Saturday, November 14, 2009

Adiós Lou Dobbs

I can’t recall watching Lou Dobb’s show on CNN over the last few years, except for when segments were played on blogs that wished to underline his visceral turn against immigrants.   Prior to this turn, the only times I watched him was when the remote would land on his show and I didn’t care enough to go another lap around the monotonous track of vapidity that characterizes modern television shows, with a few exceptions.  He seemed harmless back then.  He was just another econovangelist trying to come up with a schtick that would separate him from the crowd. 

Unfortunately, the only hook that worked for him was the anti-immigrant meme.   And during the immigration reform debates a few years ago, Dobbs found his calling.  Since then Dobbs has taken up the mantle against illegal immigration, gaining in popularity and in demand for speeches he would give to nativist groups around the country. 

Recessions are always times for extra concern among immigrants and the continued assault on the Hispanic community in areas like Maricopa County here in Arizona help to reinforce a system of intolerance aimed at the weakest members of our community.  The choking sensation these people must feel as they step out into the world of job raids, pointless arrests, patrols following them because they "fit the profile", etc. as they seek greater opportunities for their children cannot be described as anything but violent.  Even more so when their homes can be invaded at any time by armies of men donning military gear and weapons designed for terrorists, not families doing what they can each night to prepare for the challenges of the next day of work.  

We have an immigration problem.  Immigrants present problems for our society.  True.  But these problems are not existential.  They are not even economic.  The problem immigration presents is one of cost-sharing. Local communities bear the greatest cost of immigration by burdening public services, such as hospitals, schools and social services.  In contrast to these acute costs are macroeconomic benefits to the labor market, federal revenue streams that reduce our debt and long-term human capital.  The burdens are far more visual and they give rise to nativist sentiment among those with a pathological attachment to some sense of cultural purity; sheer ignorance.  Lou Dobbs used the acute costs to stimulate his own personal economy by appealing to those basest emotions.

So after a campaign to pressure CNN into firing Lou Dobbs, he was finally let go.  I am glad he is gone, and those who put the pressure on CNN should be proud of themselves, but Lou Dobbs is not the problem.  He is the symptom of a greater issue facing this country.   Lets not forget that CNN felt comfortable keeping a man on the air whose tongue slipped when talking about Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, calling her a “cotton picker”.  He caught himself before he could finish, but it was clear what he was going to say.  Dobbs will also most likely join Fox News, where he will join in the daily chorus of nativism and hyper-patriotism that engulfs their rendition of the news.  As a friend of mine points out, Dobbs will now get to do this with the renewed vigor of a patriot gone martyr. 

As a political scientist, it’s always nice to see community action have positive results.  It is indeed a teachable moment in more ways than one.  So bye for now Lou Dobbs, and I’m sure we will see you soon enough.  I wish we could discuss these problems without the vitriol and with an understanding that we are talking about fellow humans looking to solve problems of their own and who have no less right to the promised land than we do.  But somehow we just talk past each other, each side unwilling to give ground for fear that we may be seen as advancing to the rear.  As Juan Gonzalez writes, we are not the enemy, the enemy is the wall of ignorance that stands between us.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Good work by Obama?

As the great grandson of an immigrant from a group that until recently faced xenophobic backlashes and because of my recent life circumstances, I am somewhat nauseated by the political construction of the recent immigration debate. Immigrants frequently become dehumanicized, functioning as mere representations of their connection to a legal document.

As many other politicians, Barack Obama has utilized some of this recent xenophobia throughout his campaign and presidency. His advocacy utilizes a wider notion of security (more than armies that threaten the country) to be resolved by a more narrow security method (traditional ways of securing objects of the country) for the traditional security object (the country or nation). The actual White House policy suggests:

President Obama will remove incentives to enter the country illegally by preventing employers from hiring undocumented workers and enforcing the law.

The web site also tells us that he will fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and address the problem holistically within its economic context:

President Obama believes that our broken immigration system can only be fixed by putting politics aside and offering a complete solution that secures our border, enforces our laws, and reaffirms our heritage as a nation of immigrants. He believes our immigration policy should be driven by our best judgment of what is in the economic interest of the United States and what is in the best interest of the American worker. President Obama recognizes that an orderly, controlled border and an immigration system designed to meet our economic needs are important pillars of a healthy and robust economy.

