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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Patriotism Survey

Nearly all Americans consider themselves patriotic and voice pride in being American. Sizeable demographic and political differences do emerge, however, when it comes to intense expressions of patriotism. And many of those who voice strong patriotism and pride in the country also are highly critical of the federal government and its political leaders.

A new national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 24-27 among 1,001 adults, finds that more than eight-in-ten (83%) say they are either extremely proud (52%) or very proud (31%) to be an American. Just 14% say they are moderately proud (8%) or have little or no pride (6%) in being an American.

Nearly six-in-ten (59%) non-Hispanic whites say they are extremely proud of being an American compared with 36% of non-Hispanic blacks. People younger than 30 also are less likely than older Americans to say they are extremely proud of being an American.

Those who give Barack Obama the lowest job ratings - predominately Republicans and independents who lean Republican - also are more likely to say that they are extremely proud to be an American than are those who give the president more positive ratings

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

National Popular Vote

The New York State Senate has voted for the National Popular Vote. The group promoting the plan describes it on its website:
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).
In the New York Post, Michael Uhlmann writes that New Yorkers -- and others -- might end up regretting the move:
Think about it: Suppose a majority of New Yorkers vote in 2012 to re-elect Barack Obama, only to discover that their state's 31 electoral votes have been awarded to the Republican, who happened to win more popular votes than Obama nationwide. (In 2004, for example, President Bush failed to carry New York but beat John Kerry nationwide by more than 3 million votes.)

Suppose further that, in response to the inevitable public outcry, New York's legislators or election officials seek to withdraw from the interstate compact and appoint a new set of electors committed to Obama. The professors insist their compact prevents that -- but few politicians will bow to some academic legal theory when so much is at stake politically.

And if New York's electoral votes determined the national outcome, don't suppose the GOP candidate would stand idly by while state officials sought to reverse their compact commitment.

Lawyers' briefs would fly like cannon shot at Waterloo -- not only in New York but throughout the nation, as politicians in various states tried to anticipate or reacted to steps being taken by politicians elsewhere. Every state where the vote was close, and thus had the potential to change the presidential outcome, would see angry demonstrations, allegations of fraud and demands for recounts that would make Florida in 2000 look like a picnic.

Read more:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings

Supreme Court confirmation hearings are not just theater. They play a major role in Senate deliberations. The New York Times reports:

Ever since nominees to the Supreme Court started to subject themselves to comprehensive grilling in 1939, their confirmation hearings have been dismissed by the legal elite as an empty charade.

A 35-year-old lawyer named William H. Rehnquist, who would go on to become chief justice of the United States, said as much in The Harvard Law Record in 1959. Four decades later, a 35-year-old law professor named Elena Kagan, whose confirmation hearings start Monday, agreed in The University of Chicago Law Review.

But a new study, based on an analysis of every question asked and every answer given at Supreme Court confirmation hearings in the last 70 years, shows that the hearings often address real substance, illuminate the spirit of their times and change with shifts in partisan alignments and the demographic characteristics of nominees.

Here is the abstract of the paper:

This paper examines the questions asked and answers given by every Supreme Court nominee who has appeared to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee since 1939. In doing so, it uses a new dataset developed by the authors. This database, which provides a much-needed empirical foundation for scholarship in emerging areas of constitutional law and political science, captures all of the statements made at the hearings and codes these comments by issue area, subissue area, party of the appointing president, and party of the questioning senator. The dataset allows us to quantify for the fist time such things as which issues are most frequently discussed at the hearings, whether those issues have changed over time, and whether they vary depending on the party of the appointing president and the party of the questioning senator. We also investigate if questioning patterns differ depending on the race or gender of the nominee. Some of our results are unsurprising: for example, the hearings have become longer. Others, however, challenge conventional wisdom: the Bork hearing is less of an outlier in several ways than is frequently assumed, and abortion has not dominated the hearings. We also discover that there is issue area variation over time, and that there are notable disparities in the issues addressed by Democratic versus Republican senators. Finally, we find that female and minority nominees face a significantly different hearing environment than do white male nominees.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Guns and Butter

At Salon, former House staffer David Sirota has an article about spending priorities. It begins:

The last time America found itself in a budget debate pitting domestic priorities against war expenditures, Richard Nixon was in the White House and David Obey was the youngest member of Congress — an antiwar liberal whose insurgent campaign unexpectedly vaulted him into the House seat vacated by the hawkish president’s new defense secretary. In those dark days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, as Obey was still learning his way around Washington, it was the guns of Vietnam and the Cold War versus the butter of the Great Society and the War on Poverty — and despite Obey’s protests, guns won the day.

