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Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Declaration and the Constitution

An essay in the Las Vegas Review-Journal outlines the connection between the Declaration and Constitution:
For the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson drew from Locke's argument that government must protect the people's life, liberty and property or it may be legitimately overthrown.

James Madison embraced Locke's concepts of checks and balances in the Constitution. Madison even thought the Bill of Rights unnecessary because such rights are presumed.

"A man, as has been proved, cannot subject himself to the arbitrary power of another," Locke wrote in "The Second Treatise of Civil Government" in 1690, "and having in the state of nature no arbitrary power over the life, liberty, or possession of another, but only so much as the law of nature gave him for the preservation of himself, and the rest of mankind; this is all he doth, or can give up to the common-wealth, and by it to the legislative power, so that the legislative can have no more than this. Their power, in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the public good of the society. It is a power, that hath no other end but preservation, and therefore can never have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subjects."

Rights come from nature, not government.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saul Alinsky

Today would have been Saul Alinsky's 101st birthday. Alinsky was a community organizer whose followers left a major impact on urban politics. President Obama received his early training in community organizing from Alinsky disciples. An article in The New Republic describes the Alinsky connection. Although Alinsky identified with the political left, some conservatives have been taking their cue from him.

Alinsky taught very effective political tactics, but his philosophy of politics was incomplete. He argued that politics rested entirely on self-interest, but his own career was a dramatic example of someone acting on his own vision of the public good.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Public Knowledge

In our chapter on public opinion and deliberation, we point out gaps in the public's knowledge of issues and institutions. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press offers some new data:
In the latest installment of the Pew Research Center's News IQ Quiz, just 32% know that the Senate passed its version of the legislation without a single Republican vote. And, in what proved to be the most difficult question on the quiz, only about a quarter (26%) knows that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster1 in the Senate and force a vote on a bill. The survey was conducted before Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown won a special election to the Senate on Jan. 19; Brown's election means Senate Democrats can no longer count on a 60-vote majority once he takes office.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cell Phones and Polls

In our chapter on public opinion and political participation, we discuss a problem facing pollsters. They hesitate to call respondents on cell phones because the law forbids them to use automatic dialers for such calls. But if they take polls only via landlines, they will miss many people. A new article in Public Opinion Quarterly confirms this point:
We first look at the basic incidence of cell-phone-only voters in the exit poll sample in 2008 compared to 2004. The proportion of Election Day voters who live in cell-only households nearly tripled over four years, to 19.9 percent in 2008. This is similar to the finding of the general population National Health Interview Survey, which found 20.2 percent of households had no landline but at least one wireless telephone in the second half of 2008. Another 4.1 percent of Election Day voters reported in the exit poll that their household had no telephone service at all, indicating that pre-election polls using only landline samples failed to cover about 24 percent of the Election Day electorate.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union and the Separation of Power

During his State of the Union Address, the president touched on the separation of powers and campaign finance:
With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections. (Applause.) I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. (Applause.) They should be decided by the American people. And I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.
[T]he legal experts we spoke to after Obama's radio address said that the president was overstating the immediate impact of the opinion. They said Obama was correct that the ruling could open the door to foreign companies spending on American campaigns, given the general direction of the majority's opinion. But because the majority justices didn't actually strike down the existing barriers on foreign companies -- in fact, they explicitly wrote that it fell beyond the boundaries of their decision -- our experts agreed that Obama erred by suggesting that the issue is settled law.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Informal Party Organizations

An excellent new book lays out a concept that we shall include in future editions of the text. In No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures, Seth E. Masket coins an important and useful term: informal party organization, or IPO. A deliberate play on David Mayhew’s traditional party organization (TPO), the term refers to a set of legislative leaders, interest groups, activists and other party figures that can play a dominant role in deciding party nominations. Masket tells how IPOs took shape and how they retain power by channeling campaign resources to candidates who cluster at the ends of the American political spectrum. Click here to see my review of the book.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Learning Deliberative Democracy

Education Week reports on a program to teach deliberative democracy:

High school students took to their computers last week, but it wasn't to chat on Facebook. This time, they were applying constitutional principles to the issue of gay marriage.

The video conference with students from high schools around the country was part of a program called The Exchange. Based at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, it brings together high school students in moderated debates about important issues of the day. The idea is to help them learn to "do democracy" by engaging in civic deliberation.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

President Obama on Jury Duty?

