Tomorrow, Los Angeles voters go to the polls to elect a new Mayor. (At least a few of them, anyway: current estimates predict onyl 25% turnout, about which more later). In September, New Yorkers will do the same. And depending upon the way things turn out, political and cultural reporters could have a field day.
If Christine Quinn and Wendy Greuel win in their respective cities, we will have female mayors of both cities for the first time. And the press will have a lot of fun with it, because the two women seem to epitomize their cities’ personalities. Quinn is famously nasty and vicious, character traits she is now trying to ameliorate at least publicly. Much less famously, but just as truly, Greuel is quite nice: I’ve known her for nearly 20 years, and you can’t deny that she is personally a very nice person.
And if you think about it, that is true more broadly. If Anthony Weiner runs for NYC mayor, we’ll get another jerk trying to get to Gracie Mansion. Greuel’s rival, Eric Garcetti, whom I’ve also known for a long time, is likewise very friendly and nice. Even the campaign by realistic standards has been pretty tame.
It seems the Senate could have a really hot summer. Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has reportedly threatened to “go nuclear” this July—meaning that Senate Democrats would move by majority vote to ban filibusters of executive and judicial branch nominees. According to these reports, if Senate Republicans block three key nominations (Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Thomas Perez at Labor, and Gina McCarthy at EPA), Reid will call on the Democrats to invoke the nuclear option as a means of eliminating filibusters over nominees.
Jon Bernstein offered a thoughtful reaction to Reid’s gambit, noting that Reid’s challenge is to “find a way to ratchet up the threat of reform in order to push Republicans as far away from that line as possible.” Jon’s emphasis on Reid’s threat is important (and is worth reading in full). Still, I think it’s helpful to dig a little deeper on the role of both majority and minority party threats that arise over the nuclear option.
Before getting to Reid’s threat, two brief detours. First, a parliamentary detour to make plain two reasons why Reid’s procedural gambit is deemed “nuclear.” First, Democrats envision using a set of parliamentary moves that would allow the Senate to cut off debate on nominations by majority vote (rather than by sixty votes). Republicans (at least when they are in the minority) call this “changing the rules by breaking the rules,” because Senate rules formally require a 2/3rds vote to break a filibuster of a measure to change Senate rules. The nuclear option would avoid the formal process of securing a 2/3rds vote to cut off debate; instead, the Senate would set a new precedent by simple majority vote to exempt nominations from the reach of Rule 22. If Democrats circumvent formal rules, Republicans would deem the move nuclear. Second, Reid’s potential gambit would be considered nuclear because of the anticipate d GOPreaction: As Sen. Schumer argued in 2005 when the GOP tried to go nuclear over judges, minority party senators would “blow up every bridge in sight.” The nuclear option is so-called on account of the minority’s anticipated parliamentary reaction (which would ramp up obstruction on everything else).
A second detour notes simply that the exact procedural steps that would have to be taken to set a new precedent to exempt nominations from Rule 22 have not yet been precisely spelled out. Over the years, several scenarios have been floated that give us a general outline of how the Senate could reform its cloture rule by majority vote. But a CRS report written in the heat of the failed GOP effort to go nuclear in 2005 points to the complications and uncertainties entailed in using a reform-by-ruling strategy to empower simple majorities to cut off debate on nominations. My sense is that using a nuclear option to restrict the reach of Rule 22 might not be as straight forward as many assume.
Someone pointed me to a remark someone who felt that statisticians were not doing their job to help out “mathematically challenged” psychology researchers. My first thought was that statisticians often help in an indirect way, by developing advanced methods that quantitative psychologists then translate to their colleagues, but I also realized that there was some specific advice I could give that could be used right away. This made me think that my colleagues and I should put together a short document (an article? webpage? wiki? pamphlet?) of statistical advice. Maybe 50 useful tips. Much of this is in our books but it could be useful to have something that people can use right away, with no prerequisites and without feeling that it would be a big time commitment.
