Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Last substantive week - next week review - then finals

This is the last week we will introduce new substantive topics in 2305 and 2306. In 2305 this will be the free speech, public opinion and polling. In 2306 this will be education policy.

The 2306 final is more or less complete, I hope to have the 2305 final finished by Friday. I'll give you hints about what to expect on each here over the course of the next two weeks. Right now my advise is to make sure you've completed all the assessments and know all the material there. Then review the slides. And monitor this blog for hints about what to focus on.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No Jury Duty Thursday

Didn't get picked for a big meaty trial, so tomorrow's classes will meet as scheduled.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

From The Dish: Convicted Of Being A Minor

More for 2306 and our recent walk through the criminal justice system. The link takes to you a story about the unique "status offenses" that apply to juveniles. A recent report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation argues that the consequences of punishing these offenses may not be worth the benefits. 

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

The Dish highlights this part of the report:

Incarcerating or otherwise removing these youth from their homes increases the likelihood that they will be converted from today’s status offenders to tomorrow’s serious offenders, instead of being shepherded toward productive lives as young adults.
Among other things, research shows that status offenders, as a result of being exposed to seriously delinquent youth in close quarters, are in jeopardy of developing the more deviant attitudes and behaviors of higher-risk youth, such as anti-social perspectives and gang affiliation. While many of the causes underlying a status offenders’ behavior and the effects of incarceration has on their futures are also common to more serious offenders, the stakes are obviously higher for status offenders who have not committed property or person offenses and may be less likely to have previously been associated with seriously delinquent peers. In addition, the confinement of status offenders is expected to increase barriers to reentry into community, home, and school settings, and increase the likelihood that they will be rearrested, re-adjudicated, and re-incarcerated.

In short, there are very compelling reasons to avoid confinement of status offenders. The punishment fails to fit the “crime” since status offenses are simply behaviors that would be legal if committed by adult; alternative approaches are more effective and far less costly; and, as described in the previous paragraph, the futures of these youth would not be jeopardized by the negative impacts of exposure to serious offenders during placement.

Monday, April 14, 2014

From Atlantic Cities: America's Most Sprawling Cities Are Also the Most Republican

Something to add to our material on ideology, partisanship and political behavior:

- Click here for the article.

With the help of my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Charlotta Mellander, I compared Smart Growth America's new rankings of sprawling and compact development to voting patterns, as well as other significant economic and demographic variables.Their Sprawl Index takes into account four key factors: density, mix of uses, presence of "activity centers," and accessibility of street network. A higher ranking on the Sprawl Index means a metro is more compact and less sprawling. Positive correlations identify a relationship to more compact development, while negative ones suggest a connection to greater sprawl. As usual, I note that our analysis points only to associations among variables and does not indicate causality.

The connection between sprawl and conservatism comes through loud and clear in our analysis of more than 200 of America's metro areas. Our correlations suggest that sprawled America is Red America, while Blue America takes on a much more compact geography. The Sprawl Index was negatively associated with the share of voters in a metro who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 (with a correlation of -.44); and it was positively associated with the percentage who voted for Barack Obama (.43). These were among the strongest correlations in our analysis.

This is in line with other research that connects sprawl or density and political affiliation. Researchers have identified a tipping point of roughly 800 people per square mile where counties shift from Red to Blue, as I noted in the weeks following Barack Obama's reelection. Princeton historian Kevin Kruse similarly explained this spatial link between a spread-out landscape and Republican political positions to the New Republic. “There are certain things in which the physical nature of a city, the fact the people are piled on top of each other, requires some notion of the public good,” he said. “Conservative ideology works beautifully in the suburbs, because it makes sense spatially.”

From Atlantic Cities: Can Houston Learn to Love Light Rail?

For 2306 - a look at transportation policy in the city of Houston, specially efforts to provide residents with additional choices in how to get around.

- Click here for the article.

Once every two weeks or so, in the six months after Houston's first light rail line opened in 2004, a car crashed into the dazzling fountain that flanks the tracks downtown. In the first year of operation, the light rail was involved in 67 collisions. Folks took to calling it the Wham-Bam-Tram. Some drivers never learned to coexist with the newcomer at all, opting instead for parallel side streets. With its lush lawns, large floor plans and sprawling footprint, Houston is a famously spacious city. But the roads never seem wide enough.

Ten years later, the city is in the midst of a second burst of light rail expansion. Five additional miles of track opened in December; two new lines are set to follow later this year. At the center of Greater Houston, a metro area the size of Massachusetts, two-dozen miles of track may not seem like much. (Even some supporters of the project refer to it as the "toy train.") Yet in America's fourth largest city, light rail remains a political and cultural flashpoint far out of proportion to its modest size.

To opponents, it is a prime example of government waste — a vanity project flawed not only in its execution but in its aim of enabling Houstonians to travel without cars. Houston's sprawling size is coupled with a year-round average high temperature of 80 degrees, which critics say make walkable design a pipe dream. Congressman John Culberson, who represents West Houston in Washington and is light rail's chief political adversary, recalls a 19th-century saying that still explains the local love for cars: A Texan will not walk if he can ride a horse. "People's attitudes haven't changed," he says. "You are dead in the water in Houston if you don't have a car."

But the people themselves have changed — no American metro has grown faster than Greater Houston over the last quarter-century, making it one of the most diverse areas in the United States — and they might be taking the city with them. Stephen Klineberg, co-director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, divides Houston's history into three periods: the sleepy streetcar town, the city structured by the freedom of the automobile, and the metropolis yearning for freedom from the automobile. "There's a vision: retail downstairs, residents upstairs, shade trees, sidewalk cafes," says Klineberg. "This is, in general, a city self-consciously reinventing itself for the 21st century."

From Pro-Publica: TurboTax Maker Linked to ‘Grassroots’ Campaign Against Free, Simple Tax Filing

Just in time for tax day, a story that points out how interests groups can try to influence public opinion.

- Click here for the full story.

Over the last year, a rabbi, a state NAACP official, a small town mayor and other community leaders wrote op-eds and letters to Congress with remarkably similar language on a remarkably obscure topic.

Each railed against a long-standing proposal that would give taxpayers the option to use pre-filled tax returns. They warned that the program would be a conflict of interest for the IRS and would especially hurt low-income people, who wouldn't have the resources to fight inaccurate returns. Rabbi Elliot Dorff wrote in a Jewish Journal op-ed that he "shudder[s] at the impact this program will have on the most vulnerable people in American society."

"It's alarming and offensive" that the IRS would target the "the most vulnerable Americans," two other letters said. The concept, known as return-free filing, is a government "experiment" that would mean higher taxes for the poor, two op-eds argued.

The letters and op-eds don't mention that, as ProPublica laid out last year, return-free filing might allow tens of millions of Americans to file their taxes for free and in minutes. Or that, under proposals authored by several federal lawmakers, it would be voluntary, using information the government already receives from banks and employers and that taxpayers could adjust. Or that the concept has been endorsed by Presidents Obama and Reagan and is already a reality in some parts of Europe.

So, where did the letters and op-eds come from? Here's one clue:

Rabbi Dorff says he was approached by a former student, Emily Pflaster, who sent him details and asked him to write an op-ed alerting the Jewish community to the threat.

