Saturday, August 30, 2014

Revolving Door Report: Former House Education Chairman Lobbying for Pearson

2305 students will learn a few things about sub-governments and the revolving door next week. Public policy making tends to include groups of people who form networks that tie together the various institutions involved in the policy making process. One of the ways these networks are formed is when someone who had been a participant in one institution moves into another.

As an example, the Texas Tribune reports that a key member of the Texas Legislature is now lobbying for a major producer of textbooks and testing materials.

- Click here for the article.
- Click here for information on Rob Eissler.

Former House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler has taken on publishing and testing giant Pearson as a client, according to recent Ethics Commission filings.
The Republican from The Woodlands, who lost his seat in the 2012 Republican primary, is now an Austin lobbyist whose clients include the Harris County Department of Education and the Barbers Hill Independent School District.
Pearson's $468 million, five-year contract to administer the state's new standardized exams has proved controversial amid a growing backlash against high-stakes testing.
"Part of my job is education, and I think they are the No. 1 education company in the world. To focus on their testing seems to be a hot-button issue now, but they are also a publisher," said Eissler, who added that he thought the company had done a "very professional job" fulfilling its responsibilities to the state.

Weekly Written Assignment #2

I was considering using this week to get everyone to research who represents them in the Texas or United States Congress - whichever applies to your particular class - but a recent court decision has made me postpone this assignment.

Be sure to answer the question for your class - 2305 or 2306.

For GOVT 2305:

I posted previously on the conflict in Ferguson, Missouri. Click here for the post. I want to use this case as a way for you to apply some of the information contained in the slides for the 3rd and 4th sections of this class, the ones on ideology and public policy.

First I want you to think about the shooting as an agenda setting event, one that has led the media and general population to think about issues they may not have otherwise. Then I want you to consider it in terms of ideology. What different responses might someone who identifies themselves as socialist, liberal, libertarian or conservative make of these issues - what "problem" might each see as underlying them - and what proposals might they support to address that problem.

I want you to demonstrate some proficiency in using ideological terms and the public policy process.

For GOVT 2306:

I posted below about the recent decision by a federal court judge to strike down certain parts of the bill passed by the Texas Legislature to place requirements on abortion providers in the state. These requirements have led to the closure of some clinics and - according to the judge - a violation of rights established on the national level.

- Click here for the post.

I mentioned in the post that this is the latest in a series of issues where national political values conflict with those of the state of Texas. This is a theme in the 4th section - which covers political culture. It is also a theme, of sorts, in the sections on federalism.

I want you to read through the relevant text and comment on this conflict. Try to make sense of the judge's ruling and see what lies next. Also comment on how this issue is treated nationally and statewide. Do you see anyway that this conflict could be resolved?

- Click here for the judge's ruling.

For both 2305 and 2306:

Write at least 150 words and get this in by Monday September 8th.

From the Texas Tribune: Federal Judge Strikes Down Texas Abortion Regulation

Since this story illustrates some key points made in the opening sections of GOVT 2306 - those on federalism and political culture - it makes a good subject for this week's written assignment. Its a great example of ongoing tension between the state of Texas and the national government regarding values and culture. It should help put in context the points I try to make in the section on political culture especially.

It also demonstrates the consequences of living in a federal system. The laws on each level are often in tension. And since the people who live in Texas also live in the United States, they can play off this tension. In this case people who disagree with the abortion policies Texas has passed can appeal to the national government and argue they violate laws established on the national level.

It's no guarantee of success, but its a common tactic.

- Click here for the article.

The state law placing restrictions on clinics that provided abortions were argued - by a federal judge in Texas, Judge Lee Yeakel of the District Court for the Western District - to violate guarantees established on the national level. Expect this to wind its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here's a key part of the article:
In his ruling, Yeakel wrote that the law's ambulatory surgical center requirement "burdens Texas women in a way incompatible with the principles of personal freedom and privacy protected by the United States Constitution for the 40 years since Roe v. Wade."

Yeakel also said the state had reached a "tipping point" in limiting access to abortion when the ambulatory surgical center requirement is viewed in the context of the other state-imposed regulations. The regulations
Yeakel mentioned include a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and requiring doctors to perform a sonogram on a woman at least 24 hours before she has an abortion.
"The court is firmly convinced that the State has placed unreasonable obstacles in the path of a woman's ability to obtain a previability abortion," Yeakel wrote.

Friday, August 29, 2014

What is the Public Integrity Unit?

It's the unit at the heart of the dispute which led to the indictment of the governor.

Here's a description from the Texas Tribune:

The Public Integrity Unit is a state-funded division of the Travis County District Attorney's Office. It investigates public corruption, insurance fraud, and motor fuels tax fraud.

The Travis County DA holds the chief responsibility for enforcing the government and election code statewide. The unit was created under the leadership of Ronnie Earle, who served as the Travis County DA for three decades until his retirement in 2008. Earle captured national attention with his investigations into U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and became the poster child for what Republicans view as the unit’s politically motivated prosecutions. He told the Texas Tribune that he started the unit in the early ‘80s because “it made no sense to me to see an aggravated robbery case next to a case about a state employee cheating on travel vouchers.” At the time, Earle says the investigation of government crimes was “mostly left to the newspapers” because the Travis County DA spent most of its time fighting street crime.
Dismantling the unit is a perennial platform plank of the Texas Republican Party, and numerous members of the GOP, included DeLay and Hutchison, have criticized what they view as its politically motivated prosecutions. According to Earle, between 1978 and when he retired, in 2008, he prosecuted 19 elected officials, just five of whom were Republicans. Cathie Adams, the former Republican Party of Texas chair, filed an equal protection lawsuit over the issue in federal court last year. Her argument: Why should the voters of Travis County get to elect an official who has the power to prosecute offenses statewide? A frequently proposed solution — and one that state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, put forth unsuccessfully during the last legislative session — would be to put state corruption probes under the statewide-elected Attorney General.

Click here for stories related to it.

Texas State Judge John Dietz - again - finds Texas' school finance system unconstitutional

In GOVT 2306 this week we covered the purpose behind education in the Texas - the fact that it is tied into the ability of the electorate to secure right and liberties, as well as the capacity for self governance.

