Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day


Today we remember that there is more to life than the pursuit of rational self-interest. Self-sacrifice is very real. In the San Bernardino County Sun, James Koren reports on a recruiting batallion headed by Lieutentant Colonel Miguel Howe:

Howe said the economy is just one of the reasons young men and women have been flocking to the armed forces.

"People are not risking their life solely for pay and benefits," he said.

Amanda Salcedo, a San Bernardino resident who graduated from Cajon High School in 2008, said the college money and the job training are nice, but she has other reasons for joining the Navy.

"The job wasn't the reason - it's a plus," said Salcedo, who will head to basic training in Illinois in June. "I want to do something good with my life."

[Andy] Issar, who immigrated to the U.S. from Canada and traces his family roots to India, said he wants to show the rest of the world the kind of opportunity America offers.

"I hope I do get to go to Iraq or Afghanistan," he said. "I feel I'm (the country's) best foot forward. I'd be showing people what this country has done."

Read more: http://www.sbsun.com/news/ci_15194005?source=rss#ixzz0pWAXsDpE

This Memorial Day, nearly three-out-of-four Americans (74%) have a favorable opinion of the U.S. military, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Just 12% hold an unfavorable opinion, and 13% are not sure.

These figures have held steady for the past two years.

Thirty-five percent (35%) of Adults say they have a relative or close friend currently serving our country in Iraq or Afghanistan, down nine points from a year ago.

Forty percent (40%) also say they've lost a relative or close friend who gave their life while serving in the military. Fifty-two percent (52%) have not lost a relative or close friend in the line of duty, but eight percent (8%) more are not sure .

Sunday, May 30, 2010

"First Reports Are Always Wrong"

Our chapter on mass media cautions against putting too much trust in early press reports of an event, especially a catastrophic one: "Errors are likely in the chaos of disaster." Even when journalists accurately convey official statements, those statements may themselves be mistaken. The attempt to stop the Gulf oil spill is a case study.

Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2010:

Engineers have stopped the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico from a gushing BP well, the federal government's top oil spill commander, U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said Thursday morning.

The "top kill" effort, launched Wednesday afternoon by industry and government engineers, has pumped enough drilling fluid to block all oil and gas from the well, Allen said. The pressure from the well is very low, but persists, he said.

Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2010:

A top Obama administration official warned Sunday that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill might not be stopped until late summer after BP's latest attempt to plug the leak failed.

The "American people need to know" that it's "possible we will have oil leaking from this well until August, when the relief wells will be finished," said Carol Browner, the White House energy advisor.
In the words of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "first reports are always wrong."


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rand Paul and Birthright Citizenship

We have previously posted items on the issue of the birthright citizenship of children of illegal aliens (here and here). Rand Paul, the controversial Republican Senate candidate in Kentucky, has weighed in:

U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul is stirring it up again, this time by saying he opposes citizenship for children born in the U.S. to parents who are illegal immigrants.

Paul, who a week ago won the GOP primary, told a Russian TV station in a clip circulating on political Web sites Friday that he wants to block citizenship to those children.

"We're the only country I know that allows people to come in illegally, have a baby, and then that baby becomes a citizen," Paul told RT, an English-language station, shortly after his win over GOP establishment candidate Trey Grayson. "And I think that should stop also."

Legislation dubbed the Birthright Citizenship Act was introduced in the House last year seeking to prevent citizenship to babies born to illegal immigrants even though the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees citizenship to everyone born in the U.S. More than 90 lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors.




