Sunday, July 31, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
In The New York Times, columnist Charles Blow notes that the Captain America movie falsely depicts an integrated army in the Second World War. he recounts his grandfather's heroism as a Buffalo Soldier, and observes:The term “buffalo soldiers” dates to post-Civil War conflicts with Indians who granted the honorific to an all-black cavalry outfit. Buffalo soldier units served in the Spanish-American War, World War I, and the Italian campaign of World War II, when elements of the 92nd Division were among a handful of black units in that war to serve in combat. The road to Italy passed through various posts in the segregated South and Ft. Huachuca, an isolated Arizona outpost where the 92nd assembled for the final push. As featured in the novel and film Miracle at St. Anna, the 92nd distinguished themselves on the battlefield, disproving skeptics and earning an honored chapter in the history of World War II. Two years after the war ended, President Truman signed an order to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces, closing the book on the buffalo soldiers.
As the 1997 study “The Exclusion of Black Soldiers from the Medal of Honor in World War II” pointed out, by mid-1947 the U.S. Army had awarded 4,750 Distinguished Service Crosses and only eight, less than 0.2 percent, had gone to black soldiers and not a single black soldier had been recommended for a Medal of Honor. (Roughly 1.2 million blacks served in World War II and about 50,000 were engaged in combat.) Until 1997, World War II was the only American war in which no black soldiers had received a Medal of Honor. President Bill Clinton changed that that year by awarding Medals of Honor to seven of the men who had been awarded the Distinguished Service Crosses, the only ones whose cases were reviewed for the upgrade. Just one of them, Joseph Vernon Baker, a lieutenant in my grandfather’s regiment, was alive to receive it.Even when this news of the Buffalo Soldiers was making headlines in the ’90s, my grandfather never said a word. There’s no way to know why. Maybe it was the pain of risking his life abroad for a freedom that he couldn’t fully enjoy at home. Maybe it was the misery of languishing in a military hospital for many months and being discharged with a limp that would follow him to the grave. Or maybe it was simply the act of a brave soldier living out the motto of his division: “Deeds Not Words.”
Friday, July 29, 2011
So I had asked myself "Who is Captain America?", and had found an answer for the man. Thing was, America was moving from the overarching Vietnam War toward the specific crimes of Watergate.
I was writing a man who believed in America's highest ideals at a time when America's President was a crook. I could not ignore that. And so, in the Marvel Universe, which so closely resembled our own, Cap followed a criminal conspiracy into the White House and saw the President commit suicide.
And that was the end of Captain America...
From an editorial in the Sun Journal of Lewiston, Maine:
In the midst of the national train wreck now developing in Washington, some of his observations seem as if they could have been written today.
"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money," he wrote.
Even de Tocqueville probably didn't envision that we would borrow the money to do the bribing, nor that tens of millions of Americans would depend upon that borrowed money for everything from health care to old-age pensions.
But de Tocqueville didn't entirely blame politicians.
Democracy "can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy."
One can also find the purported Tocqueville passage at LewRockwell.com. It is bogus: Tocqueville wrote no such thing. The spurious quotation has circulated for years, with many attributing it to Scottish historian Alexander Tytler (sometimes misspelled as "Tyler"), but he didn't writer it, either.
As psychologistexplains, "the more choices there are, the more you expect to find a perfect fit; yet, at the same time, the larger the array, the less likely it becomes that you picked the best item. You leave the store less confident in your choice, more likely to feel regret, and more likely to think about the options you didn’t choose."
The paradox of choice is nothing knew. Alexis de Tocqueville outlined it back in 1835 in the seminal text.In American I have seen the freest and best educated of men in circumstances the happiest to be found in the world; yet it seemed to me that a cloud habitually hung on their brow, and they seemed serious and almost sad even in their pleasure. The chief reason for this is that… [they] never stop thinking of the good things they have not got.
This is Kanye’s problem precisely: he is never satisfied because he does not understand why he isn’t getting what he wants emotionally even though he is getting what he wants physically. Psychologists have now empirically demonstrated that there is truth to this. A 2010 study (pdf) by and found that while wealthy people are happier than poor people, money has diminishing returns. This means that someone making $75,000 is happier than someone making $20,000, but people making 5 million aren’t much happier than people making $100,000; so money is good, but not ultimately.
American discontent even extends to the Almighty. Tocqueville wrote that religion is the first of our political institutions, but not all believers are happy with God. Indeed, His approval rating is good but nowhere near 100 percent. Public Policy Polling reports (no joke):
Though not the most popular figure PPP has polled, if God exists, voters are prepared to give it good marks. Voters approve of God’s performance by 52-9 margin, making God about as popular as Murdock is unpopular. When asked to evaluate God on some of the issues it is responsible for, voters give God its best rating on creating the universe, 71-5. They also approve of its handling of the animal kingdom 56-11, and even its handling of natural disasters 50-13. Young voters are prepared to be more critical of God on natural disasters with those 18-29 rating it 59-26 compared to 47-12 among those over 65.
PPP surveyed 928 American voters from July 15th to 17th. The margin of error for the survey is +/-3.2%. This poll was not paid for or authorized by any campaign or political organization. PPP surveys are conducted through automated telephone interviews. PPP is a Democratic polling company, but polling expert Nate Silver of the New York Times found that its surveys in 2010 actually exhibited a slight bias toward Republican candidates.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
If there was any doubt about whether Tony and Heather Podesta qualify as one of Washington’s top power couples, it can now be erased.
