Saturday, August 11, 2012

Death Penalty Response

I recently read an article written by my classmate, Hali Fechtmeyer, on the death penalty. She makes it clear that the policy is flawed, and notes that Marvin Wilson was executed even though he was considered to be mentally retarded while growing up. Her main issue with the death penalty is that we don't treat mentally ill citizens who are on death row well. However, she is still in support of this means of punishment because she doesn't want to be surrounded by those who have committed awful crimes.

I, personally, believe we should abolish the death penalty, especially considering the fact that many innocent people are executed annually. One such example that Fechtmeyer notes is the Willingham case, in which he was found out to be innocent after being killed under the accusation that he murdered his three daughters. To me, if even one innocent person is put to death, it is a faulty system. I understand the argument that keeping criminals in jail is more expensive for the state than killing them, but we really must consider the consequences of wrongfully murdering a person. They are MUCH worse than slightly higher taxes. It can also be argued that the death penalty is extraordinarily costly because of the means by which we kill the criminals (or in some cases, innocent citizens). In fact, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, it costs an additional $90,000 per year to keep someone on death row rather than in a maximum security prison.

To conclude, I believe that there are many flaws with the death penalty system and it must be abolished because of the incredibly high cost at stake (human lives).

Friday, August 10, 2012

Should We Ban Plastic Bags?

Before I begin this blog, I need to get something out in the open: I am a huge proponent of any effort to help the environment (within reason). I do believe that global warming is a reality that must be dealt with, and I bring my own shopping bags to the grocery store. That said, it should come as no surprise that I support Austin's efforts to ban plastic shopping bags. As Kate Galbraith reported in a New York Times article, plastic bags have a "habit of flying everywhere and getting eaten by animals, so banning them would help the environment" (Galbraith).

Whole Foods, a national chain, has already taken this step and been highly successful. I was a little skeptical at first but quickly got used to their paper bags. Not only are they better for the environment, they can also be reused in so many ways! Additionally, since they're stronger than plastic bags they can hold more groceries and are less likely to break. Basically, I see no downfall to the plastic bag ban.

Another option is to have plastic bags as an option, but charge a small fee for them. Countries in Europe have already done this with enormous success. According to the same New York Times article, the fee decreased the consumption of plastic bags by 94%. This may be the best compromise so those who are firm believers in plastic bags will still be happy, but they will be used much less frequently. By starting with this less extreme action, it will be easier to completely phase out plastic bags in the future.

Friday, August 3, 2012

School Attendance

I recently read an interesting blog post written by "The Republocrat," called "I was sick" apparently is no longer an excusable excuse! In the post, she writes about an editorial addressing the financial and educational benefits of school attendance. She also notes that her daughter had to miss about a month of school due to legitimate health issues.

One part of me completely agrees with her stance that it is not beneficial for a child to attend school if he/she is sick. And I do believe that it is wrong for the government to place such a financial emphasis on school attendance, because the reality is that children get sick. However, I understand the reasoning behind such strict attendance laws. In order to keep the school running well and the students on track, they need to make a conscious effort to attend class as much as possible.

In response to her view that it is the parent's responsibility to make sure the student keeps his/her grades up even when they miss class, I don't know if I can completely support that. I do agree that a parent holds a lot of responsibility for the student's success, but not all parents can devote the time to teaching their children what they missed in school. In addition, not all parents have the skill set required to teach classroom lessons, which is why schools are beneficial in the first place.

I do not necessarily disagree with anything the post, but I do think that parents need to make an effort to keep their children in school as much as possible.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I Stand With Planned Parenthood

I am hesitant to begin this post, as I have chosen quite a controversial topic: Texas funding of Planned Parenthood. First, I would like to point out that when I discuss this topic, I am not simply referring to abortion (which is only one of the services Planned Parenthood provides). Please see this article on Planned Parenthood's website to get a full view of what they provide: women's health care, education, global health care, and much more. In fact, according to an article in the Huffington Post, "None of the eight Planned Parenthoods that participate in the Texas Women's Health Program offer abortions, and Planned Parenthood accounts 40 percent of the program's services to low-income women across the state" (Bassett). Therefore, by stripping state funding from these clinics, the health and well-being of low-income women across the state will be jeopardized. 

The Republicans seem to be relying heavily on the argument that "it's inherently wrong to use taxpayer dollars to fund an organization that performs abortions" (Republican politician, Sid Miller). While I personally disagree with this statement, it isn't even relevant. As I mentioned earlier, Planned Parenthood is about so much more than abortions. In Texas, dozens of the clinics that will suffer from a lack of funding don't even perform abortions. So, it is completely illogical to use the abortion excuse as a reason to cut funding from clinics that simply provide women's health care and education. 

