Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Book on William Rusher

At various points in our textbook, we describe differences among political ideologies.  A forthcoming book will be a most useful source.  David Frisk's  If Not Us, Who? tells the story of National Review publisher William Rusher. From the description by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute:

This entire jaunt would have been unthinkable but for you,” said famed conservative William F. Buckley Jr. to National Review’s longtime publisher, William Rusher. But Rusher is more than just a crucial figure in the history of the Right’s leading magazine. He is a conservative wise man whose many contributions are underappreciated, as this meticulously researched biography reveals.
David B. Frisk paints a masterful portrait of an erudite, witty, yet earnest leader who served as an indispensable link between the Right’s theorists and its political practitioners throughout conservatism’s historic rise. He shows how the versatile Rusher pushed colleagues to engage actively in politics, in the spirit of a maxim often attributed to Ronald Reagan: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
To write If Not Us, Who? Frisk conducted dozens of interviews and pored over Rusher’s correspondence and public writings. He vividly captures both the joys and the struggles at National Review, including Rusher’s close but complex relationship with the legendary Buckley. Frisk also uncovers Rusher’s contributions to the conservative ascendancy, from the pivotal Goldwater campaign through the Reagan era and beyond.





If Not Us, Who?: William Rusher, <i>National Review</i>, and the Conservative Movement Cover

New Texas Laws

State legislators deliberate about a wide variety of matters, large and small. But no matter now narrow, every bill is important to someone. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:
Come Thursday, there will be some new laws in town.

No longer will most Texans have to worry about leaving guns in their cars while at work. Drivers won't have to worry about slowing down on some highways at sundown. Teens caught "sexting" face misdemeanor charges -- and attending state-sponsored classes with their parents about the dangers of sending sexually explicit messages and texts.

Those new laws -- along with the state budget, which includes billions of dollars in cuts -- are among the hundreds that go into effect Thursday. More than 1,400 new laws were passed this year, nearly half of which go into effect Sept. 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

"These laws are a lot of small things that might add up to be something big," said Brandon Rottinghaus, assistant political science professor at the University of Houston. "You have a fairly conservative agenda that manifested in the grouping of these laws.

"Collectively, people may feel a trend toward more conservative governing," he said. "Among the bigger things, the general scope of the budget and the major issue -- the need to cut billions of dollars and the way in which it was cut -- shows a distinctly conservative stamp on the Legislature."
Three measures illustrate the range of concerns that the lawmakers addressed:
Day care

This bill was passed in the memory of Nathan King, who died after day-care workers gave him medication that his parents had not approved. Under this bill, day-care workers need written parental permission to give medicine to a child or face prosecution. HB1615

Domestic violence

Protective orders will now cover not only the human victims but also their pets. Victims have said this is important because they often have to leave pets behind when fleeing violence and their abusers may threaten to kill or injure the pet. SB279

'Noodling'

Texans will be able to use their bare hands to catch catfish, using their fingers as bait, officially legalizing "noodling." State-issued fishing licenses and freshwater fishing stamps are required. HB2189
One thing is sure: the opposition research staffs of rival presidential candidates will scrutinize the bills that Governor Perry signed, looking for material to use against him. The "noodling" bill, however, will probably not come up in debates.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Hot Line

The New York Times reports:

On Aug. 30, 1963, a direct line of communication between Washington and Moscow, dubbed the “Hot Line,” became operational. The Hot Line was established after previous methods of communication were found to be dangerously cumbersome.

The New York Times article about the communication link reported that it was “a direct outgrowth of the serious delays that developed in diplomatic communications between the two capitals during the Cuban crisis last fall,” and would reduce the time required for direct communication between the heads of the two governments from hours to minutes.

The equipment included four American-made teletype machines installed at the Kremlin, and four East German-made teletype machines installed in the Pentagon.

The Hot Line was first used in 1967 during the Six Day War between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, to clarify the intentions of fleet movements in the Mediterranean that could have been interpreted as hostile. Richard Nixon used it during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and again during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. It was used several more times during the 1970s and again during the Reagan Administration.

Although the Hot Line had limited application in real politics, the concept was eagerly adopted by fiction writers. Instead of mundane Teletype machines being manned by trained operators in the Pentagon and the Kremlin, Hollywood often depicted the “Red Phone” as a direct phone line between the Oval Office and the office of the Premier.

...

Despite the infrequency with which it is used, and the improved relationship between Russia and the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the Hot Line still exists. Over the years, it has been upgraded several times to keep up with advancing communications technologies.

An inaccurate (if satirical) depiction of the Hotline in Dr. Strangelove (1964):


Monday, August 29, 2011

Invisible Candidate, Invisible State

Gary Johnson, a respected former governor of New Mexico, is running for the Republican presidential nomination. Unfortunately for him, he has to compete for support with a much better-known libertarian, Ron Paul. Johnson faces a conundrum: few have heard of him because he gets little media attention and he gets little media attention because so few people have heard of him.

Moreover, many Americans do not even know that his state is part of the country. In 2007 New Mexico Magazine editor Walter Lopez spoke about the problem with NPR's Lynn Neary:

NEARY: You know, Walter, when I first heard this, I really couldn't believe it. How often does this really happen that Americans don't know that New Mexico is one of the 50 states?

Mr. LOPEZ: It happens quite often. Normally, I would say in 50 to 100 different submissions a month.

NEARY: Do you have any favorites?

Mr. LOPEZ: Yeah. Yeah. Our favorite story is Phil(ph), who live in Santa Fe and he had a relative who was competing in the Atlanta Olympics so he desperately wanted tickets. So he gave them a call and the lady said, well, you got to have to call the Mexican Consulate in order to order your tickets. And he said, why is that? I'm in the United States. I'm in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The supervisor said, old Mexico, New Mexico it's still the same. You're going to have to call the Consulate.

NEARY: Do you hear a lot of common themes in these stories?

Mr. LOPEZ: Oh, yes. There's several common themes. People who have cell phones and visiting New Mexico and their service goes dead. The first response from the provider said we don't service Mexico. And I just had a person who went to the Post Office who's going to mail birthday present for a granddaughter. I believe it was in Las Cruses, New Mexico and it was an enormous amount of postage. And then she noticed the stamp on the package itself said foreign mail or something of the sort.

And the same thing with banks, you know. The lady who received a $50-birthday check from her parents, and she deposited it in local a credit union in Pennsylvania. And she got a notice from the bank, asking her if she wanted it in dollars or pesos.