The pair, already known as top-tier Democratic donors and lobbyists, appear back to back at the top of the Federal Election Commission’s database of lobbyist bundlers. The Podestas bundled more than $320,000 each in campaign contributions in the first six months of this year, blowing away the nearest competitors and setting themselves up to make an early impact in what’s likely to be the most expensive political cycle in American history.
The largest bundler so far is Tony Podesta, with just under $350,000 bundled to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the campaign of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
It should be no surprise that Podesta’s money has gone exclusively to Democrats. One of GQ’s 2009 “50 Most Powerful People in D.C.,” Podesta is wired into the Democratic establishment — his brother John served as Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff and more recently acted as President Barack Obama’s transition team co-chairman while running the left-leaning Center for American Progress. His Podesta Group is one of the most powerful lobbying entities in Washington, with clients ranging from the American Meat Institute, to Duke Energy, to Sallie Mae. Since the start of the year, his firm has brought in at least $13.7 million in contracts.
Podesta told iWatch News that the $350,000 total seemed low to him and said he intended to continue bundling through the rest of the cycle with no set goal in mind. When asked whether he was surprised by being the top bundler lobbyist in the database, Podesta replied, “No surprises ever.”
Edmund Burke wrote: "In all bodies, those who will lead, must also, in a considerable degree, follow." House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has had to grapple with "tea party" demands on the budget, and may end up with more success than many had expected, as The Daily Beast reports:
The conventional Beltway wisdom is that Boehner is floundering, unable to control his caucus, caught in a vise between Tea Party demands and the need to avoid a devastating default for which Republicans would shoulder much of the blame.
But that verdict misses the magnitude of what the low-key party veteran may accomplish. By forging a debt-ceiling compromise with Democrats that will meet almost no Democratic demands, Boehner will lock down his role as the undisputed leader of the Republican Party—and finally prove to skeptics that the Ohio pragmatist can indeed lead a party of purists and get a few things done in the process.
...“The best way to describe it is to say he’s threading a needle. He’s trying to placate conservatives and help his party in the next election, while also solidifying his own position,” says Matthew Green, a professor of political science at Catholic University and author of The Speaker: A Study of Leadership. “On the other hand he doesn’t want to be known as the speaker who let the U.S. default on its obligations. I guess all I can say is I’m glad I’m not in his position.”
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
If nothing else, the crisis over the debt ceiling is reminding the country of the astonishing reach of the federal spigot, encapsulated by a figure that President Obama tossed out recently: The government sends out “70 million checks” every month.
That works out to 27 payments per second, day after day — not just to the expected recipients, such as contractors, federal workers and Social Security beneficiaries, but also to those you might not think of, such as the victims of black lung disease and their widows (50,032 checks in June), and pensioners supported by the Railroad Retirement Board (613,912).
The figures used by Obama and Geithner were, if anything, too low. They relied on Treasury Department figures from June that include Social Security (56 million checks that month), veterans benefits (4.5 million checks), and spending on non-defense contractors and vendors (1.8 million checks).
But those numbers do not include reimbursements to Medicare providers and vendors (100 million claims in June), and electronic transfers to the 21 million households receiving food stamps.
Nor do they include most spending by the Defense Department, which has a payroll of 6.4 million active and retired employees and, on average, pays nearly 1 million invoices and 660,000 travel expense claims per month.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Menachem Zivotofsky was born in Jerusalem. But was he born in Israel?
President George W. Bush signed that bill about three weeks before Menachem was born. But Mr. Bush also said he would not obey it.
(Remember the controversy over Mr. Bush’s flurry of signing statements, in which he expressed reservations and disagreements with acts of Congress even as he signed them into law? This was an example of one.)
The 2002 law, Mr. Bush said, “impermissibly interferes with the president’s constitutional authority to conduct the nation’s foreign affairs and to supervise the unitary executive branch.”
The status of Jerusalem has long divided not only Israelis and Arabs but also Congress and presidents of both parties. Over Congressional objections, the United States maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv. In his 2002 signing statement, Mr. Bush said, “U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed.”
This fall, not long after Menachem turns 9, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in his case, which seeks to force the executive branch to follow the 2002 law. The case weaves together generations of conflict in the Middle East, the dueling roles of Congress and the president in the conduct of foreign affairs and the combustible topic of presidential signing statements.
The justices instead not only agreed to hear the case, M.B.Z. v. Clinton, No. 10-699, but also directed the two sides to address the broad question of whether the law “impermissibly infringes the president’s power to recognize foreign sovereigns.”
That power is rooted in the constitutional text, but not in an especially obvious way. The courts have said the president’s authority to “receive ambassadors and other public ministers” implies the power to recognize foreign governments.
A recent article in the University of Richmond Law Review argued that the original understanding of the clause concerning ambassadors did not support that leap. “The Constitution, by its terms, does not give the president the power to recognize foreign states or governments,” wrote Robert J. Reinstein, a law professor at Temple University
Mr. Lewin, too, said the courts had placed too much weight on the business about receiving ambassadors, which he said was not a presidential power but only a duty.
In its brief to the court, the administration warned about the consequences of a ruling against executive authority over this area.
