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Friday, October 30, 2009

Participation by the Dead

In chapter 8, we discuss political participation. A couple of CQ articles point out that dead people can participate, too. No, it's not a Halloween joke. In some states, an absentee ballot counts even if the person who cast it dies before election day. And some people leave money in their wills to campaign, parties, and political action committees.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The House Health Bill

(Photo by Jesse Blumenthal)

From The Politico:
It runs more pages than War and Peace, has nearly five times as many words as the Torah, and its tables of contents alone run far longer than this story. The House health care bill unveiled Thursday clocks in at 1,990 pages and about 400,000 words. With an estimated 10-year cost of $894 billion, that comes out to about $2.24 million per word.


In chapter 9, we discuss ways in which interest groups try to influence lawmakers. Most analyses emphasize PAC contributions. And although campaign money is part of the story, influence also depends on grassroots support. We cite AARP, which has never made any campaign contributions but wields power because it has millions of members who will write their lawmakers. The Hill offers the example of the American Petroleum Institute, which helped set up "Energy Citizen" rallies against global-warming legislation. And individual firms come into play, too:
“The oil and gas sector writ large is just not loved up on the Hill. But our employees are, especially the ones at the plants out in the states,” said Stephen Brown, a lobbyist with Tesoro Corp., a large oil refiner.

Tesoro’s corporate offices are in Texas, but its refineries are located in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Utah and North Dakota, a state that could play an outsized role in the climate debate as home to two Democratic senators who have expressed unease with the cap-and-trade bill.

Tesoro CEO Bruce Smith toured the company’s refineries this summer to talk about the House climate bill, noting that the free allowances the industry would receive don’t come close to covering its emissions. Refiners say the climate bill could force many domestic companies out of business.

The company has also set up a website,, where employees can see whom they should call, send an e-mail or write a letter. ... Brown said Tesoro employees have been eager to participate in the new grassroots campaign. At some plants as many as 80 percent of the workers have used the new site.

“They get that if there is a negative impact on our sector it will have a negative impact on their jobs,” Brown said.

Of course, campaign money remains in the news, as The Hill reports:

Dozens of lobbyists were invited to a Democratic National Committee (DNC) fundraiser Tuesday night with a Cabinet member even though President Barack Obama has sworn off taking money from lobbyists.

A DNC official said it was a mistake that lobbyists were invited to a small gathering with Lisa Jackson, Obama’s administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The official said a review of attendees indicates that no lobbyists attended the event.

The invitation, which was obtained by The Hill, was sent to lobbying firms, however. And it invited employees to join Jackson and DNC national finance chairwoman Jane Stetson at the Georgetown home of Frank Loy, a former State Department official in the Clinton administration.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Public Knowledge

Chapter 8 of our book discusses what the public does and does not know about politics. The Pew Research Center has some new survey information:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

America's Standing

A recurring feature in the text is "International Perspectives." A recent report by the American Political Science Association sheds light on this subject. Among other things, it finds:
Not surprisingly, perhaps, one of President Obama’s central foreign policy objectives has been to “restore American standing.” To date, Obama appears to enjoy broad confidence around the globe. Favorable foreign attitudes towards the United States have risen sharply. At the same time there are strong indications of continuing, deep global dissatisfaction with U.S. economic and military policies. This suggests that U.S. standing remains a significant political issue. The disjuncture between confidence in Obama and discontent with U.S. policies is a potentially troubling fault line for the
United States and the Obama presidency.

The the task force members who wrote the report, two offered a partial dissent:

[T]his report makes too much of the recent decline of U.S. standing, implicitly indicting the administration of George W. Bush and endorsing President Obama’s rhetoric to “restore” that standing. This point of view is certainly popular and defensible—one could even say confirmed by the elections. But we would have preferred a disclaimer much earlier in the report warning the reader to be aware that political bias affects perceptions of standing. The academic community, unbalanced as it is between self-identified Republicans and Democrats, is not immune to such bias.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Comprative Perspective from Uganda

Our book has a regular boxed feature comparing the United States and other nations. In this vein, Ugandan journalist Rodney Muhumuza has some thoughtful reflections after a lengthy American stay:

Asked to say something about politics in Uganda — and it happened often — my typical response would be something close to this: “I was born in 1981, five years before Yoweri Museveni came to power after a guerrilla war. He is the only president I have known, and I am a grown man.” Probed further, I might add: “I love my country very much. But I am still waiting for the day we will have a peaceful transfer of power.”

