Thursday, December 31, 2009

E-Congress?

Journalist Conor Friedersdorf poses the idea of an E-Congress, in which members would stay in their constituencies, and use electronic means to deliberate and cast votes.  He discusses counterarguments and potential advantages:
Let's grapple first with the Founding Fathers, whose rules and wisdom we're indirectly calling into question. They wrote the Constitution in 1789, decades before the appearance of the telegraph, never mind the telephone, FAX machine and modem. It is therefore true that they intended for Congress to congregate in person, but equally true that they could neither imagine nor choose an alternative system that permitted virtually-present members to deliberate or cast votes.

Surveying America today, is there anything that might cause its architects to prefer a dispersed Congress? Concentrated gatherings are certainly more vulnerable to terrorists with modern weaponry, or even conventional foes, who needn't march on Washington to destroy it. Today's media environment makes it easy to keep up with political debates at the federal level, but doesn't adequately convey local needs in all of America's congressional districts. The modern legislator is also far more likely to conceive of the federal seat as "home" compared to his or her predecessors.
The most significant difference, however, is the pervasive and pernicious culture of influence that now exists in the District of Columbia. Professional lobbyists are the clearest example. Saying that the Founders didn't anticipate their rise doesn't do justice to how profound and unprecedented the changes have been, even in the last few decades.
This idea should make for good classroom discussion.  The terrorism argument has weight.  On 9/11, United 93 may have been heading for the Capitol when the passengers fought back.  But a major consideration is whether an E-Congress could truly be deliberative.  As we discuss in our chapter on Congress, there are multiple venues for deliberation on Capitol Hill, including informal discussions among lawmakers and staff.  It might be difficult to have those discussions electronically.   And instead of limiting the power of interest groups, a dispersion of Congress might just change their tactics.  That is, groups would shift resources to mobilizing members and supporters at the grassroots -- activity that is largely exempt from lobbying-disclosure rules.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bureaucracy and Terror

We start chapter 15, "Bureaucracy and the Administrative State," with a discussion of the role of bureaucracy in the war on terror.  We also discuss the national security bureaucracy in chapter 19. The attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas highlights this topic.  Yesterday, President Obama noted that the suspect's father had warned American officials about his son. 
Even without this one report there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together.  We've achieved much since 9/11 in terms of collecting information that relates to terrorists and potential terrorist attacks.  But it's becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.

Had this critical information been shared it could have been compiled with other intelligence and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged.  The warning signs would have triggered red flags and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.
As we note, a failure to share information preceded the 9/11 attacks as well.  Attempts at corrective action followed.  By executive order, President Bush established the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to serve as the central and shared knowledge bank on terrorism information. Congress established the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to coordinate the intelligence community.  An anonymous intelligence official tells The Politico:  “The United States government set up NCTC — and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to connect the dots on terrorism. If somebody thinks it could have been done better in this case, they know where to go for answers.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Government Comics

In chaper 5, we discuss civic culture and civic education.  Comics have played their part, as we see in the University of Nebraska's online compilation of comics and related items. The government sponsored most of them to provide information (Yogi Bear in "Earthquake Preparedness for Children") or to encourage patriotism ("L'il Abner Joins the Navy").

Fun with the Court

In chapter 16, we discuss the role of the judiciary.  The Freakonomics blog mentions a couple of websites on which students can have fun with what they learn.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Filibuster, Con and Pro

In chapter 13, we discuss the Senate filibuster.  Ezra Klein argues against it in The Washington Post:

According to UCLA political scientist Barbara Sinclair, about 8 percent of major bills faced a filibuster in the 1960s. This decade, that jumped to 70 percent. The problem with the minority party continually making the majority party fail, of course, is that it means neither party can ever successfully govern the country.

Jeff Merkley, a freshman Democratic Senator from Oregon and former speaker of Oregon's House of Representatives, spoke to this issue in an interview last week. "When you use the word filibuster," he said, "most of us in America envision it as the ability to speak at length and even delay progress by taking hours. I count myself among those Americans." He sighed. "But it's not a filibuster anymore. It's a supermajority requirement. And when that becomes commonly used, it's a recipe for paralysis."
 At RealClearPolitics, Jay Cost argues for the filibuster:
Using the filibuster is thus a rational response when one finds oneself in the smaller half of a polarized chamber, which is more likely to be the case today than 45 years ago.

