Monday, February 28, 2011

Deliberation, Citizenship, and Utah

An editorial in The Deseret News touches on major themes of the textbook: deliberation, citizenship, and the role of religion in public life.

We wish to acknowledge the thoughtful, statesmanlike and deliberate discussions under way in the Utah Legislature to address the complex and challenging issues of illegal immigration. Hard work and deliberation appear to be moving Utah toward a unique solution on immigration that, done well, could become a model for the nation.

The public debate on the issues has been long and at times rancorous. It has, nonetheless, helped to clarify fundamental issues for citizens and their representatives alike.

...

The Utah solution that is emerging would weed out dangerous criminals without overburdening local law enforcement. It would hold employers and employees to account for compliance with the laws. But it would also provide a pragmatic way for hardworking but undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and contribute productively without creating a path to citizenship.

...

Early in Utah's current discussion of immigration policy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the owner of the Deseret News, issued the following statement:

"Finding a successful resolution will require the best thinking and goodwill of all across the political spectrum, the highest levels of statesmanship, and the strongest desire to do what is best for all of God's children."

As our legislators conclude their challenging deliberations on how to forge a genuinely Utah solution from the many excellent ideas that have been considered, we commend them for their thoughtfulness, their statesmanship and their ongoing desire to do what is best for all of God's children.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Writing on the Wall

Our first chapter deals with the concepts of freedom and democracy, which are easy to take for granted -- unless they are absent. The Los Angeles Times reports:
On walls across Libya's second-largest city are the same scrawled graffiti: Game Over.

Days after protesters took control of Benghazi after fierce attacks by Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's militia and alleged mercenaries left many dead and injured, demonstrations continued at the courthouse where they began a week ago. People called for Kadafi's resignation and expressed support for anti-government efforts in the capital, Tripoli, and other cities.

"From the first day, from the 17th, there was no more fear. We fought fear; the revolution's youth taught us courage," said Abdulmutalib Bashir, 51. "We are a people who won't surrender; either victory or death."
The idea that "the writing on the wall" can spell doom for a regime is an ancient one. From Daniel 5: 25-28 (King James Version):

And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.

TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Politics of Redistricting

As we explain in our chapter on elections and campaigns, redistricting has a significant impact on elections for the U.S. House and state legislatures. Redistricting in America is a new resource from the Rose Institute providing comprehensive information and news updates on the topic.

At The Washington Post, Professor Toni-Michelle C. Travis of George Mason University explains why redistricting ought to foster competition:

Our democracy is based on the power of the vote. As a society, we set our compass by the preferences of citizens who are actively engaged in selecting the leaders of our state and nation, and one need only look at voter turnout in last year's Virginia elections to see what a difference contested races make.

In 2010, highly contested congressional races generated voter turnout of greater than 43 percent - the same percentage that came out to pick a new governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general the year before. In contrast, voter turnout fell lowest in the 6th Congressional District, where Rep. Robert Goodlatte had no major-party opposition. In 1998, the last time Virginia held congressional elections without a presidential or U.S. Senate contest to boost turnout, only one-third of Virginia's registered voters cast ballots. That year, only three of the 11 seats featured real competition.

Like it or not, the public doesn't care about one-sided races. Creating districts that ensure incumbent domination leads to greater voter apathy and less-responsive government, while drawing lines to create greater parity between the parties can do the opposite. Competition is not only good for business, commerce and capitalism. It's essential for democracy. And democracy will always be more important than politics as usual.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lawmakers in Costume

Oregon Rep. David Wu apologized Tuesday for sending photos of himself dressed in a tiger costume to aides, calling that and other behavior last fall “unprofessional” and “inappropriate” as his mental health suffered.

“You shouldn’t ever send photographs of yourself in a Halloween costume, something you intend to wear to a private party a couple of nights later,” the Democrat said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” It’s just not professional, even when you’re joshing around with your kids a couple of nights before Halloween. I did send those photographs. It was unprofessional, inappropriate.”

Wu, however, is far from the first lawmaker to don a costume.

From Newsweek, March 12, 1979:
Before 500 guests at an annual costume party in Dallas, feisty Republican Sen. John Tower came on as Superman, his scarlet cape fluttering limply. "I'm a man who stands for truth, justice and the American way - always have and always will," he announced, strutting about during a brief man-of-steel skit.

From The New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 17, 1999:
Gen. George Patton had a well-deserved reputation for whipping the troops into shape before a major battle. So, when the House Republican leadership decided to kick a few keisters among the GOP rank and file, they enlisted the famous general to give the pep talk. Well, sort of.

With the general no longer available, they called on Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-Chackbay, to give his best impression of Patton. Or maybe it was Tauzin giving his best impression of actor George C. Scott's Oscar-winning performance in the 1971 movie.

Decked out in full Pattonesque military regalia, his chest gleaming with medals and a riding crop at his side, Tauzin has videotaped what he hopes will be a stirring speech for a closed-door meeting this morning of the GOP caucus.

From Roll Call, October 30, 2000:
Both sides are trying to read the tea leaves in the wake of House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt's (D-Mo.) bizarre decision to go to Thursday's Caucus meeting with his face painted like Mel Gibson in the movie " Braveheart."

Trying to rally the troops on the eve of the elections, Gephardt camped out in a basement room before the meeting to get dressed. After slapping red and blue make-up on his dimples, he used a plaid blanket for a quilt and slipped into some plastic breastplate armor.

Gephardt ceremoniously charged into the meeting with a spear raised in the air, whipping Democrats into a frenzy. "It's time to pick up the spears!" he yelled.