What Pflaster did not tell him is that she works for a PR and lobbying firm with connections to Intuit, the maker of best-selling tax software TurboTax.

"I wish she would have told me that," Dorff told ProPublica.

The website of Pflaster's firm, JCI Worldwide, had listed Intuit among its clients, but removed it after ProPublica contacted them. Pflaster said Intuit had been listed by mistake, but added that the firm does work for the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a trade group of which Intuit is a member. Pflaster also said her firm has reached out to multiple groups and encouraged them to share information about the "flaws" of return-free filing.

Update on the story from Slate.

Theoretically, it should be far easier for Americans with simple finances to file their tax returns. Instead of making tax filers putz around W-2s and tax prep software, the IRS could electronically prepopulate their paperwork with the information it already receives from banks and employers, and tell filers how much they owe. If the final figure looked about right, you’d have the option to file. As Matt Yglesias wrote here last year, the whole process could be a five-minute snap.

Theoretically. But for years now, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, has fought tooth and nail to prevent automatic tax filing from becoming a reality, lobbying against bipartisan legislation to introduce it with the help of a powerful tech industry trade group and conservative anti-taxers like Grover Norquist. Intuit and its competitors in online tax prep don’t want the government cutting its market share. The tax-crusaders want to ensure that paying the government remains as much of a painful, resentment-generating slog as ever. And thus a potent alliance has been born.

Today, ProPublica, which published a great report on this subject last tax season, explains that the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which counts Intuit as a member, has been sponsoring an astroturf campaign to convince Congress that easyfiling would end up hurting the poor. A public relations firm working on the trade group’s behalf has been luring unsuspecting spokespeople to join its cause—reaching out to them without mentioning any lobbying ties.

Week #13 Assignment - A rough draft of your 1000 word essay

I'll open the place to input the assignment on blackboard later today.

Send this to me by next Monday and I'll give you feedback as soon as possible.

Try to concentrate on organization. Give me a solid intro, including a strong thesis statement, walk through the major points you are making and sum it all up in a clearly written conclusion.

The easier it will be for me to follow your argument, the better the grade.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

From the Washington Post: Report: Election administration improving, in most states

The Pew Research Organization studies and ranks the states on how easy they make it to vote in 2008 and 2012.

North Dakota did best in both measures Mississippi worst.

Texas slid considerably - #39.

- Click here for the story.

The average voter who cast a ballot on Election Day in 2012 had to wait in line for three minutes less than he or she would have in 2008, while fewer people with disabilities or illnesses had problems voting, according to a new report measuring election administration procedures across the country.

The report, published Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trust’s State and Consumer Initiatives program, found a sharp increase in the number of states that offered online voter registration, the number of states conducting post-election audits and the number of states that offer a transparent look at the data they collect.

Overall, the Pew researchers found, states that improved the most year over year embraced technological reforms that made the process function more smoothly, from evaluating absentee and provisional ballots to hurrying people through lines and judging their own effectiveness in order to spotlight areas for improvement.

“This is a bipartisan mix of states. This is not something that only Republicans or Democrats have license to,” said David Becker, Pew’s director of Election Initiatives. “It’s really a technological reform-based mindset.”

Change between 2008 rankings and 2012 rankings. Source: Pew Charitable Trusts

From Mother Jones: This Machine Can Tell Whether You're Liberal or Conservative

In 2305's section on ideology I briefly touch on research that suggests that ideology in innate - meaning it is part of our nature. We are born either liberal or conservative. This article focuses on the research of a political scientist - who is trying to find out if this is true.

- click here for the article.

At the center of the research are many scholars working at the intersection of psychology, biology, and politics, but one leader in the field is John Hibbing, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln whose "Political Physiology Laboratory" has been producing some pretty stunning results.

"We know that liberals and conservatives are really deeply different on a variety of things," Hibbing explains on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream above). "It runs from their tastes, to their cognitive patterns—how they think about things, what they pay attention to—to their physical reactions. We can measure their sympathetic nervous systems, which is the fight-or-flight system. And liberals and conservatives tend to respond very differently."

This is not fringe science: One of Hibbing's pioneering papers on the physiology of ideology was published in none other than the top-tier journal Science in 2008. It found that political partisans on the left and the right differ significantly in their bodily responses to threatening stimuli. For example, startle reflexes after hearing a loud noise were stronger in conservatives. And after being shown a variety of threatening images ("a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it," according to the study), conservatives also exhibited greater skin conductance—a moistening of the sweat glands that indicates arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, which manages the body's fight-or-flight response.

It all adds up, according to Hibbing, to what he calls a "negativity bias" on the right. Conservatives, Hibbing's research suggests, go through the world more attentive to negative, threatening, and disgusting stimuli—and then they adopt tough, defensive, and aversive ideologies to match that perceived reality.

. . . Hibbing and his colleagues showed that a higher level of disgust sensitivity is predictive not only of political conservatism but also disapproval of gay marriage. It is important to underscore that your disgust sensitivity is involuntary; it is not something under your control. It is a primal, gut emotion.That word, "primal," helps us begin to understand what Hibbing and his colleagues now think ideology actually is. They think that humans have core preferences for how societies ought to be structured: Some of us are more hierarchical, as opposed to egalitarian; some of us prefer harsher punishments for rule breakers, whereas some of us would be more inclined to forgive; some of us find outsiders or out-groups intriguing and enticing, whereas others find them threatening. Hibbing and his team have even found that preferences on such matters appear to have a genetic basis.

Thus, the idea seems to be that our physiology, who we are in our bodies, may lead us to experience the world in such a way that basic preferences about how to run society emerge naturally from more basic dispositions and habits of perception. So, if you have a negativity bias, and you focus more on the aversive and disgusting, then the world seems more threatening to you. And thus, policies like supporting a stronger military, or being tougher on immigration, might feel very natural.

From The Dish: Prison Has Replaced Psychiatric Hospitals

For 2306 as we conclude our look at at criminal justice policy, and wind out way toward health and human service policy. This is also an example of interest group activity. The study described below is intended to spur reforms in our mental health system. Whether it does - following a previous story - might depend on whether elites support these suggestions.

Increasingly people with mental disabilities - who sometimes act out and find themselves in the criminal justice system - are treated there instead of hospitals.

- Click here for the story.

- And here for the report from the Treatment Advocacy Center that highlights the issue.

From the executive summary:

Prisons and jails have become America’s “new asylums”: The number of individuals with serious mental illness in prisons and jails now exceeds the number in state psychiatric hospitals tenfold. Most of the mentally ill individuals in prisons and jails would have been treated in state psychiatric hospitals in the years before the deinstitutionalization movement led to closing the hospitals, a trend that continues even today.
The treatment of mentally ill individuals in prisons and jails is critical, especially since such individuals are vulnerable and often abused while incarcerated. Untreated, their psychiatric illness often gets worse, and they leave prison or jail sicker than when they entered. Individuals in prison and jails have a right to receive medical care, and this right pertains to serious mental illness just as it pertains to tuberculosis, diabetes, or hypertension. This right to treatment has been affirmed by the US Supreme Court.

