Thursday, January 29, 2015

From 538: Everybody Hates Chris Christie

I'm not linking to this because it has anything to do with Governor Christie, but because of this graph the article (click here for it) contains:


Here's a description of what you're looking at:

I’ve matched the net favorability rating (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) of every major party nominee among their party’s members since 1980 against the percentage of party members who could form an opinion of them during the first six months of the year before the primaries.

Some nominees, such as Democrats Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton, weren’t well known at this point in the campaign. Some, such as Republicans Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan, were very well known and popular. There was George W. Bush in 1999, who was particularly well liked, even if he wasn’t universally known. But no prior nominee had a net favorability rating more than 10 percentage points below where you’d expect given his name recognition.
Christie is 25 percentage points off the pace.
This provides another look at the range of candidates for the Republican nomination and compares them with where successful candidates in the past - for either party - fit in terms of recognition and favorability.

What is a college education? David Ray at TEDxOU

One of your fellow students sent this to me and I think it might be worth your time to watch it. This fits with the theme of the opening section of both 2305 and 2306.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

From the Washington Post: Arizona will require high school students to pass citizenship test to graduate. Can you pass?

They want their high school students to know as much as newly naturalized citizens.

- Click here for the article.

Arizona high school students will have to pass the same test that immigrants must take to obtain citizenship before they graduate under a new law signed Thursday by Gov. Doug Ducey (R).
The first-of-its-kind law will require students to take the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization civics test, a set of 100 basic questions on U.S. government and history. Students will have to get 60 of the 100 questions correct in order to graduate.
The measure passed the state House and Senate in a single day. It’s one of the first measures Ducey, inaugurated earlier this week, signed into law.
Arizona is just the first state to require citizenship tests for high school students. The Civics Education Initiative is pursuing similar legislation in dozens of states, with the goal of mandating the test in all 50 states by Sept. 17, 2017 — the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. In Arizona, CEI’s effort was spearheaded by former senators Dennis DeConcini (D) and Jon Kyl (R).
In total, 18 states are likely to consider civics test requirements this year. North Dakota legislators this week advanced their own version through a state House committee.

We'll take some of this in class.

From the NYT: Koch Brothers’ Budget of $889 Million for 2016 Is on Par With Both Parties’ Spending

Much has been - and will continue to be - written about the influence of money in politics, especially that of deep pocketed individuals with agendas. The Koch Brothers stand out from the crowd because of their aggressiveness.

Soon enough - in 2305 - we will discuss the Citizens United decision and its impact on the amount of money private individuals can spend on campaigns, but here's an interesting twist. The Koch Brothers reportedly plan to spend as much money as either of the major political parties on the next presidential election. Meaning that they effectively are establishing their own political party - or at least put themselves in a position where they can influence the candidates of either party they choose.

This news was leaked from a recent retreat held by the brothers that was attended by several potential 2016 candidates.

- Click here for the NYT article

“It’s no wonder the candidates show up when the Koch brothers call,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “That’s exponentially more money than any party organization will spend. In many ways, they have superseded the party.”
The group’s budget, disclosed by a conference attendee, reflects the rising ambition and expanded reach of the Koch operation, which has sought to distinguish itself from other outside groups by emphasizing the role of donors over consultants and political operatives.
While the Koch’s expansive network houses groups with discretely political functions — a data and analytics firm, a state-focused issue-advocacy group and affinity groups aimed at young voters and Hispanics — it also includes groups like Freedom Partners, a trade organization overseen by Koch advisers that plans the retreat and helps corral contributions; Americans for Prosperity, a national grass-roots group; and Concerned Veterans for America, which organizes conservative veterans
While almost no Republican Party leaders were invited to the Koch event, it has become a coveted invitation for the party’s rising stars, for whom the gathered billionaires and multimillionaires are a potential source of financing for campaigns and super PACs. Officials said this year’s conference was the largest ever.
At least five potential presidential candidates were invited this year, and four attended, including Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. On Sunday evening, three of them — Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas — took part in a candidate forum on economic issues.

From the Monkey Cage: The decline of local news is threatening citizen engagement

The authors find that the loss of local newspapers - and presumably less information about local matters - leads to less interest and engagement. The problems this posses for "keeping the republic" seem obvious.

Just as interesting, the authors argue that the decline in competitive races for the US House of Representatives has led to less coverage of these races, which in turn has led to less knowledge about them and then less engagement.

And there's more: The increasing number of options available for information has meant that those who follow politics know more and more because they have access to more information and those who want to avoid it have other places to go. They know less and less.

File this under: "important thing to read"

- Click here for the article.

The author does link to this cool cat video.

Monday, January 26, 2015

These guys do a better job than I do outlining the legislative process.

From The Texas Tribune: Patrick Sets Committees; Taylor Gets Education

Lieutenant Governor Patrick announced his committee picks, along with his decision about who will chair these committees, for this session. This is a key power granted to the lieutenant governor and provides a degree of control over the legislative process in that chamber.

ACC's state senator Larry Taylor will chair the Education Committee.

- Click here for the article.

I found this an interesting look at power in the chamber:

There had been speculation among Capitol observers that the higher education committee, chaired by Seliger, who has been an occasional critic of Patrick's, might be folded into the education committee. Not only did it survive, however, but Seliger, who sponsored a fundraiser for Patrick and contributed to his campaign, retained his chairmanship.

