martes, 11 de abril de 2006

Serie de ensayos

A continuación, una serie de ensayos escritos para la clase universitaria

Government 2301-2460
.

Democratic Voices in a Changing Society

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

February 2006

1. Democratic Voices in a Changing Society

Define the terms government, politics, power, and democracy. Discuss the difference between representative democracy and direct democracy and evaluate how these terms relate to democracy in the United States.

As with many other terms, the succinct definition of words like “government”, “politics”, “power”, and “democracy” hardly manages to convey the complexity and profound reach that their meaning can have in the real world, and in our real lives.

For example, the term “government” can be readily summarized by the definition offered in the textbook Democracy under pressure. It reads, “Government… can be defined on a simple level as the individuals, institutions, and processes that make the rules for society and possess the power to enforce them”. The text goes on to explain how this concept is applied by political scientist David Easton. Easton’s concept is that any society needs to provide some process by which its people can decide “what” goes to “whom” in an authoritative manner.

Another term closely related with (and indeed, often believed to be interchangeable with) “government” is the term “politics”. Once again, the textbook offers a very precise concept of this word. Politics can be seen as the pursuit and exercise of power, it informs us. The text shares with us that, according to Disraeli, in his book Endymion, “politics are the possession and distribution of power”; and it also relates to us the observation by V. O. Key, Jr., that politics is the same as “the process and practice of ruling” and the “workings of governments generally, their impact on the governed, their manner of operation, the means by which governors attain and retain authority.” Francisco Medrano says in the video lesson, “Everyone’s in politics whether they like it or not… From the day they’re born until the day they die”.

Both of the previous terms are centered on the word “power” and its uses. From the text we learn that “power” is the possession of control over others. And this short definition belies the complexity of the application of the word in real life. In the video lesson we are offered example after example of the struggle for greater power between those who wield it and those who are subject to it. Because the people of any social group cannot escape the need to have some person or entity impose a ruling about “who” gets “what”, and because that position of authority conveys the possession and exercise of power, then one can argue that the execution of such office and the power it grants over the people is based on the recognition of such need, the need to be governed.

The video lesson mentions that the word “democracy” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. It is an interesting fact, considering that the idea of “democracy” can be closely associated with the general concept of the United States of America. The word “democracy” is derived from the Greek roots of demos (the populace), and kratia (rule), consequently, democracy is the rule by the people. For the Greeks, this word served to denote the difference between being governed by the mass of people instead of being dominated by a precious few (who had some kind of special status or ranking).

Hypothetically, in a democracy the power to govern flows from the people as a whole to the government. And indeed, in the case of the small city-states of Athens and its Hellenic counterparts, their limited population size and other idiosyncrasies allowed them to practice this kind of democracy. This is now known as “direct democracy”. But in a country like ours that has so many inhabitants, and such diversified population, and with its variety of environmental settings, and its sheer vastness of landmass, the direct democracy scheme would fail abjectly. Instead, in our country we practice a government form that can be described as a republic, where the people are still sovereign, but their power flows to their elected representatives first, and from them to the government. This is a “representative democracy”, in which the original idea that the majority should rule, instead of the rule of just a few inexplicably chosen ones, carries on strong.

Sources:

Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson Wadsworth, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

Texans: Who We Are

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

February 2006

2. Texans: Who We Are

Identify and describe the possible implications of the two expanding populations in Texas and what the state must do to meet these challenges.

As we reviewed the circumstances and historical precedents that transpired in the creation of Texas, first as a part of Mexico, then as an independent nation and finally as part of the Union, the textbook led us to the conclusion that Texas is a state steeped in enduring paradigms about the role it plays as part of the nation; and Texas is also self-aware about its uniqueness, which might explain its apparent self-imposed conceptual isolation from the rest of the country, compared to the rest of the states in the nation. We learned that many of these paradigms resist all attempts at shifting them, even if said attempts were tectonic in magnitude, and chthonic in nature.

Then, it is positively alarming to realize that major changes in our cultural attitude will be needed to deal with the consequences of the two expanding populations in Texas: The growing immigrant Hispanic population and the growing geriatric population. Major paradigm shifts are required.

In the video lesson, Steve Murdock goes on record to state that, by the year 2030, about 64% of the population in the state will be from the minority ethnic groups, with about 45% of the total consisting of Hispanics. Then, the lesson continues with other amazing numbers. It tells us that an estimate of the number of illegal immigrants that enter the country each year is as high as 300,000. And although many advocates are correct in surmising that such high amount of underpaid labor actually contributes to our society (because they do not receive medical benefits, retirement, vacation, 401k plans, and still have to pay income tax and sales tax), and although the pundits seem correct in assessing that the money that illegal immigrants send out of the country to their nation of origin is the cheapest international loan we will ever extend to the third-world countries, the fact remains that a few of them abuse some social programs and that all of them are breaking the law of the land. But the problem goes beyond their mere presence: Although they are underprivileged and underpaid, many of them produce their offspring in situ, adding numbers to the ever-growing ranks of underprivileged American citizens, and fueling the ever-burning flame of the conflict between the have’s and the have-not’s. Therefore, one of the greatest challenges Texas must tackle as a state is facing the fact that one of the resources it has to bolster, uphold and support is education, first and foremost, because it might be the ultimate equalizer between the different social classes. The rest of the related challenges (such as: Social services, sanitation, housing, law-enforcement, etc.) remain formidable, but a better educated population would become part of the solution, instead of remaining part of the problem forever.

