Here's what I think....

Monday, April 5, 2010

Gonna give Mensa a try!

I am taking the text for Mensa in a few weeks. Wish me luck! Since I know everything, this should be super easy.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Myth that Government Can't do Anything Right

We’ve all heard the condescending retort to the proposal of any government program. The scariest words anyone can hear are, “Hi, I’m here from the government, and I’m here to help. “ Thanks, Reagan. We’ve heard this so often that it’s become kind of a “known” thing. Everyone knows the government screws up everything, right?

Look at social security. It’ll be insolvent by 2017, right? Here’s the problem: this isn’t true. Don’t believe me? Liz Pulliam Weston wrote an article entitled 5 myths about Social Security that addressed, well, 5 myths about Social Security. Reading the article proves that most of what we’ve been told by pundits and talking heads is just wrong. Sadly, I don’t think even they know or understand how it works.

From the article:

Here's how the Social Security Administration projects the timeline:

  • In 2017, Social Security will begin paying out more than it takes in. For the first time, it will have to use the interest being paid on the securities it holds in order to meet its obligations.

  • In 2027, Social Security would have to start redeeming the securities themselves.

  • By 2041, Social Security would have cashed in the last security, and the system would have enough revenue to pay out only 75% of promised benefits. That percentage would drop over time if Congress failed to act.

What’s this about interest paid on the securities held by Social Security? Everyone knows that Congress has been spending the Social Security trust fund for years, right? Oops.

Three-quarters of the money that's collected in Social Security taxes goes right out the door again in the form of benefits to Social Security recipients. The surplus that isn't needed to pay benefits is loaned to the federal government to pay for other programs. In return for this loan, the trust fund gets IOUs in the form of special-issue, interest-paying Treasury bonds. The interest isn't paid in cash, however; the Treasury issues the fund additional bonds for the interest amount. In 2006, the fund was credited with more than $102 billion in interest; the total value of the securities is about $2 trillion.

So far, what we have is a program that might fail in 32 years if Congress doesn’t act in that time to save one of the most important and popular government programs. Why is it so popular? According to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 1997, the Social Security program lifts more seniors out of poverty than all other programs combined. “Of the 12.9 million elderly people lifted from poverty by the full array of government benefit programs, 11.4 million — nearly 90 percent — are lifted out by Social Security. “

Social Security is not a failure because it might be insolvent in 32 years. It’s a success because it meets the end goal of the program itself - poverty among the elderly has been reduced - from 35% in 1935 to less than 10% today. In fact, those repeatedly saying it’s a failed program often rely on it for themselves and their parents.

When it misses a payment, call it a failure. When it becomes insolvent, call it a failure. When 35% of the elderly are living in poverty again, call it a failure. Until then, what’s the balance of your 401K? Just enough to make sure that combined with social security it will be enough to sustain you? Or do you plan on living on only social security and have no retirement savings of your own? Not so "inefficient" when it's paying your bills, is it??

Monday, August 3, 2009

Reform Health Care like it's Nineteen. . . Sixty-Nine?

Let’s face it. The healthcare system in America is a nightmare. Reform efforts are quickly becoming a nightmare, as well. On the left, we have blue dog Democrats selling their mandate down the river (while accepting millions from health industry related special interests) and on the right you’ve got a party so adamant about “breaking” President Obama that they’re going to say no, filibuster, and fear-monger any way they possibly can in order to keep any type of reform from happening, whether it’s good for the country or not.

Sometimes, looking to the past is the best way to move forward. Time Magazine offers archives online back to 1923. I thought it would be interesting to look at a few excerpts throughout the years and see how health care has changed - or stayed the same - as our country has matured.

June 1923: “Medicine: No Mean Goal

A thorough physical examination for every man, woman and child in the United States once a year on his birthday is the goal set by the National Health Council, which will open a year's campaign on July 4 for health examinations to forestall disease. The Council has the backing of the organized medical profession.

The first of the fear mongers that I found in the archives..

