Category Archives: Politics

Use Sound Science Guide to Evaluate Information

Source: Rebekah Fitzgerald, Council of State Governments, E-Newsletter, Vol. 139, 2014

Policymakers today have no shortage of information when considering a specific topic or legislation. Supporters and opponents both use a wide range of information when arguing a position, and it is not always easy to tell if that information is based on sound science….The revised guide, set to be released mid-June, aims to provide guidance to help policymakers cut through the jargon and spin that sometimes accompanies technical issues. “The ‘State Official’s Guide to Science-based Decision-making’ provides valuable information and tips for the reader on how to assess the research and discern credible sources from those that lack appropriate credentials,” said Lyons. The guide has four main sections: assessing the expert, assessing the methods, assessing the results and integrating the knowledge. Each section contains examples and walks readers through key questions to ask, acting as more of a roadmap rather than a strict rulebook. …

State Fiscal Constitutions and the Law and Politics of Public Pensions

Source: Amy Monahan, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities – School of Law, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-24,May 13, 2014

from the abstract:
Pension plans for state and local employees are, as a whole, significantly underfunded. This underfunding creates intense fiscal pressure on governments and often either crowds out other desired governmental spending or results in employees and retirees losing earned benefits. Political theorists often explain that underfunded public pension plans are all but inevitable given the political realities that affect funding decisions. Politicians who desire to be reelected should rationally prefer to spend money on current constituents, rather than commit scarce funds to a pension plan to pay benefits due to workers decades in the future. These dynamics are exacerbated by existing state fiscal constitutions that require balanced budgets and often restrict the ability to raise taxes. Paying a pension plan less than the amount due provides an easy way to free up money in the state budget by creating a form of debt that is not reflected on the state’s balance sheet. This article presents original analysis of the effect that state fiscal constitutions – even those that contain explicit requirements to fund public pension plans – impact public pension funding dynamics. It finds that even where explicit constitutional funding requirements are in place, plans often continue to be underfunded both because of political and financial pressures, and also because of the distinct lack of an enforcement mechanism. The article concludes by suggesting that these weakness in pension funding requirements can be addressed through the creation of clear and objective funding standards and, most importantly, through the creation of enforcement mechanisms that can, where appropriate, override legislative decisions to underfund public pension plans.

Dark Money, Dirty War: The Corporate Crusade Against Low-Wage Workers

Source: Mariya Strauss, Political Research Associates, June 4, 2014

Corporate interests have taken credit for reducing private-sector unions to a fraction of their former strength, and for eroding public-sector collective bargaining, especially since the 2010 “Tea Party midterms.” A resurgence in low-wage worker organizing, sparked by growing inequality in the United States, promises to help defend the rights—and paychecks—of vulnerable workers. But corporations and their paid shills aim to snuff out the movement before it catches fire. …

Should we fight the system or be the change?

Source: Mark Engler and Paul Engler, Waging Nonviolence, June 3, 2014

It is an old question in social movements: Should we fight the system or “be the change we wish to see”? Should we push for transformation within existing institutions, or should we model in our own lives a different set of political relationships that might someday form the basis of a new society?

Over the past 50 years — and arguably going back much further — social movements in the United States have incorporated elements of each approach, sometimes in harmonious ways and other times with significant tension between different groups of activists.

In the recent past, a clash between “strategic” and “prefigurative” politics could be seen in the Occupy movement. While some participants pushed for concrete political reforms — greater regulation of Wall Street, bans on corporate money in politics, a tax on millionaires, or elimination of debt for students and underwater homeowners — other occupiers focused on the encampments themselves. They saw the liberated spaces in Zuccotti Park and beyond — with their open general assemblies and communities of mutual support — as the movement’s most important contribution to social change. These spaces, they believed, had the power foreshadow, or “prefigure,” a more radical and participatory democracy.

Once an obscure term, prefigurative politics is increasingly gaining currency, with many contemporary anarchists embracing as a core tenet the idea that, as a slogan from the Industrial Workers of the World put it, we must “build the new world in the shell of the old.” Because of this, it is useful to understand its history and dynamics. While prefigurative politics has much to offer social movements, it also contains pitfalls. If the project of building alternative community totally eclipses attempts to communicate with the wider public and win broad support, it risks becoming a very limiting type of self-isolation.

For those who wish to both live their values and impact the world as it now exists, the question is: How can we use the desire to “be the change” in the service of strategic action?….

Split Definitive: How Party Polarization Turned the Supreme Court into a Partisan Court

Source: Neal Devins, Lawrence Baum, William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-276, May 2, 2014

From the abstract:
Starting in 2010 the Supreme Court has divided into two partisan ideological blocs, with all the Court’s Democratic appointees on the liberal side and its Republican appointees on the conservative side. Correspondingly, since 1990 there has been a dramatic increase in the ideological gap between Democratic and Republican appointees. In this article we make use of original empirical research to establish that this partisan division is unprecedented in the Court’s history, and we undertake a systematic analysis of how it came about. We show that it is linked to growing partisan polarization among political elites, polarization that has shaped the Court in multiple ways. The sorting of elites into the two parties on the basis of ideology has greatly reduced the numbers of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans who might be selected as Justices. The same sorting has prompted presidents — for the first time ever — to make ideology the dominant factor in appointing Justices.

