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Monday, December 31, 2012

Give Up on the Constitution?

In The New York Times, law professor Louis Michael Seidman says that we should give up on the Constitution:
Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.
His argument is incoherent.   On the one hand, he writes: "No sooner was the Constitution in place than our leaders began ignoring it. John Adams supported the Alien and Sedition Acts, which violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech."  But a few paragraphs later, he says: "Our sometimes flagrant disregard of the Constitution has not produced chaos or totalitarianism; on the contrary, it has helped us to grow and prosper."  It is hard to square this statement with the violations of civil rights and civil liberties that have marred our history:  not just the Alien and Sedition Acts, but Woodrow Wilson's authoritarian actions during the First World War, and the internment of Japanese Americans in the Second World War, among others.  One would think that such examples would inspire greater devotion to the Constitution, not less.

Similarly, he starts by questioning the structure of government:  "Why should a lame-duck House, 27 members of which were defeated for re-election, have a stranglehold on our economy? Why does a grotesquely malapportioned Senate get to decide the nation’s fate?" Then he  says, "never mind."
Nor should we have a debate about, for instance, how long the president’s term should last or whether Congress should consist of two houses. Some matters are better left settled, even if not in exactly the way we favor. Nor, finally, should we have an all-powerful president free to do whatever he wants. Even without constitutional fealty, the president would still be checked by Congress and by the states. There is even something to be said for an elite body like the Supreme Court with the power to impose its views of political morality on the country.
So we should have an all-powerful Supreme Court instead of an all-powerful president?

Seidman would cut down the Constitution to get the political results he wants.  A Man for All Seasons offers the definitive rebuttal:

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lincoln and Obama

On Meet the Press today, David Gregory had this exchange with the president:
GREGORY: Is this your Lincoln moment?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, no. Look, A, I never compare myself to Lincoln and, B, obviously the magnitude of the issues are quite different from the Civil War and slavery. 
It is quite true that the president has never directly said, "I am like Lincoln." But a number of his comments over the years have suggested or invited such comparisons.

In 2005, he wrote:
In my first race for Congress, I had my head handed to me. So when I, a black man with a funny name, born in Hawaii of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, announced my candidacy for the U.S. Senate, it was hard to imagine a less likely scenario than that I would win--except, perhaps, for the one that allowed a child born in the backwoods of Kentucky with less than a year of formal education to end up as Illinois' greatest citizen and our nation's greatest President.
In Lincoln's rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat--in all this, he reminded me not just of my own struggles. He also reminded me of a larger, fundamental element of American life--the enduring belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams.
Announcing his presidential candidacy in Springfield in 2007, the 6'1" lawyer and former Illinois state legislator said:  "By ourselves, this change will not happen. Divided, we are bound to fail. But the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible."  Noting that "Springfield allowed Obama to immodestly and continuously compare himself to Lincoln," Jake Tapper reported: "Obama's allies are reminding voters that Lincoln's eight years in the state legislature and one term in the U.S. House of Representative compare rather precisely with Obama's legislative experience."

In 2010, he told the House Democratic Caucus: "I have the great pleasure of having a really nice library at the White House. And I was tooling through some of the writings of some previous Presidents, and I came upon this quote by Abraham Lincoln: `I am not bound to win, but I'm bound to be true. I'm not bound to succeed, but I'm bound to live up to what light I have.'"  (Actually, Lincoln never said any such thing.)

In a 2011 town hall meeting in Decorah, Iowa, he said:  "But when you listen to what the Federalists said about the Anti-Federalists and the names that Jefferson called Hamilton and back and forth, I mean, those guys were tough. Lincoln, they used to talk about him almost as bad as they talk about me."

In 2011, he told Sixty Minutes reporter Steve Kroft:  "As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history."

Firearms and Political Influence

Previous posts have discussed how businesses can play states against one another The New York Times reports that the political influence of the firearms industry came to light when Connecticut's legislature considered a bill to require new markers on guns.
The Colt executive, Carlton S. Chen, said the company would seriously consider leaving the state if the bill became law. “You would think that the Connecticut government would be in support of our industry,” Mr. Chen said.
Soon, Connecticut lawmakers shelved the bill; they have declined to take it up since. Now, in the aftermath of the school massacre in Newtown, the lawmakers are formulating new gun-control measures, saying the state must serve as a national model.
But the failed effort to enact the microstamping measure shows how difficult the climate has been for gun control in state capitals. The firearm companies have played an important role in defeating these measures by repeatedly warning that they will close factories and move jobs if new state regulations are approved.
The companies have issued such threats in several states, especially in the Northeast, where gun control is more popular. But their views have particular resonance in Connecticut, a cradle of the American gun industry.
Colt, based in Connecticut since the 1800s, employs roughly 900 people in the state. Two other major gun companies, Sturm, Ruger & Company and Mossberg & Sons, are also based in the state. In all, the industry employs about 2,000 people in Connecticut, company officials said.
...In several states, the gun companies have enlisted unions that represent gun workers, mindful that Democratic lawmakers who might otherwise back gun control also have close ties to labor.
In Connecticut, the United Automobile Workers, which represents Colt workers, has testified against restrictions. The union’s arguments were bolstered last year when Marlin Firearms, a leading manufacturer of rifles, closed a factory in Connecticut that employed more than 200 people. Marlin cited economic pressures, not gun regulation, for the decision, but representatives of the gun industry have said the combination of the two factors could spur others to move.
The Center for Responsive Politics reports:
The National Rifle Association accounts for about 60 percent of what gun rights interest groups spent on lobbying in 2011 and the first three quarters of 2012. The other gun rights advocates include the Gun Owners of America; the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms; The National Shooting Sports Foundation; Safari Club International; Boone & Crockett Club, a group that aims to preserve a "hunting heritage"; and The Ohio Gun Collectors Association.