The video lesson also mentions that Texas’ population is becoming older, poorer, and less educated. It mentions that in the next thirty years, the elderly population will amount close to 20% of the total state population. Shockingly, the lesson then states that one out of every four senior citizen lives in poverty, and that even those who are not impoverished will require some sort of public services. The problems arise partly due to the nature of the population distribution in Texas, where the majority of the state’s population resides in small, rural communities. Such communities sometimes are comprised by as much as 25% of senior citizens. Because, usually, senior citizens live on a fixed income, there will be many occasions when they will require certain services provided to them for them to remain independent. Like in the example of the town of Claude, Texas, many of these communities lack the resources and infrastructure necessary to service their large-proportioned senior population, and sometimes these citizens must find the services needed at a different location, adding to the already existing problems of service provision at that other location. With the federal government burdening the states more and more with providing their own funds for the social services, Texas will have a serious challenge in the near future to begin finding solutions for the provision of these necessary services.

In closing, I would like to suggest that once the state manages to address the seemingly insurmountable problem of education for the masses, some – but not many – solutions to the social services problems the state faces will become apparent. In the video lesson Mr. Tom Christian relates to us that at one time most of the senior citizen needs were met by traditional institutions. Although I have no comment on the situation of any church in our modern context, I know that one of the greatest resources for senior citizens in the past consisted of their families, but in our present day society, as Mr. Christian sagely comments, families seem to somehow have disbanded. A very important feature of the Hispanic population is that they, to a great extent, still focus their values on the extended family scheme. So if we were to provide better education for this growing sector of the population, maybe in turn they will be able to provide help with the other sector of the population and help care and provide services for the senior citizens. My humble opinion, of course, is based on the fact that I am part of the Hispanic contingent in Texas.

Sources:

Texas Politics, 9th Edition, Richard H. Kraemer, Charldean Newell, David F. Prindle, Thomson Wadsword, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

The Living Constitution

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

February 2006

3. The Living Constitution

Although written more than two hundred years ago, the U. S. Constitution is still referred to as a “living document”. Explain what this term “living document” means in your essay.

A popular truism in our modern time seems to indicate that, if you put it down in writing, you are committed to it. The connotation is that, once it has been written down, there is no turning back, no do-overs, no last minute changes. Clearly, this has not been the case with the Constitution of the United States of America.

In the video lesson David O’Brien tells us that the Constitution is a “living document” and that it is “really a prescription for political struggle”. He goes on to describe how the Constitution sets up the arena of checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of the federal government and also between the federal government itself and the state and the local governments, and how none of these institutions remains unchanged in the present, not even compared to itself fifty, one hundred, or certainly two hundred years ago. In addition, the best intimation in the textbook as to the intent of the authors of the Constitution comes from Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States. He wrote, “The Constitution belongs to the living and not to the dead”. From the explication that followed, I gathered that he believed that there could be no one who knew everything so that his wisdom should persist unchallenged, and that a document like the Constitution should not become fossilized under layers of useless reverence and kowtowing. With new discoveries, new re-interpretations of the law should emerge about how it pertains. The laws and the institutions should embrace that change and persist along by adapting to the progress.

I am a Spanish medical interpreter and translator by profession and my job consists of helping the medical staff to communicate with Limited English Proficiency patients and their families. My job not only consists of knowing the equivalence of each word in each of the source and target languages. Additionally, and even more importantly, my job consists of knowing how the information from the source language is relevant in the target language. For example, when a doctor tells the parents of a patient, “The tests indicate that your child might have a serious illness, but further testing is necessary”, the doctor is trying to share as much information as he has at the moment without alarming the parents unduly. But for people of a different cultural background that statement might appear to indicate that the doctor does not have enough knowledge or training to know for sure what illness might be present. This confusion arises from different cultural expectations.

So when I consider that Latin Americans and Americans have more in common in the present than what Americans of the twenty-first century would have in common with the Americans of the eighteenth century, it becomes clear that the Constitution clearly has been kept alive throughout these last two hundred years by the constant re-interpretation provided by the Constitution itself, since it created the means and processes necessary to achieve this end precisely.

Both the text and the video lesson explain how the Supreme Court has installed itself as the interpreter and translator of the intent of the Constitution when it must have a point of application. With a process called judicial review, the courts decide if the laws passed by Congress or the actions taken by a President are in accordance with the spirit or intent of the Constitution, and emit their opinion accordingly. Surprisingly, nowhere in the Constitution is this process expressly indicated. Because many of the issues were so divisive at the time of its inception, the Constitution avoided going into specifics and adhered to outlining general principles and concepts of what the people of the United States would need in order to establish a more peaceful and ordered country.

Perhaps, the most precise comment about the role that the Supreme Court has played in keeping the Constitution a living document comes from President Woodrow Wilson, when he called the Supreme Court “a kind of Constitutional Convention in continuous session”.

Sources:

Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson Wadsworth, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

The Texas Constitution

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

February 2006

4. The Texas Constitution

How is the Texas Constitution amended? What accounts for the fact that it has been amended 390 times (through 2000) while the U. S. Constitution has been amended only twenty seven times? Evaluate the role of the voter.

Logically enough, no organizational document ever written could possibly have the foresight to include everything that would ever be needed or provided for, nor could it correctly foresee all possible changes that the future could bring and account for them. And, as a fairly straightforward reflection of the paradigm of its epoch, the Texas Constitution could derisively be said to have tried to do just that, to include every possible situation, almost to spite the preceding statement.

The precise mechanics that allow such a plethora of amendments to the Texas Constitution seem straight forward enough. Deceptively so, because one could be led to believe that this is part of the problem facilitating the “amendomania”, as the video lesson calls it. Instead, the lesson insists that it is not easy and is awfully expensive and time-consuming since it requires the participation of the Legislative body and the voters. There is only one permissible way to achieve it and it is clearly defined in our textbook and in the video lesson. During a regular (or a special) session of the legislature a proposal for amendment may be initiated. Then, a two-thirds majority vote is needed to present the proposal for change to the voters: Two-thirds means one hundred House members and twenty-one Senate members. Now, the governor cannot stop them since he has no veto power over amendment proposals. Also, the legislature has to choose a date of elections when the amendment will be submitted to the voters. For three months prior to that election date, the proposed amendment must be published once a week for four weeks in a newspaper in each county. If it is possible, the amendments should be placed on the ballot in general elections so that no additional expense is incurred by calling a separate election. Then, if the voters wish it so, the amendment is passed as long as a simple majority vote is achieved (which means 50% in favor plus one additional vote). After that, all the governor needs to do is to officially proclaim the passage (or rejection) of a few dozens of freshly-baked, jelly-filled amendments. (Apologies, but by the time I finished writing this paragraph, I could not help but be facetious.)