But many conservatives insist that a liberal reputation wouldn’t dissuade them from taking a gig with tenure and summers off. The self-selection theory doesn’t satisfy Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars, a group critical of what it calls liberal bias in academia. Dr. Wood, a political conservative, is a former professor of anthropology and associate provost at
. Boston University
“Conservatives may be self-selecting out of graduate school, but they’re doing it on a rational basis,” he told me. “It’s become clear to them that they’re unlikely to succeed at the same level as someone going into these fields with more socially approved political convictions and attitudes.” They’re discouraged not by a letter from the director of graduate studies but rather by more subtle obstacles blocking the way to tenure, in Dr. Wood’s view. Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education in March, he criticized liberal social scientists for failing to heed their own extensive research into bias.
“The most effective way to keep out a whole class of people who are unwelcome isn’t to bar entry, but to make sure that very few in that class will want to enter,” Dr. Wood wrote. “If it comes down to it, entry can still be impeded through other techniques, the feminist and the multiculturalist vetoes on the faculty search committee being the deadliest as far as conservatives go, although there are others.”
Republican scholars are more likely than Democrats to end up working outside academia, as documented byDaniel Klein, an economist at... [As] Dr. Yancey reports in his new book, “Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education,” more than a quarter of the sociologists said they would be swayed favorably toward a Democrat or an A.C.L.U. member and unfavorably toward a Republican. About 40 percent said they would be less inclined to vote for hiring someone who belonged to the National Rifle Association or who was an evangelical. Similar results were obtained in a subsequent survey of professors in other social sciences and the humanities.
. Dr. Klein, who calls himself a classical liberal (a k a libertarian), says that the university promotes groupthink because its system of “departmental majoritarianism” empowers the dominant faction to keep hiring like-minded colleagues. And when a faculty committee is looking to hire or award tenure, political ideology seems to make a difference, according to a “collegiality survey” conducted by George Yancey. George Mason University
Monday, July 25, 2011
In The New York Times, Thomas Friedman writes:
Thanks to a quiet political start-up that is now ready to show its hand, a viable, centrist, third presidential ticket, elected by an Internet convention, is going to emerge in 2012. I know it sounds gimmicky — an Internet convention — but an impressive group of frustrated Democrats, Republicans and independents, called Americans Elect, is really serious, and they have thought out this process well. In a few days, Americans Elect will formally submit the 1.6 million signatures it has gathered to get on the presidential ballot in California as part of its unfolding national effort to get on the ballots of all 50 states for 2012.
The goal of Americans Elect is to take a presidential nominating process now monopolized by the Republican and Democratic parties, which are beholden to their special interests, and blow it wide open — guaranteeing that a credible third choice, nominated independently, will not only be on the ballot in every state but be able to take part in every presidential debate and challenge both parties from the middle with the best ideas on how deal with the debt, education and jobs.
“Our goal is to open up what has been an anticompetitive process to people in the middle who are unsatisfied with the choices of the two parties,” said Kahlil Byrd, the C.E.O. of Americans Elect, speaking from its swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House.
As the group explains on its Web site, www.americanselect.org: “Americans Elect is the first-ever open nominating process. We’re using the Internet to give every single voter — Democrat, Republican or independent — the power to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012. The people will choose the issues. The people will choose the candidates. And in a secure, online convention next June, the people will make history by putting their choice on the ballot in every state.”
Similar ideas have been kicking around for some time. In 2005, Ronald Brownstein wrote:
Once it took years of heavy spending on direct mail and other recruitment methods to build a national membership organization; MoveOn.org, the online liberal advocacy group, acquired half a million names -- with virtually no investment -- just months after posting an Internet petition opposing President Clinton's impeachment in 1998.
MoveOn, and groups like it on the left and right, chisel at the power of the major political parties by providing an alternative source of campaign funds and volunteers. But otherwise, the two parties that have defined American political life since the 1850s have been largely immune from the centrifugal current of the Internet era.
Joe Trippi, a principal architect of Howard Dean's breakthrough Internet strategy in the 2004 Democratic presidential campaign, is one of many analysts who believe that may soon change. The Internet, he says, could ignite a serious third-party presidential bid in 2008.
"This is a very disruptive technology," says Trippi. "And it is going to be very destabilizing to the political establishment of both parties."
The Internet could allow an independent candidate to more easily identify an audience and financial base, just as it has allowed blogs like the liberal Daily Kos or conservative InstaPundit to find a community of like-minded readers. More precisely, the Internet has allowed readers to find those blogs. And because the audience mostly finds the product, rather than the other way around, the cost of entering the market is radically reduced.
Trippi believes an independent presidential candidate who struck a chord could organize support through the Internet just as inexpensively. "Somebody could come along and raise $200 million and have 600,000 people on the streets working for them without any party structure in the blink of an eye," he says.
Nevertheless, the obstacles to a third party are steep. As we explain in our chapter on political parties, access to the ballot is not automatic and requires costly petition campaigns or legal battles. Though many Americans say that they like the idea of a third party in the abstract, actual support on the ballot tends to be much lower. Despite a double-digit share of the popular vote in 1992, Ross Perot did not win a single electoral vote, thus illustrating another obstacle: the electoral college, which makes life difficult for third parties that do not have a regional base. When people regard third parties as mere spoilers, they hold their noses and opt for one of the major parties.