This point is made in both the Texas Declaration of Independence and the Article 7 of the Texas Constitution. We read through the first section of that article and say the following language: "it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools."

While the Texas Constitution is normally held to be clear - that's what 80,000 words gets you - there can be a debate over what the phrase "suitable provision" and the word "efficient" actually mean.

That's the broader context for the judge's decision. More specific is the fact that the 82nd Texas legislature cut over $5 billion in education funding, some of which was restored by the 83rd Legislature. Over 600 school districts sued the state alleging that the Texas Constitution - the language highlighted above - had been violated.

For detail on the case, click on these articles:

- Texas Tribune: Judge: Texas School Finance System Unconstitutional.
- Dallas Morning News: Texas' school finance system again overturned in court.
- Austin American-Statesman: Judge: Texas school finance system unconstitutional.

More importantly:

- here is a link to the judge's decision.
- here is the findings of fact and conclusions of law.

In case you're curious - this applies to later parts of the class - here's Judge Dietz's website. Her serves as the judge for the 250th District Civil Court.

The AAS summarizes the basic argument made by the judge. these will be reviewed by the Texas Supreme Court.
Dietz found four constitutional problems with the way Texas finances its schools:
• The Legislature has failed to suitably provide for Texas public schools because the school finance system “cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texans,” Dietz said in his order.
• The finance system is inadequate because it does not provide enough money to accomplish a “general diffusion of knowledge.
• The system effectively imposes a property tax, in violation of the Texas Constitution, because districts do not have “meaningful discretion” over how the taxes are raised, assessed or spent.
• The system is financially inefficient because all Texas students do not have equal access to the educational money needed.
“Consequently, the court enjoins further funding under the system until the constitutional infirmities are corrected,” Dietz wrote.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

So you want to get a job on Capitol Hill?

I just stumbled on this. Enjoy.

- Career Advice and Office Etiquette for Congressional Staff.

I don't have a full list, but many current members of Congress began their careers as staffers, including Pete Olson. If you are thinking abotu a political career, there are few better ways to kick one off.

From PunditFact: Fact-checking claims about race after Ferguson shooting

The shooting of Michael Brown has also led to questions about race relations and whether that has created the tension which exploded in the community following the shooting. Various claims have been made about the current state of it, and not all are accurate.

- Click here for PunditFact's analysis of some of them.

Their conclusions:

1 - It is true that murder is the leading cause of death for African American males between 15 and 34.
2 - It is not true that an unarmed black person is shot by a cop every 28 hours.
3 - It is half true that more whites are victims of police shootings. It's half true because there are more white people than black people. As a percentage, more blacks than whites are killed.
4 - It is false that the president is behind the disparity in unemployment between whites and blacks.

Provocative stuff - worth a look in class.

My quibble: What about factors that influence other minority groups?

Cameras on Cops

It looks like the unrest in Ferguson will put policing on the public agenda for a period of time, which raises a host of related issues. I'll try to compile a list in a later post, but one issue is whether police should wear cameras.

This - at least in theory - provides a visual record of what happens on the ground and helps clarify the nature of any confrontation that might arise.

Here are a few article laying out the arguments:

Should Cops Wear Body Cameras? One Ex-Cop Says Yes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Some information for my dual credit GOVT 2305 class

Following our discussion in class earlier today. This is James FoleyHe's been in the news recently.

Defining Democracy

Democracy can be defined in many different ways - some positive, some not so.

Here's one persons list of how different authors define the term:

- Click here for it.

And here's his description of how the term can be defined:

. . . actual definitions of democracy come in all shapes and sizes. . . . Each emphasizes one or more things thought to be true about democracy: 1) it is a dangerous form of government; 2) it includes genuine competition for power; 3) it permits mass participation on a legally equal footing; 4) it provides civil and other liberties that restrict the sphere of state power within the society; or 5) it promotes widespread deliberation about how to make and enforce policy so as to promote the common good.

Making sense of the various issues raised by the Michael Brown shooting

I'll expand on this post soon, but I want to go over it in class today since it illustrates a key part of the public policy process - agenda setting.

Sometimes certain events occur which raise awareness of things that had previously been - if not ignored - pigeon holed. This shooting seem to be a great example. I'll elaborate on this soon enough, but here's a link to a website that's been covering various aspects of the shooting ans might give us a few things to chew on.

- Click here.

This post will be heavily edited soon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

From the New York Times: Who Will Win The Senate?

As of right now - Republicans have a 67% chance to be the majority party in the Senate after this election.

- Click here for the story.

Making sense of the indictment of the governor

As you have probably heard our governor was indicted on August 15th on charges of "abuse of official capacity" and "coercion of a public servant." The charges were filed in Travis County - where you'll find Austin, the state capital - and the uproar since then was pretty predictable.

Since we will be spending time discussing and following the case, it's not a bad idea to lay out the facts associated with the case - it's background and all that - so we can make sense of all it entails.

Here are few links to stories that should get you up to speed, expect more. This story should have legs.

From the Austin American Statesman: An Interactive Timeline. This might be the best resource available, especially if you are completely new to this. It starts with the events that led to this particular dispute, though it lacks general context.
Also from the AAS: Rick Perry indicted for Lehmberg veto threat. Thsi walks through the day of the indictment.
From the Texas Tribune: Five Things to Know About the Perry Indictment. Among the points made: It will be hard to dismiss as purely partisan, but the prosecution wont be easy.
The Texas Tribune has links to all its stories related to the indictment here.
From the Texas Observer: Everything You Need to Know* About Rick Perry’s Newest Scandal (*But were afraid to ask). Another overview of the issues in the case, including commentary on the broader issues associated with it, such as the fact that the Travis County's District Attorneys was investigating possible corruption in awarding contracts to the Concern Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Critics of the governor argue that he had overseen the awarding of contract to political supporters, which is illegal. Getting rid of the DA would have allowed him to appoint a - presumably friendly - replacement.

Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

A peculiar take for our discussion of governing arrangements.

A recently published book argues that alcoholism in Russia has been promoted by the state - be it tsarist, communist, or whatever you choose to call it now - as a deliberate means of keeping the population in check and preserving autocracy.