Of course Obama remains extremely political in this instance. As Gramsci suggested some time ago, the very notion of common sense remains a political object, constructed by intra- and inter-class struggle. The notion of the immigration "problem" and the means of addressing it seem natural to many people: Too many people are not following the rules (immigrant and citizen) so we need more and better legal enforcement for the good of everyone. This problem, then, becomes a threat to our nation-state (our ability to regulate people flows across borders and remain cultural homogeneity) and way of life (standards of living brought down by an influx of labor), according to many people within the debate. While these formulations get articulated in slightly different ways and levels of urgency, their speakers make appeals to everyone's common sense, suggesting the problems and solutions are simply natural, thus limiting the scope of rhetoric and semantics.

Against common sense, let me suggest that labor remains the main problem, though not in the way one might think. People without legal work place protections and the ability to organize are threatening those with such protections. The solution should not be top down (enforce regulation of employment and punish employees and employers). The solution should be bottom up. It should enable employees. People who work in sweatshops, without workplace protections, or the ability to organize -- especially in the case of recent immigrants -- are not criminals, but victims.

Rather than dictate reality from the center like the Politburo, let's take a page from the rational choice handbook that suggests institutional design fosters individual behavior. Let's reform our labor institutions to allow greater and easier organizing by workers (and thus let workers take problems into their own hands). On the civil side let's support groups that are organizing workers in spite of the law (for a great example see On a common sense level let's aide those undermining the hegemonic common sense.

It may be too early to tell, but Obama may be taking small steps on the issue of common sense (from Border Action Network:)

[The] Department of Homeland Security has canceled Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s 287g Agreement, revoking his deputies’ authority to make immigration arrests in the field. Though Arpaio wanted to renew an agreement with DHS to allow both field arrests and immigration checks at his jails, a DHS official recently gave him a document allowing only jail checks.

It seems too early to tell if this is random act, something in contradiction to public policy, a preview to centralizing raids entirely in ICE, or something else. Our common sense will dictate where we stand on these interpretations.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Emperor is Naked!

It would seem that there is little to no respect for honesty on this planet. In an upset win, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, while human rights activists from China got sidelined yet again. The Nobel Foundation claimed that Obama won: "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." ( But how different is Obama's foreign policy from that of the previous administration? I thought I'd do a quick comparison.

Early this year, Obama bowed to the Saudi king and kissed his hand. Bush held the king's hand. The US still has military bases there protecting an unpopular ruler--one of Bin Laden's main beef's with the US and reasons for 911.

Bush started the War in Iraq and gave free handouts to Halliburton and the like. Obama keeps promising he will pull out most US troops in Iraq by 2010, but is diverting war efforts to Afghanistan, where he hopes for a greater international presence. Obama says his war is against al-Qaeda, not the Taliban. Poor people in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province pay the price, irrespective.

Both protect the rich. In Michael Moore's documentary, Farenheit 911, Bush called the richest corporations his "base". Obama bailed out Wall Street.

Both lack credibility in the developing world. Bush promised $15 billion to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, but nothing followed. Obama, in his visit to Africa this year, lectured its political leaders to "clean up" their act, but ignored all the ways the US aides and abets their "acts" and impoverishes those nations.

As far as human rights go, both are a joke. The policy on China is so much the same, one doesn't wonder why Muslim dissidents didn't win the Nobel Peace prize. North Korea and Iran, as well as Cuba, remain "problems." And it's US, USSR, Israel, and China that hold the world's stockpile of nuclear arsenal.

Granted, most of us who hoped he would win in 2008 didn't expect Obama to offer anything new, but to claim he's done something revolutionary and that too for "world peace" is like saying the emperor has new clothes! Clearly, the only difference is this--Bush's empire did not apologize for colonization. Obama wishes to rule by consent, or at least poses to. He's invited the Europeans back to the table, after all.

In fact, Obama's America is no less a threat to world peace as Bush's. Like a shameless self-seeking power it understands "money" and not human rights, let alone world peace. Over 300 US corporations still do business with Burma's oppressive military regime. What has Obama done about this?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Minutemen and Klansmen

I recently reviewed The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan by Rory McVeigh (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) for the academic journal American Studies. The book is a little dry, but there were some notable lessons in it for understanding anti-immigration organizations today.