And there's this about Taylor:

Who Patrick would pick to chair Education, the committee he headed as a state senator, was a subject of much discussion heading into the session.
Taylor, a sophomore, served on the committee he will now lead during the 2013 legislative session. Before elected to the Senate in 2012, he spent 10 years in the House.
During his time in the lower chamber, he was perhaps best known for leading the charge, along with tort reform groups, to overhaul the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, a state-funded insurance pool that has paid out millions in damages for hurricane-related lawsuits. The fight became a proxy battle between Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, and later resulted in top trial lawyer and Democratic donor Steve Mostyn pouring money into an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Taylor's bid for Senate in 2012.
In his first year as a senator, Taylor carried two education bills, both co-sponsored with Patrick. One was a so-called "parent trigger" bill, which requires the state to convert failing campuses to charter schools if enough parents petition. The other was legislation similar to House Bill 5, which ultimately became law, making changes to curriculum requirements and reducing the number of state standardized tests for high school students.

Texas Legislature set to limit scope of city ordinances

Despite the historical importance of local government in the state, the legislature - with the support of Governor Abbott - will try to place restrictions on the ability to cities to pass ordinances on a variety of matters.

He frames the matter in ideological terms we're covering in 2305: individualism v collectivism.

The tension reflects the ideological differences between the state government and local governments.

- New Texas Governor Adds To Tension Between State, City Governments.

"The truth is, Texas is being California-ized with bag bans, fracking bans, tree-cutting bans," Abbott said. "We're forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model."
The Texas model Abbott refers to is a conservative vision of the state's business interests unburdened by regulation, legal obligations and taxes. But while state government is Republican through and through, Texas cities are mostly Democratic.
As the Texas Legislature has become more and more conservative, it's become clear to the state's cities that if they don't pass environmental regulations — requiring business permits for junkyards, charging developers for clear-cutting lots, surcharges on plastic grocery bags — nobody will.

The Dallas Morning News thinks this effort is misguided

- Editorial: Since when did a plastic bag ordinance become a collectivist plot?

Gee, we didn’t think a city ban on polluting plastic bags meant we were turning into socialists. Collectivism? We just have bags in trees.
. . . When possible, decision-making should rest in the hands of local officials and citizens who are trying to solve a specific problem. Certainly, there are exceptions; we’ve favored a few. But the burden of proof for the exception should be on Austin to make its case. Short of that, we would urge Abbott to respect the decisions of cities like Dallas and Denton that don’t want noisy, polluting fracking operations and have found solutions that fit their communities. The same is true for plastic bags and junk yards and other local quality-of-life issues.
Enacting local limits on drilling or tree cutting or plastic bags or junk dealers isn’t collectivism. It’s good local government.

Friday, January 23, 2015

From Vox: The real state of the union, in 33 maps and charts

If you like maps and charts, you'll like this page.

- Click here for it.

It contains info about both the state of the union and the relative status of each state. So it's useful for both 2305 and 2306.

Here's a sampling:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

From boom to bust?

The Dallas Morning News thinks we're in bad shape.

- Click here for the article.

I'll look for other opinions, but think about this in terms of revenue collection for the state.

The Texas Legislature Online

For 2306 students, this should be a go to site this semester. It's the best place to track bills, among other things.

- Click here for it.

Tracking the 84th Legislature - Part One

Here's the first batch of articles related to the recently begun legislative session in Austin. I have some catching up to do, but this should give you an idea about what's up so far.

We'll go over highlights in class.

Dan Patrick Moves to Set Agenda at Lege.
Dan Patrick Kills the Two-Thirds Rule.

The Texas Tribune highlights four key issues this session:

1 - Consolidating Texas’ health agencies.
The Sunset Advisory Commission has recommended that lawmakers in 2015 consolidate the state’s five health departments into one “mega-agency,” a move the commission says would make Texas’ health bureaucracy less fragmented and more efficient.
- Click here for the Sunset Advisory Commission.

2 - Combating local drilling ordinances.
Texas officials have become acutely aware of Denton, home to two universities, 277 gas wells and, now, Texas’ first ban on hydraulic fracturing. In November, voters in the Barnett Shale town overwhelmingly supported a ballot proposal to ban the oil and gas extraction method — widely known as fracking — within city limits.
Proponents called the measure a last-ditch effort to address noise and toxic fumes that spew from wells just beyond their backyards, after loopholes and previous zoning decisions rendered changes to the city’s drilling ordinance unenforceable. Critics — including Republican state regulators and lawmakers — argue that state drilling regulations trump Denton’s. And because of current shale economics, they argue that the measure amounts to a ban on all drilling — denying mineral owners their property rights.
Just hours after voters approved the ban, the Texas General Land Office and Texas Oil and Gas Association challenged it in separate lawsuits. Some state lawmakers have also promised to fight the ban in the statehouse, though Denton-area Republicans say they will leave the decision to the judges.
 3 - Enhancing gun rights.
Since 1995, Texans have been able to carry concealed handguns if they take training and obtain a license. Today, it is one of six states that specifically prohibit the unconcealed display of handguns. Multiple bills have been filed targeting handgun restrictions, and one calls for lifting licensing requirements altogether.

