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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cruz Control of Social Media

In the race for the GOP Senate nomination in Texas, Ted Cruz is likely to defeat Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who started the race with far more money and name recognition.  Social media have helped. Politico reports that Cruz has more than 25,000 Twitter followers 84,000 Facebook fans, compared with Dewhurst's 4,200 Twitter followers and 42,000 Facebook fans.  Steven Friess writes that "Cruz is among the first American examples of a dark horse candidate who rode to victory by tapping into the vast power of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and email."
Among Cruz’s smart cyber moves: Weekly calls with supportive bloggers, who had access to the candidate throughout the race. Two full-time staffers focused on social media content, resulting in speedy responses to just about every tweet, Facebook comment and email. A microsite,, that empowered volunteers to take on tasks and print out campaign literature. The use of social media ads from the earliest days of the campaign to build a mailing list that is, in the words of Vincent Harris, the Cruz campaign digital strategist, "bigger than most of the failed Republican candidates for president."

On Facebook, the Cruz campaign sent city-specific status updates so that, for instance, only users in Waco would receive the update about Cruz’s upcoming Waco appearance. Meanwhile, whenever Cruz appeared on national or statewide radio or TV programs, his campaign website would post a special splash page to specifically welcome the listeners or viewers who came there during or immediately after the show.
The campaign also took advantage of the resources provided by Google and Facebook, both of which have dedicated Republican and Democratic staffers available to offer advice. As recently as this week, Harris said, the campaign deployed an idea provided to them by Google’s Republican outreach guru Rob Saliterman.

Being American

British writer Charles C.W. Cooke discusses what it means to be American:
There are a host of similar American propositions, and most of them are fully testable. This is why America has a citizenship test. Would it not be “un-American,” for example, to oppose free speech? One has to understand the axiom and vow to uphold it in order to be naturalized not simply because it is the law of the land, but because it is a foundational principle without which the American idea ultimately cannot operate. This and the other core principles are neatly outlined in the national guidebooks, which include the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Gettysburg Address, and so forth. Such works have made the world intimately familiar with the propositions of the American project and have acted as a magnet to immigrants from all over the globe. In contradistinction, ask somebody what Belgium is for and they will be hard-pressed to answer you — there is no such thing as the Belgian “promise” or the Belgian “dream,” and those who spoke of such things would be looked at with reasonable suspicion.
So prominent are ideas in America that they are put on the money: “In God We Trust,” “E Pluribus Unum,” and “Liberty” are — literally — forged into the currency of the nation. In Britain, by way of contrast — a nation that helped write America’s values and then largely abandoned them at home — the money features a picture of the Queen, some functional words, and a few decorations. This difference is important.

Dual Citizenship and the Olympics

An earlier post dealt with citizenship and Olympic competition. The National Post reports:
A Canadian has become America’s biggest hope to lead the nation’s swim team at the London Olympics.
On Monday, Missy Franklin, 17, a high school senior in Centennial, Colo., with dual citizenship, won the gold medal for the United States in the 100-metre backstroke.
The performance set a U.S. record of 58.33 seconds and bested Emily Seebohm of Australia (58.68 seconds) and Japan’s Aya Terakawa (58.83 seconds).

Both Ms. Franklin’s parents were born in Canada. Her mother, D.A., is a physician from Halifax, and her father, Richard, a director at a clean-technology organization, is from St. Catharines, Ont.
Although the teenager, nicknamed Missy the Missile, chose to swim for the States, she said her “favourite place in the entire world” is Pictou, N.S., where she digs for clam and grills oysters while vacationing with her parents. Her first international meet was in Vancouver when she was 13.

Survey on Gun Control

Support for gun control has waned in recent years, and a new survey from the Pew Research Center suggests that the Aurora shootings have not changed sentiments.
There has been no significant change in public views on the issue of gun control and gun rights following the July 20th shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Currently, 47% say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 46% say it is more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns. That is virtually unchanged from a survey earlier this year in April, when 45% prioritized gun control and 49% gun rights.
Other recent major shootings also had little effect on public opinion about gun laws. There was no significant change in the balance of opinion about gun rights and gun control after the January, 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona in which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was injured. Nor was there a spike in support for gun control following the shooting at Virginia Tech University in April, 2007.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted July 26-29, 2012 among 1,010 adults, shows that relatively few Americans view the shooting in Aurora as a sign of broader social problems. Two-thirds (67%) say that shootings like this one are just the isolated acts of troubled individuals. Only about a quarter (24%) say shootings like this reflect broader problems in American society. This is similar to the public reaction after the Tucson shooting in early 2011, which 58% thought of as the isolated act of a troubled individual and 31% connected to broader social problems. Americans were more likely to see broader problems behind the Virginia Tech shooting five years ago – at that time, 46% thought the event reflected broader societal problems.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Kids Count

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released its annual Kids Count data book:
National data mask a great deal of state-by state and regional variations in child well-being. A state-level examination of the data reveals a hard truth: A child’s chances of thriving depend not just on individual, familial and community characteristics but also on the state in which she is born and raised. States vary considerably in the amount of wealth and other resources they possess. State policy choices also strongly influence children’s chances for success.
We derive a composite index of overall child wellbeing for each state by combining data across the four domains: (1) Economic Well-Being, (2) Education, (3) Health and (4) Family and Community. These composite scores are then translated into a single state ranking for child well-being. The three highest ranked states are New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont; the three lowest ranked states are Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi.
State per capita income explains a great deal.  Only three states are in the bottom half of income per capita but in the top half of the Kids Count rankings: Utah, Maine, and Idaho.

Conversely, only three states are in the top half of income but the bottom half of Kids Count: New York, Alaska, and California.         

According to the National Education Association, New York and California rank among the top three states in average teacher salaries.        


Religious Persecution

At The Wall Street Journal, Ben Cohen and Keith Roderick write:
This month the Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani marked his 1,000th day of incarceration in Lakan, a notorious prison in northern Iran. Charged with the crime of apostasy, Mr. Nadarkhani faces a death sentence for refusing to recant the Christian faith he embraced as a child. He embodies piety and represents millions more suffering from repression—but his story is barely known.
Mr. Nadarkhani's courage and the tenacity of his supporters, many of them ordinary churchgoers who have crowded Twitter and other social media to alert the world to his plight, bring to mind the great human-rights campaigns of recent years: the fight against apartheid in South Africa, or the movement to assist Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate from behind the Iron Curtain. As Nelson Mandela represented the opposition to South African racism, and Anatoly Sharansky exemplified the just demands of Soviet Jews, so Mr. Nadarkhani symbolizes the emergency that church leaders say is facing 100 million Christians around the world.
Yet Mr. Nadarkhani has almost none of the name recognition that Messrs. Mandela and Sharansky had. Despite the increasing ferocity with which Christians are targeted—church bombings in Nigeria, discrimination in Egypt (where Christians have been imprisoned for building or repairing churches), beheadings in Somalia—Americans remain largely unaware of how bad the situation has become, particularly in the Islamic world and in communist countries like China and North Korea.
The principal reason public opinion hasn't been galvanized around the persecution of Christians is that the various church leaderships either ignore or dance around the issue. If churches don't speak up forcefully, then it is unrealistic to expect the world's democratic governments to do the same.