According to the Congressional Research Service:
The courts apparently have never ruled on the specific issues of whether the native-born child of illegal aliens as opposed to the child of lawfully present aliens may be a U.S. citizen or whether the native-born child of nonimmigrant aliens as opposed to legal resident aliens may be a U.S. citizen. However, Wong Kim Ark specifically held that under the Fourteenth Amendment a child born in the United States to parents who, at the time of his birth, were subjects of the Chinese emperor, but had a “permanent domicil [sic] and residence in the United States” and were not diplomats of the emperor, was born a U.S. citizen. The holding does not make a distinction between illegal and legal presence in the United States, but one could argue that the holding is limited to construing the Fourteenth Amendment in the context of parents who are legal permanent residents. However, the Court’s own discussion of the common law doctrine of jus soli and the Fourteenth Amendment as an affirmation of it indicates that the holding, at the least, would not be limited to permanent legal residents as opposed to nonimmigrant, transient, legal aliens and currently accepted law would also weigh against this argument. Also, the cases involving the deportation of illegal aliens simply take for granted that their U.S.-born children are U.S. citizens in considering whether the existence of or extreme hardship to U.S.-citizen, minor children should stay the deportation of the parents. This is true regardless of whether the children were born during the period of any lawful by the parents, during the period of any unlawful stay or after an I.N.S. finding of deportability of the parents. However, some scholars argue that the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment should not apply to the children of illegal aliens because the problem of illegal aliens did not exist at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was considered in Congress and ratified by the states. Although the Elk decision construed the phrase, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” the situation of Native Americans is unique, so any interpretation that the U.S.-born children of illegal aliens are not born “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States arguably could not rely on the Elk decision.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The US Subsidizes Brazilian Cotton Farmers

In our chapters on bureaucracy, interest groups, and economic policy, we discuss how interest-group demands add to the federal deficit. Jonathan Rauch notes one example:

In 2002, Brazil filed a complaint against U.S. cotton subsidies with the World Trade Organization, of which the United States is a member. The international trade treaty allows signatories to subsidize farmers, and, in fact, they all do. The assistance, however, is supposed to be limited, and trade-distorting subsidies -- ones that either subsidize exports or encourage overproduction -- are subject to particularly tight limits.

Brazil argued that Washington's generous cotton program violated the trade rules. Despite some legislative and administrative efforts by the U.S. to tweak the subsidies, last year the WTO ruled generally in Brazil's favor. Brazil won the right to levy retaliatory duties on more than $800 million worth of U.S. exports annually, a prospect that manufacturers here reacted to with alarm.

The Obama administration found itself in a hard spot. Substantially changing farm subsidies requires an act of Congress, but the next farm bill is not due until 2012, and trying to get lawmakers to approve a stand-alone subsidy cut seems out of the question. A trade war with Brazil, however, is the last thing that Washington needs, particularly when the U.S. has been found to be in the wrong.

So last month the administration announced a deal with the Brazilians. In due course, Congress will change the cotton program. Until that happens, the U.S. government will send Brazil an annual check for $147.3 million (a sum based on estimates of the cotton subsidies' economic cost to Brazil), which Brazil is to spend on "technical assistance and capacity-building" for agribusiness. Translation: Washington is bribing Brazilian farmers to keep illegal subsidies flowing to U.S. farmers.

Rauch quotes Representative Ron Kind (D-WI):
"If the average person at home realized what's happening with the cotton program, there would be outrage in the streets."
And he explains the moral of the story:

In real life, there is no such thing as Big Government; there are only government programs. Each program has beneficiaries and defenders who care much more about retaining it than anyone else cares about getting rid of it -- which is why the average person at home has no idea what the cotton program is up to, and never will. "The agriculture interests are well entrenched," Kind says, and "it's tough to make this a real election-year issue that motivates people to go to the polls."



Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Constitution and Limits

At The Atlantic, Garrett Epps writes: "The actual Constitution doesn't read as if it was designed to stop innovation or block centralization. It created a new powerful government, and has very little language limiting it. "

This assertion is debatable. In Federalist 83, Hamilton wrote:
The plan of the convention declares that the power of Congress, or, in other words, of the national legislature, shall extend to certain enumerated cases. This specification of particulars evidently excludes all pretension to a general legislative authority, because an affirmative grant of special powers would be absurd, as well as useless, if a general authority was intended.
In Federalist 84, Hamilton argued that a bill of rights was unnecessary because the original Constitution did not grant fearsome powers to the national government: "For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?"

But Congress and the states did pass The Bill of Rights, with these important provisions:

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Birthright Citizenship

Alan Greenblatt reports for NPR:

If you're born in the U.S.A., you're an American citizen. Some lawmakers, however, plan to challenge that basic assumption.

In what might be the next great flash point in the nation's ongoing debate about immigration policy, legislation has been introduced in Congress and a pair of states to deny birth certificates to babies born of illegal-immigrant parents.

