Friday, February 5, 2016

The Dissolution of Catholic Monasteries

The video below highlights a period of the development of London that coincided with Henry VIII's destruction of Catholic monasteries following his decision to kick the church out and create the Church of England with himself as the head. It marked a period when the powers of the king expanded considerably since he was not only in charge of government and the church, he was suddenly considerably wealthy - which inevitably increases one's power.

I though it might also serve as a reminder that as we witness the destruction of religious sites in the Middle East, the west is not above doing similar things.

For more on these events:

- Tudor Place: The Suppression of the English monasteries.
- Wikipedia: Dissolution of the Monasteries.
- Wikipedia: List of monasteries dissolved by Henry VIII of England.
- Catholic Herald: A sad reminder of the art lost in the years after the Reformation.

The London Evolution Animation

I can't anything like this for cities in the US or preferably Texas - I'm sure something is out there - but here is a look at the gradual organic development of London. This is a key feature of how cities tend to grow. It helps explain why they are substantively different governing entities than counties, states, and nations.

Animated History of North America

From the folks that brought you the video about the territorial development of the United States. This takes a broader look at it. I've tried to argue in class that a key early goals of the US was to kick competing powers out of North America, or at least contain them. The video suggest they were largely successful.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Key documents from Magna Carta to the U.S. Constitution

For class discussion:

- Magna Carta.

- The Petition of Right.

- The English Bill of Rights.

- Declaration of Independence.

- Article of Confederation.

- Proceedings of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government.

- Constitution of the United States.

Another Quiz: Where Do You Fit in the Political Typology?

From the Pew Research Center.

- Click here for it if you so inclined.

From the Texas Tribune: Cheerleader Case Can Proceed, State Supreme Court Rules

This smells like a potential US Supreme Court case.

It concerns whether the breakaway banners cheerleaders in Kountze High School created for football players to crash though violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.They were in the habit of painting biblical verses on them. Since it is a public high school, such actions can be seen to be a governmental endorse of a particular religious views over others. To avoid lawsuits, the ISD ruled that they could not paint religious messages on the banners, but the cheerleaders sued.

The ISD countered that they could not do so, but the decision by the Texas Supreme Court was simply that a lawsuit filed by the cheerleaders could go forward. There has yet to be a substantive ruling on the merits of the case - that is the actual constitutional question posed by the dispute. Now the process is in place to figure that out.

- Click here for the article.

The East Texas students have been fighting for the ability to cite Bible verses as part of their cheerleading routines since 2012, when the Kountze Independent School District told the squad they could not paint Christian messages on the banners football players ran through before their games.
The district instituted the ban after the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for the separation of church and state, threatened to sue. Foundation members argued that because the Bible-quoting signs were held by cheerleaders wearing official school uniforms, and at official school events, they were tantamount to school-sponsored religious activities.
The ban didn’t put an end to the district’s legal woes — because the cheerleaders’ parents promptly filed a lawsuit of their own, claiming the ban violated their children’s right to free speech. The squad members came up with the banner ideas on their own, and bought the supplies with their own money, making it clear they were acting as individuals, the cheerleaders’ parents said.
The case has been making its way through the legal system ever since. In 2013, the Kountze district independently overturned its “no Bible messages” ban, but families of several cheerleaders kept pursuing the lawsuit anyway. Eventually, the 9th Texas Court of Appeals threw the case out, ruling that because the policy was no longer in effect, the lawsuit was moot.

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court overruled the lower court's decision, writing that the lawsuit should be allowed to continue because the ban could “reasonably be expected” to be reinstated.
“The District no longer prohibits the cheerleaders from displaying religious signs or messages on banners at school-sponsored events,” Justice John Devine wrote in the opinion. “But that change hardly makes ‘absolutely clear’ that the District will not reverse itself after this litigation is concluded.”

For the actual decision by the court click here.

Lingering posts about the Iowa Caucus

I've let these pile up. It's past time to post them and move on.

- Donald Trump Got a Huge Number of Votes in Iowa. Imagine If He’d Actually Run a Campaign. It's true that Trump lost. But apparently he had next to no ground game and though a presence on social media was enough to win. This allowed Cruz - who mobilized the religious right and developed mart voter targeting mechanisms - to edge him out. Trump still got more votes than the past two winners of the caucus.

- How Ted Cruz Engineered His Iowa Triumph. A great inside look at how a well run campaign operates. And Cruz does seem to take campaigning seriously. It involves sophisticated statistical modeling. Much

- Some Iowa Caucus Precincts Flipped a Coin to Determine the Democratic Winner. There were reports that coin tosses to break ties between the two Democrats. Here's detail on the process. For our purposes, it might be wise to point out that sometimes every vote does count. NPR argues that the coin flips did not win the caucus for her.

- What We Learned in Iowa: Maybe the GOP contest isn’t really about the establishment and outsiders. More on Cruz's ground game.

- How Ted Cruz outfoxed Donald Trump in Iowa. And even more - this could be an indication of the road ahead, but commentators caution that primary states are more difficult to mobilize than caucus states.

- Cruz Won Iowa Because of Evangelicals, Would Lose General Election For Same Reason. Much of the mobilization by the Cruz campaign involved his support by evangelical voters. Cruz focused his messages to that group to win the caucus, but the author points out that the evangelical vote is a far smaller component of the general electorate. Today's appeal might work against him later.

- Iowa Caucus entrance poll results. An in-depth look at the data that tells which candidate won which group in Iowa and by how much.

Who controls the Republican Party?

An occasional question. Here's the latest I've found on it. The two major political parties in the United States are highly decentralized. Finding their center - or who is in charge of either at any moment in time - is very difficult. And the power center is often in flux. The author argues that the current Republican Party is controlled by media personalities, specifically talk radio hosts and Fox News.

- Ted Cruz and Donald Trump: Signs of conservative media's grip on GOP.
Over the course of the last three decades, these media personalities have surpassed party officials and even elected representatives in their influence, ascending to exalted status atop Republican leadership. Yet, they prioritize goals seemingly at odds with good governance, and often, even the party's sole purpose for existence.

Talking heads wresting control of the GOP from the traditional party power brokers benefits neither the party, nor the nation. Political parties, after all, exist to win elections. By surrendering issue control to entertainers on the fringe of contemporary thought, however, the Republican Party has limited its ability to reach the 42% of Americans who according to Gallup, regard themselves as independents in a national, general election.
. . . On the rare occasions when Republican elites have attempted to reassert control, they've been pounded into submission by the titans of talk and their allies in Congress. One example came last summer when House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) stripped Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) of his subcommittee chairmanship as punishment for crossing the Republican leadership on a key procedural vote -- which violated a cardinal rule of party loyalty in the House.

When choosing sides between the maintenance of party order and discipline or support for a charter member of the House Freedom Caucus who was among the leaders who forced a government shutdown in 2013, one talk icon didn't hesitate.
While chatting with a Meadows' sympathizer, Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, a disgusted Laura Ingraham slammed the leadership for its shabby treatment of leaders like Jordan and Meadows.
"This is what the mafia does," Ingraham said. "You know, I'm sorry, but this is a political mafia up on Capitol Hill. That's the way I see it. I don't see this as a Republican Party that represents people like me."
Later in the show, Ingraham hosted Meadows, who she praised: "Mark Meadows, Republican (of) North Carolina who stood up for common sense and pragmatism in trade and was punished for it."
She shamed Chaffetz, exclaiming "there's a point where you just have to say, you know I voted the right way in your mind on trade, sir, but I will not do this. I won't be party to what you're doing to these good men. That's what he should have said."
Less than a week later, Chaffetz reversed course and restored Meadows to his position, signifying the toothlessness of the elected Republican leadership.