From The Washington Post, October 30, 2009:

Halloween is the day you can let your freak flag fly.

Just ask Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), who sits through two-hour makeup sessions to transform himself into Frankenstein. His staff Twittered photos of him in the get-up last week, says spokeswoman Kate Dickens, alongside an intern who got roped into the role of his big-haired bride.

Transparency Stops at Jackson Place

There is a tension between deliberation and transparency. Sometimes decisionmakers think that they get better advice in quiet, undisclosed meetings than in public. Politico reports on developments in the White House:

Caught between their boss’ anti-lobbyist rhetoric and the reality of governing, President Barack Obama’s aides often steer meetings with lobbyists to a complex just off the White House grounds — and several of the lobbyists involved say they believe the choice of venue is no accident.

“They’re doing it on the side. It’s better than nothing,” said immigration reform lobbyist Tamar Jacoby, who has attended meetings at the nearby Jackson Place complex and believes the undisclosed gatherings are better than none.

The White House scoffs at the notion of an ulterior motive for scheduling meetings in what are, after all, meeting rooms. But at least four lobbyists who’ve been to the conference rooms just off Lafayette Square tell POLITICO they had the distinct impression they were being shunted off to Jackson Place — and off the books — so their visits wouldn’t later be made public.

...

And administration officials recently asked some lobbyists and others who met with them to sign confidentiality agreements barring them from disclosing what was discussed at meetings with administration officials, in that case a rental policy working group.

The administration has defended the practice as a way to “maintain the integrity of our decision-making process.” But it has come under fire from lobbyists and a top House Republican, who have criticized the demand that participants sign a “gag order” before being allowed into meetings. The White House has not responded to repeated requests for comment on its nondisclosure agreement policy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Celebrity Expatriation

The Globe and Mail reports on an Randy Quaid, an American movie actor who is on his way to becoming Canadian:

The Quaids arrived in B.C. in October, fleeing what they called a “murderous ring” of accountants and other star whackers south of the border. They were picked up by border officials on outstanding U.S. warrants. They’ve been charged in California with causing more than $5,000 damage to a property they formerly owned.

Both filed refugee claims, but Ms. Quaid eventually dropped hers – she was able to acquire Canadian citizenship because her father was born in Canada. Mr. Quaid’s refugee case remains active, though lawyer Catherine Sas said it would be dropped if the sponsorship application was accepted and Mr. Quaid was granted permanent residency status. She said the application could take up to a year to be approved.

Ms. Sas said her clients do not have any concerns about their safety in Canada.

The couple’s past news conferences were nothing short of a media circus, but they didn’t take questions Wednesday or say anything controversial.

Ms. Quaid said it felt “unbelievable” to be a Canadian. “I think I always knew I was. I think I’m a natural.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Governing By Fear

In our first chapter, we take a comparative look and note that some rulers suppress freedom simply to stay in power. As Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times writes, Libya is a case study:
Moammar Kadafi's many vanities led the Libyan leader and his intelligence network into miscalculating the breadth of outrage against him in his own land. Long one of the Arab world's most perplexing personalities, Kadafi has traveled the globe with a tent, warning against foreign intervention while polishing his image at home as the country's "Brotherly Leader."

But the unrest sweeping the tribal nation is a sign that after four decades in power, Kadafi has lost the support of key clans and loyalists, and has steadily relied on repression to stay in power. It is as if he failed to grasp the dynamic of change emanating from Tunisia to his west and Egypt to his east.

"Kadafi's biggest mistake was that he built his whole regime on pure fear," said Omar Amer, a member of the Libyan Youth Movement, a protest group that spreads its message through Facebook. "He totally abandoned civilizing Libya. He neglected education and development projects. He left the majority of his people in the dark ages and built his might on fear through torturing and killing political dissidents in public.

"But the fear that Kadafi built his empire with is gone, and that was his last shelter," Amer added.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Now Let Us Praise Chester Arthur

On this Presidents' Day, it it worth remembering that some chief executives were obscure but worthy. Case in point: Chester Alan Arthur.

With the assassination of James A. Garfield in 1881, Vice President Arthur became president. Before his brief tenure in the second slot, he had been Collector of the Port of New York, where he dispensed patronage on behalf of New York's Republican machine. As chief executive, however, he became a born-again reformer. He signed the Pendleton Act, which established federal merit hiring. (It was the statute to which Vice President Al Gore was alluding in 1997, when he said that "no controlling legal authority" forbade him to make fundraising calls from the White House.)

Publisher Alexander K. McClure wrote of Arthur, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired from that highest civil trust of the world more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe."

Military and Society

Top Defense Department officials and other leaders began talking quietly last year about a “gap” or “split” between the military and the general population. But in recent weeks, they’ve been expressing those concerns more often and more boldly.

Former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), who lost his seat in Congress in November, warned early this month that “those who protect us are psychologically divorced from those who are being protected.”

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told House lawmakers on Wednesday that there’s a “growing disconnect between the American people and the military.” The public knows generically that their troops are at war, but “the day to day connections are less than they used to be, the depth and breadth of who we are and what we’re doing, isn’t there.”

It’s not a recruiting problem: All four services continue to hit or exceed their goals each year. It’s a perception problem: The wars, the military and its sacrifices are just not on most Americans’ minds, many top commanders and officials believe.

How could the U.S. military fight for almost a decade and yet drift away from — not closer toward — the public consciousness? And just how divorced from the realities of today’s military is the general public?

