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Thursday, June 30, 2011

US Global Standing

The Pew Research Center reports on a different survey, with different questions, yielding somewhat different results:
Despite the struggling economy and broad dissatisfaction with national conditions, the public has a positive view of the United States’ global standing. But more think that the U.S. is one of the greatest countries in the world than say it stands above all other countries.

Slightly more than half (53%) say that the United States “is one of the greatest countries in the world, along with some others.” Fewer (38%) say that the U.S. “stands above all other countries in the world.” Just 8% think that “there are other countries that are better than the U.S.”

As in the past, the public remains confident in the nation’s ability to solve major problems. Nearly six-in-ten (57%) say that “as Americans, we can always find ways to solve our problems and get what we want.” Just 37% say “this country can’t solve many of its important problems.” Opinions are little changed from previous surveys. In 2004, 59% expressed confidence in the American people’s ability to tackle major problems.

These findings come from the Pew Research Center’s 2011 Political Typology survey, conducted in February and March and released May 4, 2011. The survey shows wide partisan differences in views of America’s global standing: 52% of Republicans say the U.S. stands above all other countries compared with just a third each of Democrats and independents.

FEC and Colbert's Super PAC

National Journal reports on Stephen Colbert's super PAC:
The Federal Election Commission has approved an advisory opinion that will allow comedian Stephen Colbert to use funds from a media conglomerate to create advertisements for his independent expenditure-only political action committee.

But the commission voted, by a five to one margin, that those advertisements could not be run outside of Colbert's show, opting for the most narrow interpretation of the media exemption out of three drafts presented to commission members.
In filing his initial request for an advisory opinion, Colbert sought to take advantage of an exemption traditionally used to allow media outlets to report and comment on campaigns and endorse candidates without having their work considered “in-kind” political contributions, triggering filing and disclosure requirements with the Federal Election Commission.

The request came down to one essential issue: whether Viacom can legally donate production costs, airtime and use of Colbert's staff to create ads for the so-called super PAC, to be played both on "The Colbert Report" and as paid advertisements other networks and shows.

The commission said no, ruling that once ads created using Viacom resources were broadcast on other networks, Viacom would have to report them as political contributions.

Colbert recently reflected on super PACs:

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pledges on Spending and Taxes

Politico reports that a new anti-spending pledge has not caught on as fast as its sponsors had hoped:

GOP leaders and rank-and-file members alike have voiced support for the underlying principles of the new pledge, which would require them to oppose hiking the debt limit without first adopting a balanced-budget amendment and other major spending reforms.

But lawmakers are wary of how drafters of the pledge will interpret its meaning and whether the oath will hamstring Republicans amid a crucial round of debt and deficit negotiations with the White House that kicked off this week.

“I think I’ve kind of supported enough pledges,” freshman Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told POLITICO. “I’ve restricted myself too much this Congress.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), one of Sarah Palin’s conservative “Mama Grizzlies” who signed Norquist’s anti-tax pledge while running for election last year, said she wouldn’t ink her name to the new pledge. And she’s not certain she’ll sign any others in the future.

“I support the concepts in their pledge, but what matters most is my pledge to uphold the United States Constitution,” Ayotte told POLITICO. “I’m looking very carefully at all pledges because I want to make sure I support the underlying concepts. People who draft pledges tend to define what they mean differently.”

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, Republican Conference chairman, said much the same: “My only pledge is to the United States of America.”

On The Colbert Report
, Grover Norquist explains the anti-tax pledge that he has persuaded many Republicans to sign:

Polls on Patriotism

At the American Enterprise Institute, Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg have released a comprehensive collection of data about patriotism, from surveys by major pollsters. Among the findings:
  • Overt displays of patriotism have lessened since September 11th. But patriotic sentiment is still strong. In a May 2011 CBS poll, 61 percent described themselves as extremely proud to be an American and 25 percent very proud. Only 1 percent said they were only a little or not at all proud.
  • What is considered patriotic? Voting (78 percent), saying the Pledge of Allegiance (70 percent), working hard at your job (62 percent), volunteering in your community (61 percent) and paying your fair share of taxes (61 percent) ranked at the top as very patriotic activities. Accepting what government officials say without questioning ranked last, with only 11 percent saying it was very patriotic [Greenberg/Quinlan/Rosner Research poll].
  • A substantial majority of Americans say serving in the military is a sign of patriotism.
  • The military is one of the most positively viewed institutions in the country. In Gallup's June 2011 survey, 78 percent had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military. It was the highest ranked institution in the poll.
  • Although historical data on college students' patriotism are not available, a near majority of them (48 percent) in a poll taken soon after 9/11 described themselves as very patriotic and another 44 percent as somewhat patriotic. In October 2004, those responses were 39 and 49 percent, respectively.

Deliberative Poll in California -- Mathews's Observations

At Fox and Hounds, Joe Mathews reflects on last weekend's deliberative poll in California. One item that got attention was the complexity of government (which we discuss at the start of our chapter on federalism):
It was striking how smart and thoughtful the participants were. It was also striking just how difficult it was for them to understand California's strange and complex governing system. They had particular trouble with unlocking the state and local government relations. One sub-group I witnessed was so utterly defeated and confused that I'm pretty confident that no one in the group was able to conclude much of anything.

