All posts by L. Wayne Ashley

Thanks for visiting!! My name is Wayne, and I live in Houston, Texas. I wouldn't consider myself a "diehard" liberal activist, but I definitely have a Progressive view on most issues. I'm a proud Millennial, and I feel like the voice of my generation in Texas gets overshadowed by the older, more established groups. This is my effort to change that. Please come back and read when you can.

Romney’s “endorsement” of the Obama jobs record

So welcome to a new month, and a new jobs report. In June the US economy added 80,000 jobs, and our national unemployment rate held steady at 8.2%. By all accounts, this is viewed as a weak report. Job growth simply isn’t “booming” the way it has in previous months. The RNC and the Romney campaign spared no seconds with their criticism…

But even without a boom, isn’t it still better than the alternative? We all know the situation that our country was in 3 and 1/2 years ago. When President Obama took office, “jobs were falling off of a cliff. They had been falling for 11 months. It takes a while to get things turned around after a recession.”

At least this was Mitt Romney’s philosophy about his own record in 2006. The Pro-Obama PAC American Bridge just unearthed a scathing new video showing Romney’s justifications for why Massachusetts jobs growth was less than stellar during his time as Governor.

Funny Gov… we’re “bright enough to look at the numbers too”. As you’d say in a most out-of-touch way, shouldn’t what’s sauce for the goose be sauce for the gander??

Texas Health Scare: What’s our alternative?

Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (you know… Obamacare), states are slowly coming to the inevitable conclusion. It is the LAW. The clock is now ticking for states like Texas to begin implementation of these new provisions of health care.

But don’t be fooled, that particular clock was ticking in Texas a long time ago. As evidenced in a previous post, Obamacare or not, state healthcare costs have been on a meteoric rise between 2005 and 2009, skyrocketing 36% during just those 4 years. Even as the costs for the state continue to mount, the number of Texans without insurance continues to rise as well.

Here are some sobering facts from the Texas Medical Association

1 in 4 Texans are uninsured. That’s over over 6.2 million people as of 2010.

-These uninsured people have no but choice to seek the emergency room. As a result they drive up Healthcare costs for everyone else. The average cost to treat a minor ailment in the Doctors office? $56.21. In the emergency room? $193.92 That’s almost 4 times the expense as it would be going to the doctor for a similar ailment (much less waiting until it becomes WORSE). Guess who absorbs those costs? And Texans wonder why our healthcare costs are soaring.

Only 50% of working Texans have health insurance… 49th in the country. The common misconception here is that employers are supposed to offer some form of a health insurance plan. That wasn’t actually a law until the passage of the Affordable Care Act. As a right-to-work state with a plethora of low-wage jobs, Texas companies have very little incentive to offer health insurance. So contrary to popular belief, it’s not just those on welfare in Texas that are struggling to find health care. It’s many of the employed public too.

In the face of these staggerring statistics, Governor Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and the Republican-led Texas legislature have vowed to fight the Affordable Care Act tooth and nail. It’s quite an odd stance too, as many Texas Hospitals are in full support of the Medicaid Expansion. Here is a statement from Dan Stults, President of the Texas Hospital Association

“Texas hospitals recognize there are concerns with expanding the Medicaid population, but given the state’s high number of uninsured, all options for gaining insurance coverage must be closely considered. Under PPACA, a significant number of low income individuals could gain insurance without any cost to the state of Texas for several years. Without the Medicaid expansion, many will remain uninsured, shifting costs to the insured and increasing uncompensated care to health care providers,” said Dan Stultz, M.D., FACP, FACHE, THA president/chief executive officer.

“The law was never meant to fix all the problems facing the health care system,” Stultz said. “Texas hospitals look forward to a continued discussion on how to improve the effects of the law for patients, families and communities.”

So Texas hospitals are all for the expansion of Medicaid, the state funding gap for healthcare is increasing at an alarming rate, and our uninsured continue to tax our emergency rooms, and pass ever-ballooning costs to us Texans that are lucky enough to actually have insurance. But Perry and the boys don’t want any government help from “Obamacare”.