If the United States chose presidents the way corporations choose executives, Johnson's impressive background would at least get him to the interview stage. But as Bill Richardson, another New Mexico governor, pointed out in a 2008 presidential campaign commercial, the nomination process does not work that way:



(The inspiration for the Richardson ad was a 1971 public service ad featuring a self-educated Abraham Lincoln confronting a sandwich-chomping interviewer.)

Americans Rate Organizations

Previous posts have dealt with confidence in institutions. (For latest data, see here.) On a closely related topic, Gallup reports:
Americans view the computer industry the most positively and the federal government the least positively when asked to rate 25 business and industry sectors. All five of the top-rated sectors this year are related to either computers or food.

Gallup has asked Americans each August since 2001 to indicate whether they have positive or negative views of a list of business and industry sectors. The 2011 update is from Gallup's Aug. 11-14 survey.

The results range from a +62 net positive rating for the computer industry to a -46 net positive rating for the federal government.

The sectors Americans view most negatively have all had well-publicized problems in recent years. The federal government has been near the bottom of the list in previous years, but is at the absolute bottom this year for the first time, displacing the oil and gas industry. Seventeen percent of Americans have a positive view of the federal government -- the lowest of any sector tested this year -- while 63% have a negative image. Only one sector, oil and gas, has a higher negative percentage, 64%. Other poorly ranked sectors include real estate, healthcare, banking, and the legal field.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gaffes

Opposition research has long been part of campaigning. Sometimes, candidates supply ammunition to oppo guys. Beth Fouhy writes at The Associated Press:
Voters say they want authentic, straight-talking candidates. But voters also tend to punish candidates who veer too far off script or who make assertions that, while true, cause people to cringe and question whether these politicians are out of touch with those they seek to represent.

Consider Romney, the early GOP front-runner who recently confronted a heckler in Iowa who was demanding higher taxes on corporations.

"Corporations are people, my friend," the former Massachusetts governor shot back. "Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people."

Romney said it again at a campaign event in New Hampshire on Wednesday.

"When you say tax corporations, steel, vinyl, concrete, they don't pay taxes. Only people do," he said.

Corporations are made up of the people who work for them and stockholders who benefit from their profits. The Supreme Court said as much last year when it eased restrictions on campaign spending by corporations, saying businesses deserve the same freedom of speech individuals enjoy.

But it was smart for Romney to say, given the nation's high unemployment and deep resentment of Wall Street? Probably not.

Democrats, predictably, pounced. President Barack Obama said he disagreed with the notion that corporate tax breaks are "good for ordinary Americans."

It's possible that Romney's comment won't damage his campaign because Republican primary voters tend to view business interests more favorably than do Democrats. But because of his wealth and history at Bain Capital, a private equity firm that created jobs in some places but made them disappear elsewhere through consolidation, the remark could reinforce the perception that Romney is disconnected from the concerns of working people.

"The gaffes that get traction tend to be the ones that fit a narrative that already exists about the candidate," said Marc Hetherington, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University who studies campaign rhetoric. "Since corporations are very unpopular right now, it could really stick to someone like Romney who is so identified with the business community."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Emergency and Disaster

Because of Hurricane Irene, the president has issued several "emergency" declarations. What is the difference between an emergency declaration and a disaster declaration? The Congressional Research Service explains:
Under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (P.L. 93-288) there are two principal forms of presidential action to authorize federal supplemental assistance. Emergency declarations are made to protect property and public health and safety and to lessen or avert the threat of a major disaster or catastrophe. Emergency declarations are often made when a threat is recognized (such as the emergency declarations for Hurricane Katrina which were made prior to landfall) and are intended to supplement and coordinate local and state efforts prior to the event such as evacuations and protection of public assets. In contrast, a major disaster declaration is made as a result of the disaster or catastrophic event and constitutes a broader authority that helps states and local communities, as well as families and individuals, recover from the damage caused by the event. The differences between the two forms of declarations remain an area of study regarding what events may or may not qualify for the respective declarations.
The president will probably issue disaster declarations in the days ahead. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) explains how federalism comes into play during a disaster:
The Stafford Act (§401) requires that: "All requests for a declaration by the President that a major disaster exists shall be made by the Governor of the affected State." A State also includes the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia are also eligible to request a declaration and receive assistance.

The Governor's request is made through the regional FEMA office. State and Federal officials conduct a preliminary damage assessment (PDA) to estimate the extent of the disaster and its impact on individuals and public facilities. This information is included in the Governor's request to show that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and the local governments and that Federal assistance is necessary. Normally, the PDA is completed prior to the submission of the Governor's request. However, when an obviously severe or catastrophic event occurs, the Governor's request may be submitted prior to the PDA. Nonetheless, the Governor must still make the request.

...

Based on the Governor's request, the President may declare that a major disaster or emergency exists, thus activating an array of Federal programs to assist in the response and recovery effort. Learn more about evaluating a request for a major disaster declaration.

Not all programs, however, are activated for every disaster. The determination of which programs are activated is based on the needs found during damage assessment and any subsequent information that may be discovered.

Some declarations will provide only individual assistance or only public assistance. Hazard mitigation opportunities are assessed in most situations.

One Hurricane Irene has passed, cleanup will start. But what is cleanup, and who does it? The Congressional Research Service reports:

After a disaster, when a region turns its attention to rebuilding, one of the greatest challenges to moving forward may involve how to properly manage debris generated by the event. Options include typical methods of waste management—landfilling, recycling, or burning. The challenge after a major disaster (e.g., a building or bridge collapse, or a flood, hurricane, or earthquake) is in managing significantly greater amounts of debris often left in the wake of such an event.

Debris after a disaster may include waste soils and sediments, vegetation (trees, limbs, shrubs), municipal solid waste (common household garbage, personal belongings), construction and demolition debris (in some instances, entire residential structures and all their contents), vehicles (cars, trucks, boats), food waste, so-called white goods (refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners), and household hazardous waste (cleaning agents, pesticides, pool chemicals). Each type of waste may contain or be contaminated with certain toxic or hazardous constituents. In the short term, removal of debris is necessary to facilitate the recovery of a geographic area. In the long term, the methods by which these wastes are to be managed require proper consideration to ensure that their management (by landfilling, for example) will not pose future threats to human health or the environment.

After a presidentially declared disaster, federal funding or direct assistance in response to the disaster may be available to a state or local government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may provide funding through its Public Assistance (PA) Grant Program for debris removal operations that eliminate immediate threats to lives, public health, and safety, or eliminate immediate threats of significant damage to improved public or private property. The federal share of funding to the affected area will be stated in the disaster declaration, but will be
no less than 75%. The funding will be available for response activities in a designated geographic area for a specific period of time.