June, 1937: Medicine: Nationalized Doctors?

Roared Dr. Morris Fishbein of Chicago, editor of A.M.A. publications and spokesman for medical orthodoxy: "The tradition of medicine since the earliest times has been one of service—a service dependent for its success in the curing of disease on mutual responsibility between the doctor and his patient. The American Medical Association has established principles which must govern this relationship between doctor and patient. The purpose of these principles is to maintain for the public the highest possible quality of medical service. As long as human beings are themselves not standardized it will not be possible to provide them with a standardized doctor. Every system of medicine and every change in the nature of medical practice which breaks down this relationship tends to lower the quality of medical service. It is characteristic of medicine, therefore, that it is practiced as an art and as a science, without any reference to hours of work or any fixed formula for its administration. These are the characteristics of the profession and the question which we must answer for ourselves and for the people is simply the question as to whether medicine shall remain a profession or become a trade."

September, 1948: Medicine: Ten Year Prescription

Last week, after seven months of study, [Oscar Ross Ewing] presented the President [Truman] with a 186-page report. To nobody's surprise, he recommended compulsory Government health insurance.

The nation's health, Ewing began by saying, is not what it should be (neither doctors nor Republicans were likely to argue that point). Every year, he estimated, 325,000 Americans die for lack of medical and health services: 120,000 from communicable diseases that might have been cured, 115,000 from cancer and heart disease that might have been prevented, 30,000 unnecessary maternal and infant deaths, 60,000 from other causes.

Ewing also outlined his case for compulsory insurance. He is convinced that voluntary plans are not and never will be enough (even though Blue Shield increased its membership 3,500% in eight years and, with Blue Cross, now has 37,500,000 members). Only about half the families in the U.S., Ewing argued, can afford even moderately complete health insurance on a voluntary basis.

August, 1956: Medicine: Paying the Doctor

Medical costs have been rising faster than any other item on the cost-of-living index, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A patient must now pay 25% more for treatment than in 1950, as compared to an 8% rise in the overall price index. At the same time, benefit payments from health-insurance programs are running a fifth higher this year than last, are expected to go well beyond $2.5 billion. All told, reports the Health Insurance Council, some no million Americans are now covered by hospital insurance-6% more than were covered last year, nine times as many as were covered in 1941.

February, 1969: “Medicine: The Plight of the Patient“:

All or virtually all Americans are now medically indigent," says Economist Pollack. "Health insurance for all has become a necessity." Dr. Philip Lee says: "The Federal Government will have to fill in the chinks of the private system. Private insurance does fine during the years when people are employed, but it doesn't do well for the aged or the unemployed. The Government must fill those needs." Before last November's election, Lee's former boss, ex-HEW Secretary Wilbur Cohen, had on his desk a plan to extend Medicare to provide "crisis care" for all Americans. Some suggest extending it to children, to the handicapped, and perhaps to all the indigent (Medicaid having proved to be no more effective than a bread poultice in most states). McNerney is pressing all Blue Cross plans to broaden their coverage. A practical man, he notes that merely shortening the average patient's hospital stay by one day would save well over $1 billion.

May, 1977: A Bitter Pill for U.S. Hospitals

Now, in his first major health legislation, President Carter has decided to intervene on behalf of the impoverished medical consumer. In a program expected to be sent to Congress this week, the Administration is demanding tough restraints on the fastest growing U.S. medical bill, hospital costs, which last year totaled $55.4 billion. What is more, the proposal is only the first step toward Carter's long-range goal: comprehensive national health insurance.

July, 1982: Those Sky-High Health Costs

The runaway cost of health care has played havoc with the federal budget, which has seen outlays for federally financed medical coverage under the Medicare and Medicaid programs rise from $26 billion in 1976 to $56 billion in 1981. In a desperate effort to slash expenditures and trim a projected overall budget deficit of at least $103.9 billion for the fiscal year that begins in October, Congress agreed to slice $15.2 billion off projected spending of $270 billion for the programs over the next three years.