By the year 2003, the Texas Constitution had seen 607 proposed amendments out of which 432 were passed. Referring back to my opening statement, the framers of the U. S. Constitution seemed to have been prescient about the folly of a super-detailed, all-encompassing document. Instead, they decided to strive for flexibility when they established only the very essential structure of national government and allotted broad powers to the governmental agents. So that, in the transition from a country where people were just concerned about having a government that facilitated and protected their occupations of shooting “theirselves” some “injuns” and writing Billy Bob and Aunty Mae to “tell’em ‘bout it”, to a country where people are just concerned about leading the whole world to a better future and making money off of it, the U. S. Constitution has hardly ever been an impediment to such activities. In fact, almost a full third of the Constitution’s amendments were included almost right after its ratification in the form of the Bill of Rights. In contrast, like most other states, the Texas Constitution reflected the vested interests of the people of that epoch who, after being sorely mistreated during the Reconstruction Era, decided that they did not want to be subject to the whim of any passing fashion in the legislative arena and therefore would spell out precisely how their vested interests would be protected by their state government.

None the less, this particularly idiosyncratic approach to state government still rests in the hands of the voters. And even though special interest groups might or might not have the clout to sway the whole legislative branch of state government in their favor, the representatives of the people still must obtain their authority from the people. But it seems that a social climate of apathetic and perhaps sarcastic voters permeates the electorate scene. Reasonably enough, I should add; the voters would need to dedicate themselves full-time to decipher and absorb all the information pertaining the pile of supporting evidence in favor of any particular amendment, without even considering the quantity of actual amendment proposals in a year (apparently, as many as 28 amendment have been proposed in a single election once before!). This will not do, especially for people who must work for a living. According to the video lesson, in August 1997, only 6.9% of registered voters turned out: This is the all-time lowest recorded turnout for a constitutional vote. However, the turnout in good years is not much better. It seems that, in an average, one out of ten Texans decides how their state is run.

Perhaps, I conclude, with the new attitude Hispanics have in favor of civic participation and their continuously growing population numbers, a new focus can be found for the electoral process in Texas. Perhaps, with broader Hispanic participation, Texans of good conscience would turn out to the polls out of a renewed and re-invigorated sense of civic duty, while the rest of the vested-interest-driven Texas would increase their voter turn-out out of fear of being out-maneuvered. The end result would be, I believe, a closer approximation to a true representative democracy.

Sources:

Texas Politics, 9th Edition, Richard H. Kraemer, Charldean Newell, David F. Prindle, Thomson Wadsword, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

Constitution in Crisis

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

February 2006

5. Constitution in Crisis

Describe the major steps in filling the vacant office of the vice president, and explain how it has been used.

As the video lesson poignantly reminds us, there have been four occasions when the detractors of the legally elected President of the United States objected in the most extreme manner to his office and ended the term of that president along with his life. And the textbook reminds us that, as of 2004, nine vice presidents have dropped the prefix “vice“ and taken their turn as President of the United States.

The Constitution states clearly (in its ambiguous and generalized way) that if the President becomes “unable” or “disabled” to exercise the powers and duties of his office, then the vice president should become the president. But after that, it seems that Congress had to come up with a solution for everything that happened next. For example, as the video lesson reminds us of a moment in history that lives in ignominy in most every living American mind, when President Kennedy was shot by Oswald and/or unidentified cohorts, vice president Johnson assumed the office of the President of the United States, as instructed by the Constitution itself. But this led to many questions as to who should become then the vice president, and also brought to the forefront the doubts concerning the order of succession should both the President and the vice president should become incapacitated or worse. Therefore, it wasn’t until the twenty-fifth amendment was ratified in 1967 that a Constitutional provision was in place for replacing the vice president when his office became vacant. After all, by 2004, our nation had found itself a total of 37 years without a vice president, in 18 occasions. So the 25th amendment sought to minimize the chance that the House speaker or the Senate president pro tempore, or a cabinet member, could become President, unless the president and vice president had died in the same period of time (or together), or unless a president died, resigned, o were impeached while no vice president was accounted for and before Congress had managed to approve a new vice president. The provision in the 25th amendment states that “the president shall nominate a vice president, subject to the approval of a majority of both houses of Congress, whenever that office becomes vacant.”

The first time this amendment was put to use was in October 1973, after Spiro Agnew had resigned amid a veritable whirlwind of shame and corruption allegations. (The fact that he pled no contest should not be construed as a sign of guilt, regardless.) Then President Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to replace Agnew’s vacant post. The office of vice president remained empty for 57 days, however, until the nomination was approved by the Senate (92-3) and the House (387-35) in December. Then, the second time the 25th amendment was used was a few months later, when Nixon took his turn at quitting and left the vacancy ready for his own appointed vice president Ford to assume the helm and control of the nation. President Ford then, in turn, nominated New Yorker Nelson A. Rockefeller, governor, to become vice president, and once again, Congress didn’t let Rockefeller into the vice president’s office until December.