A smaller military, one that depends less on junior newcomers than on highly trained, professional volunteers, means fewer Americans have a diminishing number of relatives or friends who serve, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said. And even though, by one measure, American troops have now been fighting in Afghanistan longer than they did in Vietnam, today’s anti-war movement is much smaller and less visible, perhaps in part because young people don’t have to worry about being drafted.
(h/t Russell Page)

Meanwhile, some are not just indifferent but hostile. Annie Karni writes at The New York Post:

Columbia University students heckled a war hero during a town-hall meeting on whether ROTC should be allowed back on campus.

"Racist!" some students yelled at Anthony Maschek, a Columbia freshman and former Army staff sergeant awarded the Purple Heart after being shot 11 times in a firefight in northern Iraq in February 2008. Others hissed and booed the veteran.

Maschek, 28, had bravely stepped up to the mike Tuesday at the meeting to issue an impassioned challenge to fellow students on their perceptions of the military.

"It doesn't matter how you feel about the war. It doesn't matter how you feel about fighting," said Maschek. "There are bad men out there plotting to kill you."

Several students laughed and jeered the Idaho native, a 10th Mountain Division infantryman who spent two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington recovering from grievous wounds.

Maschek, who is studying economics, miraculously survived the insurgent attack in Kirkuk. In the hail of gunfire, he broke both legs and suffered wounds to his abdomen, arm and chest.

He enrolled last August at the Ivy League school, where an increasingly ugly battle is unfolding over the 42-year military ban there.

More than half of the students who spoke at the meeting -- the second of three hearings on the subject -- expressed opposition to ROTC's return. Many of the 200 students in the audience held anti-military placards with slogans such as, "1 in 3 female soldiers experiences sexual assault in the military."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

James Madison Comes to Kenya

In Kenya, Kepher Otenio writes at The Standard:

According to a political scientist, Wilson Agenya, each of the three branches has a specific function and the relationship among them is characterised by doctrine of separation of powers, which for many years has been overlooked.

...

"None of the three arms are supposed to interfere with the autonomous operations of the other because accumulation of power in the hands of one person may lead to tyranny and that is not the Kenya we want," he says. Agenya says Kenyan leaders must be ready to abide by the dictates of the new laws, which a third of the country’s 38 million population overwhelmingly endorsed at the referendum held on August 4, last year.

There must be checks and balances. This means each of the organs has the powers to check against the misuse of abuse of power by any of the trio otherwise one arm may abuse its powers and reign over others and House Speaker Kenneth Marende is on track and should be firm always.

Vice-President of East Africa Law society of Kenya Aggrey Mwamu concurs. He says the Judiciary and Legislature were now performing the bold roles that Kenyans have been expecting them to do in the past decades. Mr Mwamu praised the bold ruling by Mr Marende over the controversial nominations of judicial officers by the President, saying neither the Legislature nor the Judiciary should accept to be subdued by the Executive.

"The Executive must be ready to uphold the rule of law and should not behave as if its decrees were final. We are in a new era of new laws which we must follow its definitions and interpretations," said Mwamu.

While some Cabinet Ministers and legislators allied to Party of National Unity (PNU) led by Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta contested the ruling, claiming it was skewed in favour of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, others welcomed it.

Public Service Minister Dalmas Otieno said the rule of law must be upheld to the letter.

"The basic or core idea of the rule of law ... is that the Government must be able to point to some basis for its actions that is regarded as valid by the relevant legal system," Otieno told The Standard on Sunday.

Secondly, the rule of law requires that legal rules "should be capable of guiding one’s conduct in order to allow policy makers to effectively respond to growing demands of its people".

In other words, legal rules should meet a variety of criteria and should be prospective, not retrospective, that means they should be relatively stable and that there should be an independent Judiciary, Legislature and Executive.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Neither Business Nor Labor is Popular

The Pew Research Center reports:

The favorability ratings for labor unions remain at nearly their lowest level in a quarter century with 45% expressing a positive view. Yet the public expresses similar opinions about business corporations – 47% have a favorable impression – and this rating is also near a historic low.

Americans express mixed views of the impact of labor unions on salaries and working conditions, international competitiveness, job availability and productivity. About half (53%) say unions have had a positive effect on the salaries and benefits of union workers, while just 17% say they have had a negative effect. Views are similar about the impact of unions on working conditions for all workers (51% positive, 17% negative).

But as many say unions have a negative effect as a positive effect on workplace productivity and on the availability of good jobs in America. And more say that unions have a negative (36%) than positive (24%) impact on the ability of U.S. companies to compete internationally.


Texas Redistricting

As we explain in our chapter on elections and campaigns, partisan politics often drives the drawing of lines for congressional and legislative seats. Texas is a case in point, as the San Antonio Express-News explains:

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has “made it clear that he wants a map that reflects recent voting trends in Texas, that provides fair and effective representation for Texas in the coming decade and complies with all state and federal laws,” said spokesman Mike Walz.

Democrats still are smarting from the redistricting plan engineered in 2003 by then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. The plan was adopted, for the first time, without the benefit of a new census or the threat of a court order. Although DeLay had no official role in the process, he and his allies in the Texas House went to work drawing a congressional map that targeted every Democrat in Congress. They were spectacularly successful.

Two things are different this time.

“DeLay had the muscle to make it happen, but there's no DeLay around this time, and Dewhurst, because he's running for the Senate, doesn't want to make any enemies,” said political scientist Richard Murray of the University of Houston.

