We’re Number Eight! We’re Number Eight!

June 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

The other day you read my chicken scratches about the latest of Texas’ many dubious first place/last place accomplishments, in “We’re Fifty-One! We’re Fifty-One!”

Well today I am somewhat happy to say that we are not number one in one of the country’s most shameful activities, just number eight. Amarillo’s Clements Unit has only the country’s eighth highest rate of inmate-on-inmate sexual assault at male correctional facilities, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

At Clements, just 6.8 percent of inmates report they experienced sexual victimization at the hand of another inmate during the past year.

The report is based on the National Inmate Survey, an anonymous survey of 92,449 adult inmates in 606 prisons, jails and special confinement facilities between February 2011 and May 2012. Caveat: the survey collected allegations of sexual victimization, rather than confirmed incidents.

The survey is a child of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, enacted in an attempt to reduce sexual assault in prisons through the development of prevention standards, punishment of sexual assault and standardized data collection on the crime.
Clements’ new ranking is an improvement over previous years. In 2008 Clements was ranked second highest in terms of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

So much for the good news. As the old saying goes, “Every cloud has its silver lining.” I don’t exactly know what the opposite of this sagebrush observation would be (maybe “Every sunny summer day has its health-threatening ozone level”), but regardless of how it might read, it’s as common as dust devils in West Texas.

To wit: (1) in this latest survey, more inmates at Clements report being forced, coerced or pressured into sex or sexual contact with prison staff than any other male prison in the country.

While staff sexual misconduct at Clements is on the decline, 8.1 percent of inmates reported sexual victimization by staff involving force or threat of force, the highest rate of any prison or jail in the country, according to the survey. Clements inmates also reported the highest rate for inmates being coerced or pressured into sex among male prisons, at 8.7 percent.

In response to questions from an Amarillo Globe-News reporter, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson Jason Clark questioned the report’s accuracy due to the anonymity of surveyed inmates.

“Many allegations of sexual assault investigated by the Office of Inspector General, even if they accurately reflect the offender’s perceptions, simply do not include the basic legal elements of sexual assault, and could reflect offender attitudes toward other offensive behavior or legitimate security precautions such as strip searches,” he said.

Two other Texas prisons surveyed were identified as having high rates of sexual victimization by inmates, Lubbock’s Montford Psychiatric Facility with a rate of 8.4 percent and Beaumont’s Stiles Unit with 7.8 percent. The Clements Unit was one of two Texas facilities identified as having high rates of sexual misconduct with staff. At the Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony, 6.8 percent of inmates reported sexual activity with prison staff.

(2) All in all, the survey identified five Texas jails and prisons with high rates of sexual victimization by inmates or sexual staff misconduct — more than any other state included in the report.

To be fair, here’s TDCJ’s side of the story, courtesy of the Globe-News.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Office of the Inspector General investigates knowledge or allegations of staff sexual misconduct, said Ralph Bales, the Prison Rape Elimination Act ombudsman for TDCJ. Employees who violate TDCJ sexual abuse policies, federal or state law are subject to disciplinary penalties, including criminal prosecution, he said. Clements Unit staff receive sexual abuse prevention training, Bales said.

Sexual assault exams for inmates at the Clements and Neal units are performed at Northwest Texas Hospital, said Ric Vogelgesang, facility health administrator of the Neal Unit.

The TDCJ Safe Prisons Program screens offenders for possible vulnerability to sexual assault or aggressiveness, Bales said. Inmates take a sexual assault awareness course that includes methods to avoid victimization, and the program was expanded in 2010 to include the inpatient mental health population, he said. Almost half of the 3,557 inmates at the Clements Unit are on an inpatient or outpatient mental health caseload, Bales said.
Inmates held for violent sexual offenses and who are under psychological distress reported higher rates of sexual victimization by another inmate, according to the survey. Gay, lesbian or bisexual inmates are among those who are most at risk for sexual assault, the report said.

Understaffing, high employee turnover and the level of violence at a facility can contribute to its sexual assault rate, said Michele Deitch, jail conditions expert and professor at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Higher rates can also be associated with facilities in rural locations, which can have reduced transparency, she said.

Salaries for correctional officers begin at $2,319.05 per month, according to the TDCJ.
You get what you pay for, I guess.

 

 

 

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We’re Fifty-One! We’re Fifty-One!