The NRA alone has spent more than ten times as much as gun control interest groups on lobbying in 2011 and the first three quarters of 2012.
Since 2006, 15 different organizations have mentioned the words "gun control" in their lobbying reports. Smith and Wesson, one of the nation's largest firearms manufacturers, has done so most frequently, mentioning the term 115 times. The National Rifle Association has the second-most mentions at 68.
The Center also reports on the overlap between Congress and interest groups:
The National Rifle Association has a very large board of directors, and two members of Congress are included on the list.
Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young -- who was re-elected with 65 percent of the vote in November -- and Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Dan Boren -- who will retire after the 112th Congress -- are both members of the NRA's board, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' personal finance data.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Majority, Minority, Markey

Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) won his first House election in 1976. Of returning members of his party, only John Dingell (MI), John Conyers (MI), Charles Rangel (NY), George Miller (CA) and Henry Waxman (CA) have served longer.  But now that President Obama has nominated Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to be secretary of state, Markey will run in a special election to succeed him.  In other words, he wants to give up being the sixth most senior House Democrat in order to become the least-senior Senate Democrat.

There are two reasons why this decision makes sense.

First is the prestige difference between the two chambers.  House members often run for the Senate, but contemporary senators never voluntarily give up their seats to run for the House.

Second is the difference between majority and minority status.  As a member of the minority party in the majoritarian House, Markey faces daily frustration.  One may gather that he does not expect his party to regain the majority anytime soon.  In the Senate, his party is in the majority.  If it can avoid serious losses in the 2014 midterm, it will probably retain the majority for quite a while.

African American Turnout

Previous posts have considered turnout rates of different demographic groups, along with the changing composition of the electorate. Paul Taylor writes at The Pew Research Center:
Blacks voted at a higher rate this year than other minority groups and for the first time in history may also have voted at a higher rate than whites, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data, election day exit poll data and vote totals from selected cities and counties.
Unlike other minority groups whose increasing electoral muscle has been driven mainly by population growth, blacks’ rising share of the vote in the past four presidential elections has been the result of rising turnout rates.
In fact, according to census data and the election day exit polls, blacks made up 12 percent of the eligible electorate1 this year but accounted for an estimated 13 percent of all votes cast—a repeat of the 2008 presidential election, when blacks “over-performed” at the polls by the same ratio. In all previous presidential elections for which there are reliable data, blacks had accounted for a smaller share of votes than eligible voters.
In 2012, more Hispanics and Asian-Americans voted than ever before, but the turnout rates among these groups (votes cast as a share of eligible voters), while rising, continues to lag that of the general public by a substantial margin. Their growing electoral muscle is mainly due to their rapid population growth.
As for whites, not only has their share of the eligible electorate been falling for decades, but their turnout rate appears to have declined in 2012 for the second presidential election in row.2
The Los Angeles Times reports:
In the run-up to this year’s presidential election, a number of states with Republican-majority legislatures passed laws limiting voting hours, curtailing voter registration efforts or requiring voters to show identification. Many black leaders said those laws would disproportionately hurt elderly, poor and minority voters and accused Republicans of running a campaign of “voter suppression.”
Republicans said the measures were needed to combat voter fraud. In a few states, Republican legislative leaders explicitly said they hoped the measures would hurt Democratic candidates or reduce the “urban” vote.
Courts blocked some of those laws, and in the end they may have backfired as black organizations used “voter suppression” as a rallying cry. The perception that “people don’t want you to vote” motivated many blacks, particularly young people, to turn out, said Chanelle Hardy, executive director of the National Urban League. “It was huge,” she said during a recent panel discussion.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Polarization and House Elections

In the House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats increasingly represent districts that tilt strongly to their own side, which complicates bipartisan compromise.  Politico reports:
The numbers tell the story. According to the Cook Political Report, the widely respected political handicapper, just six Republicans – around 3 percent of the House GOP Conference — will occupy districts whose overall voter makeup favors Democrats. That figure is down from 22 Republicans that resided in such Democrat-friendly districts in 2012.
That unusually high number of House Republicans occupying deeply red districts has intensified the fear of a primary — not general — election threat. And that means no deals with a president, who in most cases, lost those members’ districts resoundingly.
The polarization was exacerbated by the just completed, once-a-decade redistricting process. Both parties — but particularly Republicans, who swept control of statehouses across the country in the 2010 conservative wave — redrew district lines to shore up House members politically.

But House watchers say it’s also owed to three consecutive wave elections from 2006 and 2010, which had the effect of sweeping out moderate members from both parties who occupied swing districts. When the next Congress convenes in January, it will contain just a handful of Northeast Republicans. The ranks of conservative Blue Dog Democrats, meanwhile, have been decimated to just over a dozen members — down from more than 50 in 2008.
The polarization isn’t just limited to the Republican side of the aisle. Just 18 Democrats will occupy Republican-friendly seats, down from 20 in the 112th Congress, according to the Cook Political Report.
“The House is well-aligned right now,” said Brock McCleary, outgoing National Republican Congressional Committee deputy executive director and founder of the survey firm Harper Polling. “As of today, it’s kind of a parliamentary body.”

Pledges, Promises, and Congress

Robert L. Reynolds, the CEO of Putnam Investments, writes at The Wall Street Journal that congressional deliberation has suffered from a proliferation of pledges. From the Taxpayer Protection Pledge on the right to the The Social Security Protectors' Pledge on the left, lawmakers are binding themselves that make it difficult to reason on the merits of policy.  Reynolds suggests what legislators should do instead:
Maybe we should ask them to reread their own oaths of office. Since 1884, every Senate and House member has sworn the same binding oath: "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic." Members further attest that they "take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion . . . So help me, God."

But what else are the many issues-based "pledges" that members have taken but a "mental reservation" or "evasion"? You can't be committed to support and defend the Constitution—except if that solemn duty might require a tax increase or a benefit cut to Social Security. If the plain language of the Congressional Oath of Office means anything, it means that no other pledge should ever be binding. Duty to the Constitution supersedes them all.

