the legislature. We don't provide state-funded health care to our poor at the same rate that other states do; those in power have money and want to keep it (both themselves as well as their constituents who have similar economic backgrounds); our school districts and health care are also incredibly disjointed and very poorly funded and coordinated. Not only this, but, because the underrepresented tend to work hourly wage jobs in low paying service industries, when they do get the chance to voice their opinions for change, they are stifled in 2 main ways. First, the cost to voting, for them, is much higher than the cost of voting for people who hold better jobs. This is compounded by the fact that the elections are held on a weekday, when people are more likely to work in the first place. Most salary-based and higher-paying jobs not only give you time off from work, but will even pay you while you vote; people in lower paying jobs have to take time off from work and forfeit that pay. Secondly, because it both costs so much to campaign in Texas as well as the fact that our legislature is paid a very low salary and must be available for special sessions at the Governor's request, those who make it to the polls are often discouraged when they realize that their choices for office are typically between two rich white men whose only real difference is the college whose name appears on their Law degrees. Every once in a while, the voter will get lucky and the election is between a lawyer and the owner of a multi-million dollar company. It almost seems as if the Texas constitution was written to only allow those with the privilege of too much time and money on their hands to run for office.

This is reversible, but only if the voters get informed, get out and vote for the candidate who most closely resembles them and their values. The trend will eventually start to point in the right direction, but it will take time; there will be a lot of resistance and a lot of frustration during the transition.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Explosive sentence

In a state with such a morally conservative ideology, it is almost surprising that more women's clinics aren't attacked or seriously threatened; in fact, it seems shocking that this state actually has facilities that perform abortions. However, we do have abortion clinics (at least for the time being) despite some people's varied attempts to shut them down (or blow them up).

Paul Ross Evans plead guilty to an attempted bombing of the Women's Clinic on I-35 around Oltorf. People like Paul make me sick. First of all, his bomb would have killed or at least injured entirely innocent people. How can you even justify that? Secondly, they don't seem to even really understand the fact that our state's foster care is saturated with so many unadopted children, the lower income families are making less money compared to school costs and health care is getting more expensive by the day. In some ways, the abortion clinics are doing a service by preventing these fetuses from ever being born. I don't think it is fair for someone to, with a bomb, make decisions for other people. What is "freedom" or "right" for one person may actually be "slavery" or "wrong" for another. Additionally, killing the physicians and staff because they are murderers is just foolish; taking an eye for an eye only ends with a room full of blind people.

This issue really seems to be a religious argument. Most people who oppose abortions seem to do so based on the Christian faith. The First Amendment gives people the right to practice their religion without fear of persecution, but does not give them the right to force their religion onto others. By killing abortion clinic patients, staff or physicians (not to mention innocent bystanders just passing by), I believe you are forcing your religious views on others.

The sentence Mr. Evans received, in my mind, is reasonable. He won't be released into public until he is of retirement age; that should give him plenty of time to reflect on his concept of justice while he experiences federal prison justice. The Austin American Statesman has more here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This T-Shirt backed by the U.S. Constitution

In this day and age, it seems as if the government is assaulting our personal freedoms left and right. From tapping phones, leaking covert operatives, maintaining secret prisons and filling them with citizens and "enemy combatants" as well as limiting access to government records by investigative agencies, this particular administration seems to be ratcheting down the nation's control over her citizens without remaining accountable for their actions. Now, it seems as if the states are following suit in this travesty of civil rights reduction by placing limits on the First Amendment.

By no means is this the first instance of the government putting limitations on free speech; during World War I, limitations were placed that prevented people from distributing fliers that opposed the draft. This was likened to shouting fire in a crowded theater; i.e. it puts the country in a clear and present danger. However, this was overruled by Brandenburg v Ohio which ruled that speech may only be infringed upon if it will incite imminent lawless action. However, in this case, an attempt is being made to stifle a T-Shirt. The shirts (from two different independent sources) list all of the men and women who have fallen in Iraq since the war began. Texas will be the fifth state to pass a bill banning these shirts by, in effect, requiring the T-Shirt makers to get permission from a family member of each and every name that appears on their shirts. While the bill asserts that the T-Shirt makers are using the names to their own advantage, it seems that the bill is using the sheer volume of names to remove the shirts from circulation.

This article in the Austin American Statesman describes the issue. I won't deny that the concept behind the shirt's design isn't shocking or perhaps even offensive, however, I believe it is a non-issue as to whether or not it is going to incite the "imminent lawless action" required to ban this speech. This article and, furthermore, this topic is important as we try to come to terms with and hopefully take back some of our lost liberties.