Monday, November 29, 2010

The WikiLeaks Leak

A cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.

Some of the cables, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, were written as recently as late February, revealing the Obama administration’s exchanges over crises and conflicts. The material was originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing secret documents. WikiLeaks posted 220 cables, some redacted to protect diplomatic sources, in the first installment of the archive on its Web site on Sunday.

Deliberation depends on the candid exchange of opinions and information, and this leak could damage the deliberative process both within the executive branch and between the US and other governments. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement:
By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions. Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world.
The documents apparently came from an Army private. How could an enlisted person get his hands on so much secret information? At Mullings, Rich Galen draws on firsthand experience to provide some important background:
  • The U.S. Government has an internet which is completely separate from your internet. It is called the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, but I doubt more than a few of the thousands of people who use it every day know it by that name.

  • It is better known as the SIPRNET (pronounced "SIP-er-net") and no one can access it unless they have a security clearance at least at the SECRET level.

  • I know this because while I was in Iraq I had the appropriate clearance and the occasional need to access the SIPRNET. I would go to a secure room, log in using a separate ID and password, do whatever I needed to do, log off, and leave the room.

  • I was told that the act of plugging a personal flash drive into a computer connected to the SIPRNET was a court-martial offense.

  • The Military also runs the NIPRNET (NIP-er-net), the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network which is available to anyone and hooks into the internet you're using now.

  • There is no point - or there is supposed to be no point - where the SIPRNET and the NIPRNET intersect. SIPRNET e-mail addresses are different from the standard dot-mil e-mail address to which you can send a message. A SIPRNET e-mail address can only be reached by a person with his or her own SIPRNET e-mail address. I could not, for instance, send an e-mail to myself from my SIPRNET e-mail account to galen@mullings.com.

  • Thing is, I was often alone in the room with the SIPRNET terminals. I assume that someone like PFC Manning, whose job it was to troll the SIPRNET and provide analysis of intel he discovered there for the benefit of his commanders, was not closely supervised on an hour-by-hour basis.

  • Text documents take up very little space. The average MULLINGS column (about 750 words) uses about 90 kilobytes. The flash drive on which I keep my MULLINGS docs has a capacity of 32 gigabytes - 32 billion bytes of data. That means I could keep more than 350,000 MULLINGS columns on that one drive. Using inexpensive compression software, I could probably double that to about 750,000 documents.

  • Someone intent on stealing documents could easily plug in a flash drive, and download everything from the State Department's folders. A 1993 GAO report estimated there were more than 3 million people who had the appropriate clearance to access the SIPRNET. That was eight years before 9/11 so one could assume that number has at least doubled.

  • All it takes is one person, bent on doing harm, to download and share hundreds of thousands of documents. It appears a Private First Class sitting in an office 40 miles north of Baghdad may have been that person.
  • Sunday, November 28, 2010

    Realignment and the South

    Our chapter on political parties discusses the concept of partisan realignment, the shift of voting strength from one party to another. The South has been trending Republican since the 1950s, first in presidential elections, then in statewide elections. During the 1990s, the bulk of its House seats moved to the GOP. The last stronghold of Southern Democrats consisted of state legislatures. As Jonathan Martin explains in Politico, that stronghold fell in 2010:

    Protected by a potent mix of gerrymandering, pork, seniority and a friends-and-neighbors electorate, Democratic state representatives and senators managed to survive through the South’s GOP evolution — the Reagan years, the Republican landslide of 1994 and George W. Bush’s two terms. Yet scores of them retired or went down in defeat earlier this month. And at least 10 more across three states have changed parties since the elections, with rumors swirling through state capitols of more to come before legislative sessions commence in January. Facing the prospect of losing their seats through reapportionment — if not in the next election — others will surely choose flight over fight.

    Democrats lost both chambers of the legislature this year in North Carolina and Alabama, meaning that they now control both houses of the capitol in just two Southern states, Arkansas and Mississippi, the latter of which could flip to the GOP in the next election.

    The losses and party switching, one former Southern Democratic governor noted, “leave us with little bench for upcoming and future elections.”

    “There's little reason to be optimistic in my region,” said this former governor, who did not want to be quoted by name offering such a downcast assessment. “We can opportunistically pick up statewides every now and then, but building a sustainable party program isn't in the cards. I suppose the president has bigger concerns now, but it’s not healthy for the Democrats to write off our region and not have any real strategy to be competitive.”

    Part of the reason for this pessimism is that the Democrats who were defeated and those who are changing parties are overwhelmingly of the same type: rural white males who are more conservative than their national party.

    With a few isolated exceptions, it now seems that the party’s rural Southern tradition is a thing of the past — even at the statehouse level, where familiar faces were able for years to make the case that they were a different kind of Democrat.


    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    Texas, California, and Business Climate

    Our chapter on federalism discusses competition among states for business. Chief Executive reports:

    In Chief Executive’s annual survey of best and worst states for business, conducted in late January of this year, 651 CEOs across the U.S. again gave Texas top honors, closely followed by North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. They gave the booby prize for worst state to California, with New York, Michigan, New Jersey and Massachusetts filling out the bottom five-a line-up virtually unchanged from last year. Florida and Georgia each dropped three places in the ranking, but remain in the top 10. Utah jumped six positions this year to sneak into the top 10 at No. 9.

    ...
    “Texas is pro-business with reasonable regulations,” one CEO respondent remarked, “while California is anti-business with anti-business regulations.” Another commented, “California is terrible. Even when we’ve paid their high taxes in full, they still treat every conversation as adversarial. It’s the most difficult state in the nation. We have actually walked away from business rather than deal with the government in Sacramento.”