"Currently, if you have a child born to two alien parents, that person is believed to be a U.S. citizen," says Randy Terrill, a Republican state representative in Oklahoma who is working on an anti-birthright bill. "When taken to its logical extreme, that would produce the absurd result that children of invading armies would be considered citizens of the U.S."

Bills to challenge the fact that citizenship is granted as a birthright in this country have been perennial nonstarters in Congress, although the current legislation has 91 co-sponsors. As with other issues surrounding immigration, however, some state legislatures still might act, if only in hopes of bringing this issue before the Supreme Court.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bureaucracy in the Gulf

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has expressed frustration with the federal government's slow response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He has said that the state will not await federal approval to start building sand barriers.

In the textbook (p. 467), we quote from an article that then-Representative Jindal wrote in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005:

There have already been a number of instances in which an overly inhibitive bureaucracy prevented an appropriate response to the disaster. For example, on Wednesday of last week a company called my office. With only three hours before rising waters would make the mission impossible, they were anxious to send a rescue helicopter for their stranded employees. They wanted to know who would give them a go-ahead.

We could not identify the agency with authority. We heard that FEMA was in charge, that the FAA was in charge, and that the military was in charge. I went in person to talk with a FEMA representative and still could not get a straight answer. Finally we told the company to avoid interfering with Coast Guard missions, but to proceed on its own. Sometimes, asking for forgiveness is better than asking for permission.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"The Mess We Inherited"

At Politico, Carol Lee reports:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Constitution: A Best-Seller

The Hill reports:

Demand for copies of the U.S. Constitution is skyrocketing.

The increased interest comes amid the rise of the Tea Party movement and as both parties cite the Constitution to advance their agendas.

The pocket edition of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence ranked 10th on the Government Printing Office’s (GPO) best-seller list in March.

Since September 2009, the GPO has sold more than 8,700 copies of the pocket Constitution to the public, according to GPO spokesman Gary Somerset. That is a higher sell rate than in recent years.

A couple of our colleagues have written relevant works:

And here are some online resources on the Constitution:


Friday, May 21, 2010

Selection by Lot

We start our chapter on elections and campaigns this way:
Why have elections at all? The obvious answer is that elections translate the public will into government policy. Nevertheless, it is possible to picture an alternative system to do the same thing. tem Some ancient Greek city-states chose public officials by lot. The modern equivalent would use the scientific sampling techniques that pollsters employ. Such a system might randomly select a group of citizens to serve as members of Congress or state legislators. Thus, we could have lawmakers whose views and personal characteristics reflected those of the public as a whole—and without all the expense and turmoil of political campaigns. Serious scholars have proposed variations of selection by lot.
According to Rasmussen Reports, many voters take the idea very seriously:

Tuesday's primaries were more proof of the anti-incumbency mood felt in many parts of the nation, and a new Rasmussen Reports poll finds that many voters continue to feel a randomly selected sample of people from the phone book could do a better job than their elected representatives in Congress.

The latest national telephone survey of Likely Voters finds that 41% say a group of people selected at random from the phone book would do a better job addressing the nation’s problems than the current Congress. Almost as many (38%) disagree, however, and another 20% are undecided.

These findings show little change from early January and early September 2009. However, the number of voters who feel a random selection could do better is up eight points from early October 2008, just before the presidential election.

So why have elections at all? As we explain, campaigns help make public officials accountable, foster active citizenship, and stimulate public deliberation.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Comparative Perspectives: Mexican Immigration Policy

In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Mexican President Felipe Calderon explained his country's policy on immigration:
BLITZER: Do Mexican police go around asking for papers of people they suspect are illegal immigrants?

CALDERON: Of course. Of course, in the border, we are asking the people, who are you?

And if they explain...

BLITZER: At the border, I understand, when they come in.

CALDERON: Yes.

BLITZER: But once they're in...

CALDERON: But not -- but not in -- if -- once they are inside the -- inside the country, what the Mexican police do is, of course, enforce the law. But by any means, immigration is a crime anymore in Mexico.

BLITZER: Immigration is not a crime, you're saying?

CALDERON: It's not a crime.

BLITZER: So in other words, if somebody sneaks in from Nicaragua or some other country in Central America, through the southern border of Mexico, they wind up in Mexico, they can go get a job...

CALDERON: No, no.

BLITZER: They can work.

CALDERON: If -- if somebody do that without permission, we send back -- we send back them.