After reviewing the chapter in the textbook and the video lesson, I am confused, however. According to Table 13-4 in the textbook, the order of succession in the event a president is no longer able to serve should be: 1) the vice president, 2) the Speaker of the House, 3) the president pro tempore of the Senate, 4) the Secretary of State, and then the rest of the cabinet. However, in the video lesson, after graphically reminding us of the moment of the assassination attempt against President Reagan, the lesson shows us Alexander Haig (Secretary of State) as he appears in front of the media saying in response to a reporters question about who’s in charge, “… constitutionally, gentleman, you have the president, the vice president and the Secretary of State, in that order…” Perhaps, in the heat of the emergency, Mr. Haig received the wrong teleprompter information. Or, maybe, there were extenuating circumstances for this discrepancy of which we know nothing about from the video program.

Sources:

Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson Wadsworth, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

The Politics of the Environment

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

February 2006

6. The Politics of the Environment

Identify and evaluate the political forces that are involved in making environmental policy.

As the Senator for Corpus Christy, Carlos F. Truan, correctly surmises, the government should set the example by passing laws that would protect everyone from anyone polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink. And so it is: the federal government provides its citizens with environmental policies of protection to the natural resources and the population of the country in the form of the Environmental Protection Agency. This agency manages to provide guidelines and regulations about the minimum standards of environmental controls that every state should follow. However, every state has to find its own way to comply with federal statutes. And, in case they wished it so, to establish even more stringent measures above and beyond the EPA’s standards. In this state, we have the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission to evaluate the economic and environmental impacts of conducting and operating manufacturing and industrial concerns in the state and of the policies involved. Its chairman, Mr. Barry McBee, explains (and I paraphrase) that the TNRCC’s mission is to protect the land, the water and the air in this state and protect its people and its resources, but in a way that is consistent with sustainable economical development.

In the state of Texas, the public hearings process is the way the general public has to participate in the development and implementation of environmental policies. They are in fact similar to mini-trials, in the sense that they are open to the general population to attend and rules of burden of proof apply. And so we have the three major players in shaping environmental policies in our state: The state government, the industries or economic development agents, and the public.

However, as Senator Truan expresses again, the problem with most of those hearings for the crafting of environmental policies are political in nature, and unfortunately, many times the special interest groups of the manufacturing and industry sectors are very keen to curb the amount of control the government will impose on them. How they manage to do this is open to debate, but the fact remains that the economic focus of the debate seems to carry the day against the ethical focus of it. Unfortunately, as Senator Truan said, we sometimes let people whose sole focus is profit to determine a sound environmental policy when, pragmatically, these two points of view are diametrically opposed to each other.

The textbook offers in its analysis the point of view that, when the cost of operating dirty industries and municipal waste facilities is cheaper than operating environmentally-friendly ones, the problem is not that no one wants to protect and nurture the environment, is just that they balk at the cost of it. I suppose that this analysis is a euphemism to express the point of view held by the citizens of Midlothian, Texas, in the grassroots organization called “downwinders at risk”, whom we met in the video program. Concerned with the environmentally oblivious business conduct apparent in the operation of plants by Txi Cement Plants when they decided to apply for a permit to expand the amount of toxic waste they burned as fuel, they took it upon themselves to educate the public at large. Having managed to create a social conscience, the concerned public came to the TNRCC to present their worries. Of course their concerns are understandable, since the downgrading of the environmental quality affects their health and the health of their loved ones. And of course the reason why Txi wants to burn more toxic waste is understandable, too. They get paid to burn the toxic waste, and so they waste no money in buying their own fuel. It’s a profitable situation for them.

And to add another dimension to this already convoluted and complex situation, one has to take into consideration another group of concerned citizens, whose main concern rests in the fact that, if excessive amount of government controls ensue, the “sound economy” for which they advocate might be severely compromised, and the negative results of over-regulating the environment could be costly in economic terms to the whole state. In the end, one has to wonder if an utilitarian approach might not be a more correct perspective in this and other related issues: The good of the many supersedes the good of the few, or of the one… And so I ask myself, “How many more are they, the future humans, than the few thousands making a profit out of endangering the environment?”

Sources:

Texas Politics, 9th Edition, Richard H. Kraemer, Charldean Newell, David F. Prindle, Thomson Wadsword, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

Federalism

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

March 2006

7. Federalism

Explain the pros and cons of federalism in dealing with transportation. When should the national government determine the law and when should the state government determine the law?

Eloquently expressed in the video lesson by the narrator, the 41,000 miles that connect the major cities in the North American continent are indeed the backbone of many vital activities between and within the states and for the nation at large. Many facets of commerce require ground transportation, and many Americans still depend on regular automobile transportation for their personal and business needs. And this is why, perhaps, the issue of transportation is the most direct exemplification of the benefits and liabilities of federalism within our nation.

In the textbook we are given a simple definition of federalism, or federal system, and it makes one wonder how such a simple concept could have such a difficult time in being translated to the arena of real life. In essence, federalism is the system of government where the national government shares its power with regional units of government (not only state but also local governments) as provided for by the Constitution. However, since its inception this system has always seeded strife and competition by its very nature. As we learned by reading some of the Federalist Papers written by Jay, Madison and Hamilton, the idea of federalism was slow to win the American hearts and needed much explanation and advertisement of its benefits before it became widely accepted. As a clear example of how slowly it was accepted and how prominent its liabilities loomed in the mind of its detractors, we could even cite the Civil War as an anti-federalism movement (although many other factors also propitiated such lamentable event).