    Texas Governor Rick Perry says that 153 businesses have moved from California to Texas this year. Politifact examines the claim, which comes from a study by Dun & Bradstreet:
    Mark Muckerman, D&B government relations director, told us that the company conducted an internal exercise — most of which he said has not been shared outside the company — of "interstate moves of business locations," or businesses that have relocated out of state. He said that 153 businesses relocated from California to Texas from January through August.

    However, Muckerman said, the D&B count does not mean that 153 individual companies pulled up stakes in California to settle in Texas. Muckerman offered this example: If one company with five offices in California keeps its headquarters in state and moves its branches out of state, including one to Texas, that would figure into the D&B count that Perry cites.

    Muckerman revealed one other caveat. He said the "interstate moves" don't include new business locations. So if a California company decided to open a brand-new packaging facility in Texas, it wouldn't be counted among the businesses that have moved from California to Texas.

    Muckerman said he didn't know how Perry learned of D&B's internal report though he presumes someone at D&B spoke to someone in the governor's office.

    We wondered how many business sites moved from Texas to California. Muckerman told us there were 92 such moves, leaving Texas with a net gain of 61 business sites from the Golden State.

    Friday, November 26, 2010

    Wedlock and Citizenship

    The Los Angeles Times editorializes:

    The Constitution makes clear that a child born in the United States is a citizen of the United States. But it is silent on the subject of children born to Americans outside the country. This month, the Supreme Court heard arguments about a tiny subset of this group — children born to an American parent not only out of the country but also out of wedlock — and the conditions under which they may become citizens.

    The problem facing the court is that existing law blatantly discriminates against men, making it substantially more difficult for unmarried fathers to pass along their citizenship to children born abroad than it is for unmarried mothers to do so. But there's no reason — other than outdated gender stereotypes — for an American mother to have stronger rights than an American father. The court should strike down this unfair law.


    A couple of weeks ago, The Washington Post reported:

    A majority of Supreme Court justices may be bothered by an immigration law that treats American fathers differently than American mothers. But it seemed unlikely after an hour-long oral argument Wednesday that a majority of justices thought they could do anything about it.

    The court was considering a challenge to a federal statute that makes it easier for unmarried mothers than unmarried fathers to convey American citizenship to children born outside the country.

    Ruben Flores-Villar, who was born in Mexico but raised by his father in San Diego, says he is a victim of the double standard. Fighting criminal charges, Flores-Villar, now 36, was denied citizenship and deported because his father did not meet the law's requirements.

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Thanksgiving and Faith

    Dan Gilgoff writes at the CNN Belief Blog:

    This year's Thanksgiving Day proclamation from the White House has a distinctly religious ring to it, referring to the "gifts of a gracious God" to the nation.

    "A beloved American tradition, Thanksgiving Day offers us the opportunity to focus our thoughts on the grace that has been extended to our people and our country," President Barack Obama's Thanksgiving proclamation begins."...We also pause our normal pursuits on this day and join in a spirit of fellowship and gratitude for the year's bounties and blessings."

    At a time when Obama has been criticized by some conservatives who say he has not been firm enough in espousing American exceptionalism, the statement includes repeated mentions of a relationship between God and America.

    "Thanksgiving Day is a time each year, dating back to our founding, when we lay aside the troubles and disagreements of the day and bow our heads in humble recognition of the providence bestowed upon our Nation," the proclamation, issued Tuesday, says.

    The president's weekly video address is less religious, instead emphasizing another aspect of American civic culture, community service:


    Electoral Map in Motion

    Duke University doctoral student David B. Sparks has created a way to depict decades of change in presidential voting (Republican vote in red, Democratic vote in blue):

    Isarithmic History of the Two-Party Presidential Vote from d sparks on Vimeo.

    Using county-level data, I spatially and temporally interpolated presidential vote returns for the two major party candidates in each election from 1920-2008. The result illuminates the sometimes gradual, sometimes rapid change in the geographic basis of presidential partisanship.

    A detailed description can be found at http://goo.gl/alfsQ.

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Puritans

    In The New York Times, David D. Hall of the Harvard Divinity School uses Thanksgiving as an occasion to reflect on the Puritan legacy:

    To return to the first of these harvest feasts is to return to the puzzling figure of the Puritan, the name borne by most of the English people who came to New England in the early 17th century. What did they hope to gain by coming to the New World, and what values did they seek to practice?

    The easy answers simplify and distort. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who came along a couple of centuries later, bears some of the blame for the most repeated of the answers: that Puritans were self-righteous and authoritarian, bent on making everyone conform to a rigid set of rules and ostracizing everyone who disagreed with them. The colonists Hawthorne depicted in “The Scarlet Letter” lacked the human sympathies or “heart” he valued so highly. Over the years, Americans have added to Hawthorne’s unfriendly portrait with references to witch-hunting and harsh treatment of Native Americans.

    But in Hawthorne’s day, some people realized that he had things wrong. Notably, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French writer who visited the United States in 1831. Tocqueville may not have realized that the colonists had installed participatory governance in the towns they were founding by the dozens. Yet he did credit them for the political system he admired in 19th-century America.

    After all, it was the Puritans who had introduced similar practices in colony governments — mandating annual elections, insisting that legislatures could meet even if a governor refused to summon a new session and declaring that no law was valid unless the people or their representatives had consented to it. Well aware of how English kings abused their powers of office, the colonists wanted to keep their new leaders on a short leash.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Proofread!

    A letter to lawmakers from the Librarian of Congress reminds us of the need to proofread:






    Cell Phones, Landlines, and Public Opinion

    Our chapter on public opinion and political participation describes the challenges of getting accurate measure of public sentiment. One problem is that a growing number of voters do not have landlines at home, only cellular phones. Pollsters may not use automatic dialers to make calls to cellular phones, so it is most costly to reach them (p. 249). Pollsters may be tempted to save money by skipping cellular phones, but a new Pew study shows that landline-only polls produce distorted results.

