Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sex Education in Texas

It has been a long-kept tradition in Texas to not teach our children much about sex. We tell them the basic mechanics of it, that it produces children, that there's a variety of STDs you can catch if you're not careful, and that the only way to avoid all of this mess is by abstaining until marriage. While the idea of staying celibate before getting married may be nice for some people, it's certainly not what everyone does. As Chloe Yates points out in her recent post "Re-Education," this policy of abstinence-only education has failed Texas, but our elected representatives and the GOP have refused to let it go.

Yates brings up some good points in this respect. She provides a link to a study showing that abstinence-only education does not decrease the likelihood of teenagers having sex or using condoms if they do have sex. She points out that Texas has the third highest teen birth rate in the country. This is a very serious issue in our state, and the GOP is still supporting a policy which has been proven to do nothing to fix it. She also points out that this policy is completely based in our politicians' religious ties and has nothing to do with trying to lower the teen birth rate. As she states, this is an unethical policy. Religious doctrine should not determine public policy. Period.

In my opinion, this is a perfectly sound dismissal of the GOP's abstinence-only policy. It shows that it doesn't work, shows that there is a very big issue which this policy is letting become even worse, and shows that the policy is entirely based in religious conviction. Therefore, we conclude that our politicians are doing the wrong thing and should reverse their policy immediately. I agree with Yates. We should fight the GOP's policy for the betterment of our state.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Medicine and Politics Don't Mix

Lately, medicine has become one of the most pertinent issues in politics. Whether it's the universal health care debate we've been hearing at a national level for the past few years or the fairly recent Texas bill requiring women to get a sonogram before getting an abortion, political ideologies have often left us, the citizens, at the wayside while actively working to make our standard of living worse. The most recent event in this timeline is a so-called "gag order" in the state Women's Health Program (WHP), as an Austin American-Statesman article* explains. The proposed rule would forbid doctors in the  program from advising their patients with respect to abortion.

To give you some perspective, the WHP is a state funded organization designed to replace the federally funded Planned Parenthood clinics. The Texas Legislature barred Planned Parenthood in Texas in 2011 because some Planned Parenthood clinics performed abortions. This sparked outrage from the White House, which said that it would stop funding the WHP. Rick Perry's response was a promise to fund the WHP without federal funding and to run it under his own ideology. The WHP is now the only clinic dedicated to helping low-income Texas women, and it no longer allows doctors to so much as mention the word abortion.

This is not a policy aimed at helping the low-income women that the WHP is supposed to serve. It's a policy based solely in the GOP anti-abortion ideology, which makes no exceptions and views abortion as absolutely evil under any and all circumstances. Abortion is perfectly legal in Texas right now, but politicians like Rick Perry are doing everything they can to deny that legal privilege to whomever they can. In this case, they deny it to low-income women. This is not fair. These women are poor and sick. They deserve to hear all of their medical options, not just the ones which are GOP-approved.

This would be bad enough, but according to the Statesman article, many doctors feel discouraged from joining the WHP because of this rule. The rule forbids them from giving what they might believe is sound medical advice, and thus it prevents them from being ethical doctors and doing their jobs. If rules like this make enough of a difference in the program, there may be too few doctors signing up to joining the WHP, and the program could fail. Then low-income women would have nowhere to go and our state would host an even worse health care system than it already does. The GOP's ideology does not belong in medicine. Doctors should be allowed to freely discuss their patients' health. This rule deserves to be repealed.

*Editorial Board. "Remove abortion advice 'gag order.'" The Austin American-Statesman. Opinion. Published August 9, 2012. Accessed August 10, 2012.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Voter ID Laws: What's the Harm?

The following is a response to Carrie Sanders' article titled "Texas voter ID is a must".

Let's think about exactly what we're talking about here. Laws that regulate the way that people vote dabble in an extremely sensitive issue. Historically, the most prevalent voting laws were the Jim Crow laws. In particular, the poll tax prevented many minorities from voting in the South and the Texas Democratic Party didn't allow minorities to vote in its primaries. Obviously, when changing the way that people vote, we don't want to do anything which even resembles these horrible regulations.

But that's exactly what the voter ID law does! According to an article* from the Houston Chronicle, 38.2% of registered voters who do not have photo identification are Hispanic. Compare this to the fact that 21.8% of all registered voters in Texas are Hispanic. We can clearly see that a disproportionate number of Hispanic voters do not have photo identification. This is a fact. Furthermore, it is inevitable that some fraction (and likely a significant one) of those who do not have a photo ID will either not hear about the law or will be unable to obtain an ID by the following election. Many who hear about it and are able to get an ID will still be deterred from doing so because of the time it takes to go to a DPS office and obtain an ID. The simple fact of the matter is that fewer votes would be cast in the election following the passage of this law, and a disproportionate number of those votes would have been from Hispanic voters.