Expatriations Are Down

Previous posts have discussed expatriation, especially in the context of tax avoidance. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The number of Americans renouncing their citizenship fell sharply in the second quarter, to 189 from 520 for the same period in 2011, according to a list released by the Treasury Department on Friday.
A 1996 law requires the Treasury Department to publish a list of new renunciations each quarter. The list includes names of people who renounce their permanent residency by turning in their "green cards" as well as those who renounce U.S. citizenship.
The last list of expatriations, released April 30, revealed the names of  co-founder and billionaire Eduardo Saverin, and Denise Eisenberg Rich, a Grammy-nominated songwriter and the ex-wife of commodities trader Marc Rich. In the first quarter of 2012, expatriations totaled 460.

The sharp decrease in the second quarter took some experts by surprise. "It may be that many people who were inclined to expatriate have already taken steps to do so," said Bryan Skarlatos, a tax attorney at Kostelanetz & Fink in New York.Expatriations surged to almost 1,800 in 2011, a sixfold increase from 2008. Experts say the increase was related to a recent drive to enforce U.S. tax laws concerning foreign accounts.

Things That People Don't Know

A new CBS/Vanity Fair survey indicates limits on what Americans know about the judiciary and contemporary economic issues:
Just four in 10 Americans know the correct number of justices that sit on the Supreme Court. 40% correctly pick 9, while 35% pick an even dozen, 6% pick seven, 5% pick six, and 3% pick ten. College educated Americans do better – most know the correct number of Supreme Court justices, though four in 10 Americans who have pursued a higher education past a four a year degree still do not know there are nine justices on the Supreme Court.
In spite of JPMorganChase’s well-publicized loss of $2 billion, just 14% of Americans correctly identify JPMorganChase’s CEO Jamie Dimon as a New York banker. 66% say they don’t know who he is, while others identify him as a Texas congressman (9%), an X-Games Skateboarder (7%), or a daredevil motorcyclist (4%).
Americans who are slightly closer to Dimon’s salary are better able to identify him. 25% of Americans earning over $100,000 a year identify him as a New York banker, compared to just 9% of those earning under $50,000 a year. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Citizenship and the Olympics

The Washington Post reports on Olympic basketball player Becky Hammon:
Hammon is playing in her second Olympics for Russia. She became a Russian naturalized citizen before the Beijing Games. Because she hadn’t played for the United States in any major FIBA-sanctioned international events, she is allowed to compete for Russia in the Olympics.

Her patriotism was questioned in 2008 when she played with Russia, which won the bronze medal. Hammon’s second Olympics isn’t drawing as much attention.

She said there’s not “so much hoopla around me and everyone’s kind of settled in. Other girls are playing for other teams, so it’s not so much focused on me.”
A previous post mentioned Olympian Lopez Lomong. At The New York Times, he writes:
As a “Lost Boy” of Sudan, having spent 10 years of my life in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to America at the age of 16, I felt lost without a country. I never identified with any flag; instead, I was an outcast from a country at war.
In 2000, while a refugee, I saw Michael Johnson run the 400 meters in the Olympics. My world was shaken when he shed a tear during the playing of the national anthem. I realized that he didn’t run for himself or his own glory, but rather represented a country that he was proud of.
The Olympics is the ultimate show of national pride and identity. For me, competing in the Olympic games has been an opportunity to thank a country that opened its arms to me 11 years ago, showing me that I mattered.
The issue of athletes swapping countries to achieve an Olympic berth is a complicated one. In cases like Guor Marial’s, the liberal use of the Olympic flag to allow a qualified athlete to compete when their country doesn’t have an Olympic delegation is justified.

However, when athletes compete solely for personal glory, the purpose of the Games is undermined. After receiving my American citizenship in 2007, despite the odds against me and the challenges I faced, it was not an option to run under another flag. I had been accepted into a country that I was proud of and, for the first time in my life, I had an identity. In 2008, as the team flag bearer, I realized the importance of the Olympic spirit -- to unite the world’s athletes and proudly represent their countries in peace.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Deliberation and Regular Order

Former Representative Lee Hamilton (D-IN)  reiterates a point that he has made before, writing that the congressional "regular order" can be complicated and slow.
This can take months, if not years. Why bother?
Because the process may be convoluted, but its values are not. It is designed to ensure fairness, attentive deliberation, and a bedrock concern for building consensus that avoids riding roughshod over the concerns of the minority and throwing wrenches into the plans of the majority.
Different voices get heard through the regular order, opposing views get considered, and our representatives get the chance to ask hard questions, consider the merits of various approaches, propose alternatives, smooth out problems, build consensus, knock out bad ideas, and refine good ideas to make better laws.
These are not minor things. As a general rule, the better and fairer the process, the higher the quality of the legislation that comes out of it — and the higher the likelihood that it will find broad acceptance in the nation at large and be  effectively implemented.
Sadly, the reverse is true as well. When those in positions of power within Congress start acting as though the process does not matter, the institution loses legitimacy among its own members and, more importantly, among the American people.
He says that the increased use of omnibus bills and filibusters has undercut regular order and institutional legitimacy.

Disability Treaty

Our chapter on national security and foreign policy discusses the making of treaties. The Hill reports:
Sens. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) joined the 10 Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to pass the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has the support of advocacy groups across the country. Proponents say it would merely require the rest of the world to catch up to the United States' high standards created by the Americans With Disabilities Act while protecting Americans with disabilities abroad, but opponents — including a number of home-schooling groups — have raised concerns about international standards being imposed on America.
The treaty, said panel Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), “raises the standard to our level without requiring us to go further.”
Abortion was the only issue to divide lawmakers along partisan lines.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) proposed language saying the treaty “does not create any abortion rights.” All nine Republicans on the panel voted for it.
But Democrats said that would have allowed treaty signers to discriminate against people with disabilities — refusing to provide the full range of family planning services under domestic law — in violation of the spirit of the treaty. Instead, Kerry offered an amendment saying the treaty does not address “the provision of any particular health program or procedure,” meaning the treaty doesn't create any new abortion rights beyond the duty not to discriminate against people with disabilities.
The anti-abortion rights Susan B. Anthony List however said abortion itself is often a form of discrimination against people with disabilities.
"Ironically, when special needs children are identified in the womb, they often become a prime target for abortion," SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. "Over 90% of children diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero have their lives abruptly ended. Abortion in no way promotes the rights and dignity of people with disabilities."