In fact, the dutiful nature of the people in these groups - and their desire to understand exactly how things work and the history of how we got into this - worked against them in these conversations. Because the history is so long and complicated - so many legislative acts and ballot measures - sometimes the conversation seemed to get bogged down in attempts to untangle the history. Conversations were more productive when people ditched the background and simply talked about the values and principles they wanted in a particular policy area, and talked about what might work best.

The lesson I took from this: it's just too hard to build reforms of the governing system on the current system. We are far better off starting from scratch - with a blank page and new constitution.

Our chapter on elections notes that the average member of the California Assembly represents 137 times as many people as his or her New Hampshire counterpart. The participants saw the numbers as a problem:
One idea that seemed to stand out in the conversation - and have broad appeal --was the idea that the legislature should be bigger.

That is to say, California legislators represent too many people - and thus the size of the legislature should be expanded. The notion of also going from a two-house legislature to a unicameral also seemed to have appeal. This was surprising because the conventional wisdom is that voters would never support anything that would involve creating more elected officials.

Why did this catch on? My suspicion is that, over a weekend in which deliberators struggled with all kinds of competing views on complicated issue, the math and arguments here were relatively clean and easy. The deliberators saw numbers showing how little representation they get compared to the rest of the country: California Assembly members represent more than three times as many people as lower-house representatives in large states - and ten times more people than the national average.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Religion and Electoral Politics

Gallup reports:
Very religious Americans remain significantly more likely than those less religious to identify as Republicans or lean Republican, and nonreligious Americans are more likely to identify as Democrats or lean Democratic. This strong relationship between religion and party identification has persisted over the past three years and four months, regardless of overall, broad partisan changes.

The detailed breakdown of approximately 30,000 interviews conducted in May 2011 shows that very religious Americans are 19 percentage points more likely to identify as Republicans than are the nonreligious, 48% vs. 29%.

Very religious Americans are 10 points more likely to be Republican than Democratic -- 48% vs. 38%. Among moderately religious Americans, there is a Democratic advantage of 8 points. Among nonreligious Americans, the Democratic advantage increases to 25 points.
At The Atlantic, Chris Good notes that religious affiliation is an advantage for Michele Bachmann in the Iowa caucuses:
Working to her advantage in Iowa is this possibly overlooked facet of her political identity: She can pull support both from evangelical Christians and from tea-party Republicans and independents, two important groups that overlap. GOP political infrastructure is heavy on evangelical influence in Iowa, where conservative Christian groups hold public events and can broker support. Bachmann is an evangelical Christian herself and has taken conservative stances on social issues.
At the Washington Post, Elizabeth Tenety writes:

A 2005 study by Barna revealed that 83 percent of Americans said they had prayed in the last week, putting Bachmann well into the devout mainstream. Politicians, like many religious people, talk about their faith because it is central to how they see the world, and because it’s a language that many voters understand. But Bachmann’s political reach may be limited, as the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that only 26 percent of Americans identify as evangelical Protestants, and her distinctly Christian approach to her political vocation may not resonate with a wider audience.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Congressional Democrats v. President Obama

House Democrats have their differences with the president, as James Madison could have predicted.

Pelosi can no longer get things done in the House — or stop them. She and her diminished caucus have been rendered all but irrelevant as President Obama and congressional Republicans accelerate the fight over spending, taxes and debt.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a close confidant of Pelosi’s, acknowledged the tensions between the White House and House Democrats. “Not great. Not great,” Miller said. “Listen, this is a rough-and-tumble world, but I think their relationship with the caucus has not been good.”
At times, The Hill reports, House Democratic attitudes extend beyond dissatisfaction to outright opposition:
A House Democrat warned Friday that the U.S. president is becoming an "absolute monarch" on matters related to the authority to start a war.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Congress must act to limit funding for military operations in Libya in order to correct that trend.

"We have been sliding for 70 years to a situation where Congress has nothing to do with the decision about whether to go to war or not, and the president is becoming an absolute monarch," Nadler said on the floor. "And we must put a stop to that right now, if we don't want to become an empire instead of a republic."

"I think that the nation's credibility, that is to say its promise to go to war as backed by the president, not by the Congress, ought to be damaged," he said.

The Civil War and the Second World War

At the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Josiah Bunting III reflects on General George C. Marshall and the links between our two biggest wars:
There are many links between the Civil War and the World War II. We tend to forget them. I’m going to talk a little about George Marshall within his generation. Marshall was born in 1880, the same year as Douglas MacArthur. He grew up in a small town, a suburb of Pittsburgh, surrounded by veterans of the Civil War. For that generation, that was their “great generation.” If you were 20 years old and had fought at Chancellorsville or Antietam or Gettysburg, you were still a relatively young person in the early 1890s. You’d be in your middle or late 40s. So if you were a doctor, a lawyer, an executive, a teacher in small town America, you were the person that people looked up to. Yet, the great military figures of that war were the people you aspired to be if you had any interest in the military.