In addition to funding, if the state or local government does not have the capability to respond to the disaster, it may request direct federal assistance from FEMA. Federal agencies most likely to assist with debris removal operations are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Activities they may perform include right-of-way clearance, curbside waste pickup, private property debris removal, property demolition, assistance with contaminated debris management, and collection of household hazardous waste.

What the Book is About

Our premise is that narrow self-interest cannot explain everything in public life.

There is no better illustration of the point than this photograph. Today, in the middle of Hurricane Irene, a young soldier walked his tour at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.


Standing guard in the face of Hurricane Irene


WTOP explains:
While on duty the Tomb Sentinel crosses a 63-foot rubber surfaced walkway in exactly 21 steps. He then faces the Tomb for 21 seconds, turns again, and pauses an additional 21 seconds before retracing his steps.

The 21 is symbolic of the highest salute according to dignitaries in military and state ceremonies.

Members of The Old Guard have guarded the Tomb every second, of every day regardless of weather or holidays since April 6, 1948.

Democracy, Deliberation, Distrust

At the Des Moines Register, Professor Christopher Larimer of the University of Northern Iowa writes about a paradox:
When Congress is doing the job it was designed to do, Americans tend to have the least respect for it. Survey after survey shows that what drives disapproval of Congress is the perception of constant bickering and an inability to compromise.

Yet, if you read over the founding documents, that is exactly what Congress is supposed to do. It is supposed to be the source of constant deliberation. Unfortunately, for Congress, people tend to view bickering with suspicion. In fact, for most people, the image of constant bickering fuels suspicion that members of Congress are acting on their own self interest rather than the public interest — everyone should be able to agree on what is best for the public, so any disagreement means that somebody is trying to carve out a little extra for themselves.

The debt deal debate magnified this perception beyond compare. Fully 71 percent of the public now thinks members of Congress (as a whole) do not deserve re-election according to a Gallup poll released the same day as the CNN/ORC poll.

The images we saw on television and read about in the newspapers surrounding the debt deal exemplified this paradox brilliantly. President Obama calling out Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner by name, followed by Speaker Boehner’s rebuttal, presented the American public with as sharp an image of this bickering as we’ve seen for some time.

As the bickering became more intense, trust and approval of Congress declined. The more Congress argues and deliberates, the more the paradox of distrust takes hold.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Memorial Mistakes

The Martin Luther King Memorial features a couple of embarrassing mistakes -- literally set in stone.

One is a misquotation, as Rachel Manteuffel writes at The Washington Post:

The memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. has been a little controversial — but not for the right reason. Someone, somewhere along the line, made a decision that makes King look like something he was not: an arrogant jerk.

“I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

...

When I looked up the King quote, I found that the sin was actually worse than simply shoe-horning in an uncharacteristically immodest statement. The quote carved into the memorial on the Mall is not what Martin Luther King Jr. said. This is the equivalent of a Hollywood publicist pulling four words out of context from a newspaper review to make a bad film seem good. Except in this case, it’s the reverse: It takes the good out of context and makes it bad.

King’s full quote:

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

This comes at the end of a long and powerful sermon. The speech, called “The Drum Major Instinct,” is about the desire in the human spirit to be great without doing any great, difficult things. To be at the front of the pack, drawing all the attention. This is folly, King says. And then, right at the start of the words at issue, he says, “if.” If  you want to make me a drum major, then say I was a drum major for justice.

An “if” clause is an extraordinarily bad thing to leave out of a quote. If  I had to be a type of cheese, being Swiss is best.


The other error is a well-known misattribution, as Jamie Stiehm writes, also in The Washington Post:
The arc of a mistake is long, and it now stretches from the Oval Office over to the Mall.

An error has been etched in marble on the grand Martin Luther King Jr. memorial that was to be dedicated Sunday, on the 48th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Some of King’s speeches and writings have been inscribed in the memorial. But one of the sayings on the wall by the Tidal Basin is incorrect — or incomplete — in its attribution.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

According to David Remnick’s biography of Obama, that is the president’s “favorite quotation.” Obama brought the idea back into present-day parlance and even had it sewn into the rug in the Oval Office when he redecorated last year. But as I wrote on this page last September, King is not the source of that quote.

The president should correct the record on words he cherishes, which are mistakenly and commonly cited as King’s.

Theodore Parker, a long-gone Bostonian abolitionist and Unitarian minister, is the true author. The charismatic Parker died at age 49 in 1860, just before the Civil War.

Ron Paul Rising ... Up to a Point

Gallup reports that Ron Paul is the presidential choice of 13 percent of Republicans nationwide, behind Perry and Romney but ahead of all others.

Gallup also reports that Paul would be in a statistical dead heat with President Obama in a general elections.

And yet the Project for Excellence in Journalism shows that the media tend to ignore him. Jon Stewart has made the same point:

Lee-Anne Goodman writes at The Canadian Press:

Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul says he's the Rodney Dangerfield of U.S. politics, griping recently that he gets no respect from the media in terms of coverage even after finishing a close second to Michele Bachmann in the often game-changing Iowa straw poll.

The media, Paul said at the time, "is frightened by me challenging the status quo and the establishment."

...

Dennis Simon, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said there's little doubt Paul is pushing America's buttons on a larger scale than he did in his previous two attempts to get the Republican nomination, most recently in 2008.

"He's resonating, there's no question," Simon said in an interview Thursday.

And unlike in '08, the issues that Paul has been railing about for more than two decades as a congressman have suddenly gone mainstream.

Paul has long been critical of the Federal Reserve Board, for example. Public opinion polls now suggest Americans overwhelmingly agree with his call to audit the Fed.

He's consistently called for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. In fact, he railed against America's monstrously expensive overseas wars so passionately during the most recent Republican debate that he got the biggest and most prolonged cheers of the night, something that went largely unreported.

He's not alone _ the majority of Americans now want U.S. soldiers to come home as soon as possible.

Paul has also passionately advocated smaller government and a drastic reduction in the national debt, and refused to vote earlier this month in favour of legislation that raised the country's debt ceiling as the U.S. teetered on the brink of defaulting on its US$14 trillion debt.

Simon doesn't think Paul can soar much higher, however.

"I think that he's got an upper limit and he's approaching it," Simon said.

"After one of the Republican debates in 2008, his online fundraising shot up _ we've seen it happen before. But he and Bachmann and Gov. Perry are all chasing the same Republican voters, so that's where I think he'll soon run into a wall."