As we explain in the chapter on the judiciary, trial by jury is an important principle of the nation's legal system. Jury duty is also a key obligation of citizenship. A reminder comes from The Chicago Sun-Times:

To serve or not to serve? Is that the question?

• Translation: TV titan Oprah Winfrey may have honored her Cook County Circuit Court Jury summons, but it's a good bet President Obama won't.

. . . better things to do.

. . . the nation to worry about.

. . . the economy to fix.

. . . health-care bill to rework.

"The president won't be expected to show up, but I'm sure he has already received his summons and responded," a top court source said. "The jury summons contains his Kenwood address and is for a jury trial on Monday."

The president has a legitimate excuse, but in most cases, citizens must show up when they get the summons. The rich and powerful are not exempt. In 2004, Oprah Winfrey served on a jury in a murder trial. (The verdict: guilty.) Other celebrities from politics and the arts have also served.

Jury service leaves most participants feeling proud and better informed. Tocqueville explained that the deliberative process enhances civic virtue:
Juries are wonderfully effective in shaping a nation’s judgment and increasing its natural lights. That, in my view, is [the jury system’s] greatest advantage. It should be regarded as a free school which is always open and in which each juror learns his rights, comes into daily contact with the best-educated and most-enlightened members of the upper classes, and is given practical lessons in the law, lessons which the advocate’s efforts, the judge’s advice, and also the very passions of the litigants bring within his mental grasp. I think that the main reason for the practical intelligence and the political good sense of the Americans is their long experience with juries in civil cases.

I do not know whether a jury is useful to the litigants, but I am sure it is very good for those who have to decide the case. I regard it as one of the most effective means of popular education at society’s disposal.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The New Foundation

Presidents often repeat language and themes from their predecessors. For instance, The New York Times reports that President's State of the Union address will speak of a "new foundation" for the country. "The New Foundation" was the theme of President Carter's 1979 State of the Union.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Impact of the Campaign Finance Decision: Two Views

According to a memo by attorney Ben Ginsburg, the Supreme Court decision on campaign finance will have far-reaching consequences:
Unless the laws change, the political party as we know it is threatened with extinction. The parties do several things for their candidates and supporters – raise money and conduct independent expenditures, conduct voter contact programs and describe the party’s position on issues, often through issue advocacy. With the limits on the amounts and sources of funds they can accept, the parties will be bit players compared to outside groups that can now conduct those core functions with unlimited funds from any source.
First, the case does not alter the current ban in federal law, and the laws of just under half the states, that prohibit corporations and unions from contributing directly to candidates. All this means is that they can spend money to speak directly to voters.

Second, 28 states, holding 60% of the nation's population, already allow corporate and union independent expenditures in state races. Yet none of these states is swamped with corporate and union spending, or dominated by special interests in some way that other states have escaped. Indeed, these 28 states, which include such relatively strong economies as Utah and Virginia, are over-represented in the rankings by Governing magazine as among the best governed in the country. Others, such as Oregon, hardly have a reputation as hotbeds of corruption.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Important Decision on Campaign Finance

The Supreme Court today made a major change in federal election rules. CQ Politics

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that corporations, nonprofits and labor unions can use their own treasuries to fund political advertisements and influence federal elections during the crucial days before citizens vote.

The 5-to-4 decision decision reverses previous interpretations of election law by federal agencies and will have a huge impact on the 2010 elections because it will allow companies to spend millions to help elect and defeat candidates for Congress. The court did rule that such new spending would have to be disclosed.

The decision overturns the previously defined distinctions between corporate and individual expenditures in American elections.

Oral argument is here and the reargument is here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Data on Presidential Communications

Mark Knoller of CBS notes some statistics of President Obama's first year in office:
• Includes 52 addresses or statements specifically on his health care proposals.
• He used a TelePrompTer at least 178 times. (Technically, it was 177 ½ . On July 13, 2009, one of the teleprompter screens on the left side of his lectern fell to the ground and broke shortly after he began speaking. So he was left with half a TelePrompTer.)

• Of which 5 were formal, solo White House Q&A sessions. Four were in prime time. His last one was July 22, 2009. (seen at left)
• Nearly all of the other press availabilities were joint appearances with foreign leaders at which as few as 1 question was taken by Mr. Obama.
• Predecessor George W. Bush did 21 news conferences his first year of which 4 were formal, solo White House sessions. Only 1 was in prime time.