Nonsense. Check the figures from the Office of Management and Budget on the percentage of budget going to defense and human resources

...........Defense Human Resources

1969 ...44.9.......36.2

1970... 41.8.......38.5

1971... 37.5.......43.7

1972... 34.3.......46.5

1973... 31.2.......48.6

1974 ...29.5.......50.4

1975... 26.0.......52.1

So by 1975, we were spending twice as much on human resources as on defense.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Political Science and Journalism

An article in the Columbia Journalism Review explains how the perspective of political scientists tends to differ from that of journalists:

That perspective differs from the standard journalistic point of view in emphasizing structural, rather than personality-based, explanations for political outcomes. The rise of partisan polarization in Congress is often explained, in the press, as a consequence of a decline in civility. But there are reasons for it—such as the increasing ideological coherence of the two parties, and procedural changes that create new incentives to band together—that have nothing to do with manners. Or consider the president. In press accounts, he comes across as alternately a tragic or a heroic figure, his stock fluctuating almost daily depending on his ability to “connect” with voters. But political-science research, while not questioning that a president’s effectiveness matters, suggests that the occupant of the Oval Office is, in many ways, a prisoner of circumstance. His approval ratings—and re-election prospects—rise and fall with the economy. His agenda lives or dies on Capitol Hill. And his ability to move Congress, or the public, with a good speech or a savvy messaging strategy is, while not nonexistent, sharply constrained.

These powerful, simple explanations are often married to an almost monastic skepticism of narratives that can’t be substantiated, or that are based in data—like voter’s accounts of their own thinking about politics—that are unreliable. Think about that for a moment, and the challenge to journalists becomes obvious: If much of what’s important about politics is either stable and predictable or unknowable, what’s the value of the sort of news—a hyperactive chronicle of the day’s events, coupled with instant speculation about their meaning—that has become a staple of modern political reporting?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tax Rates

New data from the Congressional Budget Office indicate that the tax system is indeed progressive, as we discuss in our chapter on economic policy:

Average effective federal tax rates by income quintile:

Shares of pretax income and tax paid, by quintile:

Effective federal tax rates by source and quintile:

Those who argue for even greater progressivity point to increasing inequality of income. See cumulative change in real after-tax income, by income group:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Deliberation, Citizenship, and the McChrystal Affair

The firing of General McChrystal is a case study in Oval Office deliberation. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Obama, aides say, consulted with advisers — some, like Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who warned of the dangers of replacing General McChrystal, others, like his political advisers, who thought he had to go. He reached out for advice to a soldier-statesman, Colin L. Powell. He identified a possible successor to lead the war in Afghanistan.

And then, finally, the president ended General McChrystal’s command in a meeting that lasted only 20 minutes. According to one aide, the general apologized, offered his resignation and did not lobby for his job.

After a seesaw debate among White House officials, “there was a basic meeting of the minds,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff and a major player in the deliberations. “This was not good for the mission, the military and morale,” Mr. Emanuel said.

Mr. Obama has forced out officials before, including the director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair; the White House counsel, Gregory Craig; even General McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen. David D. McKiernan.

But this is the highest profile sacking of his presidency. The time between Mr. Obama’s first reading of the Rolling Stone article and his decision to accept General McChrystal’s resignation offers an insight into the president’s decision-making process under intense stress: He appears deliberative and open to debate, but in the end, is coldly decisive.

As Michael Shear of The Washington Post reports, General Petraeus acted as a good soldier in accepting the job:

By the time the meeting with Gates and Mullen ended, Obama had made his decision. The aides left, and Petraeus entered. The two met privately for 40 minutes, during which time the president asked him to step down from his current post as the head of the Central Command in Florida and take on the new duties.

Petraeus agreed, but aides said it was clear to Obama that he was doing so "at some great personal sacrifice." Asked what the sacrifice was, one senior official said: "Tampa to Kabul."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Court Halts Drilling Moratorium

Stateline reports:
Government officials in Gulf states praised a federal judge's ruling Tuesday lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling, while the Obama administration vowed to appeal it.

In May, as the catastrophic BP oil spill spiraled out of control, the administration called a halt to deepwater projects and suspended drilling in 33 exploratory wells, the Associated Press reported. Mississippi governor Haley Barbour and his Louisiana counterpart, Bobby Jindal, both Republicans, complained that the moratorium would cost their states jobs.

On Tuesday, Barbour hailed the ruling. "Hopefully, the judge's ruling will go into effect quickly and be upheld on upheal," he said. "The moratorium is bad policy."

On his Facebook page, Jindal called the ruling "welcome news to Louisianans whose jobs were threatened by the 'arbitrary and capricious' moratorium."

