Friday, December 31, 2010

Facebook Politics

The year 2010 saw the launch of the US Politics on Facebook page. And now, Facebook reports on its own role in government and politics. Users praised Sarah Palin and incoming California attorney general Kamala Harris, among others. The report adds:

Increasingly, government agencies are embracing Facebook for collaboration, information sharing, and citizen engagement. The U.S. Armed Forces -- particularly the Navy -- had a banner year, according to Facebook users. People pointed to the Navy’s use of interactive questions; its social media team’s regular responses to wall comments by users; and photo contests.

“The Navy runs a 24-hour Facebook operation that isn't about getting more fans or just creating content. It is about engaging and giving others the opportunity to tell their own Navy story,” one user said. Another wrote: “I'm most impressed with how many citizens, veterans, recruiters, potential recruits - and yes, Sailors - keep the Navy story on course. Transparency can be a powerful thing! GO NAVY!”

Users also commended the Marine Corps’ Facebook activity. One person wrote: “The Marine Corps was late to the social media space, but in 2010 they really hit their stride. The Marine Corps is closing in on a million followers, which leads all other military branch Facebook sites, and they are the smallest branch of the bunch.”

The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Disability.gov were also mentioned by Facebook users.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Data on Religion and American Politics

At The Huffington Post, Robert P. Jones summarizes 2010 findings about religion and politics. Meanwhile, Gallup reports some new data:

Seven in 10 Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life -- one of the highest such responses in Gallup's 53-year history of asking this question, and significantly higher than in the first half of the past decade.

Americans' views of the influence of religion in the U.S. have fluctuated substantially in the years since 1957, when Gallup first asked this question. At that point, perhaps reflecting the general focus on family values that characterized the Eisenhower era, 69% of Americans said religion was increasing its influence, the most in Gallup's history.

...

Gallup's trends reflecting more personal views of religion do not show the same patterns of fluctuation as the broader questions about American society. What trends there are provide a somewhat mixed message. While almost all measures show that Americans were more religious in the 1940s and 1950s than in recent decades, Americans appear to be as personally religious now as they were in the late 1970s and 1980s. Church and synagogue membership, on the other hand, has drifted downward in a more steady fashion. The current 61% of Americans who report being a church or synagogue member is as low as has been measured by Gallup since the 1930s.

And Nathan Burstein writes at The Jewish Daily Forward:

In a popularity contest among U.S. religious groups, Jews would win, according to a newly published book.
That finding – that “Jews are the most broadly popular religious group in America today” – is contained in “American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides,” and is based on the book’s survey of 3,000 Americans of all religious backgrounds.
“The most popular religious group in America today is Jews…What’s so interesting about that is that it was only a generation ago or two generations ago when Jewish-Americans would have been viewed as at the bottom of the heap,” said one of the book’s co-authors, Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell, in a radio interview on “The Marc Steiner Show.” “They are the ones who were viewed as being alien or foreign. That’s no longer the case, and that gives us hope that those at the bottom now can actually climb.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Internship Politics

The Washington Post reports:
President Obama plans to issue an executive order, perhaps as early as this week, ending a federal internship program that critics say circumvents proper hiring practices.

Since it began in 2001, the Federal Career Intern Program has been used to hire more than 100,000 people - few of them interns as traditionally understood and many of them border and customs officers who later became permanent-status federal employees.

The program has drawn fire from federal employee unions and from the government board that oversees federal hiring practices, which ruled in November that the program undermined the rights of veterans, in particular, who were seeking federal work.

According to a draft copy of the executive order, which The Washington Post obtained from a person involved with the review process, the program will be terminated in March and be replaced with a program clearly designed to provide short-term federal work opportunities for recent graduates of schools of all kinds.


The Post follows up:

The federal internship program that President Obama plans to shut down in March has been criticized by union leaders for "abuses" that led to thousands of new hires that short-circuited the government's sometimes lengthy process for filling jobs.

But what were abuses to some, including the board that oversees federal hiring practices, were to many managers a welcome system of recruiting the best talent to their agencies. And they say scrapping the program in favor of one geared solely to recent school graduates will leave them at a big disadvantage.

"Taking any tool away from us when we're trying to make it easier for people to get hired is a bit like throwing out the baby with the bath water," said Toni Dawsey, who is retiring this week as chief of human capital for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "It's a real disappointment. The federal government is an old workforce. We need to bring in a new generation faster."