And a few items from their summary of findings:

  • From 1770 to 1820 in the United States, mentally ill persons were routinely confined in prisons and jails. Because this practice was regarded as inhumane and problematic, such persons were routinely confined in hospitals until 1970. Since 1970, we have returned to the earlier practice of routinely confining such persons in prisons and jails.
  • In 2012, there were estimated to be 356,268 inmates with severe mental illness in prisons and jails. There were also approximately 35,000 patients with severe mental illness in state psychiatric hospitals. Thus, the number of mentally ill persons in prisons and jails was 10 times the number remaining in state hospitals.
  • In 44 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, a prison or jail in that state holds more individuals with serious mental illness than the largest remaining state psychiatric hospital. For example, in Ohio, 10 state prisons and two county jails each hold more mentally ill inmates than does the largest remaining state hospital
The Harris County Jail has been described as the largest mental health facility in the state. I can't find confirmation of that right now, but here are stores related to it:

- In Harris County, New Efforts to Treat Mental Illness In and Out of Jail.
- Harris County jail not the place to treat mental illness.
- County moving forward on jail diversion program for mentally ill.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

From the National Journal: The End of Campaign Finance Reform? Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling is limited, but could lead to further rollbacks in regulations.

More fallout from McCutcheon:

- Click here for the article.

Despite the hype, the impact of the Supreme Court's decision striking down aggregate donation limits Wednesday is limited. The ruling doesn't mean that people can give unlimited amounts of money to candidates; it means a small pool of well-heeled donors can simply dole out donations to more candidates and party committees.
But campaign finance reform advocates are getting increasingly nervous over the longer-term impact of the Court's McCutcheon v. FEC decision, bolstered by other recent rulings on the subject. Experts see the possibility of a future battle over a more consequential subject: the decades-old cap on the amount an individual donor can give to a campaign.
Wednesday's 5-4 decision raised the possibility that the next step for those opposed to campaign finance regulations will be to contest the legality of individual donation limits, a bedrock principle of the current system. That such a move is even being discussed now is indicative of how much the courts have rewritten the laws governing money in politics.

Who is James Bopp Jr.?

He is one of the attorneys leading the charge to get the courts to overturn campaign finance laws - generally based on the idea that they violate free speech rights. He was mentioned in the post below on the Supreme Court's refusal to hear a case challenging Iowa's campaign finance laws. He was also involved in the McCutcheon decision. In class today we considered his being an example of an interest group - or policy advocate - using the courts as their preferred way of changing public policy.

Folks like this are responsible for many changes in public policy.

- Here's the Wikipedia on him.

On campaign finance, Bopp worked as a legal advisor to Citizens United leading up to their victory in the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.[7] Another of Bopp's initiatives was bringing a lawsuit challenging what he believes to be a low limit for reporting campaign donations and the open way in which information on such donations is shared in California.
According the Campaign Legal Center, Bopp filed 21 of the 31 lawsuits it associated with challenging campaign finance regulations. All told, Bopp has spent 30 years fighting limits on campaign spending and is credited with changing the political landscape of the 2012 election. According to the Center for Responsive Politics. “It’s safe to say that groups on the left and right have Jim Bopp to thank for their new-found freedom.”In an interview with PBS' Frontline in 2012, Bopp said he was defending a "basically absolute" interpretation of the right to political free speech under the First Amendment. As such, he said he is working to eliminate or significantly loosen campaign spending limits and to eliminate donor-name-reporting requirements.
Bopp represented Phil Thalheimer and Associated Builders & Contractors PAC versus City of San Diego.[11] According to how the case was viewed in Hawaii, provided a PAC made "solely independent expenditures ...the case foreclosed the argument that the State has a justifiable interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption in regulating independent expenditures"

From the Monkey Cage: Rich people rule!

We're discussing interest groups in 2305 and facing the harsh reality that smaller, cohesive, well funded groups are often able to have their needs addressed more often than larger, less well funded groups can.

This also applies to elite public opinion as opposed to the opinions of average citizens. We've mentioned this tendency in class recently, but here's some proof.

- Click here for the link.

Everyone thinks they know that money is important in American politics. But how important? The Supreme Court’s Gilded Age reasoning in McCutcheon v. FEC has inspired a flurry of commentary regarding the potential corrosive influence of campaign contributions; but that commentary largely ignores the broader question of how economic power shapes American politics and policy. For decades, most political scientists have sidestepped that question, because it has not seemed amenable to rigorous (meaning quantitative) scientific investigation. Qualitative studies of the political role of economic elites have mostly been relegated to the margins of the field. But now, political scientists are belatedly turning more systematic attention to the political impact of wealth, and their findings should reshape how we think about American democracy.

A forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics by (my former colleague) Martin Gilens and (my sometime collaborator) Benjamin Page marks a notable step in that process. Drawing on the same extensive evidence employed by Gilens in his landmark book “Affluence and Influence,” Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Average citizens have “little or no independent influence” on the policy-making process? This must be an overstatement of Gilens’s and Page’s findings, no?

Alas, no. In their primary statistical analysis, the collective preferences of ordinary citizens had only a negligible estimated effect on policy outcomes, while the collective preferences of “economic elites” (roughly proxied by citizens at the 90th percentile of the income distribution) were 15 times as important. “Mass-based interest groups” mattered, too, but only about half as much as business interest groups — and the preferences of those public interest groups were only weakly correlated (.12) with the preferences of the public as measured in opinion surveys.

Via the Dish, here's additional commentary from Kevin Drum:

When the preferences of interest groups and the affluent are held constant, it just doesn't matter what average folks think about a policy proposal. When average citizens are opposed, there's a 30 percent chance of passage. When average citizens are wildly in favor, there's still only a 30 percent chance of passage. Conversely, the odds of passage go from zero when most of the affluent are opposed to more than 50 percent when most of the affluent are in favor.

Interest group lobbying, it turns out, also has an effect on policymaking—but business interest groups matter a lot more than mass interest groups. This comes via John Sides, who has much more detail about the study here. But none of it should come as a surprise. We've seen plenty of results like this before.

From the Texas Observer: At a Legislative Hearing, Open Carry Advocates Pine for the ‘Old West’

This applies to a few items we cover in 2306: the legislature, committees, interest groups, lobbying and gun policy/rights. It also applies to the relationship between the state and local governments in Texas. Increasingly policy advocates who dominate state government have been limiting what local governments can do. Here's another example.

- Click here for the article.

For a year, gun rights activists have been holding protests around the state, demanding the right to legally carry firearms in public places. They took their assault rifles to San Antonio’s Alamo Plaza, and they showed international visitors Texas’ best at South by Southwest in Austin. On Monday, they got a sign from the Legislature that their “open carry” efforts might be bearing fruit. At a day-long hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security, more than 60 witnesses, including a handful of opponents, testified in support of loosening the state’s gun laws—with an open carry measure at the top of the list.

Open carry supporters hope to codify the right to carry long guns like shotguns and assault rifles in public places—preempting local restrictions—and allow concealed handgun license-holders to carry their handguns openly. Last legislative session saw a number of gun bills passed, with “campus carry,” the right to carry firearms on college campuses, narrowly defeated after a lengthy debate. Notably, the open carry bills went nowhere, dying in committee. But now, open carry seems set to join campus carry as part of the gun debate next session, as the Legislature tilts rightward yet again.

