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Hamas Seen as More to Blame Than Israel for Current Violence

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Hamas Seen as More to Blame Than Israel for Current Violence
Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

As fighting continues to rage in Gaza amid calls for a cease-fire, about twice as many Americans say Hamas (40%) as Israel (19%) is responsible for the current violence.

Just a quarter (25%) believe that Israel has gone too far in responding to the conflict; far more think Israel’s response has been about right (35%) or that it has not gone far enough (15%).

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted July 24-27 among 1,005 adults, finds substantial partisan divisions over which side is most responsible for the violence and Israel’s response to the conflict.

A majority of Republicans (60%) say Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. Democrats are divided: 29% say Hamas is more responsible, 26% Israel, while 18% volunteer that both sides are responsible.

There also are deep differences over Israel’s response to the conflict: Nearly half of Republicans (46%) say Israel’s response has been about right while another 19% say it has not gone far enough; just 16% think Israel’s response has been excessive. Among Democrats, as many say Israel has gone too far (35%) as say its response has been about right (31%); 9% say Israel has not gone far enough.

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Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012
Source: American Principles in Action

“Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012″, takes a hard-headed, skeptical, and primarily political look at the lessons Republicans must learn from 2012 in order to build a winning national GOP coalition. It challenges the conventional wisdom that the national GOP’s loss in 2012 was a result of a focus on extremist social issues, which hampered candidates touting a winning economic message.

This document challenges the existing “truce model” and puts forward a case for integrated conservatism. We argue that social issues are winning issues, and that a winning economic message must address the concerns of middle-class voters.

See also: Growth and Opportunity Project (PDF; Republican National Committee)

Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War
Source: Brookings Institution

From Syria and Iraq to Libya and Yemen, the Middle East is once again rife with conflict. Much of the fighting is along sectarian lines, but can it really be explained simply as a “Sunni versus Shia” battle? What explains this upsurge in violence across the region? And what role can or should the United States play?

In a new Analysis Paper, F. Gregory Gause, III frames Middle East politics in terms of a new, regional cold war in which Iran and Saudi Arabia compete for power and influence. Rather than stemming from sectarian rivalry, this new Middle East cold war results from the weakening of Arab states and the creation of domestic political vacuums into which local actors invite external support.

Party Polarization and Campaign Finance

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Party Polarization and Campaign Finance
Source: Brookings Institution

There is a lively debate today over whether or not campaign finance reforms have weakened the role of political parties in campaigns. This seems an odd argument in an era of historically high levels of party loyalty — on roll calls in Congress and voting in the electorate. Are parties too strong and unified or too weak and fragmented? Have they been marginalized in the financing of elections or is their role at least as strong as it has ever been? Does the party role in campaign finance (weak or strong) materially shape the capacity to govern?

In addition, the increasing involvement in presidential and congressional campaigns of large donors – especially through Super PACs and politically-active nonprofit organizations – has raised serious concerns about whether the super-wealthy are buying American democracy. Ideologically-based outside groups financed by wealthy donors appear to be sharpening partisan differences and resisting efforts to forge agreement across parties. Many reformers have advocated steps to increase the number of small donors to balance the influence of the wealthy. But some scholars have found evidence suggesting that small donors are more polarizing than large donors. Can that be true? If so, are there channels other than the ideological positioning of the parties through which small donors might play a more constructive role in our democracy?

In this paper, Thomas Mann and Anthony Corrado attempt to shed light on both of these disputed features of our campaign finance system and then assess whether campaign finance reform offers promise for reducing polarization and strengthening American democracy. They conclude that not only is campaign finance reform a weak tool for depolarizing American political parties, but some break in the party wars is probably a prerequisite to any serious pushback to the broader deregulation of campaign finance now underway.