In the United States, we have legal safeguards against Soviet-style social controls, not least of which is the judicial branch’s ability to nullify laws so vague that they violate the right to due process. Yet far too many federal laws leave citizens unsure about the line between legal and illegal conduct, punishing incorrect guesses with imprisonment. The average working American adult, going about his or her normal life, commits several arguable federal felonies a day without even realizing it. Entire lives can change based on the attention of a creative federal prosecutor interpreting vague criminal laws.
Consider the federal prohibition of “mail fraud,” which mainly describes the means of a crime (“through the mails”) rather than the substantive acts that violate the law (“a scheme or artifice to defraud”). In 2004, Steven Kurtz, an art professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo, was indicted on mail fraud charges for what boiled down to a paperwork error. Federal agents, after learning that Kurtz was using bacteria in his artwork to critique genetic engineering, launched a full-scale bioterrorism investigation against him. Finding nothing pernicious about the harmless stomach flora, they resorted to a creative interpretation of the mail fraud statute. Because Kurtz had ordered the bacteria through a colleague at the University of Pittsburgh Human Genetics Laboratory, his “scheme” to “defraud” consisted of not properly indicating on the order form that the bacteria were meant for his own use.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Next month’s Iowa Republican Party straw poll in Ames is all about the bounce.
Either the upward bounce the non-binding, unscientific poll will give the candidate or candidates who outperform expectations, or the bounce out of the 2012 GOP sweepstakes that it could deliver to a presidential hopeful who shows poorly.
The straw poll is essentially a party fundraising exercise, but it has become a major political event because it takes place in the state that traditionally launches the presidential selection process every four years.
“It’s a completely meaningless event with tremendous political impact,” said Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford. “Nobody’s elected to anything, but people derive some conclusions from this.”
Early public opinion polls have placed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Bachmann at the front of the still-developing GOP field, said Dave Peterson, an associate political science professor at Iowa State University.
The straw poll will be the first significant test of which candidates “are going to perform in putting boots on the ground.”
Peterson said early polls had New York’s Donald Trump as a contender, but he “took off like a rocket and crashed like a meteor” and the same may be true for candidates who fail to produce double-digit support at Ames.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
As the country enters into the 2012 presidential election cycle, the electorate's partisan affiliations have shifted significantly since Obama won office nearly three years ago. In particular, the Democrats hold a much narrower edge than they did in 2008, particularly when the partisan leanings of independents are taken into account.
Notably, the GOP gains have occurred only among white voters; a two-point Republican edge among whites in 2008 (46% to 44%) has widened to a 13-point lead today (52% to 39%). In sharp contrast, the partisan attachments of black and Hispanic voters have remained consistently Democratic.
While Republican gains in leaned party identification span nearly all subgroups of whites, they are particularly pronounced among the young and poor. A seven-point Democratic advantage among whites younger than age 30 three years ago has turned into an 11-point GOP advantage today. And a 15-point Democratic advantage among whites earning less than $30,000 annually has swung to a slim four-point Republican edge today.
Yet, the Republican Party's growth has been limited in two important ways. First, the steep gains in GOP leaning that helped the party in the 2010 midterms have not continued, as the overall balance of partisan attachments has held steady in the first half of 2011. Second, while more independents say they "lean" toward the Republican Party, the GOP has not gained in actual party affiliation since 2008 -- just 28% of registered voters, in both years, call themselves Republicans. Instead, the growth category continues to be political independents, with a record high 34% of registered voters choosing this label in 2011....
The Millennial generation -- those born after 1980 -- were a topic of much discussion in the 2008 election. These young voters -- the oldest turned 27 that year, and are turning 30 now -- leaned Democratic by roughly two-to-one in the 2008 election, and their commitment to Barack Obama, and relatively high voter turnout, was a substantial factor in the election's outcome.
While these voters remain the most Democratically oriented generation today, the advantage has narrowed substantially since 2008. Currently, 52% of Millennial voters are Democrats or lean to the Democratic Party while 39% are Republicans or lean to the GOP. This 13-point edge is less than half the size of the 32-point edge Democrats held three years ago.
Among voters in other generations, Democrats have lost adherents while Republicans have gained. But these changes have not been as large as those among Millennials.
At the White House, the president was lamenting the prospect that Congressional Republicans were digging in against an increase in the federal debt limit.
“And it’s pure demagoguery,” the frustrated president told a sympathetic journalist. “Nothing you can do about it: you’ve got to have the debt limit.”
While it might sound like current events, those words were actually spoken in a June 17, 1964, phone call between President Lyndon B. Johnson and James Reston, the columnist and Washington bureau chief for The New York Times.
The recording and transcript – included in the new volumes of L.B.J. tapes published by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs – are further evidence that nothing much ever really changes in Washington.
In the conversation, the president notes sourly that the word from Capitol Hill is that all Republicans are going to oppose the debt limit request. “Every one of them as a man,” President Johnson, evidently meaning “to a man,” said. “They say we won’t get one Republican vote.”
“Oh, my gosh,” replies Mr. Reston, who earlier in the call had noted that Republicans appeared to have “lost their way, these guys — they’ve got a death wish in that party, I think.”
Mr. Johnson put it another way. “You talk about blind opposition.”
The National Football League may be sitting on the sidelines thanks to a four-month long lockout, but it made plays for dozens of members of Congress during the latest fundraising quarter.
The league’s political action committee — the Gridiron PAC — doled out $110,000 to House and Senate incumbents during the last quarter, according to recently filed Federal Election Commission reports.