June 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Update! Update! August 1, 2013

Texas ranks first in the number of least insured counties nationwide, with 22 out of the “top” 30. Yee hah! Texas proud! Another case of cutting off your balls to spite your spank toy, because all of those uninsured folks go to the emergency room when they get sick, where they can’t afford to pay the astronomical bills and we insured Texans pay for it in increased premiums. Thanks, Good Hair, and the rest of your fellow bloody-red goober pals.  But as I have pointed out in other posts, saving a penny to waste a dollar is a Texas lege tradition.

For my own perverse amusement, I used to keep a list of of good things Texas ranked last in, and the bad things Texas ranked first in; e.g., first in workplace deaths and last in individual health insurance coverage. I quit toting up the bad news several years ago when I became satisfied that for millions of people, Texas is one of the crappiest states in the country in which to live, especially during the summer when the AC goes out, or if you’re like several million poor saps, you can’t afford air conditioning.

Now comes news of another glorious last, plus a couple of other close-to-the-bottom-of-the-heap findings.

Texas ranked 51st in voter turnout in 2010 — behind all other states and Washington D.C. — and 49th in the number of citizens who contact public officials, according to a study released by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas at Austin and the National Conference on Citizenship.

The state’s slacking continues when it comes to civic participation rates, ranking 43rd in donating and 42nd in volunteering, according to the Texas Civic Health Index.

“Some of the numbers are really surprising — maybe even shocking,” said journalism Professor Regina Lawrence, director of the Annette Strauss Institute, such as that 61.6 percent of voting-eligible Texans reported being registered to vote in 2010 but just 36.4 percent reported voting.

In other words, a “really active one-third” of the voting-eligible population exerts “outsized influence, if you will, on the future of the state,” she said.

And who comprises that “really active one-third?” I ask. To which I answer, the same people who elected Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate and have kept Texas a solidly blood-red state since 1994 (which in itself, is another dubious distinction): mostly older, white Texans. To my knowledge, no other state has failed to elect a Democrat to statewide office for so long period of time, at least in modern history. If I am mistaken, please, please feel free to prove me wrong.

Texas used to be, like most of the South, “yellow-dog” Democrat,  referring to the old joke that folks would stoop to voting for any smelly, flea-bitten yellow cur, as long it was a Democrat. Now it’s full of “pink elephant” Republicans who would vote for a drunken pachyderm hallucination so long as it was Republican.

The study gathered data primarily from the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey on Voting, Volunteering and Civic Engagement.

Consider that in 2012, Texas’ proportion of hourly-paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage ranked second among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Overall, wage and salary workers earning hourly rates in the state had median hourly earnings of $12 in 2012; nationally, the median was $12.80.The median hourly rates for men and women in Texas in 2012 were $13.05 and $10.84, respectively. For the nation, the comparable figures were $13.88 per hour for men and $11.99 per hour for women.

Further considering that minimum wage jobs are typically among the most physically exhausting in the workplace, and that many minimum wage workers are forced to work two or more jobs to make ends meet, it should come as no surprise that Texas ranks so low in donating or volunteering (although young collegiate Texans score pretty well when it comes to volunteer work).

In 2012, 6.1 million Texas workers were paid by the hour, which means that slightly over 3 million earned $12 an hour or less. Now, someone who works 40 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, without taking a holiday, vacation day or sick day, will gross $24, 960. His or her take-home pay, naturally, will be quite a bit less after taxes, plus the fact that many of these lower-paid workers receive no benefits, including paid holidays, vacation or sick days. At $96 per day, gross pay, anything beyond a handful of unpaid sick days and Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and/or Christmas weekday holidays can put quite a dent into your income; 10 such days can set you back just short of $1000.

Considering that an extremely healthy proportion of new jobs added to the Texas economy during the past decade have been at this lower end of the pay scale, it is obvious that the Texas economic miracle is not all that certain of our state leaders have cracked it up to be. The audacity of their claims would crack me up with laughter, if the reality were not so pitiful. Our fearless leader proudly points out that Texas is a “right to work” state; the more cynical among us might point out that Texas is also a “right to starve” state.

As to why we rank dead last in voter turnout and second from last in contacting public officials, your guess is as good as mine. One of the most obvious possibilities is that a healthy chunk of those non-voters have no faith in state government and their elected officials. Given the track records of our legislature, governor, lieut. governor and attorney general, it’s not a bad guess. There are certainly plenty of young eligible voters who have no faith in the system and the ability of their vote to change it, at from my admittedly unscientific polling.

