Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Critique of 'Should EVERYTHING be bigger in Texas?' - from "My Eyes Upon Texas Government"

Hi Beth. I appreciate your feedback on my critique of the Texas Judiciary system. I am glad that you brought up the need for constitutional revision in your own review. This is also connected to the problems with the judicial branch, and a topic of interest to me as well.
I agree that the attempts at piecemeal revision - using amendments to add or delete items - have not been potent enough to remedy our current constitutions many flaws. Because it was written as a reaction to the abuses of power by the Davis administration, I think it went to the other end of the extreme and crippled our government from functioning efficiently.
As you mentioned, what is really needed is comprehensive revision - a total overhaul, i.e a new constitution. But yes, this seems to be a frustratingly impossible solution for our legislators to accomplish. To add to your list of Texas colloquialisms, there is the saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" But to me this seems to be the case of "We know it's broke, but won't fix it!"
It's amazing to me that we are one of the largest states in the country, with an exploding population and increasing urbanization, and yet our government hobbles along relying on an old-fashioned 'mortar and pestle' type constitution that is completely disorganized, even with overlapping sections.
I think its going to take more public awareness and outcry to get things moving on this issue. Honestly, before this class I had no idea that our constitution had so many problems, or the effects it had on our government's ability to function.
We as the up and coming generation to power need to increase this awareness among our peers. In this way, I believe we could shake things up and make a difference in our government.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Judicial Review

The Judicial Branch of Texas government is probably the most confusing branch of government, and one of the most complicated in the country. Here I will attempt to clarify the basic structure, and offer commentary on some of the strengths and weaknesses of this system.
The Judiciary is divided into 5 layers. The bottom layer is the Justice of the Peace and Municipal courts, which handle things such as small claims and marriages. The 2nd layer is the County court, which handles "A" and "B" misdemeanors. The 3rd layer is the District courts, dealing with things like divorce and felony cases. We then move to the 4th layer - the Texas Court of Appeals. This is the glue between the lower courts and the highest layer of the Supreme and Criminal Appeals courts. It reviews the lower court decisions and is the intermediary step to the highest courts. The 5th layer is bifurcated - or separated into a Supreme court that handles civil cases and the Court of Appeals which reviews criminal cases and death penalty cases. Many of these defined layers actually overlap and review each other.

This review is not comprehensive but rather a quick glance of the structure of the Texas Judiciary system. Within this system there are many irregularities. First most of the judges are elected in partisan elections. Second, in order to win the elections, the judges must actively campaign, making them vulnerable to the influences of interest groups. Third. the number of courts have exploded in attempts to keep up with all the casework, creating a cumbersome, fragmented system that is difficult to navigate. Finally, the Texas courts, like many courts in the U.S. grossly under represent the population they serve, constituting mainly middle-aged anglo males.

Okay, so this gives us a basic foundation. But what does this mean to you and I - average citizens? I have a few concerns to present to you, but encourage any and all of you to search out your own conclusions. To me the courts are a special and different arm of the government. The courts are special because they review and uphold the laws of the land. In essence, they have the final say in deciding if an action or law is just and upholds the constitution of that land. This is a different type of function from the wheeling and dealing of the legislative or executive branches. Since they hold this unique position, I feel that for true justice to be served, the judges themselves must be as free from the normal political influences of interest groups, or other pressures that could taint the 'judicial objectivity' that is necessary to uphold true justice.
That said, I do understand that the system of checks and balances is essential to help prevent corruption and abuse of power. So, appointing judges in a way that minimizes undesirable influences of special interest, yet doesn't remove them from accountability for their actions would be the best solution.

What exactly should this new process look like? While I do not assume to know all the intricacies of creating a new system like a political actor would, I think the first step is to move toward nonpartisan elections, and begin appointing more judges.

Also critical to a comprehensive outlook of justice and law is to have a judiciary that more accurately reflects the diversity of the population that it serves. This means increasing the number of women and minorities.

Overall, the Texas Judiciary has lagged behind the rest of the country even more than the rest of the branches. It is one of only four states that still use partisan elections to appoint judges. It is also one of the most complex and arduous systems in the country, some say in the world. Also it is severely lacking in diversity, lagging behind the rest of the branches.

Monday, July 23, 2007

DEA agents a bit green in the field?

Dallas DEA Agents discovered a field of marijuana growing only a few hundred yards behind their regional headquarters last week. Is this someone's idea of poetic justice, or a blinding spotlight on the ineffectiveness of our government in fighting the 'war on drugs' - or both? Regardless, I think the take-away here should be that despite the billions of taxpayer dollars spent annually on this crusade, marijuana and other illegal drugs have not been defeated, wiped out, decreased, reduced and apparently are not under control enough to prevent some entrepreneurial pot-dealer with a sense of humor from operating right in the backyard of his greatest foe. If this is indeed a war, then the DEA just got a major bomb dropped on them.
The real question is - where is this fight getting us? Sure we don't want our children strung out, our society crippled by addiction - but is our current strategy really helping to prevent, or even slow, that tide? Or, looked at another way, could the billions of dollars we would save be better used - in addition to the billions of dollars we could generate in taxes on them - if we legalized certain of these drugs? Would this perhaps provide more of an effect, and greater benefit, to society?
Could we as a people finally just accept that certain of our fellow citizens like to and will use drugs no matter what we do or think, if they are legal or not? It seems almost childish to stamp our foot and squeeze our eyes shut and say "No!" If we want to help our fellow citizens that struggle with the disease of addiction, perhaps spending that money on better, and more, rehabilitation programs, or a clean needle program like they have in Amsterdam in addition with other controls would more effective than stuffing these people into jails already bursting at the seams.
Sadly, it seems we as Americans, though once pioneers of revolutionary thought and society, have fallen behind many of our global neighbors in our attitudes and approaches toward drugs, drug use in our society and the reality of human nature.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ominous black clouds hang over central texas...

...reflecting the impending gloom of a new coal plant, as reported in the Austin American Statesman. Despite much controversy, the state environmental commission gave the final okay, by granting an air permit, to allow TXU to go ahead with plans to build the Oak Grove coal power plant just 100 miles Northeast of Austin. The debate over the potential health hazards has divided many politicians and citizens alike. For example Mayor Will Wynn, chairman of the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition, said with dismay that it will wipe out years of hard work and millions of dollars of invested dollars. On the other side of the fence, Gov. Rick Perry has been an extreme advocate for the new plants. While local citizen groups say they will continue to fight it, it seems inevitable at this point that the plant will be built. In my opinion this is truly a step backwards in the progressive smart growth that is vital to preserve our environment in the face of imminent eco-disasters like global warming.
For complete article see: www.statesman.com/green/content/news/stories/local/06/14/14coal.html