Only one question remains to the Governor. What is your alternative?? You continue to reject implementation of the new law, but how would you propose that Texas solve these problems? Are our good Texas companies going to have a change of heart and start insuring all of their workers? Maybe they’ll be nice enough to donate directly to the hospitals so the uninsured can get treated at the ER “for free”? Maybe all of our aging Baby-Boomers will get fed-up and move to Florida??

All Texans should be asking Governor Perry and state lawmakers these questions. If our state really does decide to opt-out we need a real plan in place, and it needs to get implemented now. Mr. Perry… Time’s up.

My Megareview of Megabus: Houston to Dallas

As promised, over the weekend I took my inaugural trip on Megabus. Here’s how it went…

Round-trip ticket between Houston and Dallas was only $4.50 when I purchased it. Much MUCH cheaper than gas to move between the two cities. I purchased the ticket online through the Megabus website, and it was as simple as that. BTW there’s no physical “ticket”. Just print out the page (or have your reservation number handy on your phone. That’s how the operators will check your reservation before you board the bus.

I’m a public-transit rider already. Since the Megabus stop is located in downtown Houston, it was a very quick Metro ride to get there from my house, so no need for parking. But in Houston there is no overnight parking area. If you are traveling via Megabus, you’ll need to ride public transit, take a cab or have a friend drop you off. To my knowledge they don’t provide parking spaces in any of the Texas area cities.

The bus picks up in a surface parking lot. As anyone in Houston knows, this could be a recipe for disaster if your bus is running late, because the heat can get to some patrons very quickly if you’re just standing outside. The attendants set up a tent for us and it was much appreciated, but the heat and humidity were quite stifling that day so the tent didn’t help too much. There were no chairs to sit in, so you need to be prepared for a potentially long wait. One of the ladies waiting for San Antonio almost fainted, and we had to get her some water. Luckily she was ok by the time the Dallas bus pulled up. But seeing as Texas heat will only get worse through the end of August, it would behoove Megabus to work out some better accommadations now before a more serious incident occurs.

After about 20 minutes, the brand-new double decker bus pulls up. Great styling and a wonderful, unique new fixture to Texas auto culture. Boarding the bus I immediately took a seat at the top. A/C was going full blast so it was cool and comfortable (and I was DEFINITELY glad to be out of the heat of the waiting area). I checked the lights, plugs and A/C at my seat… everything worked perfectly. Wi-Fi took a min, but it worked ok for about half the trip. It was a smooth, easy ride with no further issues. And my phone was FULLY CHARGED when we arrived in D/FW.

3 1/2 hours later, we pull into Grand Prairie’s bus stop. Since the Megabus is direct between sites, the drive time was right on schedule without any hold-ups. But as I was trying for an all-transit trip, Grand Prairie turned out to be painfully inconvenient. It’s a $35 cab-ride to downtown Dallas from there. But even that aside, the total trip cost was still only $40 at that point.

The final verdict: I will probably be taking Megabus again. The actual ride was first-class in my opinion. It’s a great tool for those that like to explore cities, or need a quick low-cost way to visit friends and family without the hassle of a car trip. If they can find some better stop accommodations, then Megabus stands to become a new Texas tradition. I hope they work out those last remaining kinks soon.

DARTing Around Dallas: A Transit Trip

Over the weekend, I took a trip to investigate Dallas’ DART rail system, spending two days in the city without a car. I didn’t even drive up there. Thanks to the new Megabus service (and $60 cab fare to and from Grand Prairie), I was able to make the nearly 500-mile trip through mass-transit services.

I know what you’re thinking… two days in a strange city with Texas triple-digit heat while my car and it’s life-saving A/C sit idle in Houston? Insane, right?? It actually turned out to be quite the educational experience, and was a great examination of DART and how it’s important service impacts the North Texas region. Here’s what I learned…

At 72 miles and counting, the DART Rail system is the longest light-rail system in the United States. To be clear, by “light rail”, it is mainly referring to the type of vehicles used, as they are not capable of operating at faster speeds than heavy rail modes (such as the NYC subway). But DART is something of a hybrid system. Most of the rail miles are either at-grade (street level) or elevated, but one station is actually a subway which we’ll get to in just a bit. The primary function is as commuter rail between the city and it’s vast suburbs. The system is also expanding rapidly, with a connection to Irving opening this month, an extension into the suburb of Rowlett this December, and a full connection planned to D/FW Airport set for 2014. Either way, for an American city, 72 miles of rail transit is quite the accomplishment.

