Category Archives: Politics

How Democrats Solve Their Geography Problem

Source: Paul Glastris, Washington Monthly, January 14, 2019

In a cover package in our latest issue, the Washington Monthly argues that the Democratic Party’s most profound—but fixable—problem is geography. In the 2018 midterms, Democrats rode a “blue wave” of support to their first House majority since 2011. Yet, even with a nine-point advantage in the national vote, they lost a net of two Senate seats. That’s because their voters are increasingly clustered in solid-blue states like California and New York and too thin on the ground in states like North Dakota and Ohio. If this situation continues, Democrats will have a tough time ever regaining the Senate (where sparsely and heavily populated states each get two senators) and may continue to lose the Electoral College despite winning the popular vote.

The challenge is not only that Democrats have hemorrhaged support in economically declining rural areas. It’s also that metro areas in red and purple states, which generally support Democrats, haven’t been growing enough to offset those rural losses. Instead, growth in income and opportunity has overwhelmingly flowed to a handful of large metro areas on or near the coasts—precisely the places where Democrats are wracking up millions of “wasted” votes.

Democrats can fix their geography problem, our latest issue argues, only by confronting this regional economic inequality. And the best and only way to do that is to reverse the national policies that caused the problem in the first place: the abandonment of antitrust and other measures that once ensured that every part of the country could compete economically, which has since enabled the rise of monopoly firms that cluster opportunity in a few lucky coastal megacities like San Francisco and New York…..

Conquerors of the Courts

Source: David Montgomery, Washington Post Magazine, January 2, 2019

Forget Trump’s Supreme Court picks. The Federalist Society’s impact on the law goes much deeper.

…. The conservative and libertarian society for law and public policy studies has reached an unprecedented peak of power and influence. Brett Kavanaugh, whose membership in the society dates to his Yale Law School days, has just been elevated to the Supreme Court; he is the second of President Trump’s appointees, following Neil Gorsuch, another justice closely associated with the society. They join Justice Clarence Thomas (who said last spring he’s “been a part of the Federalist Society now since meeting with them … in the 1980s”), Chief Justice John Roberts (listed as a member in 1997-98) and Justice Samuel Alito (a periodic speaker at society events). The newly solidified conservative majority on the court will inevitably decide more cases in line with the society’s ideals — which include checking federal power, protecting individual liberty and interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning. In practice, this could mean fewer regulations of the environment and health care, more businesses allowed to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, and denial of protections claimed by newly vocal classes of minorities, such as transgender people.

But having allies on the highest court of the land is just the top layer of the Federalist Society’s expanding sway. For one thing, there is the judicial nomination process itself. When Trump was campaigning in 2016, he made the shrewd and un­or­tho­dox move of publicizing a list of 11 conservative legal stars that he promised to draw from if he got a chance to pick a Supreme Court justice. Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, played a key role in suggesting the names, along with Trump’s future White House counsel, Don McGahn (also a society member), and the conservative Heritage Foundation. The list was expanded twice to include Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and others. Leo took a leave from his job at the Federalist Society to advise the White House on the confirmation process for Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — reprising a role he played for the George W. Bush White House in putting Roberts and Alito on the court.

The next most important segment of the judiciary — the federal appeals courts — is also filling up with Federalist Society members: Twenty-five of the 30 appeals court judges Trump has appointed are or were members of the society ….

Counting Prison Inmates Differently Could Shift Political Power to Cities

Source: Tim Henderson, Stateline, January 2, 2019

More states plan to count state prisoners as residents of their home communities, rather than residents of the places where they are incarcerated — a change that would shift political power away from conservative rural areas to more liberal cities during legislative redistricting.

Many inmates hail from neighborhoods in or near cities, but most are incarcerated in small towns and rural areas. Counting prisoners as residents of their hometowns would, for the most part, boost the legislative representation of Democratic-leaning urban areas with large minority populations while diminishing the power of Republican, mostly white rural areas…..

Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Rich Get Richer

Source: Center for Public Integrity, 2019

An in-depth look at how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 avoided scrutiny and made the rich richer.

The first part in our new series, “Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Rich get Richer,”  investigating the origin and impact of the 2017 tax law: 

THE TRUMP TAX LAW HAS BIG PROBLEMS. HERE’S ONE BIG REASON WHY
Source: Peter Cary, Allan Holmes, Pratheek Rebala, Center for Public Integrity, January 15, 2019

There’s no shortage of agenda items for the new Congress that’s just been seated in Washington. But lost among the anguished cries to reopen the government and enact ethics reform will be a lesser-advertised but crucial item: addressing major problems in the 2017 tax bill that President Donald Trump signed into law a year ago.

That the law needs fixing is not in dispute. Why it needs fixing is most vividly illuminated by contrasting it with another massive piece of tax legislation, the Reagan-era Tax Reform Act of 1986.

In the months leading up to passage of the 2017 tax act, Trump administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress giddily compared the scope of their bill to that very law. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, called their new bill, “the first action in 31 years since President Reagan’s reforms in 1986.” Then-National Economic Director Gary Cohn said the legislation represented the “most significant tax reform legislation since 1986.”