The story illustrates key facets of American government.
  • The first is the role of the judiciary, which may sometimes check actions by the other branches. As Tocqueville wrote, "There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one."
  • The second is federalism. The perspectives of governors are different from those of presidents.
  • The third is party politics. Republicans have been critical of President Obama's handling of the Gulf oil spill, just as Democrats were critical of President Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Civilian Control of the Military

A Rolling Stone article has quoted General Stanley McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan, making disparaging remarks about members of the Obama administration. The general is in deep trouble as a result. The Uniform Code of Military Justice bans such comments:
Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
The basic principle here is civilian control of the military. A 2001 article from the American Forces Press Service put it this way:

The country survived the Civil War with the idea of civilian control of the military still intact. The military shrank in size and was mostly in the West. Military officers shied away from politics and many even refused to vote, feeling that this would somehow influence their service.

This held true through World War II. There was such separation that after World War II, Democratic President Harry S. Truman offered to give the Democratic nomination for president in 1948 to General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike, a graduate of West Point, had never voted. People did not know his party affiliation. He turned down Truman's offer, but in 1952 did run for president -- as a Republican.

Today, service members of all ranks are encouraged to vote. The military vote in Florida in this past election was crucial. Once they vote, however, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are expected to forget their party affiliations and follow the orders of the civilian leaders regardless of the party.

Military members swear "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States." One of the more successful aspects of that document is civilian control of the military.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Federalism Problem

A few days ago, David Brooks wrote of the Gulf oil spill:

In article after article, you see local officials exploding in anger. Bill McCollum, Florida’s attorney general, has called himself “absolutely appalled.” Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said this week, “We are not winning this war.”

The county commissioners in Okaloosa County, Fla., got so fed up with outside interference that they unanimously voted to give their emergency management team the power to do whatever it wants. “We made the decision legislatively to break the laws if necessary,” Chairman Wayne Harris told The Northwest Florida Daily News.

Some of this rage is unavoidable when you have a crisis that no one can control. But it’s also clear that we have a federalism problem. All around the region there are local officials who think they know their towns best. They feel insulted by a distant and opaque bureaucracy lurking above.

The balance between federal oversight and local control is off-kilter. We have vested too much authority in national officials who are really smart, but who are really distant. We should be leaving more power with local officials, who may not be as expert, but who have the advantage of being there on the ground.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cumulative Voting

AP reports on a voting system:

The court-ordered election that allowed residents of one New York town to flip the lever six times for one candidate — and produced a Hispanic winner — could expand to other towns where minorities complain their voices aren't being heard.

But first, interested parties will want to take a look at the exit surveys.

The unusual election was imposed on Port Chester after a federal judge determined that Hispanics were being treated unfairly.


The standard remedy was to break a municipality into districts, with one district including many from the minority, thereby increasing the chances for a candidate backed by the minority group. The Justice Department proposed that solution for Port Chester.

But the village of about 30,000 objected to districts. It suggested instead a system called cumulative voting. All six trustees would be elected at once and the voters could apportion their six votes as they wished — all six to one candidate, one each to six candidates or any combination.

The system, which has been used in Alabama, Illinois, South Dakota and Texas, allows a political minority to gain representation if it organizes behind specific candidates. Judge Robinson went for it, and cumulative voting was used for the first time in a New York municipality.

See resources from the advocacy group FairVote. See a criitique of cumulative voting here.

Some public companies use cumulative voting to elect directors.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bioethics and Deliberative Democracy

The Washington Post recently interviewed Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania. A political scientist, she chairs the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethics.

Why did you decide to take on this challenge?

My scholarly expertise is political philosophy and ethics of public policy. I spent my entire professional career writing and speaking about ethics of public policy and in particular about the advantages of making democracy more deliberative. I founded an ethics center at Princeton -- the University Center for Human Values. I've written books on deliberation and democracy and articles on bioethics. So when the president asked me, it seemed, first, "How could I not accept a call to serve from the president?" And, second, it was a sweet spot of mine to be able to bring a group of experts together to deliberate about important issues in bioethics.

You are known for this idea of deliberative democracy. Could you explain it?

The easiest way of understanding it is what it isn't: It's the opposite of sound-bite democracy. The idea is quite simple, which is: Democracies do better to the extent that they allow people to discuss, including robustly argue about, their differences to try to find common ground where possible -- and, where common ground isn't possible, to come to the greatest respect possible for reasonable differences of perspective on controversial issues. So it's the give-and-take of viewpoints with an aim of finding common ground and reaching mutual respect where common ground isn't possible.

Can you give an example of how this might work?

