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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Campaign Spending in Perspective

Bradley Smith, former chair of the Federal Election Commission, writes a Wall Street Journal article putting campaign spending in perspective. In 2008, it totaled $5.3 billion. Is that amount too much?

The amount was just over one-third of what American spent on bottled water in 2007 alone; it is a bit more than one-quarter of what was spent on ice cream in 2008, and less than one-sixth of the $33 billion spent on weight-loss products in 2007. It was about 20% less than a single company, Procter & Gamble, spent on product advertising in the same period. And what about the Obama-McCain presidential race, the most expensive ever? The $2.4 billion spent on that race is close to what Verizon spent advertising its brand in 2008. Perhaps it simply costs more to explain to Americans the benefits of Verizon than the qualifications of candidates and their positions on complex political issues.

But political spending is higher than it used to be, right? Well, yes and no. In raw dollars, federal campaign spending rose by roughly 450% between 1988 and 2008. Adjusting the numbers for inflation, however, and we find that the growth drops to 141%; adjust for inflation and growth in GDP, the increase is just 23% over 20 years.

Campaign spending as a percentage of GDP remained essentially unchanged between the 1947 passage of the Taft-Hartley Act (the statute prohibiting all corporate spending in elections that was struck down in the Citizens United case) and 2008. In the cycle ending in Nov. 2008, spending on American election campaigns was equal to approximately 0.3% of GDP. By contrast, Indonesians spent over 1% of their GDP in election campaigns ending in April 2009. Nations that are much poorer than the U.S., such as Venezuela, have historically spent more money per capita on elections than we do.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dual Citizens

Dual citizenship, the subject of a "Deliberation, Citizenship, and You" box in our chapter on American citizenship, is in the news. A New York Times item on US Olympic hockey coach Ron Wilson notes:

He grew up in Fort Erie, Ontario, across the Peace Bridge from Buffalo, where his father, Larry, skated for the Bisons of the American Hockey League for 13 seasons, longer than any other player.

He holds dual citizenship but said, “even though I was born in Canada, I’m as proud as any American can be.”


On Fox, Chris Wallace had this exchange with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who said that she would not run for president:

WALLACE: Yes, that's true. We should point out Governor Granholm is a Canadian and cannot run for president.

GRANHOLM: I'm American. I've got dual citizenship.

WALLACE: Who are you rooting for in the Olympics?

GRANHOLM: U.S., come on!

WALLACE: OK. There you go. Anyway, they're doing--

GRANHOLM: I left Canada when I was four. Come on.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Concentration of Power

A new poll reinforces a point that we discuss in our chapter on civic culture. CNN reports:

A majority of Americans think the federal government poses a threat to rights of Americans, according to a new national poll.

Fifty-six percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday say they think the federal government's become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. Forty-four percent of those polled disagree.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reconciliation and Deliberation

In our chapter on economic policy, we describe reconciliation, the process by which Congress changes laws in order to carry out the instructions of its annual budget resolution. A reconciliation bill is not subject to a Senate filibuster, so supporters of a comprehensive health bill are considering it as a vehicle to bypass Republican opposition. As Gail Russell Chaddock of the Christian Science Monitor reports, however, the dean of the Senate does not approve of such a maneuver:

On Feb. 23, Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia, the leading in-house defender of the Senate traditions, urged his colleagues to allow filibusters to run their course and not change rules to block them.
“The Senate is the only place in government where the rights of a numerical minority are so protected. Majorities change with elections. A minority can be right, and minority views can certainly improve legislation,” he wrote in a letter to his Senate colleagues.
“Extended deliberation and debate – when employed judiciously – protect every senator, and the interests of their constituency, and are essential to the protection of the liberties of a free people,” he added.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Citizenship at 104

Our chapter on citizenship describes the importance of the concept and the ways by which Americans attain it, by birth or naturalization. A recent case in point comes from Oregon. Marion Pringle, age 104, recently had an unpleasant surprise when she tried to renew her driver's license. Oregon requires proof of citizenship, which she did not have. The Oregonian reports:
She was born in Vancouver, B.C., but her parents were U.S. citizens. Her father worked the railroads and died when Pringle was a girl, and her mother brought her and a brother to her mother's hometown, Portland. Another brother stayed in Vancouver.