    The number of Americans who rely solely or mostly on a cell phone has been growing for several years, posing an increasing likelihood that public opinion polls conducted only by landline telephone will be biased. A new analysis of Pew Research Center pre-election surveys conducted this year finds that support for Republican candidates was significantly higher in samples based only on landlines than in dual frame samples that combined landline and cell phone interviews.

    The difference in the margin among likely voters this year is about twice as large as in 2008.

    Across three Pew Research polls conducted in fall 2010 -- conducted among 5,216 likely voters, including 1,712 interviewed on cell phones -- the GOP held a lead that was on average 5.1 percentage points larger in the landline sample than in the combined landline and cell phone sample.

    In six polls conducted in the fall of 2008, Barack Obama's lead over John McCain was on average 2.4 percentage points smaller in the landline samples than in the combined samples.

    ...

    Cell phones pose a particular challenge for getting accurate estimates of young people's vote preferences and related political opinions and behavior. Young people are difficult to reach by landline phone, both because many have no landline and because of their lifestyles. In Pew Research Center surveys this year about twice as many interviews with people younger than age 30 are conducted by cell phone than by landline, despite the fact that Pew Research samples include twice as many landlines as cell phones.

    According to the latest estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics, in the second half of 2009, 38% of 18 to 24 year olds and 49% of 25 to 29 year olds lived in households that had no landline. And research has shown that people younger than age 30 who are cell phone only can have different behaviors and attitudes than those who are reachable by a landline phone. [emphasis added]

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    TSA and the Constitution

    The head of the Transportation Safety Administration talks about recent security measures:




    In a case involving the continuing encroachment of modern technology upon personal privacy, The Rutherford Institute has filed a Fourth Amendment lawsuit in federal court against Janet Napolitano, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and John Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), on behalf of two airline pilots who refused to submit to airport security screening which relies on advanced imaging technology that exposes intimate details of a person’s body to government agents.

    In opting out of being put through the Whole Body Imaging (WBI) scanners, the pilots, Michael Roberts and Ann Poe, both veterans of the commercial airline industry, also refused to be subjected to the alternative--enhanced, full-body pat- or rub-downs by Transportation Security Agency (TSA) agents. Insisting that the procedures violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures found in the U.S. Constitution, The Rutherford Institute’s lawsuit asks the court to prohibit DHS and TSA from continuing to unlawfully use WBI technology and newly-implemented enhanced pat-down procedures as the first line of airport security screening in the United States.

    The complaint in Michael Roberts, et al., v. Janet Napolitano, et al. is available here.

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    C-SPAN Poll

    A release from C-SPAN
    :
    As the incoming leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives consider measures “making the House more transparent and accountable,” C-SPAN asked voters about what institutional changes might make Congress more accessible.

    Penn Schoen Berland conducted a poll for C-SPAN, asking 1,200 Americans who voted in the 2010 mid-term elections about “possible institutional changes Congress could make to be more approachable to everyday people.”

    The poll demonstrated that respondents were familiar with the workings of Congress. A third of respondents (34% -- an estimated 79 million adults) said they watched C-SPAN in the past year. Of those C-SPAN viewers, essentially seven in ten, 69% (an estimated 54 million adults) reported watching C-SPAN coverage of the House of Representatives.

    Asked to express their interest in a list of ten potential changes that could increase Congressional accessibility, here are the top five that respondents said would be most useful for a “more responsive and open Congress,” ranked by popularity:

    1) Use everyday language when talking about legislation (84% support)
    2) Publish bills online (83% support)
    3) Issue alerts when major votes are coming up (80% support)
    4) Allow TV cameras to show the entire chamber (76% support)
    5) Have actual policy debates where both sides speak (76% support)

    Sarah Palin and Social Media

    Robert Draper writes in The New York Times Magazine:

    His voice dripping with exasperation, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said to me one July afternoon in his office: “If I would have told you that I could open up a Facebook account or a Twitter account, simply post quotes, and have the White House asked about those, and to have the entire White House press corps focused on your quote of the day on Facebook — that’s Sarah Palin. She tweets one thing, and all of a sudden you’ve got a room full of people that want to know. . . .”

    Gibbs shook his head and continued: “Now, I could say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to deal with that.’ And big headline: Palin Accuses Obama of X. The White House Had No Comment.”

    “I just tweet; that’s just the way I roll,” Palin told me. “Just expressing my feelings via Twitter and Facebook. I choose them because they’re convenient for me, especially from Wasilla.” She continued: “The only thing I do consider is when I think of what’s going on in the East Coast, with the difference in time zones. I can tweet before going to bed at midnight or 1 and know that they’re up and at ’em, and they’re going to have to respond.” In this compressed, no-nuance cyberzone, Palin can land a hard punch without ever setting foot in the ring — calling the then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel “as shallow/narrowminded/political/irresponsible as they come” and saying the Politico writer Jonathan Martin is “full of crap.” In July, Palin’s BlackBerry spewed out a much-publicized volley of tweets calling on peaceful Muslims to “refudiate” the “ground zero mosque” and in the process suckering Obama into taking a position for which he was attacked by all sides. Palin wrote these without consulting anyone, her lawyer Thomas Van Flein told me: “I found out like everyone else did. This is her political instinct in action.”


    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Knowledge and Government Spending

    The Pew Research Center has a new poll on what Americans know about politics. The survey offers some useful findings, but it includes one misleading question: “On which of these activities does the US government currently spend the most money? Is it national defense, education, Medicare, or interest on the national debt?” Pew says that only 39 percent of Americans gave the “correct” response: national defense. While defense outlays do exceed the other items in the current federal budget, people who gave other answers deserve partial credit. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Medicare is ballooning and will cost more than defense by the end of the decade. Interest payments are now only one-third as great as defense spending, but because of huge deficits, will be closing in by 2020. And while federal outlays for education are much smaller than defense spending, you get a different picture when you include states and localities. In 2008-2009, public educational institutions (elementary, secondary and postsecondary) spent $882 billion, compared with $657 billion for defense.