So let me urge every member of Congress to reclaim his freedom to do the people's business. Take the pledge to end all pledges: "My oath of office is the only pledge I'll ever make. Period." If enough of you could find the courage to say that—and come together across party lines—I think you'll feel a real sense of liberation. And "We, the People" will have your back.

Americans Like the NRA

Although Americans favor some forms of gun control, they also like the National Rifle Association.  Gallup reports:
Fifty-four percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the National Rifle Association, while 38% have an unfavorable opinion. The public's ratings of the NRA have fluctuated since first measured by Gallup in 1993 -- from a low of 42% favorable in 1995 to a high of 60% in 2005.

The NRA's positions on guns and gun control legislation have received significant attention from media and politicians during the last week after the association's top lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre, held a press conference in the wake of the Newtown school shooting. LaPierre denounced the idea of additional gun control legislation and instead called for armed guards in the nation's schools. The press conference came midway through the field period of this Dec. 19-22 USA Today/Gallup poll.
On a more granular basis, 21% of Americans have a very favorable opinion of the NRA, and 18% have a very unfavorable opinion. These strong opinions have held roughly the same over the years, with the notable exception of 1995, when 26% reported a very unfavorable opinion of the NRA.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Public Opinion: Stricter Guns Laws Yes, Assault Weapon Ban No

Previous posts have discussed public opinion on gun control. Gallup reports the latest data: 
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., Gallup finds 58% of Americans in favor of strengthening the laws covering the sale of firearms, up from 43% in 2011. Current support for stricter gun laws is the highest Gallup has measured since January 2004, but still not nearly as high as it was in the 1990s.
These results are from a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Dec. 19-22, just days after the Newtown tragedy. Gallup's prior measure of Americans' attitudes toward new gun laws was conducted in October 2011. Since then, there have been several other mass shootings in the U.S., including one in July at a Colorado movie theater that left 12 dead and more than 50 wounded. More recently, a gunman killed his boss and four others at a factory in Minneapolis in September, and in August a U.S. Army veteran opened fire in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing six. 
Perhaps as a result of these events, the new poll also finds that a record-high 47% of Americans favor passing new gun laws, up from 35% in 2011. Since Gallup first asked this question in 2000, majorities have consistently preferred enforcing the current laws more strictly without passing new laws. 
Two aspects of the Newtown shooting that have been a focal point of recent discussions about gun laws are the semi-automatic rifle and high-capacity ammunition magazines used by the shooter. Several state and federal lawmakers have already announced that they will seek to ban both from the commercial market. 
Nevertheless, Americans' views on the sale of assault rifles are unchanged. The slight majority, 51%, remain opposed to making it illegal to manufacture, sell, or possess semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Recalls in 2012

Our chapter on elections discusses recalls.  In 2012, writes Joshua Spivak at The Week, 168 elected officials faced recall elections, apparently an all-time record.
\While Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's recall was by far the most prominent — it was only the third time a governor has ever faced a recall in U.S. history, and the first time one survived such a vote — there were plenty of other noteworthy attempts to bounce officials before their terms were up. The reasons for voter ire were quite varied, spanning the spectrum from taxes and government spending to gay rights to officials' malfeasance.  
Outside of Wisconsin, the most prominent set of recalls in the country were of three councilmen in Fullerton, Calif. They were removed from office after a homeless man was allegedly beaten to death by police. Fullerton offers a stark illustration of one of the major reasons why the recall has grown so popular. If it wasn't for technology to help spread the message and the outrage, the Fullerton councilmen could probably have weathered the storm. Instead, their opponents organized online, where they could easily share video of the alleged incident of police brutality. Politically, this was incredibly effective.

Former Lawmakers and Non-Lobbying Lobbying

Previous posts have explained that former lawmakers and executive officials can be effective agents of interest groups even when they are not technically lobbying. At Open Secrets, Brian Montopoli and Russ Choma write:
Under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, a person must register as a lobbyist if he or she 1) makes more than $3,000 over three months from lobbying, 2) has had more than one lobbying contract and 3) has spent more than 20 percent of his or her time lobbying for a single client over three months. If you don't meet all three of those measures, you don't have to register. That's why former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, never had to register as a lobbyist despite his lucrative position providing "strategic advice" about advancing companies' goals and connecting health care firms to lawmakers. Gingrich also promoted the companies that were paying him in presentations on Capitol Hill.

Indeed, there are myriad ways to leverage Washington connections into a well-paying position without officially becoming a lobbyist. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), whose term ends in January, plans to lead the federal affairs team for Duke Energy. (Shuler's connections to members on the House Budget and Transportation and Infrastructure committees, where he served, will come in particularly handy.) Departing Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) will be senior vice president of public policy, government and community affairs at Florida's Blue Cross and Blue Shield Company, which is called Florida Blue. At least he's waiting until the end of his term: After he lost a 2008 primary, Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) left Congress six months before his term was up to take a job at law firm and lobbying powerhouse Dickstein Shapiro.

Former Rep. Charles Melancon (D-La.), who became senior vice president of government relations for the International Franchise Association after leaving Congress, described himself as the "puppeteer" to USA Today when he started his job in 2011. "I sit down with the staff I have and the consultants, and we discuss where we need to go, who we need to see, what the issues are. Then, they will go to the Hill," he said.

