Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Comments on Southern Gossip's "The Bureaucracy"

A classmate of mine, Southern Gossip, published a well written perspective on the effects of the bureaucratic system, entitled The Bureaucracy. Here are my thoughts:

First of all, I found your blog entry to be insightful and very interesting. It is a good point that the bureaucratic system tends to diminish individualism and unique thought. You say that "the real harm of the bureaucracy is not in the excessive rules or annoying red tape--it is the creation of ineffective human beings." I agree; however I think it is important to realize that the former is directly responsible for the latter. That being said, the bureaucratic system as a whole, with its excessive rules and red tape, must be reformed in order to allow individuals to think independently. The difficult question--How do we reform this huge, well established, complex bureaucracy? I certainly don't have an exact answer, but I think there are a few things to start with. First of all, I think the bureaucracy could be cleaned up a little bit--we could combine some offices with similar purposes that tend to compete with each other anyway. I also believe that allotting employers more flexibility in their jobs would lead to more creative work. Furthermore, I think that increasing the amount of contact that the agencies have with actual citizens would reduce the tendency of the bureaucracy to be so impersonal. I believe all of these reforms would create more effective human beings, and thus a more effective bureaucracy.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Texas--Becoming a No-Party State?

As discussed by our text book, there seems to be a trend of party dealignment (the weakening of party affiliation) occuring in Texas. Less of the electorate is relating to either of the two major parties, as the number of independents increases. In 2003, independents were the second biggest catergory, constituting 35% of the electorate, with Republicans at 41% and Democrats at 24%. What are the possible cuases of this dealignment? What could it mean for the future of Texas politics?
I believe there are a number of possible reasons that party affiliation has weakened in Texas. As the book suggests, the percentage of independents could be increasing because people are starting to care more about what the candidate stands for, as opposed to what his or her party affiliation is. Although both parties each have their own loosely defined ideologies, the spectrum of political opinion can be large within each party, and party affiliation is generally not enough information to know exactly what policies a candidate supports. The electorate may be focusing more on the individual than on the party, which naturally weakens party affiliation.
If this is the case, I believe dealignment may have an incredibly positive effect on Texas politics. It would mean that there are more independents because there is more independent thought occuring (i.e. determing your political beliefs separate of one major party or the other). This would likely decrease the tendency of candidates to move towards the middle on the political spectrum on particular issues in order to appeal to more members of their party. I believe this could be beneficial for politics because political ideologies would stem from many sources, as opposed to being concentrated in two central parties.
From this perspective, dealignment is positive. Although I do not dispute that the shifting focus from party to candidate has encouraged dealignment in Texas, I believe that there may be other forces at work. It is also likely that disenchantment with both parties, or the two party system as a whole, has contributed to dealignment. I believe that much of the electorate refers to themselves as independent not for specific political reasons, but because they are simply fed up with the Democratic and the Republican Party alike. Both commonly slander the opposing party to further their political causes. I believe that this slander, along with corruption within the parties (the Tom Delay scandal, for example) causes voters to loose trust in the parties as a whole. I know I myself have been wary of strongly affiliating with either party for reasons such as these.
If voter disenchantment is a main cause of party dealignment in Texas, I believe adverse effects may be associated with it. Widespread disenchantment with government is often accompanied by lower voter participation. If the Texas electorate is simply becoming more and more disappointed with its government as a whole, it's possible that this could worsen an already low voter turnout in Texas politics.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Money--The Real Chief Justice of the Texas Judicial System

An editorial in the Austin American-Statesman, titled Plopping $447,000 onto the scales of Texas justice, provides an unsettling account of how very influential money is in Texas government, even in the judiciary. The article explains how Justice Nathan Hecht, when in legal trouble with the Texas Ethics Commission, solicited money from major law firms to help pay for his legal defense. The main problem proposed by this editorial is that the lawyers that donated money to Hecht practice before his court. The obvious question, then, is "How will this affect Hecht's objectivity when the donors bring their cases before him and the Supreme Court?"
The author of this article does a good job of staying clear and objective. He or she does not make broad assumptions about the relationship between fiscal donations and judicial decisions. They even present a slightly counter argument in saying that "Almost all judges and judicial candidates despise the need to ask for money to run for their offices", but still questions the influence that money has on decision making. Although the author's objectivity in presenting this question to the public (so that we can make our own decision) is admirable, there are stark facts that could have been included in this article. For example, the UT Texas Politics website explains that the Texans for Public Justice reported that between 1994 to 1998, the Texas Supreme Court justices "were seven and one-half times as likely to accept petitions filed by contributors of at least $100,000 than by non-contributors. Further, they were ten times as likely to accpet petitions filed by contributors of $250,000 then by non-contributors."
The facts are there, and I personally find it a bit disturbing how influential monetary issues can be in the Texas Judicial System.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Groups Decide It's Time to Replace Texas' Top Environmental Official With Someone That Is Actually Concerned With the Environment

This article explains the disapproval that several environmental groups have expressed for the chairmen of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Kathleen Hartnett White, and their attempts to get her out of office. These groups claim that her efforts towards issues such as clean air and global warming have been less that sufficient. I found this article to be interesting and important for a number of reasons. First, it is a great example of how watchdog groups can call attention to government officials that are not properly performing their job. Furthermore, it shows how efforts can be made, such as the "Get White Out" campaign, to put pressure on top government officials (Governor Rick Perry in this case) to act in accordance with desires of the public. Finally, Governor Perry has not yet decided on who will replace White, and I believe it is important that our state's top environmental official be someone with stronger environmental concern.

For the complete article: Environmental Chief Targeted