Why So Many People Look Down on the Mainstream Media

The mass media have made much more serious mistakes in recent weeks, but an admission of ignorance during Olympic coverage is likely to get a lot of attention. International Digital Times reports:
During NBC's Olympic opening ceremony coverage, Meredith Vieira voiced words that are likely to haunt her for years to come, bringing on a barrage of heckling tweets within the online community.
Just moments after the coverage began, Vieira sheepishly admitted that "if you don't know who Berners-Lee is, don't worry...neither do we".
Sir Tim Berners-Lee is the founding father of the World Wide Web and was a star in the opening Olympic Ceremony which celebrated the impact of his work on the world.
Whether it was an attempt at humor or an honest admission, Vieira's lacking knowledge led to a mass influx of heckling commentary from Tweeters around the globe.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Stakes

Both sides see high stakes in the election.  An ad from the president's reelection campaign:

Crossroads GPS has a different take:

At The Washington Examiner, Byron York writes:
A few months ago, conservatives laughed when the Obama campaign came up with “The Life of Julia: A look at how President Obama’s policies help one woman over her lifetime.” Obama told the story of a fictional girl who received Head Start before kindergarten; got an Obama-provided $10,000 tax credit to go to college; got a job as a Web designer and enjoyed free contraceptives courtesy of Obamacare; got a government loan to start a small business; and ultimately headed into retirement and coverage by Social Security and Medicare.
Conservatives scoffed at the whole thing. “Julia’s world ... may be the most self-revealing parody" of liberalism ever conceived,” wrote columnist Charles Krauthammer, noting that Julia is “swaddled and subsidized throughout her life by an all-giving government” and “the only time she’s on her own is at her gravesite.” But the Obama campaign is entirely serious about ensuring that Americans spend much of their lives receiving one government benefit or another.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Survey on Religion and Politics

The Pew Research Center reports on a new survey:
Americans have long been comfortable with religion having a role in politics. A sizable majority continues to say it is important for the president to have strong religious beliefs. And a majority says they are not bothered when politicians talk about their religion.
At the same time, however, there is widespread opposition to churches and other houses of worship endorsing one political candidate over another. And recent Pew Research Center polling found that an increasing percentage thinks there has been “too much” religious talk from politicians.
Roughly half of the public believes that conservative Christians have gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country. But there is even more concern that liberals have gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government.
This imbalance reflects the continued public view that religious groups, and religion in general, strengthen American society. By two-to-one, most say that churches, synagogues and other houses of worship contribute to solving important social problems. Yet there is a continued sense that religion’s influence is declining in America. An overwhelming majority of those who share this perception see this as a bad thing.
See another blog post on this survey. 

Americans with Disabilities

Previous posts have discussed Americans with disabilities. The Census Bureau has a new report:
About 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population — had a disability in 2010, according to a broad definition of disability, with more than half of them reporting the disability was severe, according to a comprehensive report on this population released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The report, Americans with Disabilities: 2010, presents estimates of disability status and type and is the first such report with analysis since the Census Bureau published statistics in a similar report about the 2005 population of people with disabilities. According to the report, the total number of people with a disability increased by 2.2 million over the period, but the percentage remained statistically unchanged. Both the number and percentage with a severe disability rose, however. Likewise, the number and percentage needing assistance also both increased.
“This week, we observe the 22nd anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a milestone law that guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities,” said Census Bureau demographer Matthew Brault. “On this important anniversary, this report presents a barometer of the well-being of this population in areas such as employment, income and poverty status.”
The statistics come from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, which contains supplemental questions on whether respondents had difficulty performing a specific set of functional and participatory activities. For many activities, if a respondent reported difficulty, a follow-up question was asked to determine the severity of the limitation, hence, the distinction between a “severe” and “nonsevere” disability. The data were collected from May through August 2010. Disability statistics from this survey are used by agencies — such as the Social Security Administration, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Administration on Aging — to assist with program planning and management.
The report shows that 41 percent of those age 21 to 64 with any disability were employed, compared with 79 percent of those with no disability. Along with the lower likelihood of having a job came the higher likelihood of experiencing persistent poverty; that is, continuous poverty over a 24-month period. Among people age 15 to 64 with severe disabilities, 10.8 percent experienced persistent poverty; the same was true for 4.9 percent of those with a nonsevere disability and 3.8 percent of those with no disability.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Reagan's 100 Days

At The Weekly Standard, William Kristol writes:
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Mitt Romney is recounting a Jim Baker anecdote in which President Reagan ordered Baker, as White House chief of staff, to hold no national security meetings over a hundred day period early in his first term so that President Reagan and his team could focus on the economy... I can't believe the story is true. Or if Reagan did once say what Baker says he said, it was an expression of exasperation after one (presumably unsatisfactory) meeting that neither Reagan nor Baker followed through on. In fact, I'll buy Jim Baker a very good dinner next time he's in Washington if he or anyone else can find a 100-day stretch (or a ten-day stretch) of the Reagan presidency in which President Reagan was involved in no national security meetings.
A quantitative analysis of presidential work time during the first 100 days showed that while Reagan put in less time at the office than other presidents, he averaged at least a couple of events a day on diplomacy and military matters.

On several occasions (see below), Baker has discussed the first 100 days of the Reagan administration.  He has said that President Reagan had an intense focus on the economy during that period -- no surprise to anyone who was alive at the time -- but I have found no confirmation of the "no national security meetings" claim. Indeed, Baker carefully added the qualification that the president did have other things to do. Apparently Romney or his staff inaccurately recalled what Baker said.