The Klan originated after the Civil War to restore white supremacy by terrorizing ex-slaves and antislavery whites during Reconstruction. This generation of the Klan ended when Reconstruction did in the 1870s. McVeigh’s book studies the second generation of the KKK, which started in 1915 (coinciding with the release of D.W. Griffith’s famous pro-Klan movie The Birth of a Nation) and exploded in growth from 1920-1924, with a membership of over four million people at its peak.

McVeigh argues that this version of the Klan emerged as a white Protestant response to the rise of large-scale manufacturing and retail, which squeezed small businesses and farms, diminished the political influence of the heartland, and strengthened the power of the cities—and the ethnic communities that lived in them. Klan organizers successfully mobilized White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) by playing on their fears of losing their economic, political, and social power as a result of these economic and political changes.

McVeigh argues that while the 1920s Klan was racist, its focus was not primarily on anti-Black terrorism like the Reconstruction-era KKK. Rather, the 1920s Klan was essentially an anti-immigration social movement. Most social movements, he notes, seek to win power and status for the powerless. But right-wing movements “act to preserve, restore, or expand rights and privileges of a relatively advantaged social group” (38). The 1920s Klan is an example of this. They used a populist rhetoric that attacked industrial elites above them for manipulating labor markets and the “rabble” below them (i.e. ethnic, Catholic working class communities) for flooding these markets and for being culturally alien. The top and bottom of American society, they charged, conspired to squeeze the virtuous, hard-working, upright, white Protestants in the middle.

The KKK argued that “true Americans” were losing ground to immigrants, that immigrants burdened public resources, and that they degraded American culture. The Klan mobilized anxious WASPs by presenting itself as a “one-hundred percent American” organization that promised to restore their status. The fears of these relatively privileged WASPs, combined with effective mobilization techniques by the Klan, led farmers and middle class white Protestants to join the KKK in droves.

These arguments—and many of the quotes McVeigh provides from Klan papers—could have come from the Minutemen today.

What this suggests is that the key to understanding today’s anti-immigration movement—as well as anti-Obama organizing such as the “tea parties”—is to see it as a “virtuous middle” movement. In other words, these are movements whose members see themselves as a virtuous middle—religious, moral, hardworking, patriotic and truly American—who face the threat of losing their relatively privileged social status. They fear that they are under attack by a bewildering global economy and unscrupulous corporations that are moving their jobs overseas. Even more, they feel they are being attacked by cultural elites—Harvard and Hollywood, the universities and pop culture—who undermine the moral values of this virtuous middle with moral relativism and sexual permissiveness. They also fear that they are under attack by the rabble below them—lazy people who live off public benefits paid for by the virtuous middle’s tax dollars (these folks are often secretly coded as black) and illegal aliens who are flooding the country, stealing jobs and degrading American culture (these folks are often coded as brown). The virtuous middle fears that cultural elites from above and the black and brown rabble from below are conspiring —now with the help of a black president!—to undermine their social status and by extension the moral, political, and economic foundations of America. The fall into Sodom is right behind.

This fearful “virtuous middle” (or the “silent majority,” to use Nixon’s term in the 1970s) is a commonplace in American history. Jacksonian Democrats used it in the 1830s to attack corporate elites and slaves (but not masters), populists used it in the 1890s to attack corporate elites and defend segregation, the Klan used it in the 1920s to attack economic elites and Catholics and immigrants, Nixon used it in the 1970s to attack cultural elites and Black and student protestors, and now the anti-immigrant right is using it today.

From the perspective of participants in the anti-immigration movement, this is an effective strategy that should be continued, for it has often worked in U.S. history. From the perspective of those who support immigrant rights, it seems to me that the task is to convince this middle that their true interests lie in a united front with the black and brown “rabble” below them against the capitalist elites above. That would be hard, but it would also make for interesting times.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ann Kirkpatrick: The Election of a Lifetime

Ann Kirkpatrick (Democrat) is currently serving as a first term Congresswoman from AZ-01. It’s a well-accepted truism that first term representatives often face difficult reelection campaigns. But after being reelected once, representatives tend to hold on to their seats. Incumbency rates in House elections during the 21st century range from 94% to 98%, according to

The Federal Election Commission reports that as of June 30, 2009, Kirkpatrick had over $422,000 in cash on hand for her next campaign. This puts her head and shoulders and neck and torso above any challenger at this moment. Nonetheless, challengers are beginning to line up. The heavy hitters rumored to be eyeing the race on the Republican side are former Arizona state Senate Majority Leader Rusty Bowers and current state House member Bill Konopnicki. Bradley Beuchamp, former school teacher and lawyer, has a campaign website up and running, as does Paul Goser, Flagstaff dentist and former leader of the Flagstaff Citizens for Flouride Initiative. We have yet to see if any challengers will emerge from within the Democratic Party ranks.