Finally, political elites that tended to lean in a moderate-to-liberal direction during the 1960s through much of the 1980s have become far more polarized along ideological lines. As we show through original research on the voting patterns of Justices over the past forty years, Justices who once might have been drawn toward moderation are increasingly reinforced in their liberal or conservative orientations. One key reason is that the rise of the conservative legal network has worked against the “drift” of Republican appointees toward more moderate positions that was common a few decades ago. This analysis indicates that the current partisan division on the Court is not a temporary phenomenon; rather, it is likely to continue as long as the current partisan polarization continues.

How Bipartisanship and Incrementalism Stitched the Child Health Insurance Safety Net (1982–1997)

Source: Samuel S. Flint, Health & Social Work, Volume 39, Issue 2, May 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Today, 96.5 percent of children and adolescents either have health insurance or are uninsured but eligible for a public plan. This proportion far exceeds the most optimistic coverage projections for adults under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The child health insurance safety net was crafted from 1982 to 1997 through several incremental, bipartisan federal and state legislative actions. It began by offering and later mandating state Medicaid eligibility expansions and culminated with the enactment of the State Child Health Insurance Program. Two-thirds of the states leveraged these laws to expand coverage beyond federal requirements. As a senior executive with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the author was directly involved or closely monitored these federal and state child health insurance expansions. This case study is a participant–observer analysis of that period, an era that stands in stark contrast to today’s highly partisan times. The successive expansions of publicly funded children’s health insurance during this conservative period, when many other human services programs were slashed, are attributed to public sympathy for children, political acceptability by the right and the left, manageable costs, and the relative ease of state implementation as these changes came in incremental pieces over several years.

Public Sector Unions Under Siege – Solidarity in the Fight Back

Source: Richard W. Hurd, Tamara L. Lee, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 39 no. 1, March 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The 2011-2013 assault on public sector collective bargaining rights is unprecedented in its breadth and depth. Legislative proposals that would roll back bargaining, limit unions’ ability to negotiate security arrangements, stop payroll deduction of union dues, and constrain labor’s political activity have been introduced in a majority of states. This coordinated attack from the Republican right has spurred an aggressive, unified response from a broad cross section of unions. Through labor unity tables at the national and state levels, unions are demonstrating a rare level of solidarity in the fight back. This ongoing experiment in movement building is encouraging, but challenges remain.

Who Loses When a State Declines the Medicaid Expansion?

Source: Health & Social Work, Volume 39, Issue 2, May 2014
(subscription required)

From the extract:
Kris Crawford knows a thing or two about health care and politics because he is both an emergency medicine physician and a South Carolina state legislator. He stated publicly that he believed his state should take the federal money made available to it under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (H.R. 3590, 2009) to expand Medicaid to the uninsured with incomes less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. However, when it came down to voting whether South Carolina would expand Medicaid, he was part of the unanimous Republican opposition that sank the legislation. In a moment of remarkable candor, he explained his flip-flop to the press by stating, “It is good politics to oppose the black guy in the White House right now, especially for the Republican party”.

Dr. Crawford not only ignored his original opinion, he also went against the preference of 65 percent of adult South Carolinians. The public’s opinion regarding PPACA and, specifically, the Medicaid expansion, has been polled in South Carolina and four of the other southern states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi) that just said no. Three out of five adult residents want the Medicaid expansion, including solid majorities in all age groups, all races, all educational levels, and among self-identified political independents.

So why are so many Republicans voting against known preference of the majority? The principal reason is the fear that, if they do not conform with respect to opposing PPACA, they will be challenged in their next primary by a more conservative hard-liner who will stand an excellent chance of winning over the 59 percent of Republicans who oppose the Medicaid expansion and the 70 percent who oppose the entire bill….

Beyond Occupy

Source: Martin Kich, Talking Union blog, May 22, 2014

The Occupy Movement has been the first major grassroots progressive movement in the United States in decades. But, at its core, the appeal of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been that it is politically unaffiliated, and that lack of structure, or, more precisely, that lack of structural purpose, has also been its undoing. Occupy Wall Street has been more successfully expressive of political discontent than persuasive about progressive remedies to that discontent mainly because persuasion requires objectives that can be targeted, if not always achieved.

Many Millennials seem to have an aversion to conventional politics, but if they ultimately want to build a third political party that is more truly progressive than the Democratic party has become, the quickest route to accomplishing that goal may be to build a movement within the Democratic party that can either re-assume control of the party or that can draw away enough resources, candidates, and voters that it renders what remains of the Democratic party inconsequential….

Think Tanks, Influence and Independence

Source: Diane Rehm Show, May 21, 2014

The role of think tanks in shaping public policy dates back nearly a century to when the Brookings Institution set up shop in the nation’s capital. The idea was to create a “university without students” that could provide research to lawmakers. Today, there are more than 1,800 think tanks in the United States, 400 in Washington alone. They range from liberal to conservative, scholarly to activist. Recently, outside groups have started to demand a higher level of transparency when it comes to where think tanks get their money. They say citizens deserve to know who is bankrolling the ideas that shape our democracy. A conversation about think tanks, influence and independence.

William Antholis – managing director, Brookings Institution

Eric Lipton – reporter in The New York Times Washington bureau who covers lobbying, ethics and corporate agendas

Tevi Troy – president, American Health Policy Institute; former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services