Archive for the ‘Election’ Category
Interesting column by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post.
Ian Millhiser has an interesting post at ThinkProgress with the above title, which seems highly optimistic to me, mainly because he fails to recognize that the conservative justices on the Supreme Court are quite nakedly partisan and make partisan decisions, in some cases ignoring overwhelming evidence: Citizens United, for example, and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act.
Still, one should hope. Millhiser writes:
For the last decade, the Supreme Court of the United States has openly refused to police partisan gerrymandering even in egregious cases where the state legislature or its congressional delegation bears little resemblance to the will of the people. A new study out of Duke University, however, casts serious doubts on the reasoning of the justices who have thus-far refused to strike down unconstitutional gerrymanders.
In 2012, Democratic U.S. House candidates in North Carolina received 81,190 more votes that Republicans. Republicans received just under half of the votes earned by the two parties. And yet, the GOP walked away with 9 of the state’s 13 congressional districts. So, despite the fact that they earned just over 49 percent of the two-party vote, Republicans won nearly 70 percent of the state’s congressional seats.
Common sense dictates that the legislative maps that could produce such a result must be deeply flawed — and that they must be biased towards Republicans, the same party that controlled both houses of the state legislature when these maps were drawn (although the state had a Democratic governor at the time of the redistricting, the governor has no veto power over congressional maps). A new study by Duke Mathematics Professor Jonathan Mattingly and undergraduate Christy Vaughn seems to confirm this insight. Their study confirms that it is highly unlikely that a fair redistricting process would have produced a map as skewed towards one political party as North Carolina’s congressional map is.
Mattingly and Vaughn’s study redrew numerous random congressional maps, all of which complied with three rules: the districts must be “connected,” they must “come as close as possible to having [an] equal number of people,” and “they should be as compact as possible.” They then ran eight different simulations, some of which gave greater preferences to compact districts over equal population, while others placed greater emphasis on maintaining exact population. Seven of the eight simulations did not produce a single map where Democrats won less than five congressional seats, assuming that every voter who cast a vote for a Democrat or a Republican in 2012 would have cast the same vote under the simulated maps. The one simulation that did produce a handful of outlier maps where Democrats won only four seats did so “in less than 5% of the samples.”
Thus, the actual result of the 2012 elections — four Democratic congressional seats in North Carolina — did not even show up in all but one of Mattingly and Vaughn’s simulations. In the simulation where it did arise, it did so only in a few unusual cases. It is exceedingly unlikely that North Carolina’s GOP-friendly maps could have arisen organically. Rather, as Mattingly and Vaughn demonstrate, they are almost certainly the product of a legislature that carefully designed the maps to produce a desired result. The study’s authors argue that this result cries out for an independent check on redistricting — “The fact that the election outcomes are so dependent on the choice of redistrictings demonstrates the need for checks and balances to ensure that democracy is served when redistrictings are drawn and the election outcome is representative of the votes casted.”
Which brings us back to the Supreme Court. In the 2004 case Vieth v. Jubelirer, a total of four conservative justices joined an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia arguing that federal courts should not get involved in partisan gerrymandering cases. The essence of Scalia’s argument in Vieth is that courts are simply unable to come up with a legally manageable standard for determining which gerrymanders cross the line when they become impermissible. According to Scalia, “no judicially discernible and manageable standards for adjudicating political gerrymandering claims have emerged.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a separate opinion in which he also lamented the fact that such a standard has not yet emerged — although he seemed more open than Scalia to the possibility that it could emerge in the future. “When presented with a claim of injury from partisan gerrymandering,” Kennedy wrote, “courts confront two obstacles.” The first is a “lack of comprehensive and neutral principles for drawing electoral boundaries,” and the second is “the absence of rules to limit and confine judicial intervention.” While judges might have an intuition that a particular gerrymander crosses the line where it unconstitutionally favors the members of one party over another, Kennedy was not aware of any “comprehensive and neutral principles” that could be used to judge each congressional map to determine whether it crossed the line.
That is the genius of Mattingly and Vaughn’s study. It creates an objective methodology for assessing whether a map is impermissibly gerrymandered. Admittedly, judges would still have to apply some discretion to determine how skewed a map must be before it must be struck down. What if 10 percent of the maps produced using Mattingly and Vaughn’s methodology were in line with actual election results? What the number were 20 percent? But in truly egregious cases like North Carolina, any reasonable judge can recognize that the map could not have resulted from a fair and neutral process.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the Court’s present majority — all five members of the Court’s current conservative bloc have expressed at least some reluctance to decide partisan gerrymandering cases — will allow judges to reach this question. Should the Court’s majority change in the coming years, however, Mattingly and Vaughn may have provided that new majority with the tools they need to eliminate North Carolina-style gerrymandering in the future.
I’ve been critical of those who did not vote, assuming that the reason was that they didn’t care, lacked civic virtue, and so on. But then reports like this made me think that perhaps I’m making a fundamental attribution error regarding the reason. Wikipedia:
In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error, also known as the correspondence bias or attribution effect, is people’s tendency to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation, rather than considering external factors. It does not explain interpretations of one’s own behavior, where situational factors are more easily recognized and can thus be taken into consideration. The flip side of this error is the actor–observer bias, in which people tend to overemphasize the role of a situation in their behaviors and underemphasize the role of their own personalities.
As a simple example, consider a situation where Alice, a driver, is about to pass through an intersection. Her light turns green and she begins to accelerate, but another car drives through the red light and crosses in front of her. The fundamental attribution error may lead her to think that the driver of the other car was an unskilled or reckless driver. This will be an error if the other driver had a good reason for running the light, such as rushing a patient to the hospital. If this is the case and Alice had been driving the other car, she would have understood that the situation called for speed at the cost of safety, but when seeing it from the outside she was inclined to believe that the behavior of the other driver reflected their fundamental nature (having poor driving skills or a reckless attitude).
The phrase was coined by Lee Ross some years after a now classic experiment by Edward E. Jones and Victor Harris (1967). Ross argued in a popular paper that the fundamental attribution error forms the conceptual bedrock for the field of social psychology. Jones wrote that he found Ross’ phrase “overly provocative and somewhat misleading”, and also joked: “Furthermore, I’m angry that I didn’t think of it first.” Some psychologists, including Daniel Gilbert, have used the phrase “correspondence bias” for the fundamental attribution error. Other psychologists have argued that the fundamental attribution error and correspondence bias are related but independent phenomena, with the former being a common explanation for the latter.
Interesting and not totally surprising:
That’s from a very interesting report with quite a few charts. Obviously, conservatives are in favor of gridlock in Washington so long as Obama achieves nothing. Very odd attitude toward the US, I think.
The Boston Globe has a review of Glennon’s new book:
It has long been the province of conspiracy theorists to claim that the real power of government is not wielded by the obvious practitioners of statecraft — presidents, members of Congress, the judiciary — but by secret or semi-secret entities, real wizards whose hidden machinations send us to war, sell us out to enemies, siphon public treasure into private hands. Depending on your talk show or paranoia of choice, these are the bankers, oil barons, one-worlders, war profiteers, Bilderbergers, Masons, Catholics, Jews, or Trilateralists. Our formal institutions, in this scenario, are stage sets, Potemkin villages; our officials are puppets; we are an unsuspecting audience.
Michael Glennon, a respected academic (Tufts’s Fletcher School) and author of a book brought to us by an equally respected publisher (Oxford University Press), is hardly the sort to indulge in such fantasies. And that makes the picture he paints in National Security and Double Government all the more arresting. Considering Barack Obama’s harsh pre-election criticisms of his predecessor’s surveillance policies, for example, Glennon notes that many of those same policies — and more of the same kind — were continued after Obama took office. “Why,” he asks, “does national security policy remain constant even when one President is replaced by another, who as a candidate repeatedly, forcefully, and eloquently promised fundamental changes in that policy?”
The answer Glennon places before us is not reassuring: “a bifurcated system — a structure of double government — in which even the President now exercises little substantive control over the overall direction of US national security policy.” The result, he writes, is a system of dual institutions that have evolved “toward greater centralization, less accountability, and emergent autocracy.”
If this were a movie, it would soon become clear that some evil force, bent on consolidating power and undermining democratic governance, has surreptitiously tunneled into the under-structure of the nation. Not so. In fact, Glennon observes, this hyper-secret and difficult-to-control network arose in part as an attempt to head off just such an outcome. In the aftermath of World War II, with the Soviet Union a serious threat from abroad and a growing domestic concern about weakened civilian control over the military (in 1949, the Hoover Commission had warned that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had become “virtually a law unto themselves”), President Truman set out to create a separate national security structure.
By 2011, according to The Washington Post, there were 46 separate federal departments and agencies and 2,000 private companies engaged in classified national security operations with millions of employees and spending of roughly a trillion dollars a year. As Glennon points out, presidents get to name fewer than 250 political appointees among the Defense Department’s nearly 700,000 civilian employees, with hundreds more drawn from a national security bureaucracy that comprise “America’s Trumanite network” — in effect, on matters of national security, a second government.
Glennon’s book is not a breezy read: It’s thick with fact and not unappreciative of conundrum (“The government is seen increasingly by elements of the public as hiding what they ought to know, criminalizing what they ought to be able to do, and spying upon what ought to be private. The people are seen increasingly by the government as unable to comprehend the gravity of security threats.”). Nor is he glib with proposed solutions: to adequately respond to the threats posed by a below-the-radar second government will . . .
The Boston Globe also ran an interview of Dr. Glennon, under the headline “Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.”
THE VOTERS WHO put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach from his predecessor.
But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons.
Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried.
Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.
Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan: The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops.
Glennon’s critique sounds like an outsider’s take, even a radical one. In fact, he is the quintessential insider: He was legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a consultant to various congressional committees, as well as to the State Department. “National Security and Double Government” comes favorably blurbed by former members of the Defense Department, State Department, White House, and even the CIA. And he’s not a conspiracy theorist: Rather, he sees the problem as one of “smart, hard-working, public-spirited people acting in good faith who are responding to systemic incentives”—without any meaningful oversight to rein them in.
How exactly has double government taken hold? And what can be done about it? Glennon spoke with Ideas from his office at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. This interview has been condensed and edited.
IDEAS: Where does the term “double government” come from?
GLENNON:It comes from Walter Bagehot’s famous theory, unveiled in the 1860s. Bagehot was the scholar who presided over the birth of the Economist magazine—they still have a column named after him. Bagehot tried to explain in his book “The English Constitution” how the British government worked. He suggested that there are two sets of institutions. There are the “dignified institutions,” the monarchy and the House of Lords, which people erroneously believed ran the government. But he suggested that there was in reality a second set of institutions, which he referred to as the “efficient institutions,” that actually set governmentalpolicy. And those were the House of Commons, the prime minister, and the British cabinet.
IDEAS: What evidence exists for saying America has a double government?
GLENNON:I was curious why a president such as Barack Obama would embrace the very same national security and counterterrorism policies that he campaigned eloquently against. Why would that president continue those same policies in case after case after case? I initially wrote it based on my own experience and personal knowledge and conversations with dozens of individuals in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies of our government, as well as, of course, officeholders on Capitol Hill and in the courts. And the documented evidence in the book is substantial—there are 800 footnotes in the book.
IDEAS: Why would policy makers hand over the national-security keys to unelected officials?
GLENNON: It hasn’t been a conscious decision….Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy.
The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”
IDEAS: Isn’t this just another way of saying that big bureaucracies are difficult to change?
GLENNON: It’s much more serious than that. These particular bureaucracies don’t set truck widths or determine railroad freight rates. They make nerve-center security decisions that in a democracy can be irreversible, that can close down the marketplace of ideas, and can result in some very dire consequences.
IDEAS: Couldn’t Obama’s national-security decisions just result from the difference in vantage point between being a campaigner and being the commander-in-chief, responsible for 320 million lives? . . .
Continue reading. His conclusion:
GLENNON: The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people. And indifference to the threat that is emerging from these concealed institutions. That is where the energy for reform has to come from: the American people. Not from government. Government is very much the problem here. The people have to take the bull by the horns. And that’s a very difficult thing to do, because the ignorance is in many ways rational. There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change.
We see how important it is to the national security state that the citizenry NOT be well-educated—as George Carlin says, the owners don’t want citizens with critical-thinking skills.
Remember this post from yesterday on the destruction of our educational system? It’s continuing.
Remember this post from yesterday on how Wall Street simply controls the government and will never be truly punished for their grand-scale theft and fraud? while those impacted by the theft get no relief whatsoever?
The dominating significance of the mid-term American legislative elections just finished has been the occasion’s dramatic confirmation of the corruption of the American electoral system. This has two elements, the first being its money corruption, unprecedented in American history, and without parallel in the history of major modern western democracies. How can Americans get out of this terrible situation, which threatens to become the permanent condition of American electoral politics?
The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.
This disastrous state of affairs is the product of two Supreme Court decisions and before that, of the repeal under the Reagan Administration, of the provision in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, stipulating the public service obligations of radio (and subsequently, of television) broadcasters in exchange for the government’s concession to them of free use in their businesses of the public airways.
These rules required broadcasters to provide “public interest” programming, including the coverage of electoral campaigns for public office and the independent examination of public issues. The termination of these requirements made possible the wave of demagogic and partisan right-wing “talk radio” that since has plagued American broadcasting and muddied American electoral politics.
Those readers old enough to remember the radio and early television broadcasting of pre-Reagan America will recall the non-partisan news reports and summaries provided by the national networks and by local stations in the United States. There were, of course, popular news commentators professing strong or idiosyncratic views as well, but the industry assured that a variety of responsible opinions were expressed, and that blatant falsehood was banned or corrected.
The two Supreme Court decisions were “Buckley v. Valeo” in 1976 and “Citizens United v. the Federal Electoral Commission” in 2010. Jointly, they have transformed the nature of the American political campaign, and indeed the nature of American national politics. This resulted from the nature and characteristics of mass communications in the United States and the fact that broadcasting has from the beginning been all but totally a commercial undertaking (unlike the state broadcasters in Canada and Britain, and nearly all of Europe).
The two decisions turned political contests into competitions in campaign advertising expenditure on television and radio. The election just ended caused every American linked to the internet to be bombarded by thousands (or what seemed tens of thousands) of political messages pleading for campaign money and listing the enormous (naturally) sums pouring into the coffers of the enemy.
Previously the American campaign first concerned the candidate and the nature of his or her political platform. Friends and supporters could, of course, contribute to campaign funds and expenditures, but these contributions were limited by law in scale and nature. No overt connection was allowed between businesses or industries and major political candidates, since this would have implied that the candidate represented “special interests” rather than the general interest.
The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict is well known and remains highly controversial since it rendered impossible the imposition of legal limits on political campaign spending, ruling that electoral spending is an exercise in constitutionally-protected free speech; Moreover, it adjudged commercial corporations as legal citizens, in electoral matters the equivalent of persons.
The Court’s prohibition . . .