Ultimately, the solution to the nation's health-care woes must come from Washington, which alone has the power to deal with a dilemma that far transcends individual states or health organizations. Congress, however, has been unable to agree on a plan of attack. In 1978, the legislators rejected a cost-containment drive led by former Health Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano. More recently, President Reagan himself campaigned on promises to curb health-care costs by 1982, but his Administration still has not produced a comprehensive program.

Over the long term, there is no prospect of success in the fight against skyrocketing health-care costs unless the Congress and the Administration work together to give the problem the priority it deserves. So far, that has not happened, and the longer the subject is postponed, the worse it seems destined to get. The fact is that as long as the fever of rising costs burns in the business of medical science, the economy can never be totally cured of inflation.

You will all take away something different from this potpourri of U.S. health history. I will stop the article excerpts in 1982, because I thought no point was more fitting to end with than that of Congress and the President working together to give the problem the priority it deserves. Had they listed to the author of the article, John Greenwald, perhaps we’d be having a different type of debate today.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

The Conservative "Are you with us or against us" mentality

Barack Obama's fight with conservatives can be summed up with a quote from Albert Einstein: "Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence." The prevailing attitude of the vocal conservative movement in this country has been that intelligence is elitism. Barack Obama is called an elitist because he is an ivy league graduate, a former college professor, and supports progressive policies. Ignoring the fact that President George W. Bush holds an MBA from the same ivy-league institution Senator Obama attended, the GOP has labeled Obama as an intellecual elitist who can't possibly know how to govern middle America. What the GOP fails to mention is that Obama came from modest means, and was able to better himself and work his way into the living room of Americans using brains, hard work, and resourcefulness.

In other words, Barack Obama symbolizes the American dream. His story tells any child who has a rough start in life, due to the choices their parents made, can overcome any circumstance and fulfill any dream, no matter how large.

Senator Obama did not have a name like Bush or Kennedy to give him a hand up. He did not marry an heiress to finance his lifestyle and support his family while he ran for office. John W. Dean, former counsel to the President, summed it up by saying,

"Ironically, Obama has done exactly what conservatives preach: pulled himself up to the top by his own hard work, and taken advantages of his God-given gifts. He was not only president (in essence, editor-in-chief) of the prestigious Harvard Law Review – an exceptional accomplishment for any Harvard Law student, but also the first African- American ever to hold the post. Yet this is just one of many distinctions that will be used as evidence of his elitism. "

Is Obama an elitist because he was a lawyer? Are conservative doctors and lawyers elitist as well? These are questions we should ask ourselves and our neighbors - try to provoke thought and challenge these stereotypes as presented by either party.

Failing to question the failures of the most recent conservative President and Congressmen are why the Republican Party is struggling to maintain control of their most historically reliable supporters. Conservative pundits rarely question actions of their representatives in government in public; to do so is to betray the Republican Party. When Kathleen Parker, a well-known conservative columnist, correctly suggested in late September that Sarah Palin should respectfully bow out of the race so as to not be a liability to the McCain campaign because she was not qualified to be president, she recieved over 11,000 e-mails from conservatives that berated her for being a traitor. Christopher Buckley, son of William Buckley, endorsed Obama and had to subsequently resign his post at his late father's conservative magazine - a resignation that was happily accepted.

The most recent public figure that has acknowledged the failures of the Republican party is perhaps the most shocking and the most extreme. Colin Powell, a four-star Republican general and former Secretary of State, was for years billed as a race-neutral public official who could be relied on to legitimize conservative policies because of his wealth of experience and superior intellect. The same thought process that was accepted and respected for years by conservatives is now being dismissed and criticized because he's publicly questioned the Republican campaign strategy, economic policy, and vice-presidential selection and endorsed a Democrat. High visibility conservatives immediately went to the race card - Powell's concise, detailed, and thoughtful endorsement was dismissed as simply one black man supporting another.