In the specific matter of transportation, the video lesson introduces us to three people who have a specific point of view on how federalism should work. Michael Cox, of the Department of Public Safety, is quite passively-aggressively advocating for state control of the laws pertaining to the speed limit on interstate highways, although that is the law of the land at the present. We are told in the video that ninety percent of the money required for building and maintaining the interstate highway system comes from the federal government, and that the remaining ten percent is up to each individual state to fund on their own, but with the caveat that the money is only available as long as the states comply with sets of rules and regulations dictated by Congress. Also, we are told that the regulations for speed limits rest in the hands of each state unless there’s an overriding mandate by the federal government, like during the gas crisis of the 70’s. Then, we are told in the video by Jacqueline Gillian, from Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety, there was a wonderful benefit as a result of this speed limit decrease, in terms of lives saved. She mentions that a year after the mandatory national speed limit went into effect less lives were lost in traffic accidents for the first time in the history of our country. We also learn that, a year after President Clinton signed the law that repealed the national speed limit for highways in the 90’s, the mortality rate from traffic accidents increased over 17%! Rather subjectively, in my opinion, Ms. Gillian advocates for a federally controlled highway system, citing the restrictions imposed on air travel and how no one would feel comfortable having every single state choosing which laws to impose on it. As a retort, we see Representative (D-Texas) Max Sandlin advocating for a Texan decision made by Texans about what is good for Texas

Although it is clearly obvious that a federalist approach to the administration of transportation might yield slightly better result in respect to the safety issue, it will forever be mired in the apparently eternal debate of how far the states can admit federal guidance without losing their precious autonomy.

Sources:

Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson Wadsworth, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

Federalism and Texas

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

March 2006

8. Federalism and Texas

Explain and give two examples of how the government and politics of Texas are affected by the federal system.

As we have mentioned it before, federalism is the system where the federal, state and local governments share power as provided by the Constitution. This ensures that, for our particular state of Texas, the internal workings of its government and politics are affected and influenced by the federal system.

In our textbook we are presented with seven specific examples of how the federal government has an impact on the Texan government, and also how the selection and function of Governor is also influenced by factors concerning federal issues. Briefly explained, the examples of this influence are apparent in the fact that many of the processes and circumstances that generate and demand an action on the part of the federal government affect Texas both directly and indirectly for the simple reason that, although Texas is for Texans, it is still an integral part of this nation, of the United States of America.

In particular, I want to focus on the examples provided to us in the video lesson. We’ve seen that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal ushered in the 20th Century era of federal government expansion by installing a variety of programs to aid the states in meeting the needs of their welfare programs. And we’ve also seen that sixty-one years later, when the welfare reform was put into effect, it effectively changed the way Texas dealt with many problems of public welfare in order to better take advantage of the sudden shift in the allocation of power from the federal government to the states.

For example, Texas has the second largest population in the nation and thus requires a substantial representation in Congress. Thirty Representatives (or thirty one, according to the estimation of Representative Sandlin in the video) work as a team to influence in the most effective manner possible how Congress allocates resources in favor of Texas. Specifically, as Representative Sandlin mentions in the video interview, we can review the issue of funding allocation for highway construction and maintenance. According to Representative Sandlin, Texas has traditionally gotten the “short end of the stick” in the allocation of revenues from gas taxes. And when he spoke of this issue in the video, he made reference to the fact that the six-year period of renewal for the specific piece of legislation was looming closer, and that all the Representatives were putting in a team effort in order to change Texas’ portion to its benefit. Perhaps, Tom DeLay could have used his considerable influence as Majority Whip back then to tip the scales as much as legally possible in favor of Texas in this particular matter. However, he speaks in the video about avoiding this particular pitfall in his dual role as Texas’ Representative and Majority Whip. In light of recent events, he should just have gone ahead and done it anyway. But, cynicism aside, the fact that federalism is patently at work in this example should be highlighted. Texas is only able to compete for a better share of federal funding with the rest of the states in the political arena because the flexibility inherent in the system.

Also, in this same vein, we have the example of the child-support payment collection activities particular for each state. Although there is still a debate raging about the pros and cons of a federally controlled program (pro: access to interstate resources for tracking and enforcement of payments; con: ballooning costs because of the unavoidable raging-maniac-lunatic bureaucracy) the salient point of this example is that the funding policies of the federal government encourage the states to find their own solutions to this problem by applying their intimate knowledge of their regional needs.

Clearly, federalism both hinders and promotes the exercise and development of Texas’ ability to care for its population and to bolster and uphold the nation to which it belongs.

Sources:

Texas Politics, 9th Edition, Richard H. Kraemer, Charldean Newell, David F. Prindle, Thomson Wadsword, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

Intergovernmental Relations

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

March 2006

9. Intergovernmental Relations

Describe the pros and cons of welfare reform in Wisconsin and how the national, state, and local governments are involved.

A dramatic introduction to this segment of the video lesson: Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson looking earnestly at the interviewer and saying, “The only way to get out of poverty, in America, is by working”. The more cynical viewer might prefer to confuse the Governor’s earnest demeanor for a smirk of disdain. And the detractors of Wisconsin’s WORKS program (or simply W2) certainly think such is the case.

The textbook tells us that poverty is still an omnipresent problem of the cities in America. Poverty is such an overwhelming problem that it seems to include all other problems and occlude their distinctiveness. Because of the demographics involved, this problem along with the myriad others that plague our cities are in essence part of the larger problem of ensuring complete equality for every one in America.

Enter Wisconsin’s plan to get people back to work and away from welfare dependence. In its most basic aspect, this program consists of rudely asking every participant to cooperate or else. No one seems to be exempt. If the participant chooses not to make an effort, the participant gets cut off completely from any kind of cash assistance from the state government. According to them, since the plan went into effect the number of people on welfare has decreased substantially.