Carrying Out the Health Care Law in California

Previous posts have discussed the unanticipated consequences of public policy, as well as the difficulty of reckoning costs and benefits.  The Affordable Care Act is an example, as The Los Angeles Times explains:
As California positions itself at the vanguard of the national healthcare overhaul, state officials are unable to say for sure how much their implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act will cost taxpayers. 
The program, intended to insure millions of Americans who are now without health coverage, takes states into uncharted territory. California, which plans to expand coverage to hundreds of thousands of people when the law takes effect in 2014, faces myriad unknowns. The Brown administration will try to estimate the cost of vastly more health coverage in the budget plan it unveils next month, but experts warn that its numbers could be way off. 
Officials don't know exactly how many Californians will sign up for Medi-Cal, the public health insurance program for the poor. Computing the cost of care for each of them is also guesswork. And California is waiting for key rulings from federal regulators that could have a major effect on the final price tag, perhaps in the hundreds of millions of dollars. 
"No one has ever tried to do anything like this before," said Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "Any numbers attached to this are just a guess."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday Video from the White House

 The president says that we should commit to be "our brother's keeper." For the origin of this phrase, see Genesis 4:9.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Marijuana and California

A New York Times article says that California has carried out a de facto legalization of marijuana -- notwithstanding federal law. Though possession of the drug is still technically against the law, authorities seldom arrest people for having small amounts. Other states, however, are stricter. Drug control thus provides yet another example of how states can be "laboratories of democracy."

But at The Huffington Post, Nathan Robinson points out that the article overlooks impact on poor people and racial minorities. The police, he says, have always tended to look the other way for the affluent while cracking down on the downtrodden:
So the Times article really shows only the bleedingly obvious fact that influential people often get to do as they please. But also, in its suggestion that California's scheme is optimal and its problems solved ("Let Colorado and Washington be the marijuana trailblazers. Let them struggle with the messy details of what it means to actually legalize the drug"), it offers a dangerous endorsement. A regime in which a prohibition remains on the books, with enforcement depending on police discretion (justice of the paper bagged beer and the sly wink), is especially terrifying. It sets a system up for gross abuses, because how the law will apply is determined by influence in practice rather than by statutory text. California can have its cake and eat it: television personalities won't have to be embarrassed by pot busts, while police officers would not suffer the loss of power in their dealings with the poor that would result from complete legalization; no "messy" pressure of having to craft a fair law that applies equally to all.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Deliberation on the Cliff

The looming fiscal cliff has not been a high point for deliberation in  Congress. The Palladium-Item quotes Rajaram Krishnan, professor of economics at Earlham College:
Krishnan said the current negotiations are like the last two minutes of a football game, not a thoughtful deliberation.

“As an academic, as an economist, I want ideas discussed,” he said. “It’s time to pull these debates out of the bumper sticker world.”
The economists agree Congress has a lot of serious work to do.
“The politics has subsumed good government,” Krishnan said.

CNN reports on an interview with Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), who discusses bicameralism, the separation of powers, and deliberation:
McClintock found fault with the process of legislating in Washington. He said Obama meddled too early and should have waited for the House and Senate to work out the details first.
“Bad process creates bad policy,” he said. “The deliberative process is supposed to be continued independently within the two houses. The House and the Senate are supposed to act independently of each other.”
“When each house then comes to its own independent judgment about the course of action, then we've got a conference process that's very good at resolving the differences between the two houses,” he continued.
“Only then is the president brought into the process. What we've got now is a couple of legislative leaders sitting behind closed doors coming up with plans that they then drop in the laps of both houses of the Congress for a take it or leave it vote. That doesn't end well,” McClintock said.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Federalism and Tax Reform

The previous post described the tricky politics of limiting the tax deduction for charitable contributions. Tax reform also has implications for federalism, as it would affect the financing of state and local governments.
At the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik argues that limiting other deductions would also have bad side effects.
You may be unaware of the local ramifications of one of the proposals currently at play in the danse macabre that passes for fiscal negotiations in Washington.

This is the plan to cap federal tax deductions at either a set figure or a percentage of income. Either way, it would strike deepest and hardest mostly at residents of California, as well as other populous states with high levels of government services, high state and local taxes, and relatively expensive housing.
The mortgage interest and state and local tax deductions are among the most important tax breaks that would be capped under this sort of proposal. They're linchpins of middle-class tax planning in the most heavily affected states, which also include New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
One common argument raised against the deduction for state and local taxes is that it forces the rest of the country to subsidize the high-tax predilections of a few high-spending states.
Yet the list of states with the lowest per-capita state tax burden on their own citizens is eerily similar to the list of those that receive the most federal money relative to their residents' federal tax contribution. So who's subsidizing whom?
The New York Times reports:
Timothy L. Firestine, the top government administrator in Montgomery County, Md., is crunching numbers in his battle to preserve the hallowed tax exemption on municipal bonds.

The average annual property tax bill in his affluent suburban Washington county would ultimately rise by at least $100, he estimates, as a consequence of a proposal by the Obama administration to modestly tax the interest that wealthy investors receive from municipal bonds. That’s because, he says, if investors see less of a tax break, they will demand higher interest to make up the loss, and higher interest rates will mean higher borrowing costs for governments.
Mr. Firestine is on the front lines of a lobbying campaign by local and state governments, bond dealers, insurers and underwriters that is trying to pre-empt any attempt to limit or even kill the tax exemption. The administration has proposed capping the tax break that America’s highest earners now receive from municipal bonds, as part of its campaign to close loopholes and enlist more of the rich in fighting the federal deficit. Analysts expect such a cap to be part of a comprehensive tax overhaul package that Congress will take up next year, under a broad fiscal framework now being negotiated by President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner.

Religion and Tax Reform

A previous post noted that proposals to limit tax deductions for charitable donations are facing opposition from charities.  As we explain in the textbook, many of these charities are faith-based, so it follows that religious groups are joining this opposition.