Are Parker, Buckley and Powell traitors? Ronald Reagan said "Don't be afraid to see what you see." Perhaps it's ok to see what you see as long as you don't say anything that contradicts the current party talking points. Are they less American today because they've acknowledged the Republican Party is not the same party they've supported and believed in? These public figures have reached across the aisle for what they see as the best direction for their country. Conservative pundits have questioned their patriotism, credibility, and motives for doing so publicly. I'd contend they're exhibiting the type of integrity that our country was founded on. Had early British settlers not questioned their government, America wouldn't be the great nation it is today. It is the appreciation of free thought and honest rebellion that allows America to constantly change into the country it needs to be to allow the best security and quality of life possible for the very citizens that refuse to question it. Does questioning your party make you a traitor or a patriot? Those who have the courage to speak up to those who are hurting our country for political gain knowing they'll be ostracized for doing so are the most patriotic, in my opinion.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Why isn't Fox News reporting voter fraud in Republican states?

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle last week. All I'll say about it is that Waller County is heavily Republican. The county itself has admitted breaking federal law in denying Prarie View A&M students voter registration cards based on non-essential information being filled out "correctly." Prarie View, for those of you who don't know, is a predominantly black college. So - is it only voter fraud in swing states or states that go democrat? There's another example after this lengthy article - so keep reading.

Waller County admits voter error
If court agrees, Prairie View A&M students' forms must be processed
By CINDY GEORGECopyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Oct. 10, 2008, 11:17PM

Waller County officials acknowledged in court papers that they rejected voter registration applications from Prairie View A&M University students through practices the U.S. Justice Department described as violations of federal laws.

Justice officials filed suit in Houston federal court Thursday against the county and Waller Registrar Ellen C. Shelburne. The complaint, alleging voting and civil rights violations, was followed by a consent decree to settle the case.
The agreement must be approved by a panel of three federal judges.

The lawsuit stems from voting changes the county made in 2007 without the required federal clearance. The county's new rules included refusing any application the registrar's staff deemed incomplete. Most of those registrations were filed by students who attend PVAMU, a historically black college.

Under Texas law, a person cannot be denied the right to vote because of a registration error or omission if it is not material to the person's qualification to cast a ballot.

According to the consent decree, Waller County officials rejected applications without a ZIP code and registrations that weren't filed on the most current form.

The county has seven days to re-process voter registrations rejected since 2007. Applicants who meet the requirements of state law and are not registered elsewhere will be able to vote in the Nov. 4 general election.

Houston attorney Debra Mergle, who represents the county and Shelburne, said she didn't know how many voters might be added to the county's roll as a result of the decree.
"I don't anticipate there will be very many at all," she said.

But Waller Justice of the Peace DeWayne Charleston estimates that the county's review will turn up several hundred voters who were illegally left off voting lists.

"The Justice Department has given validity to the fact that many students were denied the right to register to vote," said Charleston, a critic of the county's voting practices.

"That the county owned up to it lends credence to our rush to try to slow down that Waller bond election because the Waller County rolls were not legitimate."

A $49 million Waller ISD school construction bond passed by 300 votes in May 2007. Charleston estimates 200 to 300 potential voters, mostly PVAMU students, were illegally rejected prior to that vote.

Shelburne, the county tax assessor who also serves as voting registrar, was sued in her official capacity. Neither she nor County Judge Owen Ralston could be reached for comment.
Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requires certain local governments, including Waller County, and some states, including Texas, to get federal approval before changing voting procedures. Created to remedy documented discrimination, the provision requires a jurisdiction to prove that election changes do not have the intent or effect of discriminating against minority voters.

Waller County's voting age population is 52 percent white and 31 percent black, according to the federal lawsuit.

"By promptly agreeing to settle this matter, the county has demonstrated a commitment to addressing past problems and to complying with federal law in the future," Grace Chung Becker, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division, said in a news release.