This points to a highly beneficial purpose the filibuster can serve. Per Klein, it is indeed an obstructionist tool, but it is also a way to promote moderate policies, even as the parties have become more ideologically extreme. In other words, thanks to the filibuster, an ideologically extreme majority party cannot simply enact its policy preferences as it sees fit. Instead, it must either find common ground with some on the other side, or do nothing. In other words, the filibuster has an effect similar to that of a large body of water on the climate of the neighboring coast, keeping the temperature from getting too hot or too cold.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Earmarks, Transparency, and Deliberation

In chapter 13, we discuss earmarks, provisions of spending bills that set aside funds for a specific purpose in a district or state.  Critics of earmarks have often said that they lack transparency, so it is difficult to deliberate about them.  Reforms have met only partial success. The Hill reports:  
Both senators and House members listed their earmark requests on their web sites this year. But even that decision was made without much of Obama's input. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said in January they would require that earmark requests be posted online.

Even with the online postings, the requests aren't easily accessed or sorted, and the earmarks actually awarded are still tucked into the text of legislation that usually isn't released until hours before congressional markups on the bills. That makes it makes it difficult for the public to track earmarks and for lawmakers to hold hearings scrutinizing them, which Obama hoped would happen, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

"It's almost impossible to have hearings on them because you don't see the bill until they're voting on it," Ellis said.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Federalism and Health Care

The New York Times reports:
States that have already broadly expanded health care coverage are pushing back against the Senate overhaul bill, arguing that it unfairly penalizes them in favor of states that have done little or nothing to extend benefits to the uninsured. With tax revenues down and budgets breaking, the states — including Arizona, California, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin — say they cannot afford to essentially subsidize other states’ expansion of health care. The bill passed by the Senate on Thursday would move toward universal health insurance coverage in large part by expanding Medicaid, a program whose costs have traditionally been shared by the states and the federal government. But the roughly 20 states that have already expanded coverage in some form will pay a greater proportion of their new Medicaid costs under the bill than those states, largely in the South, that until now have covered relatively few of their poorest residents.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has data on state Medicaid programs.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has a Medicaid page.

Last Thoughts on Christmas

As Christmas 2009 begins to fade into memory, we offer a few more bits of historical context, courtesy of the Miami Herald:

Any celebration of the Dec. 25 date was banned in 17th century England under the Protestant rule of Oliver Cromwell and in the early days of colonial America. It was a crime to celebrate that day in Massachusetts from 1659 through 1681.

But by the 19th century in this country the celebration of Christmas -- spurred by such events as the publication of literary works such as Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Washington Irving's The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall and R. H. Hervey's The Book of Christmas -- was growing in popularity.

Alabama became the first state to make Christmas a legal holiday in 1836. By 1907 every contiguous state had followed when Oklahoma proclaimed the holy day an official holiday. Similar growth in the recognition of the event occurred in Europe and other parts of the world.

One may also find different perspectives on the history of the Christmas holiday in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Clergy and Campaign Money

In a number of places in our book, we mention the role of clergy as issue advocates (e.g., Martin Luther King) and elected officials (e.g., President James A. Garfield). CQ reports another political role: campaign contributor:
Like other previously untapped fundraising sources, Obama’s small-dollar juggernaut in the last election cycle also successfully passed its online collection plate among the country’s clerical class, raising $691,000 — or more than 10 percent of the past 30 years’ total — from ordained ministers, rabbis and other members of the clergy. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama also outraised GOP nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona by more than 5-to-1 among religious leaders.

Religious Identity

On Christmas Eve, Gallup offers some data on religious identity in the United States:
This Christmas season, 78% of Americans identify with some form of Christian religion, a proportion that has been declining in recent decades. The major reason for this decline has been an increase in the percentage of Americans claiming no religious identity, now at 13% of all adults.
...

The fact that fewer Americans say they have a religious identity does not necessarily mean there has been a decrease in overall religiosity in America. It is possible that some proportion of those who don't identify with a specific religion are still personally or spiritually religious.