Recipients include All Pro names like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who chairs the Democratic National Committee. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, also scored a campaign contribution.
Meanwhile, the NFL spent $440,000 on federal lobbying efforts during the year’s second quarter, federal records show. That’s up from the $400,000 it spent during the year’s first quarter and more than it spent during any quarter in 2010. Last year, the league spent more on federal lobbying – nearly $1.5 million – than it has in any other full year.
The National Football League Players Association, meanwhile, spent $60,000 in both the first and second quarters of this year.
Beyond labor matters, issues the NFL reported lobbying on include Internet gambling, concussions, the NFL Network, performance-enhancing drugs and “aviation issues related to the FAA reauthorization” during the year’s second quarter.
The National Football League filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission this week urging the agency not to end blackouts of local sports games.
NFL games are often blacked out locally when they fail to sell out 72 hours in advance in order to compel fans to buy tickets. The FCC's sports blackout rules prevent cable or satellite providers from carrying a game locally when the free broadcast has been blacked out under the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961.
Last month the Sports Fan Coalition wrote to the FCC asking the agency to prevent games from being blacked out due to retransmission disputes between broadcasters and pay-TV providers, such as the recent standoff between Cablevision and Fox that caused millions of New York-area residents to miss the first two games of the 2010 World Series.
The NFL argued in response that the sports blackout rule serves the public interest and has been repeatedly approved by Congress. The League contends that waiving the rule during retrans disputes would encourage brinkmanship by pay-TV providers.
"The SFC’s proposal would not help fans, but instead would work to the advantage of only one interest: pay-TV providers," the NFL said
Friday, July 22, 2011
Under the U.S. Constitution, the states have exclusive and plenary (complete) power to allocate their electoral votes, and may change their state laws concerning the awarding of their electoral votes at any time. Under the National Popular Vote bill, all of the state's electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).
The NPV plan requires a winner to secure only a plurality rather than a majority of the popular vote. While it is true that a majority of the popular vote is not required now, the current system requires that, at minimum, pluralities be achieved in at least a dozen states holding distinct elections.
Under NPV, the necessary plurality could be confined to a few states, or a single region of the country. Multiple regional or even favorite-son candidacies would be encouraged, and each new candidacy would increase the likelihood of one of them receiving a majority of the electoral votes (courtesy of the NPV compact) while capturing a very low percentage of the overall vote. If there were four major candidates in the race, victory could be achieved with just over 25% of the popular vote.
The bottom line, to borrow from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is that there are too many "known unknowns." Is it worth the risk to remedy an ill-defined problem that historically occurs once in an average lifetime?
Thursday, July 21, 2011
A previous post dealt with educational attainment among state lawmakers. Do better-schooled legislators make for better policy? At the Philadelphia Inquirer, Professor Robert Maranto of the University of Arkansas suggests that the connection is dubious.
As the percentage of legislators with four-year (and higher) college degrees rises, so, too, does a state's relative budget deficit. The correlation between a state's budget gap and its legislature's college education is 0.25 - with zero being no correlation and 1 being a perfect correlation - which despite the small sample size (i.e., the 50 states) is statistically significant. The budget deficit correlates even more highly with the percentage of legislators with an advanced degree, at 0.29.
Meanwhile, Congress, which is more educated than any state legislature, also has a proportionately bigger budget deficit. And regular citizens, who are less educated, have relatively less debt on average.
Of course, correlation does not prove causation. Still, the numbers provide little reason to think that more college leads to more responsible policy-making.
How, then, can we advance self-government beyond episodic, although welcome, citizen action? The central requirement is to reduce government’s scope and size, the number of issues with which it deals, and the technical complexity of these issues. There is no good reason for government to be as involved as it is with the details of health, housing, and finance. This reduction in scope would diminish the everyday economic stakes of politics—both nationally and in states so large that they often are more remote from citizens than the federal government is—and would reorient government to broader issues of security and regulation.
But how can we obtain this reduction, given the remoteness of government from so many? How, especially, can we obtain it given the prevalence and dominance of experts, bureaucrats, and judges?
There are two phenomena worth noting. The first is that however much specialized knowledge expands, we can still control government’s general direction because we can assess whether it conforms to reasonable ends and principles. Experts know these ends no better than ordinary citizens do.
There are two phenomena worth noting. The first is that however much specialized knowledge expands, we can still control government’s general direction because we can assess whether it conforms to reasonable ends and principles. Experts know these ends no better than ordinary citizens do.
Understanding our ends requires correctly grasping our broad aims of freedom, virtue, and excellence, and our more concrete or immediate goals such as security and health. Much vigorous public debate is about the meaning, rank, and relationship of these ends to each other. How much security of what sort should be risked by how much freedom of speech, care in trials, privacy in activity, and so on. How much health is worth how much funding? How much equality is worth how much excellence? How much safety is worth how much local control? How much military might is worth how much money? How much short-term economic difficulty is worth how much long-term fiscal stability?
These are questions that both technical experts and lay citizens can answer. These are not mere matters of arbitrary speculation; they can be discussed reasonably by all people. Yet, for such discussion we need a thoughtful public characterized by intelligent opinion and virtuous practices. We need a public that seeks to conserve our founding liberties.