Some of the links between the two wars are quite charming and unexpected. For example, Henry “Hap” Arnold, the chief of the Air Corps in World War II, was decorating workers at a B-29 factory in Wichita in 1943, and the foreman introduced a woman in her 70s, saying, “This is our best worker” The woman was Helen Longstreet, widow of the Civil War solider James Longstreet. He had lived a long life and married a young woman. Consequently, you still had people serving in World War II who had those connections to the Civil War.
On the eve of the Second World War, the United States observed the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. There were still enough living veterans to hold a reunion, and Franklin Roosevelt addressed them:

Supreme Court on Arizona Campaign-Finance Law

The Wall Street Journal reports on Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett :
A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down an Arizona campaign-finance law that offered extra public funding to state political candidates who faced well-heeled opponents.

Arizona said its public-financing system promoted free speech by giving candidates the opportunity to run for office without depending on private political donors. But the law's challengers—five conservative politicians and two political action committees—said the law stifled free speech. They argued that, when they raised and spent money to promote their messages, their speech was punished because it triggered government subsidies to their rivals.

The Supreme Court's conservative majority agreed with the challengers in a 5-4 ruling.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, the latest in a series of rulings where the court's conservative majority has overturned efforts to increase regulation of campaign funding.

"Laws like Arizona's…that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand," he wrote, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The newest justice, Elena Kagan, wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. She argued that states had legitimately sought to keep elections clean by keeping "massive pools of private money from corrupting our political system."

The Institute for Justice celebrated victory in the case. It earlier produced a video explaining its argument against the Arizona law:

Supreme Court on Violent Video Games

AP reports on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association:

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to let California regulate the sale or rental of violent video games to children, saying governments do not have the power to "restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed" despite complaints about graphic violence.

On a 7-2 vote, the high court upheld a federal appeals court decision to throw out the state's ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento had ruled that the law violated minors' rights under the First Amendment, and the high court agreed.

"No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm," said Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion. "But that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed."


But Justice Clarence Thomas, who dissented from the decision along with Justice Stephen Breyer, said the majority read something into the First Amendment that isn't there.

"The practices and beliefs of the founding generation establish that "the freedom of speech," as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors' parents or guardians," Thomas wrote.

See oral argument here.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cheers, Boos, Mexico, and the United States

Bill Plaschke writes in The Los Angeles Times:
It was imperfectly odd. It was strangely unsettling. It was uniquely American.

On a balmy early Saturday summer evening, the U.S soccer team played for a prestigious championship in a U.S. stadium … and was smothered in boos.Its fans were vastly outnumbered.

Its goalkeeper was bathed in a chanted obscenity. Even its national anthem was filled with the blowing of air horns and bouncing of beach balls.

Most of these hostile visitors didn't live in another country. Most, in fact, were not visitors at all, many of them being U.S. residents whose lives are here but whose sporting souls remain elsewhere.

Welcome to another unveiling of that social portrait known as a U.S.-Mexico soccer match, streaked as always in deep colors of red, white, blue, green … and gray.

"I love this country, it has given me everything that I have, and I'm proud to be part of it," said Victor Sanchez, a 37-year-old Monrovia resident wearing a Mexico jersey. "But yet, I didn't have a choice to come here, I was born in Mexico, and that is where my heart will always be."

... Rather amazingly, the Mexico fans kept bouncing and cheering under headbands and sombreros, nobody moving an inch, the giant Rose Bowl jammed for a postgame trophy ceremony for perhaps the first time in its history.

And, yes, when the U.S. team was announced one final time, it was once again booed.

"We're not booing the country, we're booing the team," Sanchez said. "There is a big difference."

Iowa Caucus Poll

Our chapter on elections and campaigns describes the presidential nominating process, including the Iowa party caucuses. The Detroit News reports:
Michigan native Mitt Romney and tea party star Michele Bachmann have an early edge against Republican presidential rivals in the key state of Iowa, according to new poll of likely Republican Iowa caucus-goers.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who placed second in the first-of-the-nation caucus state in the 2008 Republican nomination battle, garnered 23 percent of support while Bachmann received 22 percent, according to the poll conducted for The Des Moines Register. The poll comes about eight months before the Iowa caucuses, which will be held Feb. 6 and mark the kickoff of the nomination process.

The poll did not test support for Rep. Thad McCotter, R-Livonia, because he hasn't decided whether he will enter the presidential race. Those polled were allowed to add their preference for candidates not yet announced, but none named McCotter, Des Moines Register political columnist Kathie Obradovich told The News.
The big winner of the poll is Iowa native and Minnesota congresswoman Bachmann, who formally launches her campaign Monday in Waterloo, her birthplace. The poll's big loser was former Minnesota Tim Pawlenty, who netted just 6 percent of support despite setting up a big organization in the state in his effort to position himself up as the best establishment alternative to Romney.

"This is very important for Michele Bachmann," said Grand Valley State University political science professor Erika King. "It gives her more of a sense to say, 'Look, I have the backing of actual voters polled.' It helps with media coverage and with fundraising."

Michael Traugott, a political science professor at the University of Michigan, said McCotter faces an uphill battle in Iowa should he decide to run for president.

"He is starting too late. Most of the good (political) resources are gone," Traugott said. "This is why it is getting too late for Sarah Palin, who has name recognition and can raise money, but all of the biggest consultants and organizers have been taken up by others."

But Grand Valley's King said McCotter, by elevating his name recognition and stature as a national figure, could enhance his chances of being considered as by the eventual Republican presidential nominee for his or her vice presidential running mate. "That has happened before," she said.

