Friday, January 20, 2017

Trump Inauguration Speech (FULL) | ABC News

From Reuters: Executive actions ready to go as Trump prepares to take office

Now President Trump is prepared to hit the ground running.

- Click here for the article.

Donald Trump is preparing to sign executive actions on his first day in the White House on Friday to take the opening steps to crack down on immigration, build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and roll back outgoing President Barack Obama's policies.
Trump, a Republican elected on Nov. 8 to succeed Democrat Obama, arrived in Washington on a military plane with his family a day before he will be sworn in during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
Aides said Trump would not wait to wield one of the most powerful tools of his office, the presidential pen, to sign several executive actions that can be implemented without the input of Congress.

"He is committed to not just Day 1, but Day 2, Day 3 of enacting an agenda of real change, and I think that you're going to see that in the days and weeks to come," Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said on Thursday, telling reporters to expect activity on Friday, during the weekend and early next week.

. . . Trump's advisers vetted more than 200 potential executive orders for him to consider signing on healthcare, climate policy, immigration, energy and numerous other issues, but it was not clear how many orders he would initially approve, according to a member of the Trump transition team who was not authorized to talk to the press.
Signing off on orders puts Trump, who has presided over a sprawling business empire but has never before held public office, in a familiar place similar to the CEO role that made him famous, and will give him some early victories before he has to turn to the lumbering process of getting Congress to pass bills.
The strategy has been used by other presidents, including Obama, in their first few weeks in office.
"He wants to show he will take action and not be stifled by Washington gridlock," said Princeton University presidential historian Julian Zelizer.
Trump is expected to impose a federal hiring freeze and take steps to delay a Labor Department rule due to take effect in April that would require brokers who give retirement advice to put their clients' best interests first.
He also will give official notice he plans to withdraw from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, Spicer said. "I think you will see those happen very shortly," Spicer said.

From the Texas Taxpayers and Research Organization: An Introduction to School Finance in Texas

This is a great look at school finance. Lengthy though.

We will look through this later this semester in 2306.

- Click here for the document.

- Here is a link to the website of the TTARA.

A variety of issues on the agenda of the 85th session

At least a partial list right now - expect more:

- The "bathroom bill," also know as the Women's Privacy Act.
- Border security
- Sanctuary cities.
- The Franchise Tax
- Reforming public school funding
- Abortion - burial of fetal remains
- Property tax relief
- Funding for Planned Parenthood
- Constitutional Carry
- Reforming Child Protective Services
- Private school vouchers - "education savings accounts"
- Rules related to ride-hailing: Uber and Lyft.
- Ban on texting while driving
- Limits on toll roads
- Outlaw use of traffic cameras
- Reforming marijuana laws
- Ethics reform: Lobbyists disclosures, transparency
- Mental care access.
- Highway funding
- Pension reform
- The costs of higher education
- Open records reform
- Local control
- Criminal justice reform

That's plenty for now.

Here are a handful of sources for more info on these issues:

- Austin American Statesman: Your Guide to the 85th Legislative Session.
- Austin American Statesman: 85TH TEXAS LEGISLATURE.

From Blinn College: On the Road to the 85th Legislative Session and Discussion of TACC (Texas Association of Community Colleges) and CCATT (Community College Association of Texas Trustees)

Blinn College offers a terrific set of power points focusing on issues relevant to community colleges in the state and their strategy for achieving their objectives in the 85th session of the Texas Legislature.

These will be worth looking at in class.

- Click here for them.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

From the Houston Chronicle: Woodlands crowd grills Brady over ACA repeal

Repealing Obamacare may not be as popular as some had hoped.

- Click here for the article.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, faced a skeptical and at times testy crowd Tuesday as dozens of people arrived at an afternoon meeting to make sure he knew they would not let the Affordable Care Act end without a fight.

The hourlong session, tucked away in a back meeting room at The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce headquarters, was not publicly announced and was billed by Brady's staff as a chance for "local people affected by ObamaCare" to "share their experiences with rising costs and loss of coverage and choice."

Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is a vocal critic of the law known as Obamacare and is among the conservative congressional leaders determined to repeal it quickly and replace at an unspecified later date.

But if he was expecting a completely friendly, like-minded group, he quickly found something else from many in the 50 or so who crowded the room.

"Don't lie!" shouted Emily Hoppel, a 39-year-old with her 2-year-old son perched on her hip, when Brady moved from one goal of dismantling ACA to another of defunding Planned Parenthood, which he said used taxpayer money for abortion.

In the Legislature - 1/19/17

A few random stories from the Texas Tribune:

- As Texas debates CPS fix, caseworkers face long days, late nights.
- Lawmakers likely to wage in-state tuition policy fight again this year.
- Expecting spike in special ed students, advocates push for better services.
- Joe Straus: Legislators need to be careful when it comes to "bathroom bill"
- Child Protective Services funding gets final OK — with restrictions

From CityLab: The Great Texas Pension Fix - Houston owes its police, fire, and city workers about $7.8 billion, and it doesn’t exactly have the cash on hand. Their hard-fought solution could serve as a model for the rest of Texas, and the nation.

Not only does this story touch on city budgets, but it also illustrates the concept of states - in this case cities - as laboratories of democracy.

- Click here for the article.

When Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner took office last year, he inherited a sweeping pension crisis. The city had an unfunded liability of $5.6 billion, a figure representing Houston’s obligations to its fire, police, and municipal pension systems.

Then it got worse: After he took office and got a closer look at the books, Turner saw the revised figure—$7.8 billion.

Pensions are the storm clouds on the horizon that threaten to wash out the so-called
Texas Miracle, the wave of new jobs that kept the Lone Star State afloat through the Great Recession. Taken together, the four largest cities in Texas—Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio—owe more than $22 billion in pension shortfalls. Dallas and Houston rank second and fourth, respectively, on the list of cities nationwide with the largest unfunded pension liabilities, per a ranking by Moody’s. (At number one? Chicago.)

The road to pension crises is paved with good intentions. Officials in Houston and elsewhere tend to plan for funding pensions with sunny days in mind. When markets tank, the investments contributing to pension funds wither. And when the economy stumbles, cities sometimes withhold pension contributions to make up budget gaps. These effects add up over time, and correcting course usually involves contentious politics. Texas cities may have it worse than most because the local political climate is so hostile to tax revenues (even when Texas cities experience miraculous growth). Anywhere, though, officials and employees tend to kick the can down the road. It’s retirement, after all.

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step toward solving it; cities in Texas, whether they like it or not, are being forced to take that step.

Houston is further along than most. A proposal that the city will put before the Texas legislature this year would restructure the city’s obligations. The new dispensation would include benchmarks for bringing all parties back to the table to renegotiate terms, as necessary, until the unfunded liability is funded. It would also set a time period for meeting that obligation: a 30-year amortization schedule, something resembling a traditional home mortgage.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

From the Washington Post: How Donald Trump came up with ‘Make America Great Again’

They turned out to be four very powerful words.

Here's a look at how the phrase came about.

- Click here for the article.