The second difference is a Justice Department run by a Democratic administration. Any redistricting plan the legislature draws must adhere to federal rules, most importantly voting rights rules. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act says minority areas can't be diluted. Democrats complain that political appointees in the Bush Justice Department ignored those rules when they approved the DeLay-driven redistricting plan.

“We don't need them (the Justice Department) to put the thumb on the scale to our advantage,” Democratic consultant Matt Angle said. “We just need them to be fair.”

Henry Flores, professor of political science and dean of the graduate school at St. Mary's University, pointed out the strength of the GOP.

“The Republicans now have supermajority, so they don't really have to negotiate with anybody on any plans. The Democrats are in the bleachers. They can leave the state if they want to, but that's OK, nobody's going to miss them.”

“Because a lot of the growth was driven by Hispanic areas, the way they rearrange the district lines is going to be very difficult. The new hybrid's going to be the Hispanic-Republican district. Then what you have to worry about is: Will those new district pass muster in the U.S. Department of Justice?”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reporters and Responsibility

At The Huffington Post, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes about Lara Logan, the CBS reporter who suffered a brutal sexual assault while covering protests in Egypt:
I do not speak for Ms. Logan or any other reporter who has worked in conflict zones or amid scenes of great upheaval. But I will take the liberty of answering the basic question of why Logan was there in the first place.

Because it is her job. Because she is good at it. And because it is what she does.

War reporters are often seen as a wild bunch of thrill-seekers who wade into danger zones simply for the sake of the adrenalin high the settings inevitably provide. But this one-dimensional explanation leaves out the core of the story, which is that reporters go to these places because they feel the tug of responsibility. The responsibility to tell stories in parts of the world that most of their readers will never see or know, despite the fact that their countries play a leading role in the imaginations of the men and women in countries like Egypt, and Afghanistan and Iraq.

...

It is possible I take the media attacks on Logan personally because, though we have never met, we share friends and colleagues in Afghanistan, where, since 2005, I have reported on the women whose strength and ingenuity saved their families during the Taliban years and the businesswomen who are boldy rebuilding their country today. In December I traveled to Afghanistan while nearly seven months pregnant to report on efforts to fight the scourge of maternal mortality in the country, one of the deadliest places in the world to be an expectant mother. My family and I told few people of the trip because we knew they would inevitably question the decision to go, despite the fact that I had done all possible to limit the risks. For me, it was about giving voice to those who would not otherwise have one and about telling stories I believe matter deeply. And it was about the sense of service and responsibility that calls you to journalism in the first place.

Days of Deliberation

At The Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel notes that deliberation has returned to the House floor, at least for now:

The 112th House of Representatives spent the week debating how to fund the rest of fiscal 2011. In sharp contrast to his recent predecessors, Speaker John Boehner is sticking to his vow to make the chamber more open and accountable. His committee chairmen having presented a base spending bill, Mr. Boehner threw open the floor for full discussion. Some 600 amendments came pouring in.

"Chaos," "a headache," "turmoil," "craziness," "confused," "wild," "uncontrolled" are just a few of the words the Washington press corps has used to describe the ensuing late-night debates. There's a far better word for what happened: democracy. It has been eons since the nation's elected representatives have had to study harder, debate with such earnestness, or commit themselves so publicly. Yes, it is messy. Yes, it is unpredictable. But as this Presidents Day approaches, it's a fabulous thing to behold.

..

Americans got to see what happens when members of Congress exercise their collective knowledge of the federal government. Mr. Issa put forward amendments to prohibit the National Institutes of Health from spending money studying the impact of yoga on hot flashes in menopausal women. Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum offered to strike funding for the Department of Defense to sponsor Nascar race cars. Indiana Republican Todd Rokita proposed getting rid of money provided for dissertation research under a 1970 Housing Act.

Neglected questions were once again asked. Should we get rid of federal funding for the arts? Should the government be designating federal monuments? What's the role of NASA? And Congress finally got to air some dirty secrets.

One of this week's more symbolically rich cuts came from Arizona's Republican Jeff Flake, who won an amendment erasing $34 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pa. The center, despite serving no real purpose, had been protected for decades, via earmarks, by the late Defense appropriations chair John Murtha.



Thursday, February 17, 2011

Perspectives from Britain and Canada

Events in the Middle East have given rise to deeper observations about government.

In the spirit of Tocqueville, Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair writes:
The reason religion is important is that it is about so much more than religion. It is about history, culture, tradition, belonging, identity and meaning. It is about the philosophy of life. It is about the spirit not the flesh.If the Middle East produces political change, without social change that is based on an open mind towards others, then it will have been a revolution half formed and unfinished and the economic change, so vital to advancing the position of the people, will likewise fall short. Such change cannot come without Islam and indeed all of us embracing the 21st Century. It is therefore our job at this moment to reach out; to open not close our own minds; to push forward for justice and for peace; to partner the modernisers and give them hope; and it is their job to lead, to reach back, to show that respect and equality between people of all faiths and none, is a purpose shared. This change can be managed over time and with care; but come it must.
...

So my point is very simple. Wherever you look today, religion matters. Faith motivates. Understanding faith, its adherents, its trends, its structures, can be as important as understanding a nation's GDP, its business, its resources. Religious awareness is as important as gender or race awareness. For politicians, business people; or just ordinary interested citizens, to know about a country's faith perspective is an essential part of comprehending it.

In the spirit of Madison, David Warren of The Ottawa Citizen writes:

The mob is now electronically summoned and enhanced, but, to return to where I started, this does not make it any easier to argue with, nor contribute to the possibilities for mature and intelligent deliberation over the path ahead. It instead creates a new and much broader field for anarchy. From anarchy to totalitarianism is one Persian step.