The agreement also requires Waller County officials to hold voting registrar training on the Prairie View campus and conduct voter registration drives at the campus student center.
Special monitoring of Waller County's voting practices lasts through Dec. 31, 2012.

The county has faced numerous voting rights lawsuits over the last 30 years and is under a criminal probe by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

The following article appeared in the Texas Observer. You can verify this information by simply googling "escapees rainbow rd texas" and you'll find the official website.

Oct 3, 2008 -- The Texas Observer: The Winnebago VoteHow 12,000 RVers tilt East Texas elections.By: Forrest Wilder

In a place called Rainbow's End, amid towering East Texas pines and hulking Winnebagos, sits an unremarkable, gray-brick building that is home to the biggest and most influential voting bloc in ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Polk County. No one actually lives at 100 Rainbow Drive, but the building hosts 12,000 registered voters.
The 10,000-square-foot building houses a massive mail-forwarding service, the largest in the nation. The service is geared toward recreational vehicle enthusiasts and allows them to receive mail—and vote by mail in Polk County elections—from wherever they happen to be. Known as the Escapees, the mostly white-haired RV owners have—in theory at least—exchanged fixed abodes for a life zipping across America in mobile mansions. These 12,000 overwhelmingly Republican voters—some of whom have never even set foot in the area—have helped erode what was once a stronghold of yellow dog Democrats deep in the Piney Woods of Texas. To some, the operation allows the Escapees to enjoy life on the open road. To critics, it is voter fraud on a grand scale.

The ballot-mailing service is run by Escapees Inc., a family owned business that operates eight RV parks around the country, including its headquarters at Rainbow's End RV Park outside Livingston, about 80 miles northeast of Houston. This 140-acre, deluxe RV park boasts a swimming pool, more than 150 RV lots, a clubhouse, library, even an adult day-care center. Only a couple hundred souls live here. Some Escapees make annual pilgrimages; others have never so much as peeled out in East Texas. They hail from Kansas, California, wherever, yet they're all considered Livingston "locals" who vote in Polk County elections by mail ballots forwarded to them from the warehouse at 100 Rainbow.

The state of Texas, with its notorious residency requirements, recognizes the Escapees as Polk County residents even though many have never been here. In fact, they need only enter Texas once—to get driver's licenses—to become residents.

Some Escapees aren't even full-time RVers. They own homes elsewhere, spend seasons in other states (Arizona and California are popular), and though technically Texas residents, probably couldn't tell a bluebonnet from a bluebird. What Escapees have escaped from is a state income tax, which is levied in 43 states, but not in Texas.

The Escapees account for more than 30 percent of registered voters in Polk County, giving them significant sway over who gets elected to county and even state legislative offices.

The cache of mail order voters has long irked some local Democrats, who accuse the group of distorting East Texas politics. They filed an ultimately unsuccessful legal challenge in 2000 to strip the Escapees from the Polk County voting rolls. With Texas Republicans talking tough about cracking down on voter fraud, some Democrats say the Escapees operation warrants new attention and even an investigation.

Angie Carr is the executive director of Escapees Inc. (Motto: "Adventure Awaits. It's Time to Escape."). A prim woman with long, reddish hair who married into this third-generation business, Carr leads me on a tour of the mail warehouse. This is, in essence, where the 12,000 voters "live." Hobbled on crutches from an injury she sustained on a recent RV road trip, Carr proudly shows off the highly efficient operation.

Each morning at 9 a.m., an 18-wheeler postal truck bypasses the Livingston post office to deliver mail directly to the Escapees, who have their own zip code. In the back room, a sophisticated machine sorts the mail (2 million pieces every year). Meanwhile, 40 employees are busy answering phones, filing mail, and readying packages to be forwarded all over the world. Thousands of folders—one for each Escapee account—fill three separate rooms. Each folder represents a unique address, with a Rainbow Drive street address that doesn't exist and personal mailbox number. That address appears next to the voter's name on the voter rolls and on the Texas driver's licenses of residents.