In contrast to the passion and heated rhetoric from the open carry supporters who came to testify, the committee itself was poorly attended—only the committee’s chairman, state Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) stayed for the duration of public testimony.

The advocates invited to give testimony—among them, lobbyists from the NRA and the Texas State Rifle Association, and C.J. Grisham, the founder of Open Carry Texas—sold open carry as the correction of a historical error. Alice Tripp of the Texas State Rifle Association said open carry would reverse a restriction put in place in the 1880s as a result of the “occupying federal army during Reconstruction.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

From the Monkey Cage: The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene

Something to add to our look at the rationality of the American public.

- Click here for the article.
- Blog posts listed under Is the American public rational?

Since Russian troops first entered the Crimean peninsula in early March, a series of media polling outlets have asked Americans how they want the U.S. to respond to the ongoing situation. Although two-thirds of Americans have reported following the situation at least “somewhat closely,” most Americans actually know very little about events on the ground — or even where the ground is. 
On March 28-31, 2014, we asked a national sample of 2,066 Americans (fielded via Survey Sampling International Inc. (SSI), what action they wanted the U.S. to take in Ukraine, but with a twist: In addition to measuring standard demographic characteristics and general foreign policy attitudes, we also asked our survey respondents to locate Ukraine on a map as part of a larger, ongoing project to study foreign policy knowledge. We wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. We found that only one out of six Americans can find Ukraine on a map, and that this lack of knowledge is related to preferences: The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene with military force.

Where’s Ukraine?  Each dot depicts the location where a US survey respondent situated Ukraine; the dots are colored based on how far removed they are from the actual country, with the most accurate responses in red and the least accurate ones in blue. (Data: Survey Sampling International; Figure: Thomas Zeitzoff/The Monkey Cage)

From Radley Balko: Sorry about your time on death row, pal. Nothing we can do.

I've posted a few things on the problem the innocence of a convicted felon poses for the Texas criminal justice system. Here's another - though it is targeted to the problem nation-wide. It turns out that it is very difficult for prosecutors to be held responsible for misconduct.

- Click here for the article.

If you’ve been wrongly convicted through prosecutorial misconduct, there are a few ways you can try to hold the government accountable. The most obvious way would be to sue the prosecutor himself. This is just short of impossible. Anything a prosecutor does in his official capacity is protected by absolute immunity — a mighty, nearly impenetrable shield created by the Supreme Court in the 1970s. Your best hope is if your prosecutor committed the misconduct while acting as an investigator — that is, while performing tasks more associated with policing than with prosecuting. If so, your prosecutor would then be protected “only” by the qualified immunity the courts have given to police. But even that is still a pretty high bar to clear.

You could also try to sue the municipality that employs your prosecutor. It’s called a Monell claim. But this, too, is difficult. You’ll have to show that not only did your prosecutor commit misconduct that violated your constitutional rights but there’s also a system-wide pattern or practice of misconduct in that particular jurisdiction. It isn’t enough merely to show that your prosecutor did this to you. You’ll likely to need to show that other prosecutors in the same office did similar things to other people.

Since judges and prosecutors probably aren’t going to open the files of other cases for you, winning a claim like this is likely to happen only once other people have already shown misconduct from the same office and, presumably, hadn’t yet found enough examples to establish a pattern. If the misconduct is bad and persistent enough, presumably at some point — a point that isn’t really clear but appears to be wholly up to the subjective interpretation of whatever federal judge happen to hear your case — enough people will have shown enough misconduct to establish a pattern. Provided you include them all in your claim. But no matter how many cases come after, those people who filed first, and lost, probably won’t get to have their cases heard again.

From the NYT: Justices Decline Cases on Gay Rights and Campaign Finance

Sometimes the Supreme Court acts by not acting.

- Click here for the article.

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear closely watched cases on gay rights, campaign finance and lethal injections. As is their custom, the justices gave no reasons for turning down the appeals.

The gay rights case, Elane Photography v. Willock, No. 13-585, was an appeal from a wedding photographer in New Mexico who asserted a constitutional right to refuse to provide her services to gay and lesbian couples.

The issue was broadly similar to one argued before the court last month, over whether companies may refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraception on religious grounds. But the New Mexico case was based not on a claim of religious liberty but on one of free speech.

The photographer, Elaine Huguenin, objected to a New Mexico law prohibiting businesses open to the public from discriminating against gay men and lesbians. She said that requiring her to photograph same-sex weddings violated her First Amendment rights because she was forced to say something she did not believe.

She rejected a request from Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth to document their commitment ceremony. The women, who hired another photographer, filed a discrimination complaint against Ms. Huguenin’s studio, Elane Photography.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled for the couple, saying Ms. Huguenin’s “services can be regulated, even though those services include artistic and creative work.” Laws banning discrimination, the court said, apply to “creative or expressive professions.”

Justice Richard C. Bosson issued an ambivalent concurrence expressing sympathy for Ms. Huguenin and her husband.

“The Huguenins are not trying to prohibit anyone from marrying,” he wrote. “They only want to be left alone to conduct their photography business in a manner consistent with their moral convictions.” Instead, they “are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” he added.

“Though the rule of law requires it,” Justice Bosson wrote, “the result is sobering.

. . . The justices also declined to hear a campaign finance case, Iowa Right to Life Committee v. Tooker, No. 13-407, which was a challenge to an Iowa law that bans contributions from corporations but allows them from unions. The case was brought by James Bopp Jr., one of the lawyers on the winning side on Wednesday in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a major campaign finance case.

The McCutcheon decision struck down aggregate contribution limits in federal elections.

Mr. Bopp challenged the Iowa law on two grounds. He said distinguishing between corporations and unions violated equal protection principles. In any event, he added, “banning corporate political contributions violates the First Amendment.”

The Supreme Court also declined to hear two cases concerning whether death row inmates have a constitutional right to know what chemicals states plan to use to execute them.

The challenges said the court’s attention was needed to bring order to a capital justice system in disarray. Drug shortages and boycotts have caused prisons to scramble to find lethal chemicals, raising what opponents of the death penalty say is the possibility of executions so painful that they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

From the Washinton Post: Obama to sign two executive orders aimed at narrowing gender gap in wages

This fits our discussion of economic policy making and civil rights and executive power - probably a few others as well.

- Click here for the article.

President Obama will take two executive actions Tuesday aimed at narrowing the wage gap between men and women, forcing federal contractors to let their workers discuss their earnings with one another and to disclose more information about what their employees earn.

The push by Obama, who also is commemorating Tuesday as “National Equal Pay Day,” is part of a broader effort by Democrats to increase turnout among female voters during the 2014 midterm elections, which party strategists consider critical to limiting Republican gains this fall.

One of the new measures is an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their salaries with one another. The other is a presidential memorandum ordering new rules for contractors to file data with the federal government showing how they compensate employees, including by sex and race.

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said Monday that the two policies aim to address the “pay secrecy” that often keeps workers from seeking more equitable compensation.

“Unfortunately, pay inequity is a real and persistent problem that continues to shortchange women, their families and our economy as a whole,” she told reporters in a conference call.

