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Friday, May 24, 2019

Citizenship and Civic Education

Rebecca Burgess has a paper at AEI titled "To transmit or transform the republic? Citizenship, civic education, and the `cords of [constitutional] affection."

Key points:
  • Although US public opinion about America and the principles for which it stands are mixed, this seemingly schizophrenic attitude is probably not that surprising given the large, diverse, and liberal character of the republic today.
  • This state of affairs calls for some clarifying reexaminations of how an education in citizenship is thought to benefit and perpetuate the American regime.
  • Understanding civic education as transmitting or transforming the regime changes the purpose, shape, and content of a civics curriculum.
  • Ultimately, even in a rights-based social compact order informed by “reflection and choice,” a robust citizenship involves not only a set of intellectual principles but also emotions or passions that are not readily quantifiable.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Unintentional Gerrymandering

At NYT, Emily Badger reports on the work of political scientist Jonathan Rodden:
In the United States, where a party’s voters live matters immensely. That’s because most representatives are elected from single-member districts where the candidate with the most votes wins, as opposed to a system of proportional representation, as some democracies have.
Democrats tend to be concentrated in cities and Republicans to be more spread out across suburbs and rural areas. The distribution of all of the precincts in the 2016 election shows that while many tilt heavily Democratic, fewer lean as far in the other direction.
As a result, Democrats have overwhelming power to elect representatives in a relatively small number of districts — whether for state house seats, the State Senate or Congress — while Republicans have at least enough power to elect representatives in a larger number of districts.
Republicans, in short, are more efficiently distributed in a system that rewards spreading voters across space.

This helps explain why Republicans have controlled the Pennsylvania State Senate for nearly four decades, despite losing statewide votes about half that time. It explains why Republicans are routinely overrepresented in state legislatures, even in blue states like New York. It explains why Hillary Clinton carried only three of eight congressional districts in Minnesota — districts drawn by a panel of judges — even as she won the whole state.
In most European democracies, geography doesn’t matter in the same way. Legislators are elected from larger districts, each with multiple representatives, granting parties proportional power. If a party wins 50 percent of the votes, it doesn’t matter much if those votes are evenly spread around or tightly clustered.
Britain, Australia and Canada, unlike much of Europe, have the same majoritarian system the United States does, and urban-rural divides appear there, too.
Underrepresentation of the left, Mr. Rodden argues, is a feature of any democracy that draws winner-take-all districts atop a map where the left is concentrated in cities.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Freedom in the World

Freedom House published Freedom in the World 2019 in February. Key findings:
  • Of the 195 countries assessed, 86 (44 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 50 (26 percent) Not Free.
  • The United States currently receives a score of 86 out of 100 points. While this places it below other major democracies such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, it is still firmly in the Free category.
  • In 2018, the United States suffered a decline in the rule of law, as government policies and actions improperly restricted the legal rights of asylum seekers, discrimination became evident in the acceptance of refugees for resettlement, and immigration enforcement and detention policies were excessively harsh or haphazard.
  • In contrast, conditions for freedom of assembly in the country improved, with an upsurge in civic action and no repetition of the previous year’s protest-related violence.
  • Ethnic cleansing and related abuses are a growing trend, leading to a large jump over the past 13 years in the number of countries (3 to 11) that receive score reductions due to egregious efforts to alter the ethnic composition of their territory.
  • In many struggling democracies, antiliberal leaders’ verbal attacks on the media contributed to broader declines in press freedom and growing physical threats against journalists. At the same time, rulers elsewhere have been emboldened to take far more aggressive action in response to critical coverage.
  • A growing number of governments are reaching beyond their borders to target expatriates, exiles, and diasporas. Freedom House found 24 countries around the world—including heavyweights like Russia, China, Turkey,Iran, and Saudi Arabia—that have recently targeted political dissidents abroad with practices such as harassment, extradition requests, kidnapping, and even assassination. Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey put a spotlight on authoritarian regimes’ uninhibited cross-border pursuit of their perceived enemies.
  • Although the countries with net declines in this report (68) again outnumber those with net gains (50), the gap between them is smaller than in the previous year, and in 2018 more countries earned large improvements (more than 5 points) than in 2017.
  • In Angola, Armenia, Ethiopia, and Malaysia, politicians unexpectedly responded or were forced to respond to public demands for democratic change, serving as a reminder that people continue to strive for freedom, accountability, and dignity, even in countries where the odds of success seem insurmountable.
  • Hungary dropped from Free to Partly Free due to sustained attacks on the country’s democratic institutions by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, affecting the media, religious groups, academia, NGOs, the courts, and the private sector. However, the year ended with vigorous dissent from thousands of protesters who took to the streets to denounce Orbán’s abuses.
  • Serbia also dropped from Free to Partly Free due to election irregularities, legal harassment and smear campaigns against independent journalists, and President Aleksandar Vučić’s de facto accumulation of extraconstitutional powers.
  • Nicaragua fell from Partly Free to Not Free as authorities brutally repressed an antigovernment protest movement with arrests and imprisonment of opposition figures, intimidation and attacks against religious leaders, and violence by state forces and allied armed groups that resulted in hundreds of deaths.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Party-Aligned Think Tanks and Congress