4 - Reducing property taxes.
State lawmakers, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in particular, have expressed a strong interest in finding a way to reduce property taxes this session. The Texas Constitution prohibits a statewide property tax and empowers local governments and schools and special districts to levy those taxes. Most property tax revenue goes to public schools.
The state has previously attempted to ease pressure on higher local property tax rates by increasing what it spends on education. But the state cannot set the local rates because of the constitutional ban on state property taxes, and other local taxing entities, including counties and cities, also collect property taxes.

Proposals likely to draw interest include capping how much local entities can increase property taxes and increasing the homestead exemption.

Today's Chart

Lower and middle classes have done worse in the United States than in comparable countries.

Catching up with the "Donor Class"

The new attention given to the middle class is very likely in response to the rise of the donor class - the relatively small groups of wealthy people who have the funds - and recently the legal ability - to bankroll the candidacies of their preferred politicians.

At some point in class we'll look over the question about how democratic the United States and Texas really are. If these small groups can control who wins and what they stand for, then doesn't that make us an oligarchy?

- The Rise of the Political Donor Class.
- Clinton plans to astound, intimidate with fundraising ‘like nothing you’ve seen
- In America; The Donor Class.
- Why the 'donor class' matters, especially in the GOP presidential scrum.

"middle-class populism"

That seems to be the phrase used most often to refer to the proposals the president made in Tuesday's speech - so it's the new hip political buzzword. It stems from the multiple proposals the president made the direct resources and benefits to the middle class - as opposed to the wealthy or the poor. These proposals include tax credits and no tuition for community college. Both parties seem attuned finally to the fact that middle class wages have stagnated for several decades.

The section on ideology discusses populism - here's are a few definitions, some positive, some negative:

- "A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite."
- "A political strategy based on a calculated appeal to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people."
- "An egalitarian political philosophy or movement that promotes the interests of the common people."
- "A political doctrine that appeals to the interests and conceptions (such as hopes and fears) of the general people, especially contrasting those interests with the interests of the elite."

The Tea Party is often described as a middle class populist movement as well, so perhaps these proposals are intended to defuse the movement a bit - perhaps bring some back into the Democratic fold. Obama is out of office in two years so any animosity towards the party that is based attitudes toward him will likely dissipate - assuming Democrats nominate a candidate that doesn't punch the same nerves as Obama has with that part of the electorate.

Here's a sampling of news items using the phrase "middle-class populism."

- Time: Barack Obama Is Ready to Rejoin the Battle.
- Vox: America just got its first glimpse at Hillarynomics — here's what it looks like.
- Michael Gerson: The reality conservatives must face.
- The Brooklyn Rail: WHITHER THE REPUBLICAN PARTY? The 2014 Election and the Future of Capital’s “A-Team

From the Dish: Obama Has Changed The Debate

This might help 2305 students formulate answer to this week's written assignment. It touches on the ideological implications of Obama's SOTU speech, and how it might frame the issues of concern in the 2016 election.

- Click here for the post.

A debate concerning the proper foundation of governments

SOTU word graph

This think is pretty fun.

- Click here for it.

You can compare the frequency of words used in SOTU's over American history.

From the New Critereon: Augustus & the birth of the West

The Dish flags a the latest story on the person most responsible for Romes' shift from republic to empire - Augustus Caesar. He recently turned 2000.

- Click here for the Dish's appraisal.
- Click here for the article - which is behind a paywall.

Along with his better known uncle Julius - Augustus was considered a warning by the framers of the Constitution. An ambitious person who was able to consolidate power and rule directly - no input was necessary from the general population unless he thought it expeditious.

The irony is that despite all this, it's the Roman Empire (with the coliseum and aqueducts and the rest) that we remember and what is emulated in the architecture American government. Consolidated governments can sometimes enhance peace and prosperity - at least for a while. This creates the obvious dilemma.

From the article:

Bereft of historical sensitivity and untutored in the milestones of world history, Americans let slip by, all but unnoticed, the bimillennium of the death of one of the truly towering figures in Western history. While the works of Alexander the Great and Napoleon disappeared with their exit from the stage of history, and where George Washington and Winston Churchill worked on a smaller canvas, Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus created and dominated a political system that set the Western world on its path for the succeeding two thousand years. In forgetting the death of Rome’s first emperor and ignoring his legacy, Americans continue to impoverish their understanding of the world they now bestride.
. . . After the Ides of March, the teenaged Octavian figured in no one’s political calculations. Mark Antony was the dominant figure, and Brutus and Cassius retained significant forces. Yet within just a few years, it would be Antony and Octavian fighting for the ultimate supremacy of the Western world. To read of Octavian’s cautious, calculating, and sure moves during the two decades of civil war, leading to his victory at Actium in 31 B.C., is to encounter political genius of the rarest kind. With his indispensable partner, Agrippa, Octavian then did what had escaped even the great Caesar: establish a durable and impregnable political system to capitalize on his military victory. Thus ended both a century of civil war and Rome’s traditional freedoms. To a world desperate for stability, Augustus was accepted as the unquestioned and irreplaceable arbiter of order.
Augustus’s legacy did not stop with politics, for the Rome of our dreams, too, is largely his creation, carried to its ultimate expression by his successors. The world might not still be fascinated with a city of brick had not Augustus left it one of marble, to paraphrase his famous saying. The fora, baths, Colosseum, and palaces of eternal Rome maintained, even enhanced, their spell over men’s imaginations by their ruins, as much as in their pristine prime. Even the anti-monarchical Americans drew legitimacy from Rome’s material forms. Washington, D.C. is modeled more on imperial Rome than Greece, with its Capitol Hill and classic architecture.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dates of Interest for the 84th Texas Legislative General Session