The thing I wanted to talk about here on the Monkey Cage, though, is that I can’t imagine a political scientist complaining that statisticians weren’t helping them out. The difference, I suppose, is that psychology has a longstanding field of psychometrics and mathematical psychology, and these people have been developing their own methods for many decades. In contrast, political methodologists take from other fields (mostly econometrics and statistics), so they are used to having to learn the language of others. And political scientists who are not methodologists (the equivalents of the “mathematically challenged psychologist” who asked the original question) know that if they want to do statistics, they have to learn some statistics; they don’t really expect to get by otherwise.
P.S. Just to be clear: None of this is meant to disparage qualitative research. Qualitative research is great. I’m certainly not saying that all researchers need to use statistics. This discussion is all about people who are doing quantitative work and fell the need to use methods that are somewhat beyond their mathematical/statistical comfort zone.
Quite a lot has been written in the last week about inappropriate IRS scrutiny of conservative groups seeking 501 (c) (4) status as tax-exempt organizations during the 2012 election. The commentary has followed a relatively predictable pattern, as journalists have focused on who-knew-what-and-when-they-knew-it, and what the political fallout will be. Yet, there is also increasing recognition that the story is likely more complex than exuberant employees or lax management.
Simply, the IRS has made the worst of a bad situation that is not entirely of its own making. While it is certainly on the hook for subjecting applications from conservative groups to enhanced scrutiny, the IRS has also been inundated with applications, with 501 (c) (4) requests doubling from 2010 to 2012. The explosion of these requests can be traced to recent federal court decisions—namely, Citizens United v. FEC and Speechnow.org v. FEC—that have dramatically altered the rules regarding who can spend money in American elections.
The 501 (c) (4) category has traditionally been reserved for groups that promote the “social welfare.” But the courts in 2010 determined that groups may accept contributions of unlimited size and spend freely on advertising that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate. A 501 (c) (4) designation is attractive to such groups for two reasons: Not only does it allow them a tax-exempt status, but it also does not require them to disclose their donors. Given the regulatory environment in place since 2010, seeking 501 (c) (4) status seems utterly rational.
Talk to people in Oregon about health care for long and eventually you will be asked something like this: “You’ve heard the air conditioner story, right?”
In this case, it’s John McConnell, a health economist at Oregon Health and Science University, doing the asking. As it turns out, I have heard the story; it’s one that Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber loves to tell. He loves to tell it so much, in fact, that it has become something of a running joke in Oregon health-policy circles. At this point, even Kitzhaber is in on it. Before he repeats it to me, he says, “I probably shouldn’t bore you with my air conditioner story.”
Here’s the air conditioner story: There’s a 90-year-old woman with well-managed congestive heart failure who lives in an apartment without air conditioning. That’s actually the whole story.
Kitzhaber, a former emergency room physician, sees this as the perfect example of what’s wrong with our health-care system. “A hot day could send the temperature in her apartment high enough that it strains her cardiovascular system and kicks her into full-blown congestive heart failure,” he said. “Under the current system, Medicare will pay for the ambulance and $50,000 to stabilize her. It will not pay for a $200 window air conditioner, which is all she needs to stay in her home and out of the hospital. The difference to the health-care system is $49,800. And we could save that $49,800 without reducing her benefits or her quality of life.”
No, that’s not from David Leip. That’s a very detailed, county-level map of the 1880 presidential election results, published in 1889. (The abstract contains similar maps of earlier elections, as well.) Not only does it show which party won each county, but it also shows the intensity of the vote using gradient shading. This may just be the earliest geographic depiction of American election results — please let me know if you know of earlier ones.
Why have civil unions lost momentum? Examining the changing size and composition of civil union supporters provides a useful metric for understanding how the center of gravity has shifted in the same-sex marriage debate. Over the past decade, the number of Americans who prefer civil unions over either same-sex marriage or no legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships has declined significantly – and while in the past, this group was composed primarily of political moderates, today it’s dominated by conservatives.
On Tuesday, they were measuring out the president’s tomb. Yesterday, with no big revelations on any of the current scandals (or “scandals” as the case may be), liberals at least, and I get the sense much of the neutral press, is almost ready to announce the whole thing a dud.
They were wrong on Tuesday; they were wrong yesterday. The truth? We mostly don’t know what will happen.