This is a race to watch! The enormity of the district (greater than the size of Illinois or Pennsylvania) and the lack of a central media market make this a difficult district in which to run a campaign. The major question of this election is whether we’re looking at a repeat of 1994 when Republicans swept the mid-term elections and took momentum away from Democrats; or, are we looking at 2004 when Rick Renzi, first term representative from AZ-01, extended his 2002 win over a Democratic opponent by more than 50,000 additional votes and cemented his place in Congress for two more election cycles. If Kirkpatrick wins the 2010 race, she’ll represent AZ-01 for the next decade, at least.

We’ll track the exciting dynamics of this race and report them on High Altitude Politics throughout the election season.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

UN Report on the Gaza Conflict: Gaza in Numbers

The highly anticipated UN Report on the Gaza Conflict that lasted from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009 was just released this past week. As it goes with any study on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this report garnered attention and criticism on all sides. The Israeli government immediately rejected the findings of the report, and in Friday's New York Times, a U.S. State Department spokesman, Ian C. Kelley, was quoted as saying that “its [the UN reports] conclusions regarding Hamas’s deplorable conduct and its failure to comply with international humanitarian law during the conflict are more general and tentative" and that the report is generally unfair due to its emphasis on Israeli actions.

In light of the actual content of the UN report, I find this assertion absolutely astounding. First, the cost of this conflict in human lives is staggering: 1,387 (the low NGO estimate on Palestinian deaths) to 13 (four of which were deaths by Israeli friendly fire; provided by Israeli government). Additionally, the report discussed Israeli injuries and rates of post-traumatic stress disorder which it did not offer for the Palestinians (31-2). In the report's conclusions, both Israeli and Palestinian actions are condemned as war crimes and that both sides violated human rights (see 1733-1738; 1747; 1753). The report also explicitly deals with the crimes of Palestinian armed groups (Hamas, et al): "In relation to the firing of rockets and mortars into Southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups operating in the Gaza Strip, the Mission finds that the Palestinian armed groups fail to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population and civilian objects in Southern Israel... These actions would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity" (541). Personally, I find this a clear indictment against these groups.

The fact of the matter is that reports can condemn armed groups for not complying with international humanitarian law, however these groups are not signatories to the Geneva Convention. Perhaps signatories, like Israel, should be held to a higher standard in times of war. Can there ever be a 'fault for fault' analysis of a conflict? How can one injury on the Israeli side defend the death of one Palestinian? Before President Obama meets with Netanyahu and Abbas this week, I seriously hope that he and his staff rethink their definitions of 'unfair'.

If Not Here then Where?

I have a lot of sympathy for the French attempting to preserve their culture in the face of global homogenization. Having traveled to Europe many times over the last 30 years the changes are startling. In a similar way I admire those trying to prevent the bastardization of the English language. Remember the guys in college that tried to impress by using the non-word “irreguardless”? Well those same folks are older now and they have taken over “literally”. Of course unlike “irreguardless” literally is a word – but most people that now find the word useful don’t seem to know what it originally meant and use it in a way that is contrary to its intended meaning (and when used as such is unnecessary most of the time). Particularly irritating when misused by broadcast journalists.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Indiana Court Strikes Down Voter ID Law

Despite the ruling by the US Supreme Court that the Indiana Voter ID law was constitutional, an Indiana appellate court on Thursday struck down the state law requiring voters to show identification.  

The ruling argues that the Indiana constitution's guarantee to equal protection is more expansive than the 14th Amendment.  The court states that the Voter ID laws pose more stringent identification requirements on in-person voters than absentee voters, and if the intent was to reduce voter fraud, the law should be doing the exact opposite.

I agree with this reasoning, but this can be alleviated by simply imposing similar standards to absentee voters.  As my co-authored paper concludes, the current law would impose an undue burden on racial minorities and other demographics, potentially having a negative impact on participation.