How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota

July 23, 2014 Comments off

How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Oil development has transformed this state to the point where it’s hard to find a place or person that hasn’t been touched by the boom. Energy companies have drilled more than 8,000 wells into western North Dakota’s rugged prairie since the beginning of 2010, quadrupling the state’s oil production. From July 2011 through June 2013, the state collected $4 billion in oil taxes, and is expecting a $1 billion surplus for the current biennium, not including an oil-funded sovereign wealth fund that will approach a balance of $3 billion. North Dakota is in the uncommon position of facing a labor shortage, spurring a state-run campaign to attract workers, paid for in part by Hess Corp.

In addition to the tax revenue they’ve brought, the oil companies have showered the state with additional money — new millions for universities, museums, hospitals and other charitable causes. They’ve also given hundreds of thousands to politicians, making the sector the largest single source of those contributions. The oil industry is the top contributor to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and gave money in all but 10 of the 75 legislative races held in 2012.

Australia’s female political leaders: a quick guide

July 21, 2014 Comments off

Australia’s female political leaders: a quick guide
Source: Parliamentary Library of Australia

This Quick Guide draws together information about women who have held leadership positions in Australia from Federation to May 2014. It includes vice-regal appointments, presiding officers, government, opposition and parliamentary party leaders, and parliamentary party presidents.

This Quick Guide includes dates in office, positions held and significant firsts. It also includes women who have served as deputy leaders in the Commonwealth Parliament. The final table presents women who have held executive (non-parliamentary) leadership positions in the parliamentary parties.

This information has been compiled from a range of sources including the Commonwealth Parliamentary Handbook, the Australian Electoral Commission, vice-regal, parliamentary and political party websites, biographies and archives relating to women in politics, and media articles relating to individual appointments.

A hyperlink to individual biographies is included where available, together with selected online sources for further reading. Using the arrows that appear in the header, the information may be ordered by name, party, jurisdiction, chamber and year of election/appointment.

CRS — Qualifications of Members of Congress

July 16, 2014 Comments off

Qualifications of Members of Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

There are three, and only three, standing qualifications for United States Senator or Representative in Congress which are expressly set out in the United States Constitution: age (25 for the House, 30 for the Senate); citizenship (at least seven years for the House, nine years for the Senate); and inhabitancy in the state at the time elected. U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, cl. 2 (House); and Article I, Section 3, cl. 3 (Senate). The Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed the historical understanding that the Constitution provides the exclusive qualifications to be a Member of Congress, and that neither a state nor the Congress itself may add to or change such qualifications to federal office, absent a constitutional amendment. Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 522 (1969); U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779, 800-801 (1995); Cook v. Gralike, 531 U.S. 510 (2001).

A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop It

July 15, 2014 Comments off

A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop It
Source: Brookings Institution

In this research paper, Paul C. Light writes that the “first step in preventing future failures is to find a reasonable set of past failures that might yield lessons for repair.” To meet this goal, Light asks four key questions about past federal government failures: (1) where did government fail, (2) why did government fail, (3) who caused the failures, and (4) what can be done to fix the underlying problems?

CRS — Upcoming Rules Pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: The Spring 2014 Unified Agenda

July 10, 2014 Comments off

Upcoming Rules Pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: The Spring 2014 Unified Agenda (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, as amended) was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. As is often the case with legislation, the ACA granted rulemaking authority to federal agencies to implement many of its provisions. The regulations issued pursuant to the ACA and other statutes carry the force and effect of law. Therefore, scholars and practitioners have long noted the importance of rulemaking to the policy process, as well as the importance of congressional oversight of rulemaking. For example, one scholar noted that the “Constitution’s grant of legislative power to Congress encompasses a responsibility to ensure that delegated authority is exercised according to appropriate procedures.” Congressional oversight of rulemaking can deal with a variety of issues, including the substance of the rules issued pursuant to congressional delegations of authority and the process by which those rules are issued.

