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Friday, April 20, 2018

Presidents and Attorneys General

From the Comey memos:
At about this point, he asked me to compare AG Holder and AG Lynch. I said I thought AG Holder was smarter and more sophisticated and smoother than AG Lynch, who I added is a good person. He said Holder and President Obama were quite close. I replied that they were and it illustrated, in my view, a mistake Presidents make over and over again: Because they reason for a President come from Justice, they try to bring Justice close, which paradoxically makes things worse because an independent DOJ and FBI are better for a president and the country. I listed off John Mitchell, Ed Meese, and Al Gonzales as examples of this mistake, and he added Bobby Kennedy.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Podesta Falls

Our textbook discusses lobbyist Tony Podesta.  Since publication, however, he has fallen on hard times. His wife and partner divorced him and his company closed. Brody Mullins and Julie Bykowicz report at WSJ: 
His troubles, some long hidden, surfaced in the summer of 2016. The Podesta Group lost its banker over news the firm did work for the U.S. subsidiary of a Russian bank under sanctions. Then came headlines that the firm’s work with Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, and an associate may have violated government rules. And in October, WikiLeaks published 20,000 pages of emails stolen from his brother John Podesta, chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The string of embarrassing news accounts disturbed many of the Podesta Group’s corporate clients, companies that preferred to stay clear of such publicity. Mr. Podesta operated as if the whole mess would soon blow over.
He spent most of the fall traveling the world. He returned to the U.S. on Election Day but skipped Mrs. Clinton’s campaign party. Her victory would go a long way to fixing many of his problems. She lost that night, and Mr. Podesta, like many who had banked on her victory, did too.
Clients who had hired him for access to a new Clinton administration fell away. By the end of the year, the departures cost the firm more than $10 million in annual business, according to an internal Podesta Group accounting viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Constituent Communications

 Alexander C. Furnas at the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group:
The now famous Indivisible guide to grassroots activism advocates mass, coordinated constituent communication with members of Congress, among other tactics. Recent research has, however, shown mixed results regarding the effectiveness of such communications. Media surrounding Congress’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act or protect Net Neutrality has nonetheless highlighted the tactic as an integral form of Trump-era activism and unresponsive legislators have generated headlines, and hand-wringing. Often overlooked is the fact that these campaigns impose significant costs on the institution --- indeed, that is likely part of what may make them effective. Preliminary results from the Congressional Capacity Project suggest that even legislative staff within members’ personal offices often spend time dealing with constituent communication instead of focusing on their legislative responsibilities.
Mass constituent communication is often facilitated by interest groups organizing their members or subscribers to contact their representatives. These organizations lower the cost of communication by providing call scripts, email templates, or form letters. More recently, webapps like resistbot allow people to contact their representatives by SMS or chat. As technology has lowered the cost of communicating with members of Congress, the volume of constituent communication that offices receive has grown dramatically.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

“We’ve seen this movie before, just never in English.”

Gideon Rose at Foreign Affairs:
Centralization of power in the executive, politicization of the judiciary, attacks on independent media, the use of public office for private gain—the signs of democratic regression are well known. The only surprising thing is where they’ve turned up. As a Latin American friend put it ruefully, “We’ve seen this movie before, just never in English.”

The United States has turned out to be less exceptional than many thought. Clearly, it can happen here; the question now is whether it will. To find an answer, the articles in this issue’s lead package zoom out, putting the country’s current troubles into historical and international perspective.

Some say that global democracy is experiencing its worst setback since the 1930s and that it will continue to retreat unless rich countries find ways to reduce inequality and manage the information revolution. Those are the optimists. Pessimists fear the game is already over, that democratic dominance has ended for good.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Unequal Death Rates

Olga Khazan at The Atlantic:
A new study out today in the Journal of the American Medical Association drills down into which states are showing increases in deaths among the young, and why. In doing so, it reveals a profound disparity among the states when it comes to both life expectancy and disability.

Most startlingly, since 1990, 21 states have seen an increase in the death rate among people aged 20 to 55. In five states—Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Wyoming—the probability of early death among young adults rose by more than 10 percent in that time frame. Meanwhile, in New York and California, young and middle-aged people became much less likely to die in the same time period. The authors note that opioids, alcoholism, suicide, and kidney disease—which can be brought on by diabetes and alcoholism—were the main factors leading to the increases in early deaths.

In 2016, the 10 states with the highest probability of premature death among 20- to 55-year-olds were West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Tennessee, and South Carolina.

Meanwhile, the 10 states with lowest probability of premature death among this age group were Minnesota, California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Hawaii.
Of the 10 states with the highest probability, all but New Mexico voted for Trump.

Of the 10 states with the lowest probability, all voted for Clinton.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Facebook Lobbying

Peter Overby at NPR:
You hire a lot of lobbyists who are well-connected," said Lee Drutman, who studies lobbying at the think tank New America. He laid out how the companies work Washington.
Facebook opened its D.C. office when it was five years old — and already worth billions. It routinely hires lots of top-tier, veteran lobbyists, as does Google.

The current lobbying environment is ideal. Many lawmakers still don't fully grasp the technology. Congress long ago defunded its in-house technology office, which could have taught them.
Facebook reported its 2017 lobbying cost at nearly $12 million. Google spent even more: $18 million.
Drutman said it's important to "spread a lot of money around."
Some of the money goes to think tanks, where experts can shape policy debates on Capitol Hill. For one example, New America, where Drutman works, has had grants from both Google and Facebook.
Then there's campaign money. As Drutman put it, "People get that warm glow of 'This company's a good friend to my campaign.'"
Facebook's PAC and employees made political contributions totaling $4.5 million in the 2016 cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. For Google's parent company, Alphabet, the total was nearly $8 million.
"Then you go in and you make your case," Drutman said. "Google and Facebook have become so central in our economy, it's not surprising that they have become tremendous players here."

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Miles's Law and the Syria Strike

On August 27, 2013, Newt Gingrich wrote:
News that the United States is considering a military strike on Syria in response to the Bashar al-Assad regime's suspected use of chemical weapons suggests we could soon see an American bombing campaign on the war-torn country.
The atrocities that took place in Syria recently, such as those that have been taking place there for almost two years, are deplorable and inhuman.

Before bombing Syria over the regime's latest crimes, however, we should stand back and ask, "And then what?"
A brief bombing campaign in Syria might make the United States and its allies feel like they are doing something, but it will prove nothing.
We have already abstained from getting involved in the civil war for two years and have chosen not to respond to evidence (albeit less clear) of another chemical attack this year.

We have already concluded that as terrible as the civil war is, it cannot be our war. The bombing will not change this -- and then what?