Although a little more than one out of five Americans do not identify with a Christian faith, the Christmas season has ramifications for a broader segment of society. A Gallup survey conducted last year showed that 93% of all American adults said they celebrated Christmas.

Soldiers in Afghanistan

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reports on a trip to Afghanistan with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

This holiday season is a good time to remember these faraway soldiers. The debate over Afghanistan has provoked strong feelings, pro and con. But the country seems united in its appreciation for a military that has been suffering the stresses of war, without complaint, for the past eight years.

Soldiers are usually stoics. But the members of this battalion seem highly motivated. The sergeant of a platoon that lost nine men in two weeks asked to reenlist after a memorial service for his buddies. On the day Mullen visited here, the admiral reenlisted 10 soldiers.

This story reinforces our central point: there is more to public life than self-interest.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Nativity Story and America

President Obama went to a Boys and Girls club and spoke of the Nativity:
The birth of baby Jesus, and what he symbolizes for people all around the world is the possibility of peace and people treating each other with respect. And so I just hope that spirit of giving that's so important at Christmas, I hope all of you guys remember that as well. You know, it's not just about getting gifts but it's also doing something for other people. So being nice to your mom and dad and grandma and aunties and showing respect to people -- that's really important too, that's part of the Christmas spirit, don't you think? Do you agree with me?
The Nativity story also figures in a controversial campaign for census participation. From the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights:

[T]here are clear and easy ways to link the Christmas story with census. According to the Gospel According to Luke, Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, because of a Roman census.

LCCREF, in partnership with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), NAACP, Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), has developed several materials to help, including:

  • A poster depicting Joseph and Mary on their way to Bethlehem for the census; it is available in English, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Creole.
  • Sample bulletins, which can be placed in churches in your community.
  • Sample readings, which reflect on the Biblical story and the importance of the 2010 census.

The primary message is: "Joseph and Mary participated in the census…you should too."


Monday, December 21, 2009

Pledges, Promises, and Religious Tests

A boxed feature in most of our chapters is "Pledges and Promises," driving home the importance of oaths and other binding statements by political figures. Our book also emphasizes the unique status of religion in American public life. A North Carolina controversy illustrates both of these ideas. The Los Angeles Times reports:
When Cecil Bothwell took the oath of office as a city councilman this month, he did not swear to uphold the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions "so help me God." He merely affirmed that he would, without mentioning the Almighty. Nor did the political newcomer place his hand on a Bible. He simply kept it at his side.

Bothwell, you see, is an atheist -- or as he often describes himself, a "post-theist." And that has outraged some in this picturesque mountain resort who say Bothwell violated an obscure clause in the state constitution that disqualifies from elected office "any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God."
In Torasco v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961), the Supreme Court ruled that a Maryland test oath unconstitutionally invaded "freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from infringement by the States." A footnote added that because the judgment rested on these grounds, it was not necessary to consider the additional contention that the "test oath" provision of Article VI applied to the states as well as to the federal government. Article VI says:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Health Lobbying

In chapter 9, we discuss the "revolving door" between government and the interest-group world. In chapter 17, we discuss health care and other aspects of the welfare state. The Chicago Tribune provides further information on both topics with a report on health-care lobbying:
An analysis of public documents by Northwestern University's Medill News Service in partnership with the Tribune Newspapers Washington Bureau and the Center for Responsive Politics found a revolving door between Capitol Hill staffers and lobbying jobs for companies with a stake in health care legislation. At least 166 former aides from the nine congressional leadership offices and five committees involved in shaping health overhaul legislation -- along with at least 13 former lawmakers -- registered to represent at least 338 health care clients since the beginning of last year, according to the analysis. Their health care clients spent $635 million on lobbying over the past two years, the study shows.
The lawmaker with the greatest number of staff alumni in the health lobby is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). See graph here.

Former Democratic national chairman Howard Dean attracted attention for opposing the Senate bill. Hotline's Reid Wilson reports:
Dean, a physician, is a lifelong advocate of health care reform, and even GOPers agree he is acting out of conviction. But he is also a consultant to McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, a powerhouse DC lobbying firm that represents biotech companies before Congress. Those companies are paying close attention to a key provision in the bill that will seriously impact their bottom lines.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Legislative Bargaining

Our book emphasizes deliberation. But it never denies the role of political bargaining, which has been on display as the Senate considers the health bill. Senate leaders won over wavering colleagues by providing special favors to their constituents. In particular, Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) got extra federal Medicaid money for their states.