The second point is that practical reason and common sense can place expert advice into a sensible context, and can evaluate it. The key is to comprehend how equal rights and limited government are connected. The major difficulty in controlling bureaucrats is not that the principles of liberty are abstruse, but that expertise becomes so powerful in its claims and, especially, in its legalistic and scientific discussions, that common sense and evaluation become very difficult. The counter to this is education about, and government directed to, equal liberty and the character that advances it. Voters and their representatives are equipped to grasp not just what the proper goals of government should be, but also the effects these goals have on actions and policies.
Representatives need to clarify more aggressively the concrete effects of economic, budget, health, education, and military policy. Two useful questions that they should ask to help control experts, and that citizens should ask to help control representatives, are these: does a proposed policy use and promote in its practices the virtues and freedoms it is meant to enhance and secure? Is the issue being addressed truly technical and/or legalistic, or is it a matter of common sense?
We will enhance self government and encourage the resurgence of civic activism that promotes individual liberty and limited government if, among other measures, we ask these questions, educate the public intelligently, welcome responsible partisan battles, and do not stifle the social and economic energy that government should be advancing.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The ACLU of Northern California filed a court brief Friday supporting an effort to block a ballot measure that would ban juvenile male circumcision in San Francisco.
The lead supporter of the circumcision ban characterizes the procedure as “genital mutilation that is unnecessary, extremely painful and even dangerous,” the Associated Press reported.
The ballot measure would make the circumcision of a male younger than 18 years old a misdemeanor carrying up to $1,000 in fines or a year in jail. There would be no religious exemption to the ban, even though Jewish and Muslim followers consider circumcision part of their religion.
The move flies in the face of mainstream practices. The New York Times has reported that 80 percent of U.S. males are circumcised.
A group seeking to get the ban off the ballot cites a number of mainstream sources, including Harvard and UC San Francisco physicians, saying the procedure can stem the spread of AIDS and should be based on parental choice.
In the brief filed Friday, the ACLU argues that state law bans any city or county from passing a law that restricts a licensed medical professional from performing “any procedure that falls within the professionally recognized scope of practice of that licensee.”
In other words, no city authority can stop a doctor from doing things that doctors normally do.
The proposal is blatantly anti-Semitic, as Yaakov Kirschen explains at The Moderate Voice:
A bill to ban circumcision of all males under the age of 18 will be on the ballot in San Francisco this November. This is alarming because circumcision of all males is the single most basic ritual of Judaism. Banning circumcision is a direct attack on the practice of Judaism, even if it is presented as having other motives. In fact, history shows us that viral anti-Semitism always comes to town in disguise, usually portraying its motives as a need to protect innocent victims from demonic Jews.
In the past, violent lynch mob pogrom attacks on Jews and Judaism were launched to protect the peasants and townsfolk from Jews who had “poisoned the wells.” The Nazis were just trying to protect racial purity. More recently, Jew-hatred has been packaged as an attempt to protect the “Palestinian” natives from the evil colonialist Jewish State, and now, in 21st century California, the attack on Judaism is being promoted as protecting Jewish babies from their demonic Jewish parents.
A second characteristic of the behavioral virus we call anti-Semitism is its compulsive use of cartoons in spreading its libels. Anti-Semitic movements from Nazism to Fascism to Stalinism to contemporary Islamism all share a surprisingly intensive use of anti-Semitic cartoons in their campaigns. And so it is with the framers of the anti-circumcision bill.
The bill was written by a private non-profit organization based in San Diego, California with chapters in sixteen states. It is led by someone named Matthew Hess. Their goal is a nation-wide ban on the practice of circumcision and, sure enough, Matthew just could not resist the compulsion to draw those standard Nazi blood-libel caricatures of fiendish Rabbis sacrificing innocent babies. Hess, to push his campaign for the anti-circumcision bill, wrote and edited a propagandizing comic book called Foreskinman. The work is incredibly rich in Nazi ideology and filled with vile anti-Semitic imagery. The shockingly blatant anti-Semitism of the piece was so obvious that, in response, the woman who had been a proponent of putting the same bill onto the ballot in Santa Monica has now withdrawn the measure from consideration.
Dr. Tim Groseclose, a professor of political science and economics at UCLA, has spent years constructing precise, quantitative measures of the slant of media outlets. He does this by measuring the political content of news, as a way to measure the PQ, or “political quotient” of voters and politicians.Among his conclusions are: (i) all mainstream media outlets have a liberal bias; and (ii) while some supposedly conservative outlets—such the Washington Times or Fox News’ Special Report—do lean right, their conservative bias is less than the liberal bias of most mainstream outlets.Groseclose contends that the general leftward bias of the media has shifted the PQ of the average American by about 20 points, on a scale of 100, the difference between the current political views of the average American, and the political views of the average resident of Orange County, California or Salt Lake County, Utah. With Left Turn readers can easily calculate their own PQ—to decide for themselves if the bias exists. This timely, much-needed study brings fact to this often overheated debate.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
A striking difference between the United States and many of its European allies when it comes to domestic-based terrorism is the level of protected speech in the United States. As I point out in Safety, Liberty and Islamist Terrorism, European states often have laws on their books that prohibit the promotion or glorification of terrorism, or that ban using the internet to publish information about building bombs and the like. In contrast, since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the First Amendment has been read as prohibiting the criminalization of inflammatory speech “except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
But yesterday [July 14], the federal government issued an indictment against one Emerson Begolly, a U.S. citizen who has been active in posting materials on the Ansar al-Mujahideen English Forum, urging readers at times to carry out violent acts against Americans, civilian planes, financial institutions, police stations, synagogues, trains, etc. However, the terrorist advocacy was a general one and not targeted at anyone in particular or in support of any specific plot. Begolly also posted a link to a site that contained a manual for making explosives but did so with only the warning that those downloading the material should keep it off their hard drive, use software to keep their identities secret, and “use extreme caution” should they try their hand at “attempting anything mentioned” in the manual. But here too, the U.S. statute that prohibits the distribution of information on explosive devices appears to require that it be done with intent that the information will be used for the commission of a crime or knowledge that such information will be so used.