The first bill that Obama signed into law in 2009 was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which gave employees more time to file discrimination claims. Jarrett said the administration is disappointed that Republicans in Congress have opposed another bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which includes reforms like the ones that Obama is applying to federal contractors.

The Rwanda Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect Doc trine

This week I opened the assessment for public policy in 2305. I'll post a few items related to each subject - foreign, economic and social welfare policy. Here's one for foreign policy:

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan Massacre.

- Click here for the Wikipedia page on it.
- Click here for BBC News' background.

The United States did not respond to the massacre until well after the killing was done - neither did much of the international community. There was little interest in the US getting involved in what was essentially an internal dispute in a country that was not vitally important to the US, but the reality of the fact that a million people were hacked to death in 100 days while we sat on the side lines led to a reevaluation of why the US might wish to commit armed forces.

In response a new doctrine was developed - the responsibility to protect doctrine that is based on "three pillars:"
  1. A state has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.
  2. The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility.
  3. If the state manifestly fails to protect its citizens from the four above mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.
No surprise that it is controversial, especially since it has been applied inconsistently. It was used to justify US intervention in Libya, but not in Syria.

Some links:

- Click here for the Wikipedia on the doctrine.
- A Frontline documentary on it.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

From Radley Balko: Evolution of the American police officer

evolution of a local police officer.tif


Written Assignment #12 - Personal Responsibility Assessment

For my 16 week classes - though the 8 week classes will have to answer this soon enough.

In 150 words - at least:

In early lectures we mentioned that an educated and informed electorate was necessary to provide stability to a republic. But being informed takes time. That's especially true - as we've discussed - in a democratic system that separates powers and is federal to boot. Being a truly informed voter requires being aware of the large variety of positions up for a vote and the large number of candidates for them.

In some cases, though not all, there are shortcuts available in order to make a decision - party identification for example. These don't make you fully informed, but they can give you enough information to make decisions efficiently and still live your life.

I want you to weigh in on this issue. Assuming that being an informed voter in a democracy is a personal responsibility - how much time and effort should people - should you - spend getting informed? Is it acceptable to use shortcuts like party identification in order to make a decision? If you do this, can you really call yourself informed?

You can take this in different directions, but address how much time and effort one should spend becoming informed in a democracy. Is becoming informed a personal responsibility? How do we know if we have met that responsibility?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The flip side of the McCutheon decision

Its not just that lobbyists and the wealthy can contribute more, its that incumbents know they can and will now demand more funding from them.

An ironic consequence of the decision.

- Click here for an article from The Hill making this argument.

A collective groan went up on K Street Wednesday as the Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits on donations to candidate and party committees.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said the cap on an individual's overall campaign contributions infringed on First Amendment rights. The ruling clears the way for donors to donate the maximum amount to as many candidates and political parties as they wish during a two-year election cycle.
That’s a dispiriting outcome for lobbyists, who are fixtures on the fundraising circuit but complain about being inundated with constant phone calls and emails asking for donations.
The ruling means that a common K Street excuse for brushing off fundraising requests — that they’ve already “maxed out” their donations under the cap — is now moot.
“The Supreme Court didn't give me more money. I have a budget. I don't have unlimited funds,” said Steve Elmendorf, president of lobby firm Elmendorf | Ryan.
A prime Democratic donor, Elmendorf has already made $97,000 in campaign contributions for the 2014 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Several lobbyists typically come close to reaching the aggregate limit in campaign giving every two years. The Supreme Court ruling could allow them to expand their influence by giving more, but K Streeters told The Hill that they weren’t looking forward to revved-up fundraising pressure.
“You just can't afford to spend more money than that,” said Pat Raffaniello, a principal at Raffaniello & Associates, about the old aggregate limit.
“Lobbyists not happy...only increases their $$ exposure to fundraising calls,” tweeted Paul Equale, a Democratic consultant who has registered to lobby in the past.

Friday, April 4, 2014

From the Texas Tribune: Craft Brewers Seek Further Reforms From Lawmakers

During the 83rd Texas Legislative Session I made it a point to post stories that mentioned changes in laws related to beer and breweries, specifically those that responded to efforts by the craft brewers guild in Texas to expand opportunities for them.

I am a big fan of their products. (Click here for posts related to the 83rd Session)

The Texas Tribune reports that they have unfinished business and are testifying before legislative committees about further changes they would like to see in the 84th Session. Their principle complaint seems to be the current "three tiered" regulatory system which treats producers, distributors and sellers differently. Craft brewers argue that it encumbers a potential expansion of craft brewers.

- Click here for the article:

The 2013 legislative session, which featured the largest overhaul of the beer industry since 1993, was viewed by many observers as a watershed moment for craft brewers in Texas. But in testimony before the House Economic and Small Business Development Committee on Thursday, Scott Metzger, who sits on the board of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, said the state can still do more for the industry.
At a hearing on how to make Texas more attractive to venture capital investment, Metzger predicted that over next 10 years, the brewing industry could be the most dynamic growth sector of the Texas economy. That potential is limited, he said, because of remaining restrictions on brewers that make it difficult to attract investors.
"The restrictions the state of Texas places on our businesses dictate that it often makes better economic sense to deploy capital in a different state," Metzger, a former economics professor, told lawmakers.
The trade association that represents Texas beer distributors, the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, has previously pushed back against changes to the industry that it believes threaten the state's three-tier system, which divides producers, distributors and sellers so that the state can effectively oversee the alcohol industry.

. . . Asserting that New York, Washington, Colorado and even California had more brewer-friendly environments than Texas, Metzger said Thursday that the industry is encumbered locally by "restrictive franchise statutes" and "a regulatory scheme that restricts our ability to sell and market our products and, in one particularly egregious instance, to realize any of the actual value of the brands that we have created."

From the Texas Tribune: Willingham Won't Get Posthumous Pardon

In 2306 we've recently looked at the governor's constitutionally defined appointment powers and will soon look at the criminal justice system - both include mention of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The following story reports that the board will not recommend that Cameron Todd Willingham - who may have been wrongly executed - be recommended for a posthumous full pardon.

- Click here for the article.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has voted not to recommend a posthumous full pardon for Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed a decade ago after being convicted of setting a house fire that killed his three young daughters.

“This whole process is, unfortunately, typical of this board, where they don’t demonstrate that they’ve actually considered the substantial evidence that we’ve put before them,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which has led the charge to clear Willingham's name in the case.

A story below highlighted the unwillingness of the Texas Legislature to establish an Innocence Commission to review the problems that lead to wrongful convictions. Critics argue that Texas has yet to face this problem head on.

From Slate: Getting the History Right - Tracking the real history of corporate rights in American constitutional thought.

One of the questions posed in the Hobby Lobby case - and one answered in the affirmative in Citizens United - is whether a corporate entity has constitutional rights like free speech and free exercise of religion.

Two history professors point out that this is a recent opinion. The idea that corporations - as distinct entities - have rights is a recent invention.
- Click here for the article.

Until the mid-20th century, the corporation was seen as a special and artificial creature of the government. It has never been seen as entitled to the same array of rights guaranteed to citizens.