It was the kind of routine that was delivered with devastating steadiness. Four days before I left America, an American economist named Duncan Chaplin interviewed me for a radio station that broadcasts online for a Kenyan audience. Everything seemed to go well until he asked me to compare the Ugandan and American political situations. I did not know what to say. “There is nothing to compare,” I said, by which time he had realised that it was not a particularly good question. My point had been made.

The United States settled this issue in 1801. John Adams had lost a tough, nasty presidential election to Thomas Jefferson. He was bitter about his defeat, but when the hour came, he packed his bags and went home. It never occurred to him to do otherwise.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Podesta Power

Chapter 9 of the book has a photo essay on the Podesta family. An item in today's Politico gives a hint of the family's wide-ranging influence:
Spotted Friday night at lobbyist Tony Podesta’s 65th birthday party inside the National Museum of Women in the Arts museum: wife Heather Podesta; brother, head of Center for American Progress and former co-chair of Obama’s transition team John Podesta; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with husband Paul Pelosi; Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.); Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and husband Sidney Harman; Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.); Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.); Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.); actress from television’s “thirtysomething” Polly Draper and her husband, jazz pianist Michael Wolff; Beth Dozoretz; Charlie Cook; Meredith Harman; Marlene Malek; Project on Government Oversight’s Adam Zagorin; The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney and Tara Palmeri; NMPA’s David Israelite; and Lisa Tseng.
An August Washington Post profile of Heather Podesta provided more background:

"This is a very good time to be a Democratic lobbyist . . . it's incredibly exciting to be able to engage with Democrats and really see things happen," Podesta says one afternoon at her office in one of those cool, restored red-brick buildings on E Street. "It's always a good time to be Heather Podesta."

There are more than 12,500 registered lobbyists -- about 23 for every member of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- and some are getting richer while others stagnate or even dip a bit because of all of this pesky recession talk. But those who operate at the confluence of this summer's big three legislative streams are happiest of all.

Podesta is right there in the eddy, an It Girl in a new generation of young, highly connected, built-for-the-Obama-era lobbyists. She gets an undeniable boost from a famous name -- she is the sister-in-law of John Podesta, the insider's insider who was Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff and Obama's transition director, and the wife of über-lobbyist Tony Podesta. Heather and Tony run his-and-hers lobbying shops. His grew a staggering 57 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the same period the year before, taking in $11.8 million, fourth-highest among major lobbying firms. (Full disclosure: Tony Podesta has long represented The Washington Post, which paid him $10,000 in 2009 and $80,000 the year before, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.) Her six-person shop grew even faster, rocketing 65 percent to $3.4 million.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Voting Rights and Partisan Politics

The Washington Times reports from Kinston, North Carolina:
Voters in this small city decided overwhelmingly last year to do away with the party affiliation of candidates in local elections, but the Obama administration recently overruled the electorate and decided that equal rights for black voters cannot be achieved without the Democratic Party. The Justice Department's ruling, which affects races for City Council and mayor, went so far as to say partisan elections are needed so that black voters can elect their "candidates of choice" - identified by the department as those who are Democrats and almost exclusively black.

In an August letter, the Department explained its reasoning:
[The] elimination of party affiliation on the ballot will likely reduce the ability of blacks to elect candidates of choice. Black candidates will likely lose a significant amount of crossover votes due to the high degree of racial polarization present in city elections. Without party loyalty available to counter-balance the consistent trend of racial bloc voting, blacks will face greater difficulty winning general elections. Our analysis of election returns indicates that cross-over voting is greater in partisan general elections than in the closed primaries. Thus, statistical analysis supports the conclusion that given a change to a non-partisan elections, black preferred candidates will receive fewer white cross-over votes.