Now, common sense suggests Begolly’s postings should be indictable offenses, and perhaps the Justice Department has decided to use the case as a means to test the limits on just how broadly these statutes can be read. But, ultimately, it might also provide the Roberts Court an opportunity to revisit a precedent set by the Warren Court that took the “clear and present danger” test set forth by Justice Holmes back in 1919—itself a significant liberalization of First Amendment “free speech” cases—and put it on steroids. As we have discovered since 9/11, words can be weapons and it is dubious that the founding generation that ratified the First Amendment had protecting such speech in mind.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Among the philanthropic activities that the Roundtable supports is Operation Hope:Though little known outside Washington and Wall Street, Mr. Bartlett has played a pivotal role with other lobbyists in their fierce and frenetic behind-the-scenes effort that has successfully delayed or watered down many of the major regulatory changes passed by Congress in the aftermath of the financial meltdown.
Wall Street has spared little expense, spending nearly $52 million to woo Washington in the first three months of the year, up 10 percent from the previous quarter, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Mr. Bartlett’s organization, the deep-pocketed Financial Services Roundtable, itself spent $2.5 million in that period, more than any organization focused primarily on the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul law, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase....
In recent months, Mr. Bartlett’s team has gone into high gear, sending regulators some 100 letters proposing changes to soften the Dodd-Frank rules and holding dozens of meetings with lawmakers and regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and other federal agencies.
In February, the roundtable sponsored “Financial Services University,” a two-day conference for Congressional staff members, where “visiting professors” gave presentations on Dodd-Frank. A top executive at Visa, the credit card giant, addressed new caps on debit card fees, according to a copy of the agenda. The associate general counsel for Bank of America discussed new mortgage regulations.
Mr. Bartlett, 63, called the event educational. “We are not here to lobby,” he told roughly 200 attendees. “We’re here to tell you what the facts are, and we think you’ll ultimately agree with us.”
The roundtable has taken a similarly direct approach with regulators. In a letter to the S.E.C., it asked the agency to reward whistle-blowers who report fraud internally before going to the government, urging that it “must be a specific factor in determining the amount of any award.” The language bore a striking resemblance to the S.E.C.’s description of the final regulation, which said working with internal-compliance departments was “a factor that can increase the amount of an award.”
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Candidate pledges, an incidental part of past presidential elections, have exploded this year as advocacy groups seek to hold a future Republican president accountable.
Driven by the same anti-Washington fury that delivered scores of new Republicans to the House last year, the pledges aim to impose litmus tests on candidates and discourage them from altering positions later under political pressure.
“At a time when voters have grown skeptical about politicians and candidates who run on a certain platform only to backtrack once elected, signing a pledge is a good way to strengthen our political promises,” Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania senator, wrote in an opinion column last week.
Critics say the impact of pledges can be pernicious, and they cite the profound impact of the 25-year history of the antitax pledge from Americans for Tax Reform, Mr. Norquist’s group. While supporters say it has enforced party discipline on a central tenet of Republicans’ belief, it has also backed them into an absolutist position.
Indeed, had Congressional Republicans been willing to make small concessions on raising some taxes, they might have already gotten many of the spending cuts they wanted from the White House by now.
“The danger of these pledges is it does prevent candidates from achieving 80 percent of what they want,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who worked for John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008.
One candidate, Jon M. Hunstman Jr., a former governor of Utah, refused to sign anything.
“I don’t sign pledges — other than the Pledge of Allegiance and a pledge to my wife,” Mr. Huntsman has taken to saying on the campaign trail.
At the Washington Post, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin writes:
I am delighted that my Post colleague Michael Gerson has joined Right Turn’s battle against pledges. Michael observes: “Particularly among conservative activists, the desire to bind politicians is often the evidence of disdain for politicians. Only a signed, airtight contract will keep a future president from ideological betrayal.”
Pledges also implicitly show disdain for voters. The voters apparently can’t be trusted to discern for themselves whether Mitt Romney is pro-life or if Tim Pawlenty is against gay marriage. So the special-interest group interposes itself between the candidate and the voters. The pledge masters determine for themselves, not by examination of the candidates’ records or public statements but by the pols’ willingness to capitulate to the pledge drafters, what is what. Considering that we are in the midst of an historic conservative grass-roots effort in which the citizenry has declared itself quite capable, thank you, of self-governance, this is more than a little strange.
Fairly soon, the plethora of pledges reduces them all to white noise. If Pawlenty signs the right-to-life pledge of one group but not the other, what does it mean? And if the candidate has legitimate objections to the language of a pledge, does that make him or her anti-whatever?
At The Atlantic, Chris Good quotes Grover Norquist on making useful distinctions:
Grover Norquist, president of ATR and author of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, says pledges still work -- but he points out flaws with some of the newer ones. Every presidential candidate except Huntsman either has signed it or has indicated an intent to, Norquist said.