    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Fake Quotations

    New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently quoted Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

    While we're at it, Abraham Lincoln did not say -- as Barack Obama claimed in 2008 -- "If you stop telling lies about me, I'll start telling truth about you." Nor did Alexis de Tocqueville ever assert, as Bill Clinton often said: "America is great because America is good." Edmund Burke said many interesting things, but not, as John F. Kennedy reported: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." And Harry Truman certainly wouldn't have libeled the nation's capital, despite frequent citations by those who ought to know better, by proclaiming: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

    So U.S. presidents pass along counterfeit quotes, and inaccurate quotes are often attributed to presidents, as well. Sometimes laziness is to blame. Frequently, the culprit is ideological blinders, as people employ all this fake Lincoln, false Twain, imagined Tocqueville, made-up Burke, and fictional Truman for perceived partisan advantage. Often, however, the purloined quotes don't sound remotely like the famous personage in question.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    American Exceptionalism and Religion: New Data

    At Brookings, E.J. Dionne, Jr. and William Galston write of a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute:
    The PRRI survey underscored the extent to which a religiously-based belief in American exceptionalism is alive and well. This may have had little direct impact on the 2010 election, but its importance is likely to influence the rhetoric of American politicians going into the 2012 presidential election.

    The survey found that 58 percent of all Americans mostly or completely agreed with the proposition that “God has granted America a special role in human history.” And responses to this question did not break entirely in predictable directions. For example, this was a view held across racial and ethnic lines: by 64 percent of Hispanics, 56 percent of whites, and 60 percent of African Americans. It did, however, divide the political parties to some degree: 75 percent of Republicans but only 49 percent of Democrats held this view. A belief in God’s grant of a special role to the United States was held by 75 percent of conservatives and 54 percent of moderates but only 38 percent of liberals. [emphasis added--jjp]

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Is The System Broken?

    In a debate in The Economist, Matthew Yglesias says the political system is broken:

    American political institutions are in a period of crisis. The source of the crisis is relatively simple. Our institutions work only when leaders can reasonably expect broad bipartisan co-operation, but the emergence of more ideologically rigorous parties makes such co-operation extremely unlikely. The typical response among American political elites is to respond to this impasse by deploring the rise of more rigorous partisanship. But the previous era of lax partisanship was a direct consequence of white supremacist rule in the old one-party south and neither can nor should be restored. The correct solution is to update our institutions to fit the circumstances.

    ...

    The American people hold the president and his party responsible for the results of governing. This is similar to the process by which the British or Canadian people hold the prime minister and his party responsible for the results of governing. The difference is that American political institutions do not give incumbents the same kind of authority to govern. Instead, the rules of the Senate give even a defeated minority extensive power to block policy change. In an era of weak, poorly sorted parties this was not a big deal. Indeed, it was not even much of a problem insofar as actors in the political system did not properly understand how it worked. But now that congressional minorities have discovered that their best path back to power is blanket obstruction we are faced with a profound problem. It is unrealistic to expect bipartisan agreement on major issues if the benefits of agreement will all flow to the president and his party.

    This is a problem. But it is hardly the grand tragedy beltway conventional wisdom makes it out to be. The world is full of examples of democratic countries that are successfully governed by systems of alternating strong majorities. America's political institutions worked well during a period when we had a highly idiosyncratic party system; but that now that the party system has changed so profoundly our institutions need to change with it.

    Peter Wehner disagrees:

    Earlier this month Democrats, in the mid-term elections, were dealt one of the most massive political rebukes ever. Republicans have not enjoyed this much strength in state capitals since the 1920s or won this many seats in the House since the 1930s. This was the public's emphatic way of saying, "Enough." Mr Obama and the Democrats were deaf to public concerns before November 2nd; they are far more attuned to them now, after their epic comeuppance.

    The progressive policies of Mr Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress created a mass public movement, of which the so-called Tea Party movement is but one manifestation. This demonstrated that the American people, rather than being indifferent or inert, are still capable of engaging in politics in an energetic and powerful way. The last two years have showed that civic life in America, at least as it relates to American politics, is still strong and vital.

    Now to reject the proposition that America's political system is broken does not mean that it is perfect. There are certainly ways it can be modified and improved. But in the main we retain the same political system that helped America become among the most powerful, successful and benevolent nations in human history. The founders put in place what James Madison called the "auxiliary precautions" of American government. They created a system of checks and balances, one that is weighted towards slowing things down and dispersing power, and that favours stability, patience and holding public officials accountable. It places restraints on revolutionary zeal and the utopian ambitions of ideologues. Mis-steps and incompetence by presidents and other politicians do not invalidate the genius of the founders; in fact, they tend to confirm it.


    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    The Midterm and the Media

    The Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that different media covered the midterm in different ways:
    • Probably nothing in media comes closer to a simpler and more singular narrative than the headlines on the front pages of newspapers. These offered the broadest, boldest snapshot of the voter's verdict the day before. And they overwhelmingly drove home one unadulterated message, that of a Republican triumph, even as Democrats held the Senate. "GOP Tidal Wave," declared the St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press. "GOP Gallops" echoed the Austin American-Statesman.
    • On network and cable television, a key factor in that Republican showing -- the role of the tea parties -- was a major topic, receiving 364 mentions across the six networks during the course of their election night programming. That ranked behind only attention to Barack Obama (473 mentions). That coverage also quickly pivoted from reporting the results to speculating on everything from the future of the Obama health care law to the political fortunes of such key Republican players such as Sarah Palin and John Boehner.
    • Bloggers offered a more mixed election verdict than much of the rest of the media. While the themes of GOP and tea party victories accounted for about 42% of the conversation, the competing idea of a mixed result or a setback for the tea party accounted for about one-quarter of the discussion. And the second-biggest election theme among bloggers (at 18%) was allegations of, and concerns about, possible voter fraud.
    • Twitter users demonstrated their platform's function as an organizing and galvanizing tool. About two-thirds (64%) of the Twitter conversation monitored by PEJ focused on calls to action, on encouraging people to vote. And most of that (41%) came in the form of non-partisan appeals. One other theme to emerge on Twitter was that people were tired of what they perceived as a nasty and negative campaign season (9%).