For context in GOVT 2306:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Primary election for legislative and other offices is held
[Election Code, Sec. 41.007]

Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Primary runoff election for legislative and other offices is held
[Election Code, Sec. 41.007]

Tuesday, November 4, 2014
General election for legislative and other offices is held
[Election Code, Sec. 41.002]

Monday, November 10, 2014
Prefiling of legislation for the 84th Legislature begins
[House Rule 8, Sec. 7, and Senate Rule 7.04(a)]

Session Begins

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 (1st day)
84th Legislature convenes at noon
[Government Code, Sec. 301.001]

Friday, March 13, 2015 (60th day)
Deadline for filing bills and joint resolutions other than local bills, emergency appropriations, and bills that have been declared an emergency by the governor
[House Rule 8, Sec. 8; Senate Rules 7.07(b); Senate Rule 10.01 subjects joint resolutions to the rules
governing proceedings on bills]

Monday, June 1, 2015 (140th day)
Last day of 84th Regular Session; corrections only in house and senate
[Sec. 24(b), Art. III, Texas Constitution]

Session Ends

Sunday, June 21, 2015 (20th day following final adjournment)
Last day governor can sign or veto bills passed during the regular legislative session
[Sec. 14, Art. IV, Texas Constitution]

Monday, August 31, 2015 (91st day following final adjournment)
Date that bills without specific effective dates (that could not be effective immediately) become law
[Sec. 39, Art. III, Texas Constitution]

Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Uniform election date in November
[Election Code, Sec. 41.001]

Transcripts and fact checks of the SOTU and the Republican response

For 2305's first assignment:

- Transcript of the SOTU.
- Fact check from Politifact.
- Transcript of the GOP response.
- Fact check from Politifact.

A sampling of legislative agendas for the 84th Session

For 2306's first written assignment, here are a few links to legislative agendas from different groups in the state. Remember that I'd like you to focus on conflict between conservative groups - primarily because that's where conflict is likely to be during the session.

- Young Conservatives of Texas.
- Texas Association of Business.
- Move Texas Forward.
- Texas Climate News.
Texas Partnership for Out of School Time.
- Texas Freedom Network.
- Dan Patrick Moves to Set Agenda at Lege.
- One Texas Legislature, many agendas.

I'll add more - but here's a start for you.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

From RCP: Top 10 State of the Union Addresses

Here's the first of a few random posts related to the state of the union address.

Real Clear Politics lists its top ten speeches and explains why:

Click here for the article.

#1? Lincoln's 1862 address - his second - click here for it.

Here's their description of it:

In 1862, Lincoln used his annual message to Congress to make a clear connection between the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery. "Without slavery the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue," he argues.
The message came a little more than two months after Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation (it would officially go into effect a month later, on January 1, 1863). It also took place in the wake of an electoral rebuke to his Republican Party in the November elections. As a result, Lincoln attempts to strike a conciliatory tone, acknowledging the "great diversity of sentiment, and of policy, in regard to slavery, and the African race amongst us." He pushes a plan of "compensated emancipation" that would compensate states that abolished slavery before 1900, making more of a practical and financial case for the policy than a moral case.
He concludes, however, by returning to his thematic centerpiece, contending that freedom for the slaves is integral to the survival of the nation.

Welcome to class

The spring semester starts today, so hopefully you've found your way here.

I'll post material related to the class - especially whatever relates to current events and your written assignments. Feel free to email me items you think are worth posting.

Good luck.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Legislative History of Helms-Burton Act

Let's kill a few birds with one stone with this Cuba story.

Here's the wikipedia entry on the Helms-Burton Act - also known as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996.

Might as well also link to the entry on the United States embargo against Cuba.

The embargo started in 1960 and has been gradually increased since then. This includes the Helms - Burton Act which:
. . . extended the territorial application of the initial embargo to apply to foreign companies trading with Cuba, and penalized foreign companies allegedly "trafficking" in property formerly owned by U.S. citizens but confiscated by Cuba after the Cuban revolution. The act also covers property formerly owned by Cubans who have since become U.S. citizens.

In the section on public policy we describe the public policy process how certain acts can help place an item on the public agenda and accelerate its passage into law. The bill had actually bogged down in the conference committee, but then the Cuban Air Force shot down two planes belonging to members of Brothers to the Rescue in late February 1996. This revived attention to the bill and it became law within a month.

Most laws - at least as far as I can tell - are precipitated by some event that spurs consideration.

Here's a look at the major actions involved in how the bill became a law. Click here for all actions.