• This is a striking number of interviews and far more than any of his recent predecessors in their first year. Ninety of the sessions were TV interviews. Eleven were radio. The rest were newspaper and magazine. The number reflects the White House media strategy that Mr. Obama can best respond to questions in an interview setting

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


In our chapter on foreign policy and national security, we discuss how public and private humanitarian aid has sometimes burnished the American image abroad. The latest example comes from Haiti. In this clip, a Los Angeles County urban search and rescue team pulls a woman from the rubble as crowds chant "USA! USA!"

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dr. King and the Social Gospel

Our chapter on civic culture explains how the Social Gospel shaped American public policy and political life. In this interview with Martin Agronsky, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. explained what the Social Gospel meant to him:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action

Columnist George Will discusses the proposal to set up a fiscal task force. It would make proposals for reducing the deficit, which Congress could accept or reject in whole, but not amend. His objection touches on topics we discuss throughout the book: the separation of powers and the importance of oaths:
Regarding procedure, consider a sentence in a Fiscal Times story in The Post on the task force idea, a sentence that seems bland only because of this city's advanced state of constitutional decadence: "The White House has been talking to Congress to try to craft a proposal that would not wholly relinquish congressional control over major decisions on taxes and spending."

Wholly? The oath of office for representatives and senators does not commit them to partially or occasionally or when convenient "support and defend," and bear " true faith and allegiance" to, the Constitution and "faithfully discharge the duties" of their offices.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Opinions of the Mass Media

The mass media continue to struggle in the court of public opinion. Rasmussen reports:
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 67% of likely U.S. voters believe the news media have too much power and influence over government decisions, up six points from October. Just eight percent (8%) think the media have too little power and influence, and 19% think their level of power is about right.
Fifty-one percent (51%) of voters say the average reporter is more liberal than they are. Eighteen percent (18%) say that reporter is more conservative, and 20% think their views are about the same ideologically as the average reporter’s. That view is largely unchanged from October.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Presidential Transitions

A new report from the Partnership for Public Service urges a new approach to presidential transitions:
The preparation to govern must not wait until the two-and-a-half-month period between the election and the inauguration; it should begin during the height of the presidential campaign season though the outcome of the political contest will still be unresolved. This requires a strong commitment and leadership from presidential candidates, a commitment of federal resources to help the candidates do the planning and the selection of respected transition leaders with past experience in government.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

International Perspectives: Deliberative Democracy

Professor James Fishkin recently ran a deliberative poll in London. John Parkinson of the University of York explains:
As a political theory, deliberative democracy has been around for a while now. It’s 30 years since a young American academic called Joseph Bessette coined the term, but he was talking about the deliberation that went on among elected representatives in the U.S. Congress.
Most democracy theorists latched onto the term 20 years ago, with some, most notably Jürgen Habermas, using it as a theory that better explained how democratic societies work: how large-scale public debate is generated, and how arguments move from the kitchen table to parliament and back again.
He notes the advantages of deliberative polling but adds an important caveat:
It starts with a poll to measure existing opinion on a range of topics, creates a range of formal and informal deliberative opportunities in large groups and small, and then runs the poll again to see what’s changed. However, deliberation does not merely change opinion on pre-existing questions: it can change our opinions on what questions are important in the first place; it can throw up entirely new ideas.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tax Code Complexity

In our chapter on economic policy, we note that the tax code is so complex that even lawmakers on the tax-writing committees hire professional help in preparing their own income-tax returns. Here is an even more vivid example of the code's complexity, via Politics Daily:
IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said in an interview that he does not prepare his own taxes because he finds the tax code "complex." The commissioner's admission came in an interview on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, which aired Sunday night.

Shulman appeared on the program to discuss the agency's new initiative to regulate professional tax preparers, including setting minimum standards for people who do other people's taxes. Midway through the interview, Steve Scully, the C-SPAN host, asked Shulman if he prepares his own taxes. Shulman smiled slightly and said, "I use a preparer."

Scully asked why, to which Shulman smiled and said, "Uh, I've used one for years. I find it convenient and I find the tax code complex, so I use a preparer."

The Revolving Door of Media and Politics

In our chapter on mass media, we discuss the "revolving door" between journalism and professional politics. Some top journalists, including George Stephanopoulos, Pete Williams, and the late Tim Russert, started as staffers. Some major political figures, including Obama strategist David Axelrod, started in the pressroom. (At least 13 other Obama officials have backgrounds in journalism.)

The Politico describes the latest participant:

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly told his viewers that his guest Tuesday night will be “the most charismatic politician in the country right now, with the possible exception of President [Barack] Obama.”