The light rail is definitely expansive, but still manages to be quite disconnected from some parts of the city. While it does connect downtown to key suburbs of Plano, Garland and Carrollton, the line misses many of the city’s major employment centers. For the ones that are served by the rail line, the stations are often planned in an inconvenient pattern. A good example of this is on the new Green Line. The Inwood station also services Dallas/ Love Field airport, but rather than build a direct terminal connection, DART rail had to settle for an approximate location and run a shuttle between the rail stop and the airport. However, one stop that works extremely well on the Red Line is the Downtown Plano station. It’s built right into the fabric of the city’s historic downtown, and puts you right in the middle of lively shops and scenery. The living area, employment center, and transit connection all converge in harmony at this stop. In other suburbs like Garland and Carrollton, the potential is definitely there for a similar situation. But these areas are mainly connecting a small group of people where they live. Connecting major employment centers would serve a larger number of the D/FW population.

Ah, Cityplace station. The only operating subway station between St. Louis and the West Coast. It is quite a feat of ingenuity and sheer determination on behalf of the people of Dallas, and something they “should” be proud of. As an avid transit enthusiast, It’s really a spectacular thing to behold.

The only problem?? Cityplace, 12 years after its opening, sits virtually empty. The handful of passengers I saw at the station barely justify a project worth hundreds of millions in taxpayer money. It is hurt greatly by the fact that there is very little encouragement to be used as a transit hub except for the bus stops and historic streetcar. But it’s just “far enough away” that it discourages Uptown residents from use, and only serves as a midway between more popular points on the Red and Blue lines, such as Mockingbird Staion or Downtown. The sad truth is, Dallas spent lots of time building a random Subway station, when those millions of hub investment should have been poured into downtown. Yet the downtown stations are at street-level, but easily have 3 times the number of people as Cityplace staion at any point of the day. Given the wary economic climate, it will definitely be an uphill battle if Dallas, and anywhere else in Texas, ever wants to have subway in the future. That fate rested on the rousing success of Cityplace and sadly it has not delivered.

Cityplace Station (friday evening)

Cityplace Station (Saturday)

Another serious issue with DART rail? Fare collection. Yet again another light rail that works on the “honor system” assuming that people will pay their fare to ride. This is true for most people, but a VERY significant number of citizens are riding the rail for free. Even when fare inspectors were present on the train, I didn’t see them write a single citation to fare dodgers. That sends a terrible message to observers by encouraging others to follow suit.

Why is fare collection so important? Because in states like Texas, where any notion public transit is an uphill battle, we need to know the truth about our ridership numbers so that people will understand that these systems are needed and utilized. Of course the obvious? DART is losing money! In my brief trip, I observed at least 40 dodgers in my section of the rail car. Those were just on the select trips that I took. On a daily basis, a conservative estimate on all lines would easily reach the hundreds. So a couple hundred people not paying fares every day?? You do the math.

Though DART Rail is far from perfect, it has given the citizens of D/FW one very important and special gift… true mobility. This is much farther than in the sense of just transit. Because the system covers such a wide area, many citizens who may not have a car are able to travel to places they may not have thought to by bus. Take all of those quaint shops in Downtown Plano for example. Unlike your high-skill employment sectors, jobs in the suburbs may be more easily adaptable to workers that don’t have specialty training. The Red Line and other DART Rail lines make it possible for someone who can’t afford a vehicle to have a safe and reliable way to work, even if they find a job that isn’t so close to their home. By connecting these key suburbs to the city population, Dallas also connects its citizens to more job opportunities. So in the truest sense of the word, DART is able to achieve mobility both from the transit perspective, but also improve quality of life for citizens of all economic classes.

So there’s still some definite work to be done with DART, but I applaud the efforts of the people of D/FW for working hard on transit. They are building the path to a better Dallas, and a better Texas for all.