2/14/1995 - Introduced in House
7/24/1995 - Reported (Amended) by the Committee on International Relations. H. Rept. 104-202, Part I.
8/4/1995 - Committee on Banking and Financial Services discharged.
8/4/1995 - Committee on Judiciary discharged.
8/4/1995 - Committee on Ways and Means discharged.
9/21/1995 - Passed/agreed to in House: On passage Passed by recorded vote: 294 - 130 (Roll no. 683).
10/19/1995 - Passed/agreed to in Senate: Passed Senate with an amendment by Yea-Nay Vote. 74-24. Record Vote No: 494.
 Planes shot down
3/1/1996 - Conference report H. Rept. 104-468 filed.
3/5/1996 - Conference report agreed to in Senate: Senate agreed to conference report by Yea-Nay Vote. 74-22. Record Vote No: 22.
3/6/1996 - Conference report agreed to in House: On agreeing to the conference report Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: 336 - 86, 1 Present (Roll no. 47).
3/6/1996 - Cleared for White House.
3/11/1996 - Presented to President.
3/12/1996 - Signed by President.
3/12/1996 - Became Public Law No: 104-114 [Text, PDF]


From the Constitution Daily: Cuba as the next constitutional fight between Congress, Obama

Here's a look at the constitutional issues associated with the president's recent decision concerning Cuba. What can a president do regarding this? What powers are left to Congress?

- Click here for the article.

Here are a couple items from it:

In his remarks on Wednesday, the President said he didn’t have the power to directly end a trade embargo law imposed on Cuba by Congress in the 1990s in the form of the Helms-Burton Act. President Bill Clinton signed the law in 1996, and it requires the Cuban government to make democratic changes that would grant its citizens political and economic rights before the embargo is lifted.
The President’s remarks indicate he will use his powers to diplomatically recognize Cuba, regulate trade licenses and prioritize how regulations are enforced to change at least part of the Helms-Burton Act’s intent.

The Constitution authorizes the president to receive ambassadors and places no restrictions on it, and the power to faithfully implement the laws tends to provide discretion to enforce laws - depending on how specific Congress wrote the law. I'll post separately on the Helms Burton Act.

But the president cannot appoint ambassadors or fund embassies without congressional approval.

The article links to commentary on the "power of nonrecognition" which might be helpful when we look at foreign policy later this brief semester. It establishes the predominance of the executive branch in transacting business with foreign nations. But this does not mean that Congress - along with the courts - is without checks on this powers.

“The executive branch is the sole mouthpiece of the nation in communication with foreign sovereignties,” it said, citing the President’s Article II powers.
So while the President can extend diplomatic recognition to Cuba and send an ambassador to Havana, Congress does have the power to withhold funding for the embassy there. The Senate through its Advice and Consent powers also can block the nomination of an ambassador, and even keep the nomination in a state of committee limbo.
“The Senate can take no part in it at all, until the President has sent in a nomination. Then it acts in its executive capacity, and, customarily, in ‘executive session.’ The legislative branch of the Government can exercise no influence over this step except, very indirectly, by withholding appropriations,” the Senate stated back in 1897.

Note that the executive power of the sword can be checked by the legislative power of the purse.

Efforts to expand trade will be limited by both the Helms-Burton Act, which limits trade with Cuba until it begins to transition to a free market democracy, and the fact that Cuba is still on the State Department's list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism." It's been on the list since 1962, so there are questions about whether it should still be included.

From the White House: FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course on Cuba

This is the official release detailing the decision opening up relations with Cuba. It's the most comprehensive look at the range of the decision.

- Click here for it.

From the Constitution Daily: Video: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the birth of the left and right

The section on ideology describes recent work arguing that the current divide between liberalism and conservatism can be dated back to conflict between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine.

Here's a video containing a discussion about this idea - if you have time to kill its worth your time.

From Vox: 9 questions about Cuba you were too embarrassed to ask

Here's some reasonable background on the president's decision to begin the process to normalize relations with Cuba.

Vox also summarizes what each nation will provide to the other:

What the US will give Cuba
- Diplomatic opening: The U.S. will take steps toward restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba, severed since 1961. The travel ban will still be in place, as will the embargo, but the embargo's impact will be eased. And some preexisting exceptions to the travel ban will be expanded.
- Embassy in Havana: This will include the goal of reopening a US embassy in Havana in the coming months. The embassy has been closed for over half a century.
- Release alleged Cuban spies: The US will release three Cubans who were convicted of espionage and imprisoned in the US: Gerardo Hernandez, Luis Medina, and Antonio Guerrero. All three prisoners were members of the "Wasp Network," a group that spied on prominent members of the Cuban-American community. CNN reports that Hernandez, the group's leader, was also linked to the downing of two two civilian planes operated by Brothers to the Rescue, a U.S.-based dissident group.
- Easing business and travel restrictions: The U.S. will make it easier for Americans to obtain licenses to do business in Cuba, and to travel to the island. CNN reports that the new rules still won't permit American tourism, but will make it easier to visit for other purposes.
- Easing banking restrictions: Americans will be able to use credit and debit cards while in Cuba.
- Higher remittance limits: Americans will be able to send up to $2000 per year to family members in Cuba. Cuban-American remittances are a major source of income for many Cuban families.Small-scale imports of Cuban cigars and alcohol: US travelers will be able to import up to $400 in goods from Cuba, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco products.
- Review of basis for sanctions: Secretary of State John Kerry has been ordered to review Cuba's status as a "state sponsor of terrorism." If his review determines that Cuba no longer deserves that status, that will be a first step towards lifting at least some US sanctions.
What Cuba will give the US
- Release Alan Gross: US contractor Alan Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba for the last five years on charges of attempting to undermine the Cuban government. His detention has been a major issue for the US and the Obama administration. He has been released and is on his way back to the United States.
- Release political prisoners: Cuba will release 53 political prisoners from a list provided by the United States. CNN also reports that Cuba is releasing a US intelligence source who has been imprisoned in Cuba for more than 20 years, but it is not clear whether that individual was one of the 53 included on the list.
- Increased internet access: Cuba will allow its citizens increased access to the internet. The US has long sought this as a means of increasing pressure within Cuba for democratic reform.
- Access by the UN: Cuba will allow officials from the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to return to its territory.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