There is ample precedent for such deals. In The Triumph of Politics (p. 240 of the paper edition), Reagan budget director David Stockman recalled House passage of a key 1981 budget measure:
When I walked in the door, one of my deputies waved me over. Bill Thomas was on the phone. Thomas was a conservative Republican member from California, and one of the craftiest GOP tacticians and head-counters on the Hill.

"We ain't gonna make it," he said. "Not unless you open the soup kitchen."

In the Congress, the "soup kitchen" is what you throw open in the last hours before a vote to get people off of the fence ... Thomas ticked off half a dozen deals he had already made with various Boll Weevils [conservative Southern Democrats] and wobbly Republicans ... What deals they were. They ranged from things that turned my stomach to things that made me only faintly ill, from reviving the sugar quota program to exempting state-owned cotton warehouses in Georgia from the new inspection user fee.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Demographic Changes in House Districts

In chapters 11 (elections and campaign), 10 (political parties), and 13 (Congress), we discuss the relationship between demographics and electoral politics. At National Journal, Cameron Joseph notes an important recent shift:
The explosive growth in the Hispanic population is changing the political character not only of districts represented by whites but also of those held by African-Americans. Of the 39 black Democrats in the House, eight represent districts where Hispanics now outnumber African-Americans, including six where Latinos make up more than 40 percent of the district's population, according to a National Journal analysis of figures from the three-year average of the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Madison on the Hill

Last night, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) spoke to Larry King about health care legislation: "Larry, you know, one of the things that's most troublesome to me, having come from a state legislature, is the lack of interaction between the House and the Senate. You know, there's just an institutional barrier there. And I tell you this, I'm not really sure what's going on."

That lack of interaction is part of constitutional design. As Madison explained in Federalist 51:
In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit. emphasis added]

President Obama on Deliberative Democracy

In an interview with Charles Gibson of ABC, the president discussed how senators are dealing with health care. He mentioned the idea of deliberative democracy:
And -- and, you know, many of them, I think, sometimes feel that they've got a better idea than we do. We try to incorporate as many as possible. The problem is, each one of them may have ideas that are completely contrary to what the other senator wants.

And so there is a balancing act. But and one of the challenges that we as a country are going to have is that, for our system of government to work, for our deliberative democracy to work, for the Senate especially to work, because of all the arcane procedures that are involved, you have to have a sense that occasionally we're willing to rise above party.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

James Madison is in the Building

As William F. Connelly Jr. explains in a forthcoming book, you cannot understand Congress without understanding the work of James Madison. A key passage from Federalist 51 reads as follows:
A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State. But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit. It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous encroachments by still further precautions.
Tension between Senate and House -- part of the constitutional design -- is playing out in the health care debate. According to The Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made a promise to Democratic colleagues in danger of losing reelection in 2010: she will not bring politically-risky bills to the floor unless the Senate acts first.
The Speaker has told members in meetings that we’ve done our jobs,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “And that next year the Senate’s going to have to prove what it can accomplish before we go sticking our necks out any further.
The Politico explains the source of concern: during 2009, the House has often gone first, only to see things stall on the other side of Capitol Hill. It quotes several House members expressing frustration:

“When it comes to a jobs bill, the Senate seems more interested in dithering,” says first-year Rep. Tom Perriello, a Virginia Democrat whohas taken heat back home for tough votes on climate change and health care — two issues that remain bottled up in slow-moving Senate deliberations.

“If you just take a look at the number of bills we’ve sent to the Senate and what they’ve done, I don’t know what they’re doing with their time honestly,” says Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Cal.).

“I think the majority leader sometimes has to have the leadership to resolve these things,” says Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, a Democrat challenging Sen. Arlen Specter, in a direct attack on Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “I understand it’s politically challenging, but we have the votes — and we should be doing much better than we are. I think this place needs a change, quite frankly.”