Interview with Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2009:
I think there has been an effort in the Obama White House to concentrate on the economy, but I'm not sure that that concentration and focus has been quite as laser-like and extensive as the focus that we put on it in '81. I can even remember occasions, certainly one occasion -- where we had an early National Security Council meeting. We had determined in our 100-day plan that we were going to focus all of our attention and presidential time and assets to the extent that we could -- I mean we sure had to do other necessary business of the presidency -- but we were going to focus on the president's signature economic program, the spending cuts and the tax reductions, and we did that. And I remember this one NSC meeting in particular where the foreign policy and security officials in the administration were going to consider something and we basically said, 'Hey, wait a minute, not now, not in these first one hundred days, four months, whatever it is, we're going to focus on with laser-like intensity on the economy, the economy, the economy.' And we did that.
Interview with Evan Thomas on HBO, June 15, 2006:
I remember the first National Security Council meeting of the Reagan administration in 1981. We had a 100-day plan that we prepared, and it said we’re going to get taxes reduced, we’re going to reduce spending. Our whole focus is going to be economic. And we were—we stuck to that. The first National Security Council meeting we had somebody brought up—I guess the secretary of State at the time—brought up the problems in Central America, where that was the holy grail of the left and the holy grail of the political right in this country—both the left and the right—were the wars in Central America.
MR. BAKER: And put the question on the table about whether we should do something about it. And all of the political advisers in the White House were shaking their heads and saying, “Absolutely not.” And of course the president said, “Well, we need to do something about this.” And we said, “No, we have got to concentrate on, initially at least, on getting all this stuff done.” And I think that’s the reason we were successful on the Hill, because we were dealing with a Democratic Congress. Congress was Democratic. 
PBS interview, 2000:
We had a 100 day plan that revolved around some significant tax reductions and spending cuts. We wanted to concentrate on our economic program for the first 100 days of the Administration. In an early National Security Council meeting the question of Nicaragua. El Salvador came up, I can't remember which it was and there was a suggestion by Secretary of State, Haig at the time that to really deal with that issue, we had to go to the source and going to the source meant, taking care of Cuba and the President's White House advisors all discouraged that because if you're going to have a 100 day plan, it calls for a focus. On an economic program, you ought to keep the focus of the economic program. We did so, in the first 100 days and with very good effect but it was only because we did not let ourselves be diverted into these other areas, such as taking care of Cuba.


Previous posts have described egregious waste at the General Services Administration.  Federal Computer Week reports:
The General Services Administration is once again in the spotlight for apparently lavish spending at an agency event.
The GSA Inspector General is investigating an awards ceremony for GSA employees in 2010 that cost $268,732. According to preliminary findings, the event was held at the Crystal City Marriott in Arlington, Va., and officials spent more than $35,000 for 4,000 "time temperature picture frames," $20,000 for catering charges as well as paying for a violinist and guitarist.
Brian Miller, the procurement agency’s IG, informed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee July 19 of his preliminary findings, provoking the anger of some committee members.
“GSA’s pattern of waste and abuse continues,” Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said July 19.
However, “instead of clowns and mind readers, we’ve got violinists and guitarists. GSA has really classed up their act,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of the committee’s Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee.
Denham has called for closing down GSA in the past.
A GSA spokesperson said on July 24 that the awards ceremony has been happening annually since 2002, but GSA's new leader will put a stop to it.
There are a number of Internet sites where government employees and ordinary citizens can report government waste and abuse:

Surveys and the Presidential Race

Americans tend to see Mitt Romney as better able to handle key issues than President Obama is, particularly those relating to the economy. However, Americans give Obama the edge on most character dimensions, especially basic likability.

Romney has an edge on four of six issues tested in the July 19-22 USA Today/Gallup poll -- all having a significant economic component, including the federal budget deficit, the economy, creating jobs, and taxes. Romney and Obama are tied on healthcare, while Obama's lone lead in the poll is his decided advantage on foreign affairs.
On the other hand, Obama is viewed as more likable, more honest and trustworthy, and better able to understand the problems Americans face than Romney is. Romney's only character advantage of the four included in the poll is for being able to "get things done."
With more than three months to go before Election Day, most voters already feel that there’s little left to learn about the presidential candidates. When it comes to Barack Obama, 90% say they already pretty much know what they need to know about him; just 8% say they need to learn more. A substantial majority (69%) also says they already mostly know what they need to know about Mitt Romney. Only about a quarter (28%) say they need to learn more to get a clear impression of Romney. Combining these two questions, fully two-thirds of voters say they already know as much as they need to about both presidential candidates.
Sean Trende writes:
These findings go a long way toward explaining the 2012 contest. In the referendum model of the election, voters ask themselves two questions: First, do I want the president to be re-elected? Second, is the challenger so unacceptable that I simply can’t bring myself to vote for him?
It is a real question whether the Romney campaign gets this. Throughout the primary process, it focused relentlessly on tearing down its opponents. Thus far, it has done the same in the general election. Maybe Romney doesn’t have that much of a record of accomplishment as governor, outside of the radioactive health care law. Or maybe the campaign simply isn’t capable of telling a compelling, positive story about the nominee.
Regardless, these are parts of his biography that simply must be filled in if Romney wants to win, along with his activities turning around the Salt Lake City Olympics. (Does anyone outside of the political world even know about that?) If Romney can do this, he’ll have an excellent shot at winning this race. It might not even be close. But if he can’t, he will probably become the first presidential challenger in modern history to pass Step 1 of the referendum model, but fail Step 2.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Course in Oppo

Previous posts have discussed opposition research.  At GWU's Graduate School of Political Management, you can take a course in the subject.  The Washington Times reports (h/t Christiana):
Before Brett Di Resta can teach students at George Washington University what political opposition research is, he has to teach them what it isn’t.

Opposition research, he insists, is not the province of sneaky, shadowy political hit men.

Nor does it involve ill-gotten dossiers, crammed with attack-ad-ready smears and lies, exchanged in dimly lit parking garages.

It’s not even an exercise in remorseless, single-minded dirt digging — though the occasional (read: very occasional) candidate-felling, campaign-sinking silver bullet is always welcome.

“The first thing I tell these kids is that I don’t own a trench coat,” Mr. Di Resta said. “We don’t go dumpster diving. We go to courthouses. Read thousands of articles. Sift through everything.

“We’re not ninjas. The majority of researchers are basically nerds.”

A 41-year-old Democratic consultant who has worked on numerous campaigns and for Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, Mr. Di Resta proudly counts himself among the dweebs.

Now an adjunct professor at GW’s graduate school of political management, he has taught for three consecutive summers an eight-week course titled “The Not-So-Dark Art of Campaign Research.”

Bad Journalism and the Aurora Shooting

An earlier post described a hasty, false report linking the Colorado shooter to the tea party.

Bad journalism continues.  At MSNBC, Joe Scarborough speculated -- without a scrap of supporting evidence -- that the shooter has Asperger Syndrome.