At Politico, Mike Allen reminds us that early Iowa polls do not necessarily predict the outcome:

"The Register’s headline on its first poll of the 2008 cycle (May 2007): “Edwards, Romney lead early.” In case you missed it, the resounding Iowa caucus winners were Obama and Huckabee. (Giuliani was tied for second with McCain!)"

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Feeding State Legislators

Our chapter on interest groups discusses ways in which lobbyists seek to influence officials.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

While members of the Missouri Legislature are sequestered in Jefferson City, they work long hours but rarely go hungry, thanks to a dedicated corps of lobbyists and interest groups that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on food.

Lobbyists typically spend more than $400,000 a year feeding groups of lawmakers, buying food virtually every day the House and Senate meet.

During the 4½-month session that ends in May, it is difficult to walk through the Capitol and not see a trade association or government relations firm feeding lawmakers breakfast, lunch or late-afternoon snacks.


Lobbyists who buy food for lawmakers aren't necessarily seeking a quid pro quo, — "a pork steak for a vote" — said John Messmer, a professor of political science at St. Louis Community College's Meramec campus.

What they are trying to do, Messmer said, is forge a relationship that could pay off later. By buying their meals, lobbyists are gaining access to legislators.

"We would be outraged if other professions did this," Messmer said. "But we turn a blind eye to it — most of us do — when it comes to our Legislature."

Lobbyists say they buy food for lawmakers for the same reason they take legislators to baseball games or contribute to their campaigns — for a subtle advantage that may help their client or cause.

States vary greatly in what their legislators can accept from lobbyists and others. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a chart here.

Death and Whitey

In May, Gallup found that 65 percent of Americans find the death penalty "morally acceptable" while only 28 percent consider it "morally wrong."

Why do so many Americans find the death penalty acceptable? Consider reactions to the capture of gangster Whitey Bulger. WHDH in Boston reports:

Deliberation in California

We have earlier quoted journalist Joe Mathews on deliberation (here and here). He writes at Fox and Hounds:
What if California voters learned how the governance system really worked, through some sort of educational process? Would they be able to point to a coherent way forward?

That, in over-simplified fashion, is the goal of a deliberative poll being conducted this weekend in the LA County city of Torrance. Some 300 Californians, chosen at random from around the state, will come together to learn about four big policy areas, ask questions, and, once informed, offer their views.

You may have heard about this poll (full details are here). Virtually every good government group in California has put its name on the event (full disclosure: including the New America Foundation, the think tank that employs me, though I'm not one of the organizers). And critics have already begun raising questions about the value of the poll, and the political affiliations and previous stances of the various sponsoring organizations.

In both the praise and criticism, the deliberative poll is depicted as exotic. This tells us more about California than it does about this poll.

The concept of deliberation is foreign to our political culture. Too foreign. We often put together major legislation and budgets behind closed doors, in last-minute sessions. Our ballot initiative system runs at reckless speed, giving initiative sponsors just 150 days to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures. (The Swiss, who value deliberation, give sponsors 18 months so they can build support, spark debate and still have plenty of time to gather signatures). Our voters have chosen to establish complicated formulas to govern spending and taxation - effectively blocking political debate over questions like school funding and property values.

The best thing about the deliberative poll is that its very existence challenges this culture. Just getting Californians to sit down and seriously think about different pieces of the state - taxation, the initiative, representation, the state-local government relations - is useful as a counterweight. And attention to the poll might even get Californians thinking about the value of deliberation - a radical thought in the Golden State.

At Zocalo Public Square, Tim Cavanaugh of Reason takes a negative view:

I believe this is a fool’s errand, and I am little comforted by promises of the nonpartisan nature of the experts. In my experience “nonpartisan” in contexts like this means “encompassing both Republicans and Democrats,” and sure enough, the list of luminaries includes such wards of the two-party duopoly as Common Cause, California Forward, the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership, and the Public Policy Institute of California. I can say that not one group on the list comes within a country mile of my own view of the proper relationship of state power to individual liberty. And as one of the nearly one-third of California voters who don’t belong to either party, I know I’m not alone.

The rational ignorance of voters is only a problem if you believe in technocratic rule in the first place. It’s a pipe dream to imagine that California would recover if only Common Cause could persuade voters of the wisdom of net neutrality, or Davenport could get people to read its 2010 Civic Health Index (which draws the stunningly unexpected conclusion: “room for improvement”).

Friday, June 24, 2011


Our chapter on interest groups (p 281) notes that AARP had to do a u-turn in 1989 when its members disapproved of its position on Medicare catastrophic coverage.

At The New York Times, Frederick R. Lynch advises AARP to shed his ambivalence about Social Security benefit cuts:

Legendary allies, like Senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Claude Pepper of Florida, are gone. A formidable phalanx of key policy players have mobilized to advance proposals for deep cuts or radical restructuring of entitlements. AARP’s ambivalence will only embolden politicians who already have challenged the alleged unity of the “senior vote,” realizing that it has long been fragmented by differences in income, ideology, education, race, religion, gender and marital status.

But a strong AARP stand on Social Security and Medicare has the potential support of not only 78 million aging boomers but also the general public; polls have found broad majorities opposed to slashing Social Security and converting Medicare into a voucher system.