About the traffic: Does building more highways make things worse?

That argument has floated around a while. New lanes alleviate traffic for a little while, but it encourages people to buy more cars. Soon enough traffic is just as bad as it was before - maybe worse. Click here for a critical assessment of the consequences of widening I-10 - a $2.8 billion project. Should alternative means be used to lessen traffic? Apparently power brokers in Houston increasingly think so, including the newly elected mayor.

In a recent speech, the mayor called for a "paradigm shift." Instead of concentrating on widening highways and encouraging more use of autos - with single occupants - the city broaden the types of transportation opinion available to residents.

For more on the subject:

Houston Mayor Calls for “Paradigm Shift” Away From Highway Widening
- Talking Points for Turner's speech to the Texas Transportation Commission.
- Turner's transportation platform.
- New Houston Mayor to Texas DOT: Wider Roads Mean More Traffic.

As of yet, these are still merely proposals. Texas continues on a trajectory the focuses primarily on highways construction. Much of this is built into the Texas Constitution. Funding for highways is designated in the document and strong constituencies exist to continue highways construction in the state. There's lots of money spent on highways, and the businesses who profit from those expenditures are not anxious to give it up. As of now the Texas Department of Transportation plans to continue widening highways stateside and in the local area.

- Click here for an announcement of current plans.

Here's what s planned for the Houston area, more widening of highways lie ahead:

• I-45 Gulf Freeway widening from NASA to FM 518. This project is expected to cost $112 million. Congestion relief funding will be $106.4 million. Construction is proposed to begin in Spring 2017 and be completed by Summer 2020. This project will aid in improving mobility on a heavily traveled hurricane evacuation route and primary freight corridor. This project is part of the overall project to widen IH 45 Gulf Freeway from NASA 1 to Galveston Island.
• I-10 Katy Freeway widening from FM 359 to the Brazos River in Waller County. This project is expected to cost $242 million. Congestion relief funding will be $131.8 million. Construction is proposed to begin in Summer 2017 and be completed by Spring 2021. This project is one of the pieces of the overall project to add two lanes on I-10 between Houston and San Antonio. The project will aid in improving connectivity as well as improving mobility on a hurricane evacuation route and primary freight corridor.
• IH 610 West Loop/ IH 69 interchange improvements. This project includes the reconstruction of multiple connector ramps and is projected to cost $287 million. Congestion relief funding will be $209.2 million. Construction is proposed to begin in Summer 2017 and be completed by Spring 2021. Reconstruction of the I-610/I-69 interchange

The battle over the future of transportation in the state promises to heat up - perhaps this winds up on the agenda of the 85th session.

Regarding Houston's unfunded pension liabililties

Here's an item we will cover when we discuss cities and the unique issues they face in due time. Rather than increase salaries for city employees, cities offered generous pension packages. Maybe too generous.

Here's a look at the problems this poses for city finances.

- City upside down: How Houston lost control of its wallet.

This article contains a slide show which makes the point that city revenues are growing at a slower rate than expenditures, and that pension liabilities are driving this disparity. I thought this paragraph was worth highlighting since it discusses the unique role cities play in the federal governing system:

“Cities create the platform for the stage upon which all business is done,” said Jim Noteware, a Houston-based real estate developer and former director of Houston’s Department of Housing and Community Development. “Cities create the roads, sewers and waterlines, but they also create human infrastructure, and all of those in Houston — like across many cities in the country — are breaking down.

Cities also employ more people than other levels of government, so issues associated with pay and benefits loom larger than they do elsewhere. For more on Houston's pension issues - which are common to many other cities, especially large ones - click on the following report: Swamped: How Pension DebtIs Sinking the Bayou City.

I'm considering devoting an entire class soon to evaluating the report.

See also: Promises Made, Promises Broken 2014: Unfunded Liabilities Hit $4.7 Trillion.

From the Houston Chronicle: Long road ahead for Old Spanish Trail centennial

For historical context we've been looking at the development of the United States westward - which included getting rid of Spanish, French, British, and Mexican claims to the land. While the west - along with the Gulf Coast and Florida - was sparsely populated under Spanish control a road connected San Diego and San Augustine, Florida. It was called Old Spanish Trail and it would later form the basis for  a network of highways and Main Streets almost 100 years ago.

As the centennial approaches, some groups would like to celebrate it by reviving the road - or at least signage designating it. The development of highways - along with all types of transportation means - has been central to economic expansion.

- Click here for the article.

By 1925, when a travel guide for the route was published and leadership of the Old Spanish Trail Association was in San Antonio, Houston was a major destination. The Rice Hotel boasted "the finest cafeteria in the south," other lodging was available in fireproof facilities - a closely watched offering then - and Hermann Park could host up to 1,000 cars.
"Travel was expensive," Kahl said. "There were tourist camps before motels and motor courts. You camped out."
Travel also took much longer. Speed limits, not to mention automotive capabilities for safe travel, put top speeds at about 20 mph - even less in cities. Some paved roads were not exactly smooth, often made from crushed local materials. Rocks and shells taken from Oyster Creek in Sugar Land likely ended up in many East Texas road projects.
Drivers had a more hands-on approach to their maintenance needs. Automobiles and trucks of the time required personal care. Roadside assistance wasn't yet a thing. Tires were especially unpredictable.
"Drivers would carry patch kits like you would for bicycles," Kahl said.
Tourism was only a part of the impetus for the Old Spanish Trail. Movement of goods played a large role as well.
Businesses that made products in Pensacola or New Orleans wanted reliable ways to get raw materials from Georgia or Texas. Farmers in East Texas needed a way to get their crops to markets in San Antonio, and not everything was worth shipping in large rail bulks.
Trucking could fill in the gaps if routes were paved and reliable. Those routes became the first iteration of the interstate system, in part devised by Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of U.S. Forces in World War I, who envisioned a national network for military movement. Another general, Dwight D. Eisenhower eventually made the interstate map a reality.
Moving goods required wider roads, often outside downtown areas. Old Spanish Trail was moved to swing around Houston's growing urban core, using what had been called the "Old Spanish Trail cutoff" in 1935. The detour, sometime after 1935, led to the current U.S. 90 Alternate, the road now called Old Spanish Trail and the proliferation of motels along the highway.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

From the El Paso Times: Texas House begins talks on water grid, markets

Something the 85th Session will likely prioritize next year.

- Click here for the story.
Deep divisions emerged Tuesday on whether it’s a good idea for Texas to begin designing a network to carry water throughout the state.
The House Committee on Natural Resources held its first hearing on its interim assignment to study whether it’s a good idea to set up water markets and whether a statewide grid would be a good way to facilitate them.
Texas has been plagued by drought in the past and policymakers worry that population growth combined with climate change will make water even scarcer in the future.
“If we fail to plan, we’re planning to fail,” said state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio.
Markets in which water has been traded like any other commodity have been used as a way to assign a real value to water and create economic incentives to conserve it. Such markets appear to have succeeded in Australia, where 80 percent of water is used in agriculture, much as it is in far West Texas.
However, there is disagreement over how they should be set up.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Iowa v United States

A common argument made against have the Iowa Caucus the first in the nation is that it does not look like the rest of the US. The candidates that succeed there are less likely - the argument goes - to care about their interests. 