Retired Generals and Interest Groups

Politico reports:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Faith-Based Environmentalism

In our chapter on civic culture, we explain that religion has left its mark on most American policy issues. The environment is no exception, as we see in a recent report by the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Community Partnerships:
In order to actualize the potential of faith-based and community groups and their networks across the country toward greening and retrofitting buildings, and other key environmental outcomes, the Council recommends that an Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships be formed at the EPA. We further recommend that the EPA assign or hire Faith- and Community-Based Liaisons at all of their regional offices.

There is a new and unprecedented wave of interest in the environmental sustainability and climate change among America’s diverse religious communities and in neighborhoods across the country.

Faith- and other community-based nonprofit institutions are in the unique position of serving as visible examples to the community. Houses of worship can exert a powerful influence when they practice good energy stewardship and preaches and teaches about conservation as a moral value, it has a powerful influence.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oppo

In our chapter on the mass media, we discuss the relationship between campaign operatives and reporters:
Leaks also come from opposition researchers, campaign operatives who specialize in finding information about the other side’s candidate. Through press aides, they routinely provide clippings and documents to journalists, who use them in their own reporting. (Journalists seldom acknowledge the help from “oppo.”) “Usually you can find stories that match up with the dynamics of different media outlets,” said Democratic researcher Chris Lehane. “If you have videotape, you take it to a television outlet. If it’s a complicated financial story, you take it to The Wall Street Journal. Something on special interests you take to The New York Times. It’s all part of the process.
One vivid example has come to light in the past 24 hours. Last night, the New York Times website ran a story about how Connecticut Democratic senatorial candidate Richard Blumenthal had falsely claimed military service in Vietnam. Soon the campaign of Linda McMahon, seeking the GOP nomination, claimed credit for giving the information to the Times. The McMahon campaign quickly backtracked, however.

It is not unusual for reporters to use "oppo" -- indeed, they do it much more often than they like to admit. It is unusual for a campaign to claim credit for such a leak after the fact. The Huffington Post quotes Nixon aide Pat Buchanan: "the rule in politics, don't leave your fingerprints if you are going to stick the knife in this guy's back."

Erratum!

Anna Eames, a sharp-eyed student at Claremont McKenna College, spotted an error on page 561 of the text. The marginal definition of tariff contains the definition of tax exemption. A tariff, is of course, a tax on imported goods. A tax exemption is a specific figure that taxpayers may subtract for their taxable income.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Border Security

In our chapter on citizenship, we discuss the issue of border security. The issue involves much more than economic migration, as this Atlanta TV report suggests:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Supreme Court Deliberation

In a background piece on the Kagan nomination, The New York Times describes the Supreme Court's deliberative character:

Justice Kennedy, in an interview with C-Span last year, described how communications among the justices actually work.

“Before the case is heard, we have an unwritten rule: We don’t talk about it with each other,” he said. If the rule is violated, “we send a memo to everybody about what we’ve talked about, because we don’t want little cliques or cabals or little groups that lobby each other before.”

“The first time we know what our colleagues are thinking is in oral arguments,” he said, “from the questions.” The justices next discuss the case at their private conference, now announcing tentative votes.

...

The dean of a major law school can offer professors money, status, support for a pet project, help with housing, maybe even a job for a spouse. A Supreme Court justice has little more than a vote and such power of persuasion as flows from written reasoning.

“There is just more logrolling in the academy,” Professor Epstein said. “I have never observed in all my many years of reading the papers of the justices any evidence of logrolling.”

The Kennedy interview is here.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Demographics of the Supreme Court

If Elena Kagan wins confirmation, the Supreme Court will consist of six Catholics (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor) and three Jews (Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan). For the first time in its entire history, it will not have a single Protestant.

An as NPR reports, her confirmation would also mean a court consisting entirely of people who got their law degrees at Harvard or Yale.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Enlarge the House? Repeal the 17th Amendment?

In Forbes, Bruce Bartlett writes:
Congress' dysfunction is becoming so obvious and overwhelming that radical reforms are necessary. I think a key reason for the dysfunction is that neither the House nor the Senate is constituted the way they were originally designed by the Founding Fathers. Members of the House represent far too many people today and senators no longer represent the states as states.