E.J. Fagan at
As they have grown, these party-aligned think tanks have become more influential in Congressional debates. One way that I measure the changing influence of think tanks over time is to observe how frequently they testify in hearings. The figure below charts the number of witnesses from the six think tanks per hearing against the staff witnesses from the CBO, CRS, and OTA. The two trends are mirror images of each other. When Congress cut the budgets of its analytical organizations in the mid-90s, there was a subsequent explosion in think tank witnesses. While this explosion subsided after the 104th Congress, a new equilibrium was established for much of the late-90s and early 2000s. Finally, the series accelerates again in the mid-2000s, as the analytical organization budgets suffered further cuts.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Ancient Origins of Advice and Consent

Allan Matkins at The National Law Review:
The United States Constitution vests the executive power of the federal government in the president, but his or her power is not entirely autonomous. Notably, Article II, Section 2 notably endows the president with the power to make treaties with the "advice and consent" of the Senate. While the president has unilateral power to nominate ambassadors, judges and other officers of the United States, actual appointments may only be made with the "advice and consent" of the Senate.
The concept of advice and consent is an ancient one. It may have begun with the Etruscans, a people who preceded the Romans on the Italian peninsula. Like the Greeks and Romans, the Etruscans worshipped a pantheon of deities having one king or chief god. For the Greeks, this was Ζεύς (Zeus), for the Romans in was Jupiter, and for the Etruscans it was Tinia. Like his Greek and Roman counterparts, Tinia could hurl thunderbolts. Unlike Zeus and Jupiter, however, Tinia was required to consult with, and obtain the consent of, the other principal gods before throwing a destructive thunderbolt.

This idea of advice and consent became a central feature of the Roman government. Unlike the United States Senate, the Roman senate was not a legislative body. It was a deliberative body whose consent was required to legitimize executive and administrative actions. This consultative role gave it indirect executive power.
The founding fathers of the American republic may not have been thinking of Tinia when they wrote the advice and consent requirement into the Constitution. There can be no doubt, however, that they were familiar with, and borrowed from, precedents from the Roman republic that had their origins in Etruscan theology.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Census Citizenship Question

The 1950 census was the last one to date that collected citizenship information from the whole U.S. resident population. The 1960 census had no citizenship question per se but queried a sample of respondents about birthplace. From 1970 on, the Census Bureau asked a population sample about citizenship or naturalization status, first as part of the census, then in the American Community Survey (ACS). Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and his staff reportedly asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) if it would request the Census Bureau to collect citizenship data in the 2020 census. DOJ made the request on December 12, 2017. Secretary Ross announced on March 26, 2018, that the 2020 census will ask the ACS question “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” The choice of ACS answers is “Yes, born in the United States”; “Yes, born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Northern Marianas”; “Yes, born abroad of U.S. citizen parent or parents”; “Yes, U.S. citizen by naturalization—Print year of naturalization”; or “No, not a U.S. citizen.” DOJ stated that the census, not a survey with associated sampling error, “is the most appropriate vehicle for collecting” citizenship data “critical to the Department’s enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act” and its “protections against racial discrimination in voting.”
Opponents of the citizenship question have expressed concern that it may depress immigrants’ census response rates or cause them to falsify data, especially if their status in the United States, or that of their friends or families, is illegal. Census Bureau fieldworkers in 2017 noted heightened anxiety about data confidentiality among certain foreign-born respondents and reluctance to answer questions, particularly about citizenship status. Six former bureau directors, from both Republican and Democratic administrations, signed a January 26, 2018, letter to Secretary Ross, opposing the late-date introduction of an untested citizenship question. Multiple lawsuits were filed to block the question; Judge Jesse Furman, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, ruled on July 26, 2018, that the consolidated suit State of New York et al. vs. U.S. Department of Commerce et al. could proceed.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Fragile Communities

An April release from the Center for Advancing Opportunity:
In order to identify barriers to opportunity for members of fragile communities across the country and provide better solutions for them, the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO) has released its second annual State of Opportunity in America report in collaboration with Thurgood Marshall College Fund, The Charles Koch Foundation, Koch Industries and Gallup Inc.
The report provides insight into some of the most pressing issues addressed by CAO’s three pillars of focus: criminal justice reform, education reform and economic mobility. The report highlights these key findings:
  • Though black and Hispanic residents of fragile communities are less likely than whites to feel that people like themselves are treated fairly by their local police or legal system, they are more likely than whites to say they would like the police to spend more time in their area.
  • Among residents of fragile communities with children under 18 in their households, less than half say they are “extremely satisfied” (9%) or “satisfied” (37%) with the quality of public K-12 schools in their area.
  • Among fragile community residents, 36% said they find it difficult to get by compared with 17% of Americans overall. Only 18% of residents said they are living comfortably compared with 45% of Americans overall.
The report is based on a nationwide survey of 5,784 Americans from 47 states living in areas of concentrated poverty. The survey was conducted from July through September 2018.
Gallup reports:
While nearly all fragile community residents think postsecondary education is important, just 29% agree or strongly agree that all people in their area have access to an affordable college education if they want it, while 44% disagree or strongly disagree.