This view was held not only by lay people and legislators but by the justices of the court itself. Chief Justice John Marshall did not equivocate in Dartmouth College v. Woodward in 1819: “A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it.” In 1839, Chief Justice Roger Taney agreed wholeheartedly in Bank of Augusta v. Earle: “A corporation can have no legal existence out of the boundaries of the sovereignty by which it is created. It exists only in contemplation of law and by force of the law. ... It is indeed a mere artificial being.”

These two powerful architects of original Supreme Court authority insisted upon this artificial status in order to hold early American corporations particularly accountable to the state and to the public at large. Most of America’s first corporations—bridge companies, water companies, transportation companies, banks, and insurance companies—were viewed as essentially public service corporations or public franchises. In addition to grants of property and public financing, the state usually accorded such entities special privileges like monopoly power, the power of eminent domain, or toll-taking authority. In return for those benefits, the government insisted on the special public obligations of corporations. Not only were corporations notexempted in any way from generally applicable regulatory laws, but they were routinely held to higher standards of public service, public accountability, social responsibility, and public trust.

Did Governor Perry's line item veto of state funding for the Texas Public Integrity Unit violate the law?

A special investigator has been assigned to find out - and it highlights some of the issues associated with the line item veto. The governor withheld

- Click here for background from the Texas Tribune, and here for background from the Austin American-Statesman.

The story is long and convoluted and stems from long standing animosity between the state legislature and the Travis County District Attorney's Office. The office - usually held by a Democrat since it is in Austin - has been the source of recent investigations of activities of the legislature, which for the past ten years has been dominated by Republicans. The source of the tension should be obvious.

- Click here for the Texas Tribune's section on the Public Integrity Unit.
- Click here on the unit's prosecution of Tom Delay, and here for Delay's promise to go after the DA.

Conveniently enough, the current DA was popped for a DUI during the last legislative session and Republicans demanded her resignation. She didn't, and the governor used that as a reason to cut state funding for the unit. This has been attempted before.

But questions have persisted about whether the line item veto was not only politically motivated, but designed to minimize the ability of the unit to investigate corruption, which is illegal.

The Lubbock Avalanche Journal reports that Perry risks indictment, and offers a harsh assessment of his governorship.

- Click here for the article

That shaking you felt this morning wasn’t caused by fracking in a field near you, it was the eruption of stories reporting that Governor Rick Perry could face possible indictment for bribery, coercion, and abuse of official capacity.
Texas Tribune’s John Reynolds reported that a special prosecutor is looking into Perry’s attempts to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign by way of a veto for state funding of the Travis County DA's Public Integrity Unit. His actions prompted a complaint filed on June 14th from watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice.
Special Prosecutor Mike McCrum was on video this morning discussing that he is "deeply troubled and very concerned about certain aspects of what happened here”.

Why would Rick Perry do this? Two reasons: To replace an elected Democrat with a Republican DA (most likely, one of his friends or campaign donors) and to wipe out the state’s public corruption watchdog, the Travis County DA's Public Integrity Unit, which is presently looking at another incident of Perry’s corrupt administration, his involvement with corporate subsidy programs—the real basis for the “Texas Miracle” that he touts in his road shows, laying the groundwork for his 2016 aspirations.
It’s been no secret that Rick Perry operates a private employment agency for his friends and donors. The most recent being Joe Weber’s appointment to TxDOT and Phil Wilson’s move to the Upper Colorado River Authority. It’s Plutocracy in Action, which you may read about at the Houston Press, here.
Perry’s list of legitimate crimes is long, but it’s been completely ignored, even by the press, whose job is to be the ultimate communicator of truth, the people’s watchdog. Perry cultivates a mysterious and fortuitous inattention through his “pay-to-play” appointments and networking of corporate funders. History will judge him harshly. His legacy will be that of the most corrupt Texas Governor in history, since Pa and Ma Ferguson.

Is law enforcement addicted to drug money?

Andrew Sullivan looks at evidence that it is.

- Click here for the post.

Law enforcement agencies get additional revenue from forfeitures resulting from drug convictions, and they have grown used to - even dependent upon - that revenue. They are not that happy about the legalization of marijuana. Local law enforcement in states that have legalized marijuana are finding ways around it:

When voters in Colorado and Washington state approved legalizing marijuana in 2012, those votes undermined an abusive—and profitable—police practice: civil forfeiture. Unlike with criminal forfeiture, undercivil forfeiture people do not have to be convicted of or even charged with a crime to permanently lose their cash, cars, and other property. Police can then auction off that seized property and use the proceeds to fund themselves. In the 42 states that allow police departments to profit from forfeiture, that cash flow has funded both themilitarization of police and allowed law enforcement to make ridiculous purchases, including a margarita machine, a Hawaiian vacation, and a Dodge Viper.

In Colorado and Washington, the federal government processed more than $36 million worth of cash and other property in civil and criminal marijuana forfeitures between 2002 and 2012. Pursuing cannabis cases earned local law enforcement in Washington an additional $6 million to $9 million in forfeiture revenue since 2008. Nationwide, the Wall Street Journal reported the federal government scored $1 billion in forfeiture from marijuana cases over the past decade.

Legalization now threatens that forfeiture revenue for the police departments that have relied on it. Legal cannabis and the subsequent drop in forfeiture have already caused one drug task force in Washington to cut its budget by 15 percent. That’s great news for due process and property rights.

But marijuana is still illegal under federal law, so local legalization has created ambiguity in civil forfeiture proceedings. Even in states where recreational or medical marijuana is legal, property owned by innocent people is still at risk thanks to “equitable sharing.” This federal program lets local and state law enforcement do an end run around state law and profit from civil forfeiture, simply by collaborating with a federal agency.

In 2306 yesterday we looked at the following part of Article IV (Section 23) of the Texas Constitution:

The Comptroller of Public Accounts, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the Attorney General, and any statutory State officer who is elected by the electorate of Texas at large, unless a term of office is otherwise specifically provided in this Constitution, shall each hold office for the term of four years. Each shall receive an annual salary in an amount to be fixed by the Legislature; reside at the Capital of the State during his continuance in office, and perform such duties as are or may be required by law. They and the Secretary of State shall not receive to their own use any fees, costs or perquisites of office. All fees that may be payable by law for any service performed by any officer specified in this section or in his office, shall be paid, when received, into the State Treasury.

I may be wrong, but it appears to me that the part in bold is designed to prevent the activities mentioned above. Fees collected from an activity do not do to the department that collected them, but to the general treasury. This creates a disincentive for aggressive collection of the fee, since there is no direct benefit in doing so.

A subtle restriction on state governing power. I do not know if similar restrictions exists on the local level.

Next week - in 2306 - we discuss criminal justice policy. Obviously this reality encourages aggressive prosecution of drug laws, and also encourages law enforcement agencies to lobby to maintain them.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Texan or American?

Interesting result from a poll commissioned by the Texas Tribune.

- Click here for the story.

In the February 2014 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, we asked respondents whether they considered themselves Texans first and Americans second, or Americans first and Texans second. Overall, just over a quarter of registered voters — 27 percent — considered themselves to be Texans first.

Democrats and liberals overwhelmingly identify as Americans before they identify as Texans (84 percent and 92 percent respectively), and while majorities of Republicans and conservatives identify as Americans first, significant proportions (35 percent and 36 percent respectively) identify first as Texans. This difference is a probable reflection of the current Republican statewide dominance and, in turn, each voter’s willingness to identify with the state.