His proposal: increase the size of the House and repeal the 17th Amendment, which provides for direct election of senators. The first would require only a statute. The second would require a constitutional amendment and would return the election of US senators to state legislatures.

A few weeks ago, also in Forbes, Joshua Spivack argued against such a measure, warning that it would effectively nationalize state legislative elections.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Taking Away Citizenship

Our chapter on citizenship discusses circumstances under which the government may strip an American of citizenship. There is little doubt that it can do so with a naturalized citizen who committed fraud in the process of naturalization. According to legal scholar Peter Schuck, the Times Square bombing suggests other circumstances.

Under a 1940 statute that is still in force, the government can de-nationalize citizens who serve in a foreign military; vote in a foreign election; swear allegiance to, hold office, or naturalize in a foreign state; expressly renounce their citizenship before certain U.S. officials; or conspire to make war against the nation.

But a 1967 Supreme Court decision, Afroyim v. Rusk, held that Congress cannot revoke citizenship without the citizen's consent. Thus, in the case of the Times Square bomber, the government would have to prove that when he committed any of the actions listed in the statute, he intended to relinquish his citizenship.

In a 1980 case, Vance v. Terrazas, the Court reaffirmed this "intent to relinquish" requirement, but allowed the government to prove it by a mere "preponderance of the evidence." Afroyim and Terrazas, which were both 5-4 decisions, accepted that a jury might infer intent to relinquish citizenship based on conduct—that is, even if the individual didn't utter the magic words "I intend to renounce my citizenship"—so long as he had fair opportunity to show otherwise.

The question, then, is which acts might prove the specific intent demanded by these two rulings. In Shahzad's case, if the government can show that he placed a bomb in Times Square at the behest of a terrorist group seeking to kill people simply because they are Americans, I believe that it should easily suffice. Unlike the citizen's act in Afroyim—voting in an Israeli election—the Times Square plot precludes any notion of allegiance.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Public Opinion on Drilling

Even with the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Americans still support offshore drilling. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked:
Do you support or oppose a proposal to allow more drilling for oil off the coast of the United States? (IF SUPPORT/OPPOSE, THEN ASK) And, do you strongly (support/oppose) or just somewhat (support/oppose) this?

Strongly support ............................................................................ 34
Somewhat support ......................................................................... 26
Somewhat oppose .......................................................................... 12
Strongly oppose .............................................................................. 22
Another question was more deliberative, asking respondents to weigh costs and benefits:
When it comes to oil drilling off U.S. coasts, which of the following statements comes closer to your point of view?
Statement A: The potential harm to the environment outweighs the potential benefits to the economy.
Statement B: The potential benefits to the economy outweigh the potential harm to the environment.
A majority -- 53 percent said that benefits to the economy outweigh potential harm to the environment, with 41 percent saying the reverse.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Casinos and the Spirit of America

The Press of Atlantic City reports a story that touches on our themes of citizenship, community service, and interest group activity.

ATLANTIC CITY — How many amendments does the U.S. Constitution have? The House of Representatives has how many voting members? We elect a U.S. senator for how many years? Who was one of the writers of the Federalist Papers?

These are just a few of the 100 possible questions on the official Naturalization Test developed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS — questions that may trip up even natural-born citizens.

So Local 54 of UNITE-HERE, which represents Atlantic City casino service workers, has developed a series of classes for prospective citizens to teach them the ins and outs of the naturalization process — from the test to the application to everything in between.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Donna DeCaprio, head of Local 54’s Multilingual Office. “Half of our membership are immigrants, and the citizenship test is very expensive — it costs over $600 to take it, and you only get two chances. It’s very intimidating for most folks. They don’t know what to expect.”

Sunday, May 9, 2010

West Virginia, Religion, and the Oath of Office

May 10 marks the 50th anniversary of John Kennedy's victory in the West Virginia Democratic primary, a key episode in his 1960 race for the presidency. This clip from the campaign illustrates two themes of our book: the political importance of religion in the United States, and the significance of oaths:


Citizenship, Demographics, and the New Century

Brookings has issued an important study, The State of Metropolitan America. Among its many observations, one helps explain why we devote an entire chapter to citizenship:
In a country that recently elected its first African American president, it can be easy to forget that not so long ago, we were a considerably more racially and ethnically homogeneous society than we are today. In 1970, non-Hispanic whites accounted for roughly five in six Americans, a share that has dropped to less than four in six today. Immigrants that year were less than 5 percent of U.S. population; their share topped 12 percent in 2008. Today, our nation’s population is one-third non-white (including Hispanics), and those groups are projected to reach majority status by 2042.