At Politico, Dylan Byers writes:
Arlene Holmes, the mother of Colorado theater shooting suspect James Holmes, has suggested that ABC News mischaracterized her when it reported that her initial statement to the reporter, "you have the right person," was a reference to her son.
"This statement is to clarify a statement made by ABC media. I was awakened by a call from a reporter by ABC on July 20 about 5:45 in the morning. I did not know anything about a shooting in Aurora at that time," Holmes said in a statement this afternoon, read to the national press by attorney Lisa Damiani. "He asked if I was Arlene Holmes and if my son was James Holmes who lives in Aurora, Colorado. I answered yes, you have the right person. I was referring to myself."
"I asked him to tell me why he was calling and he told me about a shooting in Aurora," she continues. "He asked for a comment. I told him I could not comment because I did not know if the person he was talking about was my son, and I would need to find out."
In the first paragraph of its initial report on Friday, ABC News reported that it had identified the correct James Holmes because his mother "told ABC News her son was likely the alleged culprit, saying, 'You have the right person.'"
If Arlene Holmes' latest statement is true, it means that she did not tell ABC News her son was likely the alleged culprit, calling into question the reporting of a network that has already been marred by one inaccuracy.
HotAir follows up:
Update: ABC says it didn’t happen the way Holmes says it did — and no, there’s no recording of the conversation:
ABC News phoned Arlene Holmes at 5am PST, at her home in San Diego, Calif., according to notes and email records by ABC News producer Matthew Mosk, who placed the call…
Mosk said today that he awoke Arlene Holmes and informed her that a man, he believed was her son had been arrested in Aurora and asked to confirm their relationship.
“You have to tell me what happened… You have to tell me what happened,” the woman on the phone said, according to Mosk. Mosk said he told her that ABC News had learned the 24-year-old had been identified by police as the lone suspect in the mass killing in Aurora, Colo and that the details of the events were still taking shape.
“You have the right person,” was her response, he said. “I need to call the police. I need to fly to Colorado.”
That contradicts Holmes’s claim that she didn’t know anything about the shooting before her “right person” comment — but even here, according to ABC’s own account, the quote is totally ambiguous. Was she saying that James Holmes was the “right person,” i.e. the shooter, or merely that she was his mother? Why did ABC leap to assume the former instead of the latter?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tragedy and Holy Books

Scripture says that "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And when you have an opportunity to visit with families who have lost their loved ones -- as I described to them, I come to them not so much as President as I do as a father and as a husband. And I think that the reason stories like this have such an impact on us is because we can all understand what it would be to have somebody that we love taken from us in this fashion -- what it would be like and how it would impact us.
The passage is from Revelation 21:4 (English Standard Version) 

Brad Knickerbocker writes at The Christian Science Monitor:
In his response to the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., Mitt Romney offered a rare glimpse into his Mormon religion – one of those public moments for the man who would be the nation’s political leader but who so far has been very private about his personal faith.
Today we feel not only a sense of grief, but perhaps also of helplessness,” Mr. Romney said. “But there is something we can do. We can offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or heavy-laden. And we can mourn with those who mourn in Colorado.”
Peggy Fletcher Stack, who writes on religion for theSalt Lake Tribune, notes that “the latter sentence seems straight out of Mosiah 18:8-9 in the Book of Mormon.” The full passage from Mosiah reads:
“As ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life.”
The phrase is not exclusively Mormon, however. The New International Version of the Bible translates Romans 12:15 this way: "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."  Note that most other translations having different wording (e.g., "weep" instead of "mourn.")

Perhaps it is mere coincidence that Romney chose a phrase that appears both the the Book of Mormon and in the NIV -- the translation that evangelical Christians tend to prefer.  But if not, he was showing shrewd sensitivity to a group that sometimes has reservations about his faith.  As we point out in the textbook, another Massachusetts politician dealt with a similar predicament in a similar way.  When Catholic JFK quoted the Bible, he used the Protestant King James version.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Disability Insurance

The Congressional Budget Office has a new report:
The Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program pays cash benefits to nonelderly adults (those younger than age 66) who are judged to be unable to perform “substantial” work because of a disability but who have worked in the past; the program also pays benefits to some of those adults’ dependents.
The Number of DI Beneficiaries Has Increased Nearly Sixfold Since 1970
In 2011, the DI program provided benefits to 8.3 million disabled workers, nearly six times the 1.4 million disabled workers who received benefits in 1970. Including the dependent spouses and children of those workers further increases the number of people receiving support from the program in 2011 to 10.3 million. The growth in the program can be attributed to changes in multiple factors, including demographics, the labor force, federal policy, opportunities for work, and compensation (earnings and benefits) during employment.


Hope Yen writes at The Associated Press:
The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.
Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall in the critical weeks ahead of the November elections.
The Associated Press surveyed more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, both nonpartisan and those with known liberal or conservative leanings, and found a broad consensus: The official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest since 1965.
Demographers also say:
—Poverty will remain above the pre-recession level of 12.5 percent for many more years. Several predicted that peak poverty levels — 15 percent to 16 percent — will last at least until 2014, due to expiring unemployment benefits, a jobless rate persistently above 6 percent and weak wage growth.
—Suburban poverty, already at a record level of 11.8 percent, will increase again in 2011.
—Part-time or underemployed workers, who saw a record 15 percent poverty in 2010, will rise to a new high.
—Poverty among people 65 and older will remain at historically low levels, buoyed by Social Security cash payments.
Child poverty will increase from its 22 percent level in 2010.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Citizen Cosponsor"

Members of Congress are alert to the uses of social mediaJohn Stanton reports at Buzzfeed:
What if voters could express approval for legislation making its way through Congress just as simply as clicking “like” on a video of cute baby seals shared on Facebook? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has quietly developed a Facebook app for constituents to do just that, allowing them to track legislation and “cosponsor” bills with one click.
“New media is to me another place for people to express opinions, share ideas and come together. And it’s just been an unbelievable connector for people around the world,” the Virginia Republican said in an interview with Buzzfeed, adding that he “look[s] at it as an outlet, and really an interactive forum so that we have a chance to engage.”
In the interview, Cantor hailed the rise of new media but also noted it “provides a challenge. When we are formulating a policy and all of sudden someone forms an opinion and there goes a tweet, it can very easily set without much percolating as an idea … that’s just the way it is. I think you get more benefit with the back and forth that goes on with Twitter, Facebook and all the rest and I think you tend to make a better product.”
Cantor acknowledged that Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites allow consumers “to get the news from the source they like, the content they like [and] it tends to harden people’s perspective and philosophy … because people don’t come from that shared news experience anymore.”
The Citizen Cosponsor app aims to deliver some of that shared experience. It’s built on top of Facebook’s Open Graph — which services like Spotify, Pinterest and Farmville use to connect people. Users who install the app can sign up for alerts on specific measures before Congress to track their progress, and can comment on and “cosponsor” bills, which posts an item about the bill on the user’s Facebook Timeline.
But are the social media making Congress more or less deliberative? 