It might also heal the ideological rifts and mini-mutiny wrought by AARP’s support of Mr. Obama’s health care plan. That episode cost AARP at least 400,000 members, many of whom wrote angry letters and e-mails accusing it of selling out older Americans and redistributing Medicare funds to other groups (a suspicion that lingers because the Obama health care overhaul projects a reduction in the rate of increase in Medicare spending). Finally, leading a popular political crusade might dispel the stereotype that AARP puts profits over principles.

Libya Setbacks for the President

Gallup reports:
Americans are more likely to say they disapprove than approve of the U.S. military action in Libya. That represents a shift from three months ago, just after the mission began, when approval exceeded disapproval.

The results are based on a Gallup poll conducted June 22. The House of Representatives is set to vote on resolutions that would limit the U.S. role in Libya, partly because of questions about whether the mission violates the War Powers Act since President Obama did not obtain congressional authorization for it. The U.S. sent forces to Libya in March as part of a multinational force to protect rebels in that country from attacks by Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi.

Democrats are the only political group to show more support for than opposition to the U.S. involvement. Independents are the most likely to show opposition, with a majority disapproving.

Republicans' opinions have changed the most since March, moving to 39% approval from 57%. This likely reflects increased criticism of the mission's legality and cost from some Republican congressional leaders and presidential candidates. Independents' views have become slightly more negative over the last three months, while Democrats' opinions have been largely stable.

The poll sought to explore Americans' reasons for opposition to the operation by asking those who disapprove whether they disagree with the substance of the policy or with how it was executed. Most who disapprove, 64%, do so because they do not think the U.S. should be in Libya at all. Just under a third, 29%, disapprove because they do not think the president obtained the necessary approval from Congress to conduct the operation.

Politico reports:

The House delivered a surprising split decision on Libya Friday: Voting against authorizing the use of American forces there and then, an hour later, refusing to limit funding for the mission.

In essence, the House decided that it will neither endorse nor totally reject American intervention in Libya.

It appears that a last-minute White House lobbying effort to stave off Democratic defections worked — at least on the spending-limitation bill. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked House Democrats to back their president in a closed-door meeting in the Capitol on Thursday, and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon summoned a small group of liberals to the Situation Room at 7 a.m. Friday for a classified briefing that may have influenced a handful of votes.

Still, the House rejection of a one-year authorization of the use of force in Libya earlier Friday represented the most serious congressional challenge to the president’s war-making authority in more than a decade. It was a symbolic vote, but one that was felt on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

H J RES 68 RECORDED VOTE 24-Jun-2011 12:16 PM
QUESTION: On Passage
BILL TITLE: Authorizing the limited use of the United States Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya

Ayes Noes PRES NV
Republican 8 225 6
Democratic 115 70 7
TOTALS 123 295 13

H R 2278 RECORDED VOTE 24-Jun-2011 2:00 PM
QUESTION: On Passage
BILL TITLE: To limit the use of funds appropriated to the Department of Defense for United States Armed Forces in support of North Atlantic Treaty Organization Operation Unified Protector with respect to Libya, unless otherwise specifically authorized by law

Ayes Noes PRES NV
Republican 144 89 6
Democratic 36 149 7
TOTALS 180 238 13

Great, Good, Lincoln, Tocqueville, and Huntsman

Some of our "Myths & Misinformation" boxes look at spurious quotations. There is a new entry on the list. reports:
Jon Huntsman wrongly paraphrased Abraham Lincoln as saying: "[W]e are a great country because we are a good country." Lincoln assuredly never said that.
The expression is similar to a common political bromide that Ronald Reagan and others have attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville. But de Tocqueville didn't write those words, either.
Former Utah Gov. Huntsman made the slip-up at the announcement of his presidential candidacy in Liberty Park, N.J.
Huntsman, June 21: Our political debates today are corrosive and not reflective of the belief that Abe Lincoln espoused back in his day, that we are a great country because we are a good country.
The words appear nowhere in the collected writings of Lincoln. According to James M. Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln collection at the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Lincoln only wrote the phrase "great country" three times, and never close to the way Huntsman said.
Reagan claimed that the quote appeared in Alexis de Tocqueville's seminal work, "Democracy in America," and was "one line in that that, I guess, has been quoted more than any author has ever had a line quoted." But Reagan was also wrong. The 19th century French historian never wrote those words, either in "Democracy in America" or any of his other works. That was established as long ago as 1995 by the conservative Weekly Standard, which reported that Bill Clinton and Pat Buchanan were also fond of using the spurious de Tocqueville quote.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Unions and Pensions

The New York Times reports:

Public employee unions are hardly the only group involved in bare-knuckles politics. Businesses lobby fiercely and executives make hefty campaign donations.

But public workers have a unique relationship with elected officials, because government employees are effectively negotiating with bosses whom they can campaign to vote out of office if they don’t get what they want. Private unions, in contrast, don’t usually have the power to fire their members’ employers.


“In my six years in Sacramento, the only time I ever received a phone call in the middle of a vote was when the head of a state labor federation chewed me out because I hadn’t voted yet,” said Joe Nation, a Democrat who served in the California Assembly from 2000 to 2006. “You learned pretty quickly that you don’t want to upset these guys.”