For more on state election law . . .

We spend more time with these later in the semester, but they are applicable today for two reasons. First, the presidential campaign begins today since the Iowa Caucus will be held later. Iowa runs the thing however it chooses to - this is true for all states ad their methods for presidential selection. Second, in both 2305 and 2306 we are reviewing the U.S. Constitution. In each we'll look at the role states are given in running elections.

- TSHA: Election Laws.
- Texas Election Code.
- NCSL: Election Laws and Procedures Overview.

For local stuff - since we will hit this soon:

- Alvin Code of Ordinances: Elections.
- Houston Municipal Code: Elections.

From Bloomberg: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE The Secret Science of Winning the Iowa Caucuses

In order to participate effectively in the Iowa Caucuses, one has to know what to do. Here's a look at how people learn what that is.

- Click here for the article.

On caucus night, turning out the most voters is only the first step. The ultimate trophies are delegates—party members who are elected by each caucus to represent their neighbors at county conventions later in the year. Some of those delegates will become the party faithful who will vote for the next Republican nominee at the national convention. That process begins at the caucuses, where winning delegates can be a whole other game, requiring a long night of political maneuvering and strategic execution.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

What are the polls telling us about how each candidate will do in Iowa?

For actual numbers over time:

RCP: Democrats.
RCP: Republicans.


- The Best Pollster In Iowa Just Released Its Final Survey — How Accurate Has It Been?

The final Des Moines Register poll was just released, showing Donald Trump leading the Republican field in Iowa with 28 percent, Ted Cruz with 23 percent and Marco Rubio with 15 percent. Hillary Clinton was ahead of Bernie Sanders, 45 percent to 42 percent, on the Democratic side. The political world — us included — was eagerly awaiting this survey, as Ann Selzer, who has conducted the Register’s polls since the 1988 caucuses, has avery good track record. But just how predictive of the final results have Selzer’s polls been? History suggests they’re a good indicator of what will happen in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, though there is room for a candidate or two to surprise.

From the Texas Almanac: Voter Participation in Texas

I can't find a good way to copy and paste this document, but it deserves to be the subject of an entire lecture - and will be for ACC 2306 students later this semester.

It walks through basic facts associated with voter participation in Texas including turnout and changes in suffrage. It has some surprising facts. For example, until 1954 members of the American armed forces could not vote in Texas.

- Click here for it.

From the Atlantic: What Actually Happens at the Iowa Caucus?

A cute and short - and slightly superficial - video. But a good starting point for what will be going on tomorrow.

- Click here for it.

From Vox: The Iowa caucuses, explained.

For a bit more detail, peruse through these.

- Click here for it.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Texas' current state credit profile

At least according to an analysis from S&P Capotal IQ.

- Click here for the full report.

Here's their specific analysis of Texas. It suggests that recent efforts to diversify the Texas economy - especially following the oil bust in the 1980s - have worked, Texas is more likely to weather the storm than other places.

Which isn't to say that a city like Houston might be more exposed to fallout. I'll look for some analysis along those lines soon.

Texas's limited direct reliance on oil production and natural gas production taxes on general operations and the state's strong reserve levels have positioned the state well through this downturn in oil prices. Oil production taxes comprise only 4% of general revenues in the fiscal 2016-2017 biennial revenue estimate, with natural gas production taxes comprising another 2%. In our view, declines in oil and gas revenues will limit the increases in the economic stabilization fund (ESF)--also known as the rainy-day fund--and state highway fund (SHF), but have a more limited impact on general revenue spending, given the funding formula for the state's ESF and SHF. Under the formulas, 75% of the oil and natural gas tax collections that exceed 1987 collection levels are transferred into those funds, therefore reducing the amount available for general revenue spending. However, there has been a softening of other tax revenues due to the oil price declines, in particular in the state's sales tax revenues, which account for 56% of total net general revenues. As well, there may be a link with expenditure pressures as public assistance has grown by 6.3% in the first four months of the fiscal year compared to the prior year. That said, in our view, the state's reserve position will allow it to manage through these budget pressures during the current biennium. Despite the projected declines in oil and gas collections, the rainy-day fund is projected to increase to $10.4 billion (or approximately 20% of fiscal 2017 general fund expenditures) by the end of the biennium. Furthermore, if we assumed no growth in the ESF, the state still has liquidity in the rainy day fund commensurate with a 'AAA' rating. The state should be releasing an updated revenue forecast for the current biennium later this month.

From CNBC: Falling oil prices put the squeeze on state budgets

For 2306 prior to out look at the state budget.

No surprise that a good chink of revenue comes from taxes on oil and natural gas. And no surprise that the lower the price of a barrel of oil, the less is collected in revenue. This matters in a state - like Texas - that has to run a balanced budget. The effects of the reduction in price is beginning to be felt. This might include a reduction in the state's credit rating.

- Click here for the article.

Several states that are dependent on energy revenue are facing strained budgets due to low oil prices, and at least three — Alaska,Louisiana and New Mexico — are at risk having their credit ratings lowered, according to a report from Standard & Poor's Ratings Services.

"In short, the more aggressive a state was with regard to its assumptions and use of oil-related revenues during the oil boom, the more acute its fiscal pressures now, in the oil price bust," according to S&P. "For states with greater budgetary reliance on oil-related revenue, the unrelenting decline in prices places a larger budget on state lawmakers to identify and enact corrective fiscal measures."
The report, entitled "Collapsing Oil Prices Seep Into State Credit Profiles," suggests that as state lawmakers head into session in the next budget season, their true fiscal situation "could be more intense than what their official forecasts currently anticipate." The report surveys the situation in eight major oil-producing states: Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas andWyoming.
S&P pointed out that all of the states in the survey forecast a higher price for oil than what the ratings agency expects in 2016 ($40 per barrel). For example, Alaska has a fiscal 2016 price assumption of $49.58 per barrel, according to S&P, while Louisiana's is $48.02 per barrel and Texas is $49.48 per barrel. Looking ahead to fiscal 2017, just one state (North Dakota) is identified as having a forecast in line with S&P ($45 per barrel).

Meet the Wilks Brothers

They are Cisco natives named Dan and Farris. They were early adopters of hydraulic fracking and built a company they sold for $3.5 billion. I mention them, because they are helping fund the effort to swing the House even more conservative than it already is by becoming heavily involved in funding the primary campaigns of far right conservatives who want to remove the merely right conservatives currently holding office.

Here's a story related to that effort from the Texas Tribune.

Fracking Billionaire Emerges as Key Donor in Texas House Races.