In July, the New York Times reported:

But the willingness of many young people to sacrifice pay for experience has led a number of states as well as the federal government to take a close look at the legality of hiring young people to work free. In April, the Obama administration issued a fact sheet listing six criteria aimed at preventing employers from violating the Fair Labor Standards Act with their unpaid internship programs. Among the stipulations: that the training the intern receives must be similar to training that can be obtained in an educational setting, that unpaid interns don’t displace a paid employee, and that the employer does not derive any “benefit” from the intern’s work.

The guidelines, from the Labor Department, have left employers scrambling to bulletproof their internship programs, said Camille Olson, a management-side employment attorney, who represents companies who have been dealing with this issue. Some employers, she said, have converted to paid internships but in the process have cut back on the number of posts they can offer. Others have abandoned their programs altogether.

Oscar Michelen, a labor lawyer in New York, said his son, a junior at Penn State, had secured a paid internship for the summer, but during his last week of classes the company suddenly pulled back the offer. “Companies were cutting back on the number,” he said. “They said we can only offer paid positions to rising seniors.” (The young man was able to find a six-week paid position at another firm.)

Dave Phillipson, the organizer of CEO Space, a California-based network of entrepreneurs, said he had been working on starting an internship program this summer but abandoned it “because of this silly ruling.”


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Predictions That You Can Count On

  • There will be much discussion of the Constitution.
  • Polls will give conflicting results about the health care law.
  • Presidential candidates will commit damaging gaffes.
  • President Obama's approval ratings will fluctuate. So will the stock market.
  • Members of Congress will confront questions about their ethics. So will corporate executives.
  • The weather will produce extremes of hot and cold, rain and snow. Some will cite these events as evidence for global warming. Others will cite them as evidence against global warming.
  • House committee hearings will highlight waste and mismanagement in the executive branch. Democrats will accuse House Republicans of playing politics.
  • There will be news stories about medical breakthroughs that later stories will debunk.
  • States will strain to balance their budgets. The federal government won't even come close.
  • North Korea will make trouble.

President Obama's Expressions of Faith

The role of religion in American public life is a major theme of our book, and a number of posts here have supplied updates. Just over a week ago, for instance, we looked at Democrats' problems with religious outreach. Now Carol E. Lee writes at Politico:

President Obama’s trip to church Sunday followed a steady rebirth over the past three months in public expressions of his Christianity.

Obama has publicly mentioned his “Christian faith” more times in the past three months than he did over the past year. He has more frequently cited passages of the Bible, including repeated references to Genesis 4:9 – “I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper” — which was a mainstay of Obama’s 2010 campaign stump speech. And he’s taken his family to church twice, a shift for a president who has preferred to worship privately since the end of the 2008 campaign.

...

“It could be trying to appeal more to the general public because I think there’s a lot of people in the middle who have had doubts about Obama because the right has been so much more effective in their rhetoric,” said Timothy Longman, a political science professor at Boston University who specializes in religion and politics.

Obama, who personally took on questions about his religious beliefs during the 2008 campaign and spoke often about it at the beginning of his presidency, has not kept the visibility of his Christian faith over the past year. As a candidate he regularly appeared at church services, at times speaking from the pulpit, but he has not done much churchgoing as president. He has more openly acknowledged the Muslim roots in his family since taking office, a line he preferred to blur during the campaign. And Biblical references that were signature features of his 2008 stump speech also tapered off once he moved into the White House.

“His religious life has been much more private since coming to office,” Longman said. “I guess because he got so burned by it during the campaign he’s been reluctant to be very public about his religious affiliation.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

Two Parties, Two Chambers, Two Branches

Our chapter on political parties discusses partisan polarization. Our chapter on Congress analyzes the significance of bicameralism. Both themes are evident in this McClatchy News Service item by David Lightman:

One of the 2010 lame duck session's few major lapses was an inability to agree on a comprehensive federal budget for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Instead, lawmakers approved a stopgap funding measure that runs through March 4.

That date looms as a key date for a spending showdown, since the new House majority will be eager to show it's serious about spending cuts.

"Look at the people who are coming to the House. These aren't New England moderates," said Steven Greene, associate professor of political science at North Carolina State University.

That group is also eager to effect significant changes in the health care law.

"We will immediately take action to repeal this law," the Pledge promises.

But few expect any radical budget or health care changes to survive intact in the Senate, where Democrats will have a 53 to 47 majority, enough to block what Democrats might see as Republican overreaching. Even if a pet GOP program passes, Obama is hardly expected to sign legislation overturning the health care law or decimating social programs.

"The House is going to pass a lot of bills that will die in the Senate," said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

ROTC Returns?

With the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, some colleges and universities may be welcoming ROTC back to campus. AP reports:

“I think it’s more than just rhetoric right now,” said Donald Downs, a professor of political science, law and journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of a forthcoming book on the military and universities. “Especially at the administrative level, I think the schools are sincere. The real question is how willing the military might be.”

