Thursday, October 23, 2014

About those Texas Courts ....

For today's look at the judiciary in 2306:

Texas Supreme Court case set water groundwater rules for state.- The court is about to make a major decision impacting the ability of the state to manage water supplies in the state.

Texas Supreme Court May Hear Kountze ISD Cheerleader Case.
- The court will help clarify the precise meaning of the establishment clause in Texas.

Some Judicial Opinions Require Only 140 Characters.
- One of our Texas Supreme Court Justices loves that Twitter.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

For today's discussion in 2305 - 10/21/14

Supreme Court Will Consider Police Searches of Hotel Registries.
- Motel owners don't like a city ordinance that requires them to open up their books whenever the police want them to.

Why House Republicans Alienate Hispanics: They Don’t Need Them.
- At least this year - 2016 might be different. Gerrymandering plays a role, as does the distribution of population.

- More and more of what's spent on campaigns is hidden.

Political Polarization & Media Habits.
- Liberals and conservatives get their news from entirely different news sources.

For today's discussion in 2306 - 10/21/14

All of these are from the Texas Tribune;

Texas on Lonely Side of Battle Over Ozone Science.
- Who controls the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality?

Yale Survey: Most Texans Believe in Global Warming.
- But only 44% think it is due to human activity.

Analysis: Behind Voter ID, Federal Pre-Clearance.
- Do racial minorities in Texas still need federal protection from the Anglo majority?

Supreme Court to Decide What a Billboard is Worth.
- The court's decision could impact the cost of future highway projects.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A little twist on political knowledge quizzes - its a matter of priorities.


All clear?

The malware scare might be over - so I'll get back to posting things for class.

Thanks to the student that cleared this up.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Blog suspended indefinitely due to malware

Some of you have been getting a notice that this blag has been infected with malware, so its best to avoid it for a while. Make Blackboard your primary destination for the rest of the semester.

I'll post all material relevant to the class there.

Sorry for the trouble - but its best to be safe.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

This week - 5 - in GOVT 2306


We have a little unfinished business with local governments to complete, in addition to a discussion of the nature of separated powers - I want to describe as much as possible the difference between the ways powers are separated on the national and state levels. We'll also look through the material on state and local governing institutions. This will set us up for a more detailed look at the nature of each in Texas.

This week's quizzes include a look at the monstrously large Article 3 - which includes both the basic design of the Texas Legislature and the language inserted over the course of Texas history which has allowed for the sale of bonds for various purposes.

A separate section allows for a more in-depth look at how bills are made in the legislature - which won't happen until next spring of course. We'll also look at the nature of the city councils in local cities.

This is what's opened this week.

The Texas Legislature - Constitutional Design.
Texas Bill Making.
Local City Councils

This week - 5 - in GOVT 2305

In lecture classes we will be reviewing material related to federalism and the Bill of Rights - and also start in on the issues surrounding religious liberty, specifically how the Supreme Court has defined and redefined "establishment" and "free exercise."

It would be a good idea also to clarify a few issues associated with how the Constitution gets interpreted by the Supreme Court as well as conflicts over the court's role in helping set public policy. We need to get comfortable with the pros and cons of strict and loose interpretations of the document as well as the restrained and activist courts.

Remember that I cancelled the section on due process, but we will touch on the concept since it's pretty important to know how the rules associated with police behavior - among other things - is impacted about court decisions.

The quizzes that have opened this week concern the power of the legislature. The three sections follow a pattern that will be used when we look at the executive and judicial power as well.

The Legislature - Definition and Historical Background. This section tries to define what a legislative institution is and provides basic information about the Congress so you have a general sense of what it is prior to digging into detail.

It also tries to trace the history - British - of the development of legislative power. As we've discussed loosely before, the increase of actual power within the legislative branch was necessary in order to place meaningful limits on the executive branch. As you may have figured out - I like referring back to the execution of Charles the First in order to make this point. More importantly is the fact that Parliament demanded that the co-monarchs William and Mary sign the British Bill of Rights in order to attain the throne. Parts of this document will be incorporated into the Constitution. So the broader point here is that the more we know this history, the more we know why our Constitution looks the way it does.

The US Legislature - Constitutional Design. Here we start reading closely the content of Article One of the Constitution and come to terms with what the Constitution does - and does not - say about Congress and the nature of legislative power.

Parties and Committees in Congress. Once we find out what the Constitution does not say about Congress we will turn to how Congress has evolved over time. We will note that institutions like political parties developed in the early Congress before branching out into the general population. We will also look at the development of committees. The principle point here will be to understand how power flows within the institution, and how that can change from time to time.

This is where will also catch up with the nature of the current Congress - the 113th - which some argue may be the worst in recent memory.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekly Written Assignment #5

As promised - this week I want you send me a detailed proposal for your 1000 word essay.

Base it on the assigned work. I'll give you some feedback. I'd like you to a good job - really!

The better job you do here the easier it will be to write the paper.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What did the House actually vote on yesterday?

An amendment to the continuing resolution needed to keep the government funded after October 1st - but only until mid - December.

- Here's the vote.
- House approves Obama’s Iraq-Syria military strategy amid skepticism.
- House approves Obama request for Syria in broad bipartisan vote.

Who voted for the House amendment to fund training Syrian rebels?

According to a writer in Slate:

Everybody in competitive races. Georgia Rep. John Barrow, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, and West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall are among the very last Democrats in districts that voted for the Romney-Ryan ticket in 2012. They went "aye." So did Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley and Michigan Rep. Gary Peters, both Senate candidates in tough races. On the Republican side, Senate candidates Tom Cotton and Steve Daines voted "aye," as did Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman and Florida Rep. Steve Southerland. They're the only two Republicans in seats that appear now to be toss-ups, with strong Democratic challengers cutting through the headwind.

To me this supports the idea that the House of Representatives tracks public opinion - at least in certain areas. The general population - and presumably the voters who will go to the polls - supports the war, so if you are in a close race, you know what you need to do.

Attention GOVT 2305 students

I dropped the section on due process - it's not quite ready for prime time.

From the Courthouse News Service: Judge Sides With Texas Against Churches

Texas election laws places limits on the ability of churches to campaign. Two churches in Texas filed suit in federal court trying to have this restriction overruled as limit on their freedoms of both religion and speech.

The suit failed - but who knows if this has legs and might be the subject of a successful appeal?

- Click here for the article.

Texas does not illegally prevent churches from campaigning for the recall of elected officials, a federal judge ruled.

Two Houston churches, the Houston First Church of God and Joint Heirs Fellowship Church, and Faith Outreach International Center, a San Antonio congregation, sued Texas Ethics Commission Director Natalia Ashley in January.

The lawsuit challenged parts of the state's election code that the churches claim illegally prevents them from supporting recall efforts.

At the time a campaign was under way in San Antonio to recall former Mayor Julian Castro and seven City Council members, for proposing an ordinance the churches say violated their freedoms of religion and speech.

The churches wanted to work together to support the San Antonio recall, through signature gathering, fund raising and speaking from the pulpit.

They alleged in an amended complaint that Texas law illegally restricts their political activities because they "cannot be involved in supporting the recall efforts through raising money, donating money, coordinating people's activities, promoting the recall effort on church websites, [or] allowing petitions to be signed and distributed on church grounds."

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday, finding the incorporated churches lacked standing to challenge a law that bans corporations or labor organizations from making political contributions, including circulating petitions, for a recall election.

Because the churches are free to form a "direct campaign expenditure only committee" and Texas election officials would be barred from prohibiting their contributions to the committee under an injunction imposed by the 5th Circuit, Lake found the churches do not have standing.

A representative of the churches testified that they are against registering a political committee in any form.

. . . Lake found the statute was neither vague nor overbroad "because a person of ordinary intelligence can generally understand whether they are making an indirect transfer to a political committee by examining whether they coordinated with that committee with regard to a particular activity."

Plaintiffs' attorney Jerad Najvar said the ruling left in place a law that infringes the free speech rights of churches.

"The point that bears the most emphasis here is that our clients are churches whose First Amendment rights remain chilled under a law - a ban on corporate contributions to recall efforts - that even the Texas Ethics Commission refused to defend on the merits," Najvar told Courthouse News in an email.

"This is a critical issue. Churches are the natural hub of free association on some of the most important political issues of the 21st century, just as they were integral to organization preceding the American Revolution and on various issues of the 20th century, including civil rights. We are evaluating the court's decision and all of our options, including an appeal," Najvar said.

From The Texas Tribune: A New Gig for Todd Staples

http://s3.amazonaws.com/static.texastribune.org/media/images/staples_jpg_312x1000_q100.jpgHe will go from being Agriculture Commissioner to head of a major lobbying group - as these folks tend to do. Another example of the revolving door.

- Click here for the article.

Agriculture CommissionerTodd Staples lost out on his bid to be lieutenant governor, but he might be in line for another job before his term ends in January.
The Tribune's Jim Malewitz is reporting that Staples is set to be named the next head of the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA), the state’s largest and oldest petroleum group. Malewitz cites a source close to Staples saying an announcement is expected today.
"Staples would take over at a time of historic growth in oil and gas production. Spurred by technological advances like hydraulic fracturing, Texas has reached production numbers unseen in more than three decades, helping the state's Rainy Day Fund grow to $8 billion," Malewitz wrote. "The industry has also drawn increased scrutiny from those who have raised concerns about the industry’s impact on the environment, public health and local infrastructure."
Staples would replace Rob Looney, the longtime head of the association, who said in March that he was leaving, Malewitz wrote.

Does fear of diversity drive Houstonians to the suburbs?

That seems to be the conclusion of this recent essay in Houstonia:

- Click here for the article.


A large part of this distrust [of cities] is driven by the fear of what urbanism brings: Poor people. Immigrant people. People who aren’t like us. That’s what drives our sprawl—that distrust, that fear of The Other. Diversity is no problem, as one longtime Houstonian once said, until we have to live together.

A hundred-plus years ago, the first American suburbs were created to afford escape from the masses of Eastern and Southern European immigrants – “the mongrel classes,” as they were known – that filled eastern cities. Now the descendants of those Polish and Italian immigrants live in places like Kingwood and League City, where they watch Fox News and send fevered Tweets about Ebola-infested Mexican babies crowding our inner cities.

Thirty years ago, a law professor named Jonathan Simon wrote a prescient essay, “The Emergence of the Risk Society,” in which he argued that in the emerging American cities, all of the old divisions – race, culture, religious affiliation – would become irrelevant, leaving only one question: Can you get credit and insurance, or can’t you? Simon saw our cities bifurcating into “grey zones”—filled with the poor, the sick, the poorly educated, and others considered “bad risks”—and “safe zones” of gated communities with first-class amenities, populated by well-educated professionals, the kind of people who have no problem getting approved for a bank loan.

We are living in the city Simon envisioned. An acquaintance once told me that his upscale Sugar Land enclave was “more diverse” than my slightly gone-to-seed subdivision in Alief, “because you have just one kind of people, and we have true diversity.” What he meant was that in his neighborhood, some of the Anglos and Latinos and Asians and African Americans were MBAs, and some were physicians, and some were attorneys, while in my neighborhood everybody was just poor. Poor is its own race, its own religion, and those who aren’t Poor fear it, distrust it, want to be as far away from it as they can. That’s how you end up with concentric circles of toll roads, and suburbs that stretch halfway to Dallas.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Today in GOVT 2305

The plan is to finish through Federalist #10, then hit the main parts of Federalist #51, and look through the powers delegated to the national government in Section 8 of Article One of the Constitution.

This handy little chart on the checks and balances should be helpful also.

http://www.kminot.com/art/charts/branches.jpg

From the Washington Post: For the first time, there are more single American adults than married ones, and here’s where they live

This marks a significant demographic shift. We should consider what changes might result in the types of items that come to the public agenda as a result.

- Click here for the article.

Singles dominate most metropolitan areas:



From the Texas Tribune: Is it Time to Ditch Texas' Key Man Grand Jury System?

Here's something related to our look at the Texas Bill of Rights in 2306 - notably the guarantee that people do not have to face trial unless they have been indicted by a grand jury. This is meant to limit the executive and ensure that the decision to go to trial is not abused, but questions exist about whether the grand jury system in fact places limits on the executive. Will indict whoever the district attorney wishes indicted?

The Texas Tribune mentions that each county determines how to put grand juries together and some use the "key man system" as opposed to a random selection process. They are critical of its use:

- Click here for the article.

Many Texas courts in larger cities rely on a so-called “key man” selection process, where judges choose a commissioner responsible for recruiting a panel of grand jurors. That method — one that is unusual nationally — was not chosen for Perry’s grand jury because the visiting judge overseeing the case comes from a part of the state where random selection is preferred.

But as the Perry case moves to trial, it is prompting questions about Texas’ quirky key man grand jury system — and whether it is time to ditch it entirely. Critics of the key man system suggest that using random selection in Perry’s case was a good defense against perceived or actual bias — and that it should be used in all Texas criminal cases.

“The difficulty is, where did the ‘key man’ come from?” asked Larry Karson, a criminal justice professor at the University of Houston-Downtown who in 2004 studied the key man system. “What is the relationship of the key man to the judge? And what is the relationship of the potential grand juror to the key man?”

Texas law allows judges in its 254 counties to decide for themselves whether to have grand jurors chosen at random or selected by a key man — a method frequently used by judges in Austin, Dallas and Houston.

It's an important question: should grand juries be selected in the same way the trial juries are selected? Will that result in a fairer process for determining who faces trial and who does not?


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

From My San Antonio: Texas nationalists see hope in possible Scottish secession

- Something fun to chew on:

Texas nationalists are awaiting Scotland's pending vote on seceding from the United Kingdom in the hopes it could happen in Texas.

Scottish voters will hit the polls Thursday to decide whether to break long-standing ties with the United Kingdom, which currently contains Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Secessionists in Texas have seized on Scotland's possible independence: in a post about the vote, the Texas Nationalist Movement wrote on their website, "Scotland's internal and external opponents of independence sound like the typical battered wife syndrome."

"Centralists in America fear that, if Scotland votes yes, it may set a chain of events in motion that could affect many more western regions," the movement organizers wrote. "Suddenly, the impossible seems possible."

With some new attention on Texas nationalism comes repeated arguments for independence: Yahoo columnist Rick Newman notes that — with its GDP of $1.6 trillion and population of 27 million — Texas would be the 13th largest country in the world if it obtained independence from the United States. He also wrote Texas could lure companies away from the United States and survive on the strength of its economy.

On the flip side, Newman pointed out that Texas would have to create its own defense apparatus and adapt to losing federal funds.

In addition, support for Texas nationalism is relegated to a relatively small contingent of Texas residents and is not a mainstream view, said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.

"That [popular] support is severely lacking," Jones said.

Secession is still illegal - but dreams die hard.




The Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968

This is the law referenced in the previous post. We will be looking at the legislative branches in both 2305 and 2306 soon. We'll look over the bill making process and the hurdles bills must clear if they are to become law - most don't.

- Click here a look at the wikipedia on the bill.

Note the different sections - including one that established a new agency to oversee implementation of the law.

From ProPublica: Old Debts, Fresh Pain: Weak Laws Offer Debtors Little Protection

http://talentenbank.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Credit-Card-Debt.jpgWe're reading through some of Federalist #10 in GOVT 2305 this week and this story reminded me of some of the paper's content. In it Madison argues that political conflict ultimately stems from self interest. We take positions on issues based on how they impact us. Policy tends to be set by which ever side has a majority - so the interests of the majority will be most likely be served.

He offers this little tidbit:

Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them. Yet the parties are, and must be, themselves the judges; and the most numerous party, or, in other words, the most powerful faction must be expected to prevail.

Based on this, its fair to say that the interests of creditors are far more represented in the legislature that the interests of debtors. The piece in ProPublica illustrates this. It concerns a law that allows wages to be garnished for credit card debt. It's worth considering whether the law presents the best and fairest way to handle credit card debt - or merely one that best secures the interests of the most powerful groups in Congress and those that support them.

- Click here for the article.

The federal law regulating garnishment harkens back to 1968, when the financial life of Americans was much simpler. Time has eroded what even then were modest protections. The law barred creditors from taking any wages from the very poorest of workers, but used a calculation based on the minimum wage to identify them. Since the federal minimum wage hasn't kept pace with inflation, today, only workers earning about $11,000 annually or less— a wage below the poverty line— are protected. The law also allows collectors to garnish a quarter of a debtor's after-tax pay, an amount that government surveys show is plainly unaffordable for many families.

And the law is silent on perhaps the most punishing tactic of collectors: It doesn't prohibit them from cleaning out debtors' bank accounts. As a result, a collector can't take more than 25 percent of a debtor's paycheck, but if that paycheck is deposited in a bank, all of the money in the account can be grabbed to pay down the debt.
State laws, while often more comprehensive than the federal rules, vary widely. Only a handful, for instance, automatically protect a minimum amount of funds in a debtor's account.

When garnishment protections do exist, the burden is usually on debtors to figure out if and how the laws protect their assets.

Monday, September 15, 2014

This week - 4 - in GOVT 2306

In class we will reading through the parts of the Texas Constitution, specifically the articles related to the Texas Bill of Rights, Counties and Municipal Corporations. We will also look through the principle of separated powers as it applies to states generally and - of course - Texas specifically. I think its interesting to compare how the checks and balances work in Texas as opposed to the national government. I have a hunch that the method in Texas allows for power to consolidate through elections and one party rule.

The three sections opened this week. Each look at the nature of the three governing institutions - the legislative, executive and judicial. This is done to make sure we're clear on what these institutions are, what they do and the differences in the design of each across the states - as well as how the state design can be very different than what we see on the national level. These slides look at the local level as well.

The simple purpose of these sections is to prep you for an in-depth look at these in Texas and the local level starting with next week's slides on the Texas legislature.

- State Legislatures
- State Executives
- State Judiciaries

This week - 4 - in GOVT 2305

I linked to three new sections, one of which still needs another couple of days for tweaking - the one on due process. I'll describe each below.

In lecture classes I want to review a few items related to ideology since some of that content seem to have not quite sunk in - I consider this to be my fault. I suggested you take the Nolan Survey as another way to gauge your ideology. I think we should do so as a class so I anticipate doing so first. Then we'll read through both Federalist #10 and Federalist #51. Each will help us understand how the problems presented by human nature - self interest and ambition - are handled by the design of the constitution. We should end up with a better understanding of why we are a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy, as well as an appreciation for the conflict we see between the branches.

We'll do the same - to a lesser degree - Federalist #45 and the principle of federalism. The main goal there will be to understand the relative powers of each level of government and the factors that have led to conflict between the state and national governments.

This is what's been open this week:

Federalist 84, Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights.

This is the fourth of the sections on basic principles within the Constitution. Individual liberty was considered a goal by all participants within the convention - though as we will note at different points that there idea of who qualified as a person deserving of individual liberty was very different than ours.

A principal issue in this section will be how individual liberty is best secured. This was a central argument in the constitutional convention. The Framers of the document did not believe that a bill of rights was necessary for the national document - though it was for the states. We will discuss that controversy and have a birds eye view of the resulting ten amendments.


Religious Liberty - The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses

Here we'll take a more careful look at the first two clauses of the First Amendment, the one's that prohibit Congress from passing laws about establishing religion or restricting its free exercise. We will note that through the 14th Amendment these restrictions apply to the state and local governments, which is a recipe for controversy.

As a practical matter, these restrictions provide an opportunity for people who believe that a policy passed by the national, state or local government has forced them to recognize a church, or prohibited the exercise of the religion of their choice. This has forced the Supreme Court to make rulings adapting these restrictions to specific circumstances. We review these in this section which will allow us to come to terms with what these parts of the Constitution mean right now.

The Due Process of the Law.

(Note: This section won't be ready until Wednesday)

This section has the same objective as the former one, but this focuses on those factors that limit the manner in which the discretionary power of those parts of the government that implement and adjudicate the law.

Police, prosecutors and judges must act in accordance with restrictions placed on them in the 4th through the 8th Amendments, and as with the rest of the Bill of Rights, these apply to state and local forces through the 14th Amendment. And - also - as with the previous section, these restrictions have been altered over the course of time.

We will come to terms with the nature of these changes.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Weekly Written Assignment #4

I suggested in class that I might postpone asking you for your paper proposals until week 5 since the president suggested we might be headed back to war. I thought it might worth using this week's assignment to hone your ability to dig into the facts regarding current controversies.

So that's what I'm going to do.

Keep thinking about paper proposals, but for this week:

GOVT 2305

President Obama gave a speech last week announcing that proactive measures will be used to degrade ISIS - or ISIL, or the Islamic State, or whatever we're calling it.

But some critics wonder whether ISIS poses a real, substantive threat to the United States. We know Russia does because they have nuclear weapons - as do a few other nations, but ISIS has more conventional weapons - and some sharp knives.

Others disagree of course, but I want you to try to get at the facts underlying this.

Does ISIS actually pose a significant military threat to the United States? If so, what is the nature of that threat? Says who? What proof is offered? Do you buy it? What motives might underlie those who say that ISIS is - or isn't - a threat?

Keep in mind that other threats exist and focusing limited resources in one direction might make it more difficult to address others.

GOVT 2306

I also want you to look at the what facts underlie a perceived threat that seem to be driving certain political movements in Texas.

We hear some insist that the border with Mexico is not secured, and that actions have to be taken to make it so, but again, what is the proof that this is the case?

What evidence is offered to back up the claim that the border with Mexico is in fact unsecured. Keep in mind that we have an armed Border Patrol down there. What are they doing exactly?

You might want to look broadly at what constitutes a secure border. What does the term actually mean? What doe sit take to achieve that ideal? How much money is reasonable to spend to achieve that goal? Has the border in fact ever been secured under that rationale?

If you have questions on either of these. let me know.

You know the rules - be sure to answer the question objectively and factually. I am not interested in personal opinion, just the facts ok?

This will be due at noon Monday 22nd.

Regarding Franklin's quote

The previous post will call to mind Benjamin Franklin's famous quote. I stumbled on one person's explanation of the context of the quote. You might find it worth a quick read. It involves a power struggle during the colonial era.

- Click here for the article.
The words appear originally in a 1755 letter that Franklin is presumed to have written on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the colonial governor during the French and Indian War. The letter was a salvo in a power struggle between the governor and the Assembly over funding for security on the frontier, one in which the Assembly wished to tax the lands of the Penn family, which ruled Pennsylvania from afar, to raise money for defense against French and Indian attacks. The governor kept vetoing the Assembly’s efforts at the behest of the family, which had appointed him. So to start matters, Franklin was writing not as a subject being asked to cede his liberty to government, but in his capacity as a legislator being asked to renounce his power to tax lands notionally under his jurisdiction. In other words, the “essential liberty” to which Franklin referred was thus not what we would think of today as civil liberties but, rather, the right of self-governance of a legislature in the interests of collective security.
What’s more the “purchase [of] a little temporary safety” of which Franklin complains was not the ceding of power to a government Leviathan in exchange for some promise of protection from external threat; for in Franklin’s letter, the word “purchase” does not appear to have been a metaphor. The governor was accusing the Assembly of stalling on appropriating money for frontier defense by insisting on including the Penn lands in its taxes–and thus triggering his intervention. And the Penn family later offered cash to fund defense of the frontier–as long as the Assembly would acknowledge that it lacked the power to tax the family’s lands. Franklin was thus complaining of the choice facing the legislature between being able to make funds available for frontier defense and maintaining its right of self-governance–and he was criticizing the governor for suggesting it should be willing to give up the latter to ensure the former.
In short, Franklin was not describing some tension between government power and individual liberty. He was describing, rather, effective self-government in the service of security as the very liberty it would be contemptible to trade. Notwithstanding the way the quotation has come down to us, Franklin saw the liberty and security interests of Pennsylvanians as aligned.

Security trumps civil liberty

Just in time for our upcoming look at civil liberties, Andrew Sullivan points to a Pew Center report which reveals - among other things - that Americans are more worried about security than civil rights. The poll was conducted from September 2 - 9th, meaning that it is likely that this is a response to the recent be-headings.

This might be the key graphic in the study:

Shifting Public Views on Balance Between Security and Civil Liberties  

Notice that we tend to err on the side of security since 2004 - almost certainly a reaction to 9/11. I mentioned in a couple classes that Congress is not expected to work on legislation curtailing the NSA surveillance program, and given recent events it may well be that members of Congress will feel little support for doing so now.

We should spend sometime discussing how two be headings in a desert thousands of miles from the United States has been able to transform American public policy so quickly. In 2305 we will be looking at Federalist #10 and the constitutional mechanism in place intended to limit the direct impact shifts in opinion can have on public policy.

It's worth considering whether the nature of social media has negated those limits.

Take the Nolan Survey

When we get back next week I want to clarify a few items related to ideology. One way you can get a head start is to take - yet another - online quiz.

This is a pretty simple one designed to determine where you line up on issues of personal and economic freedom. The answers are used to determine your ideological viewpoint, but in a manner that draws a direct relationship between issue positions and ideology.

- Here's a link to the survey - the Nolan Survey.

- This one is much shorter, but far less detailed.

Take it. We'll take it as a class - lecture classes anyway - early next week.

You'll see yourself placed somewhere in this chart:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The problem with Ferguson? Big small government

This author continues a line of argument begun here - one stemming from Madison's criticisms of local government. The problem in Ferguson is that small government are more intrusive in individual rights - especially those of minorities - than are larger governments.

2305 students should not how he couches the argument in terms of ideology.

- Click here for the article.


When the town of Ferguson, Missouri, exploded last month, there was an effervescent moment when right and left agreed on the problem. The problem, Democrats and Republicans concurred, was militarized police. It was the perfect trans-ideological nightmare, combining the right’s fear of centralized authority with the left’s fear of excessive military force.

In point of fact, police militarization bore only the faintest responsibility for the tragedy in Ferguson. At worst, the weaponry at the disposal of the town’s cops made them more aggressive in responding to protesters. But old-fashioned policing tools were all the Ferguson police needed to engage in years of discriminatory treatment, to murder Michael Brown, and to rough up journalists covering the ensuing protests. Police militarization was a largely unrelated problem that happened to be on bright display. Over the ensuing days, it grew apparent that demilitarizing the police might save the government some money but would not address the crisis’s underlying cause, and the momentary consensus evaporated.

The shame of it is Ferguson has exposed a genuine opening for thinking about public life in a way that cuts across traditional ideological lines. The problem is what you might call Big Small Government.

. . . In very different ways, both right and left have exhibited forms of this mental block. The most concise encapsulation of the dynamite on the right is two sentences that appeared in Rand Paul’s widely ballyhooed opinion piece in Time during the Ferguson protests: “There’s a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement. Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem.”

Here was Paul laying bare the mechanics of his ideology. Any problem, by definition, is caused by big government. The most identifiable policy relating to big government at work in Ferguson was a program to arm the local police. Therefore, militarization was the problem.

Paul was expressing an almost axiomatic belief on the right that bad government equals big government, and big government equals centralized government. It is not that American conservatives consistently favor the expansion of state and local government, but merely that they see it as inherently superior to the federal version. (In the words of Paul Ryan, “government closest to the people governs best.”) Thus, conservatives have directed their energies primarily against Washington. The association is so deeply rooted that even figures who are staring directly at a different kind of problem—at Big Small Government—simply cannot see it.

From Quorum Report: Round 2: SBOE conservatives take another swing at Advanced Placement course

Something to augment our look at education in Texas:

Resolution instructs College Board to rewrite its "anti-American revisionist history"

The culture wars at the State Board of Education seem to be starting anew after Board Member Ken Mercer placed a resolution on next week’s State Board of Education agenda calling on the College Board to rewrite its new Advanced Placement US History curriculum because negative anti-American bias out of step with recent standards set by the Texas state board.

The College Board, including a Texas US history teacher on the national writing team, addressed the State Board of Education at its July meeting, noting the many elements noted to be missing from the old and new curriculum were left up to the teachers to insert into their own lectures.

That did not please Mercer, who has been the most vocal opponent of the course.

“The elected Texas State Board of Education strongly admonishes the College board for failing to listen to numerous complaints of parents, educators and concerned citizens,” wrote Mercer in the resolution. “And be it further the Texas State Board of Education recommends that a committee be convened to draft an APUSH framework that is consistent both with the APUSH course’s traditional mission and with the shared purpose of (Career and College Readiness Standards), the (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and the Texas Education Code, and with the desires of Texas parents and other citizens for students to learn the true history of their country.”

In his draft proclamation, Mercer notes 46,000 of the 500,000 students across the country who take the AP US History test are from Texas. That may be true, but the course enrollment numbers are even higher. Last year’s student count for AP US History was 68,034 students across the state. If you were to assume that every student who took the course was a junior, that would mean one out of every five students in Texas last year enrolled in the Advanced Placement US History course.

David Coleman, CEO of College Board, has denied the new curriculum minimizes the contributions of historic Americans. He has, in fact, done something College Board has never done: released the AP US History exam for review.

That’s approximately three times the number of students who take AP Spanish, AP Biology and AP Macroeconomics. Only AP English Language and Composition has higher enrollment numbers, according to the Texas Education Agency’s enrollment counts from the 2013-14 school year.

Some preliminary comments on the answers to GOVT''s 2305 second weekly assignment

http://blog.alphaarchitect.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/ideology-is-the-source-of-political-gridlock-58326.jpgAfter reading a handful of responses to the second weekly assignment for GOVT 2305 I've concluded that I should have spend a bit more time on ideology, so I'll post a few items illustrating the main concepts of the four I asked you to consider: conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism and socialism. I asked you to think of the ways that people who identified with each would process the events in Ferguson and determine what the underlying problem was and what solutions might exist to combat it.

I'll post a few recent stories that illustrate how the concepts are used, but remembers that sufficient information to answer this question is in the class notes - notably sections 2 and 3. I try to be helpful that way.

Here's some of what I was looking for, an understanding that each viewpoint rests on an underlying value which guides adherents in figuring out what to think about certain event - like the shooting in Ferguson. It helps explain the public policy process because it influences what is and is not likely to come to the public agenda, and if it does, how it will be framed.

This is very loose and can be easily challenged, but one way to determine what principle value underlies each of the ideologies I asked you reference:

  • libertarianism - liberty
  • conservatism - traditionalism
  • liberalism - equality balanced by liberty
  • socialism - equality

This is meant to be simplistic. Exceptions and modification exist, and some of these overlap, but using this as a guideline it's easy to see that a libertarian might prioritize militarized police forces as a primary instigator of this conflict - or at least a major concern revealed by the event. A conservative night not even see much of a problem here at all. Police are there to enforce traditional relationships and impose law and order and they may be more willing to see things the way that justifies police activity.

Both liberalism and socialism prioritize equality as a principle value and would likely look at any inequities that exist between the people of Ferguson and the broader society. Differences along racial lines would likely predominate, but class distinctions would as well. This would also include analysis of law enforcement tactics. Are minority populations treated the same as white folks? If not - and evidence suggests they are not - is that a driving force behind the conflict we see on display? These groups would likely agree. The difference between the socialist and the liberal would be the degree to which they would want to upend existing arrangements in order to address this inequality. The socialist would likely favor a radical redistribution of wealth where the liberal would temper that with an acknowledgement of individual property rights.

I'll post more - but these are concepts that are important to internalize and understand.

And yes they will be on the final.

How to interpret the Constitution



We talked about this a bit in a couple classes. Disputes over interpretation are covered in the last few slides in section 6 where we take an overview of the Constitution. We hit these controversies in later sections of the class - but here's a novel take on the dispute.

- Click here for more from Troubletown.

Reactions to the President's speech

Andrew Sullivan doe a good job of rounding up reactions to things like this, so you might want to peruse through the commentators he links to to get an idea about how his proposal was received.

I'll try to summarize at some point.

- The Case For War: Blog Reax.
- The Case For War: Tweet Reax II.
- The Case For War: Tweet Reax.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Blame George Washington

A history professor points out that the conflict between Congress and the President over war making was settled - in the Constitution - in favor of Congress, but things changed quickly due to the fact that our first president was a general, with some understanding of the military.

As a result, Congress began the habit of deferring to the president in military matters. Most of what Congress did was to respond after the fact to military matters which the executive got in the habit of embarking upon as it deemed necessary.

- Click here for the article.

In 1787, delegates met in Philadelphia to discuss revising the older “Articles of Confederation” that governed the U.S. They quickly jettisoned these, dedicating themselves instead to crafting the document that would become the U.S. Constitution.
The delegates were almost unanimous in their belief that war powers would rest in the hands of the legislature, not the executive branch. In fact, early drafts of the Constitution specified that Congress would have the power to “make war.” This was ultimately changed to “declare war” to avoid tying the hands of the president in the case of sudden attacks. But most essential functions of war-making, and by extension, foreign policy, remained in the hands of Congress.
In this formulation, the executive simply executed the will of Congress. The president was the “commander in chief,” but when it came to decisions about going to war, continuing wars and funding wars, Congress supplied the brains, and the president provided the muscle.
Problems began with the first president. George Washington knew more about war than anyone in Congress, and he immediately shifted the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches. The catalyst was a war of sorts, but one that wouldn't be waged against the standing army of another nation.
Instead, Washington sought "buy in" to go after the Indian tribes that began attacking white settlers on the western frontier in the late 1780s. Like the Islamic State today, they posed a threat that was at once amorphous, hard to reach, and even harder to combat. The Miami and Shawnee tribes of the Ohio River Valley had scalped and murdered settlers, stolen livestock and taken civilians captive.
In 1789, Washington dutifully went to Congress, and warned lawmakers that it might be necessary to “punish aggressors” on the western frontier. Congress, preoccupied by other matters, declared that it wouldn't “hesitate to concur in such further measures” that Washington had in mind. No formal vote authorizing war was held.

From the Constitution Daily: The War Powers Resolution returns to the public arena

We took a a bird-eye view of the U.S. Constitution in GOVT 2305 today and pointed out a variety of controversies associated with each Article. The extent of commander in chief powers is center stage right now as the President preps for an address detailing his plan for confronting ISIS.

He claims he does not need congressional approval, but some are arguing that going to Congress makes it more likely that he will be able to build support for whatever actions he chooses to engage in, especially if those actions take time.

The staff of the Constitution Daily reminds us of the War Powers Resolution and the continuing impact it has. War making power has returned to the public agenda.

- Click here for the article.


In the past month, the debate over U.S. military intervention has focused on a statute and one direct part of the Constitution.
Article II of the Constitution spells out that “the President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states.” The statute in play is the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq Resolution of 2002, also known as the AUMF of 2002. (The first AUMF was passed right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.)
The AUMF of 2002 specifically says, “the President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”
According to media reports, President Obama met with a group of foreign policy experts on Monday night and explained his rationalization for expanding American military attacks in Iraq and extending them to ISIS forces based in Syria.
The Washington Post reports that Obama told the group of bipartisan policy experts that he doesn’t need congressional authorization to expand air strikes in Iraq and Syria. One expert told the Post that the Obama administration will argue that the President’s constitutional powers and the AUMF of 2002 together give him the “legal authority” to proceed.
Reports also indicated the administration expected its actions against ISIS to take several years since it wants to “degrade and destroy” its total operations. Secretary of State John Kerry also talked about an extended fight against ISIS when he arrived in Iraq on Wednesday morning.
Several members of Congress are calling for the President to formally ask for approval before expanding the attacks beyond the 60-day window required in the War Powers Resolution.
Two Senators, Tim Kaine and Rand Paul, have called for a vote, and at least one Senator, Mark Kirk, says a congressional vote would allow the deliberative body to go on record as supporting the funding of a potentially long struggle with ISIS.
“We really should have a vote, the process of a vote puts all congressmen and senators on record and it is the process of enlisting the American people in a long and expensive conflict,” Kirk said on Monday.

From the Dish: The Nightmare Scenario

Andrew Sullivan is worried that we are not approaching the threat posed by ISIS rationally. The be-headings have led people to want to respond in a manner disproportionate to the actual danger the groups poses.

This reminds me of some of the material we covered that touched on political knowledge and whether the public provides a rational foundation for the republic.

- Click here for his post.


One reason why I oppose this new Iraq War, in other words, is that I fear that it could well increase the threat to the US, rather than reduce it. Our panicked response to two executions in a distant desert could actually lead to a far greater wave of Jihadist terror than would otherwise be the case. They’ll now be aiming for New York as much as Baghdad. We’ve all but dared them.

Then there is the domestic part – and the most depressing. Obama – despite what he did with Syria, and despite his campaign pledges – wants to launch a new war in Iraq and Syria on his own presidential authority. At a time when we desperately need a careful consideration of a war’s potential unintended consequences, a deliberative debate in the Senate on the pros and cons of this new adventure in Arabia, Obama only wants a rubber stamp for a war already underway. The Republicans, moreover, in ever more cynical fashion, will be quite happy to let Obama take all the responsibility and all of the blame for the next Middle East nightmare, while taking no responsibility for the war themselves. That way, they can blame Obama for failure, and claim credit for success, while never playing the essential constitutional role they are supposed to play.

To recap: we are going to war with no clear exit plan; we are doing so before the regional allies have been forced to take a stand; Obama is shouldering all of the responsibility himself, based on a hysterical public mood that could evaporate in a month’s time. To argue that this is a reneging of everything Obama ran on is an understatement. Even Bush went to Congress for a vote before the Iraq War. And the legitimization of panic and fear and hysteria undoes so much of what Obama had previously achieved in amending US foreign policy.


Congress back in session as of this past Monday

The 113th Congress took a five week recess which allowed members the opportunity to connect with constituents in their home districts.

Now they are back in DC and reports are that they will spend two weeks working on three key items before taking another break in order to prep for the election in early November. All 435 seats in the House are up for grabs while only a third of those in the Senate are.

The items the Congress is argued to spent time are:

1 - Passing a continuing resolution to keep the government funded and avoid a shutdown. We'll note soon enough that the word budget does not appear in the Constitution, though there is a requirement that appropriations bills be passed in order for money to be drawn from the treasury. The question is whether this will in fact be done. If it doesn't, there's no more money for many government programs, so they then shut down. Here are thoughts regarding that matter:

- Congress is back. Is another government shutdown coming?
- Click here to find out what a continuing resolution is.

2 - Determine whether the Export - Import Bank should be reauthorized. It survives based on a series of charters and the most recent one is set to expire this month. The agency dates back to the 1930s and has helped back up funding for foreign trade that is deemed too risky by the private sector. It has become a bit of a political football recently. Tea Party conservatives have targeted it for closure, though business conservatives want to keep it open. Commentators have noted that this issue points out divisions within the Republican Party that may widen.

- Wikipedia: Export - Import Bank of the United States.
- Ex-Im Bank Hits Hurdle in New GOP Leadership.
- The misleading debate on the Export-Import Bank.

3 - What to do about ISIS? This also includes questions about whether Congressional input is even necessary given the authorization the president has already been granted previously. Even if constitutional justification exist for the president to go forward on his own, there are questions about whether getting Congress to go along helps broaden political support for whatever actions are decided upon.

- Obama to Congress: No vote needed on ISIS strategy.
- 9/11 rips Congress on ISIS.
- Obama Wants Congress' Support On ISIS, But He May Not Need It.

Those are one person's opinion about what Congress may choose to act on, but there's more on the agenda - its just a matter of what they determine is worth acting upon prior to the election.

Here's what they probably wont get to and why - it's worth determining why some item are more likely to be dealt with than others - maybe this would be a good future written assignment.

- Welcome Back, Congress! Here Are 15 Issues Awaiting Your Return.
- Seven Big Items Congress Won't Get to This Fall.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Will marijuana be legalized in Texas?

If there's money to be made by doing so, I wouldn't bet against it. Political forces seem to be slowly lining up - including conservative ones - that could make a push to at least decriminalize it. File this under public policy, in addition to interest groups.

- Click here for the article.

Former FEMA director Joe Allbaugh, who took the reins of Gov. Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign just as it was going into a nosedive, has jumped into a potentially more stable and long-term endeavor: legal marijuana.

Allbaugh is an investor in and board director of Colorado-based CannLabs, which calls itself “a leader in cannabis innovation” and specializes in the testing of pot potency and quality.

The company already has a major presence in Colorado, recently expanded into Connecticut and is positioning itself to take advantage of what could be exponential growth in the legal weed business across the country.

Allbaugh is a conservative Republican who served as chief of staff to then-Gov. George W. Bush and then managed his 2000 presidential campaign. He heads up Allbaugh International Group, a consulting firm with offices in Washington, D.C., and Austin.



So you want to run for office in Pearland?

The Pearland Chamber of Commerce wants to teach you how (thanks to the student who sent this to me).

- Click here for the article.

On Saturday, November 15, the Pearland Chamber of Commerce is presenting an in-depth and informative workshop for individuals looking to run for local political offices. The broad overview will be educational for any City, School, County, State or Federal position.

The inaugural Candidate School will provide prospective candidates with the tools to make a good and solid decision to run for office. A summary of the legal rules and regulations on running a good campaign, ethics, interaction with political consultants, elected officials past and present, and vendors of campaign services will be offered.

“The Pearland Chamber feels very strongly about providing the opportunity for individuals who are considering a run for office to learn how the process works and give them some ideas on how to run their campaign. Several elected positions have been sought and are held by past board members of the Chamber, but we have never offered this type of specific education. The Candidate School will provide an in-depth orientation on what to expect” said Carol Artz-Bucek, President /CEO of the Pearland Chamber of Commerce.

The cost for the Candidate School is $75 per participant. The full-day workshop is scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. with registration, a casual meet-and-greet session, qualified presenters, a working lunch, a thorough question and answer session with a 3:00 p.m. planned adjournment.

Extra credit to any student who attends and reports on it.

Might be fun if one of you decides to jump in the ring.








From Slate: College in a Box: Textbook giants are now teaching classes.

I'd say this is the future of higher education, but its really the present. This describes the bulk of what you are currently taking online - and in class as well.

- Click here for the article.

We've kicked around the public policy process and discussed the factors that make them difficult to change, but rapid technological shifts can make policy changes very easy an very swift.

I'd like feedback from lecture students about whether this is a good or bad thing. Physical college instruction may be a relic. This has produced a disruption in the economics of higher education which will sooner or later impact its current design. The community college as we know it - and higher ed in general - might be on it's last legs.

What can a classroom instructor offer that a textbook - with online content - can't?

But its worth considering whether the use of prepackaged online classes is a cop out. I try to avoid this by creating my own material, but I can't pretend its nearly as slick as what a well funded textbook company - like Pearson - can produce.

Monday, September 8, 2014

This week - 3 - in GOVT 2306

After laying the foundation for our look at Texas government last week with the sections on the Texas Declaration of Independence and the Texas Constitution(s) this week looks at two - actually three - specific sections within the constitution and sets up a look at the three governing institutions statewide.

- The Texas Bill of Rights. This is the first article in the Texas Constitution and it will allow us to contrast the way that rights and liberties are established in the state and the national government. If you've taken 2305 you'll remember that the U.S. Bill of Rights was amended to the constitution after ratification and as a condition of it. A government based on delegated powers did not need such a document according to the framers, but opponents needed a guarantee.

States are different matters since their powers are potentially endless. While walking through this document we will also begin to note the features in the Texas Constitution that are explicitly intended to keep the powers of state government restricted. We will also note the breadth of rights covered in this section, plus the language that makes rights more of a guarantee than that you see on the national level.

Local Governments in Texas. This takes us to two sections in the Texas Constitution, the 9th which covers counties and the 11th which covers municipal corporation (cities). This section gives us our best opportunity to look at the purposes of each of these levels of governments as well as the nuances between the two.

They are very different entities and serve very different purposes.

- The Separated Powers. This section is meant mostly as a reminder of material we would have covered in 2305 about the purpose of the separated powers, as well as the problems it can pose for governance. Powers are designed differently in the state of Texas, which raises the possibility - and reality - that the legislative, executive and judicial powers are checked in different ways, with different results.

It's an open question whether governing power in Texas is far more likely to become concentrated than power on the national level.

This section will also set us up to begin looking more thoroughly at the governing powers in the state in sections 3,4, and 5 of the Constitution.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

This week - 3 - in GOVT 2305

Last week's reading were intended to introduce students to the two key founding document in American history, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We're still playing a little catch up in class, but I plan to read through both early in the week. It's important to understand the argument contained in the former and the structure of the latter.

It's also important to understand  that the content of each document is the product of years - centuries - of history. I'll try to point this out as we go through each. The Constitution especially is probably best seen as the product of trial and error rather than a deliberate plan ahead.

This week I've opened up quizzes on the sections covering the principles embedded in the Constitution. We'll be looking at four: republicanism, separated powers, federalism, and individual liberty. I've opened material for the first three. You'll note that each is accompanied by one of the Federalist Papers since these are the documents that best describes why each in important.

Here's a quick look at each:

Federalist 10 and the Republic. As we've discussed before, the United States is a republic - a democratic republic - and this can be defined in many ways including a government "where ultimate authority and power is derived from the citizens, and the government itself is run through elected officials."

This makes a republic different than a democracy - or at least a direct democracy. The people are the basis of authority and power, but they delegate this power to elected officials that they can then hold accountable in periodic elections. The people do not rule directly. Their preferences are - if you will - sifted through the legislative, executive and judicial institutions. This is the system deliberately designed by the framers in the constitutional convention.

This section tries to explain why they preferred a republic to a democracy. As with other aspects of their thought, the answer is not pretty. It reveals the deep suspicion the framers had about the capabilities of the general public. Even though they knew that a republic had to rest its authority on the general population, they wanted to avoid the fate of previous republics be tempering that influence.

Federalist #10 details both the suspicion and the solution to it. I hope to spend the bulk of class later this week reading through the document and detailing exactly what the framers - James Madison anyway - though Congress was supposed to do. Hint: the contentiousness we see in Congress was expected. While there are nuances to the current level of dispute - there is nothing new with the fact that the two side in office dislike each other. It's how we are hard wired.

- Federalist 51 and the Separation of Powers. A point made in a couple of places already - notably in the section on the Declaration of Independence - is that a key development in governing systems has been the gradual distribution of governing power among different institutions. We'll hit this point in other areas of the class as well, but this section tries to illustrate how central a concept this is to the governing system in the United States. It's even embedded in the opening three articles of the Constitution.

By this time, the point has hopefully been made enough that it needn't be repeated that much more. What does need to be developed is the practical question of (1) how do you separate powers and (2) how do you maintain that separation? That's James Madison's goal in Federalist #15. You'll note when we get to it that - just as with the preservation of the republic - human nature plays a key role in achieving this goal.

Madison's suspicions of human nature are not restricted to the mass public - he has similar misgivings about elites, but with a twist. Elites are ambitious - and there's little that can be done to change that. They will always want more power. The best that can be done is to arrange the powers in such a way that the aggression of each can serve as a check on those of others.

As with the previous section, we'll note that this arrangement almost guarantees conflict - the type of conflict we commonly see in the news. It's common for people to complain that we govern in a manner that the framers of the Constitution would object to. I;m never sure if that's the case.

- Federalist 45 and Federalism. The previous two sections cover principles that the framers of the Constitution assumed necessary to the system's design from the beginning. Federalism is different.
The term refers to the division of power into two basic levels of government: the national and state. More thoroughly it refers to local governments as well: cities, counties, single purpose governments and all that.

It was not an anticipated outcome of the convention. It was instead a compromise. The proper relationship between the national and state governments was perhaps the most contentious topic in the convention and it resulted eventually in an arrangement clouded in ambiguity. This had led to repeated controversies over American history as each generation of Americans wrestles with the proper relationship between national power and state power - especially as the relative roles of each is challenged by the changes in technology and morays.

Possible topics for an essay on the 2014 elections for GOVT 2305 AHS

This post is primarily for GOVT 2305 AHS students who don't have an assigned book to base their critical essay on. I've asked them to develop an essay based on some aspect of the upcoming election and left it largely to them to do the necessary research - which is a very college thing to do.

I posted a variety of items to spur the research, but here's a bit more to make the search efficient. Remember that since this is a class on the national government, the focus should be on elections to the positions open on the national level. Many directions are possible - these can include looks at the issues related to the overall activities in each institution, including who controls each chamber and what the consequence of that might be, as well as the race for specific positions in Texas.

What's at stake?

On the national level, control of the Unites States House and Senate - which will impact the nature of governance over the next two years, and indirectly influence the 2016 presidential election.

- For detail on the current Congress - the 113th Congress - click here.
- Here's a profile of the 113th Congress from the Congressional Research Service.

Control of Congress is now divided between the two major parties. Republicans control the 435 member House of Representatives by 35 seats, all of which are up for re-election. Democrats could take over the institution by winning 18 seats. Democrats control the Senate. There are 53 Democrats and 2 independents that caucus with the Democrats, and 45 Republicans. If Republicans win 6 seats, they control the institution.

One thing to note - only one third of the Senate is up for grabs. This is a result of the institution's design. Each member of the Senate serves a 6 year term - and these terms are staggered. At no point can the population vote out every member of the Senate, which insulates the institution from the general population. The members that are running for re-election won their seats in the election of 2008 - when President Obama was first elected to the White House.

Ever member of the House is up for re-election since they each serve two year terms, and there are national elections every two years. The House is supposed to be responsive to the shifts in preferences in the general population. The Senate is not.

This should already provide a few hints about possible topics.

- What factors are driving this years' election as opposed to previous ones? You may wish to focus specifically on the race for the House, or the race for the Senate. You may instead choose to think about the difference in the factors that affect each chamber. We have a bicameral Congress for a reason - and the different ways each chamber's elections are designed is central to keeping each chamber distinct.
- Keep in mind that this is a mid-term election, meaning that the presidency is not up for grabs. Turnout will be lower, and substantively different than that during presidential years - this matters. Which groups are passionate about this years election, which ones are not?
- A similar question can be asked about the issues that are driving this year's election. To what degree to these mirror those of previous elections? To what degree are they different? Does this matter for the outcome?
- The last midterm election was one of the most contentious in American history because it featured the Tea Party wave. Republicans won about 60 seats that year. No one is predicting anything similar this year - why? Might they be wrong?
- Control of each institution might come down to a handful of closely divided races in states where the balance between each party is relatively close. You might find it worthwhile to look at these races and determine what small areas of the country might ultimately determine which party controls each institution. Control of the Senate for example, may ultimately come down to the decisions made by the voters of Georgia or Louisiana. What's with that?
- In contrast to the question above - there are few questions about how the voters of Texas will vote and who will win the national positions up for grabs. You might want to consider why. What makes Texas politics less competitive than that in other states?

I'll post a few more things over the nest couple of weeks - but within a couple weeks I'd like you to have a solid idea of what you intend to write about - that'll make the project doable.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Core Assessments

You'll notice that I opened the core assessments in the three posts below.

If you read the syllabus thoroughly - or came to class the first day, if you are a lecture student - you should already be familiar with the fact that the state of Texas now requires us to give you four of these. The 1000 word critical review essay is the 4th assessment.

By the and of the afternoon I'll have the links open in Blackboard where the assessments can be inputted once finished - they are not required until the end of the semester. Don;t use that as an excuse to get behind though.

The Critical Thinking Assessment

I want you to apply your critical thinking skills to an issue raised in one of the major stories so far this semester: the indictment of Governor Perry on two counts: (1) Abuse of Official Capacity and (2) Coercion of a Public Servant.

Together these two counts have led a special prosecutor to claim that the governor has abused his power, but that phrase sounds a bit vague. The governor's supporters have defended him by saying what he did - use his line item veto power to cut funding to the Public Integrity Unit in Travis County - was within his constitutional powers as governor. Opponents disagree by pointing out - as an example - that while one has a right to vote, one does not have a right to sell your vote. It's not the activity, but the circumstances surrounding the activity that are at issue.

Regardless, each suggests that we have some understanding of what the phrase "abuse of power" really means. That's what I want you to use your critical thinking skills to determine. Read up on the conflict - you might want to look at this old post - and try to determine how the term is in fact used by various commentators. What does it mean to say that an elected official abused their power? Critically assess how the term is being used and try to determine if it is being used properly.

One thing to note: there is no statute in the penal code regarding the abuse of power. Instead there are the two charges mentioned above. For clarity on each, click on the appropriate part of the Texas Penal Code.

Abuse of Official Capacity 39.02.
Coercion of a Public Servant. 36.03.

Keep in mind that this is meant to be an objective exercise. Base your analysis on facts, and your rational interpretations of them, not your personal opinions of the governor or the range of people involved in the case.

This is due at the end of the semester - write as much or as little as you like, as long as you answer the question properly. Turn it in in Blackboard.

The Personal Responsibility Assessment

You've been asked previously to assess and comment your own level of political knowledge. You also been asked to consider what consequence political ignorance has for our ability to sustain a democratic republic. If you put two and two together you probably figured out that - to some degree - the future of the republic depends on you and the amount of knowledge you have about the political and governing process, along with its ability to ensure you make informed decisions based on tangible facts.

I hope that puts some weight on your shoulders.

You may have done especially well on the political knowledge quiz, but the problem with this stuff is that it just keeps going on and on. To be politically aware requires loads of work, which makes our brains hurt. But since the consequence is the gradual loss of the ability to have a responsive government - to have a governing system based on self rule - it may be necessary to put up with the headaches.

We have lives to live however, things that require our attention that make it difficult to acquire and process the information necessary to be fully informed citizens.

This creates a problem. How do we in fact become effective citizens? How much work is required?

That's what I want you to comment on in this assessment  - the personal responsibility assessment. What is your personal responsibility to preserve the republic, at least in terms of the knowledge you should acquire in order to be the type of citizen deemed necessary to do so? Keep in mind it is impossible to know everything. With that in mind what type of knowledge is essential to be that type of citizen? What type of knowledge might be superfluous? How much time should be spend staying informed? How much time should be left to other pursuit?

This is not due until the end of the semester.

Write as much or as little as you deem necessary - but this will be graded, keep that in mind. Turn it in in Blackboard.

The Social Responsibility Assessment

In the opening section of this class - the one where I try to explain why the state of Texas has mandated that you take two classes in government - you would have seen the following quote from Jeanne Kirkpatrick, an official in the Reagan Administration, and a leading neo-conservative. (The quote is actually only in the GOVT 2305 section - but it should make sense if you are only taking GOVT 2306.)

The quote comes from an article she wrote for Commentary in the late 1970s. Click here for the article, and here is the quote:

In his essay on Representative Government, John Stuart Mill identified three fundamental conditions which the Carter administration would do well to ponder. These are: "One, that the people should be willing to receive it [representative government]; two, that they should be willing and able to do what is necessary for its preservation; three, that they should be willing and able to fulfill the duties and discharge the functions which it imposes on them."
Fulfilling the duties and discharging the functions of representative government make heavy demands on leaders and citizens, demands for participation and restraint, for consensus and compromise. It is not necessary for all citizens to be avidly interested in politics or well-informed about public affairs–although far more widespread interest and mobilization are needed than in autocracies. What is necessary is that a substantial number of citizens think of themselves as participants in society’s decision-making and not simply as subjects bound by its laws. Moreover, leaders of all major sectors of the society must agree to pursue power only by legal means, must eschew (at least in principle) violence, theft, and fraud, and must accept defeat when necessary. They must also be skilled at finding and creating common ground among diverse points of view and interests, and correlatively willing to compromise on all but the most basic values.
In addition to an appropriate political culture, democratic government requires institutions strong enough to channel and contain conflict. Voluntary, non-official institutions are needed to articulate and aggregate diverse interests and opinions present in the society. Otherwise, the formal governmental institutions will not be able to translate popular demands into public policy.


I want you to pay special attention to what's in bold.

As opposed to the Personal Responsibility Assessment where I'm asking you to consider how much work you have to do on your own to be the type of citizen a democratic republic requires, here I want you consider how what want must mesh with the what other's want.

One of the problematic things about living in a diverse society based on mass participation is that sometimes our side loses, or at least has to compromise. It seems that Ms. Kirkpatrick's point is that part of our social responsibility to is to recognize this - though she also states that we do not have to compromise on basic values, with out defining what these are.

I'm not sure I  know exactly what this means, so I'd like you to comment on it. What responsibilities do you have - as a citizen - to compromise and accept defeat? Maybe you don't. Establish a position on this, give specific examples and justify it.

This is due at the end of the semester.
Make it as long as necessary to make your point.
Turn it in in Blackboard.



Weekly Written Assignment #3

Next week I want you to give me a preliminary proposal for your 1000 word critical essay.

This week I want you to read through the book and give me a general idea about what it is all about.

Hopefully by now you've purchased the assigned book - high school dual credit students don't have a book because I was assigned the class late, so you to look online for information related to the 2014 elections.

I don't expect you to have read the entire thing, but I do want you to skim through the contents and get a general idea about what the books principal contents and arguments are and think about hos it relates to the content of the classroom. Even though we are still early in the semester, we've covered enough that you should find content in the book that gives you something to analyze.

I'll help you clarify this after next week's assignment, but I'll need you to start the process by getting used to what you book is about. Just in case you haven't purchased it, remember that it is listed on your syllabus, and is also listed on the right hand column of this blog.

150 word minimum.
Due September 15.
Let me know if you have questions about it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

From the New Republic: The Greatest Threat to Our Liberty Is Local Governments Run Amok: And only a strong federal government can stop them

Here's a provocative article.

It's something we can talk about in both 2305 and 2306, and it reminds me of  counter-intuitive point we will see in Federalist #10. James Madison though that the lack of diverse points of view in local governments were more likely to allow for tyrannical majorities to emerge and threaten unpopular minorities.

Being a wealthy landowner, as were the rest of the Founders, he was worried about what the property less would do to the propertied class. They were in fact a numerical minority. But the same logic applies to any minority group. Local governments - he claims - are dangerous, and the federal government is needed to limit that danger.

The fault lies in the increased number of states that are dominated by one political party, the demise of the press and an increase in voter ignorance about the working of local government. We are not really aware of the abuses happening at the local level because we tune them out.

This is worth a good discussion in class, but its worth noting that a key point he makes is contrary to what we saw in a previous post suggesting that local government are very responsive to the preferences of the electorate. But if the government is responsive only to the majority, and the majority wishes to violate the rights of the minority, there's little to stop them other than the state or federal government.

Here's a bit from the article - note the use of the terms autocracy and oligarchy.

These are boom times for provincial autocrats. In many chunks of the country, state and local politics were once a competitive affair; there was an opposing political party ready to pounce on its foe’s malfeasance. That sort of robust rivalry, however, hardly exists in an era in which blue and red states have become darker shades of themselves. Thirty-seven states now have unified governments, the most since the early ’50s. And in many of these places, there’s not even a remote chance that the ruling party will be deposed in the foreseeable future. The rise of one-party government has been accompanied by the evisceration of the local press and the near-extinction of metro-desk muckrakers (14,000 newsroom jobs have vanished in the last six years), crippling the other force most likely to call attention to official misdeeds.
The end of local media hasn’t just removed a watchdog; it has helped to complete a cultural reversal. Once upon a time, Jefferson and Tocqueville could wax lyrical about local government, which they viewed as perfectly in sync with the interests of its yeoman citizenry. Whether this arcadia ever truly existed is debatable. But it certainly hasn’t persisted into the age of mass media. Nowadays, most Americans care much more passionately about national politics than they do about the governments closer to their homes. They may harbor somewhat warmer feelings toward states and localities, but those sentiments are grounded in apathy. Most Americans can name their president. But according to a survey conducted by Georgetown University’s Dan Hopkins, only 35 percent can identify their mayor. The nostrum that local government is actually closer to the people is now just a hollow piece of antique rhetoric.

With so many instances of unobstructed one-party rule, conditions are ripe for what the political scientist Jessica Trounstine calls “political monopoly”—officials and organizations who have so effectively defeated any potential predators that they can lazily begin to gorge. She writes: “When politicians cease to worry about reelection, they become free to pursue government policy that does not reflect constituent preferences. They acquire the ability to enrich themselves and their supporters or pursue policies that would otherwise lead to their electoral defeat.”