Gun Control

The Associated Press reports that the Colorado shootings are unlikely to result in legislative changes.
Gun control advocates sputter at their own impotence. The National Rifle Association is politically ascendant. And Barack Obama's White House pledges to safeguard the Second Amendment in its first official response to the deaths of at least 12 people in a mass shooting at a new Batman movie screening in suburban Denver.
Once, every highly publicized outbreak of gun violence produced strong calls from Democrats and a few Republicans for tougher controls on firearms.
Now those pleas are muted, a political paradox that's grown more pronounced in an era scarred by Columbine, Virginia Tech, the wounding of a congresswoman and now the shootings in a suburban movie theater where carnage is expected on-screen only.

According to a Gallup poll in 1990, 78 percent of those surveyed said laws covering the sale of firearms should be stricter, while 19 percent said they should remain the same or be loosened.
By the fall of 2004 support for tougher laws had dropped to 54 percent. In last year's sounding, 43 percent said they should be stricter, and 55 percent said they should stay the same or be made more lenient.
In terms of electoral politics, Harry Wilson, a Roanoke College professor and author of a book on gun politics, said violent crime has been declining in recent years and, "It becomes increasingly difficult to make the argument that we need stricter gun control laws."
Additionally, he said in some regions, gun control "can be a winning issue for Democrats. But nationally, it's a loser ... and they have figured that out." Attempts to emphasize the issue will "really motivate the opposition. And in a political campaign, nobody wants to do that," he said.
Amy Gardner notes in The Washington Post:
Two of the top priorities for gun-control advocates are a ban on assault weapons and an expansion of required criminal background checks to include buyers at gun shows. But those measures wouldn’t have stopped James Holmes, the alleged shooter in Colorado, from buying most of his firearms. A ban on assault weapons may have blocked his purchase of an AR-15 assault rifle, but he still would have been able to buy the two pistols and shotgun he allegedly brought with him to the movie theater. All four weapons were purchased legally after background checks.
In April, the Pew Research Center reported:
Currently, 49% of Americans say it is more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns, while 45% say it is more important to control gun ownership. Opinion has been divided since early 2009, shortly after Barack Obama’s election. From 1993 through 2008, majorities had said it was more important to control gun ownership than to protect gun rights.
4-25-12 #1

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bad Journalism and the Colorado Shooting

CNN drew criticism for a hasty and inaccurate report about the Supreme Court's decision on the health care law.  ABC just made an even bigger mistake, as The Huffington Post notes:
ABC's Brian Ross got himself into trouble on Friday when he incorrectly suggested there may have been a link between the alleged shooter in the Colorado theater tragedy and the Tea Party. Both Ross and the network later apologized for making the claim.
Ross' comments came after federal officials informed news outlets that the suspect was named James Holmes. George Stephanopoulos threw to him on "Good Morning America" by saying, "You've been investigating the background of Jim Holmes here. You found something that might be significant."
"There's a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the Colorado Tea party site as well, talking about him joining the Tea Party last year," Ross said. "Now, we don't know if this is the same Jim Holmes. But it's Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado."
The page that Ross seems to have been looking at has no identifiable information about the person on it other than his name.
Writes Eric Wemple of The Washington Post:
ABC News has posted this text on its site: 
Editor’s Note: An earlier ABC News broadcast report suggested that a Jim Holmes of a Colorado Tea Party organization might be the suspect, but that report was incorrect. ABC News and Brian Ross apologize for the mistake, and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted.
The mistake: Unforgivable, regrettable, amateurish, miserable. “MEDIA BIAS? WHAT MEDIA BIAS?” asks an e-mail promoting a blog post on the conservative NewsBusters site about the mistake. Though ABC News won’t answer any questions at this point, it’s possible that Ross was basing his conjecture on a single Web page for the Colorado Tea Party Patriots.
What Ross failed to understand is that speculation about the Aurora shooter is a journalistic felony. You can speculate on air about Mitt Romney’s motives for not releasing his tax returns; you can speculate on air about whether the heat wave will pass; you cannot speculate on air about the identity of an alleged mass murderer. Especially when: 1) You’re rolling the suspect into a political overlay by mentioning the Tea Party movement; and 2) According to a quick online search, there are six “James Holmes” listed in Denver and 21 in the state of Colorado; error likelihood for such a common name is high.
The correction: Quick, responsible, complete and honest. Credit ABC News for cleaning up its gooey mess.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


The Census has "visualization" maps on

The Fiscal Crisis of the States

In June 2011 former New York Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker assembled a State Budget Crisis Task Force to examine fiscal threats to California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Virginia. Among the findings:
Certain large expenditures are growing at rates that exceed reasonable expectations for revenues:
Medicaid programs are growing rapidly because of increasing enrollments, escalating health care costs and difficulty in implementing cost reduction proposals. At recent rates of growth, state Medicaid costs will outstrip revenue growth by a wide margin, and the gap will continue to expand.Pension funds for state and local government workers are underfunded by approximately a trillion dollars according to their actuaries and by as much as $3 trillion or more if more conservative investment assumptions are used.• Unfunded liabilities for health care benefits for state and local government retirees amount to more than $1 trillion.
The capacity to raise revenues is increasingly impaired:
• Untaxed transactions are eroding the sales tax base. Gasoline taxes are eroding as well, making it more difficult for states to finance roads, highways, and bridges.
• Income taxes have become increasingly volatile, particularly during and after the recent economic crisis.
The federal budget crisis will have serious spillover effects on state and local governments, and state actions will have spillover effects on local governments: 
• Cuts in federal grant dollars, lower spending on federal installations, procurement, and infrastructure, and potential changes to the federal tax code all threaten states’ fiscal stability.
• Pressures on local governments, caused by the weak economy and cuts in state aid, are constraining education spending, law enforcement, aid to the needy, and the institutions that make up the culture of our cities. Local government cuts pose a significant risk to the overall economic and social fabric of states.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Be Careful What You Tweet

Too often, people tweet before they think, and the results can harm them and their bosses. The Seattle Times reports (h/t HB):
Gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna said Monday that a campaign staffer's months-old tweets appearing to mock Asians and the elderly were "insensitive and wrong."
The tweets, sent by Kathlyn Ehl before she joined the McKenna campaign in April, gained attention after The Stranger published them. They were quickly deleted from her Twitter page but remained accessible on archived Web pages.
One tweet, sent in January, read, "shut up and speak english #asians." The other, from November, said, "If it takes you an entire green light to walk in front of my car GET A WHEELCHAIR #toooldtowalk."
"The tweets sent by a member of my campaign staff, Kathlyn Ehl, were offensive and inappropriate," McKenna, a Republican and the state attorney general, said in a statement released Monday. "They were insensitive and wrong, regardless of the context."
UPDATE -- The Seattle Times reports that the staffer has resigned:
In a statement released late Wednesday morning, McKenna campaign manager Randy Pepple expressed regret at how the incident ended.