(Also see post from February 13.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Value of a Life

As we explain in our chapter on bureaucracy, government organizations generate many statistics. One controversial number is the value of a human life, as The New York Times explains:

To protests from business and praise from unions, environmentalists and consumer groups, one agency after another has ratcheted up the price of life, justifying tougher — and more costly — standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency set the value of a life at $9.1 million last year in proposing tighter restrictions on air pollution. The agency used numbers as low as $6.8 million during the George W. Bush administration.

The Food and Drug Administration declared that life was worth $7.9 million last year, up from $5 million in 2008, in proposing warning labels on cigarette packages featuring images of cancer victims.

The Transportation Department has used values of around $6 million to justify recent decisions to impose regulations that the Bush administration had rejected as too expensive, like requiring stronger roofs on cars.

And the numbers may keep climbing. In December, the E.P.A. said it might set the value of preventing cancer deaths 50 percent higher than other deaths, because cancer kills slowly. A report last year financed by the Department of Homeland Security suggested that the value of preventing deaths from terrorism might be 100 percent higher than other deaths.

Arizona Senate Seat

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has announced that he will not seek reelection next year. Such announcement tend to spur discussion of possible successors, as this news item suggests:

Dr. Charles W. Dunn is the distinguished professor of government at Regent University's Robertson School of Government and has held several staff positions with the House and Senate. He says there is one Democrat who could be the heavy favorite to take the seat. (Listen to audio report)

"If Congresswoman [Gabrielle] Giffords were to recover [from her wound], she would be the frontrunner," says the political scientist, referring to the Democratic lawmaker who was shot on January 8 in Tucson. "Her name recognition and her favorability ratings would go up through the ceiling. But her recovery -- that's the key. And then if she does recover, whether she would want to seek it."

Dunn says GOP hopefuls might include Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, but certainly former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who he believes would have to be top on the list. "He did reasonably well as a member of the U.S. House, [but] lost in [2006] when many Republicans lost...," says the educator. "He's articulate. He is conservative. He would probably be the odds-on favorite out of the starting gate to get the Republican nomination."

But Dunn says Hayworth probably made some political enemies when he mounted a primary challenge to John McCain last year -- and that, he believes, could pose a problem.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Education at the Local Level

As we note in our federalism chapter, there are 13,051 school districts in the United States. They do not have a free hand, as they must deal with various state and federal requirements. A good example comes from The Narberth-Bala Cynwyd [Pennsylvania] Patch reports:

Tuesday night at Narberth Borough Hall, at the tail end of its regular meeting, the Lower Merion and Narberth Democratic Committee hosted a forum with the Democratic candidates for the five Lower Merion School District Board of Directors seats set to open at the end of the current term.

...

Marrissa Golden, a professor of Political Science at Bryn Mawr College with a daughter in the district, wondered if the pressure to achieve, a pressure she attributes in part to programs like No Child Left Behind, is doing harm to students. She said her top priority if elected would be to target and mollify the underlying causes of the achievement gap rather than scramble for superficial solutions.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Earmarks as Lubricant

In our chapter on Congress, we discuss targeted expenditures, or earmarks. In his weekly address, the president promised to veto any bill that contains earmarks:



But as Eliza Newlin Carney writes at National Journal, earmarks have sometimes served a purpose in the legislative process:

As House conservatives push for ever-deeper spending cuts, a tough question confronts GOP leaders: What sweetener will convince their rank and file to swallow bitter budget medicine?

In the past, that sweetener would have been earmarks, the local pork barrel projects that lawmakers could trumpet to constituents back home. Now earmarks are gone, or at least drastically curtailed, banished first by Republicans and more recently by President Obama and Senate Democrats.

...

“You need certain tools to make legislation flow, and this was a great tool,” said former Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., now a government affairs counselor at the law firm of K&L Gates. Walsh should know: He served 16 years on the House Appropriations Committee and chaired four Appropriations subcommittees while on Capitol Hill. Earmarks “always get criticized,” Walsh added. “But if you’re in the room making sausage, you need to round up votes.”

Indeed, research suggests that “when members get an earmark, they are more likely to vote for the appropriations bill,” said Diana Evans, a professor of political science at Trinity College in Connecticut and author of “Greasing the Wheels: Using Pork Barrel Projects to Build Majority Coalitions in Congress.”

...

For some lobbying firms that helped create the earmarks boom, such as Cassidy & Associates, the moratorium already represents the end of an era. The firm has lost its chief executive and let go of some 20 percent of its staff amid a restructuring.

But lobbyists aren’t the only ones disappointed to see earmarks go. Many lawmakers have supported the ban only very reluctantly. GOP House leaders, in particular, might soon wish they had a few more carrots to hand out with their budget sticks. Said Evans: “I don’t think we’re going to see an end of targeted expenditures.”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Egypt and the Federalist

Democracy and liberty are not identical. In Federalist 10, Madison wrote:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community ... If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.

To prevent tyranny, the Framers devised a system of federalism, bicameralism, and separated powers.