This is helpful for a variety of topics covered in class including campaigning, ideology, and the battle for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination in historical context.

The image comes from 538 - click here for the post.

This gets a bit geeky, but the story points out three separate ways that a candidate ideology can be measured.

DW-Nominate scores - which are based on a candidate’s voting record in Congress
CFscores - based on who donates to a candidate scores - based on public statements made by the candidate 

The Mini Semester Starts Today

Normal blogging will resume - and we have lot's to catch up with.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A few things for the 2305 final

Don't limit yourself to just these topics, but these deserve special attention:

the articles of the Constitution
what are the delegated, implied, reserved and denied powers?
the Bill of Rights
Substantive and procedural liberties
civil liberties
civil rights
the equal protection clause
the powers of the president
differences between the House and the Senate
judicial review
political parties
the two party system
party coalitions
Oliver Wendell Holmes
freedom of speech
direct democracies
iron triangles
the due process of the law
agency capture
components of democracy
separated powers
checks and balances
strict scrutiny
intermediate review
the grievances in the Declaration of Independence
Federalist 10, 45, 51, 78
voter turnout
constitutional interpretation
the public policy process
parties in Congress
purpose of foreign policy
wall of separation
purpose of social welfare policy
minority rights
state sovereign immunity
the Missouri Compromise
national v. state v. local government
elections to national office
the role of states in elections
executive departments
suspect classifications
rational basis review
the right to petition
nominating conventions
free exercise of religion
the establishment clause
the freedom of speech
searches and seizures
grand juries
winner take all elections
the judiciary
service during good behavior
John Locke
the consent of the governed
the Supreme Court
procedure in the courts
how bills become law
military power
unified and divided government
committees in Congress
the Security Clause
the right to privacy
Baker v Carr
Brown v Board of Education
Marbury v Madison
inherent powers
the New Deal
party eras
critical elections
the origins of political parties
the free rider problem
the rights of criminal defendants
the presidency

There's no guarantee, but if you have a firm grasp of these concepts you just might be able to pass this class.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A few things to think about for the GOVT 2306 final

For your consideration. It's not complete, but its a start. Be familiar with at least the following:

Basic facts about the Texas Constitution
The Texas Bill of Rights
The role of cities and counties
The basic rules governing parties and elections
Primary elections
Basic facts about the Texas Legislature
The Texas Speaker
The Plural Executive
The State Board of Education
Jacksonian Democracy
Basic facts about the Texas Judiciary
The types of state courts
Mayors and city managers
Elections officials
Article 4 of the U.S. Constitution
The budgeting process
The governor’s powers of appointment
The criminal justice process
The Texas Declaration of Independent
States within the national federal system
Political culture
Popular sovereignty
The Rainy Day Fund
The history of parties in Texas
The rise of the Republican Party in Texas
The design of city governments
The limits of national and state power
Revenue in Texas
Spending in Texas
Education spending
The voter registration process
Districting in Texas
The bill making process
Committees in Texas
The temporary and permanent party organizations
Term limits
Term lengths
Board of regents
Interest group strength
The 14th Amendment
Job descriptions in the executive branch
County officials
City councils
Single purpose governments
Executive agencies
The jury system
Suffrage in Texas
The general session of the legislature
The Voting Rights Act
Checks and balances

Proposals for the 84th Session

A small selection - more to come

Pro-life Group Wants Planned Parenthood Defunded, Even For Cancer Screening.
- A groups that helped tighten access to abortion in the 83rd Session wants to continue doing so in this session. This describes an attempt to do so through the budgetary process.

Tax relief figures high on legislative budget priorities.
- This includes cuts to property taxes and the business tax, but there are also calls to increase spending on border security, pre-K education and traffic congestion.

These Cannabis Bills Could Change Toking in Texas for Good.
- The Marijuana Policy Project is hoping to decriminalize marijuana this year, among other things.

About those grand juries

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island - the fact that two grand juries refused to indict two police officers in shooting of unarmed men - has brought a number of things to light, including how grand juries work.

In 2305 we simply looked at grand juries in terms of the procedures put in place to limit the arbitrary actions of governing officials.

In 2306 we looked at them a bit more in-depth since we look at the criminal justice system more carefully there.

Here are a few stories that have been published about grand juries in the past few weeks:

Should Texas abolish rather than reform grand juries?
- Grits for Breakfast points out legislation introduced to change how grand juries operate in the state, but wonders more broadly whether they ought to just be abolished.