Vodka has a political purpose. Its an interesting argument, because generally its held that nations like Russia tend to have populations that prefer iron-fisted autocratic rule, but seldom is there an explanation about why that's the case. According to this theory, the population doesn't really choose it at all. They are lulled into accepting autocratic -authoritarian rule. It's a twist on the bread and circuses that kept the Roman population entertained during the Roman Empire.

It was also a consistent source of revenue for the state.

- Click here for

- Here's a review of the book.

The work’s author, Mark Schrad, an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University, deftly weaves sociological data into a rather alarming portrait of a country brimming with binge drinkers. Presenting the book recently at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, Schrad cited World Health Organization data to show that Russians’ annual consumption of pure alcohol is roughly 15.7 liters per capita. Excluding children and abstainers, Schrad says that this figure boils down to the average Russian male drinker consuming two bottles of vodka and 13 beers per week.

Placing Russia in a broader context, Schrad suggested that Russia bucks geographic trends. Generally, as one travels northward, wine consumption turns to beer consumption. But Russians, who readily admit that wine and beer taste better, favor vodka since “it is something you do to get drunk. You down it as quickly as you can” since it tastes “horrible.”
Schrad contended that alcoholism is not “hard-wired” into Russian society. Instead, he argued that Russia’s problem with alcoholism is “an outcome of generations of autocratic government that has reaped the benefits of the intoxication of the population.”
Noting how Stalin tried to get his colleagues inebriated in order to manipulate them, Schrad argued that Russia’s rulers have applied this approach to their population for centuries. They see mass alcohol consumption as a means of keeping the population “discombobulated” and “off-balance” and “unable to mount a challenge to the government itself.”

Is America Really a Democracy? we get the introductory meetings out of the way, I'd like to start with some provocative questions. None are more so than the idea that despite all that we have been told, that the United States is not - and in fact has never been - a democracy.

What's more, we were never really intended to be.

You'll note that I use the term "republic" or "democratic republic" to refer to the governing arrangement in the United States. It's closer to the truth because it reminds us that the preferences of the general public - at least those who choose to vote - are filtered through governing institutions. This means they are subject to modification. And since those institutions can be more readily influenced by the wealthy - who can contribute to elections, and hire lobbyists and lawyers - the preferences of the general population can be modified in favor of the preferences of the wealthy.

I've compiled a few blog posts on the subject of oligarchy - and its cousin plutocracy - in the United States. These lay out the argument relatively well and offer some supporting evidence.

- oligarchy.
- plutocracy.

So let's hash this out.

Should we give up the pretense that the United States is a democracy and accept that it is a plutocracy?

From Vox: Caesar Augustus died 2000 years ago. Here's why he was one of history's greatest leaders.

In the opening section, you'll note that Caesar Augustus is not mentioned as one of the great leaders of world history, but instead as the person most responsible - after Julius Caesar - of leading to the demise of the Roman Republic and having it replaced with an empire with himself as its sole leader. The institutions and checks and balances that had existed previously were undermined and all power was concentrated in the single, arbitrary hands of whoever happened to be emperor.

This look at Augustus - on the 2000th anniversary of his death - is a bit more kind to him, mostly because it tells us that the republic had seemingly run its course. Conflict was no longer solved through peaceful political means, but through warfare and bloodshed.

The consolidation of power in the hands of the emperor was also a way to keep the peace. And that's what happened, 200 years worth of peace which allowed Rome to reach new heights of prosperity. The author suggests that Augustus was able to achieve peace by masking his consolidation of power. Outwardly he still respected and seemed to defer to other institutions, but beneath the surface all Roman institutions were oriented to him. As we will see soon, this concentration of power - notably the legislative, executive and judicial - is the definition of tyranny, at least as adopted by James Madison.

- Click here for the article.

To get a better handle on the Roman Empire, click on this collection of maps. Why the fuss? Allusions to Rome - especially why the republic was good and the empire bad - were common among the American founding generation. GOVT 2305 students will notice these as we proceed through class.

Section 1 - Why do you have to take this class?

Both 2305 and 2306 begin with sections that attempt to justify why each class is not only offered, but required. The short answer - as we will cover in class -  is that an educated electorate is supposed to be more capable than not of providing the stability necessary to secure the survival of a democratic republic.

Here are the links:

- 2305 - Why do I have to take this class?
- 2306 - Why do I have to take this class?

It's not a guarantee of course, but the uneducated are argued to be more prone to decision making based on passion rather than reason, and are felt to be more likely to succumb to the pleadings of demagogues. This leads to instability, which can potentially undermine support for the institutions designed to place meaningful limits on those in power. This in turn can allow for an ambitious leader to consolidate power.

World history is full of examples of functioning republics falling apart and then being replaced with autocratic systems headed by a tyrannical leader. The notes mention the fall of the Roman Republic, but we could also point out how the German Republic - the Weimar Republic - fell apart due to the effort of Hitler's Nazi Party. We know what happened next.

You'll note that the founding generation thought the entire enterprise of creating a republic carried risks, and it still continues to.

But this also raises an important empirical question. Is the public really as irrational as the founding generation thought? If we want to be cynical - and we can be - perhaps the founders used this assumption as a way to limit participation from populations that might challenge their authority. Some of the comments made by Hamilton and the rest were in fact demeaning to the rest of society.

Is the public really as bad off as the founder's thought?

I'll post a few separate items on this question. It's an important and ongoing one.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Welcome to GOVT 2305 and'or GOVT 2306

Thanks for signing up.

Aside from whatever modifications I have to make due to (my) human error, this class should be ready to go. Look above for the proper syllabus and read it thoroughly. Email me your questions and I'll clarify what needs clarification.

Go to blackboard to familiarize yourself with the layout there - the first three quizzes are waiting for you, as is the first weekly written assignment. You'll see information about each on the syllabus, as well as on the column just to the right of this message. Again, ask me questions if this confuses you. The weekly schedule in the class is the same all semester, so once you get used to it, it should be easy to follow.

You'll also see information about the 1000 word critical review essay, as well as the reading assignment relevant to it. Note the posts below that talk about each book.