Look, the Benghazi thing remains, as far as I’m concerned, just as big a nothing as it’s been all along; the talking points, which have been the GOP focus, just don’t matter. That said, however, there’s nothing that’s happened which makes it likely that Republicans are going to give up on Benghazi. And if they keep pushing, they’ll eventually have another day somewhere down the road where neutral reporters will get tempted to buy back in on the “where there’s smoke” theory.
As far as the IRS mess ..well, it’s absolutely possible that we know pretty much everything that will matter. On the other hand — there’s going to be a serious investigation on the IRS, and Congressional hearings. There’s no way of knowing, at this point, whether there’s anything else to find out or not. The IG report (as one conservative tweeted today; sorry, don’t remember who) is not necessarily the final word; it’s really not hard to imagine any number of fresh revelations that could emerge which could make the scandal much worse, without resorting to far-fetched scenarios. I’m not predicting it will; just saying that there’s absolutely no reason to guess one way or the other what an investigation will show.
The same is basically true about the AP/DoJ story, although there it’s less a case of discovering what happened in this particular case and whether it was kosher than of deep press interest in keeping the story alive. Still, a live story means reporters actively digging for something to justify it. They might find stuff!
Ezra Klein poses a hypothesis I’ve heard a few times before at the end of a nice post earlier this week:
Tucked inside Abramowitz’s take is an interesting structural prediction about American politics: As party polarization increases and the persuadable middle dwindles, scandals and gaffes will become less meaningful as they’ll only be able to convince those who want to be convinced. It’s not clear that the IRS mess, Benghazi, or the DoJ/AP issue will rise to the level of being a useful test of this thesis. But something will.
It’s tempting to believe that polarization is producing presidential approval results which are little more than reflections of partisanship. Barack Obama’s Gallup approval history would seem to suggest that might be happening. His best rating of 69% ranks 10th best of the 12 presidents in the Gallup era, and is really in a tie for last with Nixon (67%), Reagan (68%), and perhaps Ford (71%). Everyone else had higher highs. And yet, at least to date, Obama’s lowest point of 38% approval beats everyone but Ike and Kennedy. Obama’s overall average to date is 49%; since the beginning of 2012, his weekly Gallup number has ranged higher than 55% and lower than 45% only once in each direction, and overall, outside of a brief honeymoon in 2009, he’s been in that range almost his entire presidency.
And yet…there’s no reason to believe that polarization has advanced significantly in the last fifteen years, but George W. Bush’s approval ratings were all over the place. Bush holds the highest spike in the history of Gallup, hitting a soaring 90%. And when he crashed, Bush bottomed out at 25%, lower than everyone but Truman and Nixon. Bush’s first term was, overall, fourth-highest (and also fourth farthest from 50%); his second term is tied for second-lowest (and also tied for second farthest from 50%).
Political candidates often believe they must focus their campaign efforts on a small number of swing voters open for ideological change. Based on the wisdom of opinion polls, this might seem like a good idea. But do most voters really hold their political attitudes so firmly that they are unreceptive to persuasion? We tested this premise during the most recent general election in Sweden, in which a left- and a right-wing coalition were locked in a close race. We asked our participants to state their voter intention, and presented them with a political survey of wedge issues between the two coalitions. Using a sleight-of-hand we then altered their replies to place them in the opposite political camp, and invited them to reason about their attitudes on the manipulated issues. Finally, we summarized their survey score, and asked for their voter intention again. The results showed that no more than 22% of the manipulated replies were detected, and that a full 92% of the participants accepted and endorsed our altered political survey score. Furthermore, the final voter intention question indicated that as many as 48% (±9.2%) were willing to consider a left-right coalition shift. This can be contrasted with the established polls tracking the Swedish election, which registered maximally 10% voters open for a swing. Our results indicate that political attitudes and partisan divisions can be far more flexible than what is assumed by the polls, and that people can reason about the factual issues of the campaign with considerable openness to change.
From this piece by Lars Hall and colleagues. It is connected to their broader research agenda on choice blindness. It’s a pretty striking result, though one wonders whether there is any real-world analogue to the experimental manipulation they carried out. And I’d like to see what kinds of conditions might affect subjects’ ability to detect the manipulation. Regardless, I thought this was interesting.
Illegal drug trafficking is not inherently violent. The horrific surge of violence that began in Mexico in 2006 thus requires some specific explanation.