A family of West Texas billionaires heavily invested in U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's presidential campaign is also vying to play an outsized role in efforts to steer the direction of the Texas House during the next legislative session, according to the latest campaign finance data.
Campaign finance reports covering the last half of 2015 showed some of the largest donations going to two kinds of races: those involving key lieutenants of House SpeakerJoe Straus and those involving some of his loudest critics. In most of those races, many of the largest donations to the latter group trace back to billionaire Farris Wilks of Cisco or a member of his family.
Empower Texans PAC, the campaign arm of the conservative group that has a history of playing a large role in Republican primaries, took in 70 percent of its donations over the six-month reporting period through a single $500,000 donation from Wilks, who along with his brother Dan, made his fortune during the fracking boom of the last decade. The PAC spread much of that money around to a handful of Republican incumbents who have been critical of Straus, including Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, Tony Tinderholt of Arlington, Molly White of Belton and Matt Rinaldi of Irving, along with Republicans vying to unseat Straus allies.
Members of the Wilks family also made large donations directly to those same candidates, as well as a $50,000 donation to Jeff Judson, one of two candidates challenging Straus in the Republican primary.

So here's the lesson. If you want to become politically powerful in the state of Texas. Make a lot of money and then spend it.

For more on the brothers:

- The Forbes 400's Newest Undercover Billionaires: The Wilks Brothers.
- Meet the Billionaire Brothers You Never Heard of Who Fund the Religious Right.
Nos. 40 and 41: Dan Wilks and Farris Wilks

For 2306 - this and that

- Jared Woodfill Starts Small in Bid to 'Take Back' Texas GOP. The internal struggle between the social conservatives and the "establishment" continues. Woodfill wants to become the chair of the Texas Republican Party, take out Texas Speaker Joe Straus along with other more moderate Republicans, and promote a more socially conservative agenda in the 85th session of the legislature. The article highlights which interest groups are also promoting these efforts. The article links to this previous story about how the current Texas GOP chair got his job.

- In Re-Election Bid, Straus Faces Familiar Tea Party Attacks. A bit more detail on the effort of the far right to unseat the merely right Straus: "the speaker’s opponents insist they’re snatching voters from Straus by demonstrating that his record is out of step with his own party and arguing he has few results to show after years of presiding over the House. They argue Straus is too cozy with House Democrats and point to the demise of GOP-backed initiatives, including legislation to expand school choice, a ban on so-called sanctuary cities and measures to further restrict abortion."

- Select Texas Senate tax committee meets in San Antonio. In November, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick appointed members to the Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief. The official announcement stated that it would "travel the state holding public hearings and look for ways to improve the property tax process as well as reduce the burden on property owners." Critic argue that it was just another attempt by the state to clamp down on local governments. The article discusses a recent hearing in San Antonio.

- Analysis: The Death of Taxes on Illegal Drugs in Texas. Here's an interesting story about the tough on crime days in Texas. It also discusses taxes, double jeopardy, the courts, checks and balances, and statutory code. Plus it has way cool images of tax stamps intended to be put on confiscated drugs. They are collectors items now apparently.

- Abbott lays into legislators, feds in first year review. In this televised interview, the governor - in part - discusses what he would like to see the next session of the Texas Legislature prioritize.

From Vox: How Amazon could destroy college as we know it

I like to post the occasional piece about how college is being transformed, both due to new technologies, a business model that see profit in the enterprise, and a growing sense that the current model does not quite fit the needs of a rapidly changing working population. No surprise that Jeff Bezos is in the middle of it.

- Click here for the article.

For years, pundits have speculated that online instruction could begin to overtake traditional higher education, but too often have offered few details about how this would happen. Already, however, you can see a path through which tech companies could gain a foothold in the higher ed market.
Here's one scenario — told through the vantage point of Amazon's Jeff Bezos in 2030. I don't know if it's going to happen, but as you'll see in the footnotes, Amazon is already making moves that could suggest it would be a potent competitor to existing colleges and universities.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

From the Wall Street Journal: How the Iowa Caucuses Work

A helpful primer - the election is this coming Monday.

- Click here for the article.

From Vox: The unsexy truth about why the Arab Spring failed

In 2305 - and to a lesser extent 2306 - were discussing democracy. In passing I mention that we seem to be going through an occasional period where democratic governments are scaling back. A leading researcher of democratization calls this a period of democratic recession. You democracies are reverting into oligarchies.

- Click here for: Facing up to the Democratic Recession.

Vox attempts to explain this recession by looking at the fate of some of the government establ;oshed in the Arab Spring. The author argues that the lack of established and functioning institutions is one of the key reasons this is occurring. It helps illustrate a point we make in class about the governmental system established in the U.S Constitution. It is built up on institutions that were developed over British history. This allowed for a degree of stability, meaning they were able to survive. The countries in the middle east do not have institutions with such a history, which helps explain why they slid back into authoritarian military systems.

- Click here for the article:
In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak began preparing for revolution long before it came. In the three decades of his rule, he systematically ensured that no opposition party or civil society institution grew strong enough to challenge him. But in ensuring that no institutions were powerful or independent enough to threaten his rule, Mubarak also ensured that they were too weak to support a transition to democracy after he fell.
Mubarak stuffed the interior ministry with political loyalists rather than effective public servants, which allowed corruption and brutality to corrode public security. He turned the judiciary into a pro-regime puppet, which gave him a tool to persecute political opponents but left judges dependent and the rule of law weak. He undermined liberal opposition parties and tolerated the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood only enough to let him credibly claim to the world, "It’s me or the Islamists," using frequent crackdowns and careful electoral rules to ensure that they never got real governing experience.
The one institution that gathered strength was the military. Its role in politics expanded under Mubarak far beyond what his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, had permitted, with Mubarak using patronage to buy the military's loyalty as it grew more powerful.
. . . the conditions that Mubarak deliberately engineered to elongate his rule — an excessively powerful military, a weak opposition without governing experience, corrupt security services, hollowed-out civil society, and no effective democratic institutions — have all remained after his fall, and have undermined successive governments as much as they eventually undermined his own.
When you see that, it becomes clear that the real problem was never the degree to which individual protesters did or did not understand grassroots political organizing. That democratic transition isn't merely the absence of a dictator. Rather, it is the presence of democratic rule.
And democratic rule requires something a lot more important, if less obviously visible, than having a good-guy democrat at the top of the government. It requires the institutions of democracy: political parties capable of winning elections, politicians capable of governing, a bureaucracy capable of implementing that governance, and civil society groups able to provide support and stability to those institutions

From the Texas Tribune: Grand Jury Indicts Abortion Foes Behind Undercover Videos

We discuss grand juries in both 2305 ans 2306

- Click here for the story.
A Harris County grand jury on Monday indicted the videographers behind undercover recordings of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston and cleared the women's health provider of any wrongdoing.
The indictments — part of the county prosecutor's investigation into allegations that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue — include charges against anti-abortion activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. The grand jury handed down a second charge for Daleiden for “Prohibition of the Purchase and Sale of Human Organs," according to the Harris County District Attorney's office. That charge is a class A misdemeanor that carries a punishment of up to a year in jail.
The grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston of breaking any laws.

For more background, also from the Texas Tribune:

- Indictment Sheds Light on Planned Parenthood Sting.

The Texas Penal Code indicates that the mere offer to buy or sell human organs, including fetal tissue, is a violation.

While the sale of fetal tissue is illegal, abortion clinics may donate fetal tissue with a patient’s consent for use in medical research. Federal law allows clinics to be reimbursed for costs “associated with the transportation, implantation, processing preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue” for research purposes — an amount that typically ranges from $25 to $50.
Offering to pay health providers an amount higher than those administrative costs is also a violation of the law.
The charge against Daleiden is a class A misdemeanor that carries a punishment of up to a year in jail.
The misdemeanor charge is one result of the Harris County District Attorney’s criminal investigation into allegations that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue. That investigation — launched at the urging of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — focused on undercover recordings of staff at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston discussing the administrative costs of harvesting fetal organs at various stages of gestation.

Monday, January 25, 2016

From Business Insider: 14 incredible facts about Texas

Just for fun. We'll look through more of these this semester.

- Click here for the article.

This stuck out:

The total weight of catfish consumed in Texas annually is more than the weight of 6.5 Eiffel Towers.

From Trib Talk: How to be heard

The author speculates that one reason political participation might be so low is that governments high and low make it difficult for citizen to meaningfully make their opinions heard. The opportunities that exist are not that easy of most of us to participate in. Maybe attitudes about government would change if this was easier.

- Click here for the story.
Ever been mad at government? Don’t answer that.
But have you ever spoken up? More importantly, have you ever felt heard?
Candidates for office are awfully focused on listening to prospective voters. Once those candidates are elected and in office, they don’t stop listening, but it can be much harder to get through to them — to weigh in on policy options they’re facing in a timely and meaningful enough fashion for it to affect their decision.
Odd, isn’t it? If you’re married or in a committed relationship, you’d probably prefer being consulted on decisions that affect you — where you’ll live, say, or where your kids go to school. It seems unlikely that a marriage or relationship would prosper if one person made major decisions without consulting another.
So, why do governments across Texas, at all levels, make it so difficult for those affected by policy decisions to affect those decisions? Most limit the public’s participation to public hearings (often held so late at night that it can be difficult for some to stay awake to hear the speakers) or generalized public comment periods, which often are monopolized by extremists spouting rhetoric unrelated to the government’s jurisdiction.
These hearings and comment periods may matter, but if they occur right before a vote, it's hard to see how. After all, we expect our politicians to do their homework before voting, so why should we expect them to disregard that homework just because someone makes a nice speech?
This limit on public participation in many communities and state agencies means that a very select few participate — those comfortable enough and able to spend hours waiting for a few minutes to take a stand and make a speech, in public, often televised and/or streamed live. That significantly skews an elected official’s perception of public opinion.
The choreography also works against the public. We structure these events like we would a church, a courtroom, or a lecture hall — with elected officials aloft on a dais, their “congregation” of citizens all wanting their ear but seated for a sermon. That does not convey a spirit of dialogue with the public affected by decisions, an open ear to hearing their views.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

From Roll Call: 2016 Race Ratings

For 2305 students who plan to wrote about the congressional campaigns. A look at the odds for each of the congressional races this year.

- Click here for the link.

What positions are up for election this year?

I lifted this list from the website of the Harris County Democratic Party.

These are in addition to the race for the presidency. We should make it a goal that you are familiar with each of these positions by the time the semester is over.

United States Representative
Railroad Commissioner
Supreme Court
Court of Criminal Appeals
State Board of Education
State Senator
State Representative
Court of Appeals
District Judge
District Attorney
Judge, County Court at Law
County Attorney
County Tax Assessor-Collector
County School Trustee
County Commissioner
Justice of the Peace
County Chair
Precinct Chair

For 2306 - 1/24/16

Some odds and ends for state and local government

Though the Texas Legislature is not meeting right now, standing committees are. Here is a report of one meeting about "sanctuary cities" one of the items that might appear on the agenda of the 85th session nest year. Click here for the story.
The El Paso Times editorializes on the need to address the unique issues of urban schools - especially those with a high number of poor students. An interest group called the Urban Council of Superintendents has reformed in order to push an agenda enhancing the quality of urban schools in the next session of the legislature. Click here for the story.
Two public school advocates criticize Texas' approach to evaluating school quality. The difference between good and bad schools they argue is the degree of poverty the school student's live in. Click here for the story.
The executive director of the Texas Municipal League argues that declined in state support for infrastructure projects - notable transportation projects - places additional burdens on cities. Click here for the story.
The Texas Attorney General has decide that online fantasy sports counts as gambling and is illegal in the state. The industry argues that it is a game of skill, and says its not going anywhere. A variety of issue regarding gambling are perennially argued before the legislature. Click here for the story.
Some police departments are putting signs on their cars stating "In God We Trust" which may or may not raise establishment clause questions. It'll be interesting to see if a lawsuit comes from it, and if the court decides the plaintiff has standing to sue. Click here for the story.

From the NYT: As Frustrations With Mexico’s Government Rise, So Do Lynchings

We'll touch on the need for a stable governing system to minimize mob violence - a key point made by the framers of the constitution.

- Click here for the story.
By some accounts, there were more public lynchings this past year than at any other time in more than a quarter-century. There were at least 78 lynchings last year in Mexico, more than double the number the previous year, according to data collected by Raúl Rodríguez Guillén, a professor and an author of the book “Mexico Lynchings, 1988-2014.”
The mob actions were born of a sense of hopelessness and impotence shared by many in Mexico, where 98 percent of murders go unsolved and the state is virtually absent in some areas. By some estimates, just 12 percent of crimes are even reported in Mexico, largely because of a lack of faith that justice will ever be served.
Such a void, taken to extremes, has found its resolution in violence.
“There is a crisis in terms of the growth of violence and crime and a parallel erosion of authority and the rule of law,” Mr. Guillén said. “These lynchings acquire a double meaning. People lynch both the suspect and the symbol of authority.”

Replacing El Franco Lee

Lee was a Harris County Commissioner - Precinct One - and died about a month ago. The timing of his death has made replacing him problematic. County commissioner is one of the many positions that will be filled in the November election, the competition will be - for all practical purposes - between the candidates offered by the Democratic and Republican Parties. Those candidates will be determined in the upcoming primary election on March 1st. Most attention will be paid to the race for the presidential nomination. County commissioner will be among what are called down ballot races because, despite the impact of the office, few voters really pay attention to them.

As far as the process for replacing Lee in office right now, as well as replacing him on the ballot, we have to look to the Texas Electoral Code. 2306 students will become familiar with it soon enough, 2305 students should note that the rules for primary elections - with few exceptions - are set by the state, meaning by the state legislators, who are also members of each political party. So in reality, each party - through its elected officials - gets to determine the rules associated with elections. The exceptions are related to timing and a few other matters related to the race for the presidential nomination.

Existing law states that the county judge can name the temporary replacement, which was done recently as Judge Ed Emmett named Gene Locke to fill the position until November.

- Click here for New Harris County commissioner sworn in to finish El Franco Lee's term.

For a look at the process for replacing Lee on the ballot, click here and here.

This text is from Carroll Robinson's website.
The Issue
During the past few days, there has been a great deal of speculation about the legal process for selecting someone to replace the late Commissioner El Franco Lee on the November 2016 General Election ballot. (Texas Election Code, Subchapter C. Sections 172.057, 172.058 and 172.054 (1).)
The Primary Ballot – No Options
Under the state election code, Commissioner Lee’s name cannot be removed from the March Democratic Party Primary Election ballot, and the deadline for extending the filing deadline to allow other people to add their name to the primary ballot has passed. (Texas Election Code, Subchapter C, Section 172.058(b) and Subchapter B, Sections 145.035 and 145.036.)
General Election Ballot
Under the Texas Election Code, once the March Primary Election and Run-Off has concluded, the Democratic Precinct Judges in Commissioners Court Precinct 1 will meet to select a replacement candidate to appear on the November ballot for a full four-year term. Under the law, there is no option of a Special Election for selecting a replacement candidate for the November General Election ballot.
Sitting Elected Officials
Under the law, a person’s name cannot appear on the ballot for two positions. This means that currently elected officials up for re-election this year cannot be listed on the ballot for both Commissioner and re-election to their current office.
If A State Legislator Is Selected As The Replacement
In the event a state legislator is selected as the ballot replacement for the Precinct 1 position, his/her legislative office position on the November ballot would become available. To fill that position, a separate appointment process would occur, with the precinct judges of that specific jurisdiction selecting a replacement in the event no other candidate is on the primary ballot for that position. There is some confusion over the eligibility of current officeholders whose existing term would overlap in part or totally. Specifically, the eligibility of a municipal elected official to be appointed to a state legislative position. Under current law, any potential replacement would have to resign from office prior to selection to be considered because of the State holdover provision based on an existing Texas Supreme Court decision to possibly be eligible to succeed the legislator. (Wentworth v. Meyer, 839 S.W. 2nd 766 (Tex. 1992) and Texas Attorney General Letter Opinion No. 95-069 (November 7, 1995).)
The Court’s decision raises a number of questions and does not give full clarity on a state constitutional provision that had historically prohibited sitting elected officials from being elected to the legislature if their term of office would overlap with the term of office of the legislative seat they were planning to seek. (Texas Attorney General Letter Opinion No.95-069 (November 7, 1995).)
Questions Still To Be Answered
- We are still researching answers to the following questions.
- How will the meeting of the Precinct Judges to select the replacement be conducted?
- Who will Chair the meeting and how will the Chair be selected?
- What will be the process for individuals to be considered to be the replacement? 
- Can the Precinct Judges retain counsel to advise them on the questions involved in selecting the replacement?

1. Commissioner Lee’s name will be the only one on the Democratic Party Primary Ballot.
2. In June, the Democratic Party Precinct Judges, residing in Commissioner Precinct 1, elected in the March primary, will select a replacement candidate to appear on the November General Election ballot. The replacement candidate cannot be selected by Special Election.

For some background, click on the following:

- Democracy inaction.
- The Chron on the El Franco Lee successor selection process.
- Sen. Ellis to seek Commissioner’s position.

The state law related to replacing county commissioners can be found in two places in the state code.

The Electoral Code, click here.
The Local Government Code, click here.

The I Side With Quiz

I asked students to take this quiz for the week one written assignment.

- Click here for it.

It's meant to get students to think about which issues are currently topical, where they might stand on them, and find out which candidates they should consider supporting as a result. I like that the quiz also asks what priority they give to the issue, as well as background info on the issue itself, hopefully that'll help us all become more knowledgeable about them - that'll give us some items to focus on in class. I'll use it to figure out which news stories to highlight as well.

Later this week, I'll compile results so we'll get a sense about which candidates students are - or should - support in the current campaign,

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Citizenship Law of Pericles

I stumbled across this while looking for background info on classical attitudes about the role of a citizen in the a governing system. Pericles is held out to be the most influential of the ancient Athenians and was referred to as the first citizen of Athens. It makes sense then that he would elaborate what qualified as a citizen in Athens and what citizens get that others don't in Athenian society.

- Click here for the source.

In 451 B.C. Pericles introduced one of most striking proposals with his sponsorship of a law stating that henceforth citizenship would be conferred only on children whose mother and father both were Athenians.1Previously, the offspring of Athenian men who married non-Athenian women were granted citizenship. Aristocratic men in particular had tended to marry rich foreign women, as Pericles' own maternal grandfather had done.
Pericles' new law enhanced the status of Athenian mothers and made Athenian citizenship a more exclusive category, definitively setting Athenians off from all others. Not long thereafter, a review of the citizenship rolls was conducted to expel any who had claimed citizenship fraudulently. Together these actions served to limit the number of citizens and thus limit dilution of the advantages which citizenship in Athens' radical democracy conveyed on those included in the citizenry.
Those advantages included, for men, the freedom to participate in politics and juries, to influence decisions that directly affected their lives, to have equal protection under the law, and to own land and houses in Athenian territory. Citizen women2 had less rights because they were excluded from politics, had to have a male legal guardian3(kurios), who, for example, spoke for them in court, and were not legally entitled to make large financial transactions on their own. They could, however, control property and have their financial interests protected in law suits. Like men, they were entitled to the protection of the law regardless of their wealth.
Both female and male citizens experienced the advantage of belonging to a city-state that was enjoying unparalleled material prosperity. Citizens clearly saw themselves as the elite residents of Athens.

I put the last sentence in bold for effect.

For more on Pericles.
- Wikipedia: Pericles.
- Plutarch: The Life of Pericles.

Spurious Correlations

One of the articles in the post below linked to this site. It's worth posting separately because at some point I'll ask students to interpret graphical data. Just because two events move together, which implies that they are connected to each other, does not mean that they are related. The phrase you hear over and over again is "correlation does not imply causation."

- Click here for the site.

Here is one of the - inverse - correlations they highlight. The spike in juvenile arrests for possession of marijuana seems to have been caused by the reduction in honey producing bee colonies. Obviously if you want to reduce the number of juveniles smoking pot we have to increase the number of honeybees. Makes perfect sense.

Policy evaluation in the news: California's Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute

This actually applies to a variety of topics in both 2305 and 2306, including:

- federalism.
- initiatives.
- laboratories of democracy.
- public policy process.

The law converted a variety nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and was passed as an initiative presented to voters  in California in November 2014. It's considered to be part of a broad effort to scale back the drug war. There have been efforts to decriminalize nonviolent crime in Texas. Negative assessments of the impact of this change may well impact that trend.

For background read these:

- Wikipedia: California Proposition 47 (2014).
- Ballotpedia: California Proposition 47, Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative (2014).

Much like Texas is dealing with the fallout associated with the implementation of the open carry laws, California is doing the same with the consequences of the reduction in punishment associated with these crimes. Little surprise that police are opposed to the initiative, but here's a look at a variety of groups assess this policy change. Collectively, their assessments will give us a hint abut whether other states will change their policing policies as well.

- California Cops Frustrated With 'Catch-And-Release' Crime-Fighting.
- What we learned from California's Prop 47 in 2015.
- Unintended consequences of Prop. 47 pose challenge for criminal justice system.
- A ‘virtual get-out-of-jail-free card’.
- Did California Prop. 47 Cause State Crime Boost?.

Catching up on money in politics

Open Secrets lists the top donors here: 2016 Top Donors to Outside Spending Groups.

They also have a section devoted to spending on the 2016 Presidential Race.

For recent news stories:

- Lobby firms reap benefits of an active Congress.
Many of the nation’s largest lobby firms saw a spike in revenue in 2015, driven by a more productive Congress and the continuing battles over environmental regulations, trade policy, taxes and health care. Seven of the 10 biggest lobby shops by revenue reported year-over-year gains in fees, according to year-end disclosure reports filed with the Senate on Wednesday. 

- Obama weighs whether to force federal contractors to reveal political spending.

President Obama is weighing whether to invoke his executive authority to force federal contractors to disclose political contributions they make to independent groups, according to individuals briefed on the matter. The proposed executive order would require corporations that currently have federal contracts to disclose what they spend on political campaign efforts, including money forwarded through trade associations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other advocacy groups.

- The Secrets of Charles Koch’s Political Ascent.

In a recent round of interviews, Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and political patron, has been stressing that he only recently became involved in politics. As he put it in an interview with Megyn Kelly on October 15, “I’ve never been that fond of politics and only got dragged into it recently kicking and screaming.” But according to what appear to be two never-before-seen documents—a paper Charles wrote in 1976 and an unpublished history of Charles’ political evolution—Charles began planning his ambitious remaking of American politics 40 years ago, transitioning from libertarian ideologue to conservative power broker. For his new movement, which aimed to empower ultraconservatives like himself and radically change the way the U.S. government worked, he analyzed and then copied what he saw as the strengths of the John Birch Society, the extreme, right-wing anti-communist group to which he, his brother David and their father, Fred Koch, had belonged. Charles Koch might claim that his entry into politics is new, but from its secrecy to its methods of courting donors and recruiting students, the blueprint for the vast and powerful Koch donor network that we see today was drafted four decades ago.

- What is political ‘dark money’ — and is it bad?

Why are so many people upset about dark money in politics?
Campaign finance reform activists argue that voters should know who is funding political advertisements. Such information, they assert, is essential to voters’ ability to evaluate the merits of political messages — and to know if certain special interests may be trying to curry favor with politicians. Fred Wertheimer, the founder and president of Democracy 21, for one, has said that “history makes clear that unlimited contributions and secret money are a formula for corruption.” Likewise, the Campaign Legal Center has called the emergence of dark money a “serious threat to our democracy.” In a portion of the controversial Citizens United decision, eight of the nine Supreme Court justices agreedthat disclosure of money in politics was important because “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

- A Banner Year for 'Dark Money' in Politics.

The 2016 presidential campaign not only will feature more money than any since Watergate, but also more secret money than the days when black satchels of illicit cash were passed around.
The so-called dark money, or contributions that don't have to be disclosed, topped more than $300 million in the 2012 presidential race, and some experts believe that the levels may be far higher this time. There also is a risk that foreign money could be surreptitiously funneled into the presidential campaign because it wouldn't have to be publicly disclosed.

This flood of cash is occurring thanks to a ruse that permits political advocacy groups to claim that they are principally social welfare agencies and thus tax exempt and not subject to disclosure. These organizations court interest groups and rich donors, some of whom want the influence that political money brings but not the public association. It's a win for the interest groups and the candidates; the public is kept in the dark.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

From Politico: The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You’re a Trump Supporter And it’s not gender, age, income, race or religion.

They are authoritarians!

At least according to the author.

Authoritarianism happens to be one of the terms I want student to become familiar with in the early sections of the class, so here's a good introduction to the used in context.

- Click here for the article.

Trump’s electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it’s very possible that Trump’s fan base will continue to grow.
My finding is the result of a national poll I conducted in the last five days of December under the auspices of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, sampling 1,800 registered voters across the country and the political spectrum. Running a standard statistical analysis, I found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter.
Authoritarianism is not a new, untested concept in the American electorate. Since the rise of Nazi Germany, it has been one of the most widely studied ideas in social science. While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened. From pledging to “make America great again” by building a wall on the border to promising to close mosques and ban Muslims from visiting the United States, Trump is playing directly to authoritarian inclinations.

What does Robert's Rules of Order and the Galveston Seawall have in common?

Apparently the same person - an engineer - was responsible for both.

Henry Martin Robert was the subject of today's Engines of our Ingenuity.

- Click here for it.

For more from Wikipedia:

- Henry Martin Robert.
- Robert's Rules of Order.
- Galveston Seawall.

From CityLab: 12 of America's Biggest Highway Boondoggles

When we look at budgeting in the state of Texas we'll note that spending on highways - which is listed under economic development - is the very large. We'll look at the numbers soon enough, but high levels of spending does not necessarily mean the money is spent well. Transportation in Texas continues to be primarily oriented around cars and the highways they drive on. When highways get crowded, the standard solution is to expand them, but sometimes that only provides a temporary solution. More cars are purchased, more people move in the affected area, and soon enough traffic is just as bad - or worse.

A recent report suggest that's exactly what happened with the recently completed expansion of I-10 heading west out of Houston. It's prominently featured in a list of ill thought out highway projects recently completed - or underway - in the US.

- Click here for the article.
- Click here for the report.

When Texas expanded the Katy Freeway in Houston a few years back, the expectation was that making the massive road even wider would relieve traffic. Some $2.8 billion later, the 26-lane interstate laid claim to being the “world's widest freeway”—but the drivers who commuted along it every day were no better off. More lanes simply invited more cars, and by 2014, morning and evening travel times had increased by 30 and 55 percent, respectively, over 2011.
The lesson of the Katy Freeway is precisely the one that U.S. PIRG hopes to convey in its new report, “Highway Boondoggles 2,” the sequel to a 2014 effort. Given that expanding highways at great public cost doesn’t improve rush-hour traffic, there are better ways to spend this money, argue report authors Jeff Inglis of Frontier Group and John C. Olivieri of U.S. PIRG. They identify a dozen road projects, costing $24 billion in all, that are “representative” of the problem.

From the Houston Chronicle: Local governments under fire for gun bans

File this one under policy implementation. It also fits under a general discussion of the relationship between state and local governments, in addition to the role of the Texas Attorney General in adjudicating disputes. The struggle over where someone can and cannot openly carry a handgun continues.

- Click here for the article.
Senate Bill 273, which went into effect Sept. 1, allows anyone to file a complaint with the attorney general's office if he believes a state agency or political subdivision is improperly posting the signs where guns are allowed.
Under the law, the complainant first must send a written complaint to the entity. If three days go by without a response, he can file a complaint with Paxton's office. The attorney general then investigates the allegation - which must include proof of the improper signage and lack of local response - and forwards it to the appropriate division if further action needs to be taken.
Governmental entities found in violation of the law have 15 days to remedy the situation; if they do not, Paxton's office can sue, seeking penalties of up to $1,500 for the first day and $10,500 for each subsequent day they are deemed non-compliant. The new law applies only to signs that bar gun owners with a license to carry, or LTC, "from entering or remaining on a premises or other place owned or leased by the governmental entity." As of Jan. 1, those with an LTC are allowed to carry their handguns openly in a shoulder or hip holster.
The complaints received by Paxton's office since Sept. 1 target a variety of entities, from the Deer Park Community Center to the Dallas Zoo.
Nearly a quarter of the complaints were filed against city halls and other government complexes where signs were posted telling Texans they could not carry handguns anywhere in their buildings. Six were filed against local governmental entities that want to ban guns in their entire courthouse or judicial complexes, and three were lodged against county appraisal districts or tax offices.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Does the president's deferred action immigration policy violate the "take care clause" of the U.S. Constitution?

Or does the executive action fall within the president's ability to implement the law as he see fit? This is classic checks and balances:

For more on the specific actions:

- Wikipedia: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
- Wikipedia: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans.

Here is the Take Care Clause in context: 

Section Three: He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

For more on the clause.