None of these addresses actually exists—there are no buildings to be found. Yet these "paper" addresses allow Escapees to register and vote by mail in Polk County, whether they're in East Texas or touring through Maine.

The mailroom is the hub of the Escapees' voting system, the intermediary for registration applications and ballots moving between government and voter.

State law mandates—with some exceptions—that an absentee ballot must be sent out of county. For this reason, Carr maintains a post office box in Shepherd, a small town 15 miles south in neighboring San Jacinto County. The box's sole purpose is to receive ballots mailed by the county clerk a few miles up the road from Rainbow's End. An Escapees employee periodically picks up the ballots in Shepherd and drives them back to the mailroom, where they are processed and mailed to Escapees around the world.

It's an impressive, if jury-rigged, operation, and its impact may be widening. With a presidential election less than two months away, the flow of applications for mail ballots has picked up dramatically—some 200 to 300 each day, according to the county clerk's office.

Carr is proud of the operation her family has built. "We started out with a file cabinet," she says of the mail service's inception in 1985. How did her business come to this strange state of affairs? "I assume, like everything else in our business, it arose from a need," Carr says.

Later, Carr's mother-in-law and Escapees CEO Cathie Carr tells me: "We're not just paper. We are real people."

To Sharon and Dennis Teal, Livingston Democrats, the idea that the Escapees are legitimate Polk County residents and voters defies common sense. "I don't know what your idea of a permanent resident is, but it's not someone who visits once every nine years," Dennis Teal says over a dinner of fried catfish at a Livingston restaurant. "They have no vested interest in this community other than to use it to avoid paying a state income tax."

Buck Wood, an Austin election-law attorney who mainly represents Democrats, estimates—based on interviews he and his staff did with about 100 Escapees—that roughly half the members have never been to Rainbow's End. "That is deadly," he says. "You cannot register [to vote] in a place you've never been." Only about 10 percent, he contends, are even full-time RVers, people so committed to the RV lifestyle that they no longer rent or own a home. (A cross-check of Polk County voter rolls and out-of-state property records confirms that at least several Escapees members own homes or RV lots in other states.)

Cathie Carr, who calls Sharon Teal "vicious" and "irritating," insists that most Escapees are plugged into Polk County, serving on juries, volunteering in the community, and attending church services. "These people are the very people you would want in your community," Carr says. "Just because they choose to travel the majority of their time is no reason to shun them or exclude them from voting." Individuals who have never been to Polk County are "very rare," she says.

In 2000, attorney Wood represented several local Democrats in an unsuccessful challenge to the Escapees' residency status. The case, which bounced among three courts, was carefully tracked by both parties. In that election, control of the Texas Senate—where Republicans held a one-vote majority—had come down to a single, nasty East Texas contest between Republican Todd Staples (now agriculture commissioner) and Democrat Todd Fisher. Staples accused Fisher and the Democratic Party of orchestrating the lawsuit to bump reliable Republicans out of the election. In the end, a three-judge panel of the federal Fifth Circuit shot down the residency challenge and allowed the Escapees to vote. Staples won the election by a landslide, and the RVers' votes were not decisive.

After the election, Wood filed another suit contesting the results of a county commissioner's race in which Democrat-turned-Republican Bob Willis bested incumbent Democrat B.E. "Slim" Speights by almost 2,800 votes. In that race, the Escapees votes proved critical, favoring Willis 4-1. Willis had previously served as the tax assessor-collector—an office that includes voter registration duties—and had rallied to the Escapees' defense. Wood and Speights sought to overturn the election results by proving that the Escapees were not legitimate residents of Polk County.

In part, the case hinged on the definition of residence. The election code refers to residence as a "fixed place of habitation to which one intends to return after any temporary absence." In depositions Wood collected, some voters testified they had never been to Rainbow's End, and that they owned homes in other states and had no clear intentions of ever living in Polk County. But a 2-1 majority of a state appeals court sided with Willis, ruling that Wood had failed to show the individual circumstances and intentions of the more than 5,000 absentee voters. The majority also noted that county officials had allowed Escapees to register and vote at the fictitious Rainbow Drive addresses for years.