The most common account is that when President Calderon turned the force of the state on to organized crime groups, the old arrangements were overturned and a cycle of violence began. The drug kingpins used violence against government officials and citizens in an attempt to intimidate the state into giving up on enforcement. Further, as gangs were de-capitated, they broke into smaller groups warring for supremacy with each other.
But this account may be entirely wrong or only partly correct. Evidence presented this week in Bogota at the conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy shows that there was another enormous shock to the criminal system concurrent with Calderon’s campaign.
Colombia shifted its cocaine suppression strategy from crop eradication to further down the production chain (e.g., laboratories and exporters), resulting in a more than doubling of cocaine seizures beginning in 2006. At this same time, the Mexican gangs became the dominant partner in their relationship with the Colombian gangs. Rather than simply receiving cocaine at the southern border of Mexico and carting it north, they moved into Central America and the edges of Colombia, giving them a larger role in transshipment and processing.
Cocaine is the biggest source of revenue of the Mexican gangs, meaning that these changes were highly disruptive to the old stasis. The cocaine flow shrank, but what was left became more valuable. This intensified competition among the Mexican gangs which may be the root of the burst of violence.
Whether this explanation is fully or partly correct is being investigated by Dr. Daniel Mejia Londoño and his colleagues at the Universidad de los Andes. He is one of a number of young Latin American scholars who are bringing new perspectives to drug policy research. Collectively, they will help policy analysts escape the trap of seeing drug policy only from the point of view of consumer countries (e.g., Europe and the USA). And in the long term, the “Calderon explanation” for Mexican violence may be only one of the received truths that this new generation of researchers overturns.
After months of Republican pot-banging (and altering emails), conservatives have successfully turned the media’s eye back toward the Benghazi affair, forcing the Obama administration to answer a daily barrage of questions from the press corps about Benghazi talking points. And new revelations about inappropriate targeting by the IRS and the DOJ’s best Big Brother impression indicate Obama will not avoid the second term scandal jinx.
While there are legitimate issues to be addressed with the IRS and DOJ’s conduct, the Benghazi inquisition has gotten out of hand. According to a recent poll from Public Policy Polling, almost a quarter of Americans think Benghazi is the worst scandal in American history, and 74% of Republicans think Benghazi is worse than Watergate. Polls like this can be difficult, because partisans often reflexively respond to questions with whatever answer indicates the most displeasure with the opposing party, but that number is still astonishingly high. Here is a brief refresher on five of the many scandals in our history worse than Benghazi. Spoiler alert: Watergate is definitely one of them.
This scandal can best be described as selling weapons to terrorists in one country to support terrorists in another. During the Gipper’s second term, the US government secretly violated an arms embargo to send weapons to Iran via Israel, in exchange for the release of American hostages. At the suggestion of future Fox News host Oliver North (pictured above), the government then sold arms directly to Iran in order to obtain funds to help aid the Contras in Nicaragua, who were fighting a guerrilla war to overthrow Nicaragua’s democratically-elected government. Despite efforts to destroy the evidence, a number of officials in the administration, including two of Reagan’s former National Security Advisors, were indicted and convicted for their involvement in the affair.
Teapot Dome (1920-1923)
This was a simple case of bribery, in which President Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert B. Fall, took over $500,000 (which, adjusting for inflation, would be over 6 million today) in gifts and loans from oil companies in exchange for leasing them Navy oil reserves at Teapot Dome in Wyoming. After the Wall Street Journal reported that the leases had been granted without competitive bidding, the Senate began to look into the matter. Senator Robert La Follette arranged for his committee to hold an investigation, and promptly discovered his senate office had been ransacked. This scandal marked the nadir of Harding’s brief and much-criticized presidency.
Whiskey Ring (1871-1875)
There is plenty of Reconstruction-era scandal and corruption to choose from during Grant’s two terms in office, but the Whiskey Ring is generally recognized as the worst, and is certainly the most famous. This scandal involved a large network of conspirators, including distillers, merchants and government officials, who used bribery and blackmail to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes on liquor. Some of that money was then used to fund campaigns for Republican politicians. When Grant’s personal secretary and former Civil War general Orville Babcock was indicted as one of the ringleaders, Grant personally defended him in a deposition before the Supreme Court.
