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Monday, April 23, 2018

Public-Sector Jobs

In our chapter on bureaucracy and the administrative state, we discuss government employees who do not serve at the pleasure of elected officials. In many states (though not all) they are having a difficult time.

For generations of Americans, working for a state or local government — as a teacher, firefighter, bus driver or nurse — provided a comfortable nook in the middle class. No less than automobile assembly lines and steel plants, the public sector ensured that even workers without a college education could afford a home, a minivan, movie nights and a family vacation.
In recent years, though, the ranks of state and local employees have languished even as the populations they serve have grown. They now account for the smallest share of the American civilian work force since 1967.
The 19.5 million workers who remain are finding themselves financially downgraded. Teachers who have been protesting low wages and sparse resources in Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kentucky — and those in Arizona who say they plan to walk out on Thursday — are just one thread in that larger skein.
The private sector has been more welcoming. During 97 consecutive months of job growth, it created 18.6 million positions, a 17 percent increase. 
But that impressive streak comes with an asterisk. Many of the jobs created — most in service industries — lack stability and security. They pay little more than the minimum wage and lack predictable hours, insurance, sick days or parental leave. 
The result is that the foundation of the middle class continues to be gnawed away even as help-wanted ads multiply.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Free Speech, Fake News, and the Internet

From Pew:
When asked to choose between the U.S. government taking action to restrict false news online in ways that could also limit Americans’ information freedoms, or protecting those freedoms even if it means false information might be published, Americans fall firmly on the side of protecting freedom. Nearly six-in-ten Americans (58%) say they prefer to protect the public’s freedom to access and publish information online, including on social media, even if it means false information can also be published. Roughly four-in-ten (39%) fall the other way, preferring that the U.S. government take steps to restrict false information even if it limits those freedoms, according to a survey conducted Feb. 26-March 11, 2018, among 4,734 U.S. adults who are members of Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel.

When the same question is posed about technology companies taking those steps, however, the balance changes. More U.S. adults (56%) favor technology companies taking steps to restrict false information, even if it limits the public’s freedom to access and publish information. By comparison, 42% prefer to protect those freedoms rather than have tech companies take action, even if it means the presence of some misinformation online.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Ruling for Federalism and the Separation of Powers.

James Hohmann at WP:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upheld a nationwide injunction that blocks the Justice Department from using “the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement.”
Trump’s latest courtroom defeat offers yet another civics lesson about checks and balances for the first president in American history who lacks any prior governing or military experience. Unlike congressional Republicans who have by and large kowtowed and capitulated to Trumpism, despite private uneasiness and grumbling in many cases, Republican-appointed judges are free not to care about the wrath of the president or blowback from his loyalists. This gives them the breathing room to worry more about the rule of law than partisanship. That was the point of an independent judiciary and giving lifetime appointments. It’s how the Constitution is supposed to work.
Judge Ilana Rovner, who was appointed to a district judgeship by Ronald Reagan and elevated to the circuit by George H.W. Bush, offers a remarkable rebuke of the Trump administration in a 35-page opinion that can be read as a tutorial on the separation of powers. She even throws around words like “tyranny” that you don’t often see in opinions of this nature:
The founders of our country well understood that the concentration of power threatens individual liberty and established a bulwark against such tyrannyby creating a separation of powers among the branches of government. If the Executive Branch can determine policy, and then use the power of the purse to mandate compliance with that policy by the state and local governments, all without the authorization or even acquiescence of elected legislators, that check against tyranny is forsaken. The Attorney General in this case used the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement. But the power of the purse rests with Congress, which authorized the federal funds at issue and did not impose any immigration enforcement conditions on the receipt of such funds. In fact, Congress repeatedly refused to approve of measures that would tie funding to state and local immigration policies. Nor, as we will discuss, did Congress authorize the Attorney General to impose such conditions. It falls to us, the judiciary, as the remaining branch of the government, to act as a check on such usurpation of power. We are a country that jealously guards the separation of powers, and we must be ever‐vigilant in that endeavor.

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.