Catholic institutions rely on the charitable deduction to feed, house, clothe, educate, and care for millions of people around the world,” said the bishops who oversee the domestic and international justice and peace efforts of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and should be protected in any final agreement to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”
In a December 14 letter to Congress, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, called the tax system an “important tool” for raising adequate revenue and fulfilling the responsibility of ensuring basic human needs, such as food, clothing, health care, work and education, are accessible to all people.
“One way our tax system attempts to accomplish this is with the charitable deduction, which encourages taxpayers to support private charity, religion, and education,” the bishops wrote.
In their letter, Bishop Blaire and Bishop Pates also noted the importance of protecting the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, Emergency Unemployment Compensation, poverty-focused international assistance, and other programs that “help guarantee basic human rights for millions of people.”
Bishop Blaire also joined other Christian leaders of the Circle of Protection. . . in releasing principles regarding the ongoing budget negotiations surrounding the fiscal cliff, and calling on Republicans and Democrats to adhere to the basic moral principle of protecting programs that serve low-income people. Circle of Protection leaders also called for protecting the charitable deduction.
The Jewish Federations of North America is urging citizens to contact their elected officials as part of its continuing effort to protect the charitable contribution tax deduction.
JFNA, in collaboration with social service partners, is asking the public to write or call the White House and Congress and ask their politicians to continue to keep charitable contributions tax deductible at the current level.
"We are working with our national and local coalition partners to ensure elected officials recognize the importance of charitable contributions in supporting the social safety net, and to activate the public to join us in this fight,” said Michael Siegal, chair of JFNA’s board of trustees.

These deductions are “a vital component in supporting Jewish social service agencies as they work to help protect the most vulnerable,” JFNA said in a statement.
“Any limit on charitable deductions would hurt front-line charities serving people in need,” according to the statement.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fiscal Chaos, 1990 Style

The legislative chaos over the fiscal cliff is not the first such mess. On October 5, 1990, The Houston Chronicle reported:
A bipartisan House rebellion handed President Bush and its own leaders a stunning defeat early today, rejecting a test vote on a five-year, $500 billion deficit-reduction package.
The House voted 254-179 to kill the unpopular election-year package containing $134 billion in tax increases and $301 billion in spending cuts agreed to last weekend by Bush and leaders from both parties in Congress.
"Lose this moment - pick apart the agreement with a thousand points of spite - and we not only lose the agreement but the will to truly govern," House Republican Leader Robert Michel told members before the vote.
The move to kill the budget resolution again sets the stage for massive spending cuts and the furlough of 1 million federal workers after midnight tonight.
The next step by House leaders and Bush was unclear.
The House may try to delay the automatic budget cuts mandated by the Gramm-Rudman deficit-reduction law but Bush had threatened to veto a postponement unless the House passed the resolution.

Opinion on Gun Control and School Safety

The Pew Research Center finds only a modest shift in opinion since Newtown:
The public’s attitudes toward gun control have shown only modest change in the wake of last week’s deadly shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Currently, 49% say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 42% say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.
This marks the first time since Barack Obama took office that more Americans prioritize gun control than the right to own guns. Opinion was evenly divided in July, following a shooting at a Colorado movie theater. At that time, 47% said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 46% said it was more important to protect gun rights.
However, support for gun control remains lower than before Obama took office. In April 2008, 58% said it was more important to control gun ownership; just 37% prioritized protecting gun rights.
As in the past, there are wide partisan and demographic differences in opinions about gun control. Majorities of men, whites and Republicans say it is more important to protect gun rights. By contrast, most women, blacks, Democrats and those in the Northeast prioritize controlling gun ownership. In other regions, opinion is divided.
There are deeply held opinions on both sides when it comes to the choice between controlling gun ownership and protecting gun rights: 42% strongly believe it is more important to control gun ownership, while 37% strongly feel it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Dec. 17-19 among 1,219 adults, finds a higher percentage saying that gun ownership in this country does more to protect people from crime (48%) than to put their safety at risk (37%).
However, about two-thirds (65%) think that allowing citizens to own assault weapons makes the country more dangerous. Just 21% say that permitting these types of weapons makes the country safer.
Gallup finds that the public is more confident about measures other than gun control:
A question included in Gallup Daily tracking on Dec. 18 listed six possible preventative actions. Respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of each in terms of "preventing mass shootings at schools, like the one that occurred in Connecticut last week."
Much of the discussion since Friday's devastating mass shooting has focused on the potential efficacy of new laws on gun sales and ownership. Forty-two percent of Americans say that banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons would be "very effective" in preventing mass shootings. Another 21% say such actions would be "somewhat effective," and 36% say they would be "not effective."
Americans rated the effectiveness of three potential actions higher than the semi-automatic weapon ban. But it is clear that Americans are not overwhelmingly convinced that any of the actions would be highly effective in preventing future school shootings.
  • Slightly more than half (53%) of Americans say that increased police presence would be very effective. This action is at the top of the effectiveness list.
  • The only other action that a majority of Americans view as very effective is government spending on mental health screening and treatment -- 50% say this would be very effective.
  • Forty-seven percent say decreasing media and video game gun violence would be very effective.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Booker's Books

In a video announcing that he will explore running for the US Senate, Newark Mayor Cory Booker appeared with several books to his side.  His choice of books illustrates both the importance of religion in American politics, as well as its increasing pluralism. The books are:

  •  Two versions of the Bible,
  •  The Tanakh (Jewish Holy Scriptures),
  • The Qur'an, and 
  • The Bhagavad Gita (Hindu)

Senate Censors?

In The Washington Post, David Ignatius writes:
Why are some of the Senate’s most prominent members seeking to intimidate film studios and writers from discussing an issue of critical national importance? That’s my question after reading the intemperate letter sent Wednesday by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain complaining about the depiction of torture in the film “Zero Dark Thirty.”
“The use of torture should be banished from serious public discourse,” write the senators. I agree with them that torture should be banned. Surely that’s a position more suitable for an authoritarian government than a nation that cherishes the right to speak, even about unpopular topics.
What is intimidating about the letter?   The movie is from Sony Pictures, whose website explains:
Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) is a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sony Corporation. SPE's global operations encompass motion picture production and distribution; television production and distribution; home entertainment acquisition and distribution; a global channel network; digital content creation and distribution; operation of studio facilities; development of new entertainment products, services and technologies; and distribution of entertainment in 159 countries.
Accordingly, the corporation is subject to government regulation in a wide variety of ways.