Now, we can clearly ignore these unfortunate statistics if it's shown that the law is, as you say, "a must." This would be the case if there were a significant number of reported cases of voting fraud. However, you neglect to mention any such number, providing no evidence that the law is necessary at all. In fact, the article you mention** only lists six instances of voter fraud over the entire history of the attorney general's office's existence. No other numbers or statistics are given regarding the frequency of voter fraud. The article does mention, as you say, that some Texas House of Representatives elections are decided by as few as 50 votes, but if the number of fraudulent votes per election is as low as six, the probability that voter fraud could change an election's outcome is extremely small.

The given evidence shows that there is nothing suggesting that voter fraud is a problem in Texas, while enacting a counter measure to the perceived issue would disenfranchise Hispanic voters in Texas. Clearly, this measure, the proposed voter ID law, does nothing but harm for Texas. If you want to change my and our colleagues' opinions on this matter, I suggest you bring some evidence to the table.

*Scharrer, Gary. "Facts elusive in Texas voter ID fight." The Houston Chronicle. Published March 25, 2012. Accessed August 3, 2012.
**Abbott, Greg. "ID laws aren't significant obstacle to proper votes." Austin American-Statesman. Published July 8, 2012. Accessed August 3, 2012.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Texas Needs a Better Education System

As it stands today, the education standards and curricula used in public schools across the state of Texas are set by what is known as the State Board of Education. The board consists of fifteen elected members, one from each of the fifteen districts in the state. Elections are partisan. You might already see the problem here. Elected officials associated with specific political parties making decisions about what our kids learn and what they don’t? Even with no outside evidence, I’d say this sounds like a recipe for disaster.

And indeed it is. According to the Texas Comptroller’swebsite*, Texas ranks 49th in the country in verbal SAT scores and 46th in math scores. We’re 36th in high school graduation rates and 33rd in teacher salaries. These are among a great many issues that Texas faces in the realm of public education.

Moreover, the party connections in the board have led to some very controversial decisions about what content is taught in Texas. Over the past couple of years, the board has written Thomas Jefferson almost completely out of history, stressed the Christian values of the founding fathers (despite their documented secular influences), fought to remove evolution and questioned the separation of church and state. All of this has arisen from voting along party lines in what was a ten Republican, five Democrat board.

Decisions like this are doing nothing to help Texas students while doing everything to disguise the truth. Evolution is observed to be true. The historical contest of the founding fathers’ writings proves that they were directly influenced by the scientific/secular revolution in Europe of the same time period. These facts cannot reasonably be contested by a group which is in charge of our children’s education.

Texas does not need science and history as taught by politicians. Texas needs science and history as taught by scientists and historians. I propose that the Board of Education be replaced by a panel of experts in the fields of literature, mathematics, science, history, art, business, etc. who would be better informed about what should and should not be taught in public schools. Maybe then Texas would find itself on track to improve its national education rankings.

*Combs, Susan. "Window on State Government." Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Accessed July 27, 2012.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gun Control and Tragedy

The recent Colorado tragedy in which twelve people were shot to death and another fifty-eight injured has left in its wake dozens of recovering families and millions of disturbed Americans. It has also reignited the gun control debate on the national stage, something the blogger TexasFred was quick to pick up on. In his recent article*, TexasFred critiques a news post by the Associated Press (AP) which detailed some of the current controversy. Specifically, the AP pointed out that the shooting suspect James Holmes had access to his large array of guns, ammunition and other weapons by buying off the Internet.

TexasFred’s response? An immediate attack of the AP as “an instrument of the LEFT,” claiming that the story made “every gun owner in America [look] like some kind of dangerous, murdering psycho.” Don’t mind that the original article made no such claim or insinuation. Whatever gives TexasFred a soapbox to yell from.

TexasFred then spends the remainder of his rant explaining that the only reasonable explanation for Holmes’ actions is that he suffered a sudden outbreak of insanity. No evidence for this broad claim, no link to an article explaining Holmes’ symptoms of insanity which might show this to be the case. Rather, TexasFred makes an assumption about the nature of the incident and sticks his fingers in his ears. For those of us who plan on watching the case unfold with open, objective minds, we will just have to wait to see whether TexasFred’s guess was correct or not.

