Archive for June, 2014

If you don’t vote, you get what you deserve

Monday, June 30th, 2014

vote2Have you ever thought…my vote doesn’t matter so why hassle with it? Or, decide not to vote because you didn’t want to wait in line or drive to your designated polling location? Have you ever chosen not to vote, but then found yourself getting angry about the course of action an elected official took? It is crucial for everyone to exercise their constitutional right to cast a ballot…even in midterm elections like the one coming up in November.

After all the ballots are counted, someone is going to win whether you take part or not.

The Midterms Elections typically have small turnouts, but this November needs to be different if Democrats want to keep the Senate and make a substantial move in the House. To accomplish that goal, everyone will need to put the excuses aside and vote. Citizens, whether Republicans, Democrats or Independents, all have much to gain by voting for politicians who are interested in the good of the country: interested in working together, listening to each other and compromising. So, take a stand, get involved and go to the polls to choose the candidate that best represents you and your interests.

If you are part of the LGBT community or support marriage equality, make sure you know where your candidate and their party stand on equality issues. Did you know that a draft of the Texas Republican Party’s platform cuts language claiming homosexuality “tears at the fabric of society” but recognizes the “legitimacy” of so-called reparative therapy to “escape from the homosexual lifestyle?” Did you know that the Texas GOP’s stand could become the national GOP stand? If you are a Log Cabin Republican, please explain to me how you can support both the GOP and your partner.

If you are a woman, please enlighten me on how you vote for a party that wants to control your life in the bedroom and the office? How do you vote for a party that didn’t support the Violence Against Women Act? The GOP wants to take away your right to choose the best course of action for your body, doesn’t want to pay you an equal wage for equal work, wants to cut food stamps to the needy and won’t assist you if a violent crime is committed against you. While you may be pro-life, do you support extremists who think abortion should be banned even in the case of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life? If you are opposed to abortion, are you also opposed to contraception, welfare, and unwed teenage mothers? When you vote, remember that the Republicans closed Planned Parenthood in many states, limiting options for many women, especially in rural areas, for mammograms and other medical care.

Are you interested in good health insurance for you as well as others? Did you know that almost all the red states turned down the Medicaid expansion, costing these states billions in federal dollars, reducing healthcare and costing jobs for thousands? Taxpayers in red states do pay into the system, but unfortunately all the benefits of the Medicaid expansion go to blue states.

Despite the Republicans attempts to repeal the ACA 50+ times and turning down the Medicaid expansion, the latest jobs report suggests that the broader economy—and the healthcare sector, specifically—are adding jobs at a brisk rate. Since March 2010, when the ACA was signed, the healthcare industry has added nearly a million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.*

If you are a minority citizen, an immigrant or a person who embraces diversity, do you realize that the Republican Platform does not support immigration reform? In addition, the GOP is actually taking steps to make it more difficult for minorities to vote and earn a living wage. I believe if African Americans and Hispanics do not come out to vote this November, the clock could be turned back to the era of Jim Crow laws or worse.

Veterans have historically voted Republican. Have you noticed that the GOP, however, is more interested in sending our soldiers to war than taking care of them when they return? Consider the Republican view on benefits, homelessness and job creation once our heroes come back home.

If you drive a car, have a house, or own a business, do you ever consider alternative energy sources or the cost of oil? Democrats support the research and development of alternative energy rather than depending on foreign oil. The United States’ own resources along with wind and solar can solve our energy problems if we invest in that technology and it would create good jobs at home.

If you are part of the working class, and tired of struggling to make ends meet, are you coming out to vote for the candidate that represents you and your best interest? Republicans continue to deny workers a living wage, healthcare and a safe working environment. Did you know that most Congressional members are millionaires? How can the GOP choose to deny an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for average Americans?

When did America become an oligarchy or plutocracy, rather than a democratic republic? When did what Citizen’s United, the Koch Brothers and the NRA want mean more to Congress than what their constituents who voted them into office want? Maybe it’s time to vote these opportunists and obstructionist out, and vote for candidates who care about rebuilding the middle class, generating jobs and creating a prosperous, healthy country.

When did a majority mean that one person, like John Boehner or Ted Cruz could completely stop our government from functioning, even though the majority of Congress and the American people want them to work together and get things done? Why does it now take 60 votes for a majority in the Senate rather than 51?