Whitmire would eliminate 'key man' system for grand juries.
- The Houston Senator prefers a system where jurors are selected from the jury pool.

Is it Time to Ditch Texas' Key Man Grand Jury System?
- The "key man system" is also referred to as pick-a-pal. The author points out that Governor Perry was indicted by a grand jury that was randomly selected, a method she argues is superior.

England abolished grand juries decades ago because they didn't work.
- Too much discretion given to a district attorney.

How a Grand Jury Works.
- The article points out that no judge is present - and only the prosecutor presents evidence, Which is why grand juries usually issue indictment.

How Does a Grand Jury Work?
- Here's similar - probably better - information from FindLaw.

Lone Star grand jury selection and independence.
- And yet more background from the a governmental interest group - the Texas District & County Attorneys Association.

Another Jasper case, another pick-a-pal grand jury.
- A story from our general area.   

Monday, December 8, 2014

Israel's ruling coalition comes apart, the legislature dissolves and elections are set for next March

We mentioned in both 2305 and 2306 that the winner take all elections common in the United States, are not used in most other nations. Proportional representation is far more common. I use Israel as an example mostly because the website of the Knesset does a great job showing how votes are translated into seats, and how this method leads to multiparty systems as opposed to the two party system we have in the Unites States.

- Click here for their explanation of how they do business.

As it turns out, Israel will be having elections soon. So to get an idea about how elections and parties work in a different country, click on these:

- Israel’s ruling coalitions coming apart sooner.
- Israeli Knesset dissolves, sets date for elections.
- Israeli Knesset to Dissolve Itself for Early Elections on 17 March.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Supreme Court will hear a case about the confederate flag on license plates

The case - no big surprise - comes from Texas.

It's called Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc.

Here's the question presented to the court:

Issue: (1) Whether the messages and images that appear on state-issued specialty license plates qualify as government speech immune from any requirement of viewpoint neutrality; and (2) whether Texas engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” by rejecting the license-plate design proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, when Texas has not issued any license plate that portrays the confederacy or the confederate battle flag in a negative or critical light.

Here's a description from ScotusBlog:

The Supreme Court agreed this afternoon to rule on a state government’s power to set up a specialty license plate program that controls the messages that may be displayed. It accepted for review an appeal by the state of Texas, seeking to defend a state agency’s refusal to allow an organization to use a Confederate flag on a specialty plate because it found that display offensive.
. . . The key issue in the license plate case (Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans) is whether the messages that are displayed on specialty tags are a form of government speech, so that officials can decide which to allow or to forbid. If, however, they represent the views of the car or truck owner, then the government’s power to veto a message is more tightly restricted.
In a 1977 ruling, in Wooley v. Maynard, the Court treated a license plate message as a form of private speech displayed on private property, but it did not rule explicitly whether this was government speech or private speech more generally. In the 2009 decision in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, the Court decided that a government entity has a right to speak for itself, and thus has the authority to refuse to accept a symbolic monument for display in a public park.
The Court was asked in the Texas case, and in a separate North Carolina case that is now apparently being kept on hold, to clarify a split among federal appeals courts on whether vanity plate messages are to be treated as government or private expressions. In the Texas case, a group that seeks to preserve the memory and reputation of soldiers who fought for the Confederacy sought state approval for a plate design that included the Confederate battle flag.
Ultimately, after a series of conflicting votes, a state agency turned down that design, saying that many people regard the rebels’ flag as associated with hatred toward groups. The Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued, and ultimately won a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, declaring that specialty plate messages are a form of private speech, and that the state agency had engaged in forbidden viewpoint discrimination.

Sounds fun, here's info from other sources:

NYT: Supreme Court to Hear Cases on License Plates and Mentally Disabled Death Row InmatesWP: Supreme Court to hear Confederate-flag license plate case from Texas.

From the NYT: The Demise of the Southern Democrat Is Now Nearly Complete

With the defeat of Mary Landrieu there are no Democrat holds statewide office in any southern state outside of Florida and Virginia. The trend that started slowly when LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 seems to now be complete. The Atlantic ran a recent article calling Landrieu The Last Southern Democrat.

- Click here for the article.

Here's the proof:

The article hits on themes we cover in both 2305 and 2306. What we seem to be seeing is white flight from the party.

Here's a taste:

The timing of the demise of the Southern Democrat is not coincidental. It reflects a complete cycle of generational replacement in the post-Jim Crow era. Old loyalties to the Democratic Party have died along with the generation of white Southerners who came of age during the era of the Solid South, before Brown v. Board of Education, before the Civil Rights Act.
Yet it also reflects the very specific conditions of 2014. Today’s national Democratic Party is as unpopular in the South today as it has ever been, in no small part because the party has embraced a more secular agenda that is not popular in the region.
“It’s a completely different party than it was 20 or 30 years ago,” said Merle Black, a professor of political science at Emory University. “When the Democratic Party and its candidates become more liberal on culture and religion, that’s not a party that’s advocating what these whites value or think.”
The party is also led by an unpopular president who has never appealed to the region’s white voters. President Obama won about 17 percent of white voters across the Deep South and Texas in 2012, based on an analysis of pre-election polls conducted by the Pew Research Center, census data and election results.