What exactly is Sarah Palin — a future presidential candidate or a future pundit? Her new job as a Fox News contributor, which starts tonight, gives her the option, and also sets up the possibility of her attempting a unique path to the Republican presidential nomination.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Different Views on the Filibuster

Our chapter on Congress discusses the role of the Senate filibuster in a deliberative democracy.
In the New York Times, Thomas Geoghegan argues that the current practice of the filibuster is unconsitutional:

It is instead a revision of Article I itself: not used to cut off debate, but to decide in effect whether to enact a law. The filibuster votes, which once occurred perhaps seven or eight times a whole Congressional session, now happen more than 100 times a term. But this routine use of supermajority voting is, at worst, unconstitutional and, at best, at odds with the founders’ intent.


Forty-one senators from our 21 smallest states — just over 10 percent of our
population — can block bills dealing not just with health care but with global warming and hazards that threaten the whole planet. Individual senators now use the filibuster, or the threat of it, as a kind of personal veto, and that power seems to have warped their behavior, encouraging grandstanding and worse.

In response to a similar article by Geoghegan, Prof. Wendy Schiller wrote the following in The New Republic (December 19 1994), right after the GOP took control of the Senate:

The Federalist Papers reveal that the greatest fear of the Founders was the oppression of the minority by the majority. The Founders established a complicated system of checks and balances precisely because they did not want an easy and efficient translation of majority will into government policy.

Now we have a situation where the Republicans claim to represent the majority will in this country. Would Geoghegan support a dilution of minority strength in the Senate today--post November 8, 1994? Democrats cannot forget that the very rules that enabled Alan Simpson to block health care reform will enable Ted Kennedy to block prayer in school. Which is exactly as James Madison thought it should be.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tradeoffs and Unwanted Side Effects

In our chapters on economic policy and social policy and the welfare state, we note that public policy often involves tradeoffs and unwanted side effects. A couple of recent news stories provide illustrations.

As the Los Angeles Times explains, airport screening aims to make travel safer, but security measures may entail certain risks:
After the Christmas Day incident, the TSA gave airline crews the discretion to bar passengers on international flights to the U.S. from getting out of their seats for one hour before the planes land. Passengers who are overweight, have a history of blood clotting or are recovering from surgery face a greater risk of deep-vein thrombosis when they sit in a cramped airline seat for too long, which can hamper blood flow to the legs, said Peter Lawrence, chief of vascular surgery at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
The New York Times shows how "green" technology may have environmentally and socially destructive implications:

Some of the greenest technologies of the age, from electric cars to efficient light bulbs to very large wind turbines, are made possible by an unusual group of elements called rare earths. The world’s dependence on these substances is rising fast.

Just one problem: These elements come almost entirely from China, from some of the most environmentally damaging mines in the country, in an industry dominated by criminal gangs.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Traditionally, Congress has resolved legislative differences between the House and Senate through deliberations in a joint House-Senate conference. In recent years, however, leaders have sometimes bypassed this process by"pingponging." In the game of legislative ping-pong, one chamber passes a version of the bill, which sends it to the other, which amends it and sends it back to the first. The game goes on until both pass the same version. Talking Points Memo reports that the health bill will undergo ping-pong:
In this case, instead of creating a final conference report that both chambers would pass, principals in both chambers would agree upon a package of changes to the Senate bill that passed on Christmas eve. The House would then vote to amend the Senate bill to reflect those agreed-upon changes, pass the legislation, and send it back over to the Senate for--they hope--a final vote.

In the past, Pelosi said she wanted to conference the bills, so that House members could have a greater say over what the final bill looks like.

But aides say the new way forward is not an uncommon process, which allows the House to have similar input, while offering up other advantages as well.

"This process cuts out the Republicans," said a House Democratic aide. Republicans will "not have a motion to recommit opportunity"--a procedural trick the minority can use to scuttle legislation in the House at the last minute.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Electoral College and Federalism

National Popular Vote is an organization advocating a plan that could change presidential elections:

Under the U.S. Constitution, the states have exclusive and plenary (complete) power to allocate their electoral votes, and may change their state laws concerning the awarding of their electoral votes at any time. Under the National Popular Vote bill, all of the state's electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).
As of early January 2010, five states had enacted the plan.