However, let’s assume for the sake of argument that TexasFred was right. Maybe people like Holmes just suddenly snap, with no outward symptoms beforehand. Maybe the average person has some chance of turning into a mass murderer at any moment. Isn’t this an argument for gun control? Doesn’t this seem to suggest that it should not be within a person’s rights to buy assault rifles, multiple hand guns, shotguns, a large supply of ammo, and other weapons all at once? If this sort of incident is just a probability away, maybe we should do something to make it less likely.

That being said, I personally believe the takeaway here, the one which TexasFred missed entirely, is that gun purchases over the Internet should be extremely limited or banned outright. If Holmes had been forced to purchase his weapons from a store, face-to-face with another human being, perhaps that employee could have suspected something and the whole tragedy could have been avoided. That’s a story we’ll hear less and less of, however, if TexasFred and his anti-gun control friends have their way.

*TexasFred. "Colo. shooting suspect used Internet for arsenal." The TexasFred Blog. Posted July 23, 2012. Accessed July 24, 2012.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Right to Sue and Texas Health Care

In a recent article* by Alex Winslow of the Texas Watch, the claim is made that Perry is defending taking away the rights of Texas citizens to support special interests within the health care industry. Specifically, a ballot proposition which made suing health care providers more difficult was approved in 2003, and Winslow says that this measure is dragging Texas health care through the mud. He brings up an important point: Texas’ health care is indeed broken, as studies and surveys have shown. We certainly have a long way to go before our health system reaches national standards. He also claims that “[n]umerous academic studies by independent organizations and legal scholars prove that it is a fallacy to claim that taking away the legal rights of individuals will benefit the public at-large.”

What studies though? Winslow declines to say. In fact, he gives not a single citation or link to an outside source in the entire article. Are we then to take what he says on faith? Do these claims even make sense? Let’s examine the latter point: Taking away individuals’ rights never benefits the general public. This is a rather broad claim, and we can defeat it through a simple example. Suppose murder were legal. Or theft. Or falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Giving any of these “rights” to individuals would certainly detriment society. Therefore, Winslow’s claim cannot be correct (probably by being too vague), and it would behoove the reader to read the aforementioned studies, if only the author would cite his sources…

Winslow also relies on our failing health care system as evidence that the proposition is hurting the general public. However, the health care system is a complicated machine, composed of many parts and influenced by many laws. Unless he can give us some specific evidence that without this proposition we would be better off, it is far from clear that we are in our current predicament because of the approval of the proposition.

Finally, Winslow states that the proposition protects special interests rather than the general public. However, who exactly those interests are is left out of the article entirely. In fact, even the content of the proposition itself is never explored. All the reader knows is that it in some way made suing people in the health care industry more difficult. This could apply to doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurance providers, and/or others. It might only affect cosmetic surgeons, or life-saving operations, or some very specific treatment that is used by exceedingly few of us. How is the reader to judge what the consequences of the proposition might be if they do not even know what it says? The answer is they aren’t.

Overall, the article was entirely unconvincing because of its reliance on uncited sources and its failure to explain the content of the proposition in question. If Winslow seeks to persuade his audience in the future, I recommend he bring some facts to the table.

*Winslow, Alex. "Taking away right to sue when wrong has been done isn't helping Texans." Austin American-Statesman. Opinion. Published July 17, 2012. Accessed July 20, 2012.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Chance for Change in Our City Government?

Under the current system, Austin’s City Council is composed of six members which are elected citywide along with the Mayor. According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman*, that could change in the coming months. A petition signed by nearly 33,000 Austinites was brought to City Hall yesterday, proposing that the City Council include ten members rather than six, and that each member be elected by a different geographic district of Austin. Council members, however, are in support of a different plan, a hybrid which would include eight district seats and two citywide seats. At present, both plans are scheduled to be on the ballot in November. Petitioners say the hybrid plan is a distraction aimed at splitting the vote so that their plan will not get the required 50% approval. They claim the hybrid was created and is supported by the Real Estate Council of Austin, which funds council members’ citywide elections, something those candidates would not be able to afford on their own.

The story of council replanning is a complicated one, and its ending is in our hands. Go read the article for yourself and decide what is best for our city.

*Toohey, Marty. "Petition with 30,000 signatures calls for 10-district City Council plan." Austin American-Statesman. Local News. Published July 16, 2012. Accessed July 17, 2012.