Perhaps it has to do with reasons previously cited; even a few hours spent away from work voting means money lost, since most low-wage-paying employers don’t generally give paid time off to vote. And as for contacting your elected officials, perhaps it is because they live in a world so far removed from your own that you might as well be trying to talk to the man (or woman) in the Moon. You can’t relate to them any more than they can relate to you. And if you do try to contact them, you’ll probably get no further than a secretary or junior staffer and maybe a meaningless form letter for your efforts.

Study authors also posit that another possible reason for low turnout from these groups is the lack of outreach efforts from both parties to them.

Your guess is as good as mine and theirs; no matter. For whatever reason, we’re dead last in yet another category of honor, so let’s break out the Bud Light and  party ‘til we start seeing them pink elephants. Greg Abbott thirsts for our votes.

What a Day for a Bike Wreck; Custom-made for a Bike Ridin’ Boy

June 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Happy 40th anniversary to me and the late Marcus Weems!

As I wrote this, just after 8 a.m., I was floating (at least it felt that way) in the big, warm, blue June sky over downtown West Columbia, wondering where I was going to land. Not that I was worried. Whatever would come, would come.

I had been on a training ride from Lake Jackson to West Columbia and back, on my track bicycle (one of the one-speed, “fixies” so favored by the tatted-out hipsters with more style than sense), when Marcus made a left turn in front of me. I applied the front brake and backpedaled as hard as I could, but collision was inevitable. I hit his right front fender at about 15 mph, and thus began my aerial adventure. I know I was moving: up, forward, I don’t know, but it felt like floating weightless.

But the law of gravity always has its way, and and after a seemingly protracted flight, I came back down to earth, landing on the hood of Marcus’ Ranchero truck, punching out the windshield with my elbows and back. That was the first Marcus Weems ever knew of me, when he could not see out his windshield anymore. I never lost consciousness, and did not feel any pain, but decided that since I had safely landed, I would just lie back and take stock of things. The sun was glaring so I closed my eyes.

Moments later, the gawkers surrounded me. No one in provincial West Columbia had ever seen anyone get killed on a bicycle before. It was then, to their considerable surprise and perhaps morbid disappointment, that I opened my eyes and “Good morning. Nice day, isn’t it?” I had nothing else better to do, so I lay on the hood with what remained of the windshield as a pillow until the ambulance came.

After checking me over to see that nothing had been broken, they asked me which hospital I preferred to visit; the local one, or my home hospital, some 20 minutes away. Being brash and full of glass, I chose home base. And thus, strapped on to the gurney on my back with at least a thousand shards of glass stinging my back like hornets, we made the leisurely drive. I cracked jokes the best I could to make the time pass by. Cracked jokes are better than a cracked head any day. I had not been wearing any sort of helmet.

At the ER, the 800-lb. nurse gave me a choice; I could scrub the glass out of my back myself in the shower, or she would, and she guaranteed that she would not miss a shard. I hurriedly grabbed the big loofah and got to work. It stings at first but then a comfortable numbness sets in.

Towelled nicely dry and relaxing on an ER gurney, our family doctor, president of the local John Birch Society, strolled in, and with his his usual endearing sneer, asked rhetorically, “Well, what have you gotten yourself into now?” He confirmed the obvious: that no bones were broken and ordered some spinal X-rays, which revealed a freshly compressed disc in my thoracic region, where I had punched the windshield.

My parents were there soon thereafter, and at ten I strolled out the ER door — no wheelchair for me! Thank you! OK, it wasn’t a stroll, But I was under my my own power and on my own terms, albeit with two canes, just for the pleasure of showing my own Dr. Mengele that I was not the hippie pussy he always made me out to be.

The next day, being Father’s Day, dad, me and the  rest of the clan went to see the Astros play, as we had planned. The bike was safe at home after mysteriously landing in the bed of Marcus’ truck, with only a pair of bent forks. It and I were up and riding again tennish days later. It cost $50 to repair, and I made a couple of trips to the chiropractor at Marcus’ expense. Ironically, he was the town’s leading insurance agent. He didn’t get a ticket  for his illegal left turn, and we didn’t sue.

A friend of mine had her leg broken in a similar incident 15 years later, and got a new house for her troubles. But suing for what was considered an act of God is not the Lutheran way, or at least it wasn’t then.

Forty years later I still ride while Marcus moulders in his grave. The pain comes, the pain goes, but never out of moaning distance. We have become good friends, and it reminds me of what could have been, and perhaps should have been. I have lost many friends over the years under similar circumstances.