Measured by the magnitude of changes to the tax code, that is true. But in terms of how the bills were developed, deliberated and drafted by Congress — not to mention their substance — the bills could not be less alike. And therein lies an illuminating — some would say frightening — story.

What are the costs of the government shutdown?

Source: Robert Polner, Futurity, January 16, 2019

The current government shutdown is now the longest on record, sidelining roughly 800,000 non-essential workers in nine agencies out of about two million full-time federal employees in all (excluding postal workers and soldiers). ….

…. The shutdown’s impact extends, Light estimates, to more than 4.1 million contract workers and grantees, as well as the hundreds of thousands of other workers. Like those non-critical workers sitting at home, contract workers, who are largely in service jobs, do not expect to be paid until Congress and the president come to an agreement to resume appropriations.

When they’ll achieve a compromise is anybody’s guess. The sticking point in this shutdown is the more than $5 billion in border-wall funding that President Trump has requested.

Meantime, fallout spreads: the appropriations freeze is bringing complications for traditional government services, from public-health inspections of food and environmental hazards to security screening.

Here, Light talks about the shutdown’s broad repercussions and if he can predict a possible end date: ….

The 2019 government shutdown is just the latest reason why poor people can’t bank on the safety net

Source: Jamila Michener, The Conversation, January 14, 2019

….People living in poverty are now bracing for that kind of chopping as a result of the partial government shutdown that began in December. By the three-week mark, most safety-net benefits were still being funded. But should the impasse drag on, that could change.

In my view, the added economic hardship brought on would highlight an enduring aspect of American public policy: Government benefits can be unreliable. They can be cut or eliminated arbitrarily….

Rethinking Middle America

Source: Christopher CimaglioLabor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The emergence of “Middle America” as a meaningful political category is most commonly credited to the populist conservative politics of the late 1960s and to Richard Nixon in particular. This article presents an alternative origin story for the idea of Middle America, spotlighting liberal commentators and national journalists working in the same period. As these observers sought to understand and portray what they saw as a new and growing white backlash against African Americans’ gains and cultural change broadly, they helped to cement one of the most central and enduring claims in the period’s elite political and media discourse: white workers comprised the core of an alienated, traditionalist white majority—a group many called Middle America—separated from liberal white professionals by a deep cultural divide.

How to Save the Supreme Court

Source: Daniel Epps, Ganesh Sitaraman, Vanderbilt Law Research Paper 18-65, Last revised: December 10, 2018

From the abstract:
The consequences of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court are seismic. The new conservative majority that Kavanaugh completes represents a stunning victory for the Republican party after decades of effort by the conservative legal movement. The result is a Supreme Court whose justices—on both sides—are likely to vote along party lines more consistently than ever before in American history. That development presents a grave threat to the Court’s legitimacy. If in the future roughly half of Americans lack confidence in the Supreme Court to render impartial justice, the Court’s ability to reach settlements of important questions that all Americans can live with is serious jeopardy. Raising the stakes even higher, many Democrats are already calling for changes like court-packing to prevent the new conservative majority from blocking progressive reforms. Even if justified, such moves could provoke further tit-for-tat escalation that would leave the Court’s image, and the rule of law, badly damaged.

The coming crisis can be stopped. But preserving the Court’s legitimacy as an institution above politics will require a complete rethinking of how the Court works and how the Justices are chosen. To save what is good about the Court, we must reject and rethink much of how the Court has operated for more than two centuries. In this Essay, we outline a framework for thinking about saving the Supreme Court, evaluate existing proposals, and offer two distinct reform proposals of our own, which we call the Supreme Court Lottery and the Balanced Court. Whether policymakers adopt these precise proposals or not, however, it is imperative that they search for some kind of reforms along these lines. Saving the Court—by transforming the Court—is our best hope.

The Impact of Protest on Elections in the United States

Source: Daniel Q. Gillion, Sarah A. Soule, Social Science Quarterly, Volume 99 Issue 5, November 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Objectives:
The objective of this study was to understand the effect of citizen mobilization on both electoral outcomes and on the likelihood that new candidates will enter races to challenge incumbent politicians.

Methods:
This study uses quantitative, longitudinal data (at the congressional‐district level) on protest, electoral outcomes, and challengers entering races, which are analyzed using an autoregressive distributed lagged regression model.

Results:
Results show that protests that express liberal issues lead to a greater percentage of the two‐party vote share for Democratic candidates, while protests that espouse conservative issues offer Republican candidates a greater share of the two‐party vote. Additionally, results indicated that protest shines a light on incumbent politicians’ failure to address constituent concerns, which leads quality candidates to enter subsequent races to challenge incumbent politicians.

Conclusions:
Citizen activism, which has been shown to impact state and firm policy decisions, also impacts electoral outcomes.

Related:
Yes, protests really can sway elections
Source: by Edmund L. Andrews, Futurity, December 13, 2018

Protests really do have an effect on election results, according to a new study based on 30 years of data.