Apple Politics

Our chapter on interest groups asks how corporations try to influence public policy. Steve Jobs's decision to step down as Apple CEO is an occasion to ponder the company's political role. Juliana Gruenwald writes at National Journal:

Despite Apple’s outsized influence on the consumer-electronics market, it is not a high-profile player in Washington, and most expect it to maintain this low-key approach under the leadership of Tim Cook, who formally succeeded cofounder Steve Jobs as CEO this week.

“It’s a company that keeps its head down, [and focuses] on its products. It’s rarely seen as a front-runner on issues,” Association for Competitive Technology President Morgan Reed, whose group represents many makers of applications used on iPhones and other Apple products, said in an interview.

Given how strong that corporate culture has been, I don’t expect them to change. Tim Cook has been running [day-to-day] operations for the company for a while. It reflects his culture as much as it reflects Steve Jobs’.”

In an internal e-mail to Apple employees on Thursday obtained by the technology news website Ars Technica, Cook seemed to echo this point, saying “I want you to be confident that Apple is not going to change. I cherish and celebrate Apple’s unique principles and values.”

Apple belongs to a few Washington trade associations, including the Business Software Alliance; the wireless-industry group CTIA; the Consumer Electronics Association; the Information Technology Industry Council; and TechAmerica. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the company plans to maintain its current approach and staff level in Washington.

Michael Beckel writes at The Center for Responsive Politics:

Some lawmakers are among those grappling with the news of Steve Jobs' retirement as the chief executive officer of Apple.

Three dozen members of Congress held stock in Apple in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. That makes it one of the most popular assets among all congressional investors.

Collectively, these 36 lawmakers owned at least $1.8 million in Apple stock, with the holdings of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accounting for about 55 percent of this sum.

Because lawmakers are only required to disclose the value of their assets in broad ranges, their collective Apple stock could be worth as much as $7 million.

...

During the first half of 2011, Apple spent $1.35 million on lobbying and employed 25 lobbyists.

In 1998, the first year for which the Center has data, Apple employed just two federal lobbyists and spent $180,000 on lobbying. Since then, the company has never spent more than $1.71 million per year on lobbying.

Last year, Apple spent $1.61 million on lobbying and employed 16 lobbyists.

The company still has a long way to go, though, if it hopes to catch industry giants such as Google and Microsoft in terms of lobbying expenditures. Google spent more than $5 million on lobbying last year, while Microsoft spent $6.9 million -- more than any other company in the computer industry.

Apple does not operate a political action committee, but for his part, Jobs has been a prolific campaign donor.

According to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, Jobs has contributed $253,700 to federal candidates and committees between 1996 and 2006. Of that sum, 100 percent has benefited Democrats -- including $167,500 to the Democratic National Committee. [emphasis added]


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Perry Pledges

As we note in the textbook, pledges are an enduring feature of American politics. Jennifer Rubin writes at The Washington Post:

As other Republican contenders did before him, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed the Susan B. Anthony List’s antiabortion pledge. That pledge includes this: “Select pro-life appointees for relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions, in particular the head of National Institutes of Health, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Health & Human Services.” This would exclude people such as Rudy Giuliani as attorney general. That might be fine for some Republicans, but Perry endorsed Giuliani for president in 2008. Good enough for the Oval Office but not the Justice Department? I asked the Perry campaign to explain but no answer was forthcoming.
It was not his first pledge. Running for reelection in 2010, he signed one from Americans for Tax Reform:

Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge today. The Pledge is a written commitment to Texas taxpayers to "oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes."

"At a time when lawmakers in Washington are considering Cap & Trade legislation that is estimated to cost families upwards of $4,000 per year and a health care bill that will levy thousands of dollars in higher taxes on millions of families, Governor Perry's assurance that taxes won't be raised at the state level under his watch is as important as ever," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "Americans for Tax Reform applauds Gov. Perry for making this important commitment Texans and encourages all candidates for office to sign the Pledge."

The gubernatorial version of the pledge does not specify that it applies only to state taxes. When Perry complains that half of Americans do not pay federal income tax, he seems to be suggesting an increase in their taxes, which would violate the pledge.

Another problem: Perry also repeatedly pledged not to run for president.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Debt, the President, and the Independent Vote

Ian Swanson writes at The Hill:
The unpopular debt-ceiling deal has significantly hampered President Obama’s effort to win over independent voters.
...

Ross Baker, a professor at Rutgers University who studies the presidency, said Obama didn’t strengthen his position with any identifiable constituency during the debt-ceiling debate.

“He lost his hero status with liberals if he hadn't previously with the extension of Bush tax cuts,” said Baker, referring to a December deal that extended all of the tax rates approved by former President George W. Bush. That bipartisan agreement was also seen as an effort to win over Independents.

“His willingness not to press for revenues did not help him with persuadable GOP leaners and he is just anathema to conservatives and would have been irrespective of the outcome,” Baker said.

...

Jason Johnson, a political professor at Hiram College in Ohio, said the White House was correct in thinking that independents would value the deal. The problem, Johnson said, is that the public soured on the debt accord since it was quickly followed by the S&P's decision to downgrade the U.S. credit rating.

“He ends up having a deal which the left is unhappy with and you still get a downgrade, which is really the thing independents care about,” Johnson said

The latest data will probably not boost the president's prospects. The Congressional Budget Office reports:

The United States continues to face profound budgetary and economic challenges. CBO discusses those challenges in the Budget and Economic Outlook: An Update—an annual report, released today, which presents the agency’s updated budget and economic projections for the current year and the next decade.

Federal budget deficits and debt have surged in the past few years, and this year’s deficit—projected to be $1.3 trillion—stems in part from the long shadow cast on the U.S. economy by the financial crisis and the recent recession. Although economic output began to expand again two years ago, the pace of the recovery has been slow, and the economy remains in a severe slump. Recent turmoil in financial markets in the United States and overseas threatens to prolong the slump. CBO expects that the recovery will continue but that real (inflation-adjusted) GDP will stay well below the economy’s potential—a level that corresponds to a high rate of use of labor and capital—for several years.

CBO projects that real gross domestic product will rise 2.3 percent this year and 2.7 percent next year. It also reckons that the unemployment rate will drop to 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter of this year and to 8.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 and then stay above 8 percent until 2014.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Statistical Abstract -- RIP?

Our chapter on bureaucracy explains that one of its major functions is the collection and publication of statistics. Robert Samuelson writes at The Washington Post that the Commerce Department is planning to cease publication of The Statistical Abstract of the United States.The reason: budget pressure.

So, the agency's 2012 budget would eliminate the Statistical Compendia Branch, which compiles the Stat Abstract and other publications (example: the "County and City Data Book"). The cut: $2.9 million and 24 jobs. Both the book and online versions of the Stat Abstract would vanish. This is a mighty big loss for a mighty small saving.