"I understand the impulse to build in the [Taxpayer Protection] Pledge, but the pledge is powerful and important and useful because it's been building for the last 24 years," Norquist said. "If you want a politician to make a commitment and you want it to matter, it can't be four paragraphs long, I can't have moving parts -- you can't remember what's in it."
The taxpayer pledge requires little interpretation, compared to the SBA List and Cut, Cap, and Balance pledges, Norquist said: "It's heads or tails, the coin never falls on the edge--it's either a tax increase or it isn't." The SBA List pledge, for instance, leaves doubt as to which executive-branch positions are "relevant" to the issue of abortion.
"Writing these things is not easy. The criticism of these other pledges is not that some person did something foolish, it's that it's very difficult to do politically, to keep your own team together" on one issue, in Norquist said. "It's difficult to write one that encourages people to sign and makes it clear that they've broken it, and is worth having."
Early in the week that ended with New York enacting same-sex marriage, the Rev. Anna Taylor Sweringen stood in a hallway just outside the State Senate chambers. She wore her clerical collar and held a sign saying, “Equality now.” Around her gathered ministers and rabbis of similar sentiment, all in Albany to lobby and pray for the right of gay couples to wed.
The conventional — and erroneous — perception of the gay-marriage issue is that it pits secular forces against religious ones. From New York to California, wherever and whenever the battle has flared, news coverage has focused almost entirely on the religious groups who uniformly denounce it: Mormons, Roman Catholics, evangelical Christians and many Hispanic Pentecostals and African-American Protestants.
Yet the passage of same-sex marriage in New York last month, just two years after its defeat here, attests to the concerted, sustained efforts by liberal Christian and Jewish clergy to advocate for it in the language of faith, to counter the language of morality voiced by foes. In so doing, they provided a kind of political and theological cover to the moderate and conservative state senators who cast the vital swing votes for a 33-to-29 margin.
“It’s like affirmation that this is a spiritual issue, and that it’s integral to a person’s faith,” said Ms. Taylor Sweringen, 54, during an interview this week at her Brooklyn home. “How can you be a person of faith and not be where the issues of justice are being debated?”
Julian E. Zelizer observed the New York vote from his perspective as a history professor at Princeton, a former faculty member at the State University at Albany and the son of a Conservative Jewish rabbi.
“If religious support is fractured, and supporters of the legislation can point to clergy who are on their side,” he wrote in an e-mail, “then it’s easier to counteract the claim of religious conservatives who say there is only one answer to this question. As in previous examples, politicians draw on clergy to give themselves moral authority when taking on these kinds of social and cultural issues. We know more about how the right has done it, but liberals can do the same.”
"Re-election is the farthest thing from my mind,” said Representative Tom Reed, a freshman Republican from upstate New York. “Like many of my colleagues in the freshman class, I came down here to get our fiscal house in order and take care of the threat to national security that we see in the federal debt. We came here not to have long careers. We came here to do something. We don’t care about re-election.”
It is not clear how genuine or widespread that sentiment is in Congress, but regardless, it has upended what President Obama said on Friday had been a “difficult but routine process” in past years.
Reelection is part of their motivation. If Republicans yield too much, too soon, they will face serious challenges in party primaries next year. But Reed's comments suggest that something else is also going on: lawmakers are acting on their concept of the public interest. Republicans and Democrats have principled disagreements about what is good for the country
Saturday, July 16, 2011
We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program's effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.
According to the Head Start Impact Study, which was quite comprehensive, the positive effects of the program were minimal and vanished by the end of first grade. Head Start graduates performed about the same as students of similar income and social status who were not part of the program. These results were so shocking that the HHS team sat on them for several years, according to Russ Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution, who said, "I guess they were trying to rerun the data to see if they could come up with anything positive. They couldn't." (See how California's budget woes will hurt the state's social services.)
Waste is not exclusively an American phenomenon, as Virginia Postrel writes at Bloomberg:
“Infrastructure” may be one of the least glamorous words in the English language, but with the right touch the concrete and steel of roads, bridges, tunnels, dams and railroads can look as alluring as a movie star. Witness the sleekly seductive illustrations produced for today’s California High-Speed Rail Authority or the midcentury pictures of effortlessly flowing superhighways, a genre that reached its apotheosis in Walt Disney’s “Magic Highway U.S.A.” in 1958.
This glamorizing extends not just to imagery but also to forecasts. Project promoters routinely overstate benefits and understate costs -- and not just a little bit.
“Cost overruns in the order of 50 percent in real terms are common for major infrastructure, and overruns above 100 percent are not uncommon,” Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor of major program management at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School, writes in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy. “Demand and benefit forecasts that are wrong by 20-70 percent compared with actual development are common.”
The American Enterprise Institute points to farm programs:
Today, farm policy consists of an array of subsidies, regulations, spending programs, and land-use restrictions that are widely blamed for the increased cost of food, environmental degradation, fiscal burdens, and the failure of global trade negotiations. These inefficient and outdated policies, subsidized by US taxpayers in the 2008 Farm Bill at a cost of $307 billion, are once again up for approval.
AEI has commissioned academics with extensive knowledge of agricultural policy from all over the country to write papers on specific aspects of the Farm Bill, including their recommendations for reform. SEE THE PAPERS HERE.