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Study Abroad

    By spending time overseas, Americans can better equip themselves to deliberate about foreign policy and national security. Accordingly, the very last box in our textbook discusses the importance of study abroad. A new report from the Institute of International Education provides fresh data:

    The Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, released today, reports that 260,327 students studied abroad for credit during the academic year 2008/09, compared to 262,416 the previous year, a modest decline of 0.8%. The Open Doors report is published annually by the Institute of International Education with funding from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. For the first time in the 25 years that the data has been tracked, the total number of U.S. students studying abroad for academic credit did not increase. However, the report found that there were notable increases in the number of U.S. students going to study in less traditional destinations. Fifteen of the top 25 destinations were outside of Western Europe and nineteen were countries where English is not a primary language.

    To obtain a “snapshot” of whether these study abroad trends are continuing, IIE conducted a fall 2010 online survey of U.S. campuses in cooperation with the Forum on Education Abroad. The survey indicates that study abroad numbers are beginning to rebound, particularly to China. More than half of the campuses responding (55%) said they had seen an increase in the number of their students studying abroad in 2009/10 compared to the previous year, including some of the campuses with the largest numbers of study abroad students. The Open Doors 2010 report and Fall Survey findings will be discussed at a briefing today at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the worldwide observance of International Education Week.

    Campuses have noted that their students continue to show a strong interest in study abroad and campuses and study abroad providers have sought affordable opportunities for these students to gain valuable international experience. They also reported an increase of 37% in the number of students participating in practical work experiences as part of their study abroad, with 18,715 students now receiving academic credit at U.S. colleges and universities for internships or work abroad.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    The Battle Hymn of the Republic

    Our textbook explains how patriotism and religion have together shaped American civic culture. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," approaching its 150th anniversary, exemplifies this theme.
    In The Atlantic, Professor Dominic Tierney of Swarthmore College writes:
    "Battle Hymn" is not just a thread woven into the national fabric. And it's not just a consecrated text that we reach for in times of trauma. It's also a mirror on the United States. The words of the "Battle Hymn" capture something deep in the American experience of war. For 150 years, Americans have seen military campaigns as a righteous quest to smite tyrants and spread freedom. The "Battle Hymn" is our way of war; the "Battle Hymn" is how we fight.

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord

    In the "Battle Hymn," there is no separation of church and state. The United States is a divine vessel propelled on the rough seas by the breath of God. Indeed, the nation's wars have often been imbued with providential fire. Americans on both sides of the Civil War came to see the struggle as a holy war, with Christ and his armies arrayed against the Beast. One Pennsylvanian soldier wrote: "every day I have a more religious feeling, that this war is a crusade for the good of mankind."

    Half a century later, in World War I, Woodrow Wilson saw the United States as an apostle destined to shepherd the less enlightened nations. Faith in a divinely inspired quest helped draw a president who was profoundly opposed to armaments and killing into the European apocalypse. Reverend Randolph McKim preached: "It is God who has summoned us to this war. It is his war we are fighting...This conflict is indeed a crusade. The greatest in history—the holiest."

    When we think of the hymn, we typically think of large military bands. But schoolchildren sing it, too:

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Liberal Federalism

    At Reason, Damon W. Root notes notes that while liberals sometimes attack conservatives for making federalism arguments, a number of issues involve a role reversal:

    Yet while these and other liberal commentators demonize the federalism championed by conservatives and libertarians, others on the left have been successfully employing the concept of federalism to advance a progressive political agenda. Just yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, a case centering on a cell phone contract whose terms passed muster under the Federal Arbitration Act yet ran afoul of a more stringent California law. In this case it was progressive activists urging the Supreme Court to side with state law over federal regulatory power. As Brooke Obie of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center put it, “Will the Court follow its federalism principles and allow state contract law to be enforced?” Yesterday’s oral arguments suggest the Court probably will. “Are we going to tell the State of California what it has to consider unconscionable?” asked conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

    Similarly, in last year’s Wyeth v. Levine, the Supreme Court ruled that federal law did not preempt a state failure-to-warn lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company even though the drug warning label in question was approved by the Federal Drug Administration, a decision cheered by left-wing consumer advocates and criticized by free-market policy analysts. The ruling was also notable for its unusual 6-3 line-up, with conservative Justice Clarence Thomas concurring in the judgment written by liberal Justice John Paul Stevens (which Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer joined) while fellow conservative Justice Samuel Alito authored a dissent joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Scalia.

    The usual left-right tables were also turned this year in the landmark gun rights case McDonald v. Chicago, where many liberal activists argued that state and local governments should be allowed to serve as “laboratories of democracy” when it came to gun control while libertarian lawyers spearheaded the successful movement to make the Second Amendment apply to the states.

    In other words, there’s nothing inherently liberal or conservative about making an appeal to federalism.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    The Flag at School

    An earlier post dealt with students who wore American flag clothing on Cinco de Mayo. KSBW in Monterey, California, reports on a similar case:
    A Stanislaus County school is forcing a student to take an American flag off of his bike.

    Thirteen-year-old Cody Alicea put the flag there as a show of support for the veterans in his family.

    But officials at Denair Middle School told him he couldn't fly it. He said he was told some students had complained.

    So now the eighth-grader folds up the flag and puts it in his backpack while he is in class.

    His father, Robert Kisner, said his son should not have to put the flag away.

