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Honoring Fallen Texas Officers

During the first week of May in odd-numbered years, we pause to honor the fallen heroes who gave their lives protecting and serving the citizens of Texas, the men of women brave enough to don the title Police Officer.  Families and friends of those officers lost over the last two years gathered at the Capitol on Monday to pay tribute, to mourn, and to remind us all of the very real danger police officers face every day, a risk we so often take for granted.

One of my brothers is an officer.  I don’t forget his sacrifice.  I don’t forget his wife’s sacrifice.  I don’t forget my mother and father’s sacrifice.  Our family, just like every other officer’s family, prays, worries, and celebrates another successful shift.  Our hearts break when other families only pray and worry because their brother, sister, husband, wife, father, mother, child didn’t come home.

You don’t have to know the anxiety, pride, and love that comes with having an officer in the family to feel the power of this picture.  Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst talking to a child of a fallen officer.  We don’t have to know the words he spoke to understand what he said to this child who lost his hero.

The Lieutenant Governor attends every memorial service, spending time with each family and making sure to pay special attention to the children.  For those who don’t know, the Lieutenant Governor is also the President of the Texas Senate, which is in session right now.  To know that he takes time out of his schedule to pay his respects to those who gave it all for Texas, to know the stress that he’s under professionally but his recognition of what’s important, casts David Dewhurst in a new light.  Put politics aside for a moment and please give thanks when our elected officials have their hearts and priorities in the right place.

Learn more about the Peace Officers Memorial Fund, give ‘em a few bucks if you can, and pray for the men and women in blue: http://www.pomf.org/

“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” -Bob Dylan

It’s Okay to Wear White!

white pantsThere are a few fashion “rules” that drive me nuts, but none more so than this ridiculous notion that white is only “allowed” between Easter and Labor Day. What is this, 1986? If someone can find a way to bring Ronald Reagan back, I’ll gladly revert back to 80’s fashion rules, shoulder pads and all. Seeing as how The Gipper won’t be residing in the White House any time soon, let’s put this whole “When is it okay to wear white?” thing to rest.

In short, the answer is ALL THE TIME! If you want to wear white on September 27, you can. February 4? No problem. May 16? Sure. And, by the way, you don’t even have to justify wearing white by calling it “Winter White” – seriously, what is that about? Are you feeling guilty for breaking some supposed rule and think that if you tag it as “seasonal” it makes it okay? If so, stop it!

I have a pair of white pants that I think are fantastic: they are flattering and comfortable, the coveted combination in fashion. Wearing them in the summer with a bright colored tunic and platform sandals is a favorite, but so is pairing them with a cable knit sweater and ankle boots. Arguably, these pants are as versatile as my favorite pair of jeans! No one tells you jeans are only allowed during certain months, right? That’d be weird. So why is a color off limits?

Women who make these kinds of fashion choices, like wearing white pants whenever they feel like it, are considered “bold” or, if you really want to get artsy, “avant garde.” They’re more easily noticed (and complimented) than their peers who choose the standard black or navy. The next time you’re looking to make a statement, opt for white. Put on a black top and throw on some bright colored accessories, like a purse, bracelet, or shoes. Sport a big pattern or color. Trust me, white can handle it.

There are only two caveats to wearing white below the waist:

  1. Own it! Make no apologies — you’re wearing white, you look great, so stop with the excuses!
  2. For the love of all that’s good in this world, make sure it’s lined AND that you have the appropriate undergarments on. You want it to be lined because, well, lining prevents sticking and, in certain circumstances, it also prevents transparency. You’ll also want to have neutral-colored undergarments just in case. Trust me, there is nothing more “Oh my gosh, look at that!” worthy than white pants with a hot pink tinge. Not cool, ladies. Not cool.

So, there you have it. White is permissible 12 months a year, provided it’s the appropriate fabric (the rule should really be “No linen after Labor Day”) with the appropriate top and shoe choices. If anyone gives you grief about it, tell ‘em they can take it up with me. But if you’re going to throw my name out there, say it like you mean it – no one has to know that I’m really a nobody behind a computer screen.