It was informally known among local union leaders as “Operation Domino,” and for years the goal was straightforward: persuade one city to increase salaries and pensions for workers, and then approach neighboring municipalities and argue that if the increases weren’t matched, the city’s police, firefighters or other employees might quit, in large numbers, and go elsewhere.

By the time the dominos made it to Costa Mesa, neighboring areas had already toppled. “The unions would say, ‘Gee, Irvine, Newport, all of these nearby cities, they offer these higher benefits for police and firefighters and it’s a real tight labor market, and if we don’t receive similar benefits, what if we leave and go work there?’ ” said Allan Roeder, Costa Mesa’s city manager for more than two decades, who retired in March with a pension of $190,000 a year.

Then, starting about a decade ago, word began to spread that the Costa Mesa police had more than a dozen vacancies they couldn’t fill. Graffiti became more common. Police representatives warned that gang activity was rising and, without strong benefits, the department couldn’t attract officers.

When Mr. Roeder went to the grocery store, residents asked him why he wasn’t keeping the streets safe.

“When achieving public safety is threatened, law enforcement gets what they want,” he said.

Today, many Costa Mesa police officers and other safety workers are eligible to retire as young as 50 years of age, receiving up to 90 percent of their salaries each year for life.

At what cost?

But now, with the expenses of past promises coming due, the cost of deferred decision-making is mounting. California alone needs to begin devoting an additional $28 billion a year to state and local public pensions to remedy an existing shortfall,according to one nonpartisan study — and nationwide, estimates of such deficits reach into the trillions over the next few decades.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” said Tony Oliveira, who as a supervisor in Kings County, in central California, voted to increase employees’ benefits, and now is on the board of the state’s enormous pension fund. “This was probably the worst public policy decision in the state’s history. But everyone kept saying there was plenty of money. And no one wants to be responsible if all the cops quit to get paid more in the next town.”

An Odd Comment about the Constitution

In a Time article on the Constitution, Richard Stengel writes: "If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it sure doesn't say so."

Yes, it does. The Tenth Amendment says: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Even before the adoption of the Bill of Rights, James Madison explained the original understanding of the document in Federalist 45: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


In his remarks on Afghanistan, the president spoke of a "surge" in troops:

For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al Qaeda; reverse the Taliban’s momentum; and train Afghan Security Forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July.

On April 2, 2009, Peter Baker reported in The New York Times:
When President Obama briefed Congressional leaders at the White House last week on his plans to send more troops to Afghanistan, Senator Harry Reid offered some advice: Whatever you do, he told the president, don’t call it a “surge.”

Not to worry. Mr. Obama didn’t and wouldn’t. The exchange, confirmed by people briefed on the discussion, underscored the sensitivity about language in the new era. Mr. Obama and his team are busily scrubbing President George W. Bush’s national security lexicon, if not necessarily all of his policies.

But the "surge" language crept back into presidential documents. A December 1, 2009 White House fact sheet began:

The President’s speech reaffirms the March 2009 core goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda and to prevent their return to either Afghanistan or Pakistan. To do so, we and our allies will surge our forces, targeting elements of the insurgency and securing key population centers, training Afghan forces, transferring responsibility to a capable Afghan partner, and increasing our partnership with Pakistanis who are facing the same threats.

Still, in his West Point address on December 1, 2009 -- his most important previous statement on the topic -- the president avoided calling the military buildup a "surge," instead using the word only for a "civilian surge that reinforces positive action."

Disturbing Budget Report

The Congressional Budget Office has released its long-term budget outlook. It is not a happy picture:
Recently, the federal government has been recording budget deficits that are the largest as a share of the economy since 1945. Consequently, the amount of federal debt held by the public has surged. At the end of 2008, that debt equaled 40 percent of the nation's annual economic output (a little above the 40-year average of 37 percent). Since then, the figure has shot upward: By the end of this year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects, federal debt will reach roughly 70 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—the highest percentage since shortly after World War II. The sharp rise in debt stems partly from lower tax revenues and higher federal spending related to the recent severe recession. However, the growing debt also reflects an imbalance between spending and revenues that predated the recession.

As the economy continues to recover and the policies adopted to counteract the recession phase out, budget deficits will probably decline markedly in the next few years. But the budget outlook, for both the coming decade and beyond, is daunting. The retirement of the baby-boom generation portends a significant and sustained increase in the share of the population receiving benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Moreover, per capita spending for health care is likely to continue rising faster than spending per person on other goods and services for many years (although the magnitude of that gap is very uncertain). Without significant changes in government policy, those factors will boost federal outlays sharply relative to GDP in coming decades under any plausible assumptions about future trends in the economy, demographics, and health care costs.

According to CBO's projections, if current laws remained in place, spending on the major mandatory health care programs alone would grow from less than 6 percent of GDP today to about 9 percent in 2035 and would continue to increase thereafter. Spending on Social Security is projected to rise much less sharply, from less than 5 percent of GDP today to about 6 percent in 2030, and then to stabilize at roughly that level. Altogether, the aging of the population and the rising cost of health care would cause spending on the major mandatory health care programs and Social Security to grow from roughly 10 percent of GDP today to about 15 percent of GDP 25 years from now. (By comparison, spending on all of the federal government's programs and activities, excluding interest payments on debt, has averaged about 18.5 percent of GDP over the past 40 years.) That combined increase of roughly 5 percentage points for such spending as a share of the economy is equivalent to about $750 billion today. If lawmakers ultimately modified some provisions of current law that might be difficult to sustain for a long period, that increase would be even larger.