    "He's got that flag on his bike because he's proud of where he comes from," Kisner said.

    But the superintendent said he's trying to avoid tension on campus.

    "(The) First Amendment is important," Superintendent Edward Parraz said. "We want the kids to respect it, understand it, and with that comes a responsiblity."

    Under the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, school officials can prohibit student expression if they can reasonably forecast that the speech or display will cause a substantial disruption.

    But something is wrong with this Denair picture. The school administration apparently reasoned that because of some racial tension in the past stemming from Mexican flags displayed at school on Cinco de Mayo, it could ban the American flag. Yet other parts of the Tinker ruling should give officials pause before they engage in heavy-handed censorship. The Court proclaimed in Tinker: “But, in our system, undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression.”

    Schools facing tensions over cultural differences can teach all students that disruptions over displays such as flags on bikes or backpacks will not be tolerated - rather than banning the expression.

    Parraz was even quoted as saying that the "First Amendment is important," even as school officials proceed to ban Alicea's flag.

    Let's hope this and other schools will show justifiable reasons before silencing student speech on the basis of "undifferentiated fear.”


    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Veterans Day 2010

    Today is Veterans Day. In 1918, the First World War ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. A year later, President Wilson issued a proclamation of Armistice Day on November 11. In 1938, Congress made it a federal holiday and 16 years later renamed it Veterans Day in honor of those who had served in the Second World War, the Korean War, and in peacetime.

    Death provides an occasion to remember the service of individual veterans. The Defense Department says:
    Military Funeral Honors have always been provided whenever possible. However, the law now mandates the rendering of Military Funeral Honors for an eligible veteran if requested by the family. As provided by law, an honor guard detail for the burial of an eligible veteran shall consist of not less than two members of the Armed Forces. One member of the detail shall be a representative of the parent Service of the deceased veteran. The honor detail will, at a minimum, perform a ceremony that includes the folding and presenting of the American flag to the next of kin and the playing of Taps. Taps will be played by a bugler, if available, or by electronic recording. Today, there are so few buglers available that the Military Services often cannot provide one.
    The Military Salute Project explains the protocol:
    A United States flag drapes the casket of deceased Servicemembers and Veterans to honor their service to America. The flag is placed so that the blue field with stars is at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased. After Taps has been played, the flag is carefully folded into the symbolic tri-cornered shape. A properly proportioned flag will fold 13 times on the triangles, representing the 13 original colonies. The folded flag is emblematic of the tri-cornered hat worn by the Patriots of the American Revolution. When folded, no red or white stripe is to be evident, leaving only the blue field with stars. The folded flag is then presented as a keepsake to the next of kin or an appropriate family member. Each branch of the Armed Forces uses its own wording for the presentation ...
      U.S. Army ... This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service.

      U.S. Marine Corps ... On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and Corps.

      U.S. Navy ... On behalf of the President of the United States and the Chief of Naval Operations, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to this Country and a grateful Navy.

      U.S. Air Force ... On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of rank and name of deceased.

      U.S. Coast Guard ... On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and the Coast Guard.

      If the next of kin has expressed a religious preference or belief, add ... God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America.
      In the past year, both of the authors have attended the funerals of family members who had served in the military. We can attest that the honor guard detail takes the duty with the utmost respect and seriousness. The presentation "on behalf of the President of the United States" drives home the reality of the chain of command -- reaching from the Oval Office to far-flung gravesites.

      Here is a demonstration:

      Wednesday, November 10, 2010

      Federal Pay Update

      The number of federal workers earning $150,000 or more a year has soared tenfold in the past five years and doubled since President Obama took office, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

      The fast-growing pay of federal employees has captured the attention of fiscally conservative Republicans who won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in last week's elections. Already, some lawmakers are planning to use the lame-duck session that starts Monday to challenge the president's plan to give a 1.4% across-the-board pay raise to 2.1 million federal workers.



      Tuesday, November 9, 2010

      American Exceptionalism: Different Views

      Michael Kinsley writes at Politico:
      The notion that America and Americans are special, among all the peoples of the earth, is sometimes called “American exceptionalism.” Because of our long history of democracy and freedom, or because we have a special mission to spread these values (or at least to remain a shining example of them), or because of our wealth, or because of our military strength, our nuclear arsenal, our wide-open spaces, our pragmatism, our idealism, or just because, the rules don’t apply to us. There are man-made rules like, “You can’t start a war without the permission of the United Nations Security Council.” We’ve gotten away with quite a bit of bending or breaking of that kind of rule. This may have given us the impression that we could ignore the other kind of rules —the ones that are imposed by reality and therefore are self-enforcing. These are rules such as, “You can’t have good ice cream without fat” or “You can’t borrow increasing amounts of money indefinitely and never pay it back, because people will eventually stop lending it to you.” No country is special enough to escape these rules.
      ...

      This conceit that we’re the greatest country ever may be self-immolating. If people believe it’s true, they won’t do what’s necessary to make it true. The Brits, who suffer no such delusion (and who, in fact, cherish the national myth of being people who smile through adversity), have just accepted cuts in government spending that no American politician — even a tea bagger — would dream of proposing. Maybe these cuts are a mistake or badly timed, but when the British voted for “change,” they really got it.

      Every time I strike this note, which I guess I do a lot, I hear from people calling me elitist or unpatriotic. Here is my answer: If you think a friend is talking nonsense or behaving in a way that damages both of your long-term interests, it is not elitist to say so. To the contrary, it is treating him or her like an adult and an equal. As for patriotism, if you think your country is in danger, how is it unpatriotic to say so?


      Not to be outdone, Daily Beast columnist Peter Beinart railed against the GOP's "lunatic notion" of America's exceptionalism. In particular, Beinart was infuriated by Sen.-elect Marco Rubio's claim that "America is the single greatest nation in all of human history." Doesn't the Florida politician know, Beinart wonders, that China and Brazil are opening opportunities to their citizens too? According to Beinart, Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, is too ideologically blinkered to know that "the American dream of upward mobility is alive and well, just not in America."