It happened on Nov. 7, 2012, the day after Mitt Romney lost what had been presumed to be a winnable race against President Obama. Republicans were spiraling into an identity crisis, one that had some wondering whether a GOP president would ever sit in the Oval Office again.
But on the 26th floor of a golden Manhattan tower that bears his name, Trump was coming to the conclusion that his own moment was at hand.
And in typical fashion, the first thing he thought about was how to brand it.
One after another, phrases popped into his head. “We Will Make America Great.” That one did not have the right ring. Then, “Make America Great.” But that sounded like a slight to the country.
And then, it hit him: “Make America Great Again.”
“I said, ‘That is so good.’ I wrote it down,” Trump recalled in an interview. “I went to my lawyers. I have a lot of lawyers in-house. We have many lawyers. I have got guys that handle this stuff. I said, ‘See if you can have this registered and trademarked.’ ”
Five days later, Trump signed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, in which he asked for exclusive rights to use “Make America Great Again” for “political action committee services, namely, promoting public awareness of political issues and fundraising in the field of politics.” He enclosed a $325 registration fee.
His was a vision that ran against the conventional wisdom of the time — in fact, it was “much the opposite,” Trump said.
To save itself, the Republican establishment was convinced, the GOP would have to sand off its edges, become kinder and more inclusive. “Make America Great Again” was divisive and backward-looking. It made no nod to diversity or civility or progress.
It sounded like a death wish.
But Trump had seen something different in the country, and in the daily lives of its struggling citizens.
“I felt that jobs were hurting,” he said. “I looked at the many types of illness our country had, and whether it’s at the border, whether it’s security, whether it’s law and order or lack of law and order. Then, of course, you get to trade, and I said to myself, ‘What would be good?’ I was sitting at my desk, where I am right now, and I said, ‘Make America Great Again.’ ”

From the Guardian: Donald Trump dossier: intelligence sources vouch for author's credibility

If you like spy stories, you'll love this.

It describes the career of Christopher Steele - the British spy responsible for the dossier alleging that Russia has compromising information on Donald Trump. The facts are still in dispute, but the details about how spy agencies work is worth your time.

- Click here for the article.

Over a career that spanned more than 20 years, Steele performed a series of roles, but always appeared to be drawn back to Russia; he was, sources say, head of MI6’s Russia desk. When the agency was plunged into panic over the poisoning of its agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, the then chief, Sir John Scarlett, needed a trusted senior officer to plot a way through the minefield ahead – so he turned to Steele. It was Steele, sources say, who correctly and quickly realised that Litvinenko’s death was a Russian state “hit”.
As good as he was, Steele was unlikely to get the top MI6 job, perhaps because his specialisms were not a priority in that period – Russian espionage was taking a back seat to Islamic terrorism and non-state threats. And, of course, there is money to be made in the private sector – lots of it, particularly in the past two years. He decided to quit the service in 2009.
As the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, exerted influence in all kinds of spheres, so Steele’s background made him hot property. Though he could not travel to Russia, he appears to have maintained his contacts and made new ones, using old-school techniques: going out, meeting people, shaking hands, making friends – and paying for information.
With his business partner, Chris Burrows, he set up the London-based company Orbis Business Intelligence, which was busy and expanding. Their operation would have been a good choice for anyone trying to gather intelligence about Russia and Trump.
It is unlikely that Steele would have had direct contact with the unnamed Kremlin officials who allegedly gave sensitive information on the president-elect. In fact, it’s believed the former spy hasn’t been able to visit Russia for more than 20 years. Rather, Steele would have tapped up his network of sources deep inside the country, some of them dating from his time there and others cultivated later, British officials suggested.
In turn, these individuals will have had sources of their own. Steele would likely have subcontracted some of his Trump investigation to trusted intermediaries in Moscow, who will have reported back to him via secure channels.

For more: What we know – and what's true – about the Trump-Russia dossier.

Here's a key allegation:

It says Vladimir Putin’s Russia has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years”. Moscow’s aim is “to encourage splits and divisions in the western alliance” and to upend the “ideals-based international order” set up after the second world war. Putin’s preference, according to the report, is for a return to the “Great Power” politics of the 19th century, where big states pursue their own interests.

Essay Topic for GOVT 2306

1000 Word Essay Topic
GOVT 2306

The Texas Legislature only meets for 140 days every two years. Lucky for us, we’ll be having class during that time. This will be the 85th time the legislature has met since Texas became a state in 1845. The legislature is responsible for passing the laws which will then be implemented by the executive branch. Several thousand bills will be introduced at the beginning of the session, and some will pass into law.

I’d like you to select one of the items that is on the agenda – a piece of legislation on a topical issue – and follow it. See what items the legislature thinks are important and how they choose to address it. This class will be over before the session is over – May 29th – but you should be able to determine whether or not it is likely that the law will in fact pass.

During the first week of class, I will provide a list of the issues likely to dominate this legislative session so you will have something to select from, but you can do your own searches and find this out for yourself. I’ll provide more clarity as we get further into the semester.

The final product should be at least 1000 words long, be objective, contain at least three outside references, and follow standard writing convention like MLA. And of course, its best that the work be grammatically solid and well written.

Essay Topic for GOVT 2305

1000 Word Essay Topic
GOVT 2305

Obviously the major story this spring on the national level is the transition of the presidency from Barack Obama to Donald Trump. As you are probably aware, this is more than just a transition from one person to another, it’s a transition from a relatively traditional – though not extreme – liberal to a conservative, albeit an unconventional one. So we should expect changes in how the presidency will operate, what policies it will produce, and how it will implement the law.

In this essay I want you to look at specific area of public policy and explain what changes we might see in it – or not, perhaps there will be no change in it. If that’s the case, explain why as well.

You have plenty of public policy areas to choose from, and plenty of places to look for information, though you should be careful about where you go. Over the course of the semester we will talk about items related to the topic, but start thinking about what areas of public policy you might want to focus on. Here are a few areas to consider:

- environmental policy
- labor policy
- civil rights
- military policy
- regulatory policy
- trade policy
- health policy
- diplomacy
- tax policy
- drug policy
- energy policy

And this just scratches the surface. I’ll provide more guidance later in the semester, but for now I’d like you to select an area to focus on. Read up on the direction taken by the Obama Administration on it and what changes the Trump Administration might make to it, as well as how they might do it. Also speculate on how successful they might be.

The final product should be at least 1000 words long, be objective, contain at least three outside references, and follow standard writing convention like MLA. And of course, its best that the work be grammatically solid and well written.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

From the Washington Post: Obama largely commutes sentence of Chelsea Manning, U.S. soldier convicted for leaking classified information

Checking and balancing:

- Click here for the article.

President Obama largely commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, an Army private convicted in 2013 of taking secret diplomatic and military documents and disclosing them to WikiLeaks.
Obama also granted a full and complete pardon to Ret. Marine General James E. Cartwright for lying to the FBI in a probe of a leak of classified information about a covert U.S.-Israeli cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program. A former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was known as Obama’s favorite general, Cartwright pleaded guilty in October and was sentenced last week to two years in prison.
In addition, Obama granted clemency to about 200 low-level drug offenders who were sentenced under harsh drug laws and would have received lighter sentences if convicted today. In all, the president commuted 209 individuals and pardoned another 64. He is expected to grant more drug commutations on Wednesday.

More from Vox: Chelsea Manning’s commutation is part of a historic year in reducing prison sentences.