Coming from a strictly financial perspective, Texas has already cut funding for women's clinics by two-thirds. According to an NPR article, "the Texas Legislative Budget Board estimates those cuts will result in roughly 20,000 additional unplanned births" (Goodwyn). Texas is already the state that spends the most money on unplanned teen births. So taking funding away from an agency that educates teens on contraceptives in fact harms the economy. 

Looking at the situation from these different perspectives, I just don't see how the state can justify stripping Planned Parenthood of its funding.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Eileen Smith of IN THE PINK (a local political blog) wrote a commentary on the Castle Doctrine (also known as Stand Your Ground) in Texas. She noted that, according to the Houston Chronicle, "the number of “justifiable killings” have increased in the state from 32 in 2006 to 48 in 2010" (Smith). It should be noted that 2007 was the year the Castle Doctrine was expanded. Smith continued to define what Texas calls a "justifiable killing" (which unfortunately includes s 24-year-old citizen who stole a tip jar with $20 in it from a taco truck in Houston). Smith is clearly against allowing citizens to have guns, so this bias shines through in her piece. 

But since Smith is an informal blogger and does not claim to be unbiased, I think it is quite appropriate for her true opinions to shine through in her writing. Her intended audience includes politically interested readers who, for  the most part, are young and liberal. Blogs typically target the younger generations because they are relatively new. And since Smith is clearly liberal, her readership is likely left-leaning as well. 

Smith's main argument tactic is humor and sarcasm, which I particularly appreciate, especially since she backs it up with facts and articles from other sources. She is clearly against the Texas laws that allow armed citizens and justifiable killing, and I wholeheartedly agree. I think she says it best when she states that "not even the police are allowed to use deadly force like this. But average citizens can?" (Smith). I don't think that guns in the hands of average citizens will make the state a safer place, and clearly Eileen Smith agrees.

Smith, Eileen. "I Shot a Man in Houston Just to Watch Him Die." IN THE PINK. N.p., 2 July 2012. Web. 23 July 2012. <>.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Small Business Tax

An article published in the Austin American Statesman by Republican U.S. Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, is laced with elements of emotional appeal as well as the establishment of credibility as Hutchison tries to persuade the audience that the proposed small business tax increases will be detrimental to the Texas economy. The most obvious source of bias to take note of is Hutchison's political leanings: she is a staunch Republican, serving in the U.S. Senate. Her position as a senator does add to her credibility, though.

Considering the fact that Hutchison's audience is largely composed of liberal, young Austinites who read the Statesman, it is good that she didn't make any direct stabs at the Obama administration. Her argument was not strongly supported; there were virtually no facts, but instead references to individual stories. Even the references to the individual stories did not firmly support her claim because they didn't include any details about how the tax increases would put the individuals out of business or put a strain on them. This unsupported emotional appeal, in my opinion, took away from her credibility.

Her language is quite persuasive, but also quite transparent. When discussing the potential tax increase, she uses the following words: "incomprehensible," "paralyzes," "deprivation," "punishing," etc. (Hutchison). I would have preferred statistical evidence over such flowery, but unsupported language. Persuasive words do not make a claim without the facts to back it up.

I realize that the proposed small business taxes may place a strain on certain businesses, but I am also aware that something needs to be done to improve our economy. Where else will the money come from? I don't think we can take any more from the Texas education system, as the government seems to be so willing to do. So, I think that Hutchison was unnecessarily critical of the tax increase without providing evidence to support her claim or an alternative method of improving the economy.

Source: Hutchison, Kay Bailey. "Serve Texas' Small Businesses by Halting Proposed Tax Hikes." Austin American Statesman, 16 July 2012. Web. 20 July 2012. <>.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Critical Thinking: An Essential Part of Education

I recently read an article from The Daily Texan that is a commentary on the current Texas Republican Party's stance on education. The stance can be summarized by this rather disturbing quote: "We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills... which have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

The author of the article is clearly against this stance on education, and believes that students must be exposed to views different from those they grew up with. Critical thinking is a necessity for the continuation of society. The anonymous author compares an education void of critical thinking to students on a bus who never learn to drive -- when the bus driver dies, no one on the bus will be able to drive it because they never learned how.

Whether you agree or disagree with the quote or the stance taken in the article, it is an interesting topic to think about as students. Policies on education directly affect us and future generations, and we must take an active part in shaping them. The first step is to acknowledge and assess all sides of each debate, and this article is a great way to start the process.