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Saturday, September 26, 2020

Americans Want to Abolish the Electoral College

Heading into the 2020 presidential election, three in five Americans favor amending the U.S. Constitution to replace the Electoral College with a popular vote system, marking a six-percentage point uptick since April 2019. This preference for electing the president based on who receives the most votes nationwide is driven by 89% of Democrats and 68% of independents. Far fewer Republicans, 23%, share this view, as 77% of them support keeping the current system in which the candidate with the most votes in the Electoral College wins the election.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Covering Mussolini

At various times in history, some Americans have expressed admiration for forms of government that contradict the values of the Declaration. In the 1930s, for instance, Walter Duranty of The New York Times whitewashed Stalin's Ukraine famine.

John Broich at Smithsonian Magazine:
Benito Mussolini secured Italy’s premiership by marching on Rome with 30,000 blackshirts in 1922. By 1925 he had declared himself leader for life. While this hardly reflected American values, Mussolini was a darling of the American press, appearing in at least 150 articles from 1925-1932, most neutral, bemused or positive in tone.

The Saturday Evening Post even serialized Il Duce’s autobiography in 1928. Acknowledging that the new “Fascisti movement” was a bit “rough in its methods,” papers ranging from the New York Tribune to the Cleveland Plain Dealer to the Chicago Tribune credited it with saving Italy from the far left and revitalizing its economy. From their perspective, the post-WWI surge of anti-capitalism in Europe was a vastly worse threat than Fascism.

Ironically, while the media acknowledged that Fascism was a new “experiment,” papers like The New York Times commonly credited it with returning turbulent Italy to what it called “normalcy.”

Yet some journalists like Hemingway and journals like the New Yorker rejected the normalization of anti-democratic Mussolini. John Gunther of Harper’s, meanwhile, wrote a razor-sharp account of Mussolini’s masterful manipulation of a U.S. press that couldn’t resist him.

Humorist Will Rogers befriended Il Duce. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Ethnic Composition of the Electorate

 From Pew:

In all 50 states, the share of non-Hispanic White eligible voters declined between 2000 and 2018, with 10 states experiencing double-digit drops in the share of White eligible voters. During that same period, Hispanic voters have come to make up increasingly larger shares of the electorate in every state. These gains are particularly large in the Southwestern U.S., where states like Nevada, California and Texas have seen rapid growth in the Hispanic share of the electorate over an 18-year period.1

These trends are also particularly notable in battleground states – such as Florida and Arizona – that are likely to be crucial in deciding the 2020 election.2 In Florida, two-in-ten eligible voters in 2018 were Hispanic, nearly double the share in 2000. And in the emerging battleground state of Arizona, Hispanic adults made up about one-quarter (24%) of all eligible voters in 2018, up 8 percentage points since 2000.

The ways in which these demographic shifts might shape electoral outcomes are closely linked to the distinct partisan preferences of different racial and ethnic groups. Pew Research Center survey data spanning more than two decades shows that the Democratic Party maintains a wide and long-standing advantage among Black, Hispanic and Asian American registered voters.3 Among White voters, the partisan balance has been generally stable over the past decade, with the Republican Party holding a slight advantage.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Debt Blows Up

By the end of 2020, CBO reports, federal debt held by the public is projected to equal 98 percent of GDP. The projected budget deficits would boost federal debt to 104 percent of GDP in 2021, to 107 percent of GDP (the highest amount in the nation’s history) in 2023, and to 195 percent of GDP by 2050.

If federal debt as a percentage of GDP continued to rise at the pace that CBO projects it would under current law, in the long term the economy would be affected in two significant ways: 
  • That debt path would raise borrowing costs, reduce business investment, and slow the growth of economic output over time,7 and
  • Rising interest costs associated with that debt would increase interest payments to foreign holders of U.S. debt and thus reduce U.S. national income.
Persistently rising debt as a percentage of GDP would also pose significant risks to the fiscal and economic outlook, although financial markets currently do not reflect those concerns. In particular, that debt path would have these economic and financial effects:
  • It would increase the risk of a fiscal crisis—that is, a situation in which investors lose confidence in the U.S. government’s ability to service and repay its debt, causing interest rates to increase abruptly,inflation to spiral upward, or other disruptions—and 
  • It would increase the likelihood of less abrupt, but still significant, negative effects, such as expectations of higher rates of inflation and more difficulty financing public and private activity in international markets.
In addition, high and rising debt makes government financing more vulnerable to increases in interest rates because costs to service that debt rise more for a given increase in interest rates when debt is higher than when it is lower. High and rising debt also might cause policymakers to feel restrained from implementing deficit-financed fiscal policy to respond to unforeseen events or for other purposes, such as to promote economic activity or strengthen national defense. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Ginsburg and Scalia