The Verdict on Healthcare…

Finally the long wait is over. Per SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court has ruled the Affordable Care Act CONSTITUTIONAL by a 5-4 vote. The Healthcare law remains mostly intact.

on the individual mandate:

“The Affordable Care Act is constitutional in part and unconstitutional in part The individual mandate cannot be upheld as an exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause,” Roberts wrote. “That Clause authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce, not to order individuals to engage it. In this case, however, it is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance. Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax.”

However the court did not agree with the right of Congress to control Medicaid expansion. It allows states to “opt out” if they do not wish to participate in the expansion, while still retaining their current levels of funding without penalty. That’s the only major provision of the law that wasn’t upheld. Here is the link to the full opinion.

Here’s a few reactions via Twitter…

Lawrence O’Donnell calls out “Mirage” Individual Mandate

In what may be the most informative 8 1/2 mins of political punditry in the Health Reform debate, veteran Senate staffer and Left-leaning journalise Lawrence O’Donnell sets the record straight about the so-called “Individual Mandate”. Many Liberals are becoming aware of the hypocrisy from the Right on the mandate, as it was originally a Conservative idea. But Mr. O’Donnell reminds us that the hypocrisy around this idea of the mandate is equally shared by Liberals and the Democratic Party. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama were both fully opposed to an individual mandate at one time, yet that is the bill the Obama administration ended up supporting.

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Why Liberals must avoid ‘Savage’ route to equality

Liberal activist Dan Savage is respected for his work as founder of the “It Gets Better” campaign. Make no mistake that this organization has had a huge role in the rapidly changing public opinion of GLBT equality. As a country, we are all better for important projects like this one. But Mr. Savage is also well-known for his “colorful” language from his advice column, and for a long-standing vendetta with GLBT people that are known to be either in the closet, or working against equality.

Just this week the board at GOProud, one of the most prominent GLBT Republican political organizations, officially endorsed Mitt Romney’s candidacy for President. Like many political groups, this was a decision which required a vote. Some members, such as co-founder Chris Barron, admitted to voting against the endorsement, but as a member of the organization he chose to support his party and their candidate.

As a fellow Liberal, I do not agree with GOProud’s endorsement. Mitt Romney has already pledged to toe his party’s far-right line against same-sex marriage and civil unions. He’s even flirted with the possibilities to end or reverse the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. These are terrible setbacks in the fight for equality. Knowing all of this, GOProud’s endorsement was sure to garner attention. Mr. Savage attacked GOProud and has started a bitter war of very foul and disrespectful language. Though I do not support the organizations actions, I also cannot support Mr. Savage and his immature behavior. Ultimately, his actions will do more to harm the fight for equality. He is being used to further existing stereotypes to show how “out of control” the GLBT community is. By attacking organizations like GOProud, Dan Savage fuels the fire that Conservatives can use against the movement.

Before we get caught in a “civil war” within the gay community, it’s important to pause and look at the accomplishments made under the Obama administration. As of this year, we now live in a country where more than 50 million Americans in 8 states recognize same-sex marriage as full and legal. Military soldiers can now serve their country without of dismissal regardless of their sexual orientation. More GLBT couples than ever before are having children and families without fear of scorn from their neighbors. Even in a state like Texas, the city of Houston elected an openly gay mayor, and the GLBT voices in our government continue to grow. And despite what you hear inside the Washington spin zone, support for same-sex marriage is rapidly increasing the country, including within the GOP.

But where we’re also losing ground is in the actions of people like Dan Savage. As a community, we must remember that our fight for GLBT equality is for people of all political stripes, including GOProud. Even if Liberals disagree with them and their decisions, we have to find a way to do so respectfully, and show that what’s most important is that the work for equality moves forward, regardless of which political ideology wins the election. If Mr. Savage took a moment to scroll through his “It Gets Better” site, he’d be reminded that the gay community is the most diverse community on the planet. By design, that diversity also includes politics. For the rest of the Liberals, let’s not forget that there are very real and tangible threats to the struggle for equality, and they lie in the Right-wing fringes. Every minute that the GLBT community spends attacking each other, is a minute more that terrors like Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association and One Million Moms can plot against us.