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Helmut Lang / Alexander McQueen / MICHAEL Michael Kors platform sandals / Vince Camuto / Style tryst / H&M , $6.04  <– In a dream world, we’d all wear Alexander McQueen & Michael Kors.

Andrew Breitbart: Lessons Learned

AndrewAndrew Breitbart.  A name that conjures emotions ranging from admiration to disgust.  An activist who single-handedly changed the narrative.  A man who served as a beacon for some and a target for others.  Someone who knew who he was and sought to help others find themselves.  A catalyst.  A force.  A husband and father.  An ally and mentor.  A friend, who was taken too soon.

I say it was “too soon,” but who am I to judge God’s plan?  Because of my faith, I believe everything happens for a reason.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 reads “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.”  Every thing, whether it’s good or bad, unforeseen or predictable, has a design and reason, even if we don’t understand it.  Proverbs 3:5 teaches that we should not lean on our own understanding and, in so many cases, we cannot because no such understanding will ever exist.

While he was living, Andrew taught me to be strong in my convictions and bold in my actions.  He constantly reminded me that doing what is right is rarely easy, but it’s well-worth the effort.  I learned from his example that coming away unscathed was rarely an option, but success was the best salve.  It isn’t enough to be told these things or to see others do them, but you have to live them; watching from the sidelines is not productive.

rollerbladesIt isn’t in my nature to confront a protest line or rollerblade through a hostile crowd.  I’m not one to let epithets roll off my back, nor am I inclined to engage in confrontational situations.  However, like Andrew, I have a passion for truth, justice, and freedom, so I pursue them.  I’d like to think my contributions would make Andrew proud, even if they aren’t exactly what he would do.

I miss him terribly, but he isn’t lost to the pages of history.  Andrew Breitbart is an ember in our hearts, still glowing, waiting for more fuel so it can burn brighter and there’s plenty of fuel to be found, too: media bias, corrupt politicians, a disjointed party, union thuggery, secrets, cover-ups, intimidation, waste, and lies, all waiting to be exposed and addressed.  It’s the nature of the world we live in and, for those of us who choose to be in conservative politics, it’s the reason we do what we do.  We cannot sit idly by and wait for someone else to lead the charge.  There will never be another Andrew, but there will always be an Andrew spark residing in those who knew him, who respected him, and who recognize that one person really can change things.

So go forth, happy warriors, and take your place in the world.  Pick up the torch and fight the good fight, remembering that Andrew is with us in spirit.  Live each day with the expectation of making a difference; changes are not made by thinking, but by doing.  We exchange our time here on earth for what will become our legacy, so seize every opportunity for betterment.  Live like Andrew did, with purpose and courage – it’s the best way to honor his memory.

The Proof is in the Poo

Trust me, if I had thumbs, I’d pick it up.

One of the conveniences of living in an apartment is not having to care for a lawn; there are a handful of grassy areas (usually reserved for pet relief) and they are manicured by the complex.  As an apartment tenant, there are few things more annoying (or disgusting) than witnessing a neighbor’s dog poo in the grass, then watching said neighbor walk away without picking it up.  Hello?!  That’s my grass, too, and I don’t want piles of poop in it.  Not only is it unhealthy, but it’s also unsightly and irresponsible.  I can only imagine the maintenance crew being handed pooper-scoopers and told, “Yah, just go clean that up.”  If I had to pick up your dog’s mess and then you asked me to fix your sink, you don’t want to know the realm of possibilities I would consider on my way to your front door.  I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

God bless capitalism because, holy goldendoodle, Batman, there are companies you can call to pick up doggie doo!  There’s Doody Call, Wholly Crap, Scoopy Doo, Got Dooky?, and Poo B Gone.  I don’t know which is worse, the fact that I can’t get through the list of names without giggling like a 7-year old or that there are people out there whose livelihood is based on picking up lawnmines.  But that’s the beauty of the free market, right?  You can make money picking up poop, if you really want to.

