Monthly Archives: April 2013

The more effective questions to be asking about the gun control vote

To all my liberal friends out there who are unhappy about how the gun control vote turned out yesterday and who are targeting their venom on the individual Senators who defeated the measures, I gently submit that there are some more effective questions to be asking today:

First, what institutional structures are in place that allow for a bill to receive a majority of a vote (54 of 100) in the Senate, yet still fail to pass? (Answer: here.) How might you go about affecting change to those institutions?

Second, what wider political and societal forces have been occurring over the last half century that have produced a system where many Republican Senators vote against these measures in large part due to the very real threat of losing their next primary election to a more conservative challenger? (Answer: here.) How might you best allocate your time and efforts to affect change in this area?

Third, what cultural traditions and values have been prevalent in our political system for more than three centuries that contribute to a widespread preference on the appropriate boundaries of political discussion in terms of the balance between liberty and security? (Answer: here.) What might be done to work within this constraint?

Fourth, even the gun control measures had passed the Senate yesterday, what is the likelihood of them being passed in the Republican-controlled House? (Answer: slim to none.) What might be done to address this political reality?

While all members of Congress are ultimately responsible for their votes, there are more effective places to be looking in terms of explaining what happened yesterday than placing all the blame on the Senators themselves and ignoring the wider structural realities that influence their behavior.

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Republican support for pathway to citizenship changes with penalty emphasis

According to a recent survey experiment by PRRI, Republican support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants increases by over 20% when the penalties are emphasized:

http://publicreligion.org/research/2013/04/april-2013-religion-politics-tracking-survey/

More (anecdotal) evidence that religious leaders can influence immigration views

Two years ago, national evangelical leaders began to speak out in favor of legislation to give legal status to immigrants in the United States illegally. Now, as Congress is about to start a debate on overhauling the immigration system, conservative Christians, once inclined to take a hard line on immigrants they viewed as lawbreakers, are consulting their Bibles and coming around to the pastors’ view.

“I feel I would be representative of a typical longtime Baptist, one who grew up in the Baptist Church, who was raised in an evangelical family, and I would identify myself as a conservative Republican,” said Jay Crenshaw, 36, a lawyer in Orlando who attended a service at the megachurch last Sunday. “And I can tell you how much my views have changed.”

Full article available here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/us/evangelical-christians-increasingly-favor-pathway-to-legal-status-for-immigrants.html

“Oppose drone use in the U.S.; risks to privacy overshadow helpful uses”

The following is a guest-post from my colleague Professor Robert Bosco. This editorial originally appeared in the online version of the Lexington Herald-Leader on April 13, 2013

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster about targeted killings by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, also known as drones) grabbed headlines, but there is more to the story.

Right now, the UAV industry association and local law enforcement are pushing communities, state officials and the Federal Aviation Agency Administration to stop worrying and learn to love the drone.

Law enforcement already uses drones for surveillance in Florida, Texas, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii.

Kentucky is poised to play an important role in increasing the use of drones at home and abroad. Four locations in Kentucky either currently host and operate drones or most likely soon will, including Fort Campbell, Corbin, Fort Knox, and Lexington. The University of Kentucky has ongoing projects on UAVs, including an unmanned aerial vehicle team in its College of Engineering.

Drones might create jobs. But so does napalm manufacturing. And there may be legitimate uses for drones, like tracking wildfires or search and rescue operations. Drones might sometimes keep us safe, but let’s not be naïve.

The line between technologies of public safety and technologies of surveillance, infiltration and control is fuzzy even in normal times.

In this country, it is absolutely plausible that aerial surveillance could creep toward normal and become a routine part of our lives.

As citizens in the land of the Citizens United campaign finance court decision, we should not underestimate the power that lobbies have to gradually erode federal and state regulations. Nor should we be surprised, because we give them more and more of that power.

April is the month for nationwide action on drones. Increasingly, people are researching the use of drones in our country on their own, and not liking what they find.

Citizens in Virginia, Alabama, California, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri and Washington have already come together to ban drone basing, manufacturing, research or use from their counties and neighborhoods, especially by local law enforcement, defense contractors and universities.

It is time for Kentucky residents to do the same. 

“Next Generation Science Standards”

Given that we have members of the U.S. Congress who say things like this about the American Community Survey:

“In the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”

I’m therefore generally supportive of efforts like this:

…[T]he guidelines were intended to combat widespread scientific ignorance, to standardize teaching among states, and to raise the number of high school graduates who choose scientific and technical majors in college, a critical issue for the country’s economic future.

The focus would be helping students become more intelligent science consumers by learning how scientific work is done: how ideas are developed and tested, what counts as strong or weak evidence, and how insights from many disciplines fit together into a coherent picture of the world.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/science/panel-calls-for-broad-changes-in-science-education.html

I especially like that these science standards are not mandates from the government, but rather recommendations from science teachers from around the country.

And I suppose this means that I have to reveal my pro-science bias (if it was not already evident). I see the scientific enterprise as a legitimate and more-or-less reliable way to establish “truth” at this point in human history. (Although I do not exclude other methods as more-or-less reliable means for establishing other types of “truth” – but that starts to become a philosophical question…)

“Can Religious Leaders Sway Parishioners on Immigration? Research Says Yes”

Ultimately, these studies indicate that to one degree or another, American congregants of all political stripes tend to follow the lead of their religious leaders when it comes to immigration. President Obama was smart to enlist their support as he works with Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul this year.

Full article available here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/benjamin-knoll/can-religious-leaders-swa_b_2974436.html

Speaker Pelosi in 2014? I wouldn’t bet on it.

President Obama, talking about Nancy Pelosi and his predicted outcome of the 2014 midterm elections:

“… I expect that she’s going to be once again the Speaker of the House.”

Can Nancy Pelosi expect to be Speaker of the House come January 2015? It’s possible, but very unlikely.

In the modern political era (post-1940s), the president’s party almost always loses seats in the House during midterm elections, and this effect is almost always larger in a president’s second term than in the first (the two exceptions being the 1998 and 2002 midterm elections). From 1946-2006, the president’s party has lost an average of 16 House seats in a president’s first term midterm elections and 31 House seats in a president’s second term midterm election.

There are a couple of academic theories as to why this occurs. First, there are no presidential “coattails” to help co-partisan candidates of the winning president’s party during midterm elections. Second, another theory argues that the outcome of midterm elections is at least partially a “referendum” on the incumbent president’s performance, and a president almost always has lower approval ratings at the mid-point of their terms than when they began those terms. Finally, the “exposure” theory states that a president’s party will lose more seats in the midterm election because they simply have more to lose after gaining seats in the previous election thanks to the aforementioned “coattails” and “referendum” effects.

Also, it should be noted that even though Democrats technically won the popular vote for U.S. House in 2012 they gained only eight seats and failed to win a majority. One  estimation suggested that Congressional Democrats would have had to win the national popular vote by upwards of 7% to have taken back the House in 2012. This does not bode well for their chances in 2014.

In sum, it’s certainly a possibility that the Democrats will re-take the House in 2014, but I wouldn’t bet on it.