Pringle never left the United States after that, so she never got a passport. She voted in Oregon elections and eventually collected Social Security. She renewed her driver's license religiously; she was driving until four years ago, and she said Tuesday that it was "terrible" to surrender her blue 1979 Volkswagen Beetle that she'd bought new.
Her niece, Darcie Buzzelle, came up with a solution.
She called the Oregon Historical Society, which discovered records from the 1920 Census showing Pringle, her mother and brother in Portland. She later found 1890 census records listing Pringle's father in his native Wisconsin.

Those records, Buzzelle said, proved that Pringle's parents were citizens, thus conferring citizenship on Pringle though she was born in Canada.

Marion Pringle turns 104

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

FDR's Map Speech

Sixty-eight years ago today, President Franklin Roosevelt gave one his his "fireside chat" speeches on national radio. (You may find full text and audio here.) He reviewed the progress of the Second World War, which at the time was going badly for the United States and its allies. Pearl Harbor was just a couple of months in the past, and the remarkable victory in the Battle of Midway would not happen until June.

This war is a new kind of war. It is different from all other wars of the past, not only in its methods and weapons but also in its geography. It is warfare in terms of every continent, every island, every sea, every air lane in the world.

That is the reason why I have asked you to take out and spread before you a map of the whole earth, and to follow with me the references which I shall make to the world-encircling battle lines of this war. Many questions will, I fear, remain unanswered tonight; but I know you will realize that I cannot cover everything in any one short report to the people.

He then referred to the map to explain calmly why the war was difficult but winnable. He then spoke of trust between the government and the people.

Your Government has unmistakable confidence in your ability to hear the worst, without flinching or losing heart. You must, in turn, have complete confidence that your Government is keeping nothing from you except information that will help the enemy in his attempt to destroy us. In a democracy there is always a solemn pact of truth between Government and the people; but there must also always be a full use of discretion and that word "discretion" applies to the critics of Government, as well.

He laid out three "high purposes" for every American.

1. We shall not stop work for a single day. If any dispute arises we shall keep on working while the dispute is. solved by mediation, conciliation, or arbitration- until the war is won.

2. We shall not demand special gains or special privileges or special advantages for any one group or occupation.

3. We shall give up conveniences and modify the routine of our lives if our country asks us to do so. We will do it cheerfully, remembering that the common enemy seeks to destroy every home and every freedom in every part of our land.

This generation of Americans has come to realize, with a present and personal realization, that there is something larger and more important than the life of any individual or of any individual group- something for which a man will sacrifice, and gladly sacrifice, not only his pleasures, not only his goods, not only his associations with those he loves, but his life itself. In time of crisis when the future is in the balance, we come to understand, with full recognition and devotion, what this Nation is, and what we owe to it.

The speech powerfully illustrates points that we make in the text. As we note in the chapters on the presidency and mass media, radio changed the way in which presidents communicate with the public. Woodrow Wilson, for instance, could not have given such a speech during the First World War because most people did not yet have radios. More important, FDR was assuming that Americans could put patriotism ahead of narrow self-interest. He had often practiced interest-group politics himself, but he thought that people could rise above it, especially in wartime. He knew that there was such a thing as civic virtue.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Knowledge of Congress

In our chapters on public opinion and Congress, we suggest that many Americans have only a hazy knowledge of congressional leadership and procedure. A survey by the Pew Research Center confirms this point. Most people do not know that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster and that no GOP senators voted for the Senate version of the health bill. Knowledge varies by demographic characteristic


Sunday, February 21, 2010

States and Church Attendance

Our chapter on federalism notes social differences among the states. Our chapter on civic culture analyzes the role of religion in American public life. A new release from Gallup touches on both subjects:
Mississippians were the most frequent churchgoers in the nation in 2009, as was the case in 2008, with 63% of residents attending weekly or almost every week. Nine of the top 10 states in church attendance are in the South; the only non-Southern state is Utah, with 56% frequent attendance. At the other end of the spectrum, 23% of Vermont residents attend church frequently, putting it at the bottom of the list of churchgoing states. Other states at the bottom of the church attendance list are in either New England or the West.
Gallup's compilation of church attendance data is based on more than 350,000 interviews conducted among national adults, aged 18 and older, across all 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2009. Gallup began tracking state-level church attendance on a daily basis in 2008, asking respondents how often they "attend church, synagogue, or mosque -- at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never." Frequent church attendance for the purpose of this analysis is defined as those who report attending at least once a week or almost every week. Nationally, 41.6% of all Americans in 2009 said they attended church this often.