Egypt now faces the challenge of reconciling liberty and democracy, because the prospect of majority faction is very real. A 2010 Pew Research Center survey found the following percentage of Egyptian Muslims in support of:

  • Requiring segregation of men and women in the workplace: 54%
  • Whipping or cutting off the hands of thieves and robbers: 77%
  • Stoning adulterers: 82%
  • Executing those who leave the Muslim religion: 84%


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Independents

In our chapter on political parties, we discuss the concept of party identification. In The California Journal of Politics and Policy, Edward L. Lascher, Jr. and John L. Korey explode some myths about independent voters in California:
Most California independents lean toward one or the other major political and this has changed little over time. Pure independents amount to only about one in 10 voters. Independents leaning toward one of the major parties tend to have voting preferences similar to those who at least weakly identify with the Republicans or Democrats. Partisanship dominates vote choices. With respect to civic engagement, pure independents are mainly distinguished by their lower interest in politics, weaker commitment to voting in upcoming elections, and lower levels of knowledge about basic facts of government and politics.

We do not wish to argue that partisanship in the mass public has been static. Indeed, our prior research emphasized a pronounced shift toward the Democrats among California adults during the 1990s and analyzed some of the reasons for this major change. We also find evidence in California for the ideological sorting emphasized by other scholars examining the United States as a whole. That is, liberals in the state are more consistently Democrats and conservatives more consistently Republicans than was the case in the past. ... So it is not the case that parties at the mass level are “forever the same” in the Golden State. However, what does seem inaccurate is the notion that Californians are losing their party moorings.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Egypt and the American Public

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only 48 percent of Americans say that they have read or heard "a lot" about anti-government protests in Egypt. Despite heavy media coverage over the past several weeks, 38 percent say that they have heard only "a little," and 13 percent say "nothing at all."

Despite the intense media focus on Egypt, Americans appear to be fairly mild in their calculations of its importance. There is minimal evidence that the average American considers the Egypt situation to be a major international crisis as far as its impact on the United States is concerned.

Egypt barely registers when Americans are asked to name the most important problem facing the country today. Domestic economic issues and in particular jobs overwhelm every other concern. The Feb 2-5 Gallup survey finds .5% (5 people out of 1015) mentioning Egypt as the most important problem.

Less than half of Americans say what happens in Egypt is vitally important to the U.S. Egypt ranks 9th on a list of 12 countries rated on this dimension. China dwarfs all other countries as vitally important, no doubt reflecting its economic prowess in today's international marketplace. Other countries seen as at least marginally more important than Egypt to U.S. interests include North Korea, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, and Pakistan.
The Pew Research Center also provides background data on American priorities for foreign policy:
In the most recent "America's Place in the World" survey, conducted in November 2009, just 21% said promoting democracy abroad should be a top long-range priority for U.S. foreign policy. Democracy promotion ranked last on a list of 11 long-term foreign policy objectives. The most widely shared goals -- protecting the nation against terrorist attacks and protecting the jobs of American workers -- were cited by 85% each.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Grassroots, Astroturf, and Speed Cameras

In our chapter on interest groups (p. 289), we talk about "astroturf" -- "grassroots" activism that has support from professionals. In our chapters on mass media and political participation, we also discuss ways in which activists are using blogs and social media. A story in the Lutherville-Timonium Patch illustrates both themes:

Sarah Dennis started the Facebook group "Slow Down for Baltimore County Schools" in January because she and her friends support more speed cameras in school zones.

"I just figured I'd put it up on the web," said Dennis, a Rodgers Forge mother of two and a special education teacher for Baltimore County Public Schools.

The group quickly attracted 357 “likes” from people who support a County Council bill that, if approved Monday, will authorize an unlimited expansion of the county’s current network of 15 speed cameras.

But the grassroots effort to win council support has a powerful friend not found on its Facebook page: ACS State and Local Solutions, the company that holds the county’s speed camera contract and stands to financially benefit from the pending legislation.

Kearney O’Doherty (KO) Public Affairs, the politically connected strategy firm hired by ACS, has helped Slow Down for Baltimore County Schools communicate with County Council members and expand its base of support by establishing a separate website that sends e-mails to the elected officials and drives more “likes” to the Facebook page.

...

Unlike with disclosure rules for lobbying groups, nothing prohibits political strategy firms from working behind the scenes to align the interests of grassroots groups with those of their corporate clients.

But political observers say public awareness of such activity is important so that elected officials and citizens know when a company with a financial interest in pending legislation is backing a grassroots group with a public interest in the bill.

“It’s information people should know,” said Paul Herrnson, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship and a professor of government and politics. “It’s not unusual for a company to try to get its way.”

...

In Maryland, groups like the Maryland Jockey Club and Penn National have financed anti-slots community groups — not because the companies were against expanded gaming, but because they wanted to influence where the machines were placed, said Matthew Crenson, chairman emeritus of Johns Hopkins University’s political science department.

The practice of companies helping grassroots groups "is so common they have a name for it — 'Astroturf democracy'"—as opposed to “grassroots,” said Crenson, who did not comment specifically on Kearney O'Doherty Public Affairs’ involvement in the speed camera issue.

"For every public group there is a private or corporate organization that has an interest in their efforts," Crenson said. "In a way, it's good. Small public groups get access to consulting and support services they might not otherwise have. They're getting access to the political system that they wouldn't have had otherwise."


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Giffords Staff

As Representative Gabrielle Giffords works to recover from her wound, her staff keeps her office going. Jonathan Allen writes at Politico:

At the center of the entire Giffords operation is her 30-year-old chief of staff, Pia Carusone, who has been running Giffords’s Tucson and Washington offices from spartan side rooms at Houston’s TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital with her BlackBerry, a Mac computer and a tiny, 3-by-5-inch reporter’s notebook containing four weeks’ worth of daily to-do lists. She cadged the notebook from an FBI agent in Arizona when she realized she needed to keep track of all her tasks.