But let’s say your maintenance guys are ready to walk off the job if they have to pick up one more pug nugget – what then?  The free market can help you there, too, because where there’s opportunity, there’s also innovation.  Who knew that science would offer a long-term solution for irresponsible pet owners?  Poo Prints contracts with property management companies to track down the negligent owners.  No, they don’t send operatives to hide in the bushes, waiting to ambush unsuspecting Yorkies.  When a new pet-owning tenant moves in, the pup must have a cheek swab done to collect DNA; it is then sent to Poo Prints and archived in a database.  Whenever a property manager finds a pile of waste, they scoop it up and send it off to Poo Prints where the DNA is matched and the name of the pet’s owner revealed.

Currently, registering a pooch with Poo Prints costs $29.99 but some complexes are charging tenants $50 for the service and fines of $100 if the mess resulted from your four-legged friend.  With hefty fines and unprecedented accountability, this could severely curb negligent dog owners and even give waste pickup services a run for their money.

So the next time you’re doubting the effectiveness of the free market, just remember the proof is in the poo.  And then thank your lucky stars you don’t hate your job that much.

The Trouble with Transparency

edu cutsDr. Thomas A. Wallis, Superintendent of Bryan ISD, believes he can pull one over on us.  At the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 11th annual Policy Orientation, Dr. Wallis served on a panel debating the merits of decentralizing power in the public education system.  He ultimately questioned the value in giving more control to the local governments if the higher-ups are going to continue cutting funds.  Education spending is once again a hot-button topic in the Texas 83rd Legislative Session; media outlets are shining the spotlight on distraught teachers and agitated administrators, so the heartstrings are easily tugged but consider the numbers:

Texas allocated $72.9 billion in public education spending for the 2012-2013 biennium making it a whopping 42% of the state’s budget; this was a $3.5 billion cut from the 2010-2011 biennium, which received an increase of $1 billion from 2008-2009 as a result of the stimulus.

During the panel discussion, it was emphasized that Texas legislators are trying to provide schools with more flexibility in spending and personnel, to which Dr. Wallis replied he would love to have more flexibility, but that utopia simply is not possible given the current environment.  Dr. Wallis wants you to believe that administrators responded in the best way possible to the adversities facing their districts, that teachers were inevitably going to be in the line of fire because the situation was so dire.  What he didn’t bargain on was the transparency provided by the Red Apple Project, an initiative from Americans for Prosperity that makes public exactly how districts are spending taxpayer dollars.  Take, for example, his new employer: Bryan ISD.

In 2011, here is the Bryan ISD salary snapshot:

  • 48% of staff are teachers
  • $44,820 average teacher salary
  • $52,096 average professional support staff salary ($7,276 more than teachers)
  • $65,665 average school administrator salary ($20,845 more than teachers)
  • $91,540 average central administration salary ($46,690 more than teachers)
  • $190,000 base pay for Thomas A. Wallis, Superintendent — excludes benefits, bonuses, allowances, and expense accounts

To be fair, let’s consider the 2010 snapshot:

  • 47% of staff are teachers
  • $43,920 average teacher salary
  • $50,970 average professional support staff salary
  • $63,669 average school administrator salary
  • $88,262 average central administration salary
  • $181,910 base pay for Michael J. Cargill, Superintendent — excludes benefits, bonuses, allowances, and expense accounts

And now let’s compare the 2010 to 2011, apples to apples:

  • 1% increase in teaching staff
  • 2.04% raise in average teacher salary
  • 2.20% raise in average professional support staff salary
  • 3.13% raise in average school administrator salary
  • 3.71% raise in average central administration salary
  • 4.44% raise in base pay for the Superintendent

Facts can be jagged pills to swallow sometimes, but when 52% of a school district’s employees are non-teachers* and they consume 47% of the budget, there is a serious imbalance in both spending and personnel.  With only 78.8% of the Class of 2010 graduating and 2011 students meeting or exceeding the average score on only 5 of 27 statewide standardized TAKS tests, Bryan ISD could use more resources in the classroom but educrats would rather line their own pockets.

edu kidsWhile Dr. Wallis complains about districts being reimbursed for fuel at the 1985 rate of $0.94 a gallon and laments the burdens of standardized testing, he intentionally hides the fact that he and his non-teaching colleagues benefit from a broken system.