Deliberation and Congress

Our chapter on Congress discusses the need for deliberation. In recent days, scholars have offered ways of improving the Senate's deliberative character. In the Washington Post, Norman Ornstein proposes a change in the congressional schedule:
Instead of coming in Tuesday afternoon and closing down Thursday afternoon, go to five days a week, from 9 a.m. Monday to 5 p.m. Friday, with three weeks on and one week off to go back home and maintain direct contact with constituents.

This would provide a major incentive for senators to bring their families to Washington. Before the mid-'90s, most lawmakers kept their families in the capital area and would see and interact with their colleagues much more frequently. It is much harder to demonize your colleagues if you stand next to them watching your kids play soccer on Saturdays.

It would also provide time to have a more deliberative process -- no longer would there be a need to cram five days' worth of work into 2 1/2 . That would mean more time with colleagues in the Capitol and more opportunities to build relationships and dialogue across the aisle.

At the Huffington Post, Steven Croley suggests replacing the procedural "silent" filibuster with the traditional "talking" filibuster:

The problem with the silent filibuster is not simply that filibustering has become too easy and thus too frequent. Rather, the silent filibuster is undemocratic because it impedes rather than fosters democratic deliberation. That is, the traditional--"talking"--filibuster focused the attention of the public on the matter at hand. The talking filibuster thus raised the salience of the legislation it targeted, as well as the merits of the opposition to it. The talking filibuster inspired debate over whether the majority's policy was desirable, or whether the filibusterers' protests were justified. In other words, the traditional filibuster fosters democratic deliberation, and not merely within the Senate as its defenders emphasize, but beyond it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Broken Government?

According to a Rasmussen poll: Seventy-three percent (73%) of U.S. voters agree with Vice President Joseph Biden that “Washington right now is broken.” A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 15% disagree with the vice president’s analysis of the political situation in the nation’s capital. Twelve percent (12%) more are not sure. Political analyst Charles Cook argues that the ability to rise above self-interest -- a key subject of our book -- in in very short supply:
There seems to be little payoff for lawmakers to try to rise above their immediate political self-interest and do the right thing for the country. There appears to be widespread recognition that the last edition of Profiles in Courage has gone to the printer. No new names will be added. All too few members of Congress see any incentive to do the politically unpalatable and often politically dangerous things required to get a country out of a deep rut.
But Charles Krauthammer argues that the president's recent policy frustrations area sign of political health, not malaise:

More broadly, the Democrats failed because, thinking the economic emergency would give them the political mandate and legislative window, they tried to impose a left-wing agenda on a center-right country. The people said no, expressing themselves first in spontaneous demonstrations, then in public opinion polls, then in elections -- Virginia, New Jersey and, most emphatically, Massachusetts.

That's not a structural defect. That's a textbook demonstration of popular will expressing itself -- despite the special interests -- through the existing structures. In other words, the system worked.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Madison in the News

James Madison is much in the news. Peter Wehner writes:
The dominant narrative manifests a particular cast of mind, one that equates "the people's business" with passing legislation that increases the size, cost, and reach of government. In fact, sometimes the people's business involves stopping bad ideas from becoming law.

It's worth recalling that the Founders set up a system of government with what James Madison called the "auxiliary precautions" of American government -- meaning the separation of powers, bicameralism, and other checks and balances. Madison, who was shipped what he called a "literary cargo" of books on history and politics by Thomas Jefferson, rigorously studied the historical record of past governments. Out of that study Madison and his colleagues decided to put the emphasis on braking mechanisms, which they thought would help preserve liberty by limiting the power of government.
All these assessments were made against the backdrop of health-care reform’s presumed inevitability. Once it faltered, James Madison’s handiwork supposedly collapsed in a pitiful heap. Of course, the Madisonian system is explicitly meant to frustrate an inflamed legislative majority bent on passing sweeping social legislation for which there’s limited popular support.
At FiveThirtyEight, Tom Schaller says:
For starters, there is far more moderation, not to mention comity, on display in the U.S. Senate than almost anywhere else in American legislative politics. James Madison’s epic Federalist #10 is always remembered for the first half of his two-part argument for the republican form, but most forget the second, corollary half: That as one increases the population size of a representative district there is a greater tendency to elect persons of greater moderation, in both disposition and ideology. Yes, as I pointed out recently the number of states with same-party senators is very high. But there are still some split-party Senate delegations, including Bayh’s Indiana (at least for the moment). If there’s a legislative institution in the country where moderation has it best chance, it’s the one with six-year terms and non-gerrymandered “districts” that include millions and in some cases tens of millions of constituents.





Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lobbying

The Center for Responsive Politics reports:

In all, federal lobbyists’ clients spent more than $3.47 billion last year, often driven to Washington, D.C.’s power centers and halls of influence by political issues central to the age: health care reform, financial reform, energy policy.

That figure represents a more than 5 percent increase over $3.3 billion worth of federal lobbying recorded in 2008, the previous all-time annual high for lobbying expenditures. And it comes in a year when a recession persisted, the dollar’s value against major foreign currencies declined and joblessness rates increased.

The lobby database is available here.

The Center reports lobby spending in current dollars, that is, not adjusted for inflation. In 1999, total lobby spending was $1.43 billion. But in 2009 dollars (as one may calculate with the Consumer Price Index), the figure was $1.84 billion. Even with this adjustment, however, spending has nearly doubled over the past decade.

It may seem paradoxical that lobbying is up under a president who has vowed to curb lobbyist influence. But the administration has stepped up federal spending and regulation, which means that interest groups naturally step up their own efforts to influence where the money goes and how the rules work. As Gary Andres writes in Lobbying Reconsidered: Under the Influence, "Probably the only way to get fewer lobbyists in the system is to significantly cut back on the size of government -- a difficult and unlikely prescription."


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Deliberative Failure

In our first chapter, we note: "Critics fault Congress for taking legislative shortcuts at the expense of policy discussion. Political rhetoric in Congress and elsewhere seems to be little more than name-calling and partisan sniping." In an article in Roll Call, political scientists Thad Hall and E. Scott Adler point to a specific deliberative deficit:

A fundamental part of governing in the modern era is the reauthorization of existing federal programs and agencies. The idea behind reauthorizations is simple; Congress sets a time when the funding, and often the enabling legislation, for a program will expire. When this time comes, Congress is meant to review a program or agency’s performance and make modifications to improve its effectiveness. A new law is then passed — the reauthorization — that legislates adjustments to the program or agency’s function, based on input from interest groups, agency personnel, constituents and others.

The result is legislation that makes government programs work better and federal agencies more responsive. Congress began doing this after World War II, and the practice continued and expanded through the 1980s.

Since 1985, the Congressional Budget Office annually issues a report listing programs that have not had their funding reauthorized. That report has shown that, over the past two decades, Congress has increasingly abdicated its basic governing responsibilities. Consider the following numbers: In 1993, there were 59 programs operating with an expired authorization. Today, there are 250.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Simple Story of Civic Duty

The main point of our book is that there is more to public life than self-interest. Many people shirk civic duty, of course, but many others accept it even when it would be in their interest to do otherwise. The Orange County Register offers an example:

Walking to his car during his tour of duty as a juror, financial consultant Rick Keller pondered his predicament.

It was January 2009. The nation was in the worst financial mess since the Great Depression. Keller's clients, some of the wealthiest people in Orange County, had lost millions in a matter of weeks. And in 10 days he was scheduled to hold his annual luncheon with 250 of those very same clients.

But facing a crowd of angry investors wasn't what was bothering Keller, head of the then-named Keller Group, which had more than a billion dollars on the line.

It was the prospect of not seeing his investors face to face. The judge had just instructed the jury the civil trial would last another two weeks.

Keller, tall, lanky, with the runner's body he had in high school nearly four decades earlier, considered his conflict. Should he ask to be excused – something he could probably pull off – or should he fulfill what he considered a civic obligation?

....

Keller stuck with the trial, never asking to be excused from his civic duty. He wound up being foreman, in fact. Sure, there was much debate among his colleagues. But everyone's moved on. The next meeting is just around the corner.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jury Duty

Serving on juries is an important duty of citizenship. But in Los Angeles County, it is increasingly difficult to find jurors. The Los Angeles Times reports:
In this time of double-digit unemployment and shrinking benefits for those who do have jobs, courts are finding it more difficult to seat juries for trials running more than a day or two. And in extreme cases, reluctance has escalated into rebellion, experts say ... Money woes inflicted by the recession have spurred more hardship claims, especially by those called for long cases, say jury consultants and courtroom administrators. More than a quarter of all qualified jurors were released on hardship grounds last year, according to court statistics. And judges say they have seen more people request such dismissals in the last year.