It can be argued that much of what's in the Stat Abstract is online somewhere. True -- but irrelevant. Many government and private databases are hard to access and search, even if you know what you want. Often, you don't. The Stat Abstract has two great virtues. First, it conveniently presents in one place a huge amount of information from a vast array of government and private sources. For example, the National Fire Protection Association tells us that 30,170 fire departments fought 1.45 million fires in 2008. Second, the footnotes show where to get more information.

Also at The Post, E.J. Dionne writes:

The statistics-gathering capability is of our government is one of its underappreciated functions, and our government discharges this responsibility extremely well. In doing so, it not only helps journalists who thrive on facts (or at least we ought to) but also businesses, teachers and researchers of all kinds. And the Stat Abstract is an example of something else government ought to do: It democratizes knowledge by making enormous amounts of information comprehensible and easily accessible.

I was introduced to the Statistical Abstract many years ago by a great journalist, Jack Rosenthal of the New York Times. Jack, who later became the paper’s editorial page editor, had a gift for producing remarkable newspaper stories just out one or two interesting numbers, although he loves to gobble up numbers in much larger quantities. Jack persuaded me, and I still believe it, that many of the best news stories are right there before our eyes. You just have to find them in the publicly available data.

And the death of the Stat Abstract reminds us that it’s while it’s easy to talk about big cuts government spending, even cuts in supposedly “non-essential” spending can hurt and have unfortunate effects. No, I’m not defending every penny the government spends, but be wary of claims that this or that reduction is “an easy cut.” Sometimes, cuts are easier than they look.



Deliberative Poll Results

Earlier posts discussed the What's Next California Deliberative Poll. Yesterday the project released the results. The findings about the Legislature are particularly relevant to our chapters on federalism and campaigns and elections:
Overall, participants were skeptical of the Legislature’s efficacy. Close to 70% questioned whether the Legislature was able “to get important things done.” However, Poll participants were optimistic about the public’s capacity to inform and engage with government, and after deliberation supported legislative and electoral reforms intended to improve the ability of legislators to represent their constituents, such as lengthening legislative terms from two to four years in the Assembly and four to six in the Senate, which rose from 46% to 80% after deliberation. When asked to choose between having fewer legislators who each represent more people vs. more legislators who each represent fewer people, support for the latter option increased from 57% to 71%. Given the low regard the participants had for the job the Legislature is doing, this support for increasing the length of terms and the size of the Legislature is noteworthy.

California has 40 Senators and 80 Representative in its Assembly, the same number as it had in 1879, when the state had under 1,000,000 residents. It now has over 37 million people and each member of the Assembly represents a district that ranges from several hundred thousand persons to over 1,000,000, larger than some states.

This requires members of the Assembly to raise huge sums of money and spend most of their time fundraising and campaigning. It has also resulted in donors and special interest groups having inordinate power in Sacramento.

This has got to change.

California has term limits, limits on contributions and disclosure rules but still has massive deficits and gridlock in its lawmaking. Reducing the size of the districts, as advocated by RescueCalifornia, will greatly reduce the need for campaign funds and return politics in this state to debating policy rather than a contest of television and radio ads.

The Town Hall Dearth

No Labels reports:

Is your representative holding a public town hall meeting this August recess? No Labels called every office, and only 40% are scheduling open town hall meetings. It’s a sad sign of the state of affairs when our elected officials don’t have time to meet with their constituents.

No Labels activists spoke to all 430 current members of the House of Representatives to find that only 175* of them scheduled meetings. The results of the phone survey also reveal that members of both parties share the blame, with 67% of Democrats and 50% of Republicans stating they had no town hall meetings scheduled for the recess period.

*UPDATE: Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) is holding town hall meetings this month, as is Rep. Steve King (R-IA).

Last week, USA Today provided some background:

The 2009 protests over health care not only pushed the Tea Party activism to the front lines of American politics, it also changed how members of Congress interact with their constituents. And it put the sleepy August recess on the political calendar, transforming town hall meetings into made-for-YouTube events.

Matt Kibbe, the director of the Tea Party umbrella group FreedomWorks, had been organizing protests at town hall-style meetings since the mid-1990s. What made the 2009 protests possible, he said, was the ease of alerting volunteers by e-mail.

This year, a website promoted by conservative talk show host Glenn Beck gives location information, talking points and advice: "Make sure that a Tea Partier is the first person to the microphone ," the "August Action" kit says.

Even liberal groups begrudgingly admire the Tea Party tactic, and are replicating it.

"The Tea Party managed to really spook Congress with a really smart, organized effort. After a week of aggressive town-hall disruptions, they managed to create a narrative about the health care law that stuck," said Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, a liberal advocacy group launched in 1998.

The forums have the ability to show a depth of passion on an issue that e-mail petitions — once the staple of MoveOn's organizing — can't convey, he said.

...

Now, town-hall-style meetings are less publicized, Kibbe said. He worries his town-hall strategy may become a victim of its own success. It awakened opponents to the power of the strategy, and may discourage some members from holding open meetings. Telephone town halls, webcasts and business luncheons allow members of Congress to control the audience and the questions.

"If that's a fact, it's too bad, because it's one of the few ways I could use to know what ordinary people in my district thought," said former representative Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who heads the Center on Congress at Indiana University. "So much of the problem with our politics today is that politicians tend to interact with homogenous groups, and they therefore misinterpret a mandate."

Protesters on the left and right have drawn inspiration from Saul Alinsky. But so have their targets. Alinsky wrote:

Once a specific tactic is used, it ceases to be outside the experience of the enemy. Before long he devises countermeasures that void the previous effective tactic. Recently the head of a corporation showed me the blueprint of a new plant and pointed to a large ground-floor area: “Boy, have we got an architect who is with it!” he chuckled. “See that big hall? That’s our sit-in room! When the sit-inners come they’ll be shown in and there will be coffee, T.V., and good toilet facilities — they can sit here until hell freezes over.


Monday, August 22, 2011

US v. Qadhafi

Tonight, the momentum against the Qadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The Qadhafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.

The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Moammar Qadhafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end. Qadhafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all. Meanwhile, the United States has recognized the Transitional National Council as the legitimate governing authority in Libya. At this pivotal and historic time, the TNC should continue to demonstrate the leadership that is necessary to steer the country through a transition by respecting the rights of the people of Libya, avoiding civilian casualties, protecting the institutions of the Libyan state, and pursuing a transition to democracy that is just and inclusive for all of the people of Libya. A season of conflict must lead to one of peace.