To keep deficits and debt from climbing to unsustainable levels, policymakers will need to increase revenues substantially as a percentage of GDP, decrease spending significantly from projected levels, or adopt some combination of those two approaches. Making such changes while economic activity and employment remain well below their potential levels would probably slow the economic recovery. However, the sooner that medium- and long-term changes to tax and spending policies are agreed on, and the sooner they are carried out once the economy recovers, the smaller will be the damage to the economy from growing federal debt. Earlier action would permit smaller or more gradual changes and would give people more time to adjust to them, but it would require more sacrifices sooner from current older workers and retirees for the benefit of younger workers and future generations.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Supreme Court on the Limits of Judicial Competence

The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected a lawsuit that had sought to force major electric utilities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions without waiting for federal regulators to act.

The suit was brought by six states, New York City and several land trusts. Its central contention was that carbon dioxide emissions from power plants belonging to four private companies and the Tennessee Valley Authority amounted to a public nuisance under federal common law. The suit asked a federal court in New York to order the defendants to reduce their emissions.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said the plaintiffs were making their case in the wrong forum. Under the Clean Air Act, she wrote, the matter must be addressed by the Environmental Protection Agency rather than by the courts.

The opinion of the Court explained that there are limits to what the judiciary can do well:
It is altogether fitting that Congress designated an expert agency, here, EPA, as best suited to serve as primary regulator of greenhouse gas emissions. The expert agency is surely better equipped to do the job than individual district judges issuing ad hoc, case-by-case injunctions. Federal judges lack the scientific, economic, and technological resources an agency can utilize in copingwith issues of this order... Judges may not commission scientific studies or convene groups of experts for advice, or issue rules under notice-and-comment procedures inviting input by any interested person, or seek the counsel of regulators in the States where the defendants are located. Rather, judges are confined by a record comprising the evidence the parties present.

"Hostilities" and the War Powers Act -- Update

The Washington Post reports:

The White House has officially declared that what’s happening in Libya is not “hostilities.”

But at the Pentagon, officials have decided it’s unsafe enough there to give troops extra pay for serving in “imminent danger.”

The Defense Department decided in April to pay an extra $225 a month in “imminent danger pay” to service members who fly planes over Libya or serve on ships within 110 nautical miles of its shores.

That means the Pentagon has decided that troops in those places are “subject to the threat of physical harm or imminent danger because of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions.” There are no U.S. ground troops in Libya.

President Obama declared last week that the three-month-old Libyan campaign should not be considered “hostilities.” That word is important, because it’s used in the 1973 War Powers Resolution: Presidents must obtain congressional authorization within a certain period after sending U.S. forces “into hostilities.”

Obama’s reasoning was that he did not need that authorization because U.S. forces were playing a largely supportive and logistical role, and because Libyan defenses are so battered they pose little danger. U.S. drones are still carrying out some strikes against Libyan targets.

Overall, the White House reasoned, “U.S. military operations [in Libya] are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by the resolution.”

On Monday, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the Pentagon’s decision was further proof that Obama’s logic is flawed.

“If members of our armed forces involved in the military action in Libya are getting ‘imminent danger’ pay, it’s one more indication that the White House claim that we aren’t involved in ‘hostilities’ just doesn’t pass the straight-face test,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

Asked Monday whether the White House finding contradicted the Pentagon’s, an Obama spokesman declined to comment.

The New York Times reports:

Since the United States handed control of the air war in Libya to NATO in early April, American warplanes have struck at Libyan air defenses about 60 times, and remotely operated drones have fired missiles at Libyan forces about 30 times, according to military officials.

The most recent strike from a piloted United States aircraft was on Saturday, and the most recent strike from an American drone was on Wednesday, the officials said.

While the Obama administration has regularly acknowledged that American forces have continued to take part in some of the strike sorties, few details about their scope and frequency have been made public.

The unclassified portion of material about Libya that the White House sent to Congress last week, for example, said “American strikes are limited to the suppression of enemy air defense and occasional strikes by unmanned Predator” drones, but included no numbers for such strikes.

The disclosure of such details could add texture to an unfolding debate about the merits of the Obama administration’s legal argument that it does not need Congressional authorization to continue the mission because United States forces are not engaged in “hostilities” within the meaning of the War Powers Resolution.

Michael Isikoff writes at

The White House bypassed the administration’s own written guidelines for resolving major legal disputes when it overruled the Justice Department’s advice that the president seek congressional approval for U.S. military operations in Libya, according to some legal scholars.

The disclosure over the weekend that President Barack Obama rejected the advice of senior Justice Department legal advisers — including Attorney General Eric Holder — has drawn sharp congressional criticism in recent days, ranging from House Speaker John Boehner to liberal Democrats such as Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York.

It is also provoking debate among legal scholars, some of whom told NBC News that they were unaware of any recent precedent for the way the White House reached its legal conclusions about Libya. One top former legal adviser to Obama, Dawn Johnsen, called the accounts of the White House's handling of the matter "disturbing."

