Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Best/Worst Idea for Press Secretary

As an improvement over Scott McClellan, the President has been looking for someone with the following qualities:

1) Breathing.
2) Not named "Scott McClellan."

Someone charismatic enough to appear on live tv, and who will doggedly put a positive spin on the administration no matter the circumstances would be a godsend.

In retrospect, the selection of a Fox News commentator seems obvious.

The Bureaucracy Post I Promised

All references are from James Q. Wilson's "The Rise of the Bureaucratic State" from Peter Woll's American Government Readings and Cases 15th edition.

A couple of reasons why bureaucracies need restructuring:

1. They are bloated-

"Bureaucracies grow due to Parkinson's Law (and William A. Niskanen's assertion that) bureaucrats maximize the total budget of their bureau during their tenure."

Imagine the Department of Defense, and try (just you try!) to argue that every single expenditure (or even a high percentage) have been justified in both price and practice.

Similarly, these institutions can employ too many people.

"The increase in the size of the executive branch of the federal government at this time was almost entirely the result of the increase in the size of the Post Office. From 1816 to 1861, federal civilian employment in the executive branch increased nearly eightfold (from 4,837 to 36,672), but 86% of this growth was the result of additions to the postal service. In New York alone, by 1894 there were nearly 3,000 postal employees, the same number required to run the entire federal government at the beginning of that century".

While this may have been in response to public need in the 19th century, the 21st century has internet access and privately run postal services like UPS, FedEx, and DHL. Do we really need the Post Office in its current representation?

2. The Military-Industrial Complex is lacking in oversight.

"The argument for the existence of an autonomous, bureaucratically led military-industrial complex is supported primarily by events since 1950. Not only has the U.S. assumed worldwide commitments that necessitate a larger military establishment, but the advent of new, high-technology weapons has created a vast indutrial machine with an interest in sustaining a high level of military expenditures. The development and purchase of weapons is sometimes made in a wasteful, even irrational, manner. And the allocation of funds among the several armed services is often dictated as much by inter-service rivalry as by strategic or political decisions."

This institution is the cause for most of my bureaucratic concern due to its apparent lack of control by ALL branches of government, and its lack of a humane product. Don't all bureaucracies have some sense of secrecy and elitism? Yes, by their nature agricultural, aerospace, and housing committees are going to set standards, regulate expenditures and dominate policy making usually with little public knowledge (on a mass media scale).

The problem is, the Future Farmers of America aren't going to send me to North Korea to get nuked in an effort to demonstrate their need for funding in soy research. The Defense Department might send me their as part of an agenda to promote the need for a missile defense system though. Without proper oversight, we send troops to foreign countries on bad intelligence. Shouldn't Americans die serving their country, not a bureaucratic agenda?

3. Agencies once created become next to impossible to change or dissolve.

"Most of the major new social programs of the United States were initially adopted by broad coalitions appealing to general standards of justice. But when a program supplies particular benefits to an existing or newly created interest, public or private, it creates a set of political relationships that make exceptionally difficult further alteration of that program by coalitions of the majority. What was created in the name of the common good is sustained in the name of the particular interest."

Think of the last institution to be forced to change against its will: FEMA. Michael Brown was forced out after months of slicing through government red tape. It was a national disaster that became a national embarrassment, and change still came slowly.

Bureaucracies are necessary. But we should not take a laissez-faire attitude towards them. It is important to make them at least somewhat responsive to the needs of the people. Otherwise the spectrum of the U.S. government will look less democratic and more oligarchical.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Lean mean governing machine (not a Schwarzennegger post)

How effective is our government? There are varying views of its practical efficiency (a term here defined by me as an ability to process laws or govern at an acceptable rate), but my view is that it does a poor job. Part of this is due in part to keep corruption at a minimum through bureaucratic red tape, but part also is due in part to the changing political view of representation as a job rather than a service.

The political machine has become so bloated and complex that the average person has little time (with the average work week increasing in hours spent) to become thoroughly involved in the political process. So, does this lead us on the path to plutocracy? Are there other options? I would suggest trimming some fat. The first thing that can be done is to remove many laws from the book. Government is good. Government is necessary. But overlegislation only creates elitist conflicts in our legal-political system. Elitist conflicts should only take place in our educational or social systems. Of course that might be difficult if not impossible to do with the interrelationships between all systems, but a good start would be the simplification of our legal code. (As an aside there is a children's book that demonstrates strange but true laws from actual states- ie you cannot sneeze on a train in Nashville).

Cutting back on bureaucracy is another idea, but that is a delicate process. While some redundancy is necessary as a protection, there are some areas which could be cut in an effort to simplify government. That should be a topic for another day with more time to research.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Loony Toons

Their seems to be a large amount of discussion about a recent South Park episode showing a defecating Jesus and a "censored" image of Mohammed. For a more detailed explanation visit the Volokh Conspiracy.

The debate centers around the Muslim policy of never showing images of the prophet Mohammed. This infringes on the democratic principles of free speech, under which satirical images qualify. Compounding the problem is the threat of violence from extremists who are all too eager to claim their virgins. Americans loathe giving in to violent factions, so where and how do we draw the line?

Moderate factions of Islam apparently do not have the same issue with Mohammad's image as seen in this report on a truce with Jyllands-Posten (the Danish newspaper of original fame). So do we give in violent extremist wings out of fear/freedom of religion/respect of Islam? Do we demonstrate our belief in the freedom of the press and publish or broadcast what we wish? Do we adopt some sort of middle ground for visual media like an internationally accepted "Mohammad symbol"? (I think Prince is done using his...)

I think the best way to demonstrate our respect for Islam is to disrespect it just as much as Christianity and Judaism. Otherwise Muslims will be outsiders. But, considering this is a forum, I would like to hear your thoughts, also...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

I'm not sure how coincidental it is that Easter is fast upon us and National Geographic reports that it has verified and translated a text dating from 300 A.D. stating that Judas betrayed Jesus upon Jesus' request. Its clearly a fascinating (heretical or otherwise) find.

The meat of what the link shows:

The text begins "the secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot."

The key passage comes when Jesus tells Judas "you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothed me."

This indicates that Judas would help liberate the spiritual self by helping Jesus get rid of his physical flesh, the scholars said.

Thoughts and comments?