As with every semester, there are unique events occurring that will occupy much of the class' discussions. You'll note that I spend as much time, if not more, concentrating on them as I do the regular content of the class. This is because the purpose of learning the course's content is to help make sense of the day to day activities of government. The more the content makes sense to you, the more these activities should make sense as well.

Each week we will begin by reviewing news items that relate to that class' subject matter. I'll also try to explain how major events of the day fit into other subject matter we will cover - or have covered.

The goal is to make sure you can grasp what's up with all thins stuff and become a rational, engaged participant in the political process.

Good luck to all of us.

No book for GOVT 2305 - AHS2. Instead, base your 1000 word critical essay on some aspect of the 2014 election

I had a last minute addition to my fall 2014 schedule - a dual credit class at Alvin High School - and I do not have a separate book ordered for students in that class. No worries though. The 2014 midterm election is underway and will be held before the class is out. Since there's more than enough material on line about it, we can do without a book. In fact - we might just end up writing one about it. Find  a provocative topic - or question - and address it rationally and intelligently.

I want students in the class to start familiarizing themselves with the various issues associated with the election and start thinking about a possible topic. It might be wise to look ahead at the section on elections. Also consider looking through the following blog tags for past stories on this and other elections.

- 2014 elections.
- campaigns.
- campaign finance.
- elections.
- member of Congress.
- midterm elections.
- money in politics.

There are more that might apply, but this is a start. You should also look through the following to get an idea of the unique issues associated with the current election, as well as midterm elections in general.

I'll provide more specific information in forthcoming posts, and in the fourth week of class you will asked to propose a topic to me. Here's enough for now:

- Wikipedia: Midterm Elections.
- Wikipedia: United States elections, 2014.
- Politico: 2014 Elections.
- Washington Post: Election Lab 2014.
- 538: Senate Forecast.
- RCP: Election 2014.

One more thing. Since this is GOVT 2305 - and the subject is the national government - be sure to focus on the elections to national office.

The Book for GOVT 2306-IN2: Border Boss: Manuel B. Bravo and Zapata County

Machine politics are not as common today as they were in the early and mid 20th Century - or at least they've morphed considerably - but they are fascinating ways to understand how politics and government in fact work.

Studying the relationships that built these machines helps us understand how different groups work with - and sometimes against - each other in order to establish and maintain - and maybe change - certain policies. They also help us understand why and how certain interests seem to inevitably get served more than others.

While machine politics existed in some form throughout Texas (never quite as much as in other areas of the country), it was especially common in the southern counties along the Mexican border. Often these were supported by moneyed interest in the area that were able to get a loyal ally elected county judge, who was then able to control much of what happened politically within that county.

This book provides an in-depth look at one of these "bosses," Manuel Bravo, who controlled Zapata County for sometime in the mid 20th Century. The story is built up from personal papers found after his death, which says something about how quietly these networks operated.

After reading this hopefully you'll have a greater appreciation for how politics is - in many ways - all about the relationships that are developed around groups of people. You might wish to consider that idea as you develop your topic.

For relevant blog posts, click on these:

- counties.
- county government.
- oligarchy.
- party bosses.
- party machines.
- revolving door.

The Book for GOVT 2306-02: William Wayne Justice: A Judicial Biography

This might be the most consequential Texan you've never heard of. Judge Justice (love the name) was a native Texan who served not on the state courts, but on the federal courts, and was responsible for a large number of significant decisions that applied the equal protection of the laws to the state.

This did not make him very popular among Texans happy with the status quo. Among those he is an example of governmental overreach and judicial activism.

But that's how it goes.

The is detailed look at his career provides a great way to look at the nature of the conflict between Texas and the national government over the later years of the 20th century. Texas did not willingly go along with the expansion of civil rights. It had to compelled to, and Judge Justice was one of the people responsible for making that happen.

The sections on federalism probably fit best with this book, as well as those on elections. Remember that he was a federal judge. He is not a member of the Texas Judiciary, though he did have an impact on how it did business. Note that you will find overlap between 2305 and 2306 here. That's because as a federal judge he made decisions that made the state comply with national laws. Something some - but not all - Texans take issue with.

Relevant blog tags:

- civil liberties.
- civil rights.
- education.
- equal protection.
- federal judges.
- federalism.
- judicial activism.
- Texas Judges.
- US - Texas Conflict.
- William Wayne Justice.

The Book for GOVT 2306-01: Lines in the Sand: Congressional Redistricting in Texas and the Downfall of Tom Delay

You'll hear a lot this semester about the factors that have led to political polarization in the United States. Data shows that Democrats and Republican elected officials are becoming extreme in their views, and fewer are representing those who hold moderate viewpoints. One of the alleged causes is the fact that congressional districts are often drawn in a manner that increases the influence of the majority party in each state. This makes it necessary for elected officials who want to win elections to respond to the extreme voices that tend to dominate turnout.

The technique is called gerrymandering and few states do this better than Texas.

One of the more bold uses of gerrymandering happened in 2003 when Texas Republicans took advantage of the fact that they had just won the majority in the Texas House of Representatives and quickly redrew congressional districts in order to pad their advantage in that institution as well.

It was controversial because it occurred after districts had already been redrawn following the 2000 census, and it was noteworthy because it would eventually lead to the downfall of one of the more power Texans in the United States House at that time, Tom DeLay.

This book is useful because it tells us that elections are not simple things. The rules that govern how elections are conducted are perhaps more important that who runs, who votes and what issues are at stake. If a group of people can determine how elections are conducted they can predetermine outcomes.

Obviously the sections on elections in Texas are useful in figuring out your paper topic. So might some of the storied in these blog posts:

- gerrymandering.
- ideological polarization.
- party polarization.
- primary elections.
- redistricting.
- voter turnout.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Book for GOVT 2305-IN2: The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins

As you've probably figured out yourself, money plays a huge role in the political / governing process. So much so that it sometimes doesn't really matter which party wins an election, moneyed interests have enough pull in each that they get what they wants whether Democrats or Republicans win.

Perhaps this is nowhere more true than with the financial sector. This is an insider's look at the influence the financial sector has on Congress and the presidency.

Click on the following blog tags to get an idea of the stories related to the financial sector I've posted over time.