Wood, on the other hand, dwells on the cases he lost. He quotes a bit of election lawyer wisdom: "If you're gonna steal an election, steal it big ... You can contest an election where there are 10 illegal votes or 20 or 50, but once it gets much bigger than that, it's impossible."

At the 4 p.m. social hour in the comfy Rainbow's End clubhouse, partisan politics is the last thing on anyone's mind. About 20 RVers have gathered to tell bad RV jokes (Have you heard the one about the guy who thought he had won a Winnebago from one of those peel-off tab contests?—turns out he had "won a bagel") and discuss movies ("All I remember about Braveheart is Mel Gibson's bare tush"). As it turns out, most of the attendees are part of the small percentage of Escapees who actually live at Rainbow's End. Politicians campaign for their support, and they vote at a real polling place. They are a proud, friendly group. Dottie Piercy, a young-looking 83-year-old with bright blue eyes, explains the appeal of Rainbow's End. "I live here as a widow," she says. "I feel safe. I have friends here, and the ones who don't [live here] come through and see me." A woman wearing a jaunty hat walks into the room carrying an Obama-Biden sign. A man wearing a U.S. Navy cap boos lustily. Everyone laughs. This is a real community, real politics, but what about the rest of those 12,000 voters who aren't here? The Teals view the Escapees as interlopers who have artificially shifted the area's political balance toward the GOP.
There is evidence to support this assertion. The 12,000 registered Escapees—up from 9,000 eight years ago—account for 30 percent of the county's registered voters, certainly enough to tilt the balance in close races. Roughly two-thirds of them vote Republican, often straight-ticket. In 2004, Republican John Otto beat the Democratic incumbent, three-term state Rep. Dan Ellis of Livingston, by a little more than 1,400 votes in Polk County. If you took the Escapees out of the equation, Ellis would have won the county by more than 500 votes. Otto would have been elected anyway because of his advantage elsewhere in the district, but the Teals say the Escapees machine poses real hurdles for Democratic candidates.

Arlan Foster, a long-shot Democratic candidate to unseat Otto and president of the Correctional Employees Union, AFSCME Council 7, sees the problem from a candidate's perspective.
"It's hard to take a pulse on a voter that lives out of state and you can't communicate with," Foster says. "From my standpoint, I believe the job description is in the job title—state representative means just that—you represent the people. How can I represent someone in Illinois who's never been to Texas? And what would I be doing for that person?"

The Escapees effect is even more measurable at the local level. Since Reconstruction, no Republican had held a local office until Willis won a seat on the county commissioner's court in 2000. Since 2002, six other local Democratic officials have switched to run as Republicans.
"What Democratic officials we have here are scared to death of this thing," Dennis Teal says. "The Democrats are frustrated because they know the system is rigged."

That may be so, but other elected Democrats in town seem to have made peace with the Escapees, if only out of fear, perhaps, of provoking them.

"You learn to do your job and do it well as you can," says Marion "Bid" Smith, the Democratic tax assessor-collector, whose duties include registering voters. "You make sure to provide services in their favor."

Benny Fogleman, the county Republican chairman, is more than happy with the Teals' assault on the Escapees. "Sharon's been very good for the Republican Party," he says. "I could have never brought the party to where we are without her."

Among some Democrats, though, the Escapees represent the one type of "voter fraud" that Texas Republicans are willing to tolerate.

Since 2005, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has spent millions criminally prosecuting Democratic Party activists, almost all minorities, for infractions such as not including their signatures and addresses on the backs of ballots they mailed for senior citizens (see "Vote by Mail, Go to Jail," April 18, 2008).

In a lawsuit against the state of Texas that was settled in May, Gerry Hebert, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, represented several of the Democratic activists whom Abbott had prosecuted. One of the provisions the state had used against the activists made it a crime to possess the mail ballot of another voter. Another stipulated that the ballot envelopes had to include the helper's signature.