A comparable incident occurred in 2006.  At RealClearPolitics, Austin Bay wrote:
This year, Iran's theocratic dictators celebrated Sept. 11 by banning several opposition newspapers, including Iran's leading "reformist" daily, Shargh.
Shargh had committed political sin and published a cartoon that Tehran's robed dictators found insulting to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Associated Press reported the cartoon featured a chessboard with a white horse confronting a black donkey. "In Iranian culture," the AP opined, "the donkey is a symbol of ignorance. Iranian judiciary officials apparently took the donkey to represent Iran in negotiations with the West over nuclear issues."
Americans may be dismayed, but the urge to censor runs deep in politicians of all stripes. A week earlier, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened to use government powers to censor ABC Television and prevent ABC and its owner, Disney, from showing its "docudrama," "The Path to 9/11."

On his Website, Reid urged Disney/ABC to cancel the miniseries. Reid damned the show's writer-producer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, by name and questioned "the motivations" of the show's creators. He also mentioned invoking the Communications Act of 1934 -- a not-too-subtle threat of government action.

The Shooting, The Media, and Autism

A previous post noted the many mistakes in media coverage of the Newtown shooting. Almost as soon as news broke of the tragedy in Connecticut, some news organizations began quoting speculation that the killer might have had autism.  

In a string of heated interviews that sought to get both sides of the post-Sandy Hook debates on gun ownership and mental illness, CNN's Piers Morgan booked a guest who suggested autistic people may be more prone to acting out violent fantasies. Asperger's was a central component of 60 Minutes's report on Lanza Sunday night, including a statement from an advocacy group that insisted those with Asperger's are more likely to be victims of violence than proponents of it. Media critics have also singled out Fox News and The New York Times as outlets that have overplayed the connection between Lanza's action and any developmental disorders he may have had. (A high school advisor also said Lanza had a rare condition in which he couldn't feel pain).
In our textbook, we discuss ombudsmen, or  in-house media critics.  Margaret Sullivan is "public editor" at the New York Times and she has questioned her paper's coverage.  In particular, one story had this vague reference:
Several said in separate interviews that it was their understanding that he had a developmental disorder. They said they had been told that the disorder was Asperger’s syndrome, which is considered a high functioning form of autism.
“It’s not like people picked on him for it,” Mr. Baier said. “From what I saw, people just let him be, and that was that.”
Law enforcement officials said Friday that they were closely examining whether Mr. Lanza had such a disorder.
When Sullivan questioned reporter David Halbfinger and Metro editor Carolyn Ryan , they were defensive.
Critics, though, say that if you want to understand how such a statement might be taken, try this hypothetical substitution: “Law enforcement officials said they were closely examining whether Mr. Lanza is gay.” There is, for a reasonable person, the suggestion of cause and effect. It is very unlikely that that sentence would have appeared in The Times without further explanation.
References to Asperger’s have now appeared in several Times articles, all based on anonymous sources or on named sources who were reporting what they had heard from someone else. It has been, in short, repeated conjecture by those who don’t know. [emphasis added] On Monday, The Associated Press reported that a divorce mediator, who was named, was told by the Lanzas that their son had Asperger’s, and The Times began reporting that on The Lede blog. The blog post did a great deal to explain the issue clearly and responsibly.
For discussion of how some activists and writers are trying to correct the record, see The Columbia Journalism Review and Autism Policy and Politics (another blog that I run).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Judge Robert Bork has died.  In 1987, President Reagan nominated him to the US Supreme Court, but the Senate rejected the nomination.  In 2005, Frank Sesno interviewed Bork about his role in the culture wars:

SESNO: How did that feel, personally, to be the first one out of the cannon?
BORK: Well, I knew what was happening. The core of the issue was, they were afraid I would vote to overrule Roe against Wade. And they were quite right.
SESNO: And your name became a verb.
BORK: My name became a verb. And I regard that as one form of immortality.
SESNO: To Bork means what?
BORK: I think to attack with -- to attack a person's reputation and views unfairly. 
From the Oxford English Dictionary:
Bork, v.
Pronunciation: Brit. /bɔːk/ , U.S. /bɔrk/
Forms: also with lower-case initial.
Etymology: < the name of Robert Heron Bork (b. 1927), a judge whose nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 was rejected following a large amount of unfavourable publicity for his allegedly illiberal and extreme views.
U.S. Polit. slang.
trans. To defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. in the mass media, usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office; to obstruct or thwart (a person) in this way. Also intr.
1987 Los Angeles Times 20 Sept. v. 4/3, I think this time the local minorities are ‘Borking’ up the wrong tree.
1991 New Republic 9 Sept. 21/2 ‘We're going to Bork him,’ the National Organization for Women has promised. But if they succeed, liberals may discover that they have Borked themselves.
1993 N.Y. Times Bk. Rev. 23 May 11/1 This powerful force..that now goes around ‘Borking’ politically incorrect nominees.
2001 Roll Call (Electronic ed.) 5 July, Democrats..have established a tradition of ‘Borking’ Republican nominees. 
Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the current vice president, chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time.  The New York Times reported on Biden's opposition to Bork:
'He has put himself in an awkward position,'' said a senior Democratic strategist who is uncommitted for 1988. ''He was in an ideal position, but he has turned a big plus into a bigger question mark by acting like a hanging judge. The difficulty, I'm afraid, is that he doesn't think things through. He's so bright, but he needs an edit button on his mind before he talks.''
Most of the criticism of Mr. Biden has centered on his inconsistent statements about Judge Bork. In November, in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, he responded to a hypothetical question with the comment: ''Say the administration sends up Bork. I'd have to vote for him, and if the groups tear me apart, that's the medicine that I'll have to take.''
On July 1, when Judge Bork was nominated to replace Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., Mr. Biden said, ''I will not now take a formal position.'' A week later, after meeting with civil rights groups, the Delaware lawmaker shifted ground again, declaring, ''Most certainly, I'm going to be against him.''
Then on July 18, in a joint appearance with the other Democratic candidates in Cleveland, he said he had ''made a mistake'' in the way he had announced his opposition. But on July 22, at a meeting with a group of reporters, he said the mistake had been ''more of a public-relations mistake than a substantive mistake'' and added: ''I don't have an open mind. I don't have an open mind because I know this man.''