- agency capture.
- campaign finance.
- corporations.
- democracy.
- economic policymaking.
- finance lobby.
- financial crisis.
- finance reform.
- iron triangles.
- money in politics.
- revolving door.

The Book for GOVT 2305-06: Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House

It always takes awhile to evaluate any presidency, so while we start to think about the pros and cons of the Obama Presidency, we might wish to do so in comparison to previous presidencies. Obviously the most recent one is George W. Bush's.

Days of Fire is a thick comprehensive look at Bush's tenure in office - one that focuses primarily on the relationship between Bush and his vice president. Dick Cheney is generally regarded as having been the most powerful VP in American history, but it seems to be a close call about whether that's a good or bad thing.

Obviously you will want to look at the sections on the executive branch - especially those related to commander in chief powers - but other parts of the class apply to the subject matter here and can provide a potentially good topic for your paper.

These blog tags might be useful also. Note that I started this blog in 2007, so I don't have as much on the Bush White House as I do the Obama White House. I might dig around for more though - you do the same.

Start thinking about a topic.

- Bush Administration.
- commander in chief.
- Defense Department.
- Dick Cheney.
- executive power.
- foreign policy.
- George W Bush.
- National Security Council.
- presidential powers.
- torture.
- war on terror.
- war powers.

The Book for GOVT 2305-02: Access to Justice

One of the cornerstones of the American constitution system is the principle of "equal justice under law." While we like to think of our justice system as available to everyone, that may not really be the case.

This book challenges the idea that the legal system in the United States is in fact available to all sectors of society - especially the middle and lower classes. The author tries to understand why this is the case, in what manner the justice system is unequal and offers some ideas about how this situation can be rectified - but she does not sound optimistic.

This is easily one of the more depressing books I've assigned, but its also one of the more provocative.

The sections on the judiciary and civil rights are clearly applicable here, as are the stories you'll find by clicking on some of these old blog posts. Gloss through these and think about a relevant topic.

- 14th Amendment.
- appeals.
- civil rights.
- criminal justice.
- death penalty.
- equal protection.
- equality.
- lawyers.
- police procedures.
- probable cause.
- race.
- Supreme Court.

The Book for GOVT 2305-01: Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

ExxonMobil - as you are certainly aware - is one the nation's largest companies - one that has a significant and growing presence in the Houston area. It is also very well connected, which many large companies are. Over the years it has enjoyed connections with governing officials through a large lobbying organization that includes ex-members of Congress of both parties.

It has also been active in the promotion of policies that have increased corporate power, and simultaneously weakening environmental and trade regulations. They have also helped shape the nation's foreign and defense policies in ways that benefit the company - though not necessarily the nation.

These guys are very smart and methodical. This book outlines how they've accomplished their objectives.

The book's topic applies to a handful of the class' sections, especially those related to the influence that money - and all that brings - has on the political and governing processes.

Here are a few tags that take you to stories you might want to consider as you develop your paper's topic. Don't limit yourself to these though. Use them as a starting point.

- antitrust policy.
- business interests.
- committees.
- foreign policy.
- interest groups.
- iron triangles.
- money in politics.
- oil lobby.
- regulations.
- revolving door.

An example of a great critical essay

The author is Jonathan Rauch and the essay is titled Democlerosis.

We cover the argument he makes here in GOVT 2305 (The section on Federalist#10).

If you want to know how to write well, read good writing. I was advised that once years ago, not that it did me any good. But its good advise anyway.

The 1000 Word Critical Essay

If you read through the syllabus carefully, you'll notice that you are to write a 1000 word critical essay and that it is to be based on a book that has been assigned to your specific class and section. It's up to you to come up with the specific topic, but it has to incorporate some aspect of the class material and how it overlaps the subject of the book.

This might seem daunting right now, but I'll help you develop your topic.

Right now I want you to be sure to purchase the right book for your class and start reading it. Start thinking about it too. The weekly written assignment for week #4 will be the your proposed topic. I'll give you feedback in order to make sure its a good one - or at least one I might find interesting.

That's always a good goal.

Rule #1 of essay writing: Don't be boring.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Weekly Written Assignment #1

Let's start with some self discovery. We often go around claiming to have a specific political identity - liberal, conservative, or whatever - and we also justify that by claiming to know enough about the nature of events to make sensible decisions about this and that. But do we really have a full understanding of political terminology to peg our beliefs correctly? In other words - maybe you call yourself conservative, but your specific positions on political matters might tell a different story.

I want you to take the following two quizzes:

-  Pew Research Center: The News IQ Quiz.
-  Pew Research Center: Political Typology Quiz.

And then comment on them.

Have they confirmed or challenged your political orientation? Assuming you had one of course. And do you know as much about political affairs as you thought? Maybe you know more, maybe you know less. You're grade will be based on how comprehensive - and interesting - your comments are.

I want you to input you answer in BlackBoard.

Like all your answers, please make it at least 150 words long - and yes you can go over.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Four days to go

The fall semester officially starts this coming Monday. The syllabus is more or less complete, so if you have signed up for the class check it out - but with the understanding that there may be minor changes in it.

The core information is good to go.

Please note that while there is no official textbook you do have to purchase a book which will be the basis of your written assignment. I'll post information about each of these books over the next few days so you can get familiar with their content quickly. Within 4 weeks I want you to be prepared to give me a paper topic based on the content of the book.

So get it quickly and start reading.

Aside from that you'll see information here related to the subject matter we will cover next week in class, as well as current event topics that highlight content we will cover at some point in this class. Part of the goal of this class is to help you put these events in context. This might be tough to realize, but there is very little new under the sun. Most of what will go on this semester can be understood in terms of what has happened in the past, as well as what political science research has discovered about how people behave and institutions work.

I'll have a separate post with information about recent events - including Rick Perry's indictment, the conflict in Ferguson, the rise of ISIS, as well as the upcoming election - up soon. Hopefully tomorrow.

Before the day is out, I'll start posting information about the books each class is supposed to purchase. Each section has a separate one - so be sure to get the correct book.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Fall 2014 Semester Starts in a Week

If you are a student looking to get a head start click above for the syllabus. It lacks information about the 1000 word critical review essay, but the rest of it is ready to go - more of less. There may be a few changes before we go forward, but not many.