We do, however, agree on one thing: teachers are not the problem.  It’s evident that their administrators are.

 

*It was brought to my attention via reader comment that I should have used the term “non-teachers” instead of “bureaucrat.”  My apologies for any confusion this caused.

Criminal Justice System Reform: Restorative Justice

justiceThe current criminal justice system in America has two main objectives: Primarily to identify, convict, and punish the perpetrators of crimes, and secondly, to restore property lost or damaged as a result of crimes.  While criminals and damages are part of the equation, the current system eliminates the victim, without which there would not be a crime in the first place.  A philosophy known as Restorative Justice brings the victim into the equation, accepting that crime not only breaks the law, but it also harms people, psychologically, physically, emotionally, or any combination thereof.

“Harm is fundamentally a violation of relationships,” says Stephanie Frogge, a crime victims specialist consultant and Lecturer with the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin.  “Anything that violates those relationships carries with it certain obligations and responsibilities on the head of the offender.  Restorative Justice seeks to hear what that harm is and to put right whatever can be done to repair the consequences of the harm.”

According to the Restorative Justice model, victims and offenders voluntarily meet face-to-face in a mediated session, giving the victim a safe environment to ask questions and make sense of the crime and the offender an opportunity to redeem themselves by righting their wrong.  While the current justice system focuses on restitution, Restorative Justice recognizes that jail time and fines paid to the State will not necessarily restore a victim’s sense of security or lower recidivism rates among offenders, but honest communication may.

Tim Dunn, chairman of the board of directors of Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, uses an example of car theft to define the shortcomings of the current justice system.  “If someone stole your car and the State asked what you wanted, you’d say, ‘I want my car back.’  The State would say, ‘We don’t care about your car, but we’re going to find the perpetrator, throw him in jail -where he can learn to be a better criminal- and [taxpayers] are going to pay $21,390* a year for it.’”  If, however, the perpetrator were to be held accountable by the man whose car he stole, if he were to understand the far-reaching consequences of his crime and participate in the restitution of his offense, all three parties would benefit.  The victim would be restored, the criminal would be redeemed, and the State would save money.

Restorative Justice is not a silver bullet for the current system, which is wrought with over-criminalization, bureaucracy, and waste; moreover, the model is not applicable to all types of crimes and is not intended to replace the current criminal justice system.  Introduced in the Texas 83rd Legislative Session by Representative Eddie Lucio III (D-District 38) is H.B. 281 which offers potential reform in the Texas criminal justice system by allowing immediate family members of peace officers killed in the line of duty to make a statement regarding the terms of a plea agreement.  Representative Ruth Jones McClendon (D-District 120) also has H.B. 167 filed that would allow for a defendant to enter a pre-trial mediation session with the victim.  Naturally, both of these proposals include requirements and restrictions.

While both bills in the Texas Legislature are the products of Democratic lawmakers, Dunn makes a strong case for why conservatives should join the fight for criminal justice reform, largely citing the issue over over-criminalization.  “If you believe in liberty, if you believe in conservative values, criminal justice should be high on your list of things to care about.  As conservatives, we’ve assume everything is okay and [criminals] are [in prison] because they’re supposed to be, but it may surprise you.”

Conservatives inherently favor small government, lower taxes, and personal responsibility; Restorative Justice embodies all three.  By reducing the scope and ambiguity of the penal code, the multitude of innocuous activities that are considered “crimes” by the State will not result in prosecution.  A reduction in State-initiated prosecution will directly reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars needed to fund trials, sustain prisoners, and build new prisons.  The offenders who do go through the Restorative Justice model voluntarily take responsibility for their actions and are more likely work to become a contributing member of society rather than return to the criminal system.

*The initial monetary value given by Dunn was estimated; this figure is supported by a verifiable source.

For more information about Restorative Justice, over-criminalization, and other reform initiatives, please consult Right On Crime, a project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation in cooperation with Prison Fellowship.