The Texas-first crowd also includes more men than women. While 32 percent of men describe themselves as Texans first, only 23 percent of women make the same choice.

Looking to the future, it’s possible that those identifying as Texans will
grow. The members of the racial/ethnic group most likely to describe themselves as Texans first are not, in fact, Anglos, among whom 27 percent describe themselves as Texans, but are instead the growing population of Hispanics, among whom 33 percent identify as Texan first.

Maybe even more surprising, younger voters are more inclined to call themselves Texans first. A slight majority of 18- to 44-year-olds (53 percent) consider themselves to be Texans first and Americans second. By comparison, only 40 percent of 18- to 44-year-olds consider themselves to be Americans first and Texans second, a 13-point gap. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 40 percent identify as Texans before they identify as Americans, far outpacing any other age group. It’s not grandpa that places the Lone Star over the Stars and Stripes, but his grandchildren.

From the Texas Tribune: Perry: Anti-Prison Rape Standards "Impossible"

More conflict between the US and Texas governments.

- Click here for the article.

More than a decade after the Prison Rape Elimination Act unanimously passed Congress, federal standards for implementation of the law have been finalized. Now, Gov. Rick Perry and some prison reform advocates are at odds over what those standards mean for Texas lockups and the taxpayers who pay for them.

In a March 28 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Perry wrote that while he believed the law was well-intended, he would not certify that the 297 state prisons and local jails that are subject to PREA comply with its regulations come May 15, the certification deadline set by Department of Justice.

The new standards, he wrote, are "impossible," out of touch with the daily realities of state prisons and would require heavy financial burdens.

"Absent standards that acknowledge the operational realities in our prisons and jails, I will not sign your form and I will encourage my fellow governors to follow suit," Perry wrote.

But a spokesman for the correctional officers union said that not complying with the federal rules puts Texas at risk financially and legally.

Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the prison system has already made significant progress in meeting PREA standards.

“We are compliant with most of PREA’s standards, except for the cross-gender supervision standard,” Clark said.

That regulation, which is the primary rule to which Perry objects, would prohibit female officers from working in areas where they would see male inmates in private settings, such as the shower. About 40 percent of TDCJ correctional officers at units that house males are female, Perry wrote. PREA standards would force TDCJ to deny female officers jobs and promotion opportunities at those units.

The rules would also require a smaller ratio of correctional officers to juveniles at facilities that house offenders younger than 18. Perry said the cost of meeting that requirement would be unacceptably burdensome to small, local jails.

Generational Politics and Attitudes about Marijuana

This looks like charts showing attitudes about same sex marriage.

- Click here for the source.



This is real cutting edge political science in action.

- Click here for a link to the paper. (actually a link to a link).

The authors argue that the Republican and Democratic parties are substantively different.

Here's the abstract:

Scholars commonly assume that the American left and right are configured as mirror images to each other, but in fact the two sides exhibit important and underappreciated differences. We argue that the Republican Party is the agent of an ideological movement, while the Democratic Party is best understood as a coalition of social groups. Left-leaning consistencies primarily seek concrete government action from their allies in office, while right-of-center activists instead prize doctrinal purity. Because the American electorate is symbolically conservative and operationally liberal, both sides find support in the views of the mass public for their preferred way of thinking about politics, but both also face important and distinct challenges in governing effectively.
Here's a graph illustrating the thesis:


And a description of what this means in plain English from Jonathan Chait, via The Dish:

we make a mistake when we think of liberalism and conservative as symmetric ways of thinking. On economic policy, at least, they are asymmetric. Liberals believe in activist government entirely as a means to various ends. Pollution controls are useful only insofar as they result in cleaner air; national health insurance is valuable only to the extent that it helps people obtain medical care. More spending and more regulation are not ends in and of themselves. Conservatives, on the other hand, believe in small government not only for practical reasons — this program will cost too much or fail to work — but for philosophical reasons as well.

A new political science paper by Matt Grossman and David Hopkins bears out this way of thinking about American politics. The authors find a fundamental asymmetry between the Republican and Democratic coalitions. They examined survey results and other data among voters, activists, and elites, and found that Republicans express their beliefs about government as abstract ideology (big government is bad) while Democrats express their beliefs in the form of benefits for groups.

The election of 1800 and the dawn of party based decision making in Congress

The article linked to in the previous post (click here for it) makes an interesting reference to teh election of 1800. We mentioned this election in 2305 as having inaugurated the first party era.

The author makes a provocative statement that the initial vision of what governance in the US would be was transformed by that election. It gets to the heart of what a political party is. This quote picks up with a discussion of whether contributions pose a rick of "quid pro quo" corruption - a donation made with the expectation of a service performed. If I understand the argument - the author seem to suggest that the decision ignores the likelihood that such corruption can occur through an umbrella agency that impacts a significant number of members of Congress, rather than a single members.

The idea of a Congress composed of separate individuals acting independently ended a long time ago - with the 1800 election:

The argument is a simple one. If the base contribution limit defines the point at which a risk of quid pro quo corruption is present, adhering to that base limit should take care of the corruption risk, no matter how many base contributions are made, rendering the aggregate limits unnecessary. Watching the government twist in that airless room trying to build Rube Goldberg scenarios explaining how a $3.2 million aggregate contribution can seep down to individual candidates or entities in amounts that exceed the base limit would have been funny, if so much weren’t at stake. You knew that five Justices, dead set against the regulations, would reject the government’s scary stories as either unlikely, or subject to other forms of regulation. And that’s just what the McCutcheon plurality does, insisting that the real-world prospect of a single donor cutting a check for millions of dollars to an umbrella entity poses little or no risk that any of the money would find its way to constituent entities in ways that threaten quid pro quo corruption. After all, if you don’t believe that massive independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate pose a risk of electoral corruption, why would you be concerned that even unequal distribution of aggregate contributions poses a risk of quid pro quo corruption of any given recipient? Even on its own terms, the Roberts plurality simply ignores the fact that political decisions are not always, or even usually, the result of atomistic decisions by individual legislators. That was the initial vision of the Founders. All agree that the Founders’ vision did not survive the election of 1800, and that today’s politics take place in the shadow of collective decision-making by political parties, or other less formal political groupings. To the extent the Roberts plurality has a technical flaw, it is the failure to address the risk of quid pro quo corruption in the context of a deal with a group. But I’m afraid that train has left the station.

Is the U.S. now officially an oligarchy?

Some critics argue that we have been one all along and that any pretense that we are a viable democracy - rules by the people and all that - was an illusion. But now it may well be that there is no attempt to maintain that illusion.

That seem to be this author's point - other are making the same argument.

- Click here for the article.

When the dust from the McCutcheon demolition settles, all that’s left are base contribution limits in a larger campaign finance system where America’s oligarchs can choose between unlimited independent expenditures and unlimited aggregate contributions to buy all the political influence they will ever need. The one good thing you can say about the opinion is that maybe it will re-direct some of the money now being expended as independent expenditures to the major political parties in the form of large aggregate contributions, giving candidates and parties a chance to regain some control of the electoral agenda. In that sense, McCutcheon improves the configuration of Buckley’s airless room, but leaves American democracy trapped at “one dollar, one vote.” There is no ignoring the fact that American democracy is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Oligarchs, Inc.