Save Our States, a project of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, opposes National Popular Vote. It offers several argument. Here are a couple:

National Popular Vote would create geographic imbalance. Coalition building would become less important. If candidates need only win the most votes nationwide, common sense (and cost-effective campaign strategizing) would mean targeting the most densely populated areas. More than half of the nation’s entire population lives in its 40 largest urban areas. Under a national popular vote system, cities like New York and Los Angeles would decide presidential elections while the rest of the country would be potentially irrelevant.
NPV would make every election problem a potential national crisis. Consider the chaos that could take place on a national scale if concerns arose about election results. Some presidential elections have had a popular vote margin of only 10,000 votes—smaller than your average mid-sized university. With the Electoral College, recounts, fraud, corruption, or even political unrest can be contained and dealt with without compromising national stability. Under NPV, one state’s problems could be the iceberg that sinks the ship.

A pro-NPV video:


Trent England of Save Our States argues against it:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Political Ideology

Gallup has new data on political ideology:
The increased conservatism that Gallup first identified among Americans last June persisted throughout the year, so that the final year-end political ideology figures confirm Gallup's initial reporting: conservatives (40%) outnumbered both moderates (36%) and liberals (21%) across the nation in 2009.
These data are consistent with findings from the Pew Center for the People and the Press:
What's really exceptional at this stage of Obama's presidency is the extent to which the public has moved in a conservative direction on a range of issues. These trends have emanated as much from the middle of the electorate as from the highly energized conservative right. Even more notable, however, is the extent to which liberals appear to be dozing as the country has shifted on both economic and social issues.

Pew Research surveys throughout the year have found a downward slope in support both for an activist government generally and for a strong safety net for the needy, in particular. Chalk up these trends to a backlash against Obama policies that have expanded the role of government.

More surprising is declining support for gun control, a fall in support for abortion rights, and a rise in public doubts about global warming. Much of the change on these issues has come from independents, a category now populated by many former self-identified Republicans. But a lack of passion among Democrats -- and liberals in particular -- is also a part of the story of this conservative trend among the public at large.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Felon Voting

In our chapters on civil rights and political participation, we discuss laws that forbid voting by felons. In the case of Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a Washington State law disenfranchising prisoners runs afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act.  AP reports:

The issues the ruling raises about racial bias in the justice system are not unique to Washington state, said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., group promoting sentencing reform.
"They are issues that permeate the justice system and are relevant in every state," he said.
Mauer said that an estimated 5.3 million people nationwide are ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction.
Tuesday's court's ruling is "an embarrassment," said Trent England, a policy director at Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington state.
"It flies in the face of precedent," he said. "Not only is felon disenfranchisement constitutional but it's good policy. People who commit the most heinous crimes should be deprived of their voice in our system of government at least for a time."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

C-SPAN and Health Care Deliberations

At several points in our text, we discuss the role of C-SPAN in making policy deliberations more accessible.
Brian Lamb, founder and president of C-SPAN, has asked congressional leaders to open all important negotiations, including conference committee meetings, to the network's cameras.  According to The Politico, Speaker Nancy Pelosi dealt with the request at a press conference:
A reporter reminded the San Francisco Democrat that in 2008, then-candidate Obama opined that all such negotiations be open to C-SPAN cameras.  “There are a number of things he was for on the campaign trail,” quipped Pelosi, who has no intention of making the deliberations public.  People familiar with Pelosi's thinking wasted little time in explaining precisely what she meant by a “number of things” – saying it reflected weeks of simmering tension on health care between two Democratic power players who have functioned largely in lock-step during Obama’s first year in office.
On August 21, 2008, candidate Obama made the following pledge:
"I'm going to have all the negotiations around a big table. We'll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrators. Insurance companies, drug companies -- they'll get a seat at the table, they just won't be able to buy every chair. But what we will do is, we'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies. And so, that approach, I think is what is going to allow people to stay involved in this process."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Civic Involvement and Teach for America

In our chapter on civic culture, we discuss Teach for America.  The New York Times reports on a new study of its long-term effects on participants:
In areas like voting, charitable giving and civic engagement, graduates of the program lag behind those who were accepted but declined and those who dropped out before completing their two years, according to Doug McAdam, a sociologist at Stanford University, who conducted the study with a colleague, Cynthia Brandt. The reasons for the lower rates of civic involvement, Professor McAdam said, include not only exhaustion and burnout, but also disillusionment with Teach for America’s approach to the issue of educational inequity, among other factors.
 But there does seem to be an impact in other areas: 
Teach for America is nearing its 20th anniversary. Of its 17,000 alumni, 63 percent remain in the field of education and 31 percent remain in the classroom ... “To find that Teach for America graduates are more involved in education but are not serving in soup kitchens is interesting but not surprising — it’s consistent with their current mission,” said Monica C. Higgins, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard who studies organizational behavior. “They’re not trying to make global citizens. They’re focused on education.”

The research appears in the December issue of the journal Social Forces

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Historical Lessons for the War on Terror

The New York Times today has a couple of background articles on how historical models may or may not fit with the current war on terror.

As we point out in our chapter in economic policy, war bonds helped finance American efforts in the First and Second World Wars.  Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) has proposed selling war bonds to finance the fight in Afghanistan.  He hopes to "tap into the same spirit of patriotism and create a sense of participation in the war effort akin to that shown by the greatest generation."  But the Times observes:  "Economists and others who have studied the war bonds programs say America’s economy has matured in ways that would make such an effort possibly harmful to today’s economy. For decades, Americans have been urged to consume. Encouraging people to set aside money for the war could slow the economic recovery."

In our chapter on bureaucracy, we discuss the complexity of federal organization and the conflicting demands that we sometimes place on it.  As a Times article suggests, intelligence is an example:
Contradictory approaches to intelligence are even more complicated today, when America’s principal adversary is not a rival superpower, but a loose global network of jihadists, and when the question of whether we are at war or at peace isn’t so clear. For example, in the cold war it made sense to enforce strict lines dividing foreign from domestic surveillance — that is, between intelligence collected overseas (by the C.I.A.) to prevent attacks, and information acquired (by the F.B.I.) for use as evidence in court. But this formula is not easily applied in a case like the Fort Hood killings, in which a radical American Muslim is accused of a terrorist act associated with a foreign cause. Neither is it easily applied to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, one reason President Obama will now find it much harder to keep his promise to shut the detention center on Jan. 22.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Constitution and Health Legislation

At various point in our book, we show how domestic policy debates usually end up in court and almost invaraibly raise issues of federalism.  Health legislation is a case in point. The constitutionality of the legislation is the topic of an article in The Wall Street Journal by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah, J. Kenneth Blackwell, and Kenneth A. Klukowski.  They argue that it has at least three defects. 
  • Congress lacks constitutional authority to require individuals to buy health insurance;
  • The special favors to individual states fall afoul of the general welfare clause;
  • The requirement that states set up benefit exchanges "violates the letter, the spirit, and the interpretation of our federal-state form of government."
A story in the Washington Post presents a different point of view.
"All of these arguments don't work, but they're interesting to debate," said Jack M. Balkin, a constitutional law professor at Yale Law School. Defenders of the mandate point out that the Supreme Court has ruled Congress may regulate "activities that 'substantially affect' interstate commerce," and that individuals' purchasing (or not purchasing) health insurance clearly falls within that category. Besides, Balkin added, "It's a really easy argument to show that this is a tax designed to promote the general welfare. . . . The Commerce Clause issue is irrelevant."

Friday, January 1, 2010

Fires and Federalism, an Update

Several months ago, we discussed the role of federalism in fighting the Station Fire, the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County history.  Since then, news reports have suggested severe problems in coordination.   The Los Angeles Times has uncovered documents relating to the deaths of two county firefighters:
A U.S. Forest Service e-mail written shortly after the deaths addresses the hazards of the fire and refers to the loss of "two people who stayed too long." The e-mail was obtained by The Times along with other records that show that the camp crews were not formally assigned to the Station operation and thus might have been excluded from the commanders' broader strategy of defending critical structures in the forest while ensuring the safety of firefighters. The battle against the fire was managed jointly by the county and the U.S. Forest Service.
The unusual disconnect between the camp and those leading the attack on the biggest fire in county history is evident in dispatch logs that reveal scant contact between the Mt. Gleason crews and the command center. Experts say that violates long-established firefighting protocols that require all agencies to work together on major blazes in the forest, maintaining good communications with each other and sharing information about fire behavior, weather conditions and escape routes.
On December 21, the Times reported:
Newly released records contradict a finding by the U.S. Forest Service that steep terrain prevented the agency from using aircraft to attack -- and potentially contain -- the Station fire just before it began raging out of control. Experts on  Forest Service tactics also dispute the agency's conclusion that helicopters and tanker planes would have been ineffective because the canyon in the Angeles National Forest was too treacherous for ground crews to take advantage of aerial water dumps. Two officers who helped direct the fight on the ground and from the sky made separate requests for choppers and tankers during a critical period on the deadly fire's second day, according to records and interviews.