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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Santorum Errs on National Motto

At a campaign stop today in Ottumwa, Iowa, Rick Santorum said: "When I was at Osky [Oskaloosa, Iowa]. I reminded everybody of what the motto is of this country:  E Pluribus Unum, `out of many, one.'"  (See video below.)

Although that phrase appears on the Great Seal of the United States, it is not the national motto.  Since 1956, the official national motto has been "In God We Trust."

Two things make Santorum's error noteworthy.  First, he is seeking support from religious conservatives.  Second, after President Obama made a similar mistake, congressional Republicans criticized him, and later secured House approval of a resolution reaffirming "In God We Trust" as the national motto.


Charitable Giving in Canada and the United States

Our chapter on civic culture notes that the United States ranks high among nations in charitable giving.  The Fraser Institute, a free-market Canadian think tank, reports:
“By comparing the share of tax filers making charitable donations and the share of income donated to charities across North American jurisdictions, our report reveals a significant generosity gap between Canadians and Americans,” said Charles Lammam, Fraser Institute senior policy analyst and co-author of the report.
[E]ven the most generous Canadians don’t come close to their American neighbours in terms of private charitable giving. Monetary generosity in the United States surpassed that of Canada, with 26.6 per cent of American tax filers donating to charity, compared to 23.0 per cent of Canadians.
Utah was by far the most generous jurisdiction in North America, with 33.4 per cent of tax filers donating 3.09 per cent of the total income earned in the state—nearly three-and-a-half times the share of aggregate income donated by Canada’s top province (0.89 per cent), Manitoba.
Maryland was second overall, with 40.8 per cent of residents donating 1.67 per cent of total income.
On a country-wide basis, Americans gave 1.32 per cent of their aggregate personal income to charity, more than double the 0.64 per cent that Canadians donated.
Had Canadians matched the generosity of their American neighbours by donating the same percentage of total income, Canadian charities would have received an extra $8.3 billion in private donations in 2009,” Lammam said.
Full report here.

Gingrich and Mothers

Yesterday, Newt Gingrich spoke to a group of Iowa mothers at Java Joe's Coffee House in Des Moines, Iowa. He wept while talking about his own mother, who suffered from bipolar disorder and depression. He explained that her problems led to his policy interest in brain science.

The incident has generated a good deal of media attention, some of it highly cynical.  The press overlooked what he said shortly after:  "Mothers are the civilizing influence...Mothers play an enormous role in sustaining civilization."  Gingrich was echoing Tocqueville's Democracy in America:
For my part, I have no hesitation in saying that although the American woman never leaves her domestic sphere and is in some respects very dependent within it, nowhere does she enjoy a higher station. And now that I come near the end of this book in which I have recorded so many achievements of the Americans, if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Courts and Federalism

As we explain in our chapter on federalism, courts have played a key role in defining the boundaries between state and federal authority.  Recent news stories illustrate the point.

At The Los Angeles Times, Julie Cart reports:
A federal judge on Thursday temporarily halted California's ability to enforce rules to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation fuels, effectively taking the regulatory teeth out of the state's year-old program.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill issued a preliminary injunction that ruled the California Air Resources Board's low-carbon fuel regulations violated the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause by discriminating against crude oil and biofuels producers located outside California.
The regulations require producers, refiners and importers of gasoline and diesel to reduce the carbon footprint of their fuel by 10% over the next decade, as part of California's landmark global-warming law aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
The regulation calculates the life cycle of fuels from their extraction — or cultivation, in the case of biofuels such as corn-based ethanol — to their combustion. For example, the state considers how corn is grown, harvested and converted to ethanol intended for California gas tanks, a life-cycle evaluation called "seeds to wheels."
Also at The Los Angeles Times David G. Savage and Carol J. Williams write:
Federal judges have blocked strict new immigration laws adopted by conservative legislatures in half a dozen states, including a ruling last week that said South Carolina may not set up a "street-level dragnet" to stop and arrest illegal immigrants.
But immigrant rights advocates who have cheered those rulings may soon find their luck has run out as those rulings head for the Supreme Court. Legal experts believe the high court's conservative majority will take a sharply different approach.
When Congress last revised the immigration laws, it said states may "cooperate" with the federal government in "the identification, apprehension, detention or removal of aliens not lawfully present in the United States." The states that have passed restrictive laws say that's exactly what they are doing.
The Obama administration disagrees. In its legal arguments against Arizona's law, the administration says the state's policies conflict with the federal government's emphasis on deporting violent criminals, drug dealers and smugglers who are in the country illegally, not the hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants who may be living and working here.
But in May, the Supreme Court signaled skepticism about a similar argument.The justices upheld another Arizona law that punished employers who hire illegal workers. In his opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sounded a states' rights theme and set a "high threshold" for striking down a state law on the grounds that it conflicted with the aims of the federal government.

In a newly released study on the state immigration laws, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that in 2011, state legislators from across the country introduced 1,607 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees. This is a significant increase from 2010, when 46 states considered more than 1,400 bills and resolutions pertaining to immigrants. As of Dec. 7, 2011, 42 states and Puerto Rico had enacted 197 new laws and 109 new resolutions, for a total of 306.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ron Paul v. Ronald Reagan

Our chapter on the presidency discusses the symbolic role of individual chief executives, including Ronald Reagan. Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has sought to associate himself with Reagan:

But Paul said that Reagan was a failure.  And in his 1988 book Freedom Under Siege, he repeatedly attacked Reagan:
  • "American society is characterized by hopelessness and operates without a moral, constitutional, or monetary standard. The early Reagan years permitted a temporary reprieve by glossing over the problems of debt, inflation, and runaway government spending"
  • "Lie-detector tests and urine and blood tests are now common-place and have been strongly supported by the Reagan Administration -- an administration that championed limited government principles. Today the government sends out planes and helicopters to spy on farmlands and industrial plants, taking pictures while looking for information about drugs and violation of EPA regulations -- regulations which no one clearly understands."
  • "Worst of all, and typical of our tragic foreign policy-in the midst of the Grenada invasion designed to make the world safe for democracy by stopping the spread of communism-President Reagan, behind the scenes, was forcefully lobbying for specific aid to `Communist-dictators' through additional IMF funding."
  • "The U.S. policy toward Libya further confirms our irrational foreign policy. Under Reagan we have been determined to pick a fight with Khadafi, defying him with naval and air maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra. As we try to emphasize our right to navigate in international waters near Libya, we totally reject the territorial waters of Nicaragua by mining their harbors. The World Court rulings against the U.S. were ignored by the Reagan Administration, yet the President insists that international law is legitimate in the Gulf of Sidra. The most important point, however, is that the Gulf of Sidra has nothing to do with U.S. security."
  • "We placed economic sanctions on South Africa at precisely the same time President Reagan approved subsidized wheat sales to the Soviets. The sanctions were a liberal political stunt; the subsidies to the Soviet Union were meant to help U.S. wheat farmers and secure the election of the Republican Senate-which it did not. While bombing Libya to deter terrorism, we negotiated with Syria and acted as partners with Israel in its massive ongoing arms trade"
  • "Taking the position that it is politically dangerous to criticize the federal deficit, the supply-siders must bear the responsibility for the massive deficits of the Reagan Administration. These deficits have prompted rapid inflation of the money supply in order to accommodate the spending."

Wealth Disparities Between Lawmakers and Ordinary Americans

Our chapter on Congress (pp. 413-414) discusses ways in which lawmakers do not mirror the general public. Peter Whoriskey writes at The Washington Post:
Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home ­equity.
Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.
The comparisons exclude home equity because it is not included in congressional reporting, and 1984 was chosen because it is the earliest year for which consistent wealth statistics are available.
The growing disparity between the representatives and the represented means that there is a greater distance between the economic experience of Americans and those of lawmakers. 

 Congressional net worth more than doubles since 1984

Capitalism, Socialism, and Public Opinion, 2011

Our chapter on public opinion looks at political ideologies.  Our chapter on civic culture notes that socialism has never taken deep root in the United States.  The Pew Research Center reports on both topics:

The recent Occupy Wall Street protests have focused public attention on what organizers see as the excesses of America's free market system, but perceptions of capitalism -- and even of socialism -- have changed little since early 2010 despite the recent tumult.
The American public's take on capitalism remains mixed, with just slightly more saying they have a positive (50%) than a negative (40%) reaction to the term. That's largely unchanged from a 52% to 37% balance of opinion in April 2010.Socialism is a negative for most Americans, but certainly not all. Six-in-ten (60%) say they have a negative reaction to the word; 31% have a positive reaction. Those numbers are little changed from when the question was last asked in April 2010.
Read the full report for more details on the survey as well as public perceptions about "Libertarian," "Liberal" and "Conservative."
From the full report:
The American public remains divided over the word libertarian, with 38% offering a positive reaction, 37% a negative reaction, and 24% offering that they don’t have a reaction either way.
The steepest divide in reactions to the term libertarian are not political but generational. By a 50% to 28% margin, people under age 30 have more positive than negative feelings toward the termlibertarian. Views are more split among those age 30-64, while those age 65 and older offer more negative (43%) than positive (25%) reactions.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

School Prayer

In the 1962 case of Engel v. Vitale the Supreme Court ruled that a voluntary nondenominational school prayer violated the Establishment Clause Erik Eckholm writes at The New York Times:
But in some corners of the country, especially in the rural South, open prayer and Christian symbols have never really disappeared from schools, with what legal advocates call brazen violations of the law coming to light many times each year.
At a school assembly here in South Carolina on Sept. 1, a preacher described how Christ saved him from drugs, telling his rapt audience that “a relationship with Jesus is what you need more than anything else.” A rapper shouted the Lord’s praise to a light show and most of the audience stepped forward to pledge themselves to Christ while a few remained, uncomfortable, in their seats.
Such overt evangelizing would not be unusual at a prayer rally, but this was a daytime celebration in a public school gymnasium, arranged by the principal for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
When the rapper posted a video on YouTube, announcing that “324 kids at this school have made a decision for Jesus Christ,” he drew unwelcome public and legal scrutiny to the event. It was the kind of religious advocacy that is increasingly coming to light, legal experts say, as school populations become more diverse and as the objection of non-Christians — or, in this case, the rejoicing of evangelists — is broadcast on the Internet.

Deportation and Hispanic Opinion

The Pew Hispanic Center reports:
By a ratio of more than two-to-one (59% versus 27%), Latinos disapprove of the way the Obama administration is handling deportations of unauthorized immigrants, according to a new national survey of Latino adults by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.
Deportations have reached record levels under President Obama, rising to an annual average of nearly 400,0001 since 2009, about 30% higher than the annual average during the second term of the Bush administration and about double the annual average during George W. Bush’s first term.
Even as deportations have been rising, apprehensions of border crossers by the U.S. Border Patrol have declined by more than 70%—from 1.2 million in 2005 to 340,000 in 2011. This mirrors a sharp drop in the number of unauthorized immigrants entering the U.S. since the middle of the last decade (Passel and Cohn, 2010).
More than eight-in-ten (81%) of the nation’s estimated 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants are of Hispanic origin, according to Pew Hispanic Center estimates (Passel and Cohn, 2011). Hispanics accounted for an even larger share  of deportees in 2010—97%. (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2011a).

Women in the Military

The Pew Research Center reports:
Since 1973, when the United States military ended conscription and established an all-volunteer force, the number of women serving on active duty has risen dramatically. The share of women among the enlisted ranks has increased seven-fold, from 2% to 14%, and the share among commissioned officers has quadrupled, from 4% to 16%.
The women who serve in today's military differ from the men who serve in a number of ways. Compared with their male counterparts, a greater share of military women are black and a smaller share are married. Also, women veterans of the post-9/11 era are less likely than men to have served in combat and more likely to be critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other ways, however, military women are not different from military men: they are just as likely to be officers; they joined the armed services for similar reasons; and post-9/11 veterans of both sexes have experienced a similar mix of struggles and rewards upon returning to civilian life.

The survey asked respondents to discuss reasons why they joined the military.  Ninety-two percent of all respondents (male and female) listed "to serve your country" as an important reason.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Wayback Machine and Buzzfeed

Our chapter on mass media discusses opposition research.  New technology allows oppo researchers to gather information and disseminate it more rapidly than ever before. At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf writes about a Tweet by web wunderkind Andrew Kaczynski:
An eagle-eyed Andrew Kaczynski has spotted something of interest on an old Newt Gingrich web site accessible only via the Way Back Machine: circa April 2006, the former House Speaker lavished effusive praise on Mitt Romney for the passage of his landmark health care bill in Massachusetts. 
About the Wayback Machine:
Browse through over 150 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago. To start surfing the Wayback, type in the web address of a site or page where you would like to start, and press enter. Then select from the archived dates available. The resulting pages point to other archived pages at as close a date as possible. Keyword searching is not currently supported.
At Buzzfeed, Kaczynski has 2008 video of Gingrich talking about the mandate:

About Buzzfeed

The Progressive Era and the Present

Our textbook discusses the Progressive Era in a number of places, including our chapters on civic culture and economic policy. At The New York Times, David Brooks describes several differences between that period and our own.
First, the underlying economic situations are very different. A century ago, the American economy was a vibrant jobs machine. Industrialization was volatile and cruel, but it produced millions of new jobs, sucking labor in from the countryside and from overseas.
Moreover, the information economy widens inequality for deep and varied reasons that were unknown a century ago. Inequality is growing in nearly every developed country. According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, over the past 30 years, inequality in Sweden, Germany, Israel, Finland and New Zealand has grown as fast or faster than inequality in the United States, even though these countries have very different welfare systems.
Second, the governmental challenge is very different today than it was in the progressive era. Back then, government was small and there were few worker safety regulations. The problem was a lack of institutions. Today, government is large, and there is a thicket of regulations, torts and legal encumbrances. The problem is not a lack of institutions; it’s a lack of institutional effectiveness.
Third, the moral culture of the nation is very different. The progressive era still had a Victorian culture, with its rectitude and restrictions. Back then, there was a moral horror at the thought of debt. No matter how bad the economic problems became, progressive-era politicians did not impose huge debt burdens on their children. That ethos is clearly gone.
In the progressive era, there was an understanding that men who impregnated women should marry them. It didn’t always work in practice, but that was the strong social norm. Today, that norm has dissolved. Forty percent of American children are born out of wedlock. This sentences the U.S. to another generation of widening inequality and slower human capital development.
One hundred years ago, we had libertarian economics but conservative values. Today we have oligarchic economics and libertarian moral values — a bad combination.        

Monday, December 26, 2011

Gingrich Bingo -- Now with Verbs!

Video Footage in Attack Ads

An earlier post mentioned Andrew Kaczynski, a college student who posts video clips of current presidential candidates.  He is part of a bigger story. A few years ago, Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi appeared in a spot ad about climate change.  Gingrich now regrets it, as The New York Times reports:
He has good reason to fret. Scenes from that 2008 public service announcement appear in no fewer than four television advertisements now running in Iowa and can be found in numerous videos on the Web, all made by rival Republican presidential campaigns and outside political groups that are trying to sink Mr. Gingrich’s candidacy.
It is the attack-ad technique of choice for the 2012 election: anything you have said or done on film will be held against you. And its prevalence has helped make the Republican primary campaign a ferociously negative contest. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Iowa, where commercials that portray candidates in an unflattering light now account for two-thirds of the money spent on advertising for the caucuses.
Turning the candidates’ own words against them is, of course, one of the older tricks in the political playbook. But today more than ever, when a candidate’s every kaffeeklatsch, rope-line handshake and editorial board interview is captured on camera, there is a wealth of material. With news outlets like C-Span digitizing their video archives and making them available online, old footage is easy to come by. Anyone with an Internet connection and the patience to conduct a lengthy Google search can be an opposition researcher. And the willingness of some campaigns not only to employ old film but to rip it out of context seems to be greater than ever.  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

President Obama's Signing Statements

Previous posts have dealt with President Obama's use of signing statements. At the New York Times, Charlie Savage writes:
When President Obama signed a budget bill on Friday, he issued a signing statement claiming a right to bypass dozens of provisions that placed requirements or restrictions on the executive branch, saying he had “well-founded constitutional objections” to the new statutes.
Among them, he singled out two sections barring the use of money to transfer prisoners from the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, into the United States and limiting the ability of the government to transfer them to the custody or control of foreign countries. Mr. Obama said he would apply them in a way that avoided infringing on his powers, without any specific explanation of what that meant.
Signing statements were once obscure, but they became controversial under President George W. Bush, who used them to advance sweeping theories of his own powers and challenged more provisions, including a torture ban, than all previous presidents combined.
His expanded use of the device brought new attention to it, and the American Bar Association called upon Mr. Bush and all future presidents to stop issuing signing statements and instead to veto bills if they had objections to parts of them.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama said that he thought signing statements could be legitimate if used with “restraint” — for instance, to clarify how an ambiguous law should be interpreted.
But since taking office, Mr. Obama has relaxed his criteria by defining “restraint” as meaning invoking only “well-founded” theories of the powers the Constitution gives to the executive branch alone, meaning Congress may not infringe upon them.

Holiday Symbols and the First Amendment

As earlier posts have indicated, the holiday season involves religious displays that often trigger First Amendment controversies.

NPR reports from Leesburg, Virginia:
For decades, a Nativity scene took center stage at the county courthouse there. But when some residents complained that the tradition violated the separation of church and state, its lawn was opened to numerous public displays. The decision to be more inclusive follows guidance from a 1989 Supreme Court ruling that found a single creche on public property had an "impermissible effect of endorsing religion," while a menorah and a Christmas tree together merely acknowledged holidays that are often celebrated secularly.
Atheist groups grabbed most of the 10 allotted spaces created by the county's policy change in 2009, but their holiday displays are sparking more controversy this year than ever before.
Among the displays are the Flying Spaghetti Monster and a skeleton in a Santa Claus costume.
Local news footage shows one vandal pulling the skeleton off of its cross and gingerly pulling its bones apart. When asked why, the middle-aged saboteur said simply, "Because it's offensive."
Ken Reid, the incoming head of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, hopes the board will adopt tighter regulation of the courthouse grounds. Though Jewish himself, Reid thinks everything was "fine and dandy" with just the Christmas displays. For him, it's not a question of First Amendment rights, but of personal restraint and responsibility.
"These people are, as far as I'm concerned, hell-bent on not only banning everything on the lawn ... by being as offensive as possible, but they're basically trying to stamp out religion," Reid says.
But that's not the intention at all, according to Rick Wingrove, the director of the Virginia chapter of American Atheists.
He points out that some of the displays put up by atheist groups aren't at all offensive. One bears the message "Seasons Greetings, Peace, Love, Health and Happiness to All." They also put up a Christmas tree adorned with tinsel and lights, only instead of ornaments, it's covered with notes from atheists that say things like, "I can be moral without religion."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Autism and Social Media

Increasingly, people with autism and other disabilities, along with their supporters and allies, are using  social media  to press their concerns.  Many are responding to the case in Kentucky where a school used a duffel bag to restrain Chris Baker, an autistic nine-year-old who had misbehaved. Laura Shumaker writes at The San Francisco Chronicle:
Lydia Brown, an 18-year-old university student who also has autism , learned about Chris from a story on Landon Bryce’s blog and launched the petition on calling on the school to fire the teacher and institute a comprehensive training program in the school district.
More than 7,000 people have joined the campaign in the first 24 hours.
“Clearly there is anger over the alleged treatment of this boy, and the growth of this campaign is quite remarkable,” said Benjamin Joffe-Walt, director of communications for, the world’s fastest growing online campaigns platform. “Armed with only a laptop and without any funding or support, an autistic 18-year-old has recruited some 10,000 supporters in less than 24 hours, with dozens joining every minute.”
To learn more about, CLICK HERE.To sign Lydia’s petition, CLICK HERE.To learn about Landon Bryce and ThAutcast, CLICK HERE.Need to explain autism to someone? CLICK HERE for a primer.
(Post adapted from Autism Policy and Politics)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Religion, Civic Life, and Social Media

A new report from the Pew Research Center involves religion and community service, a key linkage that we discuss in our chapter on civic culture.
Some 40% of Americans are active in a church, religious, or spiritual organization. Compared with those who are not involved with such organizations, religiously active Americans are more trusting of others, are more optimistic about their impact on their community, think more highly of their community, are more involved in more organizations of all kinds, and devote more time to the groups to which they are active.
 A survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project asked people about their membership in 28 different kinds of organizations and clubs. Religious and spiritual organizations topped the list and those who were active in such groups were more active in all kinds of groups. The average number of groups that religiously active Americans are active in is 5.61, and those who are not involved with religious groups participate in 2.11 groups.
Those who are active in religious groups spend an average of 7.5 of hours per week in group activities compared with 5.4 hours for those not active in a religious group.
When it comes to their technology profile, Americans who are members of religious groups are just as likely as others to use the internet, have broadband at home, use cell phones, use text messaging, and use social networking sites and Twitter.
Read the full report for detailed findings on the levels of community involvement among religious Americans and how they use the different technologies such as the internet, text messaging and social networking sites.

Religious Identification

Gallup reports:
This Christmas season, 78% of American adults identify with some form of Christian religion. Less than 2% are Jewish, less than 1% are Muslim, and 15% do not have a religious identity. This means that 95% of all Americans who have a religious identity are Christians.
These results are based on a compilation of 327,244 interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking from January-November 2011. The detailed breakdown shows that about a third of American Christians are Catholics, while two-thirds identify as Protestants or some other non-Catholic Christian religion. All in all, 82.5% of Americans have some form of religious identity.
Gallup's methods of measuring religious identity have changed over the decades, but one major trend that is clear from Gallup's and other organizations' surveys is the increase in the percentage of Americans who do not have a formal religious identity. Some 60 years ago, in 1951, for example, just 1% of Americans in Gallup surveys said they didn't have a religious identity. At that time, Gallup classified 68% of Americans as identifying with a non-Catholic Christian faith, and 24% who were Catholic.
Separate Gallup questioning earlier this year shows that 92% of Americans say they believe in God. This suggests that the lack of a religious identity is not in and of itself a sign of the total absence of religiosity.

Social Media and the Payroll Tax War

An earlier post described how that the Obama White House aggressively used social media to win the conflict with House Republicans over the payroll tax cut. At Politico, Mike Allen offers more detail:

PFEIFFER’S WORKSHOP – HOW THE WHITE HOUSE POUNDED ITS MESSAGE:“--Monday: WH Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer did an hour of satellite TV time into the following markets: Palm Beach, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Portland and Seattle. … The regional communications team did a press call with their top regional reporters with Josh Earnest and Brian Deese … Administration Officials were on national and regional TV and radio throughout the day … Administration Officials held a call with Hispanic media … Administration Officials were on African American and Hispanic radio and TV …
“--Tuesday: Office of Digital Strategy launched What 40 Dollars Means to You, an online effort to get the American people to lend their voice to this debate. We launched #40dollars on twitter, the webpage and sent an email from David Plouffe to the White House list … Deese and Earnest convened a conference call with regional political reporters. … Administration Officials were on national and regional TV and radio [and] African American and Hispanic radio and TV …
“--Wednesday: The White House featured responses that we received from Americans who’ve written to the White House to say what $40 means for them. These responses will be featured on, White House Twitter and Facebook accounts … [Council of Economic Advisers] Chair Alan Krueger delivered a speech on the economy and economic certainty in Charlotte, NC, in which he made … economic case for the payroll tax cut. … Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, [Labor] Secretary [Hilda] Solis and [Domestic Policy Council] Director Melody Barnes participated in interviews on African American radio to amplify our payroll tax cut message. Senior Admin officials also did Hispanic media outlets including radio … Barnes hosted a roundtable with African American reporters. … Gene Sperling and Secretary Solis hosted a conference call on the importance of extending UI benefits for regional and specialty outlets … The President tweeted on [@WhiteHouse] Twitter feed … Deese convened a conference call with Americans who Tweeted on #40dollars … Administration Officials were on national and regional TV and radio [and] African American and Hispanic radio and TV …
“Thursday: The President delivered a statement payroll tax cut … joined on-stage and in the audience by people who [would] be impacted by the tax increase … The White House released a map on … with over 10,000 points throughout the U.S. of citizens responding to the question: ‘What does $40 dollars mean to you?’ … Administration Officials were on national and regional TV and radio [and ]African American and Hispanic radio and TV.”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Nativity Scene Controversy

Our chapter on civic culture discusses the role of religious symbols and displays.  Our chapter on civil liberties analyzes the constitutional questions that arise from these displays, particularly during the holiday season. In Tyler, Texas, KLTV reports:
The fight over an East Texas courthouse Nativity scene has now gotten the attention of the State Attorney General. 
This month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been asking Henderson County to remove the Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn.
The Nativity scene is still up, but last week, the court removed an anti-religion sign the foundation put up, saying the foundation did not get the proper permission.
Today an expert weighed in.
"I think that it's important to understand that this is about protection of people's individual rights. It's protection of your religious rights," says University of Texas at Tyler Associate Professor of Political Science Bob Sterken.
"As uncomfortable as that may feel to somebody who is in the majority and they want to see their Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn it's really a wonderful protection for them and their rights," said Sterken.
But in both letters the foundation and the AG say the constitution's Establishment Clause makes them right. So who is? Sterken says it's hard to tell.
 "What's happened is the Supreme Court has not been precise in this area. They've said 'look, if you put a Nativity scene or a specific religious scene by itself... all by itself... then that is supporting a particular religion '," said Sterken.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gingrich Bingo

Looking for a way to occupy time in the days between Christmas and the Iowa caucusesAs noted before, Newt Gingrich tends to favor certain words.  Using a Bingo generator (example here), one can devise Bingo sheets suitable for use during speeches, debates, and commercials.  Here's an example:

Ronald Reagan

Here are some of the many words that you can plug in:

Negative adjectives:
  • Secular
  • Socialist
  • Grotesque
  • Radical
  • Absurd
  • Sick
  • Pathetic
  • Corrupt
  • Dumb
  • Centralized
  • Politically correct
  • Left-wing
  • Unelected
  • Anti-family, anti-job, anti-American
Negative nouns
  • Bureaucracy
  • Welfare state
  • Entitlement
  • Big government
  • Elite
  • Machine (as in political machine)
  • Hollywood
  • Academia
  • Union bosses
  • Trial lawyers
  • Radically 
  • Dramatically
  • Fundamentally
  • Enormously
  • Extraordinarily
  • Vastly
  • Profoundly
Phrases and References:
  • A right to pursue happiness, not a right to happiness stamps.
  • Bold colors, not pale pastels.
  • Vision, strategy, projects, and tactics.
  • Listen, learn, help, and lead.
  • Any battle in the American Revolution or Civil War
Positive adjectives:
  • Conservative
  • Opportunity
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Transformational
  • Solutions-oriented
  • Pro-American
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Pope John Paul II
  • Winston Churchill
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Bill Ayers
  • Barack Obama
  • Barney Frank
  • Nancy Pelosi
  • Harry Reid

Social Media and the Payroll Tax Fight

Wired reports:

Read elsewhere for the ins and outs of the brinkmanship on the legislation whose primary purpose is to extend a so-called “payroll tax holiday” past Dec. 31. Depending on which side of the debate you are on, you can find plenty of spin to try to seize the high ground. Inaction will result in the end of a sweet tax break for workers that’s not quite as sweet for the federal coffers. The Obama administration has been fond of saying that the end of the holiday will cost 160 million U.S. taxpayers an average of $1,000 in 2012 — by pure coincidence, a presidential election year.
But the president’s communications team has become even fonder of crafting its message for the social media generation by breaking up that $1,000 into a more bite-sized $40 per week. Through that massaging of the message, they have created a Twitter trending topic called #40dollars.
It’s not surprising that Obama’s team has been particularly adroit at the whole internet thing. Their man was a candidate who famously sought a meeting with Mark Andreessen in 2008 — the two had never met — to talk about how social media might be leveraged in that year’s election. Now the administration has renovated’s sleepy political real estate and transformed it into an up-to-the-second focal point in the increasingly fractious yet fascinating battle over the tax bill.

Noncitizen Voting in New Haven?

Our chapter on political participation notes that a number of states once allowed noncitizens to vote, and that a small number of municipalities currently let them vote in local elections. New Haven Mayor John DeStafano has proposed allowing noncitizens to vote  in city elections, regardless of legal status. The New Haven Register editorializes:
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s trial balloon about letting citizens of other countries vote in his city’s elections appears to have been pricked as soon as it was publicly floated.
The proposal grows out of the fact that City Hall estimates there are 10,000 to 12,000 undocumented immigrants in New Haven. The mayor has attempted to involve undocumented immigrants in the city’s life, in part to encourage their cooperation with police in the investigation of crimes.
 The reaction to allowing such immigrants to vote was quick and probably fatal to the mayor’s proposal. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — who supported in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants at state universities — said he didn’t like it. “There are obligations that run with citizenship and there are privileges that run with citizenship. It’s not something that I’m inclined to support.”
Malloy’s comments were followed by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill pointing out that the state constitution specifies that only citizens who are 18 or older may vote. Amending the constitution to allow DeStefano’s proposal to become law would be a difficult, lengthy and almost certainly impossible political task, given the hostility to the proposal from outside New Haven, and doubts among city residents.

Unanticipated Consequences at Lunchtime

Our chapter on social welfare policy notes that well-intentioned programs sometimes have unintended consequences. The latest example comes from The Los Angeles Times:
For many students, L.A. Unified's trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop. Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles.
There's just one problem: Many of the meals are being rejected en masse. Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students. Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. Students are ditching lunch, and some say they're suffering from headaches, stomach painsand even anemia. At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving....
For months before introducing the new fare, the district held community taste tests and collected 300,000 comments — 75% of which were positive, Binkle said.
But [food services director David] Barrett said the debut was a "disaster." Participation plunged by more than 13%, he said. About two-fifths of the loss was tied to 99 schools that temporarily resumed requiring lunch tickets; typically, a drop-off is expected when this occurs. In the last month or so, the overall program has begun to recover; participation is down by about 5% or 6%, Barrett said.
Students have embraced about half of the new fare, according to Binkle; the salads and vegetarian tamales in particular have been popular.
But some students said they still are not eating — including those who liked the food at the taste tests.
Andre Jahchan, a 16-year-old sophomore at Esteban Torres High School, said the food was "super good" at the summer tasting at L.A. Unified's central kitchen. But on campus, he said, the chicken pozole was watery, the vegetable tamale was burned and hard, and noodles were soggy.

The district is revising the menu.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gingrich, TR, and FDR

Newt Gingrich's admiration for Theodore Roosevelt (who did not like the name "Teddy") and Franklin Roosevelt has been the subject of recent commentary.  Passages from works not available on the open Internet confirm this admiration.  

From his 1984 book Window of Opportunity (pp. 21-22):
If the bright future pictured through our window of opportunity is to become a reality, our grandchildren must develop a continuing self-education system which combines the image of compassion for which Franklin D. Roosevelt is known with the emphasis on productivity that we associate with his older cousin Teddy. In many ways, Teddy Roosevelt might prefer our grandchildren's America to ours -- an America comfortable with the assumption that people must try new things all their lives because any particular occupation may become obsolete in a single decade.
Thus, while requiring a strenuous commitment from every citizen which Teddy Roosevelt would have approved, our grandchildren may create structures and incentives for organized learning and adaptation that FDR would have applauded.
From Nicholas Lemann's May 1985 Atlantic article, "Conservative Opportunity Society": 
He said, "We're post-New Deal conservatives, not anti-New Deal conservatives. Most of the old order worked. But the fringes of the old order failed."

Ron Paul, the Spoiler?

Our chapter on political parties discusses the role of third-party and independent candidates for president. In particular, it looks at the "spoiler effect" whereby the third candidate draws support from one of the major-party candidates, tipping the election to the other. Scott Clement writes at The Washington Post:
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-Texas) is gaining steam in his race for the GOP nomination, up to his highest level yet — 15 percent — in the new Washington Post-ABC News national poll. He trails President Obama by a mere five points among registered voters in a possible general election matchup. But should Paul fall short of winning his party’s nod and opt to run as a third-party candidate, the survey finds he could seriously shake up the 2012 political calculus, largely to Obama’s benefit. 
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ties Obama at 47 percent among registered voters in the poll, but fully 21 percent of all voters say they’d pick Paul as an independent candidate over either Romney or the president. Obama would win such a three-way match-up by 10 percentage points. The potential damage is less obvious for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who trails Obama by eight points in a two-way contest and 11 points with Paul in the mix.