 At Fox, Christopher Scalia recalls his father's friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday.

Judge Jeffrey Sutton, one of my father’s former clerks, tells a story about visiting my father at the Supreme Court on what happened to be Justice Ginsburg’s birthday. My dad had bought his old friend two dozen roses for the occasion, and Judge Sutton started teasing him, joking that there was no point to a gift like that when Justice Ginsburg had never sided with him in an important 5-4 case.

My father replied, “Some things are more important than votes.”

The point of this story isn’t that my father or Justice Ginsburg changed their votes to please the other, or that they pulled any punches when writing differing opinions – indeed, they are both known for their strong dissents. The point is that they didn’t let those differing and deeply held convictions undermine their dear friendship.

This has already been one of the most difficult and divisive years in living memory; with Justice Ginsburg’s passing, it will become more so.

Reasonable people of good faith will disagree about important issues. You and your friends will likely hold very strong, very different opinions about what course our country should take and who should lead us there.

A healthy republic requires citizens to debate those issues forcefully and peacefully; a healthy society needs citizens to remember that political disagreement need not turn friends into enemies. My father and Justice Ginsburg mastered this balance. We’ll all need to do the same in the difficult months before us.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Brain Drain on the Hill

Executive Summary

This research report comprehensively investigates congressional capacity and governance using publicly available data on long-term trends in legislative branch expenditures and data Furnas and LaPira collected in the 2017 and 2019 Congressional Capacity Surveys (CCS).1 When combined, the CCS is the most comprehensive time-series cross-sectional survey of congressional staffers’ professional backgrounds, career paths, policy views, technical knowledge, substantive expertise, and job experiences ever conducted. We document how the decline in legislative capacity has changed during the era of rising polarization and increasing political party competition. As a consequence, legislative staff in Washington are asked to do more and more, with less and less.
  1. Congress is a funnel to lucrative jobs in lobbying. Between 40−45 percent see the private sector as their next career step. Roughly half of staff aiming to enter the private sector after serving on the Hill want to become lobbyists. For the most part, working on the Hill is viewed as an entry-level position for K Street, rather than a stepping stone for a career in public service.
  2. Staff resources have shifted to the district. The share of total staffer full-time equivalents dedicated to Washington, D.C. offices has fallen from more than 70 percent in the 1970s to 50 percent in recent years.
  3. There are fewer resources to pay staff. In the House of Representatives, the budget allocated for office staff hires fell by 10 percent from 2013 to 2017.
  4. Staff pay is declining. Salaries fell among communications, legislative, and administrative staff following the 110th Congress (2007-2008). The decline cannot alone be attributed to the member pay freeze and austerity measures resulting from the Great Recession because the decline in resources allocated for legislative staff started well before 2007.
  5. Congressional staffers in important roles are largely inexperienced. Most staff who manage policy portfolios in Congress have only one or two years of Hill experience. That is, roughly one-third of legislative staffers have not yet served the duration of a single Congress. Conversely, staffers in both chambers who have spent more time working in Congress are measurably more knowledgeable about institutional procedures and important policy topics.
  6. Capitol Hill is staffed primarily by Millennials. Roughly 60 percent of the congressional staffer population is under the age of 35, and 75 percent under 40 years old.
  7. Turnover among congressional staff is exceedingly high. The average tenure for staff on Capitol Hill is 3.1 years. About 65 percent of staffers plan to leave Congress within five years. Even more strikingly, 43 percent plan to depart by the end of the Congress in which they are employed.
  8. Most do not see working in Congress as a long-term career option. Even among those who would like to continue careers in the public sector, more than half (55 percent) plan to leave Congress.
  9. Staffers work extremely long hours, and are spread thin. More than 65 percent of staff work 50+ hours a week, and 20 percent of staff work 60+ hours. Of senior staffers, 65 percent work 60+ hours a week. The average legislative staffer works on two to six issue areas every single day.
  10. Staff like working for their boss, but not so much for Congress. Seventy-six percent report a very strong or strong sense of belonging in their employing office, but only 61 percent feel similarly about Congress as a whole. This institutional deficit is greater for women and staffers who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
  11. In Congress, experience yields knowledge, but is not rewarded. Staffers that have spent more time working in Congress are measurably more knowledgeable about institutional procedures and important policy topics. This is true across both chambers, and is unrelated to actual work assignments. Yet, turnover is so high and retention rates so low that members fail to keep that knowledge in house, so must rely more and more on K Street.
  12. Staffers are highly partisan and highly ideological. Sixty-five percent of staffers identify as strong partisans, and almost no staffers identify as true independents. Staffers are well-sorted ideologically, such that there is little ideological overlap between Democratic and Republican offices.