The Escapees' mail-forwarding service involves the possession of thousands of ballots. The envelopes aren't signed.

"It just struck me as odd that you would have the AG taking a somewhat inconsistent approaches to two different groups of people," Hebert says. The case was settled before Hebert could raise the issue in a trial. But he contends that Republican attorneys general have a track record of protecting the Escapees.

Hebert cites a letter from Andy Taylor, then an assistant attorney general, to Cathie Carr. Taylor represented the state of Texas in the 2000 litigation. In the November 2000 letter, Taylor thanks Carr for a "monogrammed polo shirt and honorary membership into the Escapees," and confesses that he has "felt sorry for you and your fellow RVers during this controversy—you have been treated like pawns in a political chess game."

Last year, Republicans in the Texas Legislature came within one vote of passing legislation that would have required voters to present picture identification at the polls, a measure that Democrats contend would present unwarranted hurdles for low-income and minority voters. The measure is likely to be taken up again next year.

Wood compares the Escapees to the Chicken Ranch, a brothel near La Grange that operated in the open for nearly 70 years. "It was illegal, but everyone said, 'so what.' No one did anything about it. The situation with the Escapees in Polk County is the same thing ... If the Democrats had an operation like that, the attorney general would be down there tomorrow, and everybody would be indicted."

Random funny observations

My sister and I went to see the Texans vs. the Dolphins Sunday. Good game. Nice to see the Texans win. Sorry, James.

Reliant Energy and the Houston Texans might want to re-think how they name their promotional items. I'll have a picture soon to back this up (upload it, Casey!).
Seen on jumbotron several times throughout Sunday's game:

"White Power Towels provited by Reliant Energy."
'nuff said.

Second funny observation - although it's more sad than funny.

Hank Williams Jr. opened for Sarah Palin at a rally over the weekend. He didn't sing "If the South Would have Won, We'd've had it made." That would have been too obvious.


Texas Obama Supporter has Vehicle Vandalized with Dirty Diaper

I live in Texas. I was born in Texas. Educated in Texas. The major events of my life all took place in Texas. The formation of my beliefs; prejudices; hopes; all from Texas. Got it?

I have never been so disgusted with the way of thinking in this state.

After years of reading, learning, watching truth vs. talking points, I've decided that I'm a democrat. I am voting for Barack Obama. Republicans had complete control and their policies FAILED. Period.

After watching tactics by the McCain campaign I personally find reprehensible and IGNORANT, I decided to finally place the Obama '08 sticker I recieved in MARCH from my brother onto my vehicle.

One week later, I came out to my car to find a URINE FILLED DEPENDS DIAPER under my windshield.

Coincidence? My car is the only car in the 'hood with my Obama sticker on it.

Could be a coincidence. Sure.

So, two days later, another URINE FILLED DEPENDS DIAPER is under my windshield again.

What the HELL is wrong with ignorant ass people that think because I support Obama for president I deserve TWO piss diapers on my truck?!

Those of you that support McCain, buy into the Ayers BS (and turn your head away from the Keating 5) please tell me how this tactic is supposed to change my vote?

I have kids in my house. How would my 7 year old have felt if she'd seen that? Thank GOD she didn't.

I am NOT intimidated. You can kiss my Obama - loving - ass.

I used to be proud to be a Texan. After listening to enough Hannity and Rush and watching some Fox News I am disgusted that a propaganda machine and a campaign that encourages this type of behavior through political rallies that allow "kill him" and "terrorist" and "off with his head" to be shouted into the television that is given any credibility as an actual campaign.

You can never say you sympathize with modern prejudice until you've seen it. Now I know why black people believe prejudices are so prevalent. Because I wasn't racist I didn't really understand and had an overall optimistic view of our country's beliefs. But to be harrassed like this because I support a Democrat, or a black nominee, is ignorant, sad, and you who identify with this party should be horribly ashamed of your like-minded-Texans.


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