A few days before leaving office, President Obama broke one of his own records. Pardoning 64 people and shortening the prison sentences of another 209, he made Tuesday the biggest use of clemency by a president in a single day in US history — breaking a record he himself set last month.
It’s the culmination of a year-long effort to use the president’s clemency power to get hundreds of people — almost all of them nonviolent drug offenders — out of prison sooner.
Depending on how you look at it, Obama’s effort in the twilight of his presidency is either a historic act of criminal justice reform — or too little too late. Obama’s rejected thousands of petitions for reduced sentences, and there are still thousands more waiting for review — and the Trump administration, under attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, is extremely unlikely to give them a second look.
Obama still has more time to get even more people out of federal prison — after all, presidents historically get most aggressive with clemency in the very last days of their term. But while it’s now clear that Obama’s done something very significant indeed, it’s also near-certain that it will, in some ways, fall short.

From the Texas Tribune: Here’s what the Texas bathroom bill means in plain English

An analysis of Senate Bill 6.

- Click here for the article.

Following North Carolina’s lead, Texas Republicans last week unveiled the so-called “bathroom bill” to regulate bathroom use and keep transgender Texans from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity.
Senate Bill 6, one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities, would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex.” The measure would also pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
To help you understand the proposal, below is the text of SB 6, annotated with our own context and analysis. Text with a red strikethrough are being proposed for removal from the current law; text with a green underline are additions.

 It's a good look at what bills actually mean.

- Click here for SB 6.

From the Texas Tribune: In dueling budget proposals, Texas House and Senate billions apart

Each chamber in the Texas Legislature has introduced their respective budgets, and they are $8 billion apart. The House is far more generous than the Senate.

- Click here for the article.

Texas House and Senate leaders unveiled dueling budget proposals — starting nearly $8 billion apart — in separate moves Tuesday that foreshadowed remarkably different priorities in the two chambers during a legislative session that promises to be even more tightfisted than usual.

Texas Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson on Tuesday proposed a $213.4 billion two-year base budget.
An hour later, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus outlined the lower chamber’s base budget, which included $221.3 billion over two years. The nearly $8 billion difference between the chambers — about $5 billion of which comes from state revenue — offers a starting point for leaders to begin negotiating how to spread limited funds this legislative session.
The proposed House budget offers about $2.2 billion more in state funds for education than the Senate’s. The House proposal for state spending on health and human services is about $2 billion larger than the Senate’s as well.
Nelson’s proposal would tap $103.6 billion in state general revenue, the portion of the budget over which lawmakers have the most control. That’s less than the $104.9 billion that Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar estimates is at lawmakers’ disposal amid relatively dour economic forecasts. General revenue is

“While we will need to prioritize and make efficient use of our resources, I am confident we can meet the challenges ahead,” Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said in a statement.
Straus’s budget proposal, on the other hand, would require about $108.9 billion — or $4 billion more than Hegar’s estimate. Straus said his base budget prioritized “investments in children and our future” while increasing state spending by less than 1 percent.
“This is the first step toward producing a balanced budget that reflects the priorities of the Texas House and does not raise taxes,” the San Antonio Republican said in a prepared statement.
Where House budget writers would find the additional $4 billion was not immediately clear Tuesday but state Rep. Drew Darby, a San Angelo Republican and House budget expert, hinted that his colleagues would consider tapping the state's Rainy Day Fund, which holds more than $10 billion.

For more on what's in the article:

- Legislative Budget Board.
- House Budget.
- Senate Budget.
- Texas Senate Committee on Finance.
- Texas Comptroller.
- Rainy Day Fund.
- Texas Association of Business.

From the Texas Tribune: Can Texas Republicans hold America’s reddest large urban county?

Tarrant County - Fort Worth - is the only large county in Texas not dominated by Democrats.

The author tries to find out why. Demographics seems to have a lot to do with it.

- Click here for the article.

Among the state’s five biggest counties, Tarrant is the only one that hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate in the past decade. The 2016 presidential election heightened Tarrant’s status as an outlier. Even as the rest of the state’s big-city territories moved deeper into the Democratic column, Tarrant steadfastly emerged as America’s most conservative large urban county.
President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office this week, won the county by an 8.6-point margin. It was the narrowest win for a GOP presidential nominee in decades in Tarrant. But among the country's 20 largest counties, Tarrant was only one of two that swung Trump's way in November — and it had the wider margin.
Across Tarrant County, Democratic pockets are fewer and less powerful than their Republican counterparts. All four of the state senate districts that fall in Tarrant County are represented by Republicans. The GOP also holds eight of the county’s 11 state House seats. Four of the five county commissioner court seats are held by Republicans.
Residents, elected officials and experts here point to a nuanced union of demographic, cultural and political forces to explain why.
. . . Tarrant’s minority population, which tends to lean Democratic, hasn’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties. At the same time, many Tarrant voters have a storied history of preferring practical governance to partisanship, according to officials and political observers. They say that helps support the moderate faction of the GOP, especially in Fort Worth, the nation's 16th-largest city.
Then there’s the county’s development pattern. A lot of Tarrant remains rural. And, unlike Harris, Dallas and Travis counties, many of Tarrant’s affluent suburbs and conservative bedroom communities lie within its borders, not outside them. That’s helped give rise to the NE Tarrant Tea Party, a passionate and organized group that simultaneously supports far-right local candidates and serves as a powerful base for statewide Republicans.

From Houston Public Media: Federal Judge Rules Pasadena Infringed On Latino Voting Rights, Orders Changes

This story illustrates a variety of topics we'll cover in class includes federalism, voting rights, equal protection, and the courts.

- Click here for the article.

A federal judge ruled late Friday that the the City of Pasadena promoted and implemented a voting plan intended to dilute Latino power at the polls.
In a 113-page ruling (a link is below), U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal ordered city officials to revert to an eight-single-member City Council voting plan used before 2014. That was the year voters narrowly approved a plan that elected six members from districts and two at large. In summarizing the ruling, the judge wrote:

“In the Supreme Court’s foundational decision on vote dilution, Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), the Court ruled that dilution was tantamount to infringing the very right to vote. ‘Overweighting and overvaluation of the votes of those living here has the certain effect of dilution and undervaluation of the votes of those living there. The resulting discrimination against those individual voters living in disfavored areas is easily demonstrable mathematically. Their right to vote is simply not the same right to vote as that of those living in a favored part of the [jurisdiction].’ In Pasadena, Texas, Latino voters under the current 6–2 map and plan 56 do not have the same right to vote as their Anglo neighbors.”|
Aside from restoring the previous voting plan, Rosenthal also said she will supervise the 2017 municipal elections in May and watch for any efforts to suppress Latino voting rights. The judge also ordered Pasadena to submit any future changes in its voting plan to the U.S. Justice Department for civil rights pre-clearance.

Here's a link to the federal judge's ruling:

- MALDEF vs City of Pasadena.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this in the Supreme Court in a couple years.

For more on the items mentions in the article:

- 14th Amendment.
- 15th Amendment.
- Reynolds v Sims.
- Voting Rights Act.
- Shelby v Holder.
- Pre-Clearance.
- MALDEF.
- U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal.
- Vote Dilution.

For other stories on the subject:

- Pasadena back under U.S. oversight - Judge orders elections be supervised until 2023 after Latino rights violated.

Monday, January 16, 2017

From the Hill: Republicans vote to weaken federal regulatory powers

Reigning in the federal bureaucracy seems at the top of the Republican to do list.

- Click here for the article.