The State Department's Accountability Review Board has reported on the killings in Benghazi (emphasis added):
1. The attacks were security related, involving arson, small arms and machine gun fire, and the use of RPGs, grenades, and mortars against U.S. personnel at two separate facilities – the SMC and the Annex – and en route between them. Responsibility for the tragic loss of life, injuries, and damage to U.S. facilities and property rests solely and completely with the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks. The Board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity. 
2. Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department (the “Department”) resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.
3. Notwithstanding the proper implementation of security systems and procedures and remarkable heroism shown by American personnel, those systems and the Libyan response fell short in the face of a series of attacks that began with the sudden penetration of the Special Mission compound by dozens of armed attackers.
 4. The Board found that intelligence provided no immediate, specific tactical warning of the September 11 attacks. Known gaps existed in the intelligence community’s understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests, although some threats were known to exist.
5. The Board found that certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection. However, the Board did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.

States and Guns

Adam Nagourney writes at The New York Times:
The first concrete responses to the massacre in Newtown, Conn., began emerging on Tuesday, as state leaders proposed measures to curb gun violence, corporations distanced themselves from an event that has traumatized the nation and the White House pointed to gun control measures that President Obama would champion in the months ahead.

The reactions were considerably more broad-based than what had followed previous mass shootings, coming from Republicans as well as Democrats, from gun control advocates and those who have favored gun rights in the past, and even from the corporate and retail worlds. Proponents of stricter controls on firearms said they were cautiously optimistic that, perhaps this time, something concrete and lasting would be enacted.

In California, Democratic leaders introduced legislation that would mandate background checks and one-year permits for anyone who wanted to buy ammunition there. In Michigan, a Republican governor vetoed legislation that would have permitted concealed weapons in schools. And a private equity company announced that it would sell off the company that made the high-powered assault rifle used in the Newtown shootings last week.
Even as this was happening, millions of American gun owners — about 40 percent of American households report having a gun — remained deeply resistant to any moves to curtail Second Amendment gun rights. And not all the moves announced Tuesday pointed to stricter gun controls.

In Ohio, Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican, announced that he would sign legislation that would allow people to keep guns in their cars at the Statehouse garage and make it easier to renew licenses and to carry concealed weapons. “I think as we move forward, whatever we do, we don’t want to erode the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has a table of laws relating to firearm possession by the mentally ill. 

KCBS-TV in Los Angeles reports on a proposal that pension funds divest from companies involved with certain kinds of gun manufacturing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Beneficiary Society

Previous posts have discussed how many Americans receive federal benefitsThe Pew Research Center reports:

As President Barack Obama negotiates with Republicans in Congress over federal entitlement spending, a new national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that a majority of Americans (55%) have received government benefits from at least one of the six best-known federal entitlement programs.
The survey also finds that most Democrats (60%) and Republicans (52%) say they have benefited from a major entitlement program at some point in their lives. So have nearly equal shares of self-identifying conservatives (57%), liberals (53%) and moderates (53%).
The issue of entitlements moved to center stage during the 2012 presidential campaign. The survey finds that among those who voted for President Obama last month, 59% say they’ve benefited from a major entitlement program. It also finds that 53% of those who supported Mitt Romney have benefited from a major entitlement program.
The survey, which was conducted by telephone from Nov. 28 to Dec. 5, 2012, among a nationally representative sample of 2,511 adults, asked respondents if they or a member of their household had ever received Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare or unemployment benefits. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

Murder and Misinformation

Just as with Hurricane Sandy, initial reporting on the Connecticut massacre was full of mistakes.  NPR reports:
Just before 3 p.m. Friday, for example, Fox News told viewers that "cops" had identified the shooter as a 24-year-old man named Ryan Lanza. Not on the record, they hadn't, and it wasn't Ryan Lanza. CNN went a step further, quoting a federal law enforcement official who told the network's John King that Ryan Lanza was "not a stranger to the school."
There is currently no known evidence linking the actual shooter — Ryan's younger brother Adam — to the school. On MSNBC, reporters told viewers that the shooter's apartment in Hoboken, N.J., was being searched by police (again wrong — it was Ryan's apartment) and that he walked into his mother's kindergarten class and fatally shot her there before murdering her students.
In fact, local police soon enough announced, on the record, that Lanza's mother, Nancy, was killed at her home; school officials said she did not teach kindergarten, nor any grade or course at the school; that she did not work there nor did they have record that she was a volunteer. As a result, the principal did not admit the shooter inside the campus because he was known to her, as was wrongly reported by various outlets. Police later said he had physically forced his way inside.
Another report that Adam Lanza had confronted teachers the day before the shooting proved equally mistaken.
It was journalistic bedlam.
Social media accelerated the spread of misinformation.  Mother Jones reports:
Early reports, citing Connecticut law enforcement sources, identified the shooter as a twentysomething from Newtown named Ryan Lanza. A Facebook profile fitting that description was easily accessible, and social media users—from professional reporters to online onlookers—immediately assumed they had discovered the Facebook profile of the gunman who had perpetrated the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. News outlets including BuzzFeed, Mediaite, Gawker, and Fox News speculated that the account belonged to the shooter. Journalists from Slate, Huffington Post, CNN, and other news organizations tweeted links to the Facebook profile.
But it was the wrong guy. Press reports are now identifying the shooter as Adam Lanza. Ryan Lanza, identified as Adam's brother, has reportedly been questioned by police. According to the Associated Press, "a law enforcement official mistakenly transposed the brothers' first names." The result was that, for a few brief hours in the middle of the day, based on press speculation about the suspect's identity, social media users brought out the digital equivalent of pitchforks and torches, vilifying the alleged shooter's brother and haranguing Ryan Lanzas all across the intertubes.
Political cartoonist Matt Bors, who was Facebook friends with Ryan Lanza but didn't actually know him personally, was inundated with Facebook messages and friend requests as a result. "I was getting messages from people saying, why are you friends with a monster?" Bors says. Looking at Lanza's page, he saw desperate messages posted denying any involvement in the shooting, and posted them to his Twitter feed.
At The Washington Post, Charles Lane says national soul-searching should include reporters:
While we’re at it, let’s soul-search about the fact that the instantaneous spread of misinformation after mass killings is becoming almost as frequent as the massacres. And some of our leading media institutions are culpable.