The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people. Going forward, the United States will continue to stay in close coordination with the TNC. We will continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected. And we will continue to work with our allies and partners in the international community to protect the people of Libya, and to support a peaceful transition to democracy.

The United States has been in conflict with the regime in Libya for more than 25 years. In 1986, President Reagan launched air strikes:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Invisible Primary

At The Weekly Standard, Jay Cost writes that, since 1980, the parties' nominees have been acceptable to their establishments.

According to political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller, this is not an accident. What we have seen in the last 40 years is the rise of an invisible primary, in which the party establishment settles upon a favored candidate:

The invisible primary is essentially a long-running national conversation among members of each party coalition about who can best unite the party and win the next presidential election. The conversation occurs in newspapers, on Sunday morning television talk shows, among activist friends over beer, in chatter at party events, and, most recently, in the blogosphere.

How can we tell who is the winner of the invisible primary? Money, for one. The candidate who raises the most money is also the one who likely has the strongest support among the well-heeled party elite. Another strong indication is endorsements from public officials, which are an outward sign of how strongly a candidate is performing in this behind the scenes conversation.

In the last 40 years, the invisible primary has become extremely important, for two reasons. First, the cost of campaigning has increased exponentially (consider: television advertisements, campaign consultants, and get out the vote organizations). Meanwhile, the utility of public funds has decreased in the last 15 or so years; public financing imposes hard spending limits that knee-capped Bob Dole in the summer of 1996, and all serious contenders have declined public funds for the primary ever since. Thus, it is hard to imagine anybody winning the nomination having raised less than $75 million on their own.

Second, frontloading has altered the nature of the nomination battle. In 1976, Jimmy Carter could start small – with virtually no establishment support – but pile win upon win for weeks on end, so that by the time people caught on to the strength of his candidacy, nobody could stop him. That’s not the case anymore. On February 5, 2008, there were a whopping 21 Republican primaries or caucuses – just one month after Iowa. To be competitive, a candidate must either have strong name recognition (like McCain and Clinton) or competent statewide organizations already in place (like Obama) by the end of the pre-primary year. That's no little feat, and to do that they need the support of local politicians and plenty of cash. In other words: they need to win or place in the invisible primary.


All the Candidates' Books

At The Washington Post, Tevi Troy considers what books GOP candidates have read:

The reading lists matter. Books can communicate candidates’ intellectual predilections and policy preferences, but they also humanize them. When voters hear that a potential leader of the free world enjoys a book they’ve read, it forges a connection.

When politicians discuss books, they usually speak of insight and inspiration. In Michele Bachmann's case, however, repulsion had an influence:

In a 2010 speech in Michigan, she decried “Burr” as a “snotty little novel” that “mocked our Founding Fathers.” Vidal’s constant mockery offended her — “as a reasonable, decent, fair-minded person who happened to be a Democrat” — so much so that she put down the book and said to herself: “You know what? I think I must be a Republican. I don’t think I’m a Democrat.” Such a transformation is a long-standing trope among Republicans, many of whom have gone from left to right. Ronald Reagan often referred to his days as an FDR Democrat: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party,” he said. “The party left me.” Subtly, Bachmann is seizing that mantle.

As for Mitt Romney:

Romney has cited the Bible as his favorite book, but also has confessed his affection for science fiction and fantasy. In 2008, he admitted that he was a fan of "Battlefield Earth," written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard; more recently, he revealed his penchant for Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series, as well as Terry Goodkind's "The Law of Nines" (even though he called it "The Rule of Nines"). The admissions of a genuine sci-fi guy, or is he seeking to counter his stuffed-shirt reputation?

And Ron Paul:

At the end of Paul’s “The Revolution: A Manifesto,” he recommends dozens of books, many of which emphasize his differences with more traditional GOP thinking. For instance, many of the works dealing with international affairs are not in the mainstream of Republican thought. They include Robert Pape’s “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” Chalmers Johnson’s “Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire,” and Michael Scheuer’s “Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror.”

And Newt Gingrich:

The former House speaker is the GOP contender most linked to the world of books. In the 1990s, he recommended books for his House colleagues, mostly business strategy reads such as Alvin Toffler's "The Third Wave" or Peter Drucker's "The Effective Executive." Upon leaving the House in 1998, he became a prolific author, producing 17 books on everything from energy policy to the role of faith in American history.

Writing in the New York Times magazine, Andrew Ferguson recently characterized Gingrich's books as "evidence of mental exertions unimaginable in any other contemporary politician." He also identified certain strains in the Gingrich oeuvre, including warnings of a looming Armageddon and faith in the ability of technology to see us through most challenges.

And Rick Perry:

Overall, Perry's reading and writing reveal a very political mind at work, conscious of core constituencies and provocative in an era when office-seekers often opt for caution.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Green Jobs

A number of political leaders have discussed "green jobs" as a way of fostering economic growth and protecting the environment -- a trade-on instead of a trade-off. So far, the idea has been a disappointment. The New York Times reports:

A study released in July by the non-partisan Brookings Institution found clean-technology jobs accounted for just 2 percent of employment nationwide and only slightly more — 2.2 percent — in Silicon Valley. Rather than adding jobs, the study found, the sector actually lost 492 positions from 2003 to 2010 in the South Bay, where the unemployment rate in June was 10.5 percent.

Federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed, government records show. Two years after it was awarded $186 million in federal stimulus money to weatherize drafty homes, California has spent only a little over half that sum and has so far created the equivalent of just 538 full-time jobs in the last quarter, according to the State Department of Community Services and Development.

The weatherization program was initially delayed for seven months while the federal Department of Labor determined prevailing wage standards for the industry. Even after that issue was resolved, the program never really caught on as homeowners balked at the upfront costs.

“Companies and public policy officials really overestimated how much consumers care about energy efficiency,” said Sheeraz Haji, chief executive of the Cleantech Group, a market research firm. “People care about their wallet and the comfort of their home, but it’s not a sexy thing.”


Friday, August 19, 2011

Perry and Bachmann

Our chapter on mass media discusses how candidates interact with the press. KPRC in Houston reports on Texas Governor Rick Perry's presidential campaign:
"Perry is good on the stump and one-on-one, and that will do him well. The press is going to be unrelenting," Rice University political science professor Robert Stein said.

Six days into his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry is making headlines for comments about global warming and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

"You don't expect out of the gate you would get that kind of criticism. He is going to have to clean that up and clean that up very quickly," said Stein.
The report notes that half the country knows little about Perry.
The next debate for the Republican primary candidates is on Sept. 7. It will give the other half of the country a chance to hear more from Rick Perry.