The political issue at hand, however, is that these laws are being passed in increasingly "purple" states, such as Arizona, Georgia, Missouri and Indiana, and Republican legislators are trying to stop the bleeding.  Some argue this is why absentee voters are explicitly excluded from the more stringent voting requirements.   Absentee voters may tend to vote more Republican since they are older, have higher levels of income and are not as mobile.  It is obvious that increasing the cost of voting will reduce participation, but some of the research suggests that overall turnout may not be negatively impacted by these laws.  This apparent paradox, however, could be explained by an increase in non-minority voters due to greater confidence in the integrity of the electoral system as a result of the Voter ID laws, even though fewer minority voters turn out to vote on election day.

So far the aggregate data supports this explanation for the paradox even though the individual level data disputes it.  Perhaps this is a relic of the data, in that some of these states have relatively small minority populations.  A small increase in non-minority participation would more than make up for significant drops in minority participation.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Obama and Government 2.0

The New York Times reports today on Barack Obama’s use of social media tools as a way of opening Washington politics to the influence of greater political participation ('Athens' on the Net)

Titled “Government 2.0,” citizens now have unprecedented access to information and a myriad number of forums available for registering their opinions, thoughts and ideas about governmental policy and performance.

I wrote about the President’s social media strategy in the 2008 presidential campaign and discussed Obama’s current application of lessons learned in a conference paper I presented this summer at the World Congress of Political Science (Solop, 2009)

What strikes me as most important in the discussion of this topic is not how new social media tools are now available to citizens to register their concerns. What I think is most important is how Obama is using these tools to actively organize citizens in support of his policy agenda. Obama is bringing us into an era of the perpetual campaign where mobilization occurs throughout the year, not just during election season.

Is this a new approach to democracy in the United States? Or, are we harkening back to how democracy used to look before everyone grew weary and cynical of politics? Will Obama be successful in his efforts to keep the public perpetually mobilized?

Keep an eye on the health care reform debate as the first major litmus test for gauging the success of this new approach.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Crap and Paid

Economists made their most important contribution to air pollution
policy about 30 years ago when they introduced the idea of "cap and
trade". Initially environmentalists opposed this idea in large part
because they preferred a strict application of a “standards and
enforcement” regulatory regime. Unfortunately standards and
enforcement works well in theory less so in practice -- largely because
of the politics involved in setting standards.

For the most part environmentalists have come to accept the utility of
using human greed as an instrument of policy. So cap and trade has
become acceptable. (Ironically the economists that study these things
now think the simple tax on pollution above a certain threshold
would be more effective and efficient.) Pollution trading systems work best
-- actually only work -- when there are offsets. So for example if I
want to sell you 2000 tons of carbon pollution rights I should have to
reduce my output by that amount but you should only be allowed say
1500 tons. Unfortunately offsets have often been ignored.

As of this writing it's looking as though any cap and trade system
approved by Congress will be full of giveaways to keep influential
polluters happy. Those that lament a bastardized cap and trade policy should
remember the Family Assistance Program (FAP) and what we almost had
when the Nixon administration attempted welfare reform. Basically FAP
was a negative income tax. As such it would've eliminated the welfare
bureaucracy and simply allowing transfers of income to those in need.
FAP had merit for a number of reasons but it died largely because
Republicans and Democrats couldn't agree on the initial payment
amounts. Had Democrats agreed to what was clearly draconian
supplementary income levels the program would've been put in place and
adjustments could have been made incrementally later. Had that
happened the poor would be much better off today.

Let's hope we don't make the same mistake with cap and trade. Anything
that changes the regulatory regime and puts in place a system that
will alternately reduce admissions should be supported. Once it is in
place we can tinker with the offsets and trading limitations another

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Metropolitan unemployment rates released

2009-09-01_2329, originally uploaded by stephennuno.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released the latest unemployment rates for each state and the 372 metropolitan areas. The table above lists the fifteen largest population states and their unemployment rate in June and July. Of the fifteen states, eight states had higher unemployment rates, three states had unemployment rates that did not change and four states had a decrease in their unemployment rate. Sadly, Arizona had the highest jump in unemployment of the top fifteen populous states, going from 8.9 to 9.5. 

Note that the state and metro numbers lag a month behind the national numbers that will be released for August later this week.  This may or may not be a precursor to a higher national unemployment rate for August.  Its difficult to tell.

Average LSAT scores by major

Here is a list of LSAT scores by major.  Perhaps there is selection bias with the lower N test takers, which may incline towards higher scores.   My guess is the variance for the higher N test takers will be much larger than the lower N test takers.  There are also some curiosities with the majors declared, such as government v. political science v. international relations.  Take from it what you will, I suppose. 

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Sky is the Limit

The Space Shuttle Discovery reached the International Space Station today.  This flight is a particularly proud moment for Latinos because the Space Shuttle carries with it the story of a remarkable journey.  Jose Hernandez was born the son of migrant farm workers from Michoacan, Mexico.  Hernandez is not the first Hispanic to board the Space Shuttle, but his humble origins are an inspiration to all about the potential of the human spirit.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

ex-Felons and Civil Rights

A continuation of sorts on the right to keep and bear arms. Some believe ex-felons should have their right to vote restored. However, I am curious what these folks think of the restoration of all this person's rights, such as the right to keep and bear arms. A recent case in North Carolina has ruled that some ex-felons do have a right to keep and bear arms. I think if you are going to argue ex-felons have a right to vote, something I am certainly open to, I don't think you can justifiably argue that the same person cannot enjoy all his/her rights. If you're argument is that this person is too dangerous to be trusted to exercise this right, then maybe this person should be serving more time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Competitive House Districts in 2010

To add to Zachary's comment below regarding competitive districts, the GOP leadership recently announced a list of 70 house districts that they will be targeting for 2010. Ten of the districts on the list are located in the Southwest. Above is a graph of the targeted districts and how they voted for president in 2008.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Karan English Malaise

Blog, rimes with fog, a component smog - pollution or obfuscation?

I think I would like to introduce a new phrase into our political lexicon – “Karan English Malaise” Political slang can be useful shorthand for describing phenomena. Most are familiar with ‘The Bradley Effect” (although most are ignorant of the fact a gun control measure on the California ballot has as much to do with a Deukmejian win as did latent racism). The “Karan English Malaise” (or KEM) would seem to be just as important in understanding political success or failure. KEM is caused when a politician doesn’t pay attention to his or her base – or takes said base for granted.

Some background. Democrats need to have a registration advantage of about 7 points to overcome the tendency of Republicans to get out and vote. Hence a district that is – say 52 Democratic and 38 percent Republican is actually a competitive district – the parties will fight over a district like that (in contrast a 50-50 district is generally solid Republican).

The congressional district that encompasses Flagstaff Arizona has always been competitive. In order for a Democrat to win all the stars need to be aligned correctly and the base of the party has to be motivated and work hard. Karan English, it is widely assumed by local observers, lost her bid for re-election in part because an important part of her base – environmentalists – did not get to work and get out the vote. This is KEM – not taking care of your base (specifically not taking care of the environmental vote in Northern Arizona Congressional elections – but if I put too fine a point on it KEM won’t catch on).

Ann Kirkpatrick voted against the House cap and trade bill. The Republicans are waiting for the chance to take back her district. KEM looks like it might be settling in.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Be careful what you wish for.

Blog, rimes with fog a component smog - pollution or obfuscation?

Like most political scientists I have long been a proponent of public financing of political campaigns. Almost 20 years ago I wrote disparagingly about the practice of Arizona legislative candidates parading in from of lobbyists to be video taped and then later evaluated by said lobbyists to determine who would be blessed with their largess. The anointed could count on about 50K and a good shot at election - those not chooses had to look for other work.

Such a system struck me as borderline corrupt and at a minimum influence peddling and sinister. So when Arizona got public financing it was a cause for rejoicing.

Fast forward. As always party nominations are determined by the fringe elements of the parties (the people who religiously turn out for primaries). These happen to be the most liberal in the Democratic Party and the most conservative in the Republican Party. Since Arizona is mostly a Republican state - Democrats can get elected statewide but it is often because Republicans do something stupid - Republican primaries are very important in Arizona politics.

Public financing has meant that any wingnut (right or left) can get funding, run a viable compaign and win. It turns out that those corporate campaign money people of yesteryear were actually moderate compared to the wingnuts who can now use public funding to get elected. Corporate lobbyists may have had interests to peddle but they also had an interest in a well run state (with, for example, good schools).

When you add to the mix term limits.....well that is for another time.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Should firearms and rallies mix in Arizona?

The recent political event in which Arizonans exercised their right to openly carry firearms, and to which my colleague Fred Solop reasonably commented on, has been the subject of much ire. First to be clear, the open carry laws quite expressly allow eligible citizens to openly carry their firearm at an event such as this one. However, whether or not it is a good idea to open carry at a political rally is another matter. Since firearms are expressly prohibited from being carried at a polling place on the day of an election, it seems for good reasons, it is perfectly reasonable to question the wisdom of openly carrying firearms at a political event in which there will be contentious debate. However, not necessarily because you distrust the citizen exercising their rights. In addition to being contentious, political events can be crowded. Openly carrying may be an invitation to someone commandeering another person's weapon. This need not be a pro or anti 2nd Amendment argument. The tactical advantage to open carrying in certain situations is itself debatable among firearms experts. I am not calling for a law to be passed to restrict open carry at such rallies, I only suggest it is wise to reconsider. This also does not preclude the right of permit holders to conceal carry a firearm. Those who feel unsafe at the sight of an open carry firearm should know that its very likely that people around them are carrying weapons concealed. There are almost 140,000 active permits in Arizona and Arizona has substantial reciprocity laws, meaning they honor conceal carry weapons permits from every other state. For those concerned about firearms at a political rally, the bigger worry in my mind is the inability to distinguish those folks carrying concealed weapons legally or not. This is a problem one cannot escape without outright outlawing weapons from being carried on any person, but then by definition only lawbreakers will remain unaffected by these types of laws.

For those students at Northern Arizona wondering if NAU allows open carry or concealed carry on campus, the answer appears to be 'no'. Oddly, it is legal to store a weapon on the campus of a k-12 school if it is locked in a car, but not at a university. The state authorizes the Arizona Board of Regents to establish the policies concerning safety, and possessing or storing a firearm is a violation of that policy. I am not an expert or lawyer on the gun laws in Arizona, so please feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Doin' the Hard Work

The shouters and screamers who have made their presence known in various debates these past few months remind me of one of my pet political peeves. Where are they when the "hard work" of politics needs to be done? Were they sitting in the hot sun at a voter registration table, trying to get their fellow residents to participate in the process of electing officials? Did they join the cadre of volunteers who rode buses to another state to try to get out the vote? How many of them made telephone calls on election day to remind their neighbors to get to the polls, or drove those without transportation to a local polling place? Did I see them working at the polling place for less than minimum wage, getting up before dawn and working til late at night to make sure the process worked efficiently? And most importantly, were they the ones who put their lives on hold to run for elected office, patiently listening to the uninformed at rallies and even in the supermarket.

The people I respect most are the ones who realize that the political process can be messy and ugly and difficult to understand, but they participate in it nevertheless. They recognize that it works only when they do the hard work. The easy part -- yelling and chanting old slogans -- is just that-- easy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Boundaries of Speech and Tolerance in the U.S.

I've been quoted hundreds of times (maybe more) in media stories appearing throughout the U.S. and the world. Rarely do I hear from anyone who has actually read my comments and agrees or disagrees with what I have to say. Today has been different. I was quoted in the following AP story which began appearing in newspapers and on TV throughout the country this afternoon (including tomorrow's Washington Post) and the hostile reaction I'm receiving in my e-mail inbox is incredible.

Man carrying assault weapon attends Obama protest

PHOENIX — About a dozen people carrying guns, including one with a military-style rifle, milled among protesters outside the convention center where President Barack Obama was giving a speech Monday — the latest incident in which protesters have openly displayed firearms near the president.

Gun-rights advocates say they're exercising their constitutional right to bear arms and protest, while those who argue for more gun control say it could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Phoenix police said the gun-toters at Monday's event, including the man carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder, didn't need permits. No crimes were committed, and no one was arrested.

The man with the rifle declined to be identified but told The Arizona Republic that he was carrying the assault weapon because he could. "In Arizona, I still have some freedoms," he said.

Phoenix police Detective J. Oliver, who monitored the man at the downtown protest, said police also wanted to make sure no one decided to harm him.

"Just by his presence and people seeing the rifle and people knowing the president was in town, it sparked a lot of emotions," Oliver said. "We were keeping peace on both ends."

Last week, during Obama's health care town hall in Portsmouth, N.H., a man carrying a sign reading "It is time to water the tree of liberty" stood outside with a pistol strapped to his leg.

"It's a political statement," he told The Boston Globe. "If you don't use your rights, then you lose your rights."

Police asked the man to move away from school property, but he was not arrested.

Fred Solop, a Northern Arizona University political scientist, said the incidents in New Hampshire and Arizona could signal the beginning of a disturbing trend.

"When you start to bring guns to political rallies, it does layer on another level of concern and significance," Solop said. "It actually becomes quite scary for many people. It creates a chilling effect in the ability of our society to carry on honest communication."

He said he's never heard of someone bringing an assault weapon near a presidential event. "The larger the gun, the more menacing the situation," he said.

Phoenix was Obama's last stop on a four-day tour of western states, including Montana and Colorado.

Let me now quote from a sample of comments I've received this evening:

1) For the time being, Americans still have rights under the Constitution. That includes the right to bear arms. I wonder, did you express the same level of concern during the elections when heavily-armed Black Panther terrorirsts were harassing and intimidating White voters at the polling stations? Did that "create a chilling effect in the ability of our society to carry on honest communication"? Or do they get a pass because they are anti-White, left-wing terrorists? Why are you so threatened by a law abiding citizen exercising his Constitutionally protected rights? The police were armed, so were Obama's Praetorean Guard cadres. Why is it ok for them but not for every other American citizen? (sent by Obed Santos)

2) People like You make me sick !! Please let me educate you ! What the hell are you calling an assault weapon !! an AR-15 ?? No its a semi auto, or rapid fire weapon !! Whats an ASSULT WEAPON !!--- Is a rifle or pistol !! That fires FULL AUTO or 3 round BURST !! Its book worms, like you that have never did. a days hard work in your life !! But has lived in a sheltered world, scared of the dark, and drive around with your doors locked !! Its ok, democrats, dont live in realilty ! and have NO BALLS !! I wish all you democrats would pull, your heads out of Obama's ass ! and educate yourselfs, in being a Man and an American ! America was built on GOD-GUNS-GUTS, And tough Men, and women ! people that would'nt back down from a fight ! Do you own a gun? if so thats very sad, that you dont know enough, So please educate yourself ! My Family has fought for the right ! so we are free, to carry a gun, and live FREE !! Get out of your class room, go to the country and meet some hard working people,who love there guns !! and love the right to carry them !!

Does the irony escape these authors? I raise the issue of guns creating a chilling effect on discussion at political rallies and they respond in a hostile, threatening manner meant to silence my ability to comment on political conditions in America.

Monday, July 27, 2009

US Census releases turnout data for 2008

Its a pleasure to contribute to the new blog. Thanks to Fred Solop for giving me some space to post my thoughts.

The US Census released their turnout data for the 2008 Presidential election. The press release reports:
About 131 million people reported voting in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, an increase of 5 million from 2004, according to a new table package released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The increase included about 2 million more black voters, 2 million more Hispanic voters and about 600,000 more Asian voters, while the number of non-Hispanic white voters remained statistically unchanged.
Younger voters were the only age group to show a significant increase over 2004, but the press release goes on to say that younger voters still had the lowest voting rate, at forty-nine percent. The age groups over the age of forty-five years voted at a rate of sixty-nine percent and higher.

I think this fits with the narrative of the 2008 election, with much of the media attention on Obama's campaign mobilizing new voters and African American voters. While Hispanics increased their raw numbers, their population also grew, so there was no significant increase in the rate of Hispanic voter turnout.  I mentioned back in November that I had my doubts that Hispanics would turnout in high numbers for Obama.

Its nice to see an increase in young voters, but still this confirms the old political science truism that young people don't vote at the same rate as the older folks. Its no wonder they bear the heaviest burden of our budget woes, with cuts in education and the extraordinarily high budget deficits (currently estimated to be about 1.8 trillion dollars) that these young folks will ultimately have to foot the tab for. Not to mention that a universal health care system would shift a great amount of the burden from older folks (who use a lot of health care) to the younger non-voting taxpayers who don't use much health care.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Visiting Buenos Aires

I'm here in Buenos Aires following attendance at the 21st World Congress of Political Science in Santiago, Chile (July 12-16, 2009). Buenos Aires is beautiful. It has such a European feel to it. Not sure why I came here in Winter though. I can only imagine how amazing this city is in summer.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A New Blog Comes to Town

This is the first posting on the new High Altitude Politics blog. High Altitude Politics is a project sponsored by faculty and graduate students in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. Our department offers a doctoral degree in Political Science, two masters programs (MA, MPA), a graduate certificate program and we have responsibility for the Public Management emphasis of NAU's Masters of Administration Degree.

We hope you enjoy reading this blog and you follow us regularly.