"There may be a precedent for this, but I can't think of one," said Robert Chesney, a University of Texas law professor who specializes in national security law. "This is not the way the process is supposed to work."

For decades, Chesney and other legal scholars said, legal and constitutional questions within the government have been resolved by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Just last year, a six-page Justice Department memo described OLC's mission as providing "controlling advice" to executive branch officials on questions of law.

The memo spelled out how the office's decisions were supposed to be reached: After receiving input from agencies throughout the government, OLC lawyers would provide "principled" legal analysis to executive branch officials, not opinions "designed merely to advance the policy preferences of the president or other officials."

Huntsman, Politics, and the Statue of Liberty

Our chapter on civic culture analyzes patriotic symbols. One of them is the Statue of Liberty.
At Politico, James Hohmann and Elias Groll write:
When Jon Huntsman announces his candidacy for president Tuesday at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, he’ll join a long list of politicians who have found the spot to be an exquisite backdrop for big campaign events.

The park, located in Jersey City, offers a camera shot with dramatic views of the Manhattan skyline and, more important, a photo op with the iconic Statue of Liberty (located in nearby New York Harbor) in the background.

The park is where Jesse Jackson, amid tensions with Jewish voters in 1988, laid a wreath at a monument honoring American soldiers who liberated Jews from World War II German concentration camps. In that same campaign, then-Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) appeared with Michael Dukakis at the site, delivering his endorsement in an old terminal – now a museum - that had once processed Dukakis’ grandmother after she had arrived from Greece as an immigrant.

Six years later, Bill Clinton found yet another use for the park. He used the venue to deliver a memorable health care speech that turned contentious—at one point he banged the podium so hard in response to protesters that the presidential seal fell off.

Yet Liberty State Park’s most famous political event took place on Labor Day 1980, when Ronald Reagan used it for his general election kickoff.

The site was perfectly suited for his needs at the time. Reagan’s Midwest coordinator, Frank Donatelli, explained that the campaign strategically scheduled lots of events in the Northeast and Midwest to appeal to blue-collar ethnic Catholic voters, many of whom were dissatisfied with Jimmy Carter.

“What better way to reach this voter than the welcoming torch of the Statue of Liberty in the background?” Donatelli said.

Americans have long used the area around the Statue of Liberty as the site for oaths of enlistment and naturalization. In 2000, for instance, Engisn Maria Navarro (left) administered the oath of re-enlistment to Petty Officer 1st Class John Carruthers at the base of the Statue.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ron Paul and Straw Polls

Our chapter on public opinion and participation distinguishes random-sample surveys from other types of "polls." Sarah Tung writes at The Houston Chronicle:
What’s that, you say? Rep. Ron Paul has won yet another straw poll?

At this weekend’s Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, the Lake Jackson Republican effortlessly bested his fellow 2012 presidential hopefuls.

Paul sidled to victory with 612 votes out of the 1,542 that were cast. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman came in second with 382. Rounding up the top three with 191 votes was Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. Last year’s victor, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who did not attend this year, won only 74 votes.

Earlier this year, much to no one’s surprise, Paul won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll with roughly 30 percent of the votes. And the Lake Jackson Republican swept to victory in an Internet straw poll conducted by the Tea Party Patriots in conjunction with its Arizona convention. (Texas Gov. Rick Perry finished 11th.)

But the Lone Star State’s most notable libertarian lacks similar success in most national polls, with numbers that barely register in the double digits. At the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses, for example, Paul won only 9.9 percent of the 119,000 total votes.

As of today, for instance, the RealClearPolitics average of GOP preferences is as follows:

Romney... 24.4

Michael Muskal explains at The Los Angeles Times:
Straw votes or polls are a special hybrid between scientific surveys and general elections. A scientific poll is based on a sample that professes to offer some insight into how the general electorate will vote. But a straw poll is merely the counting of anyone who shows up at that moment. The number of voters is generally small and self-selected, so there is no way to extrapolate the results to a larger body like the general electorate.

To use an example from the movie "Field of Dreams," it is similar to the voice that tells the hero, Ray, "If you build it, he will come." Hold a straw poll and dedicated partisans will come to cast a ballot for their choice, often Ron Paul.

Paul has done extremely well in straw polls, winning twice at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2010 and this year before Saturday's victory. His supporters are ardent in going to great lengths to express their preference for the 75-year-old congressman.

But Paul's support rarely seriously grows when the number of voters rapidly expands as the venue shifts from a small, self-designated preference poll to a larger caucus, like Iowa's, or eventually, the even larger arenas of primaries. Paul can always be a voice, but he has had enormous difficulty becoming a competitive player.

NBC Snips "Under God"

Fox News reports:

NBC issued an on-air apology Sunday for omitting the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance during its coverage of golf's U.S. Open.

The words were edited out of a clip of children reciting the oath -- a move immediately noted by viewers, who took to Twitter and various blogs to voice their anger, the Huffington Post reported.

In a statement during the broadcast, NBC commentator Dan Hicks said, "We began our coverage of this final round just about three hours ago and when we did it was our intent to begin the coverage of this U.S. Open Championship with a feature that captured the patriotism of our national championship being held in our nation's capital for the third time.