...

What’s most remarkable about Carusone’s uncommon resolve and dedication to service is how common those traits are in Giffords’s world.

[Staff member Gabe] Zimmerman [who died in the shooting], for example, shared Giffords's passion for public service, his colleagues say, setting the example for how to close cases for constituents who needed help navigating a bureaucracy.

"He was everything you could want in a supervisor, friend, and congressional staffer. Kind, smart, thoughtful, thorough and so many more wonderful attributes. A beautiful man," said Amanda Sapir, a case worker in Giffords’ office. "We all continue a deep commitment to helping people in his honor and to fulfill the Congresswoman’s charge to care for one another and help as many of her constituents as possible."

By the morning of Jan. 10, the district office in a small complex here was open for business.

“Of course,” office manager Joni Jones said in an interview in a district office conference room Tuesday, “Gabby would want us to open.”


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ideology and Academia

John Tierney writes in The New York Times:

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”

It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

Stephen Dubner writes at the Freakonomics blog:

The lack of diversity isn’t actually “statistically impossible” in a self-selecting group. But that of course is the point. How can it be that an academic field is so politically homogeneous? What kind of biases does such homogeneity produce? What sort of ideas get crowded out? And how homogeneous are other disciplines?

I have to say that I was surprised at the overt political (leftward) bias exhibited by several prominent economists at the recent American Economics Association meetings, although my sample set was quite small.

It is interesting — and sobering — that two fields, psychology and economics, that we rely upon to describe and amend bias in the world are themselves so susceptible to bias within the ranks of their practitioners.

Addendum: here’s a link to Daniel Klein’s ongoing survey about policy views within academia (HT: JBriggerman)

State PACs

As we note in our chapter on elections and campaigns (p. 352), state and federal elections operate according to different rules, especially when it comes to campaign finance. At National Journal, Eliza Newlin Carney reports on state political action committees, which do not have to report their finances to the Federal Election Commission.

At a time when campaign finance rules look increasingly quaint and obsolete, it should come as no surprise that the latest crop of presidential hopefuls is exploiting secretive, unregulated state PACs to test the waters for 2012.

Still, the return of soft money—the unlimited donations from otherwise-banned corporate and union donors—signals a new milestone in the march toward rules-free elections. Critics say such state PACs, which have pulled in close to $3 million collectively for at least five GOP White House contenders, are an end-run around federal contribution limits and reporting rules.

...

Little-regulated state PACs help prospective candidates pay for office supplies, staff, and travel; shower donations on local officials who’ll help choose convention delegates; and test their fundraising heft in a campaign in which President Obama could spend $1 billion.

“The state PACs have become the most invisible part of what’s known as the invisible primary,” said Anthony Corrado, professor of government at Colby College. “It really is a pre-campaign campaign.”

Presidential leadership PACs with state affiliates are not new, but state campaign committees fell out of favor when Congress banned soft money in 2002. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act still bars federal officeholders from raising soft money through non-federal vehicles such as state PACs. But most of this year’s GOP presidential contenders do not hold federal office, which partly explains renewed interest in state PACs. It also points up an unintended consequence of the 2002 ban.

“It places prospective federal contenders at a relative disadvantage to those who don’t hold federal office,” noted Corrado. “And it has increased the premium on being out of office in launching a presidential bid.”

Monday, February 7, 2011

Huffington Post and AOL

In our chapter on mass media, we discuss the trend toward greater consolidation, whereby relatively few big corporations own a growing share of media outlets (pp. 363-365). One critic of consolidation was Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post. In 2004, she wrote in The American Prospect:
Having the media controlled by roughly 20 or so megacorporations has clearly had a deleterious effect -- lessening competition, squelching dissent, choking off debate, and elevating profit over the public good.
Today, she announced that AOL is acquiring the Huffington Post. She writes:
By combining HuffPost with AOL's network of sites, thriving video initiative, local focus, and international reach, we know we'll be creating a company that can have an enormous impact, reaching a global audience on every imaginable platform.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reagan at 100

Ronald Reagan would have been 100 day. Here is his first inaugural address:



Here is his 1964 campaign speech for Barry Goldwater, which put him on the national political map:


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Two Views of American Exceptionalism

Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Tocqueville thought America to be singular quite apart from the favorable circumstances permitting it to grow and flourish on its own without much interference from Europe. In the introduction to his book, he said he saw in America "more than America . . . an image of democracy itself." Special to America was not only that it believed in democracy and practiced it as best it could, as if straining to fulfill the demands of a theory of democracy. Rather, the theory or the "image" was shown in the practice of democracy, because America was democracy complete and as a whole, the material and source of its image.

In speaking of democracy in America—the title of his book—Tocqueville confirmed and went beyond what Alexander Hamilton said on the first page of the Federalist by way of explaining American Exceptionalism. Hamilton wrote that America was deciding by its conduct and example the question of whether good government could be thoughtfully chosen or was just a matter of chance. America was special because it would answer a theoretical question never before answered, not by thinking up a new theory but by means of its own practice. Tocqueville agreed and then actually found the new theory in its practice. His book on America told the rest of the civilized world what to expect in its future, as America was unique in displaying a complete democracy. It was not unique in being superior to all other peoples for all time, as implied in the boastful, irritable American patriotism Tocque ville found so objectionable.