- Heritage Foundation: Take Care Clause.

The case is United States v Texas. Oral arguments are

Here are the four issues presented to the court by the case:

(1) Whether a state that voluntarily provides a subsidy to all aliens with deferred action has Article III standing and a justiciable cause of action under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to challenge the Secretary of Homeland Security’s guidance seeking to establish a process for considering deferred action for certain aliens because it will lead to more aliens having deferred action;
(2) whether the guidance is arbitrary and capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law;
(3) whether the guidance was subject to the APA’s notice-and-comment procedures; and
(4) whether the guidance violates the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, Article II, section 3.

For more:

- Scotusblog: United States v. Texas.
- Washington Post: Supreme Court to review Obama’s power on deportation policy.
- Slate: John Roberts’ Worst Judicial Nightmare.

From Bloomberg: Obama's Gun Control Initiative Challenged in Federal Lawsuit

We discussed in class whether the expansion of background checks for gun buyers - and more specifically the requirement that gun sellers perform the checks - may or may not be constitutional. We don't really know because the court has never ruled on a such a case.

But now they may have the chance.

To be on the safe side - in case the Second Amendment argument fails - a second argument is being presented, that president did not follow the appropriate federal rule making process.

- Click here for the article.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s expansion of background checks for would-be gun buyers is being challenged in a lawsuit by a political activist who claims the changes violate the Constitution and the federal rule-making process.
Stymied by congress in prior attempts to enact gun-control legislation following mass shootings, the president on Jan. 5 announced a new interpretation of already-existing rules defining who is a firearms dealer. The new definition would subject more transactions -- including sales at gun shows and on the Internet -- to background checks, preventing sales to people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
Those measures and others were unveiled by Obama in a sometimes tearful televised speech that drew immediate criticism from gun-rights supporters.

“It is clearly arbitrary and capricious for the defendants, each and every one of them, to now suddenly adopt and implement a new and different interpretation for no other reason than the political preferences of temporary occupants of elected office,” attorney Larry Klayman said in a complaint filed at the U.S. court in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Klayman, the founder of the political watchdog group Freedom Watch, claims the background-check initiative violates the constitution’s Second Amendment, which the U.S. Supreme Court has said guarantees an individual’s right to bear arms for self-defense.Rule Making
Even if constitutional, the redefinition circumvented the federal rule-making process, he said. Klayman, who said he’s a Florida resident and the owner of two 9-millimeter handguns and one .45 caliber weapon, is seeking a court order blocking the executive action and declaring the measures unlawful.

Did the process the ACA (Obamacare) took through Congress violate the origination clause?

The Supreme Court declined to take up a case making that argument, so we will never really know.


- Obamacare dodges another bullet at the Supreme Court.
- Appeals court rejects new test of health care mandate.

Article One, Section Seven of the U.S. Constitution states that:

All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.

The Affordable Care Act was judged by the Supreme Court - when it found the law to be constitutional - to be a tax. An individual who did not want to have to buy insurance sued saying the law was invalid because it did not follow the proper procedure. Tax bills have to originate in the House, the ACA did not. Lower courts did not buy this argument arguing that the revenue collected is not a tax to be collected for the treasury, but to lay for the programs created by the law. Social Security and Medicare are funded in similar ways.

- Click here for the ruling from the DC Circuit court of appeals.

By not accepting the appeal, the Supreme Court in essence chose to implicitly accept the reasoning of the lower court. There's more to the story - click on the links above to dig into it.

For more on the origination clause, click on these:

- Heritage Foundation.
- Legal Information Institute.

From The Hill: Constitutional lawyer: Cruz ‘right’ about citizenship

A prominent lawyer not only argues that Senator Cruz is likely a "natural born citizen" as stated in the Constitution, he argues the Supreme Court is unlikely to rule on the question.

- Click here for the article.

Constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams says Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is on the right side in the argument over whether he can run for president.
“I think Senator Cruz is right that ‘natural-born’ as understood would more likely than not be held to mean someone that didn’t need to be naturalized, didn’t have to go through any procedure to be an American, as of course he did not because he had an American mother,” Abrams told host John Catsimatidis on “The Cats Roundtable” on New York’s AM-970 on Sunday.

Despite his belief that Cruz is a natural-born citizen, Abrams said the Supreme Court likely would not hand down a decision if petitioned in the case.
“I’ll tell you what I think they would say: I think they would say we’re not going to rule,” he said. “I think they would say, we’re going to treat this as what we call a political question. Congress can decide, the public can decide, but we’re not going to pass on the issue of whether these words are of such magnitude as to disqualify someone for the presidency.
“I think that’s where it would be left. I think it will ultimately be, even if Senator Cruz were to be elected president, one that the courts would just stay away from,” he added.


2305 topics in the news

These all relate to the presidential campaign.

- How Ted Cruz fixes the Goldman Sachs loan scandal. This applies to our later discussion of campaign finance rules and the Federal Election Commission - as well as the 2016 campaign.

- The two-man race theory. The Republican care may have whittled itself down to two candidates even before the first actual votes are cast. This quite the development considering that over a dozen were running at one point - and many still are, officially.

- Bernie Sanders’ radical past: How the Vermont firebrand started wearing a suit and gave up on taking over big companies. The author traces the route Sanders took from being a actual radical to radicalish.

- Rand Paul's supporters warn him not to skip next GOP debate. Paul is trying to figure out how to draw attention to himself despite polling around three percent nationally

From 538: Beware A GOP Calendar Front-Loaded With States Friendly To Trump And Cruz

We'll be looking at the primary calendar in class, and the impact that will have on who becomes the nominee for either party. Here's an analysis of the impact that the timing of the Republican primaries is likely to have on the eventual winner. The author charts possible paths to victory for the top three candidates - Trump, Cruz, and Rubio - and where each needs to be at which stage of the process in order to win the required number of delegates.

- Click here for the article.

The GOP’s primary calendar is surprisingly front-loaded with states friendly to insurgents like Trump and Cruz. But because of Republican National Committee rules, all but one of these states will award their delegates on a proportional basis, intentionally making it difficult for any one candidate to build a durable or commanding lead.
Instead, Florida and Ohio, which tend to support more conventional Republicans, are likelier to shape the race’s destiny than Iowa or South Carolina. That’s because they will award a whopping 99 and 72 delegates, respectively, in huge winner-take-all primaries on March 15.
These are the findings of a new joint FiveThirtyEight and Cook Political Report project to map out each top GOP contender’s unique route to amassing the 1,237 delegates required to clinch the nomination at the national convention in Cleveland. Although there is still plenty of time for Trump or Cruz to falter or for another candidate to rival Rubio for the mantle of “establishment” front-runner, for now, this is functionally a three-man race.
The project relied on a three-step process. First, we utilized three variables — education, religious affiliation, and state and congressional district partisanship — to model Trump’s, Cruz’s and Rubio’s geographic support in primaries and caucuses from February through June.
Based on recent polling, we assume Trump will fare best in states and districts with small shares of college graduates, while Cruz’s hallmark will be strong support in places with large shares of evangelical protestants. We also assume that Rubio, like previous “establishment” favorites, will perform well in bluer and more highly educated states and districts, but will under perform in caucus states

Expect much more on primary elections as the semester progresses - both for 2305 and 2306.