The concept of intergovernmental relations is exemplified in the matter of W2’s processes of responsibility delegation to private entities in some cases. Governor Thompson expresses his belief that the state enjoys a rather strong state-county relationship that in fact they decided to let the counties choose whether or not to participate in the implementation of the welfare reform. In greater detail, Elaine Maly – Chief development & marketing officer of the YWCA of greater Milwaukee – offers the following summary of the intergovernmental relationships present in their effort to prepare participants to move from welfare to work. She tells us that, “The federal government has goals and objectives that the state has to comply with, and in turn the state sets goals and objectives for the W2 program that the agencies that hold a contract, like YWCA, must answer to; the State has a contract with a local private industry council which acts to oversee our implementation of W2 and make sure we stay on the mark and that we are successful…”

Now, at first sight and based on what its proponents say about it, it seems that Wisconsin is really taking a step in the right direction with W2 when it comes to solving the problem of welfare dependency. But Richard Oulahan – Executive director of Esperanza Unida, Inc. – opines that this whole program is a way of sneaking out of having to deal with a heavy responsibility for the individuals who were elected by the people with the express purpose of making hard decisions for them, making decisions that affect the lives of many others. In his view, that is not the way that it should work, at all. For example, he says that you have to consider that many of this alleged success stories of the program which moved away from welfare assistance only ended up working for Wendy’s and burning up taxpayer’s money in childcare assistance. So the savings in welfare assistance are in fact used up, and then some, in order to assist this person who now will not take the next step and move on to educate or train himself in order to achieve a better social station. Also, there are cases where the available menial work will not allow the person room to blossom to its full potential, and will not even be enough to provide the person with the basic needs, like health insurance.

All in all, the last link of the intergovernmental relationship that will probably have a leveling effect in evaluating the W2’s success or failure is the review at the Congress level proposed by Representative Antonio Riley at the end of the video segment.

Sources:

Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson Wadsworth, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

Local Governments in Texas

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

March 2006

10. Local Governments in Texas

Explain five ways to participate in local government.

Based on personal experience, I know that sometimes as a citizen one feels a severe disconnection with our governing bodies, whether they are of the local, state or national level. Sometimes one feels as if there is no possibility of ever affecting the direction in which the government steers our city, our county, our state, or even our country. But, in all humility, I must confess that such feelings in me are arisen by a cynicism that tries to mask a great deal of ignorance of the ways in which I could participate in the government at my locality.

Erroneously, many people like me believe that the only possible way to participate in local government is to become part of the government itself. It is always a daunting prospect to consider becoming a public figure. The negative connotations abound, and it is rather easy to be misled by stereotypes concerning the disposition and morality of politicians. However, it is possible for any American citizen to run for any public office (depending on certain qualifications), and at a local level one might be surprised to find oneself elected by neighbors to represent them in their local government. This is the most obvious way to participate in local government.

But if public office is not part of one’s aspirations, there are other duties in local governments that can be manned by a qualified person. The textbook offers the possibility of holding a job as part of the management of any city’s public departments, like the office of City Manager, for example. Although the road seems long and tortuous, and although it would require one to attain advanced academic degrees and to secure a succession of prestige-enhancement jobs, it could very well result in one holding a major office available in local government without having to become a politician per se.

Also, the textbook suggests that one attends a public hearing and speak out. Surely, one has seen flyers, publication advertisements, or even utility bill inserts announcing an upcoming public hearing featuring some matter of local importance. If one has seen those notices, one can be certain that the matter open for debate concerns one’s surroundings directly. For example, a neighbor may want to rent out a parcel of his land to a wireless telephone company in order to erect a repeater tower, precisely next to one’s own property! Clearly, the matter is of direct concern and should be addressed. One should research the facts and, if necessary, ask for help in presenting one’s opposition at the hearing.

Another textbook suggestion involves volunteering to work for a local candidate during an election. At first, this might not seem to be of large consequence in the scheme of things. As a matter of fact, by all appearances it might only benefit the candidate in question. But once one becomes involved with one candidate, one is also representing one’s own household in supporting said candidate. Many people will not express their support or approval publicly unless it is for someone they know directly, and by looking at one’s example they might in turn feel motivated to get involved. Involvement often leads to deeper participation. In this case, the participation expected is the act of voting. By volunteering one’s efforts for a chosen candidate, one would be affecting the way other people cast their vote, thus affecting the government directly.

The video lesson tells us that another way of participating in local government is by being part of the business leadership in the community. For example, in Dallas we have the Citizens Council, which consists of CEO’s from over two hundred Dallas companies. R. Jan LeCroy, President of Dallas Citizen’s Council, tells us that, “The mission is simple: To improve quality of life in Dallas and to improve business climate”. Lately, they have been working to develop South Dallas by influencing the local government through the hiring practices of their individual companies and through the lending practices in securing loans for housing development of their chosen area of focus.

Perhaps none of these opportunities for participation in local government are appealing or possible for some of us. But the fact remains that the government is for the people, by the people, and one should really participate.

Sources:

Texas Politics, 9th Edition, Richard H. Kraemer, Charldean Newell, David F. Prindle, Thomson Wadsword, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

Public Opinion and Political Socialization

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

March 2006

11. Public Opinion and Political Socialization

Identify and explain three qualities of public opinion. Give an example of a question that would measure each of these qualities.

The beginning of the video segment in this lesson peppers us with a barrage of rapid-fire answers from a wildly varied population sample. Every one of them has an opinion on the question they were asked at the particular moment of their videotaping, and each one of them is earnest in their answers, even when they answer “I don’t know”.

But all this are personal opinions. What we need to know is what constitutes a public opinion. We need to know when the personal becomes the public.

The textbook offers us a few pointers by identifying the qualities of public opinion as direction, intensity and stability. Also, we are told that different people have different opinions on the same matters. From anything like music, deodorant or beauty products, to serious issues like global-warming, cancer research and the price of gasoline. When these personal opinions are made concerning a public matter then they become part of the public opinion. In fact, the textbook wants us to know that public opinion is the expression of attitudes about government and politics.

In the text, V. O. Key, Jr. mentions that public opinion is constituted by the opinions of individuals that a government should notice. A good example of this quality of public opinion, which I define as “opportune” but the textbook insists on identifying it as “direction”, could be the questions that are asked about the performance of a local government that the general public can control more directly, and where the answers can be measured on a scale. Namely, a question like: “Do you think your City Manager has complied this year with his job description?” If I were a procrastinating City Manager and a poll was taken in the city which I am supposed to be managing, I should be wary of an overwhelmingly failing report card, since I would be easy to fire and even easier to replace by a more competent City Manager.