Empowered by President-elect Donald Trump, Republicans lawmakers are moving to gut the vast regulatory powers federal agencies enjoyed during the Obama administration.
On Wednesday, the GOP-controlled House passed the Regulatory Accountability Act which puts a ceiling on the regulatory costs coming out of Washington by instructing federal agencies to craft the "least expensive" rules they possibly can. It passed 238-183 on a largely party line vote with five Democrats crossing the aisle.
This would give Congress more control over federal agencies.
“Some of the most significant decisions in Washington --- those that most affect the lives of the public --- are made by those who don’t stand for election,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said.
“What happens when the EPA imposes rules that deprive people of their property rights? Or when the Department of Health and Human Services tries to force nuns to violate their religion? Or when the VA perpetuates a system that lets veterans die while they wait for care?” McCarthy asked.
“The people can’t vote out the bureaucrats who write rules at the EPA or at the Department of Health and Human Services. They can’t vote out bad leaders at the VA,” he added. “And these bureaucrats know it.”
Regulatory reform is a key part of Trump’s economic agenda, and Republican lawmakers are working quickly to reshape the way in which regulations are developed before the president-elect takes office next Friday.
McCarthy indicated the House would begin repealing specific regulations after the inauguration.

What is a vote a rama?

It was referred to in two of the posts below, so it deserves a definition.

- From the Political Dictionary:

U.S. Senate rules include a special section for consideration of the annual Budget resolution. The Budget is not subject to filibuster, but all amendments must be germane and are voted on consecutively without real debate.
During a vote-a-rama, each amendment is considered and voted on for about 10 minutes until they are finished with all amendments. It’s an exhausting process that many senators have said makes it impossible to know what is actually being considered.
Keith Hennessey: “The vote-a-rama is an unusual cultural institution within the Senate. All 100 Senators are on the floor, in the cloakrooms, or right outside the Senate Chamber for hours and hours upon end. Another 100-ish staff are packed onto tiny staff benches in the rear of the Chamber, one for Republican staff and another for Democratic staff. Everyone is usually exhausted during the vote-a-rama, which comes near the end of an arduous and usually conflict-ridden legislative battle.”

Here's a more exhaustive definition from the person who coined the term.

- Click here for it.

Here's a negative appraisal of the process

- Senate 'vote-a-rama': A charade with consequences: The late-night vote marathon is aimed mainly at making the other party look bad in elections.

Republicans will have to go on record against giving minimum-wage workers a raise and potentially vote against a plan meant to defend pregnant workers from discrimination. Democrats will take sides on Iran’s nuclear talks, with Republicans daring them to side against Israel.
And each party is trying to outdo the other on how much it loves Medicare.
The Senate’s famous budget “vote-a-rama” on Thursday won’t change any laws — far from it, it’s a daylong, only-in-Congress charade, the main purpose of which is to make the other party look bad and score political points.
And yet it has the potential to be among the most consequential days in Congress this year. Some of the roll calls are bound to show up in campaign ads and talking points and floor speeches: Just ask Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who was attacked by her GOP opponent, Scott Brown, two weeks before her 2014 reelection for voting to “pave the way” for a carbon tax, a vote that was more than 18 months old at the time.

From Roll Call: The Convoluted Process for Dismantling Obamacare

A unique take on the bill making process

Click here for the article.

In the early hours of Jan. 12, the Senate took the first step in the convoluted process of dismantling and replacing the 2010 health care law. To overcome the potential filibuster power of Senate Democrats, GOP lawmakers are relying on budget reconciliation, the same procedural mechanism their counterparts across the aisle used seven years ago to implement parts of the health care overhaul.
The budget reconciliation process is filled with procedural complications — and in this case, political uncertainty — as GOP leaders and President-elect Donald Trump have signaled various ideas about the timing of changes.
The graphic below explains the budget resolution and reconciliation process and how it could play out.

Budget Resolution process-01

From Roll Call: Why 3 House Republicans Voted Against Repealing Obamacare

We discussed "instrumentalism" in the dual credit classes last week, which is the idea that political behavior has a purpose. Everything that is done, is done for a reason - though that reason might not seem initially obvious.

Here's one author's explanation of why three Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against the vehicle that would have allowed for a repeal of Obamacare - the budget reconciliation process. It should be noted that all three are from states that voted for Hillary Clinton.

- Click here for the article.

House Republican leaders gave their freshmen members a political gift Tuesday: The chance to vote "yes" on a symbolic bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

For three new Republican representatives, however, the repeal vote was an opportunity to vote "no." Republicans Bruce Poliquin of Maine, John Katko of New York and Robert Dold of Illinois were the lone three defections in either party on what's being billed as the chamber's 56th vote since 2011 to undo parts of the 2010 health law.

The defectors' rationale? They might hate Obamacare, but Republicans still haven't put forward a legislative proposal that would act as a substitute in the event the law ever got repealed.

"I am against Obamacare. It is hurting jobs, hurting our families, limiting choices," Poliquin told CQ Roll Call as he left the House floor Wednesday afternoon. "But I need to see a tangible, free-market replacement and this bill does not give us that. I need to see how we're gonna fix this and not just be someone who votes for the 56th time to repeal this.

"Show me a fix," Poliquin said, "and you'll have my support."

Katko went to Facebook to explain his "no" vote: "I am disappointed that the bill taken up by Congress today did not provide a real solution to the rising costs of healthcare, but I will continue to fight for comprehensive, bipartisan healthcare reform for Central New York in Congress."

He added that a campaign promise was to vote against Obamacare repeal votes that did not also include a replacement.

For more on the small number of Republicans voting against the repeal measure click here:

- Mixed Bag of Republicans Vote Against Obamacare Repeal Vehicle.

For future lectures, this article points out some of the caucuses in the House and Senate and the positions they are taking on repeal,.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

From the New York Times: Senate Takes Major Step Toward Repealing Health Care Law

They began a process that allows the repeal to be considered as a reconciliation bill which makes it filibuster proof.


- Click here for the article.

Senate Republicans took their first major step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, approving a budget blueprint that would allow them to gut the health care law without the threat of a Democratic filibuster.
The vote was 51 to 48. During the roll call, Democrats staged a highly unusual protest on the Senate floor to express their dismay and anger at the prospect that millions of Americans could lose health insurance coverage.
One by one, Democrats rose to voice their objections. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington said that Republicans were “stealing health care from Americans.” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said he was voting no “because health care should not just be for the healthy and wealthy.”
The presiding officer, Senator Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, repeatedly banged his gavel and said the Democrats were out of order because “debate is not allowed during a vote.”

The final vote, which ended just before 1:30 a.m., followed a marathon session in which senators took back-to-back roll call votes on numerous amendments, an arduous exercise known as a vote-a-rama.
The approval of the budget blueprint, coming even before President-elect Donald J. Trump is inaugurated, shows the speed with which Republican leaders are moving to fulfill their promise to repeal President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement — a goal they believe can now be accomplished after Mr. Trump’s election.
The action by the Senate is essentially procedural, setting the stage for a special kind of legislation called a reconciliation bill. Such a bill can be used to repeal significant parts of the health law and, critically, is immune from being filibustered. Congress appears to be at least weeks away from voting on legislation repealing the law.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

More on the Congressional Review Act ....

... which I really know little about.

It looks to be an instrument to reign in the bureaucracy that has been more or less dormant for twenty years, but might be ready to be unleashed.

For more:

- CRS: The Congressional Review Act: FrequentlyAsked Questions.
- Heritage Foundation: Stars Align for the Congressional Review Act.
- CPR: The Congressional Review Act: A Primer.
- The Hill: The Congressional Review Act, rarely used and (almost always) unsuccessful.
- The Fiscal Times: The Latest Republican Trick to Roll Back Obama’s Rules.

From Washington Post: Trump may unwittingly agree to tie his hands, limit executive power

Here's commentary on efforts Congress seems to ne making in order to reign in the executive branch. In 2305 we will discuss the expansion of executive power over American history. This happened largely because Congress allowed it to happen by establishing new agencies and department to fulfill new functions. The growth began in the late 19th century, and picked up steam in the 30s (the New Deal) and the 60s (the Great Society).

A goal of conservatives has been to limit this growth, if not turn it back. The following article discusses how Republicans in Congress, seeing an opportunity to do so, are developing strategies to make it a reality.

This involves the use of something called the Congressional Review Act, a law that was part of the Contract with America. It is specifically designed to allow Congress the opportunity to undo rules passed by the bureaucracy.

- Click here for the article.

Donald Trump is eager to score some early wins, so that he can look like an effective leader, and congressional Republicans are fixing to give him bills he can sign immediately upon taking office. But, for the new president, some might bring unintended consequences.
The Congressional Review Act is such an incredibly powerful tool that it has only been used once in the two decades it has been on the books. In the next couple months, it will probably be used about half a dozen times.
Somewhere around 150 rules finalized by the Obama administration – going as far back as last June – could be overturned under the CRA, if Congress passes a “joint resolution of disapproval” and the new president signs off.
High on the chopping block: Regulations which would curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, prohibit coal-mining companies from engaging in activities that permanently pollute streams used for drinking water and increasing the salary threshold below which employees are entitled to overtime pay. Industry lobbyists are also pushing GOP lawmakers to get of nondiscrimination and fair pay rules for federal contractors.
And a bunch of companies are trying to drum up AstroTurf support for rescinding Energy Department efficiency standards for dehumidifiers, battery chargers and air conditioners.
But here’s the rub: the executive branch may never again be allowed to regulate on these subjects if the Congressional Review Act is employed. It is hard to overstate what a big deal that is and how much it raises the stakes. If the overtime rule gets rescinded, for example, any new overtime requirements would need to pass Congress. If you know anything about the Hill, you know that will happen – when pigs fly…
Every modern president, no matter his party, has not been able to resist expanding the regulatory state and trying to usurp Congress’s power, at least to some degree. The power that comes with controlling the executive branch has tended to seduce even the most conscientiously conservative appointees once they get their security details.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

From the Washington Post: What lies ahead for Trump’s nominees, and how Democrats helped smooth the way

A look at the process Trump's nominees are taking on their - possible - path to office.

- Click here for the article.

The author makes the following point about recent changes to the process:
Most of Trump’s Senate-confirmable nominations are expected to sail through the confirmation process. In the past, the Republican Party’s 52-48 majority would not have secured them enough votes to confirm nominees without some Democratic help. To stop a filibuster, three-fifths of the chamber, or 60 votes, would have been needed to end debate and force a vote.
But Democrats reinterpreted that rule in 2013, saying only a simple majority was required, making it easier to shut down a talkative senator looking to block a confirmation.
That change, dubbed the “nuclear option,” means Democrats have deprived themselves of one of the only methods possible to halt a nomination.

There is no more ability to filibuster appointments.

And to stay up to date with the nominations so far:

- Tracking how many key positions Trump has filled so far.

From the Texas Tribune: Texas House unanimously elects Joe Straus for record-tying fifth term as Speaker

Straus is on route to becoming the most powerful House Speaker in Texas history.

- Click here for the article.

For the first time since he was elected House Speaker in 2009, Joe Straus walked into the lower chamber on Tuesday without a clear leadership challenger.
And two years after facing a rare contested vote for Speaker, Straus was re-elected unanimously by House members on the opening day of the 85th Legislature for a record-tying fifth term. He joins former House Speakers Pete Laney and Gib Lewis for the longest tenures presiding over the House.
Following the 150-0 vote, Straus took the oath of office and made clear in a speech to a packed House chamber what his legislative philosophy would be for the upcoming session.
“Compromise has become a dirty word in politics,” Straus said. “It’s a good word in this House.”
Straus has long been criticized by some in his party as being too moderate, drawing primary challenges from Tea Party candidates. But he’s easily held onto his San Antonio-based seat.

Straus’ easy re-election as House speaker Tuesday was a departure from 2015, when he faced a Republican challenger from Scott Turner of Frisco who forced the first contested vote for Speaker since 1975. All but 19 House members voted for Straus that year.

For more:

- Tribpedia: Speaker of the House.

Here's the language in the Texas Constitution that states how this is to be done:

Article 3. Sec 9. (b) The House of Representatives shall, when it first assembles, organize temporarily, and thereupon proceed to the election of a Speaker from its own members.

Here's a look at how he's been able to stay Speaker for so long:

- Analysis: Speaker Straus breaking a trend seen with his predecessors.

At a point when speakers are generally wearing out their welcomes, Straus faces less opposition than ever before.
He has avoided scandal. His Republican Party is firmly in control of both the state government and, more importantly, of the House itself. Turnover among his lieutenants has been low enough to keep things stable and high enough to allow him to bring new people into the fold. His opposition, almost all of it coming from the most conservative waters in the GOP pool, is noisy but small: In that 2015 contest against state Rep. Scott Turner, R-Plano, the challenger got only 19 votes.
He has quietly become a legislative counterbalance, and the House and Senate have switched traditional institutional roles. The normal formula is that the House is the place for hot passions and the Senate is where things cool off and get more careful consideration. In Texas, it’s now the Senate that chases flashy political issues and the House that slows things down.

The Texas Legislature convenes today

They'll be in session until May 29, 2017 and will likely pass close to 6000 bills in that time. That's the trend anyway. There are a handful of places you can find detail about it, in order to avoid overload I'll focus primarily on the a page the Texas Tribune has set up to cover it.

- Click here for the 85th Texas Legislative Session.

Here are more sources we will be using this semester.

- Texas Legislature Online.
- Texas House of Representatives.
- Texas Senate.
- Legislative Reference Library of Texas.
- Daily Legislative Clipping Service.
- House Research Organization.
- Senate Research Center.
- Texas Legislative Council.

Monday, January 9, 2017

From Stanford University: Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning

Younger adults find it difficult to tell real news from fake news - or to detect political bias. Something for us to be mindful of this semester. Skepticism - but not cynicism - of the information seems increasingly justified.

- Click here for the study.

Here's the executive summary:

When thousands of students respond to dozens of tasks there are endless variations. That was certainly the case in our experience. However, at each level—middle school, high school, and college—these variations paled in comparison to a stunning and dismaying consistency. Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.
Our “digital natives” may be able to fit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that follows through social media channels, they are easily duped. We did not design our exercises to shake out a grade or make hairsplitting distinctions between a “good” and a “better” answer. Rather, we sought to establish a reasonable bar, a level of performance we hoped was within reach of most middle school, high school, and college students. For example, we would hope that middle school students could distinguish an ad from a news story. By high school, we would hope that students reading about gun laws would notice that a chart came from a gun owners’ political action committee. And, in 2016, we would hope college students, who spend hours each day online, would look beyond a .org URL and ask who’s behind a site that presents only one side of a contentious issue. But in every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation.
For every challenge facing this nation, there are scores of websites pretending to be something they are not. Ordinary people once relied on publishers, editors, and subject matter experts to vet the information they consumed. But on the unregulated Internet, all bets are off. Michael Lynch, a philosopher who studies technological change, observed that the Internet is “both the world’s best fact checker and the world’s best bias confirmer—often at the same time.”1 Never have we had so much information at our fngertips. Whether this bounty will make us smarter and better informed or more ignorant and narrow-minded will depend on our awareness of this problem and our educational response to it. At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish.

- NPR outlines the study's finding: Students Have 'Dismaying' Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds.


- Most middle school students can't tell native ads from articles.
- Most high school students accept photographs as presented, without verifying them.
- Many high school students couldn't tell a real and fake news source apart on Facebook.
- Most college students didn't suspect potential bias in a tweet from an activist group.
- Most Stanford students couldn't identify the difference between a mainstream and fringe source.


From the Texas Tribune: Hegar gives lawmakers dour revenue estimate for 2017 session

As we will see in 2306, this is a constitutional requirement. It establishes the ceiling for the Texas Appropriations bill - at least that part dealing with the general fund.

- Click here for the article.
Facing sluggish economic forecasts amid low oil prices along with billions in tax revenue already dedicated to the state highway fund, Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Monday that lawmakers will have $104.87 billion in state funds at their disposal in crafting the next two-year budget, a 2.7 percent decrease from his estimate ahead of the legislative session two years ago.
Hegar told state lawmakers he expected a "slow to moderate" expansion of the Texas economy. Still, he said, the amount of revenue they will be able to negotiate over has fallen. That's largely because lawmakers in 2015 moved to dedicate up to $5 billion in sales tax revenue every two years to the state's highway fund, rather than being spent on other priorities such as schools, health care or reforms to the embattled Texas foster care system.
"We are projecting overall revenue growth," Hegar said. "Such growth, however, is more than offset" by the demands of the state highway fund and other dedicated funds.
The revenue estimate does not determine the scope of the entire Texas budget. Rather, it sets a limit on the state’s general fund, the portion of the budget that lawmakers have the most control over. The general fund typically makes up about half of the state’s total budget.
Two years ago, Hegar estimated that the Legislature would have $113 billion in state funds, also known as general revenue. Adding in federal funds and other revenue sources, lawmakers would have $221 billion in total for its budget, as well as $11.1 billion in the state's Rainy Day Fund, he said at the time. Lawmakers ultimately passed a $209.4 billion budget, which included billions in tax cuts.
On Monday, Hegar estimated lawmakers would have $104.87 billion in general revenue, and $224.8 billion in total revenue to write a budget for the 2018-19 biennium which begins in September.

- Click here for the report.


From Vox: Life in authoritarian states is mostly boring and tolerable

We discuss the various forms of government in 2305, one of which is authoritarianism, which has the following definition in wikipedia:
Authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms. Individual freedoms are subordinate to the state and there is no constitutional accountability under an authoritarian regime.

 They don't quite rise to the level of totalitarianism - again, Wikipedia:

Totalitarianism is a political system in which the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible, without any respect for human rights.

This is largely due to authoritarian government being limited by some external force, a strong church for example. Recent commentary has focused on the possibility that the United States - and much of western Europe - might be slipping into authoritarianism. For a good look at this argument, see:
The rise of American authoritarianism.

This article looks at life within an authoritarian regime actually looks like. What is a little frightening is that some of what he describes sounds like political life in the United States:


When Americans think of authoritarianism, they conjure the grimmest totalitarian states
The mental image that most Americans harbor of what actual authoritarianism looks like is fantastical and cartoonish. This vision has jackbooted thugs, all-powerful elites acting with impunity, poverty and desperate hardship for everyone else, strict controls on political expression and mobilization, and a dictator who spends his time ordering the murder or disappearance of his opponents using an effective and wholly compliant security apparatus. This image of authoritarianism comes from the popular media (dictators in movies are never constrained by anything but open insurrection), from American mythmaking about the Founding (free men throwing off the yoke of British tyranny), and from a kind of “imaginary othering” in which the opposite of democracy is the absence of everything that characterizes the one democracy that one knows.
Still, that fantastical image of authoritarianism is entirely misleading as a description of modern authoritarian rule and life under it. It is a description, to some approximation, of totalitarianism. Carl Friedrich is the best on totalitarianism, and Hannah Arendt of course on its emergence. But Arendt and Friedrich were very clear that totalitarianism is exceptional as a form of politics.

The reality is that everyday life under the kinds of authoritarianism that exist today is very familiar to most Americans. You go to work, you eat your lunch, you go home to your family. There are schools and businesses, and some people “make it” through hard work and luck. Most people worry about making sure their kids get into good schools. The military is in the barracks, and the police mostly investigate crimes and solve cases. There is political dissent, if rarely open protest, but in general people are free to complain to one another. There are even elections. This is Malaysia, and many countries like it.
Life is pretty normal, except that elections — which often exist — change nothing.
Everyday life in the modern authoritarian regime is, in this sense, boring and tolerable. It is not outrageous. Most critics, even vocal ones, are not going to be murdered, as Anna Politkovskaya was in Russia; they are going to be frustrated. Most not-very-vocal critics will live their lives completely unmolested by the security forces. They will enjoy it when the trains run on time, blame the government when they do not, gripe about their taxes, and save for vacation. Elections, when they happen, will serve the “anesthetic function” that Philippe Schmitter attributed — in the greatly underappreciated 1978 volume Elections without Choice — to elections in Portugal under Salazar.
Life under authoritarian rule in such situations looks a lot like life in a democracy. As Malaysia’s longtime Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad used to say, “if you don’t like me, defeat me in my district.” That this could never happen was almost beside the point
.

Friday, January 6, 2017

From the Urban Edge: Houston in 2016, as Told Through 5 Maps

For our look at cities in 2306.

- Click here for the article.

Here's one that showcases the "suburbanization of poverty."

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-18-21-am

As inner-loop real estate heats up, Houston is experiencing what many urban areas across the country are seeing: the suburbanization of poverty, presenting new challenges for communities that often lack infrastructure like a robust public transportation system. It also means that service providers may need to reorient themselves. One example of this can be seen from our Opportunity Youth report, which tracked young adults ages 16-19 who are not enrolled in school or employed. Many of the areas with the highest number of these so-called “disconnected” or “opportunity youth” are outside the loop, challenging stereotypes about “inner cities.”
Another example of the suburbanization of poverty comes from our Disparate City report. Looking at poverty rates by census tract across the county, researchers found that not only has poverty increased but it has become more concentrated as the wealthy have become more segregated. The concentration of poverty, along with the suburbanization of poverty, is one of the biggest challenges metro areas face today. In Harris County, the problem is particularly acute. From 1980 to 2010, the percentage of high poverty census tracts in Harris County more than quadrupled to 39 percent, which is nearly double the national rate of 20 percent. The researchers also found that “high poverty areas, largely confined to within or just beyond Houston’s Inner Loop in 1980, have since emerged in the areas beyond the Inner Loop … These high poverty areas largely supplanted areas that were considered middle class in 1980.

Catching up with the 85th Session of the Legislature - 1/6/17

A handful of items to discuss:

- Texas Tribune: House panel warns of "peril" in Texas mental health system.
If Texas doesn't take bolder steps to fix its mental health system, the consequences could be perilous for the state, a House committee report warned Thursday.
The 109-page report by the Texas House Select Committee on Mental Health, released just days before the start of this year's legislative session, outlines challenges and opportunities for the state in tackling issues troubling the system such as patient access to mental and behavioral health services; increasing the number of beds available in state hospitals; early intervention for schoolchildren with behavioral health issues; investing in jail diversion programs; and beefing up the state's mental health workforce 

- Click here for the report.

- Texas Tribune: Following North Carolina's lead, Texas GOP unveils so-called “bathroom bill"

After months of sparring over whether transgender Texans should be allowed to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday officially set the legislative stage for the debate.
Following North Carolina’s lead, Texas Republicans announced Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex” and would pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

- Click here to follow SB 6

- Texas Tribune: Texas loses tax lawsuit, but not the way officials feared.


As gloomy government budget news stacks up in Austin, a state appeals court ruling issued Friday appears to erase a huge worry about the state’s business franchise tax.
The parent company of AMC movie theaters sued the state over what it is allowed to include in non-taxable cost of goods sold. An initial ruling in the company’s favor in May 2015 contained what the state thought was an overly broad definition of “costs” — one that Comptroller Glenn Hegar feared could require $6 billion in tax refunds to various businesses and a $1.5 billion annual reduction in state franchise taxes.
Friday’s ruling from the 3rd Court of Appeals leaves the company’s victory in place, but uses a narrower definition of costs of goods that apparently won’t apply to most other taxpayers.
The difference could be worth billions to the state, allowing it to continue to collect franchise taxes much the way it does now.

- Click here for the court decision

- Texas Tribune: Whitmire says he may abstain from some pension votes.

Whether — and how — one of the Texas Legislature’s chief champions of police officers and firefighters gets involved with legislation addressing mounting financial crises with first responders’ pension funds could depend on which cities are impacted by potential bills.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, works for Locke Lord, a law firm whose clients include pension fund boards in Dallas and Houston — cities currently beset by multibillion-dollar pension shortfalls. Because municipal workers’ retirement funds are largely governed by the state, both cities are expected to seek legislative approval of their respective plans to shore up the beleaguered funds.
Whitmire said that while his firm represents pension funds in the cities, he does not work on those accounts and he never talks to professional colleagues about government clients. But after some Dallas City Council members voiced concerns this week over Whitmire’s political role in Austin and his professional position inside the pension funds’ federal lobbying firm, the Democrat said he would likely abstain from voting on Dallas-specific bills “out of an abundance of caution.”
“I go out of my way to avoid the conflicts,” he told The Texas Tribune on Thursday.
- Click here for the website of Locke Lord

Dates of Interest for the 85th Regular Session

This info comes from the Legislative Reference Library of Texas.

- Click here for the link.

Dates of note:

- Bill pre-filing begins: Nov 14, 2016
- 1st day of session: Jan 10, 2017
- 60-day bill filing deadline: Mar 10, 2017
- Adjournment sine die: May 29, 2017
- Post-session 20-day deadline for governor to sign or veto: June 18, 2017
- Effective date (91st day after adjournment): Aug 28, 2017

From the Director of National Intelligence: Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution

As far as I am aware, this is the most comprehensive detail of the facts related to the accusation that Russia interfered with the recent election.

- Click here for it.

The Washington Post outlines the report.

- Click here for U.S. intelligence agencies: Putin ordered intervention in presidential election.

Russia carried out a comprehensive cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential election, an operation that was ordered by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and “aspired to help” elect Donald Trump by discrediting his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in a report released Friday.
The report depicts Russian interference as unprecedented in scale, saying that Moscow’s assault represented “a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort” beyond previous election-related espionage.
The campaign was ordered by Putin himself and initially sought primarily to undermine public faith is the U.S. democratic process, “denigrate Secretary Clinton” and harm her electoral prospects. But as the campaign proceeded, Russia “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump” and repeatedly sought to elevate him by “discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
The document represents an extraordinarily direct and detailed account of a longstanding United States' adversary’s multi-pronged intervention in a fundamental pillar of American democracy.

From the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services: A hearing on "Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States"

Here's a link for more information related to the hearing below.

Aside for general information related to the specific question about possible Russian hacking during the 2016 election, it also offers 2305 students a look at one of the central functions of a congressional committee - the holding of hearing related to issues within the jurisdiction of the committee.

- Click here for the page dedicated to the hearing.

The witnesses provide an indication of what types of executive officials engage in activities within the jurisdiction of the committee. These positions are:

1 - The Director of National Intelligence.
2 - The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.
3 - United States Cyber Command.
4 - National Security Agency.
5 - Central Security Service.

Here is information about the witnesses:

1 - James R. Clapper.
2 - Marcel J. Lettre.
3 - Michael S. Rogers.

These of course are people affiliated with the Obama Administration, In a later post I'll highlight the people Donald Trump has appointed to replace them.

Lawfare published an assessment of the hearing. The author points out how cordial and respectful members of the committee were towards the witnesses, and the intelligence community in general. This is in sharp contrast to comments by Trump.

- Click here for What Yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee Portends.

While John McCain, the committee chairman, was unspairing in his criticism of the Obama administration for not developing a cyber deterrence strategy, his demeanor towards the DNI was one of profound respect and cordiality. Others too made a point of thanking Clapper for his long service in various intelligence capacities and across administrations.
The message here was not merely one of fondness for the man himself, though that was evident at times; it was a way of conveying admiration and respect for the intellingence community that he and NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers were there representing. Sometimes, this linkage was explicit. At one point, Clapper was asked to describe his career and its apolitical nature and was asked pointedly whether it was representative of others in the community. He was asked, more than once, for his opinion of Julian Assange and about how Assange is regarded within the community. (Needless to say, Clapper’s not a fan.) Nor was the love fest purely emanating from the Democratic side. The hearing, pretty much wall to wall, showcased the committee’s confidence in the intelligence community as a set of institutions with integrity. At a time when that integrity is under fire from the President-elect, it was a powerful statement.

Indeed, no defense of Trump’s position emerged in any significant way from any member of the committee. To be sure, Sen. Tom Cotton raised the question of whether Trump will be worse for Russia than Hillary Clinton would have been, given his commitment to increased defense spending. And he asked questions that aimed to clarify the relatively narrow scope of the IC’s findings with respect to Russia. Sen. Thom Tillis, doing his best imitation of Noam Chomsky, declared that “there is research done by a professor up at Carnegie Mellon that is estimating that the United States has been involved one way or another in 81 different elections Since World War II. That is not including the coups or regime changes. And Russa has done it 36 times.” But Tillis's Chomskyism was fainthearted and short-lived, and no Republican on the committee stood up for the proposition that the hack may not have been a Russian effort to influence the election. Mostly, Republican senators who weren’t leading the charge contented themselves instead with asking the witnessess about other foreign cybersecurity concerns.
And some GOP senators were really on fire. Sen. McCain set the tone when he opened the hearing by declaring that “there’s no escaping the fact that this committee meets today for the first time in this new Congress in the aftermath of an unprecedented attack on our democracy.”