"Rick Perry has to prove to himself and the voters he is on message and a disciplined and focused candidate. Is he a favorite? No. Is he a legitimate candidate? More than legitimate. He is a serious candidate for the nomination," said Stein.
Our chapter on elections and campaigns analyzes the distinctive features of primary campaigns. Minnesota Public Radio reports:

It's no surprise that Bachmann chose South Carolina as her first stop following the Iowa Straw Poll victory, Furman University Political Science Professor Danielle Vinson said. Like Iowa, South Carolina is flush with conservative Republicans. It also has strong tea party and social conservative movements.

"She's got sort of a natural base in South Carolina with the tea party," Vinson said. "The tea party is fairly strong up here and they like her, and so this was a way for her to kind of capitalize on the attention she got coming out of Iowa and find herself in front of crowds that were excited about her."

Bachmann might be a good fit for many Republicans in South Carolina, but she has newfound, tough competition in Perry, Clemson University Political Science Professor Dave Woodard said.

Woodard, who is also a Republican consultant, said Bachmann and Perry essentially hold the same positions on the issues. What distinguishes the two are their resumes.

Woodard said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is all but ignoring South Carolina, setting up a battle between Perry and Bachmann. He predicts South Carolina Republicans will favor Perry not only because he's a fellow southerner but also because of his executive experience as governor, his record of military service and because he is male.

"You know the problem is you have a conservative southern state, fewest number of elected female representatives, strong military presence, strong tea party presence but more than the tea party, just a strong strain of conservatism here that has picked the nominee every time since Ronald Reagan," Woodard said. "I just don't see Michele Bachmann falling into first place in that scenario."

Woodard also says although Bachmann has demonstrated her ability to raise millions of dollars, it will be difficult for her to compete with the Texas money that'll be on Perry's side.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Lesson in Bureaucracy

At an Illinois town meeting with the president, a farmer raised concerns about regulations on noise and dust. The president told him to get in touch with the US Department of Agriculture. A Politico reporter did so, and found that it can be difficult to get an answer from the bureaucracy:

Wednesday, 2:40 p.m. ET: After calling the USDA’s main line, I am told to call the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Here, I am patched through to a man who is identified as being in charge of "support services." I leave a message.

3:53 p.m.: The man calls me back and recommends in a voicemail message that I call the Illinois Farm Bureau — a non-governmental organization.

4:02 p.m.: A woman at the Illinois Farm Bureau connects me to someone in the organization’s government affairs department. That person tells me they "don't quite know who to refer you to."

4:06 p.m.: I call the Illinois Department of Agriculture again, letting the person I spoke with earlier know that calling the Illinois Farm Bureau had not been fruitful. He says "those are the kinds of groups that are kind of on top of this or kind of follow things like this. We deal with pesticide here in our bureau."

"You only deal with pesticides?" I ask.

"We deal with other things … but we mainly deal with pesticides here," he says, and gives me the phone number for the office of the department’s director, where he says there are "policy people" as well as the director's staff.

4:10 p.m.: Someone at the director's office transfers me to the agriculture products inspection department, where a woman says their branch deals with things like animal feed, seed and fertilizer.

"I'm going to transfer you to one of the guys at environmental programs."

4:15 p.m.: I reach the answering machine at the environmental programs department, and leave a message.

4:57 p.m.: A man from the environmental programs department gets back to me: "I hate to be the regular state worker that's always accused of passing the buck, but noise and dust regulation would be under our environmental protection agency, rather than the Agriculture Department," he says, adding that he has forwarded my name and number to the agriculture adviser at IEPA.

On Thursday morning, POLITICO started the hunt for an answer again, this time calling the USDA's local office in Henry County, Ill., where the town hall took place.

9:42 a.m.:
Asked if someone at the office might be able to provide me with the information I requested, the woman on the phone responds, “Not right now. We may have to actually look that up — did you Google this or anything?”

When I say that I’m a reporter and would like to discuss my experience with someone who handles media relations there, I am referred to the USDA’s state office in Champaign. I leave a message there.

10:40 a.m.: A spokeswoman for the Illinois Natural Resources Conservation Service calls me, to whom I explain my multiple attempts on Wednesday and Thursday to retrieve the information I was looking for.

“What I can tell you is our particular agency does not deal with regulations,” she tells me. “We deal with volunteers who voluntarily want to do things. I think the reason you got that response from the Cambridge office is because in regard to noise and dust regulation, we don’t have anything to do with that.”

She adds that the EPA would be more capable of answering questions regarding regulations.

Finally, I call the USDA’s main media relations department, based here in Washington, where I explain to a spokesperson about my failed attempts to obtain an answer to the Illinois farmer’s question. This was their response, via email:

“Secretary Vilsack continues to work closely with members of the Cabinet to help them engage with the agricultural community to ensure that we are separating fact from fiction on regulations because the administration is committed to providing greater certainty for farmers and ranchers. Because the question that was posed did not fall within USDA jurisdiction, it does not provide a fair representation of USDA’s robust efforts to get the right information to our producers throughout the country.”

Observations about Rick Perry

Scholars are weighing in on Rick Perry.

The New Republic reports:

To a large extent, Perry’s unusual success as a politician has less to do with his personal prowess as a campaigner than with his skill at navigating the peculiarities of Texan state-wide elections. “It’s like in tennis,” says Harvey Tucker, professor of political science at Texas A&M. “The court surface determines the style of the match.”

And Texas, Tucker notes, “is an unusual electoral landscape”—which is to say it’s nearly empty. The Democratic Party in Texas is nearly nonexistent, and puts up only the most pro forma candidates. (“The Democrats are weak in ways that are not even indicated in the low numbers or poor electoral results,” says Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project and a professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. “As an organization, the Democrats are just—I can’t even come up with a negative enough word.”) And judging from the low turnouts in the Republican primary elections—the only votes in Texas that really count for anything—even the ruling party in Texas is extremely dispirited. In the 2002, 2006, and 2010 votes in which Perry was elected governor, only around 4 percent of the voting-age population turned out for the Republican primary.

YNN reports:

"The base loves the bravado, the base loves the governor talking tough, but nationwide, I don't think they're going to love that bravado so much," St. Edward’s political science professor Brian Smith said.

Perry's main message is touting job growth and bashing President Barack Obama for what Perry calls a “failed economy.”

...

Smith said the governor’s word choice from here on out, in any capacity, will be crucial to his political future.

"You look back to 1988, going in Michael Dukakis, that's all you heard about--the ‘Massachusetts miracle,’” he said. “By the end of the election no one ever heard those words again, and if Perry plays his hand wrong, he could be in the same situation."