I think all of the previous bioethics commissions have been models of deliberation. They have all brought commissioners from different perspectives together to talk and argue with an idea of coming up with some action-guiding recommendation. Let me give you the most obvious example from recent history: the commission that President Clinton put together. Shortly after it was formed, Dolly was cloned, and President Clinton charged the commission with coming up with recommendations on how the government should approach the issue of cloning. The commission deliberated and came up with a report that the president recommended. Similarly, on a different issue, shortly after our commission was created, Craig Venter announced that he had synthesized a genome in a cell that was self-replicating. And President Obama has asked our commission to deliberate on that issue and come up with a report in six months that recommends to the federal government policies that the government should undertake, both in reaction to this development and other developments in the field.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pew Global Survey

According to a new Pew Global survey, views of the United States remain more favorable than they were a few years ago:

The positive views are not unanimous. See Muslim views of the United States:

On religion:

The survey finds a fair amount of cross-national agreement regarding one aspect of America’s image: its religiosity. When asked whether the U.S. is too religious or not religious enough, majorities or pluralities in 18 of 22 countries say it is not religious enough. This is especially true in all three Arab nations surveyed – Jordan (89%), Egypt (81%), and Lebanon (64%) – as well as in Indonesia (67%) and Pakistan (55%). Majorities also hold this view in India (57%), Brazil (55%), Mexico (56%), Kenya (53%) and Nigeria (57%).

The exceptions on this question are the economically advanced nations of Western Europe and Japan. In particular, the French are considerably more likely than others to see the U.S. as too religious (71%). More than four-in-ten feel this way in Britain (47%), Germany (46%) and Japan (42%). The Spanish are divided: 38% think the U.S. is too religious and 40% believe it is not religious enough.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Our chapter on political parties discusses the role of minor parties. The Daily Caller reports on recent developments for the Libertarians:

It’s becoming a more familiar story: Voters, frustrated by the anti-incumbent malaise sweeping the political landscape, turn on incumbents and put their weight behind underdogs. Although good management and fundraising certainly play a role in party growth, today’s zeitgeist could help make a Libertarian boom out of the two-party bust.

For the 2010 election, 171 candidates for U.S. Congress are running with an “L” beside their names, up from 127 in 2008 and 114 in 2006. At all levels of public office, the party counts 716 candidates running as Libertarians this year, compared to 593 in 2008, and 596 in 2006.

Wes Benedict, executive director of the Libertarian National Committee, said that some of these declared candidates might not meet the requirements to be placed on the ballot. The party will add new candidates up until the election, though, and he thinks the final candidate number could remain above 700.

Read more:
But now all is bright for minor parties. California voters just passed a "top-two" primary in which candidates from all parties run in one big mid-year primary and the top two finishers -- regardless of party -- end up on the November ballot. George Will writes:

In areas where Democrats or Republicans dominate -- there are more and more of them as the nation increasingly sorts itself out into clusters of the like-minded -- the November ballots will offer voters a choice of two Democrats or two Republicans. Voters with sensitive political palates can savor faintly variant flavors of liberalism or conservatism.

Voters who prefer their political menu seasoned with the spices provided by minor parties are pretty much out of luck. Under Proposition 14, such parties -- Green, Libertarian, etc. -- which previously could place candidates on November ballots, will almost always be excluded from those by failing to run first or second in primaries.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Echoes of the Past in the President's Speech

Few public policy problems are entirely novel. Presidents often react to them in similar ways and use similar rhetoric to explain their actions. The Gulf oil disaster is a case study. In his speech last night, President Obama echoed President Nixon, who had to deal with a major oil spill (off Santa Barbara) at the start of his presidency and then grappled with energy shortages toward the end.

Getting Scientific Advice
Obama: That’s why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge -- a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s Secretary of Energy. Scientists at our national labs and experts from academia and other oil companies have also provided ideas and advice.

Nixon: I have today directed the President's Science Adviser, Dr. DuBridge, to bring together at the earliest possible time a panel of scientists and engineers. They will recommend to me ways and means in which the Federal Government can best and most rapidly assist in restoring the beaches and waters around Santa Barbara. They will also submit their views as to how best to prevent this kind of sudden and massive oil pollution.
The Legacy of the Past
Obama: So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling.

Nixon: As all of you are aware, the Secretary of the Interior yesterday issued regulations that cover this area and also offshore drilling generally that are far more stringent than any that ever existed before. That only indicates that the previous ones in the past have been inadequate.
The War and the Moon
Obama: The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is somehow too big and too difficult to meet. You know, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon. And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny -– our determination to fight for the America we want for our children.

Nixon: The lessons of the Apollo project and of the earlier Manhattan Project are the same lessons that are taught by the whole of American history: Whenever the American people are faced with a clear goal and they are challenged to meet it, we can do extraordinary things.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Status of Noncitizens

The Washington Post reports:
Immigrants convicted of minor drug offenses should not face automatic deportation, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday, a decision that could allow thousands of legal immigrants the chance to argue for leniency from immigration judges.

The court overruled the legal interpretations of the federal government and a lower appeals court in saying that Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo should have had a chance to make his case for staying in the country.

Andy Barr reports in Politico:

The author of Arizona’s controversial new immigration law is considering a new proposal that would block the children of illegal immigrants from becoming citizens if they were born in the United States.