      What's bizarre about Beinart and Kinsley's rendition of American exceptionalism is that it reflects the premise that the idea of American exceptionalism is an artifact of right-wing jingoism, xenophobia or ignorance. And even Obama flirts with this sort of thing every time he chalks up opposition to his agenda to fear, bigotry or small-mindedness.

      Forget that every Fourth of July we celebrate the fact that we fought a Revolutionary War to become an exceptional nation. From their dismissive condescension, you'd think these three educated men didn't know that American exceptionalism has been a well-established notion among scholars for more than a century.

      "The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional," wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in "Democracy in America," "and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one." Ever since, historians have argued that America's lack of a feudal past, its Puritan roots, the realism of its revolutionary ambitions and many other ingredients contributed to America's status as the "first new nation," to borrow a phrase from Seymour Martin Lipset, who spent his life writing about American exceptionalism.

      Monday, November 8, 2010

      Obama on his Daily Show Appearance





      Programs such as The Daily Show have come to play a significant role in politics. In his interview last night on "60 Minutes," the president addressed criticism of his recent appearance on the program:
      KROFT: One of the complaints has been that you've appeared on Comedy Central The View. They think it trivializes the president. I don't know if you saw this cartoon [Steve Kroft shows President Obama a political cartoon from the Daily News.]
      PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let me take a look at it.

      KROFT: Body by Bam.

      PRESIDENT OBAMA: Body by Bam.

      KROFT: From The Daily News.

      PRESIDENT OBAMA: The challenge right now, and you know this better than I do, Steve, is that it used to be a President could call a press conference, and the three major networks would come, and he'd talk to 'em, and you pretty much reached everybody in America. And these days the closest I can get to that is bein' on 60 Minutes.

      But there are a whole bunch of folks you know, unwisely on their part, who don't watch 60 Minutes, who watch The Daily Show¸ or watch The View. And so I've got to adapt the presidency to reach as many people as possible in as many settings as possible so that they can hear directly from me.

      This is an example of where, you know, on the one hand folks say, "Well, you know he's a little too remote." Then if I'm on The View, "Well, you know, he shouldn't be you know on some daytime TV show you know, he should be a little more imperious."

      And, you know, I guess my attitude is if I'm reaching people, if I'm talkin' to 'em. If I'm engaged with 'em, whatever the venue, then hopefully that makes people a little clear about what it is that I'm trying to do, and understand the challenges that we face. And so I'm willing to take the risks of overexposure on that front

      Sunday, November 7, 2010

      Deliberation and the Midterm

      In The Boston Globe, Elvin Lim explains why we should not expect radical change as a result of the midterm:
      Though Congress makes laws, the president has the power to veto them. Similarly, although the power to declare war is an executive power, and the power to impeach is a judicial power, both of those are given to Congress. All told, the Founders were less concerned with the straight-up separation of powers--which would have promoted efficiency and made change easier--than with ensuring that no one branch would possess unchecked power. Even within the Congress, the slower and more deliberative Senate exerts a check on the more populist House.
      ...

      Not only did the Founders institute a rigorous system of checks and balances, just for good measure, they made it nearly impossible to tamper with this system by amending the Constitution. After all, the very point of a written constitution is, as Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist Paper 1, to lock into place our collective decisions when they were derived by ”choice and deliberation,” and not by ”force and accident.” Thus the Founders determined that any movement to amend the Constitution must secure the approval of two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states--an order so tall that it has happened only 17 times since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.

      Saturday, November 6, 2010

      Civil Religion, The Tea Party, and the Constitution

      In our chapter on civic culture, we discuss the concepts of civil religion and American exceptionalism. In The New York Times, Samuel Freedman applies these ideas to the "tea party" movement:

      Rather than viewing the Tea Party as a political phenomenon — rather than wondering if it is populist or Republican or reactionary — one might better understand it through the prism of religion.

      Seen through such a frame, the Constitution is the Tea Party’s bible, and that holy book is embraced as an inerrant text. The denunciations of the Progressive movement, the New Deal and the Great Society by the Tea Party and its de facto televangelist, Glenn Beck, recall the religious battles throughout American history between literalists and interpreters of Scripture.

      And this conflation of civic and sacred, this expression of what scholars call “Constitution worship,” has roots that long predate the Tea Party. Some trace back to the implicit spirituality of America’s self-image as a chosen people, the image of this nation as a city on a hill. Others, paradoxically, derive from the founding fathers’ decision not to establish a state religion, which left a certain kind of belief or faith looking to attach itself to something else nationalistic.

      “There’s a strong strand of divine-guidance thinking, thinking about American exceptionalism,” said Mary Beth Norton, a professor of early American history at Cornell University. “People have certainly seen the texts of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as the equivalent of a secular religion, with the idea then that you can’t challenge these texts.”

      Friday, November 5, 2010

      Journalists and Political Involvement

      In our chapter on mass media, we talk about how people in the news business sometimes take a direct hand in politics (pp. 369-70). But there are limits on what working journalists can do, especially when it comes to politicians that they are covering. One may have breached those limits, as Politico reports:

      MSNBC host Keith Olbermann made campaign contributions to two Arizona members of Congress and failed Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway ahead of Tuesday’s election — a potential violation of NBC’s ethics policies.

      Olbermann, who acknowledged the contributions in a statement to POLITICO, made the maximum legal donations of $2,400 apiece to Conway and to Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords. He donated to the Arizona pair on Oct. 28 – the same day that Grijalva appeared as a guest on Olbermann’s “Countdown” show.