The view from the Senate is different:

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — a former House member himself — said there’s built-in tension between the two bodies, and that the tension leads to frustration among members of both.

“I understand that. I meet with them all the time — they are not happy with the pace of our deliberations,” he said. “But unfortunately, it reflects more on the institution than any given member ... [T]he rules here are designed to block. That’s what the founding fathers had in mind.”





Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Recall Elections and Congress

In chapter 11, we discuss recall elections, where voters may oust officials before their regular terms have expired The device came up today in the context of health care negotiations. The Politico reports:
A House Democrat from Connecticut said Tuesday that Sen. Joe Lieberman should be recalled from office over his opposition to the Senate health care bill.

"No individual should hold health care hostage, including Joe Lieberman, and I'll say it flat out, I think he ought to be recalled," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told POLITICO.

Politico adds an important explanatory note: "Connecticut has no recall law for state officials, and the Constitution does not authorize states to recall members of Congress since each house has the authority to police its own members. "

Eighteen states do provide for recall of state officials (Details here.) As for recall of federal lawmakers, the Congressional Research Service provides more detail:

As to removal by recall, the United States Constitution does not provide for nor authorize the recall of United States officers such as Senators, Representatives, or the President or Vice President, and thus no Member of Congress has ever been recalled in the history of the United States. The recall of Members was considered during the time of the drafting of the federal Constitution in 1787, but no such provisions were included in the final version sent to the States for ratification, and the specific drafting and ratifying debates indicate an express understanding of the Framers and ratifiers that no right or power to recall a Senator or Representative from the United States Congress exists under the Constitution. Although the Supreme Court has not needed to directly address the subject of recall of Members of Congress, other Supreme Court decisions, as well as the weight of other judicial and administrative decisions, rulings and opinions, indicate that: (1) the right to remove a Member of Congress before the expiration of his or her constitutionally established term of office is one which resides exclusively in each House of Congress as established in the expulsion clause of the United States Constitution, and (2) the length and number of the terms of office for federal officials, established and agreed upon by the States in the Constitution creating that Federal Government, may not be unilaterally changed by an individual State, such as through the enactment of a recall provision or a term limitation for a United States Senator or Representative. Under Supreme Court constitutional interpretation, since individual States never had the original sovereign authority to unilaterally change the terms and conditions of service of federal officials agreed to and established in the Constitution, such a power could not be “reserved” under the 10th Amendment.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Broken System?

At the UK Guardian, Michael Tomasky says that the constitutional system is broken:

We Americans have always been proud of our constitution and the principle of separation of powers. The system has always ensured that the minority party has certain rights and that the executive branch cannot just muscle through Congress any old thing that it wants. Our founders wanted a system that moved slowly.

Do they ever have it. In fact, we now have a system that barely moves at all. Watching American politics through British eyes, you must be utterly mystified as to why Barack Obama hasn't gotten this healthcare bill passed yet. Many Americans are too. The instinctive reflex is to blame Obama. He must be doing something wrong. Maybe he is doing a thing or two wrong. But the main thing is that America's political system is broken.

Tomasky blames the Senate filibuster, which effectively requires a 60-vote majority for passage of most major bills, as well as GOP opposition to the Obama agenda.

The president, however, tells Oprah Winfrey that he has earned "a good solid B plus." Among other things, he cited the very large stimulus bill that he persuaded Congress to pass early in his administration. The White House website offers more detail on his legislative record.




Sunday, December 13, 2009

Religion, Holidays, and the Establishment Clause

As we discuss in chapter 5 (civic culture) and chapter 6 (civil liberties), many questions arise under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which bans government from "respecting an establishment of religion.” These questions often become prominent during the December holiday season. A new Rasmussen poll summarizes public opinion on the topic:

Americans remain overwhelmingly in favor of allowing religious symbols to be displayed on public land and feel even more strongly that public schools should celebrate at least some religious holidays.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 76% of adults believe religious symbols like Christmas Nativity scenes, Hanukkah menorahs and Muslim crescents should be allowed on public land. Just 13% disagree, and another 10% are undecided.

Eighty-three percent (83%) believe public schools should celebrate religious holidays. This figure includes 47% who think the schools should celebrate all religious holidays and another 36% who believe they should only celebrate some. The question did not single out which holidays should be celebrated and which should be excluded.

Only 14% think the public schools should not celebrate any religious holidays.

Today, Philadelphia has a Chunukah parade. The Jewish Exponent reports:

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in County of Allegheny v. Pittsburgh [1989] that menorahs could be placed on government property because they have "attained secular status in our society."

But what about mobile ones? There's no constitutional issue raised there, according to Jeffrey Pasek, an expert on the establishment clause who chairs the church-state committee of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network.

A parade constitutes a limited and temporary use of public space and couldn't be mistaken for a government endorsement of religion, explained Pasek.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Party Polarization and Health Care

In our chapters on political parties and Congress, we discuss party polarization on Capitol Hill. In The New York Post, Professor Daniel DiSalvo points out that a party-line vote on health care reform would be a departure from congressional norms. Since the Second World War, most landmark laws have passed with significant bipartisan support:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Religion and Party Politics

New Gallup data reinforce observations that we make in chapters 5 (civic culture) and 10 (political parties): there is a strong relationship between religious belief and party preference:
The basic relationship between religiosity and party identification is quite strong and quite straightforward. The percentage of Americans who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party drops from 49% among the highly religious to 26% among those who are not religious. The percentage who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party rises from 37% among the highly religious to 56% among those who are not religious. For comparison, the party figures for November among all adults in these data are 40% Republicans/Republican leaners and 45% Democrats/Democratic leaners.

Thus, Republicans are in the plurality among highly religious Americans. For each of the other three groups, Democrats are equal with or higher in number than Republicans. The Democratic edge expands as religiosity decreases. Among the not-religious group, Democrats have a 30-point edge over Republicans.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Virtual Astroturf

In chapter 9, we discuss the ways in which interest groups try to mobilize citizens to support their views. As this Gawker report suggests, they are making innovating use of social networking:
Health insurance industry trade groups opposed to President Obama's health care reform bill are paying Facebook users fake money — called "virtual currency" — to send letters to Congress protesting the bill. ... Paying people to act like political supporters is called "astroturfing," because its fake grass-roots campaigning. So maybe this should be called Virtual astroturfing. Virtual-turfing? Astroturfing 2.0?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Revolving Door of Media and Politics

In chapter 12, we discuss a "revolving door" between politics and the news media. Some political figures, such as Clinton White House aide George Stephanopoulos, have moved into journalism. In recent years, media cutbacks have encouraged some journalists to move into political staff jobs, mostly on the Democratic side. The latest example is Jonathan Allen, formerly of CQ and more recently The Politico. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has tapped him to run her growing leadership political action committee.

In an interview, Allen said: "I'm very excited that I can openly laugh when [Rep.] Barney Frank [D-Mass.] says something funny. I am a very big fan of his humor. When you're a reporter you're trying not to show favoritism and now I can laugh." He added: "I'm hopeful I can advance the Democratic Party's goals and obviously, the congresswoman's goals."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Reapportionment and Redistricting

A valuable CQ article makes a key distinction:
The once-a-decade process for redrawing the map of the House of Representatives has two distinct parts with similar-sounding, multisyllabic names. Redistricting, the drawing of the lines within each state, is the second part. Reapportionment, deciding how many House seats each state will have, comes first.

Reapportionment will reflect the results of the 2010 census. As in the past, the South and West have been growing faster than the Northeast and Midwest, so the former regions will gain seats at the expense of the latter. The article explains the mechanics of the process:

The totals provide the raw data for reapportionment based on the “method of equal proportions,” which Congress has used since 1941 to divvy up House seats among the states. The formula is actually used to parcel out only the 385 seats that remain after each of the 50 states is assigned the one seat it is guaranteed under the Constitution.

The rest of the seats are handed out based on statistical “priority values” assigned to each additional seat that a state might get. In as close to plain English as the formula will allow, these priority values are calculated in a two-step process that requires dividing a state’s population by the square root of the product of the number of seats it’s already been assigned and that number plus one. The priority numbers are then rank ordered: “State A” will get an additional seat if its priority value for that seat is greater than any other state’s. The seats are disbursed to states based on these rankings until all 435 have been awarded.