On Jan. 8, 2011, NPR and others mistakenly reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been killed in a shooting rampage that did claim six lives.

On July 20, 2012, Brian Ross of ABC suggested that the shooter in the Aurora movie theater massacre belonged to the Colorado tea party; Ross had confused the actual killer, James Holmes, with another person of that name who popped up on an Internet search.

Initial reporting on the Dec. 11 shooting at a Portland, Ore., shopping mall included inflated body counts, inaccurate descriptions of the suspect and bogus rumors of multiple gunmen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Daniel Inouye, American Hero

Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, the chair of the Appropriations Committee and president pro tem of the Senate, died today at the age of 88.  Before he was a politician, he was a solider.  He sacrificed his left arm for his country in the Second World War, winning the Medal of Honor.  His citation:
Second Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 21 April 1945, in the vicinity of San Terenzo, Italy. While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Second Lieutenant Inouye skillfully directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapon and small arms fire, in a swift enveloping movement that resulted in the capture of an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. Emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, the enemy halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Second Lieutenant Inouye crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying the emplacement. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest. Although wounded by a sniper’s bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions. In the attack, 25 enemy soldiers were killed and eight others captured. By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance, and was instrumental in the capture of the ridge. Second Lieutenant Inouye’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.

What an Actual Vote for President Looks Like

Meeting in state capitols, the Electoral College is today formally voting to give President Obama a second term.  Click here for video of the Ohio electors.  Click here for video of North Carolina electors.

Here is the ballot of Pennyslvania elector Josh Shapiro:

African American Senators

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley today announced that she will appoint Representative Tim Scott (R-SC) to succeed Jim DeMint in the United States Senate. DeMint is leaving to head the Heritage Foundation.

The appointment has symbolism.  An Indian American female governor has named an African American to be a US senator from the first state to secede from the Union.  Scott will be the first African American senator from the South since Reconstruction, and only the seventh African American senator in all of American history.

The United States Senate lists the other six:

Hiram Revels
Photograph of Senator Hiram Revels
Hiram Revels (R-MS)
Hiram Revels of Mississippi became the first African American senator in 1870.  Born in North Carolina in 1827, Revels attended Knox College in Illinois and later served as minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland.  He raised two black regiments during the Civil War and fought at the battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi.  The Mississippi state legislature sent him to the U.S. Senate during Reconstruction where he became an outspoken opponent of racial segregation.  Although Revels served in the Senate for just a year, he broke new ground for African Americans in Congress.  (Photo: Library of Congress)
Blanche K. Bruce
Born into slavery in 1841, Blanche K. Bruce spent his childhood years in Virginia where he received his earliest education from the tutor hired to teach his master's son.  At the dawn of the Civil War, Bruce escaped slavery and traveled north to  begin a distinguished career in education and politics. Elected to the Senate in 1874 by the Mississippi state legislature, he served from 1875 to 1881. In 2002, the Senate commissioned a new portrait of Bruce, now on display in the U.S. Capitol.  (Photo: Library of Congress)

Edward Brooke
The first African American elected to the Senate by popular vote, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts served two full terms, from 1967 to 1979. Born in Washington, D.C. in 1919, Brooke graduated from Howard University before serving in the United States Army during World War II.  After the war, he received a law degree from Boston University. During his Senate career he championed the causes of low-income housing and an increased minimum wage, and promoted commuter rail and mass transit systems. He also worked tirelessly to promote racial equality in the South.  (Photo: Senate Historical Office)
Photo of Carol Moseley Braun
Some called 1992 the "Year of the Woman." More women than ever before were elected to political office in November of that year, and five of them came to the U.S. Senate.  Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois not only joined that class on January 3, 1993, but also became the first African American woman ever to serve as U.S. Senator.  During her Senate career, Moseley Braun sponsored progressive education bills and campaigned for gun control. Moseley Braun left the Senate in January of 1999, and soon after became the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, a position she held until 2001. Moseley Braun ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004. (Photo: Senate Historical Office)
Barack Obama
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois
Barack Obama (D-IL)
Barack Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4th, 1961. He received his earliest education in Hawaii and Indonesia, and then graduated from Columbia University in 1983. He moved to Chicago in 1985 to work for a church-based group seeking to improve living conditions in poor neighborhoods. In 1991, Obama graduated from Harvard Law School where he was the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review. He served in the Illinois state senate from 1997 to 2004. Elected to the United States Senate in November of 2004, he took the oath of office and became the fifth African American to serve in the Senate on January 3, 2005. On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States.
Roland W. Burris
Senator Roland Burris
Born in Centralia, Illinois, on August 3, 1937, Roland Burris earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a Juris Doctor degree from Howard University. After finishing law school in 1963, Burris became the first African American to work as a national bank examiner for the Treasury Department. When Burris was elected comptroller of Illinois in 1978, he was the first African American to win a statewide election in Illinois. After serving more than ten years as comptroller, he became attorney general of Illinois. Appointed to the Senate on December 31, 2008, Burris filled the vacancy caused by the resignation of Barack Obama.