Americans should stop accepting the status quo and begin to demand answers to these questions. They should come out this November and vote for candidates that represent their values and their best interest. The far right extremists are well organized and will turn out the vote…the good news is they are a minority. If Democrats, Independents and moderate Republicans vote in 2014, we can win and start making a difference!

* http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/06/06/1304959/-Obamacare-a-job-killer-No?detail=email#

Never mind what the Constitution says; our prison system has run amuck

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

gavel1afflThe practice of charging fines and billing fees to defendants dates back to the 1970s. The number of people behind bars has increased 700% by 2010. In the last 30+ years, prisons and courtrooms have become more crowded and the cost of running them has skyrocketed from $6 billion to more than $67 billion a year.

Taxpayers are paying thousands of dollars to send people to prisons when the fines are less than the cost of incarceration. Some counties even brag about the amount of money raised from fines, but they are using false math. What they are spending on jailing prisoners, who shouldn’t be incarcerated, is costing all of us. When the fees of the poor are one of the state’s top revenue producers, there is something wrong.

These practices along with the privatization of prisons create the business model that the more people convicted and housed in for-profit facilities, the more money that can be made.

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the historic case of Miranda v. Arizona, declaring that whenever a person is taken into police custody, before being questioned he or she must be told of the Fifth Amendment right not to make any self-incriminating statements. The Miranda warning, which is used by police when arresting someone states:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.”[1]

NPR found that defendants today are charged for many government services in more than 80% of our state prisons, some of which are guaranteed rights by our Constitution:
• 43 states and DC billed defendants for the public defender
• 41 states can charge prisoners for room and board
• 44 states can bill prisoners for their probation and parole supervision
• 49 states charge a fee for the electronic monitoring devices that some defendants are ordered to wear.[2]

The Gideon v Wainwright decision of 1963 mandated state courts to provide counsel for criminal defendants who could not afford it. Debtor’s prisons were abolished in the United States in the early 1800s and the Supreme Court has ruled it is unconstitutional to jail someone for failing to pay a debt.[3]

In 1981 Danny Bearden broke into a trailer and was sentenced to two years in prison…not for the crime, but because he couldn’t pay the $750 fine. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Bearden v Georgia, said you can’t jail someone because they are too poor to pay their fine.[4]

In 1991, 25% of inmates said they owed court-imposed costs, restitution, fines and fees. By 2004, that number had climbed to 66% according to the Justice Department. The Brennan Center found that of the 15 states with the largest number of prisoners, 13 of them charge fees for using public defenders. [5] Why are these Supreme Court rulings not being enforced?

Today, some states are waiving fees for indigent defendants, while others are offering to set up payment plans that include extra fees, penalties and interest. This cycle insures that many will never get the debt paid back as their fines continue to grow because of the interest and penalties that are attached.

Justice, in our present penal system, is illusive. If an impoverished person is late on a payment, the harsh reality is that in some states he can lose his driver’s license or food stamps, keeping him from seeking gainful employment or eating.

Many states also block ex-offenders from receiving the right to vote again until all fees are paid — making the fee effectively a poll tax.

While the poor are imprisoned, the rich are often set free. A judge in Texas recently ordered that Ethan Couch — who drove drunk, crashed, and killed four people, go to a lock-down residential treatment facility. His explanation was that Couch was a victim of “affluenza” — the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy. In our upside down justice system, even though four people were killed and two were injured, the driver was proclaimed the victim.[6]

Not only is our present system unjust, but it is also costly. A 2010 Annual Report filed with the SEC, and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) stated: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by . . . leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices . . .”[7]

The guilty need to be punished, but the focus should be on rehabilitation, not generating massive profits. The guilty should not go free because they are indigent, but neither should the innocent suffer because they are poor.

[1]http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-rights/miranda-rights-and-the-fifth-amendment.html

[2]http://www.npr.org/2014/05/19/312158516/increasing-court-fees-punish-the-poor

[3]http://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/get-involved/constitution-activities/sixth-amendment/right-counsel/facts-case-summary-gideon.aspx

[4]http://www.npr.org/2014/05/21/313118629/supreme-court-ruling-not-enough-to-prevent-debtors-prisons

[5]https://www.google.com/#q=The+Brennan+Center+found+that+of+the+15+states+

[6]http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2014/04/new-ethan-couch-outrage-you-pay-far-more-than-his-parents.html/

[7]https://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/private-prisons

Why I’m no longer a Republican

Friday, June 13th, 2014

donkeyandelephant

In 1988 when I voted for George H. W. Bush for president, there was nothing unusual about it. From the time I turned 21, I had always voted Republican. But, after he broke his promise not to raise taxes and the country was in the midst of a recession, I reconsidered my position in 1992.