Opposition might arise, but universities largely value the positive impact veterans bring to campus, as well as their GI Bill money, Downs said. At the same time, the military long ago shifted officer recruitment to the South, “and a lot of people in the military, they’re not sure the Ivy League type of student is the kind that would make a good warrior,” he said.

...

Maj. Monica Bland, a Department of Defense spokeswoman, said it is premature to know how the repeal of DADT will affect ROTC. Right now, 489 schools host ROTC units, and nearly 2,469 schools have cross-town affiliations with those units. The number of host campuses has remained stable in recent years, even as cadet and midshipmen enrollment has risen, Bland said.

“They don’t really need these schools,” said Michael Desch, a political science professor at Notre Dame and an ROTC expert. “It would be symbolic in terms of having the Ivies and other elite schools sort of come back in the fold.”

Gary J. Schmitt and Cheryl Miller write:

Faculty can help bring ROTC into mainstream campus life by offering appropriate academic credit for ROTC coursework, particularly in advanced subject areas. The common objection among faculty is that the ROTC curriculum is too vocational. This objection merits revisiting, however, as universities have increasingly allowed credit for professional or vocational courses. At Stanford, students can receive credit for internships; at Yale for teacher certification programs; at Columbia, with its new finance major, for accounting classes. Furthermore, there's no reason faculty cannot work with the military to enhance the ROTC curriculum and develop rigorous offerings in such relevant fields as political science, anthropology, or economics. Universities could put this opportunity to even greater use by strengthening their course offerings in weak subject areas, such as military and diplomatic history.

Top-tier schools should aim to have top-tier ROTC programs. In so doing, they would help ensure that the American officer corps reflects America as a whole--thereby allowing ROTC to fulfill its original purpose. No less important, returning ROTC to elite university campuses will restore a proud tradition of military service. When the first ROTC units were established at the land grant colleges, students at Harvard, Yale, and other prominent schools petitioned for their own programs so they too might have the chance to demonstrate their patriotism. And serve they did. Yale's Memorial Hall is covered from floor to ceiling with the names of students and faculty who fought from World War I through the Vietnam war, while Harvard boasts the highest number of Medal of Honor recipients outside the service academies.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas and the Military



A messsage from President and Mrs. Obama:

THE PRESIDENT: Because this is the season when we celebrate the simplest yet most profound gift of all: the birth of a child who devoted his life to a message of peace, love, and redemption. A message that says no matter who we are, we are called to love one another – we are our brother’s keeper, we are our sister’s keeper, our separate stories in this big and busy world are really one.

Today, we’re also thinking of those who can’t be home for the holidays – especially all our courageous countrymen serving overseas.

That’s the message I delivered when I visited our troops in Afghanistan a few weeks ago – that while you may be serving far from home, every American supports you and your families. We’re with you. And I have no greater honor than serving as your Commander in Chief.

Today’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen make up the finest fighting force in the history of the world. Just like their predecessors, they do extraordinary things in service to their country. What makes that all the more remarkable is that today’s military is an all-volunteer force – a force of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives.

THE FIRST LADY: That’s right. As First Lady, I’ve had the honor to meet members of our military and their families on bases and in communities all across the country. I’ve gotten to know husbands and wives doing the parenting of two while their spouse is on another deployment…children trying their best in school but always wondering when mom or dad is coming home…patriots putting their lives on hold to help with a loved one’s recovery…or carry on the memory of a fallen hero.

When our men and women in uniform answer the call to serve, their families serve, too. And they’re proud and glad to do it. But as long as that service keeps the rest of us safe, their sacrifice should also be our own. Even heroes can use a hand, especially during the holidays.

THE PRESIDENT: So we’re encouraging Americans to ask what you can do to support our troops and their families in this holiday season. For some ideas on how to get started, just visit Serve.gov.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Creationism and Politics

Gallup reports:
Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God's involvement.

There is a partisan divide on the question. The strict creationist view gets support from 52 percent of Republicans but only 34 percent of independents and Democrats.

The significantly higher percentage of Republicans who choose a creationist view of human origins reflects in part the strong relationship between religion and politics in contemporary America. Republicans are significantly more likely to attend church weekly than are others, and, as noted, Americans who attend church weekly are most likely to select the creationist alternative for the origin of humans.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Enlarge the House?