In The Nation, Greg Grandin writes:

In the hands of Palin, Beck, et al., American Exceptionalism boils down to little more than a synonym for the tautology “we are powerful because we are God-blessed; we are God-blessed because we are powerful.” Yet sweep away the congratulatory cant about a “city on a hill” and “light unto the world” and you will find two fundamentals that do in fact underwrite US uniqueness: a stronger stress on individual rights, particularly property rights, than that found in other democracies (particularly social democracies), balanced against an equally strong commitment to anti-populism, meant to diffuse the passions generated by a too extreme pursuit of individualism. I’m sure those familiar with other areas of US foreign policy can point to other examples, but I’ve found repeated instances, running from the American Revolution through the cold war, where US political elites defined their brand of sober republicanism against what they labeled an irresponsible variety in Latin America, which not only trespassed against private property in the name of social justice but whipped up a crowd to do so.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Reagan and Religion

In our chapter on American civic culture, we discuss how religion has shaped American public lie. At the Religion News Service, Paul Kengor of Grove City College writes:

Retrospectives on Ronald Reagan as the nation marks the centennial of his birth will touch upon every imaginable aspect of the man. I suspect, however, that the thing most integral to the man, and most consistent throughout his life -- his religious faith -- might get pushed aside.

That was something I learned quite unintentionally, in the summer of 2001, when I was at the Reagan library researching what I thought would be a fairly conventional biography. I scoured a fascinating cache of documents called the Handwriting File. There, I glimpsed Reagan's literal input -- in speeches, proclamations, you name it.

And it was there, in marked-up drafts of speeches such as the "Evil Empire" address, that I also encountered an intensely religious Reagan.

He was making constant, seamless references to God. I found eye-opening private letters, including one where Reagan employed C.S. Lewis' classic "liar, Lord, or lunatic" argument to, essentially, evangelize the Christian message.

More here.

The "Evil Empire" speech, which drew its name from the term that President Reagan applied to the Soviet Union, was a 1983 address to the National Association of Evangelicals:


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Voting Rights and Redistricting

A court case provides a window into civil rights policy, federalism, the redistricting process, and the role of the judiciary. Cameron Joseph writes at National Journal:

A key federal Appeals Court on Wednesday will hear a legal challenge to the Voting Rights Act, the 45-year-old law that ended more than a century of discrimination at the polls, remade the political landscape of the South--and could be a powerful shield for embattled Democrats in congressional redistricting fights.

The case, which appears certain to end up in the Supreme Court, comes at a critical moment: State lawmakers across the country are preparing for the once-a-decade redrawing of legislative and congressional district lines after the 2010 census.

...

At stake are key provisions of a venerable civil-rights law designed to eliminate the kinds of discriminatory practices that, for decades before its passage, kept minorities away from the polls and out of office. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires regions with a history of voter discrimination, most of them in the South, to submit their congressional and legislative district maps to the Justice Department or the D.C. Circuit Court for "preclearance," or approval. Section 4(b) of the law defines the areas that have to submit to preclearance based on their history of civil-rights violations.

...

If the Court does strike down preclearance, civil-rights groups would still be able to sue to have maps changed. But that process is much longer, costlier, and less certain than a decision by a friendly Justice Department. "With the private action, the cases have to be privately financed," [David] Bositis [of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies] said. "For civil-rights groups, there's never enough money."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Voters Know about State Finances

Deliberation depends on information. In our chapter on public opinion and political participation, we note that voters are not always well-informed on public issues. One example comes from the Public Policy Institute of California, which reports on a recent poll of the state's voters:
Most Californians’ views about the budget are not based on an understanding of where the money comes from and where it goes. A majority of adults say they have some knowledge (39%) or a lot of knowledge (15%) about how state and local governments spend and raise money. But given a list of the four top state spending categories—K–12 public education, health and human services, higher education, and prisons and corrections—just 16 percent (22% likely voters) correctly name K–12 education as the area where the most money is spent. A plurality of adults (45%) and likely voters (41%) name prisons and corrections, which is actually fourth largest. On the revenue side, just 29 percent of adults (33% likely voters) correctly name the personal income tax as the top source. Only 6 percent of adults and 9 percent of likely voters are able to identify both the state’s top area of spending and its top revenue source.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Transparency and Deliberative Democracy

Matt Leighninger of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium writes at Online Opinion about a problem of transparency. Access to information often empowers a relatively small number of citizens to participate ferociously. These "expert citizens" exercise outsized influence.

For some time, smart and experienced local leaders have been dealing with these challenges, and trying to tap the new capacities of ordinary people, by organizing large-scale “deliberative democracy” initiatives. Typically, these projects involve large, diverse numbers of people (“going beyond the usual suspects” is a common phrase), and create environments where citizens compare notes on their experiences, learn more about the issues, and talk through what they think government should do. Some of these efforts also build in opportunities for action planning, so that citizens can decide how they want to contribute to solving public problems (in addition to making recommendations for government).

Transparency can enrich deliberative democracy, but not replace it. We need larger numbers of people to be involved in public discussions, and we need those people talking with each other, not just to government. Without initiatives and structures that will produce that sort of participation, transparency will simply give more information to journalists and active citizens who are trying to expose government misconduct and misjudgment, champion tax revolts and other anti-government measures, and oppose decisions and policies they don’t like.

It is of course beneficial to expose the errors and transgressions of public officials – there is truth to the favorite quote of transparency advocates, Louis Brandeis’ 1914 pronouncement that “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” But while transparency makes government cleaner, it won’t necessarily make it better. By itself, transparency doesn’t change the arms-length relationship between citizens and government: it just gives more ammunition to those who are inclined to throw stones.