Thursday, May 10, 2012

(Blog Stage 8 Commentary) Fixing the Problem

I agree with Christine. I think that if the state were to require us to spay and neuter our pets it would decrease the number of homeless pets considerably. This would put less of a burden on the city to need to care for them through animal shelters. I see another benefit as well, it would take the free pets off the market and pretty much require people to purchase pets and pay for them to be fixed. This is more of an investment than just grabbing a cute kitty from the side of the road where someone has a box of free kittens to give away. If people have to pay to get pets and pay for fixing them, I think that less people would haphazardly choose to own animals, thus less chance of abandoned animals. Overall, this sounds like it would be a great measure for the legislature to pass.

On the other hand, I can see it backfiring in one big way. This type of legislation would need to be enforced. Someone would have to check and see if animals have been spayed or neutered. This creates a huge problem because instead of spending extra money on animal shelters, we now must spend it on checking with citizens to ensure they are getting their pets fixed. The only way I working out is with more legislation stating that the people issued licenses to breed, must keep track of every pet they adopt out and make sure those pets are spayed or neutered either before they adopt them out or that the new owner does it. All of that said, even with that one flaw, I still feel this would be a worthy cause and it would be interesting to look into it further.

Monday, April 30, 2012

(Assignment #7) Commission on Judicial Conduct is out of control

The Commission on Judicial Conduct has become virtually self-driving and unaccountable. The article "Texas judges' misdeeds often kept secret by oversight commission," found in the Austin American-Statesman, only serves to rile me up further. It unravels the truth that this commission, who is in charge of oversight of our state judges, believes that it should never have to allow someone to go through their files to make sure they are functioning properly. Of course, the commission itself would like to defend why it legally can not share the information it has on cases against the judges in our state, but I love how the Statesman points out that "Defense lawyers, those who have filed complaints and even some judges counter that such secrecy raises questions about how the agency is policing some of the state's most powerful public officials." Of course it raises suspicion!  It raises even more alarms when you continue reading the article and see that the Commission on Judicial Conduct has even blocked another state agency from being able to audit it. The Statesman shares, "The Sunset Advisory Commission is charged by the Legislature to review the performance of state agencies to determine if taxpayers should continue funding an agency and, if so, what changes might be made to improve its efficiency." However, the Commission on Judicial Conduct refused to allow the Sunset Advisory Commission access to any of their information. They would not allow them to sit in on any hearings or allow them to assess their functions in any other way.
How can one state agency that is charged with oversight refuse to allow another state agency, charged with the same exact role, to oversee it's operations. I can not even see how that could be legal. The Sunset Advisory Commission's main purpose is to see if taxpayer dollars are being spent well, and the Commission on Judicial Conduct is prohibiting them from performing their role completely. The Statesman even mentions that while some judges are getting a slap on a wrist for serious offenses, other judges are getting serious judgements meted out for less serious offenses.  The Commission on Judicial Conduct goes on to say that they believe the other agency has no right to conduct a review on their rulings because they are a Judicial body and is not subject to Legislative oversight.

Concerning the behavior of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project said it best, "It says that judges protect their own." That is a very fair assessment. It is clear that just as someone in a courtroom who is being tried before a judge can actually donate money to that judges campaign, this Commission on Judicial Conduct can also be corrupted. I think the only way to fix something like this is to fine tune the legislation that brought about the Sunset Advisory Commission. Something that would say that an advisory commission has every right to assess each and every commission that runs within the boundaries of this state. That would create at least a little oversight into the workings of the Judicial branch and this apparently corrupted commission.

Monday, April 16, 2012

(Assignment #6) Comment on "The Young and the Rest - less educated"

I enjoyed reading fellow blogger, Jackie Goff's post, "The Young and the Rest - less educate." Her title draws you into the article and she sites her references very well. She also has an interesting take on the the events surrounding Governor Rick Perry's challenge to Texas’ higher education institutions to make college more affordable.

At first I disagreed that there was something behind A&M being the only school so far to pick up on Perry's 'call to action', but the more I think about it, the more I think there probably is something to the claim. In class we talked about how Perry would love nothing more than to be in the A&M system and leave his "Big maroon thumbprint all over the state," as Professor Seago put it. I know Perry has yet to make it onto the board of A&M or into any other role with any clout in their system, but I am certain there must be a tie between his challenge to the College's and Universities in Texas and A&M doing something about it so quickly. It looks like one of those "I scratch your back, you scratch mine," type things.

On the actual facts of the degree that A&M is offering, I agree with Ms. Goff's disappointment that it does not apply to people with low income, single moms, or those who have previously served in the military or any other of the vast groups of people who could truly benefit from a degree program that is less than $10,000. I also found it interesting that they only offered this plan with a specific degree program and that they even specified the specialization.

On the other hand, I think to criticize this plan so quickly is a little short-sighted. Everything has to begin somewhere, and it is entirely possible that if A&M has actually put together a respectable degree for under $10,000 that fully prepares the student for a future job, that this will become the gateway to more schools offering less expensive options as well. I do not think it is fair to say that most colleges and universities should have jumped onto the boat and already pushed out a proposal to meet Perry's suggestion. Most university and colleges are not brave enough, or crazy enough to take a leap like this and I applaud A&M for being an innovator in this area and coming up with an attempt at what seems to be impossible to other institutions.

Monday, April 2, 2012

(Assignment #5) No Surprise... Texas Has Money Problems

Always an issue is the so called 'balancing of the budget.' I am not even sure when the last time our budget was actually balanced, but it has been a reoccurring problem ever since I started paying attention to politics. Not that I am surprised or anything. Its not like I expect us to wake up one day and say "Oh look, government fixed all our problems." However, one can hope that they can at least put their money where their mouth is.