David Freddoso expands on a problem that yesterday's post mentioned: unequal representation in the House. (For more on the topic, see (www.apportionment.us and www.thirty-thousand.org). One solution, he says, is to enlarge the chamber's membership by 100:
It's probably a really good idea to add more seats, given that each member of a 435-man Congress is representing, on average, more than 700,000 constituents, whereas originally, the target was about 30,000 constituents per member. In Federalist Number 55, James Madison discussed the dangers of both a too-large Congress and a too-small one:

Sixty or seventy men may be more properly trusted with a given degree of power than six or seven. But it does not follow that six or seven hundred would be proportionably a better depositary. And if we carry on the supposition to six or seven thousand, the whole reasoning ought to be reversed. The truth is, that in all cases a certain number at least seems to be necessary to secure the benefits of free consultation and discussion, and to guard against too easy a combination for improper purposes; as, on the other hand, the number ought at most to be kept within a certain limit, in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude. In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.

One interesting idea, mentioned in a Wikipedia stub but barely anywhere else, is the so-called "Wyoming Rule," which proposes to add districts until the smallest single-district state (population 568,000) is not so badly over-represented. As it happens, you can get pretty close to that number (average 579,000) by adding exactly 100 districts.

...

The most underrepresented state in the House right now is Montana, where 994,000 people share a single congressman. If you added 100 seats to the Congress, Montanans would gain one seat and 63% percent more representation in Congress. Californians would lose a small amount of congressional clout.

Other small states like Alaska and South Dakota would suffer in a 535-member House. By the very nature of the process, small states are the most likely to win or lose big in reapportionment. The question of who wins or loses (Delaware, say, or South Dakota?) is really a random one, depending less on the mean population of the districts than on the exact point at which you stop awarding new seats. In this case, South Dakota would get the 536th seat, and ends up being the big loser. No matter how many seats you add, Someone is always going to be on the cusp of getting a new one, and they're the ones most likely to lose or gain.

The only solution to representational inequity is to abolish statehood -- something that cannot be done under the Constitution without the assent of all 50 state legislatures. Another would be to make Congress unreasonably large.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not Quite One Person, One Vote

Yesterday, the Census announced population figures for 2010. These data determine how many seats each state gets in the US House. The official Census video on reapportionment says that the process " ensures that each congressional district, from Maryland to California, has roughly the same number of people."

That is not really true.

As we point out in the chapter on campaigns and elections (p. 332), the principle of "one person, one vote" means that all districts within a state should have equal population. But this standard does not rule out variations among states. Under the Constitution, every state gets at least one representative, and fractional voting is not possible, so disparities are inevitable. Under the 2010 data, for instance, Montana's one House member will represent 994,416 people, while each of Rhode Island's two representatives will represent 527,624.



NUMBER OF

RESIDENTS

APPORTIONMENT

REPRESENTATIVES

PER SEAT

POPULATION

BASED ON

STATE

(APRIL 1, 2010)

2010 CENSUS

Montana

994416

1

994416

Delaware

900877

1

900877

South Dakota

819761

1

819761

Idaho

1573499

2

786750

Oregon

3848606

5

769721

Iowa

3053787

4

763447

Louisiana

4553962

6

758994

Oklahoma

3764882

5

752976

Missouri

6011478

8

751435

Mississippi

2978240

4

744560

North Carolina

9565781

13

735829

New Jersey

8807501

12

733958

Arkansas

2926229

4

731557

Virginia

8037736

11

730703

Massachusetts

6559644

9

728849

Kentucky

4350606

6

725101

Maryland

5789929

8

723741

Ohio

11568495

16

723031

Indiana

6501582

9

722398

Alaska

721523

1

721523

Colorado

5044930

7

720704

New York

19421055

27

719298

Connecticut

3581628

5

716326

Kansas

2863813

4

715953

Illinois

12864380

18

714688

Arizona

6412700

9

712522

Wisconsin

5698230

8

712279

USA

309183463

435

710767

Tennessee

6375431

9

708381

Michigan

9911626

14

707973

Pennsylvania

12734905

18

707495

California

37341989

53

704566

Texas

25268418

36

701901

Florida

18900773

27

700029

Georgia

9727566

14

694826

Utah

2770765

4

692691

New Mexico

2067273

3

689091

Alabama

4802982

7

686140

Hawaii

1366862

2

683431

Nevada

2709432

4

677358

North Dakota

675905

1

675905

Washington

6753369

10

675337

Maine

1333074

2

666537

Minnesota

5314879

8

664360

South Carolina

4645975

7

663711

New Hampshire

1321445

2

660723

Vermont

630337

1

630337

West Virginia

1859815

3

619938

Nebraska

1831825

3

610608

Wyoming

568300

1

568300

Rhode Island

1055247

2

527624