Immigration helps explain this transition toward a more racially and ethnically diverse society. In the 2000s, immigration accounted for roughly one-third of U.S. population growth. The majority of the remainder came from a natural increase of native-born racial and ethnic minorities. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. children in 2008 were the sons and daughters of at least one immigrant parent. This coming-of-age generation, a little over 30 years from now, is projected to stand on the precipice of our transition to a non-white majority nation
.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Kagan on Supreme Court Confirmations

Solicitor General Elena Kagan, reportedly a top contender for the Supreme Court, wrote a 1995 book review in which she reflected on President Reagan's failed nomination of Robert Bork:

The debate focused not on trivialities ... but on essentials: the understanding of the Constitution that the nominee would carry with him to the Court. Senators addressed this complex subject with a degree of seriousness and care not usually present in legislative deliberation; the ratio of posturing and hyperbole to substantive discussion was much lower than that to which the American citizenry has become accustomed. And the debate captivated and involved that citizenry in a way that, given the often arcane nature of the subject matter, could not have been predicted. Constitutional law became, for that brief moment, not a project reserved for judges, but an enterprise to which the general public turned its attention and contributed...

[T]he real "confirmation mess" is the gap that has opened between the Bork hearings and all others (not only for Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, but also, and perhaps especially, for Justices Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas). It is the degree to which the Senate has strayed from the Bork model. The Bork hearings presented to the public a serious discussion of the meaning of the Constitution, the role of the Court, and the views of the nominee; that discussion at once educated the public and allowed it to determine whether the nominee would move the Court in the proper direction. Subsequent hearings have presented to the public a vapid and hollow charade, in which repetition of platitudes has replaced discussion of viewpoints and personal anecdotes have supplanted legal analysis. Such hearings serve little educative function, except perhaps to reinforce lessons of cynicism that citizens often glean from government. Neither can such hearings contribute toward an evaluation of the Court and a determination whether the nominee would make it a better or worse institution. A process so empty may seem ever so tidy--muted, polite, and restrained--but all that good order comes at great cost.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Kagan declined to comment on the article through a spokeswoman.

Last year, when asked about the article in her Senate confirmation hearing, Kagan tried to explain away her statements as the brash words of a young judiciary committee staffer when it was chaired by then- Sen. Joe Biden.

"I wrote that when I was in the position of sitting where the staff is now sitting and feeling a little bit frustrated that I really wasn't understanding completely what the judicial nominee in front of me meant and what she thought," she replied.

At the time that she wrote the article, Kagan was a 35-year-old professor of law at the University of Chicago.


Friday, May 7, 2010

The Flag in School

Our chapter on civic culture discusses the powerful symbolism of the American flag. In a California high school, several students had to go home because they were wearing flag clothing on Cinco de Mayo:



In our chapter on civil liberties, we discuss Tinker v. Des Moines School District 393 U.S. 503 (1969). In this case, students faced suspension for wearing black armbands in protest against the Vietnam War. By 7-2, the Supreme Court held:

1. In wearing armbands, the petitioners were quiet and passive. They were not disruptive, and did not impinge upon the rights of others. In these circumstances, their conduct was within the protection of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth. Pp. 393 U. S. 505-506.

2. First Amendment rights are available to teachers and students, subject to application in light of the special characteristics of the school environment. Pp. 393 U. S. 506-507.

3. A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Today is the National Day of Prayer

On April 30, the president issued the customary proclamation declaring May 6 as a national day of prayer:
Let us remember in our thoughts and prayers those suffering from natural disasters in Haiti, Chile, and elsewhere, and the people from those countries and from around the world who have worked tirelessly and selflessly to render aid. Let us pray for the families of the West Virginia miners, and the people of Poland who so recently and unexpectedly lost many of their beloved leaders. Let us pray for the safety and success of those who have left home to serve in our Armed Forces, putting their lives at risk in order to make the world a safer place. As we remember them, let us not forget their families and the substantial sacrifices that they make every day. Let us remember the unsung heroes who struggle to build their communities, raise their families, and help their neighbors, for they are the wellspring of our greatness. Finally, let us remember in our thoughts and prayers those people everywhere who join us in the aspiration for a world that is just, peaceful, free, and respectful of the dignity of every human being.
As noted earlier, a federal judge recently ruled that a statutory day of prayer is unconstitutional. (The ruling did not apply to presidential proclamations.) According to Gallup, however, relatively few Americans have a problem with the idea:

As You May Know, in 1952 Congress Designated a National Day of Prayer, Which Will Be Held on May 6th This Year. Do You Favor or Oppose Having a National Day of Prayer, or Doesn't It Matter to You Either Way? Among National Adults and by Whether Religion Is Important in One's Life



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Words and Politics

In our chapter on civic culture, we note that Americans tend to dislike the "socialist" label, and a new study from the Pew Research Center provides confirmation:

The rejection is far from unanimous, however. And the word "capitalism" gets a negative reaction from a substantial number. The latter finding may indicate another strain of American civic culture, namely a reformist distrust of concentrated power.

The study also confirms an observation in our chapter on political parties: Republicans and Democrats tend to have very different belief systems.
A large majority of Republicans (77%) react negatively to “socialism,” while 62% have a positive reaction to “capitalism.” Democrats’ impressions are more divided: In fact, about as many Democrats react positively to “socialism” (44%) as to “capitalism” (47%).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Deliberation in the Senate

In an article in PS, Frances E. Lee analyzes changes in the Senate's deliberative character:
The weakening of the Senate’s deliberative processes—routine obstruction hamstringing the body’s ability to consider and pass measures, loss of committee expertise, avoidance of conference committees, ad hoc decision making in leadership offices— makes Congress less serious and substantive as a policymaking institution. Executive branch officials dealing with complex policy issues can be forgiven if they seek out workarounds rather than engage with an institution that has become harder to mobilize while devoting more legislative resources to politicking and less to fostering policy expertise. Perhaps the Obama administration, for example, would be better advisedto start working with the Environmental Protection Agency to find ways to regulate carbon emissions under existing authorities rather than depend on the Senate to pass sweeping cap-and-trade legislation. Although internal congressional reforms and institutional adaptations may eventually help to counter these trends, it is also possible that the future of the Senate is to become progressively more of a veto player and a reactive/review body rather than an independent affirmative policymaker.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Long Laws

Why are congressional bills so lengthy? John Steele Gordon suggests one cynical explanation: to hide their actual content by rendering them unreadable. He adds:

But there are two other reasons. One is that a vast bill makes it easier to sneak in clauses that go unnoticed until they are law. If the best place to hide a book is in a library, then the best way to hide a favor for a contributor or a quiet little power grab is in a bill 2,000 pages long. The Washington Post recently reported that the financial reform bill would significantly increase the power of the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the Internet, something that has nothing to do with financial reform.

The second reason is Washington’s increasing fascination with global reform rather than piecemeal reform. Only touchdowns, it seems, are now allowed in the game of political football; moving the ball down the field just won’t do. The health-care debate would have been a lot shorter and a lot less politically divisive had both sides simply agreed to enact those reforms that a substantial majority of each house agreed with — such as of insurance abuses — and then saw what else was needed. Regulating derivatives would be a piece of cake if it were not tied to “financial reform” in general.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

President on Name-Calling and Democratic Deliberation

At the University of Michigan, President Obama said that polarizing rhetoric can hurt deliberation:
Now, we’ve seen this kind of politics in the past. It’s been practiced by both fringes of the ideological spectrum, by the left and the right, since our nation’s birth. But it’s starting to creep into the center of our discourse. And the problem with it is not the hurt feelings or the bruised egos of the public officials who are criticized. Remember, they signed up for it. Michelle always reminds me of that. (Laughter.) The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning –- since, after all, why should we listen to a “fascist,” or a “socialist,” or a “right-wing nut,” or a left-wing nut”? (Laughter.)
On August 6, 2009, the president said:
I don't mind, by the way, being responsible; I expect to be held responsible for these issues because I'm the President. (Applause.) But I don't want the folks who created the mess -- I don't want the folks who created the mess do a lot of talking. I want them just to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. (Applause.) I don't mind cleaning up after them, but don't do a lot of talking.