But public opinion could also be made up of enough people expressing themselves so strongly for or against something that their views are likely to affect government action. This is a facet of public opinion that I enjoy thinking of as a “juggernaut” quality, but is more properly described as the “intensity” quality. And the context for such aspect of public opinion would apply to the arena of regulatory actions by the federal government, where sometimes the public opinion demonstrates more power than even special interest groups. Specifically, I think of the smoking habits in America. “Do you think people should be allowed to smoke in public places, knowing how harmful tobacco smoke is to everyone’s health?” I really do not think this question was ever articulated as such, but even if it remained tacit, the resounding “NO!” has been heard and continues to reverberate throughout the years. It would take an extremely sheltered individual to not notice the sweeping changes in American culture concerning smoking habits caused in part by public opinion.

Also, public opinion is situational, because the people that express their opinion and the situations that provoke such opinions are in constant flux. “Convenience” is my pet name for the “stability” quality of public opinion, which can be measured by its sudden change or the lack of it. And right away I think back to President Clinton and “Monica-gate”. The question was, “Do you think it matters how the President exercises his sexuality?” Public opinion on this question could have been represented graphically with an oscilloscope! The moment anyone mentioned morals and ethics and what not, there appeared a big trough on the graph. And then, every time we got a paycheck and realized we had enough money to pay the bills, the Bill graph would reach another peak.

To conclude I would like to note that public opinion is measured using the three qualities mentioned above by the use of polls, which help quantify a subject matter that is absolutely and completely subjective: personal opinions that might or might not be well informed on public matters of government and politics. This mathematically implausible situation was cleverly addressed by Brandon Carter when he revised his original statements to the Antrhopic Principle: Beware the sampling simplification!

Sources:

Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson Wadsworth, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

Political Culture

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

March 2006

12. Political Culture

Explain how to tell a liberal from a conservative.

When I opened my assignment book and contemplated this essay, my first thought was, “Are you serious!” And my second thought went immediately to the writings of the late Frank Herbert. In his Dune Chronicles he writes that you shall know a conservative when you find a person that prefers the past (any past) over the future. And, in an effort to balance the equation, I suppose, Herbert writes that a liberal is known by advocating change for the sake of change itself. And, although biased and overly simplified, there is a grain of truth in those statements.

Our textbook explains to us the differences of ideology between liberalism and conservatism. Unfortunately, this is a little bit like that line in the movie The Matrix, “No one can be told what [those differences] are: One has to be shown!” And this is the reason for my improper ejaculation at the beginning of this essay: It is necessary to “dumb down” and simplify to a point that borders on the inane in order to define both terms.

In general terms, a conservative is a traditionalist, and he’s thought of being on the “right wing” of the political spectrum. In matters of governmental supervision of public welfare programs and what can be described as “moralistic” issues, a conservative feels that there should be greater involvement by the government, or what is traditionally known as “big government”. However, when it comes to the point of affecting his wallet, the traditionalist balks at having the government involved and proposes the so-called pseudo-laissez faire where there’s an appearance of trying to keep the government “hands off” the market, but only in the matters that are convenient for the conservative to make more money, and with tight regulatory participation of the government in economic issues that could place his investments at higher risk.

Also, in broad strokes, a liberal is an individualist, and we refer to him as being on the “left wing” of the political spectrum. Usually, the liberal is the nemesis, so to speak, of the conservative (but not in the sense that the conservative deserves to have a liberal plague visited on him). Where the conservative feels strongly about government involvement in the personal areas of life and no involvement in the economic areas, a liberal views with suspicion any attempts of regulatory activities that deal with the personal but welcome those activities in the economic plane. The liberal will sometimes advocate for points of view that might not be precisely sound or moral, but just for the sake of keeping the government off the personal arena.

Now, then, when it comes to Texas, all bets are off. Historically speaking, our state has been almost uniformly conservative, and the only reason to define the liberals as such is because in their midst one could find a more prominent group of extreme individualistic proponents. L. Tucker Gibson, Jr., Chair and Professor of Political Science for Trinity University, offers a unique insight in the video lesson by reminding us of the “Six Flags over Texas” theme. Texas has a unique perspective in what constitutes right or left wing not only because it is a darn big state, and not only because of it’s a somewhat anachronistic and idiosyncratic state, but because its dubious distinction of being the only state to have been an erstwhile independent country.

But in general, the distinction between conservatives and liberals boils down to their focus in three areas, Professor Gibson instructs. One: Should the government create an environment where an individual can pursue his own interests or should the government create and provide social services? Two: who should rule, a small group of people or should it be more of a participatory effort? And three: should the individual use the government for his own ends or should he use the government to promote the welfare of the many?

Unless someone declares himself to be patently liberal or tightly conservative, the distinctions blur by the minute. Have we not heard misnomer labels bandied about lately? Haven’t we met the “Compassionate Conservative” and the “Moderate Liberal”? Clearly, my interjection in the beginning still applies: “Are you serious!”

Sources:

Texas Politics, 9th Edition, Richard H. Kraemer, Charldean Newell, David F. Prindle, Thomson Wadsword, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

Participation in Democracy

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

April 2006

13. Participation in Democracy

Explain the importance of political participation in a democracy. What are the costs of not participating?

In a democracy, the government represents the people. It is not an entity that exists separate from the general population, but that arises from within and derives its authority and powers from the sufferance of the people it represents. The key word in the last sentence is “sufferance”, for the government is not endured or suffered piteously by the population (although that seems to be the case often), but I used the word “sufferance” to indicate the tacit consent people give to governmental actions by having chosen that government representatives through the voting mechanisms in place, or – even more importantly – by having kept silent when they should have spoken up for or against the installation of said representatives.