I'll be making some adjustments to the organization of the blog over the next few days, so be mindful of that. If you want to lie low before the semester starts, I completely understand.

We'll get going on this soon enough. See you soon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yet another political quiz

These are always a fun way to test whether you are in fact the ideologue you claim to be. If you want to take this and report back with comments, I'll try to post them.

- Click here for the quiz

Weekly Written Assignment #8 - 11 week class only

Since I'll be on the road, I thought I'd put a second assignment up. This one won't be due until 7/31.

GOVT 2305:

It's worth keeping in mind that in a democratic republic - where elections to public office are prominent and never ending - politics is never far behind anything. This includes the recent decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

On the surface, this case was just about whether a privately held corporation could withhold coverage of certain types of birth control it judges to violate the religious views of those who own the company. Looked at this way, the case was about religious freedom. But since it concerned the religious freedom to impose on birth control practices that many women commonly use, it is also about birth control.

Democrats see an electoral opportunity in this.

Women tend to vote slightly more Democrat than Republican - this is referred to as the gender gap. Since women use birth control more than men, the party sees an opportunity to mobilize women who may have otherwise sat out the upcoming election this November.This could be good news for Democrats because many had predicted the Republican Party was likely to control the U.S. Senate after the election and that Democrats had little chance of controlling the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrats apparently think that this focus on birth control, and the possibility that employers might be able to keep it off insurance plans, could tip the scales in their direction. Maybe they'll be able to hold on to the Senate - perhaps they can also take over the House.

Elections tend to be won by whichever side is the most mobilized, so they are trying to use this issue to do just that. In this assignment I want you to evaluate this strategy and determine whether it is likely to work. Will attention to birth control provide an electoral advantage to the Democratic Party in the elections this November?

Below I've posted a variety of stories that should get you going:

- Democrats Are in a Perilous Position in 2014 Senate Races.
- The 2014 Election Is the Least Important in Years.
How big could the GOP House majority get?
- Can birth control help Democrats keep the Senate?
- Dems Seek Political Edge in Contraception Ruling.
- Republicans Accuse Democrats of Using Hobby Lobby Fallout to ‘Score Election Year Points
- The data is brutal: the GOP has a real birth control problem.

GOVT 2306:

An area that I spend far too little time on - one of many to be honest - is conflict between the state and local governments in the state. Each session of the legislature features disputes over what the state is willing to allow local government to do - often this has to do with taxes and local regulations. Conflict between state and local power has been a central feature of Texas government since at least the end of Civil War when Republicans tried to use the power of the state to impose national principles on local governments. Local areas pushed back and the power of local governments is written in the constitution of 1876.

But remember that a key point made in the power points is that recognizing cities - and issuing city charters - is a power reserved to the states. Cities have no legal existence apart from states, though as a matter of fact, they do - especially the big ones like Houston. The states allows cities to function as cities, but cities have political cultures that make them distinct entities with policy preferences that are not necessarily in line with those of the Texas Legislature.

There are a variety of areas of disagreement between the state and cities. One that has come up recently concerns the consequences of hydraulic fracturing. While it has been beneficial to the oil and gas industry - and the Texas economy in general - there are concerns that it has multiple negative consequences, including polluting ground water, destroying local road (those truck are heavy) and causing small earthquakes.

Since cities and local governments often bear the brunt of these costs, many have begin pushing back against fracking. Now that list includes the first city in Texas to do so: Denton.

I want you to read up on the conflict - with a focus on what is happening in Denton - and detail it as much as possible. What forces are lining up on either side of the issue? How can we draw a line between what the state of Texas gets to allow and what the cities can prevent? Go further and try to figure our what other forces are at work here and how it might work itself out.

What is happening in Denton could foreshadow what might happen here. There's lot's of drilling going in in our area - as I'm sure you are aware.

Here are a few places to begin your reading:

- Denton could become 1st Texas city to ban fracking.
- North Texas city rejects partial fracking ban.
- Texas city weighs ban on new fracking permits.
- Why A Texas City May Ban Fracking.
- Denton Council Punts Fracking Ban Proposal To Voters.
- Former Texas officials warn Denton against fracking ban.

Road Trip 7/16 - 8/6 (more or less)

Please note that I'll be on the road for the next 2-3 weeks - mostly driving through the southwest. I'll have my laptop and will stay connected, but I might be out of touch here and there.

Everything has been set up so you can get the work done that you need to do, so you should be able to handle things on your own. Let me know if you have issues or concerns.

Weekly Written Assignment #7 - 11 week class only

For GOVT 2305: 

In the early sections of this class, you were introduced to the concepts of democracy, oligarchy and autocracy. We mentioned that while the governing system has aspects of each, we also touched on the allegation that the United States was established to be a democratic republic, and that the nation has become increasingly democratic over time.

The increased levels of equality witnessed over the past few decades have led to some wondering whether the nation has become less democratic, and that we are in fact now an oligarchy. A few articles to that effect have been published recently. Here are a few:

- America is an oligarchy, not a democracy or republic, university study finds.
- Scholar Behind Viral 'Oligarchy' Study Tells You What It Means.
- Stop calling the U.S. an oligarchy.

I want you to read these - as well as any other material you find appropriate, and critically evaluate the claim. Is America in fact - now - an oligarchy. Whether you agree or disagree, back up your claim.

For GOVT 2306: 

Texas' ongoing struggles with the national government over gerrymandering and voting rights continues.

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case - Perry v Perez - about the maps the legislature drew following the reapportionment in 2010. Latino groups argued that the map was drawn in a manner that suppressed the Latino vote - which tends to vote Democrat over Republican. There's your political angle.

The court ruled that it was "unclear whether the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas followed the appropriate standards in drawing interim maps for the 2012 Texas elections" so they threw the map out and ordered the case to be reheard. Now they are being reheard, so Texas has to defend how it draws electoral districts once again.

I want you to read up on the current dispute, outline the issues involved in it, and provide an educated prediction about whether Texas will win or lose this case. It's an important case because it will tell us how much leniency the Supreme Court will give Texas in future disputes. This is up in the air following the recent decision in Shelby v Holder - which you should read up on.