The Supreme Court rules against campaign finance but the public supports it

Public opinion does not matter, which is a consequence of the appointed judiciary.

- From the NYT:

Even as the Supreme Court moved on Wednesday to remove limits on campaign donations, the public remains broadly supportive of them, surveys show.

A Gallup poll conducted in June found that 8 in ten Americans, if given the opportunity, would vote to limit the amount of money candidates for the Senate and the House of Representatives could raise and spend on their election campaigns.

Unlike the Supreme Court’s decision, which was split along ideological lines, the public’s views are cohesive. The poll found that broad majorities of all Americans, regardless of their political philosophy, party identification, age, education, sex or income level, preferred limits on campaign donations.

- Click here for a report from the Gallup Poll.

- And here for an NYT story on the decision.

From the Texas Tribune: Federal Contribution Limits Drift Toward Texas

The Tribune reports that yesterday's Supreme Court ruling make national campaign laws similar to this in Texas.

- Click here for the article.

The federal campaign finance system moved a step closer to the Texas model Wednesday as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down some limits on political donations to federal candidates.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices struck down federal limits on how much an individual may make in total political contributions, also known as aggregate limits. Under the rules at issue in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Federal Election Commission has a $123,200 biennial limit on individual contributions in every two-year election cycle, with $48,600 allowed to go to candidates and $74,600 for political parties and political action committees.

Under the federal decision, the FEC’s rules will now be more in line with those of the Texas Ethics Commission, which has no aggregate limits on political donations.

Political donors in Texas fall under the federal rules only when giving to congressional candidates or candidates for president. Those donors are able to follow the more lenient state guidelines for donations involving Texas state government races, such as the governor, the Legislature and state courts.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

From ScotusBlog: Opinion analysis: Freeing more political money

A look at the courts decision in McCutcheon.

- Click here for the post.

The Supreme Court pressed ahead on Wednesday with the majority’s constitutional view that more money flowing into politics is a good thing — even if much of it comes from rich donors. By a five-to-four vote, the Court struck down the two-year ceilings that Congress has imposed on donations to presidential and congressional candidates, parties and some — but not all — political action groups.

The main opinion delivered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., said confidently that corruption in politics will be kept in check by caps — left intact — on how much each single donation can be. Removing the ceilings on the total amounts that may given in each election cycle will not undermine those limits, Roberts predicted.

The decision was not as sweeping as the Court’s ruling four years ago, removing all restrictions on what corporations and labor unions can spend of their own money in federal campaigns (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission), which has led to billions of dollars spent on politics through financing that is supposed to be independent of candidates or parties. The new ruling leaves that option open if a donor does not want to directly support a candidate or a party committee and stay within the per-donation caps.

Even so, the practical result of the new ruling is almost sure to be that wealthy individuals favoring specific candidates or party positions will be able to spread their money around among more candidates and political groups.

The outlook for funding community colleges

Not good according to the Community College Journal. Supporters must advocate more effectively for funding.

- Click here for the article.

There was a golden era, in the 1960s and 1970s, when beaming lawmakers smiled on community colleges. Public funds flowed like a river that nourished the nation’s two-year institutions. Enrollments grew and everyone was happy, naturally.

But that was then. Over the past few decades, public funds have dried up, and formerly munificent politicians are now beleaguered by hordes of constituents seeking financial support. Legislators charged with fiduciary oversight of municipal and state budgets increasingly demand that recipients of public money demonstrate return on investment.

Amid greater scarcity and scrutiny, community college leaders have had to become better advocates for their institutions. Presidents and other leaders are expected to get buy-in from colleagues on campus and to build infrastructures for projecting influence in multiple spheres; they have to convene allies and build coalitions; they’re coming up with ever more complex advocacy strategies and they have to show measurable results.

“The old model was as long as enrollment was going up, we would get more money from the state,” says Noah Brown, president of the Association of Community College Trustees. “Over the long haul, say 20 or 30 years, state support as a percentage of our [community college] budgets has been declining. We are doing less well as a sector in capturing a percentage of public support. I don’t think that is going to turn around. Most of the people I know are not predicting that we will see a groundswell of public support like we saw in the ’60s and ’70s.

“Everybody is fighting harder for a smaller share of support,” Brown continues. “The more we can communicate to policymakers the return on investment, the better off we’ll be. We used to tell nice anecdotes about single moms saved by the community college. Now you need real data.”

Written Assignment #11 is cancelled

No reason - just couldn't get a decent subject together.

Next week's will be the personal responsibility assessment

And yes I see the irony.

From the Washington Post: High court voids overall contribution limits

This came just in time for today's discussion of campaign finance rules. The case is McCutcheon v FEC.

- Click here for the article.

The Supreme Court has struck down limits in federal law on the overall campaign contributions the biggest individual donors may make to candidates, political parties and political action committees.

The justices said in a 5-4 vote Wednesday that Americans have a right to give the legal maximum to candidates for Congress and president, as well as to parties and PACs, without worrying that they will violate the law when they bump up against a limit on all contributions, set at $123,200 for 2013 and 2014. That includes a separate $48,600 cap on contributions to candidates.

But their decision does not undermine limits on individual contributions to candidates for president or Congress, now $2,600 an election.

- Click here for the opinion

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

From the Pew Research Center: Shrinking Majority of Americans Support Death Penalty

This comes via the Dish.

- Click here for the report.

They issued a report showing declining support for the death penalty - as well as this chart showing fluctuations in support over time. A great question here is what accounts for the increased support beginning in the mid 1960s, which coincides with riots in major urban areas around the country.

What explains the continued shift downwards beginning in 1998?


There are few differences in opinion based on age, gender and education:


But there are based on race - which may explain the differences based on party ID:


From the Texas Tribune: Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth Mayors Back Bullet Train

Here's a more current story - and one that fits within the context of economic development. It also illustrates the revolving door that connects public officials (ex-public officials more properly) with other organizations - including private property.

- Click here for the article

The mayors of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth on Thursdayannounced their unified support for the construction of a privately funded bullet train between the two metropolitan regions.
“If successful, Houstonians will have a reliable, private alternative that will help alleviate traffic congestion and drastically reduce travel times,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said at a press conference at Houston City Hall.
Texas Central Railway announced in 2012 its plans to build a 200 mph rail line that would transport passengers between Dallas and Houston within 90 minutes. The company has said it will not require any public subsidies to fund the multibillion-dollar project, which it is developing in partnership with a Japanese firm, Central Japan Railway.
The mayors praised the project and predicted it would aid the state economically and environmentally by reducing the number of people traveling by car.
“Not only will high-speed rail significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion for Dallas and Houston area residents, but it will also create new, high-paying jobs and stimulate economic growth,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

The president of Texas Central Railway is the former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels. His father served a Harris County Commissioner.

- Click here for a Houston Chronicle story about him considering various private sector offers from the private sector while county judge.

One of the advosors to the company is Tom Schieffer, who was appointed by George W. Bush to be Ambassador to Japan (where the Central Japan Railway is located). He is the younger brother of Bob Schieffer - host of CBS's Face the Nation.

My advice to you is to cultivate whatever connections you may have.