“As the father of two young women, it pains me to accept the resignation of a young woman for a mistake which occurred before she had even begun her career,” he said. “However, as we have said, and Kathlyn readily acknowledges, her tweets were offensive and insensitive. Kathlyn suggested, and I agreed after consultation with some of our campaign’s grassroots leaders, that her ongoing involvement on the campaign would be a constant reminder of her lapse in judgment.

“Life teaches us difficult lessons, and sometimes at a very young age,” he added. “My hope is that she will find some benefit from having learned this lesson now, as it will undoubtedly be a long-lasting one.”
As mentioned before, "deleting" a tweet does not mean that it vanishes without a trace.  Politwoops features "deleted" tweets.

Facebook Driving Traffic

Recent posts have discussed Facebook as an interest group, an element in a citizenship controversy, a debate platform, and a PAC sponsor. Now, Ben Smith writes at Buzzfeed:
Facebook has risen over the last six months to challenge Google's place as the most important source of traffic to online publishers, according to data from BuzzFeed's broad sample of web referrals.
The data from BuzzFeed's first Social Intelligence Report, is drawn from the BuzzFeed Network, a set of sites reaching 300 million users a month, offer striking evidence of a tectonic shift in the shape of the Internet.
Facebook's challenge to Google, which accelerated with changes to the news feed, is part of the broader rise of social platforms as dominant drivers of traffic to publishers in the first half of 2012. Search engines — who drove publishers toward complex Search Engine Optimization techniques for half a decade — show little growth.
The data gathered for the Social Intelligence Report comes from BuzzFeed’s viral tracking system, which is deployed on partners’ sites. BuzzFeed’s partners are a broad mix of small and large news properties from small and large news properties such as Time, The Daily Mail, Funny or Die, and TMZ.

The Impact of Citizens United

Our chapters on interest groups and elections discuss Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that reduced restrictions on campaign spending by outside groups.  At The New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai asks whether the decision has transformed politics as thoroughly as critics claim.
Well, not necessarily. Legally speaking, zillionaires were no less able to write fat checks four years ago than they are today. And while it is true that corporations can now give money for specific purposes that were prohibited before, it seems they aren’t, or at least not at a level that accounts for anything like the sudden influx of money into the system. According to a brief filed by Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and Floyd Abrams, the First Amendment lawyer, in a Montana case on which the Supreme Court ruled last month, not a single Fortune 100 company contributed to a candidate’s super PAC during this year’s Republican primaries. Of the $96 million or more raised by these super PACs, only about 13 percent came from privately held corporations, and less than 1 percent came from publicly traded corporations.
"Social welfare groups," or "501(c)(4) groups," do not have to make public disclosure of contributors, yet can make issue advocacy ads and (subject to IRS limits) some express advocacy ads.  Have they become the conduit for corporate money?
But the best anecdotal evidence suggests that this kind of thing isn’t happening in nearly the proportions you might expect. Kenneth Gross, an election lawyer who represents an array of large corporations, told me that few of his clients have contributed to the social-welfare groups engaged in political activity this year. They know those contributions might become public at some point, and no company that sells a product wants to risk the kind of consumer reaction that engulfed Target in 2010, after it contributed $150,000 to a Minnesota group backing a conservative candidate opposing gay marriage. “If you’ve got a bank on every corner, if you’ve got stores in every strip mall, you don’t want to be associated with a social cause,” Gross told me.
 What accounts for the increase in outside spending?
 The level of outside money increased 164 percent from 2004 to 2008. Then it rose 135 percent from 2008 to 2012. In other words, while the sheer amount of dollars seems considerably more ominous after Citizens United, the percentage of change from one presidential election to the next has remained pretty consistent since the passage of McCain-Feingold. And this suggests that the rising amount of outside money was probably bound to reach ever more staggering levels with or without Citizens United. The unintended consequence of McCain-Feingold was to begin a gradual migration of political might from inside the party structure to outside it. 
And why did liberal outside spending spike under Bush while conservative outside spending is soaring under Obama?
A consequence of McCain-Feingold has been to flip on its head an old truism of politics, which is that incumbency comes with a fixed financial advantage. In the era of soft money, controlling the White House meant that a party could almost always leverage its considerable resources to dominate fund-raising. But today it’s much easier to tap into the fury and anxiety of out-of-power millionaires than it is to amass contributions in defense of the status quo. This dynamic probably explains why wealthy Democrats who pioneered the idea of outside money during the Bush years have largely stood down this year, even while conservative fund-raising has soared. It isn’t that liberals don’t like Obama or grow queasy at the mention of super PACs. It’s a function of human nature: nobody really gets pumped up to write a $10 million check just to keep things more or less as they are. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Getting the Policy Right"

Last week, President Obama told Charlie Rose of CBS:
When I think about what we've done well and what we haven't done well, the mistake of my first term - couple of years - was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that's important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.
The comment attracted a good deal of press attention, but he has made similar comments before.

Interview with Diane Sawyer, January 25, 2010:
You know, I think your question points out to a legitimate mistake that I made during the course of the year, and that is that we had to make so many decisions quickly in a very difficult set of circumstances that after awhile, we started worrying more about getting the policy right than getting the process right.
Interview with Peter Baker, New York Times, October 12, 2010:
Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. 
Question and answer session, Seattle, October 21, 2010:
I mean, our attitude was, we just had to get the policy right, and we did not always think about making sure we were advertising properly what was going on.
Remarks to the press, November 14, 2010:
As I said in the press conference the day after the election, I spent the first two years trying to get policy right based on my best judgment about how we were going to deal with the short-term crisis and how we were going to retool to compete in this new global economy. In that obsessive focus on policy, I neglected some things that matter a lot to people, and rightly so: maintaining a bipartisan tone in Washington; dealing with practices like earmarks that are wasteful at a time of -- where everybody else is tightening their belts; making sure that the policy decisions that I made were fully debated with the American people and that I was getting out of Washington and spending more time shaping public opinion and being in a conversation with the American people about why I was making the choices I was making. 
 Town hall meeting, University of Maryland, July 22, 2011:
Beyond that, I also think that over the first two years I was so focused on policy and getting the policy right, that sometimes I forgot part of my job is explaining to the American people why we’re doing this policy and where we’re going. 