Why did God let me live? What, thus, has been the reason for my continued presence on earth? I don’t know now, and probably will never know. I do not wish to appear to be wallowing in self-pity. It is more like wallowing in wonderment. Tomorrow I will mark yet another Father’s Day with my children and father, grateful, I suppose, for what I have in life, and wondering, like George Bailey, what the world would have been like without me.

It’s a tolerable morning for a bike ride; rare for this time in June. Think I’ll don my brain bucket, saddle up and go for a little commemorative ride. Be safe out there, friends, whatever you choose to do today. I know I will. For who knows what next week will bring? A hit song (I’m working on that.)? A perfect day for bananafish? Life is full of surprises. Stay tuned.

Who’s Zoomin’ Who? (Turns Out It’s Not the Greezers)

June 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

Yahoo is my browser homepage and not surprisingly I make a daily habit of reading stories on subjects of interest to me: technology, bicycle racing, world events, dachshunds who love lions (and vice versa), and such.

My other favorite topic of interest is stories dealing with Mexico and U.S.-Mexican relations, because of the time I’ve spent in Mexico, and the fact that my wife is Mexican (And no, she did not come here illegally. In fact, she had never even visited the United States before we became engaged and she had no desire to live here, until love conquered all. Indeed, the vast majority of Mexicans have no desire to live here.).

Most of the time, I just read each story itself and avoid scrolling down to the reader comments, and with good reason: they are usually hate-filled screeds, overwhelmingly filled with vicious, off-base conceptions and outright lies that make me want to kick the author in his pelotas (we’ll leave the ver-wommin out of the fight for now). Why, I’ve heard Nazis speak more generously of Jews and homosexuals than what these assholes froth about Mexicans (despite the fact that American dissoluteness and self-indulgence are what fuel the drug trade). And the misconceptions and lies they spout are more repetitive than a 14-year-old boy’s masturbatory motions.

One of the most repeated and misguided claims regards the supposed burden that “illegal aliens” place on our economy generally, and our healthcare system specifically, points that I have repeatedly disproved on my occasional replies to the most egregious of the frothers. But to no avail. Logic and truth to them is like time to a hog.

But now comes an article in the newest issue of the journal, Health Affairs, that blows the frothers’ healthcare burden claims to the hell that awaits the frothers after their miserable lives on earth. And that article is the subject of an editorial comment in the May 30 edition of that bastion of print media conservatism in Texas, the Dallas Morning News, by staff columnist Ralph De La Cruz (which I am reprinting here with full attribution, upon pain of possible lawsuit, so please, any of you few Blunderbuss readers who happen to cast your eyes upon this, don’t rat on me to the Morning News):

Immigrants contributing to Medicare’s health

OPINION

By Ralph De La Cruz

11:39 am on May 30, 2013

(http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2013/05/immigrants-contributing-to-medicares-health.html/ )

In case you missed it…

Turns out immigrants are not just tending our lawns and cleaning our homes. They’re saving our health care. More specifically, Medicare.

In 2009 immigrants made 14.7 percent of Trust Fund contributions but accounted for only 7.9 percent of its expenditures—a net surplus of $13.8 billion,” says the abstract from a study on immigration and Medicare published yesterday in the journal, Health Affairs. “In contrast, US-born people generated a $30.9 billion deficit,”

The study by Harvard researchers looked at the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which accounts for about half of Medicare’s monies, and found that, “Immigrants generated surpluses of $11.1–$17.2 billion per year between 2002 and 2009, resulting in a cumulative surplus of $115.2 billion. Most of the surplus from immigrants was contributed by noncitizens and was a result of the high proportion of working-age taxpayers in this group. Policies that restrict immigration may deplete Medicare’s financial resources.”

One of the reasons for the surplus is that immigrants, particularly those who are undocumented, put money into the system but because of their status, often do not receive benefits. Another key is the youthfulness of immigrants. For example, the median age for Hispanics, which comprise the largest group of immigrants, is 27, while the median-age for non-Hispanic whites is 42.

For years, demographers such as former Texas state demographer Steve Murdock, have been predicting such a trend. And warning that we need a healthy level of immigration to economically prop up social welfare programs for our native, but graying, population.

Well, trends have become reality.

The fact that immigrants substantially subsidize the Medicare Trust Fund, which is responsible for 22 percent of all US health care spending, should cause us to rethink the prevailing descriptions of immigrants as net takers of health care resources and should, on grounds of fairness, prompt us to be less quick to deny access to care for immigrants through other public programs,” said researchers Leah Zallman and Danny McCormick.

So, all you frothers, to loosely borrow a sentiment from Frank Zappa: “Blow it out your ass … “

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