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.