LIVE: US Congress begins probe into foreign cyber threats

Thursday, January 5, 2017

On this day in History: Truman delivers his Fair Deal speech

The year is 1949. Much of what is passed by Congress with the backing of LBJ in the 1960s as the Great Society is introduced in this speech. It also starts setting in motion the shift in the ideological basis of the Democratic Party that would eventually lead to the the realignment of the South - including Texas - towards the Republican Party.

- Click here for the article.

On this day in 1949, President Harry S. Truman announces, in his State of the Union address, that every American has a right to expect from our government a fair deal.
In a reference to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, Truman announced his plans for domestic policy reforms including national health insurance, public housing, civil rights legislation and federal aid to education. He advocated an increase in the minimum wage, federal assistance to farmers and an extension of Social Security, as well as urging the immediate implementation of anti-discrimination policies in employment. Truman argued for an ambitious liberal agenda based on policies first articulated by his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, the nation’s politics had shifted rightward in the years following World War II and inflation, economic conversion from wartime to peacetime industries and growing anti-communist sentiment provided major obstacles to Truman’s plan. To a growing contingency of conservatives and Southern Democrats in Congress, the Fair Deal smacked of socialism.
After his landslide re-election in 1948, Truman managed to convince Congress to pass several of his liberal reforms. It almost doubled the minimum wage—from 40 cents to 75 cents an hour—and established the Housing Act, which provided 800,000 new houses for the poor. Though Congress approved Truman’s extension of Social Security benefits, it rejected the idea of national health care, avoided passing any new civil rights legislation and failed to aggressively tackle concerns over fair labor practices.
Beginning in 1950, foreign affairs, particularly the Korean War and the Cold War, increasingly distracted Truman from domestic issues.

For more:

- Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union. January 5, 1949.
- Fair Deal.
- Conservative Coalition.
- Universal Health Care.
- Fair Employment Practice Committee.
- Labor Management Relations Act of 1947.
- Modern Liberalism in the United States.

On this day in History: Eisenhower proposes new Middle East policy

The year is 1957. This helps demonstrate how the ongoing conflict in the Middle East evolved over the past century. It also highlights the role president's have in shaping foreign policy.

- Click here for the article.

In response to the increasingly tense situation in the Middle East, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers a proposal to Congress that calls for a new and more proactive U.S. policy in the region. The “Eisenhower Doctrine,” as the proposal soon came to be known, established the Middle East as a Cold War battlefield.
The United States believed that the situation in the Middle East degenerated badly during 1956, and Egypt leader Gamal Nasser was deemed largely responsible. The U.S. used Nasser’s anti-western nationalism and his increasingly close relations with the Soviet Union as justification for withdrawing U.S. support for the construction of the Aswan Dam on the Nile River in July 1956. Less than a month later, Nasser seized control of the Suez Canal. This action prompted, in late October, a coordinated attack by French, British, and Israeli military on Egypt. Suddenly, it appeared that the Middle East might be the site of World War III.
In response to these disturbing developments, President Eisenhower called for “joint action by the Congress and the Executive” in meeting the “increased danger from International Communism” in the Middle East. Specifically, he asked for authorization to begin new programs of economic and military cooperation with friendly nations in the region. He also requested authorization to use U.S. troops “to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations.”
Eisenhower did not ask for a specific appropriation of funds at the time; nevertheless, he indicated that he would seek $200 million for economic and military aid in each of the years 1958 and 1959. Only such action, he warned, would dissuade “power-hungry Communists” from interfering in the Middle East.
While some newspapers and critics were uneasy with the open-ended policy for U.S. action in the Middle East (the Chicago Tribune called the doctrine “goofy”), the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate responded with overwhelming votes in favor of Eisenhower’s proposal.
The “Eisenhower Doctrine” received its first call to action in the summer of 1958, when civil strife in Lebanon led that nation’s president to request U.S. assistance. Nearly 15,000 U.S. troops were sent to help quell the disturbances. With the Eisenhower Doctrine and the first action taken in its name, the United States demonstrated its interest in Middle East developments.

For more:

- The Eisenhower Doctrine.
- Special Message to the Congress on the Situation in the Middle East.
- Suez Crisis.
- Cold War (1953-1962).

From the Washington Post: State pollsters, pummeled by 2016, analyze what went wrong

According to the author, the national polls nailed the popular vote for president. The results were within 1% of the final poll numbers. The error was in state polls, especially the ones that mattered: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The article explains what happened.

- Click here for it.

. . . when the national popular vote was certified, the major national pollsters were nearly redeemed. The final Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll put Clinton three points ahead of Trump. She won the popular vote by 2.1 percentage points, about the same as Jimmy Carter's 1976 margin over Gerald Ford. No national pollster was as badly burned by 2016 as by 2012, when those projecting a tie between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney had to explain a clear Obama majority.
It was a different story in the states, where a half-dozen pollsters, seen as rock-solid for their command of the local numbers, saw a Clinton win that never materialized. In Ohio, which seemed to have slipped away from Clinton in the summer, the Columbus Dispatch's unique mail poll — praised by Silver as the country's most accurate — seemed to find late movement her way. Its final numbers, released on the Sunday before the election, found Clinton and Trump deadlocked. Two days later, Trump triumphed in Ohio by eight points, the biggest Republican victory in the state since 1988.
“I realized that our poll, which showed Clinton leading by one point the weekend before the election, was going to be 'wrong' as I was monitoring results from across Ohio showing her underperforming in urban counties and Trump rolling up extraordinary margins in more rural areas,” said Darrel Rowland, the Dispatch reporter who runs the poll. “Our presidential poll has never been that far off in my memory nor that of my predecessor, who started at the Dispatch in the early 1970s.”
In Michigan, which went red for the first time in 28 years, the final EPIC/MRA poll found Clinton clinging to a four-point lead over Trump. Unlike in Wisconsin, neither Trump's nor Clinton's campaign responded like the state was deadlocked. Nonetheless, that poll — and all but one Michigan poll conducted in 2016 — pointed to a Clinton victory that never happened.
Like Marquette Law's poll, the EPIC/MRA survey had concluded after a few bad Clinton news cycles but before the campaign's final days. “We had an 11-point lead after the debates, it dropped down to seven after WikiLeaks, then after the [FBI Director James B.] Comey letter it dropped down to four points,” said Bernie Porn, the poll's director. “The only thing I wish we'd done is take one more poll the weekend before the election. I assumed, based on the numbers we found, that Clinton would win unless she wasn't able to turn out enough blacks in Detroit and Flint. And that was what happened.”
In Pennsylvania, two reliable state pollsters — Susquehanna and Morning Call/Muhlenberg College — released final numbers that suggested Clinton was going to repeat recent Democratic history, with a narrow win. The latter poll, which suggested Clinton was ahead by six points — outside the margin of error — also surmised a seven-point Democratic registration advantage. On Election Day, said Muhlenberg College pollster Chris Borick, the advantage was only three points.

Here's a summary of the points made:

  • Key error: not picking up Clinton underperformance in urban areas and Trump over performance in rural areas. 
  • Polls did not pick up late breaking voters in favor of Trump.
  • Robocalls were more effective in measuring the silent Trump voter
  • Cuts to local papers minimized the number of polls that could be taken, a late movement towards Trump was not measured.
  • A better job needs to be done explaining what polls are actually saying. Some of what went wrong was less the fault of pollsters, than in the interpretation of the results.

For more: How to recover from the polling disaster of 2016? Look beyond polls.