Burr Conspiracy (1804-1806)
Some historians believe Aaron Burr, the same man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, conspired to steal the then-recently purchased Louisiana Territory to be turned into an independent empire. Together with corrupt general James Wilkinson, Burr developed a plan for secession, believing a small military force could take the Louisiana Territory. Burr convinced President Jefferson to appoint Wilkinson governor of the Louisiana Territory, but soon after, Wilkinson got cold feet, and sent a letter to Jefferson outlining the conspiracy. Burr was eventually tried for treason and acquitted, but the trial really put a damper on his future political prospects.
Watergate (1972 - 1974)
Readers are probably most familiar with this scandal, so I won’t go into the nickel summary, but one sign that Watergate was a bigger deal than Benghazi is that fact that all scandals since have been compared to Watergate, and we have affixed a “gate” to the end of their names. Irangate, Monicagate, etc. But if that doesn’t convince you, Eric Alterman goes through some of the “lowlights,” including wiretapping DNC headquarters, a slush fund to pay the burglars, using the CIA to thwart investigations into the break-in, and paranoid surveillance of perceived enemies of the administration.
During the April 2004 oral arguments in the Hamdi v Rumsfeldcase about whether an American citizen could be detained indefinitely as an enemy combatant, Supreme Court Justice David Souter sought to probe the breadth of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which the Court ultimately held did support Hamdi’s detention, albeit with some procedural rights attached.
Is it reasonable to think that the authorization was sufficient at the time that it was passed, but that at some point, it is a Congressional responsibility, and ultimately a constitutional right on this person’s part, for Congress to assess the situation and either pass more specific continuing authorization or at least to come up with the conclusion that its prior authorization was good enough. Doesn’t Congress at some point have a responsibility to do more than pass that resolution? …. You come with an authorization that the President relied on and which I will assume he quite rightly relied on at the time it was passed. But my question is a timing question. Is it not reasonable to at least consider whether that resolution needs, at this point, to be supplemented and made more specific to authorize what you are doing?
Congress has ignored this broad hint from the bench for nine years. During that time, the Bush and especially the Obama administrations have stressed that a wide range of executive actions are justified by the continuing statutory language of the AUMF. (Obama’s team has done this more explicitly, and sought to distinguish their rationale from the Bush administration, which sometimes relied instead on inherent executive authority grounded in Article II. Whether it is better to do the wrong things for the right reasons, or vice versa, I will leave to T.S. Eliot. )
Reid’s decision to eschew significant reforms to Senate filibuster rules at the beginning of the current Congress — and his continuing reluctance to revisit those rules despite recent filibusters of cabinet nominees — angers allies both on and off of Capitol Hill.
But he continues to approach the issue cautiously.
“I’m not going to do anything now, precipitously,” he said. “But I’m looking at this very closely…. We’re going to fill that job. Cordray is there now. He’s going to get a vote.”
Reid wasn’t able to explain why he believes (or claims to believe) Cordray will ultimately be confirmed. But he alluded to the possibility that he may pursue a rules change mid-session.
Good reporting, but I’ll make two points about it.
Much of politics is about collective action, whereby groups of people need to cooperate in order to produce an outcome. One of the biggest challenges is getting people to cooperate in providing a public good, which by its nature can be shared by everyone regardless of whether they’ve cooperated in the first place.
One way to enforce cooperation is via some central authority that’s external to the group (like a government). Another way, prominent in Elinor Ostrom’s work, is via internal policing by peers within the group.
In this NSF-funded study by Guy Grossman and Delia Baldassarri show that a third way can work as well: developing a leadership or authority structure within the group itself. More importantly, they show that the success of such an authority depends on politics itself. Leaders need to be elected to induce cooperation.
The study was conducted among Ugandans who are members of farmer organizations and experience directly the challenges of cooperating to produce public goods. Grossman and Baldassarri not only examined how these people behaved when asked to play a simple “public goods game” in a quasi-laboratory setting, but how they actually behaved within their farmer organization in real life. In both contexts, members cooperated significantly more when leaders were democratically elected—as was true in one experimental condition of the public goods game—or when they perceived the leadership of their farmer organization as more legitimate. Grossman and Baldassarri summarize one implication of this finding: