On the subject of intelligence …

Relating to friday’s discussion of the role of espionage in our daily lives, take a look at this article from the New York Times. It makes some useful points about the successes and limitations of electronic intelligence gathering, and lays out some consequences for foreign policy that we didn’t consider.

I urge you to read to the end and to consider the implications of the phrase “turnkey totalitarianism.”

Enjoy your weekend.

An attempt at summing up the last month …

This article does a pretty good job of arguing that, while the last month may have dealt a blow to the Tea Party, the ideas that motivate its supporters aren’t going anywhere.

I wonder what you think of the author’s take on Madison and on the likelihood that the feelings that underlie the Tea Party’s animosity might actually disrupt the party system.

Let’s see what you come up with.

Before you talk about tax policy …

I strongly urge you to read this article from the philosophy blog at the New York Times. It really sets out that philosophical grounding of the two extremes of policy making in the U.S. today. Be warned though, when the author describes Nozick as a liberal, she means it in the classical sense, which is closer to what we would consider the libertarian position today.


Please, please think about this when you cast your policy arguments in moral terms.

In lieu of a debate in class …

So this week we were supposed to debate the merits and demerits of pork barrel spending, or, as it has come to be known in more genteel phrasing, earmarking. We didn’t have the debate, largely because the issue, which was relevant when I began teaching government, has become much less so since the House in 2011 “banned” the use of earmarks.

Another reason why I’ve given up on this classroom activity is that the subject just doesn’t make for good debate for the simple reason that the arguments for pork are based on an insider’s view of the legislative process, and the arguments against it are largely cries of outrage at the “frivolous” things that “corrupt” politicians spend our “hard-earned tax dollars” on. (Sorry for the scare quotes, but I don’t have a better way to indicated cliches).

I thought that the issue of pork was pretty much dead, but the government dysfunction epitomized by last week’s shutdown and debt ceiling debacle has brought pork back into the spotlight. (or perhaps heat-lamp? Ok, I’ll stop).

So, for your reading pleasure are two articles that argue in favor of rolling out the pork barrel once again. The first is from 1998, so most of the cast of characters will be unfamiliar to many readers. Remember this when you read about President Clinton and his healthcare plan. The second is from yesterday, and references pork as a way to avoid future government shutdowns.

Read them and let me know what you think. Is it reasonable to expect lawmakers to bring back earmarks in this age of radical deficit cutting?

This shutdown is a godsend for civics teachers

Ok, so the title is a bit of a joke, since it’s getting increasingly difficult to try to teach how the government is supposed to work when it so clearly isn’t working. But on the positive side, the current conflict between the executive and legislative branches (or, if you prefer the media shorthand, between the President and House Republicans) is providing many, MANY articles about some of the more arcane aspects of congressional procedure.

For example, in most years I would gloss over the whole notion of a discharge petition. But luckily, thanks to the reluctance of the Speaker to bring a continuing resolution to a vote, we have multiple articles on this rather obscure procedural maneuver.

Here’s one from the New Republic that goes really inside baseball both in describing what a discharge petition is and why we can’t have one right away. It’s particularly helpful in reminding us about the role that the Speaker plays in bringing bills to the floor of the house and explains why so much of the focus is on John Boehner.  And here is the Washington Post explaining why we’re not likely to see one, even though they think it would be a good idea. The National Review agrees.

So, read these articles and you should have greater insight into both the power of the Speaker and the discharge petition.

BONUS: The Debt Ceiling!

Now moving on from the shutdown to the debt ceiling, (which I’ve pointed out in class is probably going to be a disaster if there is no movement from Congress to raise it). Apparently there’s a growing feeling, at least among some Republicans, that breaching the debt ceiling might not be so bad. This article points out why people who take this sanguine view are wrong.  This piece, by a law professor from the University of Chicago (which is not known for its liberal politics) explains what the president could do to avoid a debt default if Congress does not act to raise the debt ceiling. I strongly urge you to read it as it provides a useful introduction to the way that the President can interact with Congress in an emergency situation. You should read it.

I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories..

In fact, I really despise conspiracy theories for the most part. But this article from the New York Times is making me re-consider. 

Now, I know that by the legal definition there is no conspiracy here, unless someone can prove an actual act of bribery, or maybe fraud, but I couldn’t help reading this and thinking that it just seems wrong for any group, liberal or conservative, to plot to subvert the democratic process in this way. 

Maybe this is just how interest group pluralism is supposed to work. I wouldn’t have a problem with groups pushing positive legislation (by which I mean legislation that advances a new policy, not legislation that simply obstructs policy implementation or avoids legislative responsibility) even if I disagreed with the policy itself. 

I was already fed up with lawmakers acting like spoiled children who, having lost a game, pitch a fit and take their ball and go home. But this makes the whole thing seem much more sinister. And depressing. 

Blame the Constitution?

So, a propos of the government shutdown that is now entering it’s third day, I came across two articles arguing that the constitution itself, is to blame for the malfunctioning government. Please read them and, based on your knowledge of the constitution comment on whether you think the authors are correct, and, if so what could be done to fix the problems.




Sorry to be such a downer.