The text offers us the case of the 2004 Presidential elections as a case in point about the dynamics pulling, stretching, pushing and compressing the electoral process. We are offered an interesting overview of how the voting process moved along in connection with that election. In particular, I found it very interesting to read the fluctuations of public opinion in the chart that provided approval ratings after each of the publicized debates as the campaign raced to its conclusion. Also, the text was very helpful to understand that the voting process is still very much a process in formation, susceptible to changes and available to improvements, and it is definitely not the forbidding unmovable monolith where voter’s hopes dash to bits without making a dent, as some pessimistic pundits would have us believe. For example, I was dumbstruck to learn that foreign persons had been allowed to cast votes for elections in this country up to the early years of the twentieth century. It seems as if not many years separate us from that reality, but for someone like me, born at the end of the Twentieth Century, such a state of affairs seems almost sacrilegious and insulting. Nonetheless, if the political climate was once favorable to such a mind-bending concept, it gives me hope to understand at last that the realities of our present day can have an impact and effect changes in the manner in which this country conducts its representative-democratic processes, and that we can actually change things for the better.

And the video lesson examples help to understand better the actual weight that personal involvement and political participation have in the democratic process in our country. In the video, we have the opportunity to see the underlying reasoning and purpose of the two opposing sides in the issue of Proposition 215 in California (which, in the main, deals with the legalization of medicinal use of marijuana as an alternative treatment option for some specific medical cases), where some people saw fit to bypass the regular legislative process by placing a proposal in the hands of the voters after being defeated in the regular law-making arena. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the makers of the video lesson portrayed both sides of the issue in a very rational and compassionate matter, and not painting either side of the issue in a derogatory way by labeling them in any of the common misnomers for people involved in such an issue (the pejoratives “pothead” and “straight-laced ninny” spring to mind unbidden.) Also, we saw the AIM proponents homing on the subject of Columbus’ Day and asking that out of respect for the suffering of many people massacred in his name (or by him, personally) Americans refrain from celebrating a holiday named after what a large demographic sector view as a genocidal maniac. In this example, I was doubly impressed with the video lesson when they decided to portray the main protagonists and antagonists as intelligent and educated humans, and to let the unpleasantness and wrong turns (that I think were inevitable) to be attributed to individual personal choices of some people, instead of showing them as characteristics of a whole sector of the population.

I believe after watching this lesson and reading the textbook that it is up to the media to stop bombarding us with all the negative messages about how one person cannot possibly hope to make a change by sensationalizing failures of this kind when they happen, but instead the media can show us how to triumph by making as much fuss about the instances when personal commitment and effort make a change in the political process and downplaying the unavoidable defeats. I believe the commercial media could learn a lesson or two about presenting a more neutral image of issues by reading our textbook and watching our video lessons. I think, in the present, the mass media outlets are part of the problem when people do not believe in political involvement, and so they can be part of the solution in the future.

Sources:

Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson Wadsworth, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

Community Involvement

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

April 2006

14. Community Involvement

Using examples from the video, describe important assets and resources that are needed to make community activities successful.

The video lesson is right on the money when it states that some problems cannot be legislated into submission, but instead have to be wrestled to the ground on the trenches, by the people who are affected directly themselves. I especially liked the comparison about the federal government passing on the responsibility of implementing certain policies to the states with the way the many layers of government pass on the burden of dealing with many social problems to society itself.

In the video, we are shown several examples of community involvement and how each one of them requires the commitment of both the provider and the receiver to make them work.

Serving as the general commentator on the matter, L. Tucker Gibson, Jr., Chair and Professor of Political Science at Trinity University, tells us that there really hasn’t been that much increase on the amount of community involvement to deal with matters of policy or implementation of policies, or with programs of self-help or of community assistance. However, we are presented a few cases that seem to have a promising start.

We see James Fishkin, Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, introducing the concept of “Rational Ignorance” where a citizen does not act the way we would expect a citizen to act. Because a person might be thinking that his vote is only one in millions and therefore he shouldn’t bother learning the facts about the issues, this person in fact hobbles himself in a cyclic downward spiral of ignorance about the issues which in fact impedes his community involvement. Fishkin observed that people often are distracted with the urgency of daily events of their personal life and do not engage in discussion and understanding of important issues that are of social importance. Thinking that people’s opinions might be significantly different if given the chance to explore the issues at length, Fishkin launched the National Issues Convention in 1996 in order to produce a “poll with a human face”.

We also see in this lesson some instances of community involvement in the guise of direct action with the examples of the Family Pathfinder program, Mission Arlington, Communities Organized for Public Service (C.O.P.S.), the Metro Alliance, and the case of the Terlingua High School.

In the case of the Family Pathfinder program and Mission Arlington we see the community taking an interest in helping people to stabilize their economic situation before “setting them loose” back into society. They argue that after an economic setback (like welfare or evictions or broken families) people require support in order to avoid spinning out of control and landing back in a similar situation or worse. These programs help people in any manner they can to achieve a plateau where they can establish a firm foothold and start taking steps towards their realization as persons and families unaided. With C.O.P.S. and Metro Alliance we examine the concept that people need political power in order to help themselves, as demonstrated in the specific case of substandard living conditions in a sector of San Antonio city, and how those organizations helped the community to achieve a political significance that could be translated in benefits for their advancement. And lastly, we saw the sleep-deprived high school students of the small town of Terlingua finally getting a high school of their own as a social investment by their community that would pay dividends by helping more families to stay instead of moving and by growing in-house a better educated workforce that can only be of benefit to the community at large.

These examples of successful community involvement required active participation from both the providers and the receivers of the help offered, and determination and hard work. Like the mayor of Arlington said, the community efforts often have better results than the government efforts because the people involved do not take it as an imposition or obligation to pour their efforts in the community, but take it as personal fulfillment and realization.

Sources:

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

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