Saturday, September 19, 2020


From the V-Dem Institute:
• For the first time since 2001, autocracies are in the majority: 92 countries – home to 54% of the global population.
• Almost 35% of the world’s population live in autocratizing nations – 2.6 billion people.
• The EU has its first non-democracy as a member: Hungary is now classified as an electoral authoritarian regime.
Major G20 nations and all regions of the world are part of the “third wave of autocratization”:
Autocratization is affecting Brazil, India, the United States of America, and Turkey, which are major economies with sizeable populations, exercising substantial global military, economic, and political influence.
• Latin America is back to a level last recorded in the early 1990s while Eastern Europe and Central Asia are at post-Soviet Union lows.
• India is on the verge of losing its status as a democracy due to the severely shrinking of space for the media, civil society, and the opposition under Prime Minister Modi’s government.
Attacks on freedom of expression and the media intensify across the world, and the quality of elections begins to deteriorate:
• Attacks on freedom of expression and media freedom are now affecting 31 countries, compared to 19 two years ago.
• The Clean Elections Index fell significantly in 16 nations while improving in only twelve.
• Media censorship and the repression of civil society have intensified in a record 37 countries – eleven more than the 26 states currently affected by severe autocratization. Since these indicators are typically the first to move in a gradual process of autocratization, this development is an early warning signal for what might be yet to come.
New V-Dem indicators on Civic and Academic Space show that autocratization taints the whole society:
• Academic freedom has registered a conspicuous average decline of 13% in autocratizing countries over the last 10 years.
• The right to peaceful assembly and protest has declined by 14% on average in  autocratizing countries.
• Toxic polarization, pro-autocracy mass protests, and political violence rise in many autocratizing countries, such as in Brazil and Poland. 
New V-Dem data on pro-democracy mass mobilization reveals all-time highs in 2019:
• The share of countries with substantial pro-democracy mass protests rose from 27% in 2009 to 44% in 2019.
• Citizens are taking to the streets in order to defend civil liberties and the rule of law, and to fight for clean elections and political freedom.
• The unprecedented degree of mobilization for democracy in light of deepening autocratization is a sign of hope. While pro-autocracy rulers attempt to curtail the space for civil society, millions of citizens have demonstrated their commitment to democracy.
Protesters in democracies resist the dismantling of democracy while their counterparts in
autocracies are demanding more democracy:
• During 2019, citizens in 29 democracies mobilized against autocratization, such as in Bolivia, Poland, and Malawi.
• Citizens staged mass protests in 34 autocracies, among them Algeria, Hong Kong, and Sudan.
• In several cases such as in Sudan, citizens successfully achieved breakthroughs for freedom and democracy.
Democratization continues to progress around the world:
• In 22 countries, pro-democracy mass protests have been followed by substantial democratization during the last ten years.
• Armenia, The Gambia, Sri Lanka, and Tunisia are the four countries achieving the greatest democratic gains.
• Ecuador shows that while autocratization can be turned around, it is difficult to return to a stable democracy