As we discuss in chapter 11, judicial decisions require districts of equal population -- but only within each state. There are substantial differences among states. The article explains:

That each state, no matter how small, is entitled to one seat creates some significant variations from those averages, though. Republican Cynthia M. Lummis , Wyoming’s sole House member, has the smallest constituency; her state’s current population is estimated at 533,000. But another at-large member, Republican Denny Rehberg , has by far the biggest constituency; Montana’s current head count is above 967,000.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Religion-Friendly

A new Pew poll has data on how "religion-friendly" Americans regard various individuals and institutions:
More Americans continue to view the Republican Party as friendly toward religion (48%) than rate the Democratic Party that way (29%). President Barack Obama’s administration, however, is seen as friendly toward religion by more people (37%) than the Democratic Party as a whole. And all three get higher ratings for friendliness toward religion than the news media (14%), scientists (12%) or Hollywood (11%)
.

Covering Education

In chapter 12, we appraise how news organizations contribute to deliberation and citizenship. A new report from Brookings faults the media for ignoring education:
As we note in this report, there is virtually no national coverage of education. During the first nine months of 2009, only 1.4 percent of national news coverage from television, newspapers, news Web sites, and radio dealt with education. This paucity of coverage is not unique to 2009. In 2008, only 0.7 percent of national news coverage involved education, while 1.0 percent did so in 2007. This makes it difficult for the public to follow the issues at stake in our education debates and to understand how to improve school performance.
One problem with this argument, however, is that it rests on an analysis that divides news coverage into dozens of categories. Because the media have so many topics to cover, it is no wonder that any particular topic will receive only a small percentage of the coverage. In the first half of 2009, the nation faced an economic crisis prompting Congress to pass a gigantic spending bill. Yet economics only got 11.3 percent of the coverage. In 2007, the figure was only 3.6 percent.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Selflessness and Service

A major theme of our book is that self-interest does not explain everything in politics. Every day, citizens and public figures make sacrifices for something greater than themselves. An example comes from Saratoga Springs, New York, where the police chief and fire chief stepped down early in order to help others. The Saratogian reports:
Chiefs of the city’s police and fire departments announced they would retire before the end of the year, in hopes of saving the jobs of lower-level police officers who will otherwise be laid off under the 2010 comprehensive budget.

The 2010 budget has slated seven positions to be eliminated from both departments. By promoting officers within both the police and fire departments to fill the chiefs’ positions, at least one position at the lower levels will likely be saved, Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim said.

Chief of Police Edward Moore has served with the city’s police force since joining at the age of 19 in 1974, including the last 6-1/2 years as chief. Fire Chief Robert Cogan joined the fire department a year later, in 1975, and has been chief for 14 years. Moore said the exact date of his retirement has not yet been determined; Cogan will retire on Christmas Day.
...

Moore also said he was motivated to retire by a desire to allow others to get from the department what he had.

"My 35 good years with this department have allowed me to raise a family and have a full career. I cannot in good conscience remain on the job while young officers who are just starting their families and careers face layoffs, especially in the current economy," he said
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Working the Media at the White House

In chapter 12, we discuss the ways in which political figures try to shape media coverage. The Politico finds that the Obama White House has helped ensure favorable treatment of its Afghanistan policymaking:
But a detailed examination of news coverage of the reassessment issue in the major national newspapers, primarily The Washington Post and The New York Times, suggests that many angles and details of the stories were being carefully fed by White House aides to all-too-willing reporters who dressed it up as the inside dope. In reality, many reporters were steered into spinning the story exactly the way the White House wanted it told, with relatively little skepticism or criticism.
AP explains that the White House is also adept at handling bad news:
As with past administrations, Friday looks like a popular day to "take out the trash," as presidential aides on the TV drama "The West Wing" matter-of-factly called it. Along with weekends, holidays and the dark of night, the final stretch of the work week, when many news consumers tune out, is a common time for the government to release news unlikely to benefit the president. Among recent examples: On Friday, Nov. 13, the Obama administration announced it would put the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on trial in civilian court in New York. It also disclosed the resignation of the top White House lawyer, who had taken blame for some of the problems surrounding the administration's planned closing of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.