...

"The economic situation has really put attorneys and judges in an awkward position of having to say to someone who is the sole wage earner in a family or someone who is self-employed and doesn't get paid when they don't work that they have to serve, and we have more and more of those," said Jaine E. Fraser, a psychologist and jury consultant who sat in for the asbestos jury selection before the parties settled.

People on the margins of society tend to be more sympathetic with victims bringing suit, and excluding them on hardship grounds can disadvantage plaintiffs, Fraser said. But it's also risky, she noted, to force people into jury service that will cut deeply into their paychecks.
In Michigan, law student Phillip Ellison faced the dilemma of doing jury duty and forfeiting a semester's tuition (the law school would not excuse his absence) or shirking duty and facing contempt of court charges. He managed to defer the duty to winter break but meanwhile found an oddity in the law. High school students could postpone their service until the end of school year but postsecondary students could not. The Kalamazoo Gazette reports:
So Ellison wrote a letter to his area legislators and members of the Michigan House Judiciary Committee about his situation and proposed a solution to allow college students to defer their jury service. He also asked that colleges and universities be prohibited from retaliating or “punishing” students for serving on jury duty.

“I was called by Tonya Schuitmaker (the Republican representative from Lawton), who said, ‘Wow, great idea. We never heard of this before,’” Ellison said “I did talk to Mark Meadows’ (the Democratic representative from East Lansing) staff.

“The next thing I hear is a bill’s coming out to do absolutely what I asked them to do.”

Meadows announced last week the introduction of a bill to allow full-time college students to postpone serving as jurors while they are taking classes.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Executive Power

Our chapter on the presidency examines various powers that the chief executive can wield. The New York Times reports:

With much of his legislative agenda stalled in Congress, President Obama and his team are preparing an array of actions using his executive power to advance energy, environmental, fiscal and other domestic policy priorities.

Mr. Obama has not given up hope of progress on Capitol Hill, aides said, and has scheduled a session with Republican leaders on health care later this month. But in the aftermath of a special election in Massachusetts that cost Democrats unilateral control of the Senate, the White House is getting ready to act on its own in the face of partisan gridlock heading into the midterm campaign.

...

Already, Mr. Obama has had to reconcile his campaign-trail criticism of Mr. Bush for excessive use of so-called signing statements to bypass parts of legislation with his own use of such tactics. After a bipartisan furor in Congress last year, Mr. Obama stopped issuing such signing statements, but aides said last month that he still reserves the right to ignore sections of bills he considers unconstitutional if objections have been lodged previously by the executive branch.

During the 2008 campaign, however, then-Senator Obama said:

Signing statements have been used by presidents of both parties, dating back to Andrew Jackson. While it is legitimate for a president to issue a signing statement to clarify his understanding of ambiguous provisions of statutes and to explain his view of how he intends to faithfully execute the law, it is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability.

I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law.



Saturday, February 13, 2010

Religion, Textbooks, and Texas

The New York Times Magazine analyzes disputes over textbooks in Texas. The treatment of religion in American history is a point of contention. The piece offers some useful background, which is consistent with our chapter on civic culture:

There was a religious element to the American Revolution, which was so pronounced that you could just as well view the event in religious as in political terms. Many of the founders, especially the Southerners, were rebelling simultaneously against state-church oppression and English rule. The Connecticut Baptists saw Jefferson — an anti-Federalist who was bitterly opposed to the idea of establishment churches — as a friend. “Our constitution of government,” they wrote, “is not specific” with regard to a guarantee of religious freedoms that would protect them. Might the president offer some thoughts that, “like the radiant beams of the sun,” would shed light on the intent of the framers? In his reply, Jefferson said it was not the place of the president to involve himself in religion, and he expressed his belief that the First Amendment’s clauses — that the government must not establish a state religion (the so-called establishment clause) but also that it must ensure the free exercise of religion (what became known as the free-exercise clause) — meant, as far as he was concerned, that there was “a wall of separation between Church & State.”

This little episode, culminating in the famous “wall of separation” metaphor, highlights a number of points about teaching religion in American history. For one, it suggests — as the Christian activists maintain — how thoroughly the colonies were shot through with religion and how basic religion was to the cause of the revolutionaries. The period in the early- to mid-1700s, called the Great Awakening, in which populist evangelical preachers challenged the major denominations, is considered a spark for the Revolution. And if religion influenced democracy then, in the Second Great Awakening, decades later, the democratic fervor of the Revolution spread through the two mainline denominations and resulted in a massive growth of the sort of populist churches that typify American Christianity to this day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

World Attitudes Toward US Leadership

In our chapter on foreign policy and national security, we discuss negative attitudes toward the United States in other countries. The past year has seen progress on this score. Gallup reports:

Perceptions of U.S. leadership worldwide improved significantly from 2008 to 2009. The U.S.-Global Leadership Project, a partnership between the Meridian International Center and Gallup, finds that a median of 51% of the world approves of the job performance of the current leadership of the U.S., up from a median of 34% in 2008.

Gallup has asked residents worldwide to rate the leadership of the U.S. since 2005, which enables a comparison of how perceptions of U.S. leadership have changed from the Bush administration to the Obama administration. The global median approval of U.S. leadership remained relatively steady from 2005 to 2008. In 2009, a bare median majority approves of the job performance of U.S. leadership (51%) -- a first since Gallup began asking the question worldwide in 2005.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Sharp Critique of Public Opinion

In our chapter on public opinion and political participation, we ask how and when public opinion is truly deliberative. In Slate, Jacob Weisberg offers a negative verdict, saying that "the biggest culprit in our current predicament: the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large." He goes on:

Anybody who says you can't have it both ways clearly hasn't been spending much time reading opinion polls lately. One year ago, 59 percent of the American public liked the stimulus plan, according to Gallup. A few months later, with the economy still deeply mired in recession, a majority of the same size said Obama was spending too much money on it. There's nothing wrong with changing your mind, of course, but opinion polls over the last year reflect something altogether more troubling: a country that simultaneously demands and rejects action on unemployment, deficits, health care, climate change, and a whole host of other major problems. Sixty percent of Americans want stricter regulations of financial institutions. But nearly the same proportion says we're suffering from too much regulation on business. That kind of illogic—or, if you prefer, susceptibility to rhetorical manipulation—is what locks the status quo in place.

But is the public as illogical as this passage suggests? One may believe that there is too much regulation of business in general, yet support greater regulation in one specific area. People may support the basic idea of an economic stimulus, yet regard the implementation of the policy as faulty and wasteful. As for the latter point, a Washington Post poll suggests that people increasingly believe that the federal government wastes their tax dollars:

On another subject, out of every dollar the federal government collects in taxes, how many cents do you think are wasted?

  Average       
2/8/10         53 cents    
4/9/06         51 
4/14/02        47          
4/16/00        46          
1/7/98         56          
1/29/95        51          
8/8/93         47          
2/28/93        46          
10/21/91       49          
9/30/90        44          
5/21/90        46          
7/29/85        43 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Federalism, States, and Bankruptcy

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina suggested that the state of California should consider declaring bankruptcy, apparently unaware that states cannot do that under federal bankruptcy law.

The comments were first reported Tuesday in the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard, hosted a business roundtable at a cement plant in Colton, Calif., and a businessman asked her if the state should consider filing for bankruptcy.

"I think it should always be considered," Fiorina replied. "Whether that is the right approach now, I don't know. I think bankruptcy, as a possibility, at the very least focuses the mind on what has to be done to salvage a situation."

Under federal law, municipalities can declare bankruptcy, as Orange County notably did in 1994. But states do not have the same ability.

Why does federal law apply in the first place? Article I, section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress to establish "uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States." In Federalist 42, Madison explained:

The power of establishing uniform laws of bankruptcy is so intimately connected with the regulation of commerce, and will prevent so many frauds where the parties or their property may lie or be removed into different States, that the expediency of it seems not likely to be drawn into question.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Contention and Deliberation

In our chapters on campaigns and elections, Congress, and the mass media, we discuss some of the preconditions for deliberative debate. Columbia professor Mark Lilla has some highly relevant reflections:
But what is contention for? First and foremost, for deliberation: when different ideas and proposals are promoted by different factions, those in government and the public at large are invited to compare them and check their papers, which then gives an incentive to the factions to get their papers straight. These ideas compete – so to speak. (Those who talk about a “war of ideas” have never held one in their heads). Real deliberation requires respect and civility, of course, but more importantly it requires attentiveness. That’s really what we lack today: there can be no deliberation in an endless ping-pong of radio broadcasts, blog posts, and tweets, only je m’en foutisme and demagoguery.

Momentum

In our chapter on campaigns and elections, we discuss the dynamics of presidential races. A candidate may gather momentum, getting stronger and stronger as the opponent gets weaker and weaker. In an article in Polity, R. Lawrence Butler writes:
Money could also lead to increased capacity for momentum to be a factor in future general elections. Before 2008, both major party candidates accepted public funding and had an equal amount to spend. One of the important mechanisms of momentum involves the ability of the candidate perceived to be winning to increase his fund-raising, whereas the loser’s money dries up. Public financing eliminated this possibility. Momentum would, therefore, have to be created by free media coverage and the energizing of volunteer networks. Now, as future candidates are unlikely to accept public financing, momentum could become a greater factor in the general election.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Federal Mud

In earlier posts (here and here), we discussed California's Station Fire as a case study in federalism. The story continues. Because the fire destroyed hillside vegetation, recent heavy rains triggered mudslides in neighboring communities. Local officials want federal action, as the Los Angeles Daily News reports:

Some local officials on Sunday demanded that the federal government pay for mud removal, blaming the mudslide damage on the U.S. Forest Service for scaling back firefighting efforts too early after the Station Fire broke out in late August.

La CaƱada Flintridge Mayor Laura Olhasso blasted the U.S. Forest Service for allowing mud to flow from federal land into residential neighborhoods - a complaint similar to one made earlier by Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.

"I call on the federal government to take the responsibility to help our residents pay for cleaning up the mud," Olhasso said at a news conference in her mud-ravaged community. "The federal government must take responsibility for their mud that is coming out of their hills."

In an interview, Olhasso said she personally spoke to U.S. Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, Sunday morning asking the area's congressman for help in getting the country's Federal Emergency Management Agency to quickly provide assistance to residents.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Citizenship and Recycling

A new study looks at different concepts of citizenship. In "The Story of Good Citizenship: Framing Recycling in the Context of Duty-Based and Engaged Citizenship," Donna L. Lybecker, Mark K. McBeth, and Kacee A. Garner of Idaho State University note that individuals differ on the question of "What is a good citizen?" In their abstract, they write:
Young individuals, in particular, are more likely to follow an engaged citizen view of citizenship. Engaged citizens are more participatory, global, and committed to social justice more than their duty-based counterparts. In this article we examine, with an innovative methodology and merging of citizenship and framing literature, the potential effects of increased engaged citizenship on policy issues. Our questions examine the characteristics of duty-based or engaged citizens and explore whether duty-based and engaged citizens would be more likely to support a policy, in this case recycling efforts, if the issue is framed in the context of their respective preferred citizenship norm. To provide an initial answer to these questions, we use the case study of recycling. We find that the engaged recycling frame was strongly supported by individuals with a more engaged view of citizenship while the duty-based frame was not necessarily more supported by duty-based individuals. We provide insights on how our study impacts political science and policy.
The full text of the article is in the February 2010 issue of Politics and Policy, available through your library.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Local Deliberative Democracy

In our chapter on federalism, we suggest that a decentralized political structure may provide more opportunities for deliberation and active citizenship. A recent article on the National League of Cities site makes a similar point:
[The] experimentation with neighborhood governance that has occurred in a handful of cities over a 30-year period represents a tremendous, and often overlooked, source of knowledge on these questions. Starting in the early 1970s, local governments in places like Portland, Ore.; Dayton, Ohio; and St. Paul, Minn., created neighborhood council systems as a way of engaging residents in public decision-making and problem-solving. The history of these neighborhood governance structures offers a rich legacy of successes, mistakes, strengths and weaknesses that can inspire and inform democracy reform at every level of government.

Friday, February 5, 2010

President Obama in Adversity

In our chapter on the presidency, we discuss chief executives who have faced hard times. President Obama is currently doing so. Though the overall unemployment rate is down a bit, it remains very high by the standards of recent decades. His health care legislation has stalled, at least for the time being. In some polls, his job-approval rating is below 50 percent. And there is an outside chance that Republicans would win the House or (less likely) the Senate in the 2010 midterm election.

Yet even if his poll numbers stay low and the other party triumphs in the midterm, the president need not lapse into political paralysis.

In their paper "What Can We Learn from Presidential Adversity?" Ryan J. Barilleaux, Marc Bacharach, and Jewerl Maxwell pointed out that presidents retain a great deal of power in difficult moments. Three examples help make the case.

Adversity makes it more difficult for the president to succeed with legislation and thus encourages the chief executive to take recourse in unilateral action. But adversity does not strip the president of the ability to shape policy. Some of Truman’s greatest policy achievements came during his tough times. Ford was able to conduct foreign policy and his veto strategy on spending was more successful than not Reagan concluded a key arms-control treaty withthe Soviet Union and conducted a military operation against Iran. Granted, presidential power is reduced by adverse circumstances, but it is not erased.

Capitalism, Socialism, and Public Opinion

In our chapter on civic culture, we note that American individualism has historically translated into a reluctance to embrace socialism. We also mention this point in our chapter on economic policy. New data from Gallup confirm the point:

Socialism" was one of seven terms included in a Jan. 26-27 Gallup poll. Americans were asked to indicate whether their top-of-mind reactions to each were positive or negative. Respondents were not given explanations or descriptions of the terms.

Americans are almost uniformly positive in their reactions to three terms: small business, free enterprise, and entrepreneurs. They are divided on big business and the federal government, with roughly as many Americans saying their view is positive as say it is negative. Americans are more positive than negative on capitalism (61% versus 33%) and more negative than positive on socialism (36% to 58%).

But in our chapter on public opinion, we note that pollsters must be cautious about assuming that the public has a great deal of knowledge about political terms. Gallup notes:

Exactly how Americans define "socialism" or what exactly they think of when they hear the word is not known. The research simply measures Americans' reactions when a survey interviewer reads the word to them -- an exercise that helps shed light on connotations associated with this frequently used term.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Madison and Active Citizenship

In an important new book, James Madison and the Spirit of Republican Self-Government, Colleen Sheehan makes an important point about Madison's thought:
The need to form an active citizenry whose ongoing participation in the life of the polity and responsibility for its destiny were no less part of Madison's republican vision than the doctrine of separation of powers and checks and balances. It was,
in fact, the more overarching concern for him. The modification of public opinion and the formation of the character of a republican citizenry is the crux of his political theory; it is the reason that he concentrated so much of his efforts on constructing a political environment that would encourage the commerce of ideas.

This analysis is very consistent with the approach that we take in our book. The chapters on citizenship and civic culture analyze the importance of individual duty. The chapter on public opinion distinguishes fleeting passions from deliberative opinions. And the chapter on the mass media mentions early efforts to foster the commerce of ideas.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Very Unusual Campaign Web Ad

In a very unusual campaign web ad, California Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina portrays primary opponent Tom Campbell as an evil sheep:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Charitable Deduction

As we explain in our chapter in economic policy, taxpayers may deduct charitable contributions from the income on which they owe tax, thereby reducing their tax bill. The chapter on civic culture discusses how this deduction helps support many voluntary organizations.

Reduce the Itemized Deduction Write-off for Families with Incomes over $250,000. Currently, if a middle-class family donates a dollar to its favorite charity or spends a dollar on mortgage interest, it gets a 15-cent tax deduction, but a millionaire who does the same enjoys a deduction that is more than twice as generous. By reducing this disparity and returning the highincome deduction to the same rates that were in place at the end of the Reagan Administration, we will raise $291 billion over the next decade.

Millionaires, of course, get the greater deduction because their marginal tax rate is more than twice as high. According to the Daily Caller, charities are unhappy with the proposal:

Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center said the rule change would make it about 10 percent more expensive for individuals affected to donate to charity. He estimated that would correspond to a $10 billion drop in donations out of the $300 billion Americans give annually.

“From the perspective of charities, they’re in a tough time right anyway,” Williams said. “Some charities have been seeing a drop-off in donations and charities themselves that have endowments are seeing a drop-off in return from investments. It’s a double whammy.”