At the conservative Heritage Foundation, Hans Von Spakovsky writes: "The DOJ is improperly using the Voting Rights Act to guarantee that Democratic candidates win elections, rather than using it as intended to ensure that minority voters have the same opportunity as other voters to get to the polls and elect their candidate of choice."

Marijuana, Federalism, and Public Opinion

In chapter 3, we discuss ways in which debates on federalism may make for unusual alliances. The latest example is marijuana policy. From The New York Times:
People who use marijuana for medical purposes and those who distribute it to them should not face federal prosecution, provided they act according to state law, the Justice Department said Monday in a directive with far-reaching political and legal implications...The politics swirling around marijuana cross ideological lines. For instance, in effectively deferring to the states on some issues involving marijuana, the Obama administration is taking what could be seen as a states’ rights stance, more commonly associated with conservatives.

Chapter 8 discusses public opinion. According to Gallup, support for legalization of marijuana has risen:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Autism and Canadian-American Differences

In chapter 5, we discuss cultural differences between the United States and Canada. In a provocative essay on autism policy, Malcolm Stanley touches on this theme. Stanley recently moved south of the border and found that it was easier to get help for his autistic daughter in the United States. He explains:

Canada is founded on principles of peace, order and good government.

In Ontario, this translates into a benchmarks program that will withdraw therapeutic services from children with autism who do not show a sufficiently timely response to therapy. It is apparently a bureaucratic issue of the proper management of government spending.

If presented with a young Helen Keller, one wonders whether Ontario government-provided therapy services would be withdrawn. Would Keller ever have achieved her eureka moment if, instead of persistently holding Keller's hand under the pump, her therapist had been told to move on to another child with a more visible return on therapeutic investment?

... Counterintuitively, things are different in the United States. A nation founded upon the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness brings a persistent faith in the individual to the question of how to provide for autistic children. A simple trip of a moving truck has transformed the status of our daughter from that of an inconvenient provincial liability to that of a valued citizen with the right to demand assistance in her essential pursuit of happiness.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


President Obama has given policy responsibility to aides who are not subject to Senate confirmation. Some refer to these officials as "czars." This week, a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary took up the issue. According to The New York Times:

Senator Russ Feingold held his promised hearing on the constitutionality of so-called czars in the Obama administration on Tuesday afternoon, winnowing away at a list of criticized appointees in his effort to examine whether the Senate’s advise-and-consent role was being circumvented by the executive branch. Next up is a hearing a week from Wednesday, when the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee takes up the issue, too, zeroing in a little differently on the number of so-called czars and a slightly expanded number of appointments during President Obama’s tenure. When Senator Feingold, who is chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, opened his hearing, he called it “unfortunate” that the White House had
refused to send a representative to talk about the issue before the panel. “It’s also a bit ironic,” Senator Feingold noted, “since one of the concerns that has been raised about these officials is that they will thwart congressional oversight of the Executive Branch."

In the textbook, we have a photo essay on "Climate Czar" Carol Browner. One of the witnesses, Matt Spalding of Heritage, discussed her role. You may read his testimony here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

So Many Laws...

In Federalist 62, Madison wrote:
The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

In The Wall Street Journal, L. Gordon Crovitz writes:
Technology moves so quickly we can barely keep up, and our legal system moves so slowly it can't keep up with itself. By design, the law is built up over time by court decisions, statutes and regulations. Sometimes even criminal laws are left vague, to be defined case by case. Technology exacerbates the problem of laws so open and vague that they are hard to abide by, to the point that we have all become potential criminals.

Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate calls his new book "Three Felonies a Day," referring to the number of crimes he estimates the average American now unwittingly commits because of vague laws. New technology adds its own complexity, making innocent activity potentially criminal.