As Bush floundered, the brilliant and charismatic campaign and message of William Jefferson Clinton hit the scene and I voted for my first Democrat.

During the next eight years, I watched how President Clinton oversaw the longest peacetime economic expansion in our history; how the nation enjoyed the lowest unemployment rate in decades; how the home ownership rate grew to the highest it’s ever been in the country’s history; how he improved economic equality that led to a strong economy and a surplus federal budget. Though his tenure was plagued with scandals and impeachment, it is important to remember, he was acquitted of all charges.

In 1996, I still didn’t consider myself a Democrat, even though I voted to reelect Clinton. I was an Independent who voted for the best person. But, when the Republican Party nominated George W. Bush in 2000…I began to think of myself as a Democrat.

Living in Texas, I saw Bush’s policies and ignorance first hand. I could foresee many problems the country would face if he was elected and, unfortunately, he didn’t prove me wrong. Against strong counsel from his own financial advisors, he cut taxes while starting two wars; something no other president had ever done. These decisions began the immeasurable damage to our country that would take decades to recover from.

He took a substantial surplus, and turned it into a huge deficit; he changed America’s standing in the world, by trying to force his views on other cultures; he chose to invade Iraq first, rather than Afghanistan, allowing Osama bin Laden to continue his reign of terrorism for years; he destabilized the Middle East which led to more insurgents. Bush and Cheney did not listen to Americans or our Allies and millions of lives were lost.

As the neocons continually promote just one more war to spread democracy, I believe we should fix America’s democracy first before we try to change the cultures of other countries to mirror our own.

Near the end of Bush’s disastrous two-term Presidency, it was an easy decision for me to vote for Obama over McCain. But, it was the creation of the Tea Party facet of the Republican Party in 2010 that turned me into a loyal Democrat, rather than an Independent. I don’t feel I abandoned the Republican Party but, I do feel the Republican Party abandoned me. Their emerging views on government, religion, women’s rights, workers’ rights, income inequality, violence against women, equal pay for women, minorities’ voting rights, made me move away from these radical ideologues as quickly as possible.

In 2014, the Republican Party is now split between the old GOP idealists and the new GOP obstructionists; between those who know their message is losing voters and want to change it and, those who would rather suppress and buy the vote, than change the message. The GOP no longer stands for Grand Old Party, but for Greedy Old Plutocrats.

Democrats must rally their base. There are many smart and educated Republicans who believe their Party’s lies, support their Party’s positions and who will come out to vote Republican at any cost. In America that is their prerogative. But, it is up to the rest of us to make sure these extremists are defeated in 2014, in 2016 and beyond. It is critical to this country’s future, maybe more than any other election in our history that you vote in November. Choosing not to vote because you think your vote doesn’t matter is just plain wrong. I worry that if people do not stand up for what they believe in, and vote, then our future right to vote may vanish.

I support the Democratic message because I’m for job creation, rather than obstructionism. I support healthcare for all, rather than repealing the ACA with no alternative plan. I think we should keep the safety net for those who need it and have paid into it all their lives. I support Social Security, and believe the system could be solvent for years if the income cap was removed and people paid into the system for every pay check they received. And unlike many Republican Governors, I also support Medicaid expansion which saves lives, adds billions in federal funds, and creates jobs.

I’m for keeping America safe and strong, but not for sending Americans into harm’s way when it isn’t necessary. I’m for helping veterans when they return from serving our country, rather than cutting their benefits. I’m for lowering Congressional pay and perks, so that elected officials’ jobs aren’t about becoming millionaires, but rather are about their responsibility to serve their constituents and their country.

I believe in food stamps for the hungry, but not subsidies to big agricultural firms. I believe in healthy school lunches for our children, but not Republican supported junk food lobbyists. I believe in putting people to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and bridges, rather than blocking the vote on job development, and asking “where are the jobs?” I believe in energy independence, but not at a cost to our society and way of life. I believe we should do something about man-made climate change, not deny it exists. I believe we should leave America, and the planet, a better place for my kids and my grandkids, rather than a worse place.

I’m for easy to vote elections, rather than designing restrictions that make it harder for minorities, the poor and the elderly to vote. I’m for term limits for all elected officials, rather than lifetime politicians. In other words, I’m for democracy…a democracy that is quickly diminishing under the current Republican leadership.