Archives For GOVT 2301

American Govt I

Civil Society

Christopher Hurtado —  December 12, 2005 — Leave a comment

The Church of Ascension on London’s Blackheath has a small metal plaque set into its wall that reads “Fellowship is life and lack of fellowship is death, but in hell there is no brotherhood but every man for himself.” John Ball, the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, spoke these words nearby in 1831. Ball would not have thought of himself as part of “civil society,” but citizens who join groups, form associations or volunteer to defend or advance the causes they believe in have, in effect. echoed his sentiments down through the centuries (Edwards 1). However, “citizenship is not a cure for spiritual malaise but spiritual malaise is a roadblock to citizenship because it impairs the capacity to create the community institutions on which a civil society and a democratic culture must rest” (Barber 275). It is through our participation in the institutions that make up civil society that we learn what it means to be a citizen (Barber 276).

Citizenship can be defined as belonging to a community, or can refer to the quality of our response to our membership in that community, or how actively we participate in it. (Merriam-Webster Online). Civil society can be defined as “the totality of voluntary civic and social organizations or institutions which form the basis of a functioning society as opposed to the force backed structures of a state” (Wikipedia). According to the London School of Economics Centre for Civil Society these organizations and institutions act “around shared interests, purposes and values,” and are separate from the family and the market as well. Examples include “charitable organizations, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trades unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups” (Wikipedia).

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I am vehemently opposed to mandatory term limits, especially at the state and local level, and find great weakness in the argument made for them by their advocates. Mandatory term limits were first considered by our Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and rejected by its delegates. They didn’t make sense then and they don’t make sense now. What does make sense, and was chosen over mandatory term limits by our Founding Fathers, is short terms, or in other words, frequent elections. James Madison, who was one of the Constitutional Convention’s delegates who opposed mandatory term limits recorded in his notes the words of another delegate, Roger Sherman, who also opposed them: “Frequent elections are necessary to preserve the good behavior of rulers. They also tend to give permanency to the Government, by preserving that good behavior, because it ensures their re-election.” This argument makes sense. The argument for mandatory term limits doesn’t.

Given mandatory term limits, a politician ineligible to run for re-election would be stripped of his incentive to please his constituency and would become easy prey for special interests. Our Founding Fathers not only recognized the need for frequent elections to keep politicians responsive, they recognized as well that this was most important at the level of government closest to the people – the House of Representatives. It stands to reason, therefore, that this is what is needed at the state and local level as well. Our Founding Fathers knew that the best way to restrain a politician would be to periodically put his performance on trial by the electorate. What better way to keep politicians loyal to their constituency? What need have we for mandatory term limits? What more could they do for our system of government than the frequent elections instituted by our Founding Fathers? This system has kept in office for as many terms as was deemed appropriate by the people of the United States, according to their performance in office, the likes of John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Sam Houston, James Madison and Daniel Webster.

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The 2004 Democratic and Republican party platforms have a lot in common. In fact, they arguably have more commonalities than differences. Each party is apparently attempting to appeal to the middle. Nevertheless, each party’s leanings are still evident to the discerning reader. Each of the two platforms discusses many of the same issues, each using it’s own rhetoric to dance around them in a non-committal way. The similarities between the two parties’ platforms is evident from the start in the striking resemblance between the title of each party’s platform, both of which make reference to national security and foreign policy. Additionally, each platform deals with “the war on terror,” the economy, healthcare, community, family, and energy independence. There are, however, notable differences between the two parties’ platforms. These difference show up mainly in the way each party addresses the issues at hand.

Notable among the differences in each party’s rhetoric is their take on how to strengthen the economy. Although both parties speak of creating jobs to strengthen the economy, the Democratic party’s rhetoric regarding the economy focuses on job creation and retention from offshoring through tax reforms. The Democratic party emphasizes the worth of America’s working middle class and claims that it is underserved and overtaxed by the Republican party. This, they say, the Republican party does to inure to the benefit of America’s upper class and big businesses. Their solution: add tax cuts for the middle class and eliminate those for the wealthy and for big businesses. The Republican party speaks of tax reform also, but its rhetoric contradicts the Democratic party’s. The Republican party claims that it is already working on cutting taxes for the very same “hard-working Americans” the Democratic party claims it disdains.

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Hurricane Katrina

Christopher Hurtado —  September 7, 2005 — Leave a comment

Hurricane Katrina “created an area of destruction that is 90,000 square miles, an area larger than the size of Great Britain.” (www.whitehouse.gov) President Bush has declared states of emergency in the affected states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and also in Texas and Arkansas to help make federal assistance available to those who need it. “A vast coastline of towns and communities [in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana] has been flattened; [New Orleans] is submerged.” (www.whitehouse.gov) “The [Louisiana] state secretary of environmental quality, Michael D. McDaniel, said that wildlife habitats along hundreds of miles of coastline had been destroyed and that the hurricane exacerbated the slow coastal erosion that had already made the coast more vulnerable to hurricanes.” (www.nytimes.com) The Mayor of New Orleans reports major fires and gas leaks throughout the city of New Orleans. Flood waters there are contaminated with sewage, bodies and chemicals. It will take months, or perhaps years, and billions of dollars to overcome the effects of this natural disaster.

As a result of Katrina’s destruction, tens of thousands have lost their homes and been displaced. Many have been separated from their families. Others suffer for lack of food, water, or medicine. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost. Sports facilities, convention centers, church meetinghouses and the homes of private citizens all over the country have provided shelter, showers, meals, water and medical assistance to the homeless. “After accepting more than 11,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees, officials said the Astrodome was full and at least temporarily halted the flow of evacuees into the shelter Thursday night.” (www.news.yahoo.com) Refugees are now being housed in the Reliant Stadium, the George R. Brown Convention Center, other shelters and churches throughout the Greater Houston Area.

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