Finals start Thursday

Classes officially end this week. Finals start Thursday.

I'll continue to post a variety of stories designed to focus attention on the types of questions that will be on the final. It might be worthwhile to check in from time to time.

And just so you know - I'll open the tab where you can turn in the final version of the 1000 word essay this Thursday.

Monday, December 1, 2014

For 2305 - 12/1&2/14

In addition to reviewing more for the final - I want to wrap up our look at public policy tomorrow and Tuesday. This will open Wednesday and Thursday up for a look at the freedom of speech.

Here are a few stories related to the three areas of public policy we cover in class:

Social Welfare Policy:

In fact, U.S. is a big welfare state.
- If we take into account all spending on social welfare - direct and indirect - only France spends more than we do. The authors suggests that we come to grips with that reality.

From War to Welfare: How taxes and entitlements begin with militarism.
- The author argues that the rise of the welfare state is due less to the New Deal than to our increased use of the military.

What Role Should Government Play in Combating Obesity?
- A back and forth between some public health policy types.

Economic Policy:

Fiscal policy after the mid-terms: The governance test.- A look at the looming fight over the budget.

Monetary policy: Quite enough.
- Some commentary on recent actions by the Federal Reserve.

Foreign Policy:

Exaggeration Nation.
- Are threats like ISIS as bad as we are led to believe?

Embrace the Chaos.
- We are in a new era of foreign policy.

The Myth of the Indispensable Nation.
- The world is doing fine without us.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Political engagement is like running a marathon - a never ending marathon.

I just ran across this and thought it illustrated a point we made when discussing voter turnout and political participation generally. Elections are ongoing. Power tends to flow to those who understand this fact and participate regularly. People who vote once and then get upset because things don't immediately change as they want it to change are being unrealistic.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Rules that Drawing DWI suspect blood without warrant unconstitutional

I had a hunch this would happen sooner or later.

This puts a damper on no refusal weekends, when the police could force someone they pull over to give blood to determine alcohol levels on the grounds that it enhanced public safety. But questions about its constitutionality - based on either the Texas or US Constitutions - remained. Here's a defense attorney's take on the issue.

Now they need a warrant.

Here's a bit from the Chron:

"We hold that a nonconsensual search of a DWI suspect's blood conducted pursuant to the mandatory-blood-draw and implied-consent provisions in the Transportation Code, when undertaken in the absence of a warrant or any applicable exception to the warrant requirement, violates the Fourth Amendment," Judge Elsa Alcala of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wrote on behalf of the five majority opinion judges. Four members of the nine-judge court dissented.
The ruling stems from the 2012 case of David Villarreal, who was pulled over in Nueces County for a traffic violation. After refusing to perform sobriety tests in the field, Villarreal was arrested and taken to a local hospital to have his blood drawn against his will and without a warrant. The arresting officer said the move was legal because state law requires the taking of a breath or blood sample of anyone previously convicted two or more times of driving while intoxicated.

And a few other sources:

- Court records related to the case.
- ScotusBlog: Missouri v. McNeely.
Tex. Transp. Code § 724.012.

For the final . . . .

Most of the reviewing for lecture classes will be done in class, but if you look at these past posts you can get a general idea about the subject matter of the questions that will be on the final.

- You can also click here to get them.

Online students should use these as their primary source of information about the review.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

From OpenSecrets: Senate Keystone “Yea” Votes Took In Six Times More Oil & Gas Money Than Opponents

Here's the story. It fits with this week's look at interest group influence.

Senate Democrats successfully blocked a bill Tuesday that would have approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The controversial measure fell one vote shy of overcoming a filibuster, with 59 senators supporting it and 41 opposing. The vote followed the bill’s approval in the House by a much wider margin, with 252 lawmakers voting to advance the pipeline.
The vote largely fell along party lines. All Senate Republicans supported construction of the pipeline but they were joined by 14 Democrats, including three of the four Democrat incumbents who lost their re-election bids earlier this month. For Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), the bill’s main sponsor, the vote was considered an important test of her effectiveness in advance of a Dec. 6 runoff that will determine whether she keeps her seat. In the House, 31 Democrats crossed the aisle to side with the Republican majority.

Here's the breakdown of contributions - red indicates money to Republican senators, blue to Democrats.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More for 2306:

Texas' Emptiest County Filling Up with Oil Workers, Hope.
- I'll post anything about Loving County.

Textbook Battles Heat Up as SBOE Approval Nears
- Battles continue over what students will be told about US and Texas history.

Abbott Campaign Credits Sophisticated Turnout Machine.
- Lots under the radar in the Abbott campaign.

DuPont Plant Where Workers Died Reported Recent Violations
- Citations weren't enough to change practices at the plant.

Monday, November 17, 2014

For today's 2306

Analysis: As Lineup Changes, So Will Balance of Power.
- With a new governor and lieutenant governor, things will be different this session.

Texas Beef Council Turns Focus to Younger Eaters.
- Here's an interest groups you may not be familiar with.

Straus Backers Claim Support of Most of GOP Caucus.
- Strauss' speakership is likely to continue.

Despite State Order, Charter Schools Stay Open.
- For our upcoming look at education policy in the state.

Health regulation makes for strange bedfellows.
- For our upcoming look at health policy in the state.