Politicians are famous for saying whatever it takes to get elected, and in Texas, the magic words are "Education is a top priority." One might ponder why those words are so magical, but the answer is quiet simple, education is not a top priority, which makes constituencies unhappy and gives perfect fodder for politicians to call it their platform. If they were to ever actually resolve this issue and make education a top priority then the magic words would not work and politicians might actually have to work to get elected. Ok, that is pretty cynical, but the lack of effort to make education a top priority really shows Texans where our politicians stand on education. We really need to stop listening to their campaigns and we need to start paying attention to their actions.

An Article in the Texas Tribune by Ross Ramsey really drives the point home. Our politicians continually say education is the top priority and while saying that to TV crews and newspapers, they go up to Capitol Hill and pass a budget that goes from $25.4 billion dedicated to Education down to $21.9 billion. Education is but one example of how its is obvious that our legislators refuse to own up to what they sell. It is frustrating to know how short our government falls sometimes, it almost makes you so ashamed that you want to pretend it isn't happening and stop reading the news. I suppose that brings up the cognitive dissonance issue, though. What we find hard to reconcile, we try to avoid.

All that said, I am sure there is hope somewhere. We could always have an uprising of another party that creates a demand for accountability and authenticity in all parties. Who knows what will happen in the future, but going back to one of my original comments, I really wish politicians would just put their money where their mouth is. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

(assignment #4) Blog Critique

As stated in class, the blog selections were pretty poor, however, I did find a great article that got my wheels turning. Author Emily Cadik wrote an article on her blog titled, "Race to the Bottom: A Round-Up of Pre-Abortion Torment Legislation Nationwide." I do not agree with her every point, but I enjoy the prospect of dissecting her post.

One of Cadik’s points is that in Tennessee they have a proposed bill that would make public a lot of information about the doctors performing abortions and quite a bit of individual information about the women getting them. At first glance, I felt this possible bill would be great for tracking information related to abortions. However, Cadik makes an extremely valid point that in smaller cities or towns you might as well be writing down the woman's name and address and asking for confrontations. The information could be misused. I really enjoyed her point on this tidbit of information.

Cadik also stated that, "the sponsor of Alabama's ultrasound bill is actually the vice president of an ultrasound equipment company." The way she noted this fact was with a negative connotation. However, if you think logically, there is nothing for the sonogram company to gain from this legislation, their company is not directly affected if women choose to keep their babies or choose to abort them. Also logically, the people who make sonogram machines have their own individual feelings and thoughts about life, death and babies. It is easy to assume that people who are truly passionate about their work in this field most likely value life and it would make sense that they would likely use their funds to support the pro-life side of the argument. I feel Cadik is reaching too far and trying too hard to make an innocent fact appear sinister.

On the other hand, I did appreciate Cadik's last comment about the amendment that has been introduced in Virginia about men's health and Viagra. This brings up the whole argument that has been ongoing lately about how the Legislature and Congress are hyper focusing on women's health (Abortions, contraception, etc) and their lack of focus on men's health. It really is becoming a sexist issue and it has taken quite a turn from where I thought the abortion topic would ever have ventured.

As for Cadiks audience, obviously she is writing to a more liberal crowd that is clearly against abortion. Though I agree with her stance for the most part, I feel her argument was weak and could have been more clearly defined with other examples. I would say that Cadik is pretty credible. It appears the blog itself is written by a staff that is potentially more journalistic in nature and not just some person with opinions writing a personal blog. She also did a great job at linking to outside articles to back up her points. Overall, good article, but she could have used more hard examples instead of soft 'finger pointing' type stuff. It almost read like a frustrated teenager who just found out some 'tasty tidbits' but what they really found pointless scraps.

Friday, February 24, 2012

(Assignment #3) The STAAR Test is Put on Hold

In the Austin American Statesman there is a great article about how Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott has pushed back against the lobbyist group Texas Association of Business and others about the STAAR test. He strongly feels that testing schools to see how well they are performing has gone far off course from what it was intended to accomplish and now teachers are having to teach students to take the tests instead of teaching students to educate them for life. He feels the testing has gone from a means to evaluate to becoming the main focus in schools. The Editorial Board feels that Robert Scott pushing back and postponing the effects of the STAAR test on students grades until next year was an absolute win, and I have to say I agree. The move to push it back a year is absolutely strategic as it coincides with the Legislature convening in 2013 when they can re-evaluate how effective accountability legislation actually is.

I agree on all accounts with this article. I feel teaching kids to do well on a test instead of focusing on teaching them material so they can advance farther is a huge loss. In other countries they expect their youth to speak two or three languages. I feel we expect much too little from our students and I feel taking out a fourth of a year to teach the test just teaches our kids the wrong lessons about life and takes away from other things our teachers could be educating them about. I am excited that they are pushing it back a year so the Legislature can take appropriate measures to see if accountability legislation is helping or hurting as we try desperately just to keep our schools above board.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

(Assignment #2) Texas and the Death Penalty

In The Texas Tribune they have a fantastic article discussing the death penalty. I found it very interesting that in America we did not have the death penalty in use for many years and what started us using it again was an execution in Utah thirty years ago by firing squad. I would have thought that type of execution would not have occurred as recently as thirty years ago.I am also astonished that the current use of the death penalty has only been around since I was born.

In Texas, the death penalty is a hot item of conversation. I would love to see if use of the death penalty is decreasing due to the death penalty "doing it's job" and persuading people not to commit crimes or is it due to the fact that, as a culture, we are less likely to hand out that punishment. If I were pressed to choose which is the reason, I would certainly lean more towards our culture being less likely to use the death penalty then anything else.