      Grijalva, a prominent liberal who was only declared a winner in his race Thursday night, was in a tight contest against tea party-backed candidate Ruth McClung when he appeared on Countdown – one of several appearances he made on the show.

      NBC has a rule against employees contributing to political campaigns, and a wide range of news organizations prohibit political contributions – considering it a breach of journalistic independence to contribute to the candidates they cover.

      UPDATE: MSNBC HAS SUSPENDED OLBERMANN WITHOUT PAY FOR BREAKING ITS RULES.

      Thursday, November 4, 2010

      State Legislatures and 2010

      At the National Conference of State Legislatures, Tim Storey reports:

      Republicans have added over 675 seats to their ranks in this election, dramatically surpassing 1994 gains. This number could go even higher as the tallies in the undecided races are determined.

      More detail:

      Republicans made huge gains in state legislative races and are at their highest point since 1928.

      The Alabama House and Senate, Indiana House, Iowa House, Maine House and Senate, Michigan House, Minnesota House and Senate, Montana House, New Hampshire House and Senate, North Carolina House and Senate, Ohio House--a big redistricting win--the Pennsylvania House, and the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate all have flipped from Democrat to Republican.

      This is the first time in Alabama that Republicans have controlled the legislature since reconstruction. The North Carolina Senate has not been Republican since 1870. And Republicans have reportedly taken over 100 seats in the New Hampshire House. For the first time in history, the Minnesota Senate will be controlled by the GOP.

      The New York Times explains the national significance:

      “Republicans picked a good year to have a dramatic win,” said Tim Storey, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures who studies redistricting and elections.

      By Mr. Storey’s tally, Tuesday’s results will give Republicans the power to unilaterally draw 190 Congressional districts, while Democrats can only hope to unilaterally draw up to 70 at most, if they manage to win several races that are still undecided. (The rest of the districts, Mr. Storey said, would be drawn by divided state governments or appointed commissions.)

      With redistricting raising the stakes, both parties waged frantic and expensive campaigns this year at the state level.


      Madison and the Midterm

      On the NewsHour, historian Michael Beschloss spoke about the midterm election with Jim Lehrer:

      MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: It's exactly what James Madison wanted. And, in a sense, he would be glad to see what happened on Tuesday night, because he wanted the Senate to be somewhat protected from these waves, but he wanted the House to be an instant Geiger counter, to use a modern word, you know, something that...

      JIM LEHRER: I can't believe James Madison used...

      (LAUGHTER)

      MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Yes. Well, that's why I'm saying it wasn't the word he used.

      (LAUGHTER)

      JIM LEHRER: OK. All right.

      MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: But you never know.

      But he wanted this to register big changes in the American -- in American public opinion. And I think it really did. The interesting thing, though, maybe a precedent for this, is, we have been talking about 1946, when Truman lost Congress , and there were a lot of things written at the time: This is the start of big era of Republican domination of Congress. The era lasted exactly two years.

      Two years later, an even bigger wave swept the Democrats back into leadership.

      Or as political scientist William Connelly puts it, James Madison Rules America.


      Wednesday, November 3, 2010

      How a Grownup Takes a Loss

      Representative Jim Oberstar (D-MN) is leaving Congress as he served it: with dignity. From his concession speech:

      In my first campaign in the 1974 primary election, the theme was "the people will decide." They decided that year, and they've decided again this year.

      We must always remember -- and I've always kept it foremost in my mind -- that this is the people's seat in this greatest deliberative body in the world: the U.S. House of Representatives.

      It's been an extraordinary honor and privilege to serve the disparate interests, the many different regions of this extraordinary congressional district, and the wonderful people -- those who support you and those who, with dignity and respect, take an opposite view.

      Tuesday, November 2, 2010

      Why People Vote

      At The Hill, John Feehery writes about why people don't vote:
      People don’t vote because they think that their vote doesn’t matter. How can one person make much of a difference? they ask themselves, ignoring the history that shows that one vote has made a difference thousands of times.
      Why do people vote? Some are angry, inspired, strategic, or enthralled. There is also duty:
      Some people vote because it is their constitutional duty to vote, and they take their constitutional duty very seriously. There isn’t that much required of an American citizen, especially since the draft went away. You have to sign up for Social Security and Medicare. You have to pay taxes. You have to serve on a jury every once in a while (provided that you aren’t a convict). You aren’t compelled to serve the country in any other way other than to show up to vote, and you aren’t even required to do that.


      Monday, November 1, 2010

      Lessons from the Federalist

      With an eye to the midterm election, Steve Frank of the National Constitution Center writes of three lessons from the Federalist Papers:

      Americans were born arguing. The big challenge 200 years ago was to make a fractious people into a united nation. That's a challenge that will never go away. Most of us no longer believe America would be better off as a number of regional confederations - as many did back then - but we disagree about today's issues with the same passionate intensity.

      In Federalist No. 1, Hamilton complained that both sides of the ratification debate seemed to think they could convince voters of the "justness of their opinions ... by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives" - a characterization that could apply to almost any modern cable pundit and many of today's politicians.

      Government is obligated to harmonize our clashing interests. According to Madison, that's what we elect Congress to do. In Federalist No. 10, he noted perceptively that economic inequality is a "durable source" of social conflict. "Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society," he wrote. "The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation."

      The framers' goal was to design a system of government that moderated "the spirit of party and faction" flowing from that clash of interests. They knew that disagreement was a necessary and ordinary part of the political process, but they sought to create a government capable of bridging divides to advance the common good.

      The Constitution invites us to elect officials who can do that. One of the benefits of living in a big country is that it teems with talent. The electoral framework the framers devised would (they hoped) elevate the most talented politicians to national office.

      What, in their view, separated the best politicians from the rest? First, an ability to identify the common good. And second, a willingness to set aside narrow interests in favor of what's right for the nation as a whole. As Madison imagined it, we would elect congressional representatives "whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations."