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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

War with Iran?

Glenn Greenwald reports at Salon about retired General Barry McCaffrey:

On January 12, 2012, McCaffrey presented a seminar to roughly 20 NBC executives and producers — including NBC News President Steve Capus — entitled “Iran, Nukes & Oil: The Gulf Confrontation.” We’ve obtained the Power Point document McCaffrey prepared and distributed for his presentation, and in it, he all but predicts war with Iran within the next 90 days: one that is likely to be started by them. The first page of the breathlessly hawkish document is entitled “Iran & the Gulf: Creeping Toward War,” and the first sentence excitedly proclaims (click to enlarge):
Most of the report emphasizes the likelihood that Iran — not the U.S. — will act aggressively and trigger a war:
He adds: “We should not view the Iranian rhetoric as empty threats. They are likely to further escalate. There is great opportunity for miscalculation on their part. . . . They will not under any circumstances actually be deterred from going nuclear. They will achieve initial nuclear capability within 36 months.” About a war with Iran, he says: “Israel would welcome such a confrontation. They have an existential threat to their survival looming in their very near future.” Among his conclusions:
The last page of his presentation pointedly notes what he called “The American People: A Crisis of Confidence in Institutions.” The accompanying chart showed that 78% of Americans have faith in the military — by far the most admired institution in America — but near the bottom was “television news,” with 28%.
While McCaffrey’s office failed to return several calls seeking comment — I was particularly interested to know whether any of his ample consulting clients would benefit from a war with Iran — Lauren Kapp, an NBC News spokeswoman, confirmed the existence of this meeting. She said: “We regularly host editorial board meetings with our editorial board staff,” and besides McCaffrey: “we have heard from top ranking current and former US Government officials” (she also says that they once heard from an Iranian ambassador to the U.N.). She added:
We are exhaustive in our conversation with people from various perspectives and expertise when we over a story of this magnitude. And we are confident in the level and breadth of the conversations we are having with representatives from all viewpoints.
Council for foreign relations, etc….
Not just current and former U.S. government officials and Generals, but also members of the “Council for foreign relations”: the diversity of viewpoints is staggering.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Romney Wins Catholic Vote in Michigan

In the Michigan primary tonight, the exit poll showed that Catholics made up 30 percent of the electorate.  By a 44-37 percent margin, they favored Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum -- even though Santorum is Catholic.  There are probably multiple reasons for this outcome, but perhaps a comment by Santorum may have alienated his coreligionists.

At ABC, George Stephanopoulos reports on his Sunday interview with Santorum:
GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said today that watching John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Baptist ministers in Houston in 1960 made him want to “throw up.”
“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum said.
“That makes me throw up and it should make every American who is seen from the president, someone who is now trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you, not that you can’t come to the public square and argue against it, but now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square,” he said.
To put it mildly, such remarks were politically imprudent. By more than a 2-1 margin, Republicans remember JFK favorably.  Despite revelations about JFK's personal conduct, they have positive memories of his assertive policies on national security and his support for tax cuts.  The ratio is probably even greater among Catholic Republicans.  

Moreover, Santorum could have made the same point without criticizing Kennedy.  Indeed, it would have been clever to quote Barack Obama's 2006 speech on religion and politics:
But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Mortal Danger and Journalism

From our chapter on mass media:
A few journalists achieve wealth, fame, and glamour. Most do not. They receive modest pay and recognition, and they report from unglitzy places such as courthouses, city halls, and state capitols. Amid recent turmoil in the media industry, they worry about making a secure living. And they sometimes face danger, especially when covering warfare or terrorism.
Unfortunately, there is a new example.  From Global Voices
Marie Colvin and Rémi Olchik were killed last week, when the makeshift media centre they were at in Baba Amr, in Homs, Syria, was attacked. Both were journalists on a mission. She was The Sunday Times' foreign correspondent and he was her photographer.

On Thursday, February 23rd, the world woke up to the news of their death under the debris of the Press center that was targeted by Pro-Assad forces. Both international media outlets and netizens around the world paid homage to the murdered journalists, whose death captured headlines, drawing attention to the plight of Syrians being killed on a daily basis for protesting against the Assad regime.

On Facebook, users created a page called Marie Colvin's Eyepatch, in reference to her left-eye patch from an injury she had received more than 10 years ago while covering the conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.
Colvin was an American, who grew up in Oyster Bay, New York and got her degree at Yale.  

The President's Faith-Based Council

Previous posts have dealt with President Obama's relationship with religious communities. Politico reports:
His faith under attack, his contraception decision savaged on all sides, President Barack Obama could use backup in the religious community right now.
But three years into his presidency, Obama’s marquee council of faith advisers has gone dark — a little-noticed postscript for a panel that he rolled out with fanfare and high expectations during his first weeks in office but ended up playing only a limited role in West Wing deliberations.

The president’s first Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships delivered a 163-page report in March 2010 and then disbanded. The second council has waited more than a year for a full slate of appointees and has yet to meet. And the hottest issue — whether religious groups that receive public money can discriminate in hiring — remains unresolved more than three years after Obama promised to address it.
“It’s the mysterious, disappearing faith-based council,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who advised the first council.
The extended hiatus has suddenly become more glaring as the issue of faith, an undercurrent of the 2008 campaign, makes a fierce and early appearance in the 2012 race.
Obama ignited the furor last month when he decided to mandate that religious-affiliated employers provide their workers with free birth control coverage. Since then, the attacks from his Republican challengers have been relentless: Rick Santorum accused Obama of practicing a “phony theology,” Mitt Romney claimed the president has “fought against religion” and Newt Gingrich alleged that the administration is “engaged in a war on religion.”

Monday, February 27, 2012

Media Ethics and Climate Change

Our chapter on mass media discusses leaking, a topic that raises serious questions of ethics. A recent leak of documents from the Heartland Institute involved deception, as John Horgan writes at Scientific American:
Last week, Peter Gleick, a global-warming researcher and environmental activist, admitted on Huffington Post that he had been the source of the documents. Gleick confessed that he obtained the documents by approaching the Heartland Institute under a feigned identity.
The incident has exposed a deep fissure not just between global-warming deniers and believers but within the green community. For example, the journalist Andy Revkin, author of the blog Dot Earth, deplored Gleick’s actions, for the following reasons:
“One way or the other, Gleick’s use of deception in pursuit of his cause after years of calling out climate deception has destroyed his credibility and harmed others. (Some of the released documents contain information about Heartland employees that has no bearing on the climate fight.) That is his personal tragedy and shame (and I’m sure devastating for his colleagues, friends and family). The broader tragedy is that his decision to go to such extremes in his fight with Heartland has greatly set back any prospects of the country having the ‘rational public debate’ that he wrote—correctly–is so desperately needed.”
Another blogger, Joe Romm of Climate Progress, granted that Gleick “committed a serious lapse of professional judgment and ethics. He is right to regret his actions and make a personal apology.” But Romm went on to demand that Revkin apologize for quoting global-warming sources who, according to Romm, have “been repeatedly debunked, the disinformers and confusionists.” Romm is referring not to deniers but to believers—such as Roger Pielke, a respected scientist–who do not accept the most extreme climate-change scenarios and solutions. To my mind, Romm is faulting Revkin—who is one of the most knowledgeable, conscientious, hard-working journalists I know–for doing his job well.
 The leak also involved outright forgery, as Steven Hayward writes:
In an obvious attempt to inflict a symmetrical Climategate-style scandal on the skeptic community, someone representing himself as a Heartland Institute insider “leaked” internal documents for Heartland’s most recent board of directors meeting to a fringe environmental blog, along with a photocopy of a supposed Heartland “strategy memo” outlining a plan to disseminate a public school curriculum aimed at “dissuading teachers from teaching science.”
This ham-handed phrase (one of many) should have been a tipoff to treat the document dump with some .  .  . skepticism (a trait that has gone missing from much of the climate science community). But more than a few environmental blogs and mainstream news outlets ran with the story of how this “leak” exposed the nefarious “antiscience” Neanderthals of Heartland and their fossil fuel paymasters. But the strategy memo is a fake, probably created because the genuine internal documents are fairly ho-hum.
Ross Kaminsky, an unpaid senior fellow and former Heartland board member now with the American Spectator, noticed something odd in the digital fingerprint of the “strategy memo.” It had been scanned on an Epson printer/scanner on Monday, February 13, on the West Coast (not in the Midwest, where Heartland is located), just one day before the entire document dump appeared online for the first time. Like the famous little detail of when and how Alger Hiss disposed of his old Ford, this date and location will turn out to be a key piece of evidence unraveling the full story, some of which still remains shrouded.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Gasoline Prices and Politics

Rising gasoline prices could pose a political risk to President Obama.  For years, the issue has fueled attack ads.

Scoop Jackson ad (1976 primaries, scroll down to "Gas Prices")

GOP attack ad against congressional Democrats (1980):

Gore attack ad against George W. Bush (2000):

George W. Bush attack ad against Kerry (2004):

Clinton attack ad against Obama (2008):


   DNC attack ad against McCain (2008):


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Basketball and Politics: A Slam Dunk

As previous posts have indicated, professional sports is an interest group that plays campaign finance and lobbying.  The Center for Responsive Politics reports:
The NBA’s All-Star weekend got off to an early start on Thursday with a $30,000-a-plate fundraiser for President Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee at the home of Dallas Mavericks guard Vince Carter.

Among those seated at the dinner on Carter's personal full-size basketball court were Steve Smith of the Atlanta Hawks, the L.A. Clippers' Chris Paul, NBA Commissioner David Stern and retired luminaries Alonzo Mourning and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Miami Heat stars LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade sent checks, though they couldn't make the event due to a work conflict (they were busy shutting down the New York Knicks, 102-88).
Clearly, the NBA knows how to play politics.
In all, the league's players, owners and executives have contributed $2.6 million to federal candidates and political committees since the start of 2009, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. The NBA has shown a strong preference for Democrats over those years. About $1.6 million, or 61 percent, of the donations linked to the NBA since 2009 have gone to Dems.

That makes professional basketball more liberal than pro football, dollarwise. During the same time frame, individuals associated with the NFL, plus its political action committee (the NBA doesn't have one of those), have given almost the same amount as those connected to the NBA -- $2.8 million -- but they've sent 58 percent of it to Republicans. OpenSecrets Blog previously reported on that league's political efforts here.

...The NBA's political plays don't stop with campaign contributions. Since 2009, the league has spent $310,000 lobbying the federal government. One of its primary issues: how NBA content, such as game footage, can be used by others, said Philip Hochburg, a longtime lobbyist for the NBA, in an interview with OpenSecrets Blog.
Other prominent concerns include protecting the league’s collectively bargained drug testing program and determining royalty payments from cable and satellite broadcasts.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Educational Attainment: The Thirty Percent

Educational Attainment in the United States 2011, a new set of tables from the Census, provides some insight into historic changes in American society. The release notes a milestone:
In March 2011, for the first time, over 30 percent of the United States’ population 25 years old and older reported they had a bachelor’s or higher degree. This compares with 1998, when less than a quarter of the 25-and-older population had attained this level of education.
Women now account for a majority of college graduates:
In 2011, of the 61 million people 25 and over with bachelor’s degrees, 30 million
were men and 31 million were women. The number of women 25 and over with
bachelor’s degrees increased 37 percent in the last ten years (since 2001). The
comparable increase for men was 23 percent. 
Racial and ethnic differences persist:
Fifty percent of Asians 25 years and over reported having a bachelor’s degree or
more in 2011. This level of education was reported by 34 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 20 percent of blacks and 14 percent of Hispanics. 
As an earlier post noted, education translates into income:
People whose highest level completed was high school and had any earnings  averaged $31,000 in 2010. For those whose highest degree was a bachelor’s  degree, the average was $58,000. 

The Not-So-Small American Welfare State

In The New York Times, David Brooks writes:
The U.S. does not have a significantly smaller welfare state than the European nations. We’re just better at hiding it. The Europeans provide welfare provisions through direct government payments. We do it through the back door via tax breaks.
For example, in Europe, governments offer health care directly. In the U.S., we give employers a gigantic tax exemption to do the same thing. European governments offer public childcare. In the U.S., we have child tax credits. In Europe, governments subsidize favored industries. We do the same thing by providing special tax deductions and exemptions for everybody from ethanol producers to Nascar track owners.
These tax expenditures are hidden but huge. Budget experts Donald Marron and Eric Toder added up all the spending-like tax preferences and found that, in 2007, they amounted to $600 billion. If you had included those preferences as government spending, then the federal government would have actually been one-fifth larger than it appeared.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently calculated how much each affluent country spends on social programs. When you include both direct spending and tax expenditures, the U.S. has one of the biggest welfare states in the world. We rank behind Sweden and ahead of Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Canada. Social spending in the U.S. is far above the organization’s average.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The 2012 Election as a Teachable Moment

Here are some thoughts on how to use social media and other Internet resources to engage students in the 2012 election and American politics more generally.

Uses for class blogs:
  • To post questions or comments about the readings before we discuss them in class;
  • To follow up on class discussions with additional comments or questions.
  • To post relevant news items or videos.
Examples from Introductory American Politics (Honors), fall 2011:

Congress Class and Congress Simulation 

Presidential Elections

Public Opinion and Political Ideology

Campaign Finance

Video and Primary Sources

Campaign Spending in Historical Context

A couple of years ago, Bradley Smith looked at campaign spending in light of history and price inflation.  Similarly, Jonathan Bernstein writes at The Washington Post:
Dave Gilson has a great chart over at Mother Jones about how much money has been spent, historically, on running for president. The punch line is that it’s been relatively stable in inflation-adjusted dollars until the last two cycles, when it’s suddenly gone through the roof.
At least, that’s one way to look at it. The other way is that 2004 and 2008 were about catching up. Look at it this way. According to Gilson’s data, the previous long-lasting records were the 1896 campaign, which wasn’t passed until 1960, and then the 1968 election, which held the record until 2004.
But that’s only in overall, inflation-adjusted dollars. Let’s see…the Republican Party overall seems to have spent an estimated $16 million in 1896, with the McKinley campaign spending $6-7 million. Inflation alone makes us translate that $6M to over $150M, far lower than what Barack Obama spent in 2008. But then if we also think about a per-vote, or potential vote it starts sounding more like today’s numbers. After all, in 1900 there were only a bit over 76 million Americans, compared with the 310 million in the 2010 census. Of course, far fewer of those 76 million were eligible voters before the passage of the 19th amendment doubled the potential pool (and the 26th amendment lowering the voting age, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act adding to the actual potential pool). I don’t have numbers for eligible voters, but in fact 13.9 million people voted for president in 1896 – in 45 states – compared with 131.1 million votes cast in 2008. Which means that the McKinley campaign alone may have been spending more or less in the same range per eligible voter what all the campaigns combined spent in 2008.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Line by Line

During the debate tonight, Mitt Romney promised that he would go through the budget line by line to root out wasteful spending.  The phrasing is familiar: President Obama has used it many times.  Here is a small sample:
  • September 26, 2008: And, absolutely, we need earmark reform. And when I'm president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely.
  • October 7, 2008: I want to go line by line through every item in the federal budget and eliminate programs that don't work and make sure that those that do work, work better and cheaper.
  • October 15, 2008We need to eliminate a whole host of programs that don't work. And I want to go through the federal budget line by line, page by page, programs that don't work, we should cut. Programs that we need, we should make them work better.
  • February 23, 2009:   To start reducing these deficits, I've committed to going through ourbudget line by line to root out waste and inefficiency, a process that [budget director Peter Orszag] and our administration, our team, has already begun. And I'll soon be instructing each member of my Cabinet to go through every item in their budgets as well.
  • January 27, 2010: We will continue to go through the budget, line by line, page by page, to eliminate programs that we can't afford and don't work.
  • November 29, 2010: I promised to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that have outlived their usefulness, and in each of the budgets I've put forward so far, we've proposed approximately $20 billion in savings through shrinking or ending more than 120 of such programs.

Activists v. Voters

Our chapter on political parties discusses polarization between Republicans and Democrats. There is also a kind of polarization within each party, as political scientist Todd Eberly writes in a report for Third Way:
This report unravels a defining mystery of the modern political era. Since 1972, Democrats have held a lead in the number of Americans who identify with the party, but that hasn’t translated into sustained Congressional and White House dominance. In this report, we explain this quandary and its serious political implications, based on four findings:
1. Since 1972, more voters have consistently identified as Democrats or Democratic leaners than Republicans.2. But the ideological divide between Democratic voters and activists has been far larger than the GOP’s.3. This ideological gulf coincides with less party loyalty from Democratic coalition voters.4. Democratic leaning Independents are a growing part of the coalition and cannot be counted on to be reliable Democratic voters.
These findings have significant electoral consequences for Democrats. Odds favor a re-emergent Democratic majority, but only if liberal party activists will cede control of the agenda and allow the party to move in the direction of its moderate, nonactivist voters.
Eberly offers more detail on the second point:
In the 10 presidential election cycles dating back to 1972, Democratic activists (defined as those who attended a meeting or rally and donated to a campaign) rated themselves at an average of 3.06 on the 7-point ideological scale. Democratic non-activists came in at 3.77—indicating a 0.71 gulf between the active and non-active wings of the Party (with 1 representing extremely liberal, 7 extremely conservative, and a score of 4 representing moderate).
Republicans have a much smaller and less sustained gulf. Between 1972 and 2008, Republican activists rated themselves at 5.22 on the 7-point ideological scale, with non-activists very close at 4.89 (a .33 difference). In fact, the ideological gulf between Democratic activists and Democratic non-activists is more than twice that of their Republican counterparts dating back to 1972. Thus, Democratic activists are blue; the Democratic base is purple, and Republicans of all stripes are red.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Online Microtargeting

Our chapter on elections and campaigns discusses how technology changes the ways in which candidates reach voters. The New York Times reports:
In recent primaries, two kinds of Republican voters have been seeing two different Mitt Romney video ads pop up on local and national news Web sites. The first, called “It’s Time to Return American Optimism,” showed the candidate on the campaign trail explaining how this was an election “to save the soul of America.” It was aimed at committed party members to encourage a large turnout. The second video ad, geared toward voters who have not yet aligned themselves with a candidate, focused more on Mr. Romney as a family man. Versions of the two ads were seen online in Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Kenneth M. Goldstein, the president of the Campaign and Media Analysis Group at Kantar Media, part of the advertising giant WPP, said Mr. Romney’s directed ads represented a sea change in political advertising.
“Forty years ago, you’d watch the same evening news ad as your Democratic neighbor,” Mr. Goldstein said.
The technology that makes such customized advertising possible is called microtargeting, which is similar to the techniques nonpolitical advertisers use to serve up, for example, hotel ads online to people who had shopped for vacations recently.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Presidential Myths

At The Washington Post, Aaron David Miller identifies five myths about the presidency:
1. The president has the power to get things done. "The framers wanted a strong executive but one who was accountable, too, reined in by shared and separated powers. As a consequence, the president can’t simply impose — he needs consensus and cooperation. William Howard Taft lamented a century ago that the president `cannot make the corn to grow, he cannot make business good.'"
2. War enhances a president’s power and reputation. "[F]or most 20th-century presidents, military conflict has hurt rather than helped them."
3. You must have a strong character to be a successful president. "Americans want and deserve presidents who play by the rules in public and private, but we seem confused about what’s acceptable."
4. The best presidents are highly educated and have long experience in government. "There’s no ideal preparation for the presidency. Experience in state and public affairs can be critical — of our 43 presidents, 34 had backgrounds in law, government or the military. But James Buchanan and Herbert Hoover had two of the best résumés in the business and yet were ill-equipped to handle the crises they confronted — the drift toward civil war and economic calamity, respectively."
5. The stresses of the presidency are hazardous to your health and shorten your life span. "Our first eight presidents lived an average of 79.8 years when life expectancy for American men was around 40 years...From Hoover through Ronald Reagan (excluding Kennedy), seven of eight lived longer than expected. Johnson was an exception; he died of a heart attack at 64. But the average age at death was 81.6 years. And four of our 43 presidents lived to their 90s: Gerald Ford, Reagan, John Adams and Hoover."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Theology and Politics

Rick Santorum has received criticism for saying that the president's energy policies had roots in a "phony theology."  He later said that he was faulting the president's worldview, not his religion.

There is a long history of referring to a political opponent's belief system as a "theology."  Critics of the Reagan Administration, for instance, spoke of "Star Wars theology" or "supply-side theology."

In 1997, President Clinton said:

We passed the family and medical leave law. There were a lot of Republicans who voted for that—I'll give them credit for that—far more Democrats. My predecessor had vetoed it twice. Why? Because their theology said—their theology said it's a nice thing if people can spend a little time with their new-born babies or if someone in their family gets sick, but we couldn't think of requiring it because it would hurt the economy and the economy is always the most important thing.

In an interview with Wolf Blitzer last fall, Mr. Clinton used similar terms to explain why Republicans did not embrace the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan.
CLINTON: Ryan rejected it because it was against their theology. Because it had both new revenues and spending -- but all I can ask the American people to do is to, you know, inject some reality into this. 
The theology of the modern Republican Party, it's an ideology, is that every tax is bad especially if an upper income person has to pay it. 
At a December 13 press briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney said:  "Now, what we have seen from Republicans in Congress is the promulgation of this idea that passing a tax cut for middle-class Americans is somehow a favor they would be doing for the President of the United States. Most of my adult life, the Republican theology has been tax cuts for everyone are the highest priority. "

Births and Marriage

The New York Times reports:
After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.

Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington research group that analyzed government data.
Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.
One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.
“Marriage has become a luxury good,” said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.
The shift is affecting children’s lives. Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.


Rating Presidents

Our chapter on the presidency considers how Americans have appraised their chief executives. Gallup reports:
Americans believe history will judge Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton as the best among recent U.S. presidents, with at least 6 in 10 saying each will go down in history as an above-average or outstanding president. Only about 1 in 10 say each will be remembered as below average or poor. Three years into Barack Obama's presidency, Americans are divided in their views of how he will be regarded, with 38% guessing he will be remembered as above average or outstanding and 35% as below average or poor.

Gallup periodically asks Americans to assess how they believe presidents will go down in history. The current results are based on a Feb. 2-5 poll and include presidents Richard Nixon through Obama, with this being the initial measurement of Obama on this question. Aside from Clinton and Reagan, only George H.W. Bush gets significantly more positive than negative ratings. Nixon and George W. Bush are rated as the worst, with roughly half of Americans believing each will be judged negatively.
Compared with Gallup's previous update -- conducted in January 2009, just before Bush's presidency ended and Obama's began -- ratings of several presidents are up. This includes George W. Bush, whom Americans judged even more poorly than Nixon in the prior update.
Similarly, Harris reports:
As the nation prepares to celebrate Presidents' Day, it is always interesting to see what people think about some of the past presidents. Looking at all the presidents since World War II, one-quarter of Americans (25%) say Ronald Reagan is the best president, one in five (19%) say Franklin Roosevelt while 15% say it is John Kennedy and 12% say Bill Clinton. The nine other presidents, including Barack Obama, are at 4% or less.
Looking at the flip side, just over one-quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say that George W. Bush was the worst president while just under one-quarter (22%) say Barack Obama is the worst; one in ten (12%) say the worst was Richard Nixon. The ten other presidents are at 5% or less.
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,016 adults surveyed online between January 16 and 23, 2012 by Harris Interactive.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Graphs on Voting and Registration

The Census offers new graphs on voting and registration in congressional and presidential elections.

In 2008, African Americans in the South voted at a higher rate than whites in either the North or the South, a remarkable historical development:

Young people vote at lower rates than others:

Hispanic and Asian citizens tend to vote at lower rates than white and African American citizens:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Reading the Bills

Our chapter on Congress notes that lawmakers often do not read the bills.  Representative John Conyers (D-MI)  has long been very open and candid on this point.

From a recent interview on the payroll tax extension:

From 2009 National Press Club remarks on the health care bill:

From an interview in "Fahrenheit 9/11" on the 2001 PATRIOT Act:


Religion and Well-Being

Our chapter on civic culture discusses the many effects of religion on American public and social life. Gallup provides some new data:
An analysis of more than 676,000 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index interviews conducted in 2011 and 2010 finds that Americans who are the most religious have the highest levels of wellbeing. The statistically significant relationship between religiousness and wellbeing holds up after controlling for numerous demographic variables.
This study does not allow for a precise determination of why this might be the case. It is possible that Americans who have higher wellbeing are more likely to choose to be religious than those with lower wellbeing, or that some third variable could be driving certain segments of the U.S. population to be more religious and to have higher wellbeing.
It is also possible that the relationship is straightforward, that something about religiosity, defined as a personal importance placed on religion and frequent religious service attendance, in turn leads to a higher level of personal wellbeing. Religious service attendance promotes social interaction and friendship with others, and Gallup analyses have clearly shown that time spent socially and social networks themselves are positively associated with high wellbeing. Religion generally involves more meditative states and faith in a higher power, both of which have been widely used as methods to lower stress, reduce depression, and promote happiness. Religion provides mechanisms for coping with setbacks and life's problems, which in turn may reduce stress, worry, and anger. Many religions, including Christianity, by far the dominant religion in the U.S., embody tenets of positive relationships with one's neighbors and charitable acts, which may lead to a more positive mental outlook.
Highly religious Americans' healthier behaviors may have multiple causes, including for example culturally negative norms against such behaviors as smoking and alcohol consumption in various religions. It may also be possible that the lower emotional wellbeing of less religious Americans puts them in a state in which they are more susceptible to non-healthy behaviors.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Elections and the Postal Service

Back in December, The New York Times reported:
The post office had bad news on Monday for all those who like to pop a check into the mail to pay a bill due the next day: don’t count on it.

The United States Postal Service said it planned to largely eliminate next-day delivery for first-class mail as part of its push to cut costs and reduce its budget deficit. Currently, more than 40 percent of first-class mail is delivered in one day.
The agency said the slower delivery would result from its decision to shut about half of its 487 mail processing centers nationwide. The move is expected to eliminate about 28,000 jobs and increase the distance that mail must travel between post offices and processing centers. It would be the first reduction in delivery standards for first-class mail in 40 years.
The change will have a significant impact on elections.  In 2010, 18.2 percent of votes came in by mail.  And many voters popped the ballot into the mailbox the day before the election, expecting it to arrive in time.

Timm Herdt writes in The Ventura County Star:

In the last statewide primary election two years ago, more than 12,500 mail-in ballots in Riverside County were nearly invalidated because of what postal officials described as "a change in process" that caused them to be delivered after Election Day.
They were ultimately counted, but only after a judge ordered it.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen now worries that an election nightmare on a much larger scale could be repeated this year unless the Postal Service delays its planned closure of 18 mail processing centers in California until after November's presidential election.
Bowen is appealing to postal officials and members of Congress to extend for six months a moratorium on the closures that is scheduled to expire May 15.
"This has the potential to leaves thousands and thousands of ballots uncounted," Bowen said Wednesday. "We need the post office not to do it. It would be a profound disservice to democracy."

Read more:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mud and Ads

A new ad attacks Romney for attacking Santorum:

"Mudsplat ads" have long been a staple of American campaigns. In 1974, Bob Dole ran such an spot in his tough Senate reelection race. In 1996, The New York Times recalled: 
 Known as the "mudslinger ad," it starts with a close-up of a Dole campaign poster. "Bill Roy says that Senator Bob Dole is against the farmer," the narrator intones, as a gob of mud splatters the poster. "Against cutting the Federal budget." More mud. "Against the school lunch program." Another gob. But none of these accusations are accurate, the narrator continues, as the mud flies off the poster. "All of which," he concludes, "makes Bob Dole look pretty good, and Bill Roy look like just another mudslinger."
Video of the 1974 ad is available here.

In 1992, Russ Feingold did his own version of a mudsplat ad (click here and scroll down to "Stoop Gaining" or click here)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Voter Registration Problems

A new study from the Pew Center on the States finds serious problems with voter registration. From the press release:
Approximately 24 million active voter registrations in the United States—one of every eight—are no longer valid or have significant inaccuracies, according to the Pew Center on the States’ Election Initiatives. New research in the report Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient (PDF) underscores the need for registration systems that use the latest technology to better maintain voter records, save money, and streamline processes—an effort that eight states are spearheading with Pew’s support.
The ground-breaking examination of the nation’s voter rolls, commissioned by Pew and undertaken by RTI International, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute, also finds that:
• At least 51 million eligible citizens remain unregistered—more than 24 percent of the eligible population.
• Nearly 2 million deceased individuals are listed as active voters.
• Approximately 2.75 million people have active registrations in more than one state.
• About 12 million records have incorrect addresses, meaning either the voters moved, or errors in the information make it unlikely any mailings can reach them.
The report itself highlights a cost of American federalism.  Having a separate registration system for each state is much more expensive than having a single one for the whole country.
The costs of maintaining a voter list in the United States are high when compared with our neighboring democracy, Canada, which spends only 35 cents per active voter to create and maintain its lists in a federal election year—one-twelfth the cost in the U.S.
According to a survey of election budgets in the United States conducted by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, county and local election offices spend approximately one-third of their budgets just on voter registration. In some jurisdictions, the total is even higher.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Government Employment by State

Public employees hold political power in part because there are so many of them. But there has been some decline lately, as a recent post notedGallup reports:
Nearly 3 out of every 10 workers in Hawaii (29.7%), Alaska (29.6%), and the District of Columbia (29.1%) work for federal, state, or local government, at a time when government employment is declining nationally at all levels. Pennsylvania has the lowest percentage of government workers, at 11.8%.

The findings are from Gallup Daily tracking interviews conducted with 129,476 U.S. workers throughout 2011, and include all workers who say they work for government -- whether federal, state, local, or unspecified. Maryland and Virginia, which neighbor the nation's capital, are fourth and fifth, respectively, in total government employment. Nationwide, the states with above-average levels of government employment are mixed geographically, while, the states with the below-average levels of government employment are all in the Northeast or the Midwest. In no state do fewer than 1 in 10 workers work for government.
Overall, 16.3% of U.S. workers Gallup surveyed in 2011 said they work for government, down from 17.2% in 2010 and 17.3% in 2009. This is consistent with the decline of 280,000 government jobs the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported for 2011. The overall decline in Gallup's data was distributed equally across federal, state, and local government, with a nationwide decline of 0.3 percentage points at each level.
State government employed the highest percentage of government workers in the U.S. overall in 2011, at 6.5%, followed by local government at 5.1% and the federal government at 4.4%. The remaining 0.3% of government workers did not specify which level of government they worked for. Both state and local government employment have trended downward since 2009, while federal government employment decreased in 2011 after increasing in 2010.
Also note that public employees have a much higher union membership rate than their private-sector counterparts. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Entitlement Spending Is Growing as Middle Class Gets More of It

The New York Times reports that entitlement spending is growing rapidly and that the middle class is getting more and more of it.  A poll shows considerable differences between perceptions of entitlement spending and the actual data.  See more from the Congressional Budget Office.


Whitney Houston Sings the National Anthem

Whitney Houston sang the National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl:

To welcome troops home from the Gulf War, she sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."


Saturday, February 11, 2012

What King Said

Politico reports that the National Park Service will correct a misquotation at the Martin Luther King Memorial:
It’s now set in stone: the incorrect “Drum Major” quote on the recently-dedicated Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will be fixed.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis announced Friday the paraphrased quote currently etched onto the statue on the National Mall will be removed and replaced with the full quote King actually said.
Salazar and Jarvis met with members of King’s family on Monday about the controversial mistake, which currently reads, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
In a sermon King delivered at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1968, he said, “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.” That quote will now be put on the statue in full.
The paraphrase drummed up controversy and anger after the memorial was unveiled, with poet Maya Angelou saying the quote made King seem like an “arrogant twit.”

Planned Parenthood Lobbying

As we suggest in our chapter on interest groups, organizations that receive federal funding will lobby hard to keep the money.  The Center for Responsive Politics reports on a case study:
Planned Parenthood fields a tough defense.
That was apparent last week in the dust-up over a breast cancer charity's decision to stop funding the group. Susan G. Komen for the Cure reversed itself, restoring Planned Parenthood's $680,000 per year grant, but not before Komen inadvertantly triggered millions in contributions to the women's health services provider from donors angry about the grant cutoff.
For another view of Planned Parenthood's ferocity in a fight, take a look at its tab for lobbying Capitol Hill and other parts of the federal government in 2011 -- the year that Republicans re-claimed the gavel in the House.
Planned Parenthood laid out $1.9 million for lobbying expenses last year, a record for the group and triple the $588,000 it spent in 2010. Pro-abortion rights groups collectively spent a total of $2.2 million making their case with the federal government, according to calculations by the Center for Responsive Politics, compared with $956,000 the year before.
Self-preservation was high on the list of issues Planned Parenthood lobbied on in 2011. According to its 2009-2010 annual report, the organization received $487.4 million that year in "government health services grants and reimbursements" -- close to half of its total revenue. But federal funding for the group would have been eliminated by a provision championed by Rep. Mike Pence, and Indiana Republican. Early last year, he pushed to get rid of all such money for Planned Parenthood -- which is used for cancer screenings, contraceptives and other purposes -- because the organization's clinics provide abortion services. It's already the case that no federal money can be used to pay for abortions...Meanwhile, anti-abortion groups spent just $495,000 on lobbying last year -- their lowest total since 1998. However, that figure doesn't include money spent by conservative multi-issue groups such as the Family Research Council, which put a little more than $100,000 into lobbying.