Clergy and the 1964 Civil Rights Act

The new volume of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson has a fascinating passage about the role of clergy in the victory of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  It quotes Joseph Rauh, longtime general counsel of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights:
The clergymen helped shift the tide of battle off the familiar—and hostile— terrain in which civil rights had, time after time, become mired in the Senate. “This was kind of like getting an army with new fresh guns, fresh rations. . . . It made all the difference in the world,” Rauh says. These reinforcements concentrated their efforts in states, mostly midwestern, mostly Republican, mostly conservative, in which there had never been much interest in, let alone sentiment for, civil rights. In these states, labor unions and the NAACP and other African-American organizations had relatively few members. That wasn’t true of churches. And the clergymen stayed in Washington to see the fight through. “This was the first time that I ever recalled seeing Catholic nuns away from the convents for more than a few days,” says James Hamilton of the National Council of Churches. “There was agreement among religious groups that this was a priority issue and other things had to be laid aside." And the issue was, thanks to Johnson, finally understood. Senators from these states found themselves no longer able to maintain that they weren’t against civil rights but only against changing inviolable Senate procedure by cutting off debate through cloture. “Just wait until [these senators) start hearing from the church people,” Humphrey had predicted, and the prediction was borne out. Walking off the Senate floor after supporting the civil rights forces on a vote that defeated a Russell parliamentary maneuver, Mundt said, “I hope that satisfies those two goddamned bishops who called me last night.”
Robert A.Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), 566.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Quote Approval

The New York Times reports:
The push and pull over what is on the record is one of journalism’s perennial battles. But those negotiations typically took place case by case, free from the red pens of press minders. Now, with a millisecond Twitter news cycle and an unforgiving, gaffe-obsessed media culture, politicians and their advisers are routinely demanding that reporters allow them final editing power over any published quotations.
Quote approval is standard practice for the Obama campaign, used by many top strategists and almost all midlevel aides in Chicago and at the White House — almost anyone other than spokesmen who are paid to be quoted. (And sometimes it applies even to them.) It is also commonplace throughout Washington and on the campaign trail.
The Romney campaign insists that journalists interviewing any of Mitt Romney’s five sons agree to use only quotations that are approved by the press office. And Romney advisers almost always require that reporters ask them for the green light on anything from a conversation that they would like to include in an article.
From Capitol Hill to the Treasury Department, interviews granted only with quote approval have become the default position. Those officials who dare to speak out of school, but fearful of making the slightest off-message remark, shroud even the most innocuous and anodyne quotations in anonymity by insisting they be referred to as a “top Democrat” or a “Republican strategist.”

A Census Infographic on Veterans

A Snapshot of Our Nation's Veterans infographic image

A Progressive Tax System

Notwithstanding anecdotes about billionaires who pay lower tax rates than their secretaries, the tax system is progressive.  According to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office, here are the average 2009 federal tax rates by income quintile:

  • Lowest Quintile 1.0%
  • Second Quintile 6.8%
  • Middle Quintile 11.1%
  • Fourth Quintile 15.1%
  • Highest Quintile 23.2%
And here is the share of the tax burden by quintile:
  • Lowest Quintile 0.3%
  • Second Quintile 3.8%
  • Middle Quintile 9.4% 
  • Fourth Quintile 18.3% 
  • Highest Quintile 67.9%

  Average Federal Tax Rates, 1979 to 2009

FDA Spies on Its Employees

The New York Times reports:
A wide-ranging surveillance operation by the Food and Drug Administration against a group of its own scientists used an enemies list of sorts as it secretly captured thousands of e-mails that the disgruntled scientists sent privately to members of Congress, lawyers, labor officials, journalists and even President Obama, previously undisclosed records show.

What began as a narrow investigation into the possible leaking of confidential agency information by five scientists quickly grew in mid-2010 into a much broader campaign to counter outside critics of the agency’s medical review process, according to the cache of more than 80,000 pages of computer documents generated by the surveillance effort.
Moving to quell what one memorandum called the “collaboration” of the F.D.A.’s opponents, the surveillance operation identified 21 agency employees, Congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists thought to be working together to put out negative and “defamatory” information about the agency.

Class, Demographics, and Internet Access

The Census has new data on Internet access.  Here are the percentages of people age 15 and over in each category who report connecting to the Internet.   In principle, the Internet should be a great equalizer, providing information access to disadvantaged groups.  In practice, these groups tend to make less use of the Internet:  Hispanics and Blacks less than whites; Spanish-speakers less than English-speakers; poor less than rich (though the lowest quintile reports more than the second and third quintiles); those without college less than those with degrees; disabled people less than people without disabilities.

Total 60.1
.15-24 years 73.0
.25-34 years 68.5
.35-44 years 66.0
.45-64 years 59.8
.65 years and over 31.7
Race and Hispanic origin  
    White 61.5
 Non-Hispanic 65.3
.Black 51.0
.Hispanic (of any race) 41.6
.Male 60.0
.Female 60.3
Language spoken at home  
Speaks English only at home 63.6
Speaks Spanish at home 38.0
   Speaks other language at home 57.0
.Lowest Quintile  61.4
.2nd Quintile 46.9
.3rd Quintile 49.1
.4th Quintile 63.9
.Highest Quintile 77.7
School enrollment status  
.18-24 years  
    ..Enrolled in school 80.4
    ..Not enrolled in school 61.5
 25 years and over  
    .. Enrolled in school 81.3
    ..Not enrolled in school 56.1
Total 15 years old and over   
Educational Attainment  
.Less than HS diploma 39.2
    GED 44.2
    High school diploma 49.0
.Some college or associate degree 66.3
.Bachelor's degree or higher degree 77.7
Disability status  
     With a disability 41.3
          Severe 35.6
          Not severe 54.8
     No disability 65.1
Difficulty seeing/hearing/speaking  
     Difficulty seeing 33.6
          Severe 25.8
          Not severe 36.2
     Difficulty hearing 38.3
          Severe 29.1
          Not severe 39.8
     Difficulty with speech 32.2
          Severe 21.4
          Not severe 34.7
Needed personal assistance with an ADL or IADL** 25.6