Critics of the bill that Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce is weighing say it would fly in the face of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which grants citizenship to anyone born in the U.S.

Pearce has been hinting for months that he may introduce legislation targeting the so-called anchor babies but had not detailed his plan until an interview last week with Time magazine.

Read more:

See relevant blog posts:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Alcohol, Marijuana, and Taxes

In the fall, California voters will decide on a measure to legalize marijuana in the state. According to its website, the ballot initiative would:
Control cannabis like alcohol: Allow adults 21 and older in California to possess up to one ounce of cannabis

Give local governments the ability to tax the sale of cannabis to adults 21 and older

Generate billions of dollars in revenue to fund what matters most in California: jobs, healthcare, public safety, state parks, roads, transportation, and more

The revenue claim is highly debatable. Even if the measures passes, marijuana will still be illegal under federal law. Filing tax paperwork on marijuana sales would amount to confessing to a federal offense -- in writing. It is questionable whether many businesses would be willing to do so.

In the New York Times, Daniel Okrent uses the example of Prohibition to warn that marijuana revenues would not bring income tax relief. Advocates of repeal, such as Pierre duPont, argued that revenue from alcohol taxes would allow Congress to scrap income taxes on corporations and individuals. Things did not work out as they had hoped.
Roosevelt and Congress did respond to the repeal windfall by cutting income tax rates for workers earning less than $3,000 a year. But the New Deal had little sympathy for the wealthy, whose taxes actually increased over the next few years. Rather than the trade-off duPont expected, the government used the excise income to expand.

Felon Voting: Court Case

As an earlier post noted, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Washington State is violating the Voting Rights Act by denying the vote to convicted felons. The full Ninth Circuit is taking up the case. In The Los Angeles Times, Sharon Brown and Roger Clegg argue that the court should uphold the state's law:
[T]he Constitution explicitly assumes that felons may be barred from voting. The 14th Amendment — which, like the 15th, was passed during Reconstruction to ensure equal treatment of African Americans — acknowledges that states can disenfranchise people for "participation in rebellion, or other crime." So an interpretation of the Voting Rights Act to bar felon disenfranchisement would not only be inconsistent with the intent of that statute, it would exceed Congress' constitutional authority.

Or look at it this way: When someone is kept from voting because he has been convicted of a felony, this does not "result in a denial or abridgement of the right … to vote on account of race or color" (to quote the law); it results in the denial of the right to vote because that person has chosen to commit a serious crime against a fellow citizen.

And they conclude:

Today's laws may have a disproportionate impact on some racial groups, because at any point in time there are always going be some groups that commit more crimes than others, but that doesn't make the laws racist — just as the fact that more crimes are committed by men doesn't make criminal laws sexist. 

And the people whose voting rights will be diluted the most if felons are allowed to vote are the law-abiding people in high-crime areas, who are themselves disproportionately black and Latino. 

A report on felony disenfranchisement laws is here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Public Employee Unions at a Time of Fiscal Stress

In our chapters on interest groups and the bureaucracy, we discuss public-employee unions. They are much in the news lately, as salaries and benefits have come under scrutiny because of government's fiscal problems. See here and here.

Transparency advocate Peter Scheer writes that unions pay a price for abandoning public deliberation in favor of closed-door deals:

In California, government-sector unions, once among the most entrenched and powerful labor groups in the country, mainly have themselves to blame. For most of the postwar period, they were a force for progressive change, prospering by winning over public support for their agenda.

In the 1970s and '80s they backed laws like the Public Records Act and Brown Act to make state and local government more transparent. Because unions enjoyed broad-based political support, efforts to enhance government accountability and responsiveness to voters were seen - correctly - as benefiting the unions and their members. The public interest and public employees' interests were aligned.

But the unions switched strategies. Although the change was gradual, by the 1990s, California's government unions had decided that, rather than cultivate voter support for their objectives, they could exert more influence in the Legislature, and in the political process generally, by lavishing campaign contributions on lawmakers. Adopting the tactics of other special-interest groups, government unions paid lip service to democratic principles while excelling at the fundamentally anti-democratic strategy of writing checks to legislators, their election committees and political action committees.

While not illegal (in fact, such contributions are constitutionally protected), the unions' aggressive spending on candidates put them on the same moral low ground as casino-owning tribes, insurance companies and other special interests that have concluded that the best way to influence the legislative process is to, well, buy it.

Dale Kasler writes in the Sacramento Bee that public employee unions may not continue to meet with success:

In an effort to reduce the burden on their budgets, at least a dozen states have passed laws this year overhauling their retirement systems. Some have created less-generous pensions for newly hired workers. Others have increased the amount of money employees must pay into their pensions. Some have done both.
The trend is being driven by big budget deficits and the 2008 stock market crash, which left many pension plans underfunded. Meanwhile, sympathy for public employees' pensions has waned as anxious voters in the private sector struggle with turbulent 401(k) plan results and frozen pensions.
Arizona, Mississippi and Virginia are among those that instituted lower retirement benefits for newly hired workers. Even union-friendly states like Michigan and Illinois, their budgets depleted by the recession, reduced pensions for new hires.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Price of Citizenship

Naturalization involves paperwork, which in turn involves fees. Some of them are going up. The New York Times reports:

Under the proposal, the fee to apply for a green card, the document for legal permanent residents, would increase to $985 from $930. The application for employment authorization would increase to $380 from $340. A separate fee for fingerprints and other biometrics with many applications would increase to $85 from $80.

Among several new fees, officials said, will be a $6,230 charge for foreigners proposing to invest $500,000 or more in businesses to create jobs in the United States.

The fee for naturalization would remain at $595. That fee was raised in July 2007 by 69 percent and the immigration agency was overwhelmed by applications from immigrants rushing to file ahead of that increase. Since then, naturalization applications have dropped steeply and advocates blamed the higher fee for discouraging eligible immigrants from becoming citizens


Friday, June 11, 2010

Campaign Coverage

At Politics Daily, Walter Shapiro laments the decline of statewide campaign coverage. Last Saturday afternoon, he covered South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley and noticed the absence of the South Carolina press corps.
What we are witnessing in this election cycle is the slow death of traditional statewide campaign journalism. I noticed the same pattern (and the same nearly reporter-free campaign trail) in Kentucky last month as I covered libertarian Rand Paul's decisive defeat of the state Republican establishment in the GOP Senate primary. Aside from an occasional AP reporter, virtually the only print journalists whom I encountered at campaign events were my national press-pack colleagues from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico and the Atlantic Monthly.

Newspapers like the Louisville Courier-Journal and The State, South Carolina's largest paper, have dramatically de-emphasized in-depth candidate coverage because they are too short-handed to spare the reporters. A survey by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) found that newsroom staffs across the country have declined by 25 percent since 2001.
As we discuss in our chapter on the mass media, blogs are ill-equipped to fill the gap, since much of their information actually comes from the mainstream media.

Midterm: Presidential and Congressional Perspectives

In The New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai recently had an analysis of the 2010 midterm elections. This excerpt discusses Organizing for America (OFA), the Obama campaign organization that became part of the Democratic National Committee, as well as Obama manager David Plouffe, who is serving as an outside political adviser:

This time, however, O.F.A. volunteers won’t be asking their friends and neighbors to vote for a young, electric, racially transcendent presidential candidate. Instead, in a lot of districts, they’ll be asking their friends and neighbors to vote for some aging member of Congress who has been on the ballot 10 times already, which is a considerably harder sell. “Let’s be clear — these are not Democratic voters,” Cornell Belcher, the Obama campaign pollster, cautioned me. “They’re Obama voters.” The lesson that Plouffe and his operation took away from the dismal 2009 elections is that Obama can act like a matchmaker of sorts, introducing the party’s candidates to new voters and vouching for their intentions, but it’s only going to matter if the candidates themselves embrace the so-called new politics. What that means, practically speaking, is that the White House is urging candidates to divert a fair amount of their time and money — traditionally used for buying TV ads and rallying core constituencies — to courting volunteers and voters who haven’t generally been reliable Democrats.

This is not what members of Congress or their campaign managers are trained to do, and it has created something of a cultural chasm between the White House and the party apparatus.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

House Expenses

Our Congress chapter explains that the institution is a complex organization with many employees and offices. As the Sunlight Foundation reports, running the House is expensive:

In the final month of fiscal year 2009, House committees and offices went on a shopping spree, spending more than $60 million left in their budgets before it disappeared. More than $12 million went towards purchasing computer hardware, which could include new laptops and desktops.

According to a Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group analysis of six months of congressional spending data released by the House Clerk's Office, House members and various committee offices spent more than $673 million in the last half of 2009 on salaries for staff, travel and outside vendors, who help with everything from tracking constituent information to providing cell phone service and bottled water.

Sunlight's database on House expenditures is here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

National v. Local Considerations in House Elections

A major theme of our book is that politics is not just about self-interest. A new Gallup survey is consistent with that theme:
By 55% to 39%, more registered voters say a candidate's stand on national issues -- rather than his or her ability to help people at the district level -- is what matters more to them in voting for Congress. The percentage naming issues as the more important factor is the highest recorded on this measure in the nearly two-decade-long Gallup trend, although similar to that seen at points in the last two midterm election years.

The maxim that "all politics is local" -- most famously advanced by the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill -- may have once been an accurate characterization of the relationship that congressional candidates had with their constituents. In that vein, as recently as 1994, significantly more registered voters said that delivering for their district was more important to the way they viewed congressional candidates than were national issue stances. However, since 1994 -- perhaps because of the nationalization of that election with the Republicans' Contract With America -- Americans' voting priorities have flipped.

In a year when voters rank the federal budget deficit as high as terrorism as a top concern, the implications are clear. Twenty years ago, candidates for Congress might have ingratiated themselves with voters by bulleting all of the federal spending projects they either had delivered to the district, or would support if elected. Today, such messages may be more likely to spark constituents' concerns about the effect the spending involved could have on the national debt.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Wydra on the Tea Party and the Constitution

Elizabeth Wydra (CMC `98) writes at the Huffington Post about the tea party movement and the Constitution:

The Tea Party's sights appear to be set on constitutional amendments ratified after the Civil War. Rand Paul, recent winner of Kentucky's Republican senatorial primary, and Rep. Duncan Hunter of San Diego have called for repeal of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of citizenship at birth for all children born in the United States--not to mention Paul's much-publicized criticism of the Civil Rights Act, legislation passed pursuant to the power given to Congress by the 14th Amendment to enforce its guarantees of equal protection, due process of law, and the rights of citizenship. Sharron Angle, the Tea Party-endorsed candidate who appears poised to win today's Republican senatorial race in Nevada, has called for repeal of the 16th Amendment, which allows for a federal progressive income tax. And many Tea Party activists are pushing for repeal of the 17th Amendment, which shifted the selection of U.S. Senators from state legislatures to the state's voters.

To repeal these hard-won parts of our Constitution would be pure folly. The constitutional changes made in the aftermath of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery wrote into the Constitution the promises of equality made in the Declaration of Independence, and gave the federal government the power to ensure that these promises were kept.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Federalism and Film

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Texans are bombarding the governor's office with calls and letters to try to stop tax dollars from subsidizing a satirical film about a vengeful illegal immigrant.

The coming film, a bloody action movie with a star-studded cast titled "Machete," could be eligible for more than $1.5 million of taxpayer subsidies under a program designed to encourage directors to shoot in Texas.

The state Film Commission may deny subsidies to any production that includes "inappropriate content or content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion." But the commission—eager to woo as many movie, advertising and video-game shoots as possible—has never exercised that clause. "You have to understand that we want to create jobs," said Bob Hudgins, the commission's director. "That is our focus."

The story points to a contemporary issue of federalism. States like to attract film production because it generates jobs and business. They compete with one another to offer support and benefits to film companies. Here is a list of state film commissions. Here is a report from the National Governors Assocation.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc"

Sixty-six years ago today, Allied forces landed at Normandy, beginning the invasion of Europe. Twenty-six years ago today, President Reagan paid tribute:

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Leaving Obamaland

At The Daily Beast, Dayo Olopade explains that some younger administration staffers are leaving, either out of frustration or because of a perceived need to get a graduate degree.

Just after the 2008 election, 26-year-old Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes explained his choice not to join the administration: “There was never any particular position or set of responsibilities that really excited me,” he said. “There’s a challenge in prioritization, there’s a challenge in working within constraints of the law, any political constraints that are there, to actually get good work done.”

“You can’t flip a switch and change the country,” adds Evans, now at the USDA. “We’re like a big, slow tanker—and I think a lot of folks are frustrated with that.”

There is also an achievement gap between more experienced staffers and those with only a BA to their name. Thirty-year-old Alejandra Campoverdi, also profiled in the Times, has a master's degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School and now serves as an aide to deputy chief of staff Mona Sutphen. Joshua Dubois, the 27-year-old director of the White House faith office, graduated from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Foreign Affairs. Jason Green, a 29-year-old associate in the Office of Legal Counsel, balanced previous campaign experience with a degree from Yale Law. But there is a ceiling for the younger staff.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Poll on Birthright Citizenship and Immigration

Rand Paul's recent comments have renewed attention to birthright citizenship. Commentator Michael Medved says:

The Fourteenth Amendment begins with plain language: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are Citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

There is no chance of altering this provision with a Constitutional Amendment that requires two-thirds votes in both the House and Senate, plus approval by 38 state legislatures! Raising the issue pointlessly provokes anger from millions of US-born immigrant children who can and do vote. Despite Dr. Paul’s wild speculation, it’s unthinkable to strip them of their current citizenship status due to their parents’ unauthorized entry before their birth.

Rasmussen reports:

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of U.S. voters say a child born to an illegal immigrant in this country should not automatically become a citizen of the United States, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

Thirty-three percent (33%) disagree and say if a women enters the United States as an illegal alien and gives birth to a child here, that child should automatically be a U.S. citizen. That’s what the current law allows and many believe it would require a Constitutional Amendment to change the law.

Voter sentiments are basically unchanged from four years ago when the Senate was considering the immigration issue.


Still, there is a huge distinction in the minds of voters between dealing with illegal immigrants and overall immigration policy. Sixty percent (60%) of voters favor a welcoming immigrant policy that excludes only national security threats, criminals and those who would come here to live off our welfare system. Twenty-six percent (26%) disagree with such a policy, and 14% more are not sure.

These sentiments, too, have remained constant for years.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Elena Kagan and Executive Privilege

Elena Kagan, President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, has served in the executive branch. To what extent are documents from her service subject to executive privilege. At the Center for American Progress, Ian Millhiser explains two kinds of executive privilege. The strong form, presidential communications privilege, applies to communications made directly to the president or the president's immediate staff. Millhiser explains the other form:

The weaker form of executive privilege is known as the “deliberative process privilege,” which applies to discussions among executive branch officials that are part of the government’s decision-making process. This privilege can apply to executive branch officials outside of the president’s inner circle, but it is both more limited in scope and easier to overcome.

As Judge Patricia Wald explained in the seminal Espy case, “[t]he deliberative process privilege does not shield documents that simply state or explain a decision the government has already made or protect material that is purely factual, unless the material is so inextricably intertwined with the deliberative sections of documents that its disclosure would inevitably reveal the governments deliberations.”

General Kagan served as an attorney and policy advisor on President Clinton’s White House staff, and a substantial amount of the work she produced during that service will therefore be subject to the stronger presidential communications privilege. Documents related to her White House service are therefore unlike documents produced by Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Samuel Alito during their time at the Department of Justice—which, at best, could only be subject to the weaker deliberative process privilege. (The documents Roberts produced during his tenure in the Office of White House Counsel, of course, may be subject to the presidential communications privilege.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Charities and Lobbying

Our text explains that charities organized under section 501(c)(3) of the internal revenue code may spend a small portion of their income on lobbying. We note that they may also have ties to 501(c)(4) groups that do focus on lobbying. In The Washington Examiner, Timothy Carney offers the example of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
In 2009, the Komen Foundation -- a 501(c)3 charity and thus limited in the percentage of its money it can spend on lobbying -- gave its single-largest "education" grant, $4.4 million, to the Komen Advocacy Alliance, its public policy and lobbying arm, which is covered by section 501(c)4 of the tax code and thus unrestricted in its lobbying. A Komen spokesman said the Advocacy Alliance uses that money for its non-lobbying advocacy, such as grass-roots education, and that actual lobbying money doesn't come from the 501(c)3. However, the Advocacy Alliance currently operates on a loan from the main Komen foundation (the 501(c)3). Unless you ignore the fungibility of money, supporting Komen means supporting its lobbying operation.
Our chapter also includes a photo essay on the Podesta family, which is prominent in Washington interest-group circles. Carney notes:
Heather Podesta, the most famous of Komen's K Street hired guns (and a leading Democratic Party fundraiser), reports that her firm lobbied on Komen's behalf for "support [for] H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act/H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as it relates to breast cancer prevention, screening, research, and treatment." In other words, Komen supported Obamacare insofar as it included provisions it supported. Komen spokesman Sean Tuffnell, however, told me that Komen "never did fully endorse the legislation."
Nevertheless, Carney argues that such activities pose a conflict for contributors who support the charity's overall aims but oppose specific measures for which it lobbies.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Speaker Pelosi on Religion and Politics

At a May 6 Catholic Community Conference on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described how religion matters to her:
They ask me all the time, ‘What is your favorite this? What is your favorite that? What is your favorite that?’ And one time, ‘What is your favorite word?’ And I said, ‘My favorite word? That is really easy. My favorite word is the Word, is the Word. And that is everything. It says it all for us. And you know the biblical reference, you know the Gospel reference of the Word.

James Madison, Unemployment, and Medicare

Roll Call reports:

The always-fractious relationship between House and Senate Democrats hit a dramatic low last week that resulted in Members leaving for the Memorial Day recess having failed to extend unemployment benefits or avert a pay cut for doctors under Medicare.

And while publicly, House and Senate leaders refused to assign blame, the behind-the-scenes story was far different.

The deadline for the benefits package had been looming for weeks. But all the advance warning was for naught as the lack of trust between the two chambers escalated and an anti-deficit-spending sentiment among rank-and-file moderates grew. House leaders were forced to strike about $80 billion from their bill, including COBRA health benefits for the unemployed and Medicaid assistance to states. But the bill only came together Thursday evening, and Senate leaders decided they had waited around long enough and headed for the exits.

Why is the House-Senate relationship always fractious? Because Madison meant it to be. As he explained in Federalist 51:

In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.

The title of William F. Connelly Jr.'s new book says it all: James Madison Rules America.