Here are links for background - though note the two I provided above:

- Case Information.
- Gerrymandering.
- Texas GOP’s secret anti-Hispanic plot: Smoking gun emails revealed.
- Texas Congressional District Maps Redrawn by GOP to Lessen Democrat and Latino Influence, Lawsuit Claims.
- Texas Fights U.S. Again Over Black, Latino Voting Rights.
- Texas Redistricting Trial Begins; GöPerdämmerung: Twilight of the Grumpy White Legislators.
- TXGOP's anti-Latino redistricting scheme exposed in e-mails.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Written Assignment #6

For GOVT 2305:

For this assignment I want you to try some policy analysis. Read up on the most recent development on the border - the influx of children on the borer - and try to come up with the most effective solution to it. Preferable one that does not cause further disputes down the road.

I also want you to keep the political angles involved in this dispute. Keep in mind that we are just a few months away from the 2014 election. Politicians - especially those with difficult elections ahead - keep in mind how the positions they take on issues like this will affect them on election day.

There's lots to this story, so the more you are able to appreciate all the angles associated with it, the better your grade. This is more than a border security issue.

Here are a few items you might consider reading, but be sure to do your own research.

- ‘Flee or die’: violence drives Central America’s child migrants to US border.
- Why are so many kids crossing the US-Mexico border and what should Obama do?
- Debunking 8 Myths About Why Central American Children Are Migrating.
- Boehner: No 'blank check' for border crisis.
- White House seeks $3.7bn in extra funding to address child migrant crisis.
- Border Crisis Puts Spotlight on 2008 Immigration Law.

For GOVT 2306:

This assignment will build on the one for 2305. It's also about the recent influx of immigrant/refugee child on the Texas-Mexico border, but I want you to analyze this more from the point of view of federalism.

What are the relative responsibilities of the national and state government in this dispute? Try to drill down into basic conflicts between the two levels - three levels if you want to bring Texas cities into this as well. Outline as clearly as you can, the conflict between each level of government over this issue.

You can look at this from a constitutional perspective, but don't forget the political differences as well. The different actors are not only trying to deal with a public policy problem, they are also positioning themselves and their parties for the upcoming election. In the case of Governor Perry, he's trying to look like a viable presidential candidates as well.

You can also try to predict how this might be resolved, but keep in mind that not everything gets resolved. I'm betting that we forget about this issue before the semester is over.

Here are some articles you might consider reading:

- Perry, Obama Discuss Solutions to Immigration Crisis.
- Texas Democrats Say GOP Stalling Aided Immigrant Influx.
- Obama, on Texas Trip, Will Face Immigration Critics.
- Obama: Perry should press Texas delegation on border-security funding.
- Obama-Perry Texas talks tense as migrant children stranded.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Reviews for the 5 week final exams now available

You'll see links to them on the top right column.

Use them as a starting point for your studies.

Remember that I pushed up the day for the final and paper. Look on Black Board for the new dates.

From The Dish: An Online Right To Be Forgotten?

It's the 4th of July - which is really all about barbecue and fireworks - but also supposedly about the signing the Declaration of Independence. I try to spend a good bit of time in early slides analyzing the argument it contains and the history leading up to it.

I try to draw attention to this open ended part of it: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

In lecture classes I like to generate a discussion about the word "among" which seems to suggest that other rights exist beyond those three listed. Is this in fact that case and if so what might those rights be? How would we figure this out?

The recent decision by the European Union Court of Justice that there is a right to be forgotten would be a perfect subject. This Dish links to a variety of stories discussing the right and the difficulty we might have in enforcing it.

- Click here for the post.

The digital revolution - which makes information retrieval easy - might make this impossible. And ironically, the more we actively try to conceal parts of out past, the more we highlight it. It's one thing to claim a right, a trickier thing to enforce it.

It just occurred to me that early Texas was populated by people who were trying to make themselves forgotten - by creditors, law enforcement and others. Life was different then.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

From the New Yorker: Celebrating FOIA on Independence Day

An interesting story about how the Freedom of Information Act came to be.

- Click here for the story.

In 1952, John Moss, a two-term California assemblyman, was elected to Congress, representing the state’s Third District, in Sacramento. Two years earlier, Senator Joseph McCarthy had made his fictive declaration that the State Department had two hundred and five Communists in its employ. McCarthyism represented the antithesis of Moss’s ideals. As Michael Lemov writes in “People’s Warrior,“ a biography of the congressman:

Moss knew all about the McCarthy approach. He had been a target of similar charges—of being a Communist or a Communist sympathizer—in his California campaigns, for both the state assembly and Congress. He survived the attacks but he did not forget them. In fact, they played a key role in his long campaign to secure freedom of information in government—a campaign that was, in part, grounded in his anger at being attacked with such potentially devastating charges, and by the attempt to use unsubstantiated smears against him.

If secrecy, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, is best understood as a form of regulation, then the McCarthy era conjured the worst aspects of big government: oligarchic, sprawling, and inimical to individual liberty. The pressures of the Cold War were already transforming government into tiered, hermetic bureaucracies, each distinguished by its own sometimes Byzantine relationship to the idea of “national security.” The emergence of a hypersecretive ethic in national politics coincided with the very public erosion of Fourth Amendment protections—in effect transferring the right to privacy from individuals to government itself.

But, as Moss saw it, national security was an amorphous doctrine, and a corrosive one: meant to suggest the need for strength and expediency, in practice, it abetted incompetence, corruption, and the abuse of authority. “The unfortunate fact,” he remarked, is “that governmental secrecy tends to grow as government itself grows.” And so, in 1954, still in his first term, Moss introduced a bill designed to limit that secrecy.

From The Dish: Why Not Just Provide The Pill Over The Counter?

In a post about the contraception - and how the dust up over the Hobby Lobby decision might be minimized it was easier to obtain - and author points out one of the reasons why doctors, public health officials and pharmaceutical companies want to continue to require prescriptions to get them.

It's good for business.

- Click here for the post.

“Doctors regularly hold women’s birth control prescriptions hostage, forcing them to come in for exams,” wrote Stephanie Mencimer in a Mother Jones piece about her own doctor doing so. Dr. [Jeffrey] Singer described as it doctors extorting pay for a “permission slip” to get the same medication over and over again. Feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte says doctors use “the pill as bait” to make sure women come in once a year. Both doctors and public health officials publicly worry that women won’t receive annual cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings without such coercion. How much of this concern is motivated by profit, how much by paternalism, is hard to say. …

It’s not just some doctors and medical groups who want to keep things status quo. Pharmaceutical companies also gain from it. OTC sales “would drive down the prices substantially,” says Singer. Drugmakers can get higher prices from insurance companies than they could in a competitive contraceptive market. … Yet the pharmaceutical industry is the only entity with standing to challenge the prescription status of current birth control pills. In order to initiate the switch from prescription to nonprescription, a drug maker must approach the FDA.

This is a good illustration of the relationship between interest groups and executive agencies. File this under sub-governments and iron triangles. It gets to the heart of what really drives decision making.

More from Vox: Beating the odds Why one bill made it through a gridlocked Congress — and so many don't

A great story about how a bill gets through a divisive and dysfunctional Congress. It features an updated version of the "I'm just a bill video."

- Click here for it.

2305 and 2306 students will see some questions about the bill making process on the national and state level on the final, but most of it is about the standard institutional process. This takes a more expansive look at it.

This tells the story of the how the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act became law  and boils the process down to 9 simple steps:

1. Get the attention of the relevant committee chairman
2. Ease the concerns of outside groups
3. Win an ally in the federal bureaucracy
4. Find a way to pay for it
5. Make sure not even one senator has a problem with it
6. Make sure the House will pass the Senate version
7. Deal with leaks to the press
8. Smooth over the administration's concerns
9. Make some last-minute concessions to the Defense Department

From Vox: What maps of America get wrong

This is a fun video detailing the extent of the territories of the United States.

- Click here for it.

From the Atlantic: Corporations: Still Not People

The recent Supreme Court seems to disagree though. Norm Ornstein - a respected political commentator - critically discusses this trend. He does not see it as a positive development. The Hobby Lobby decision - in his eyes - was less about contraception and more about corporations acquiring power beyond that of individuals.

As the economy becomes more global, corporate interests are no longer tied into American interests.

- Click here for the article.

For many decades, corporations and corporate leaders took the long view and saw a strong American society as key to their own prosperity. But General Motors, in the global economy, is now a global company, even though it is still based in the U.S. and not yet tempted by inversion. Is what is good for a company with huge interests in dozens of countries necessarily good for America? Will it think first—or at all—about the prosperity and needs of the United States? Maybe—but can we say the same thing about "American" companies renouncing their corporate citizenship? When these companies get involved with politics—and you can be sure before long that the Supreme Court will extend the "speech rights" of corporations to include direct contributions to candidates—will they be thinking of America, or of what America can do to protect their interests in other countries? If the money comes from the "American" subsidiary of the foreign-owned company, will it only be reflecting the desires and interests of that American entity or will it reflect the interests of its parent? If a company with gambling interests in Las Vegas earns most of its money in Macau and gets involved deeply in American campaign finance, will it be most interested in promoting its interest in Macau—which might be counter to America's interest in its foreign relations with China?

From Vox: Are Republicans and big business on the brink of divorce?

Ezra Klein discusses the potential rift between big business and the Republican Party.

- Click here for the video.

Erik Cantor was a proponents of business interests and that seems to have been part of what drove ideologically oriented - Tea Party - Republicans in his district to vote him out.

They are part of a growing movement that does not think recent Republican presidents have been conservative enough.

For 2305 and 2306 - but mostly 2305 - this highlights the coalitional nature of political parties, and the fact that the Tea Party movement has had a major impact within the Republican Party. It's still anyone's guess what impact this has down the line.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

One of the major news items this week was the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that a privately (or closely) held corporation could use religious reasons to opt out of providing birth control as part of its health insurance package.

The decision has kicked up a predictable fuss, and hits some of the topics covered in 2305's sections on civil liberties and specifically religious liberty - where we dig into the court's decisions regarding the establishment and free exercise clauses. The case mostly hits on the impact on 1993's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the status of corporations under the Bill of Rights.

I'll post commentary about these separately, but as always ScotusBlog is the go to place for facts about the case itself.

- Click here for their post on the case.

Here is the basic decision the court made: As applied to closely held corporations, the regulations promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring employers to provide their female employees with no-cost access to contraception violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

2305 students should note the role the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has played in establishing what types of accommodations governments have to make to people based on religious viewpoints.

Here are a few links related to RFRA:

- Wikipedia: RFRA.
- What is RFRA and why do we care?
- The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and complicity in sin.

Weekly Written Assignment #5 is cancelled

I'll resume with assignment #6 for 11 week students next week.

I'll have some hints for 5 week students about what to focus on for next week's final.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

From Politico: How the Supreme Court Changed America This Year

I'll post separate items on the Supreme Court decisions released in the past few days, but here's an article that looks at the totality of the impact the court has had on a variety of factors in American government.

- Click here for the article.

Heres' the intro:

The justices have retired their robes for the summer (and the interns, their running shoes), after handing down decisions on issues ranging from Obamacare to affirmative action, campaign finance to school prayer. This term lacked a blockbuster decision like the court’s overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act last year or its upholding of the Affordable Care Act the year before that, so amid the back-and-forth about what the court’s 144 opinions this term really mean, we decided to pose a simpler, bigger-picture question to some of the best legal thinkers around the country: How has the Supreme Court changed America this term?
Some argued that the Roberts Court pushed the country farther to the right, while others noted the relatively low number of 5–4 decisions and high number of unanimous ones—perhaps a sign of diminished partisanship this year. Still others homed in on particular legal issues, citing the court’s commitment to freedom of speech and religion and to the right to privacy, or particular cases with the broadest political or social impact—McCutcheon, Hobby Lobby and Riley v. California seemed to top the list. Then again, there were those who thought the 2013-2014 term was a bit of a shrug. “For the most part, the Supreme Court didn’t rock the boat,” writes one. But for most, it was another year of big decisions—and big consequences for Americans.