Perry maintains that Texas is responsible for 40 percent of job growth in the nation.

International Business Times reports:

International Business Times spoke to Jamie P. Chandler, a political science professor at Hunter College in New York City, to assess Perry’s candidacy.

IBTIMES: When Rick Perry announced his candidacy for president, did he become the automatic Republican front-runner? Or does Romney still claim that spot?
CHANDLER: Perry is not an automatic frontrunner. Until the official start of election season in January, the candidates are running in what’s called the ‘Invisible Primary.’ During this period, the candidates are testing their viability via media coverage, fundraising, name recognition, attractiveness to key state party leaders, and endurance. It’s still too early to rank where Perry falls in the race. Romney continues to lead in fundraising and Bachmann in media coverage, so they’re the presumptive frontrunners.
Ron Paul is also doing well in State party Convention Straw Polls, and may prove to be the “Dark Horse.” The true test of Perry’s electability over the next several months will be in how he manages his campaign to gain momentum. This is a difficult task for any candidate, even those who are assumed to have a high chance of winning. In November of 2007, 42 percent of Republican voters said they would vote for [Rudy] Giuliani if the election were held that month, but his campaign strategy ended those hopes pretty quickly by February 2010. Perry is also going to need to be very careful on the kinds of statements he makes over the next several days as some Conservatives have already criticized him for his statement questioning President Obama’s patriotism.

Veterans as Leaders

Our chapter on civic culture discusses how military veterans enrich civic life. Joe Klein writes at Time:

In a way, I’ve been working on this week’s cover story–which sadly resides behind the Time paywall–for the past five years, as I’ve embedded with our troops downrange. Watching them in the field, I’ve noticed that they’ve had to learn some new and unusual skills–skills that are extremely well-suited for public service.

We hear a lot about the troops who come home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; we hear about the suicides and domestic violence. We hear about the unemployment and homelessness. All of which is sad and true But there’s another side to the story…

Take John Gallina and Dale Beatty, for example. They were best friends in the the North Carolina national guard–and they nearly died together when their humvee was blown up by an anti-tank mine. Dale lost both his legs; John suffered a traumatic brain injury. When the local homebuilders association offered to build Dale a home, both John and Dale helped out–and found real satisfaction in the work. They decided to start building homes for other handicapped veterans–and Purple Heart Homes was born.

I spent the past few months traveling around the country, finding veterans who are using the skills they learned in Iraq and Afghanistan for the betterment of their communities. Any given rifle company Captain had to be, in effect, the mayor of a town in Iraq or Afghanistan–and had to develop political skills like the ability to deal with local shuras [councils of elders], the ability to find out from the local population what sort of construction projects they favored, the ability to put people to work on those projects with a minimum of fuss…as well as the ability to make important decisions under incredible pressure.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

President Obama v. The Tea Party

Charles Babington writes at AP:

The rising profiles of Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are giving the White House a new opening: linking the entire Republican field to the tea party movement, whose popularity has recently sagged.

If the strategy works, it could cause guilt-by-association problems even for non-tea-party Republicans like Mitt Romney.

That might be a lot to ask, however. Unflattering comparisons are a well-worn campaign tactic, and many Americans have only a hazy notion of the tea party movement, which advocates shrinking government and reducing taxes. Still, President Barack Obama's top aides are giving it a go.

Republican candidates must decide whether to "swear allegiance to the tea party" or work with Democrats to create jobs, Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said Tuesday. After last week's Republican debate in Iowa, Obama campaign guru David Axelrod claimed the presidential contenders were "pledging allegiance to the tea party."

And a new video by the Democratic National Committee says Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates are "embracing extreme tea party policies."

Tying the opponent to an object of scorn is an old tactic. In 1996, for instance, President Clinton's campaign ran ads attacking "Dole-Gingrich."


Like Gingrich, the tea party has become unpopular -- and Democrats may be hoping that it will do for them what Gingrich did in 1996. But as Saul Alinsky taught, a good enemy has to be a specific person. A diffuse movement with no clear leader does not arouse the same kind of emotion. President Clinton also had one big advantage that Obama probably won't have: a good economy. The Clinton campaign could accuse the other side of trying to take away something good. The Obama campaign will have a tougher time making that case.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Boycott Political Contributions?

CBS News reports on a proposal to boycott campaign contributions:


In a part of the interview that did not make it to the air, I explained why this idea is very bad. If advocates of compromise withdraw from political finance, then the hardline partisans will be the only ones in the game, and they will have more power than ever.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Perry, Brazil, and the Ex-Im Bank

Politico reports on an exchange between Governor Rick Perry and a New Hampshire voter:
She pushed him on foreign aid, and he said, “We gotta completely (redo) the foreign aid system. Sending money to people that hate us, doesn’t make sense. Giving $2 billion to the Brazilians to do off shore drilling … doesn’t make sense.”

Charge: The U.S. government is giving away more than $2 billion in taxpayer dollars to Brazil's largest oil and gas company to drill for oil in Brazil.

Fact: The Bank has established a $2 billion financing opportunity for Petrobras to use solely for the purchase of American-made goods and services. So far, Ex-Im has approved $300 million to finance Petrobras' purchase of U.S. oil and gas equipment and services.

The funds go to American exporters as payment for their sales to the Petrobras.

If Petrobras fails to award contracts to U.S. companies for the remaining amount, it will not access those dollars.

Of note, the Bank is self-sustaining and no taxpayer dollars are involved.

Charge: The loans to Petrobras represent a giveaway of U.S. tax dollars.

Fact: Ex-Im is a self-funding, independent agency which operates at no cost to the taxpayer. Ex-Im does not make grants, and charges fees and interest for the financing it provides. In fact, since 2006 the Ex-Im Bank has generated more than $3.4 billion in revenue for U.S. taxpayers.

Charge: America is exporting jobs to Brazil as a result of the loans.

Fact: Only American made goods and services qualify for Ex-Im Bank loans or guarantees.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), an independent federal government agency, is the official export credit agency (ECA) of the United States. It helps finance American exports of manufactured goods and services, with the objective of contributing to the employment of U.S. workers, primarily in circumstances when alternative financing is not available. Ex-Im Bank also may assist U.S. exporters to meet foreign, officially sponsored, export credit competition. Ex-Im Bank’s main programs are direct loans, loan guarantees, working capital
guarantees, and export credit insurance. Ex-Im Bank transactions are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. The Bank operates under a renewable charter, the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945, as amended, and has been reauthorized through September 30, 2011 (P.L. 109-438). The charter requires that all of the Bank’s financing have a reasonable assurance of repayment and directs the Bank to supplement, and to not compete with, private capital.