Having a sense of what rules agencies are going to issue and when they are going to issue those rules can help Congress conduct oversight over the regulations that are issued pursuant to the ACA. One way in which Congress can identify upcoming ACA rules is by reviewing the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which is published by the Regulatory Information Service Center (RISC), a component of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), for the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB’s) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

The Great Society, Reagan’s revolution, and generations of presidential voting

July 9, 2014 Comments off

The Great Society, Reagan’s revolution, and generations of presidential voting (PDF)
Source: Columbia University (Ghitza and Gelman)

We build a generational model of presidential voting, in which long-term partisan presidential voting preferences are formed, in large part, through a weighted “running tally” of retrospective presidential evaluations, where weights are determined by the age in which the evaluation was made. Under the model, the Gallup Presidential Approval Rating time series is shown to be a good approximation to the political events that inform retrospective presidential evaluations. The political events of a voter’s teenage and early adult years, centered around the age of 18, are enormously important in the formation of these longterm partisan preferences. The model is shown to be powerful, explaining a substantial amount of the macro-level voting trends of the last half century, especially for white voters and non-Southern whites in particular. We use a narrative of presidential political events from the 1940s to the present day to describe the model, illustrating the formation of five main generations of presidential voters.

Laws Prohibit the Use of HHS Grant Funds for Lobbying, but Limited Methods Exist To Identify Noncompliance

July 9, 2014 Comments off

Laws Prohibit the Use of HHS Grant Funds for Lobbying, but Limited Methods Exist To Identify Noncompliance
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General

WHY WE DID THIS STUDY
This evaluation responded to a congressional request for OIG to review grantees’ use of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funds and awarding agencies’ implementation and oversight regarding the prohibitions on the use of grant funds for lobbying activities.

HOW WE DID THIS STUDY
This evaluation included 13 grantmaking agencies (awarding agencies) within HHS. We collected and reviewed departmental and awarding agency directives in place for fiscal years (FYs) 2011 and 2012. We conducted structured telephone interviews with each agency’s Chief Grants Management Officer and/or his or her designated staff. We asked about awarding agencies’ notifications to grantees of the prohibitions on the use of grant funds for lobbying. We also asked about awarding agencies’ mechanisms for identifying grantees that may have violated lobbying prohibitions and the mechanisms in place for reviewing allegations of lobbying. We conducted surveys with a sample of grantees from five awarding agencies regarding their awareness of the lobbying prohibitions.

WHAT WE FOUND
All awarding agencies reported using Federal and departmental sources of guidance regarding the prohibitions on the use of grant funds for lobbying. Through grant applications, notices of award, and/or training, all awarding agencies informed grantees of the prohibitions. For all sampled grant awards, grantees reported being aware of the lobbying prohibitions. However, limited methods exist to identify noncompliance. HHS awarding agencies found two instances of noncompliance in FYs 2011 and 2012.

WHAT WE RECOMMEND
We recommend that ASFR facilitate Departmentwide information sharing among awarding agencies about methods to identify the use of grant funds for prohibited lobbying activities. We also recommend that ASFR centralize on its Web site the guidance pertaining to the prohibitions on the use of grant funds for lobbying. ASFR concurred with our recommendations.

CRS — Regular Vetoes and Pocket Vetoes: An Overview

July 7, 2014 Comments off

Regular Vetoes and Pocket Vetoes: An Overview (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The veto power vested in the President by Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution has proven to be an effective tool for the chief executive in his dealings with Congress. Since the founding of the federal government in 1789, 37 of 44 Presidents have exercised their veto authority a total of 2,564 times. Congress has overridden these vetoes on 110 occasions (4.3%). Presidents have vetoed 83 appropriations bills, and Congress has overridden 12 (14.5%) of these vetoes.

President Barack H. Obama has vetoed two bills since taking office in 2009: H.J.Res. 64, an FY2010 appropriations measure, and H.R. 3808, the Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act of 2010. These vetoes occurred during the 111th Congress. President Obama has not vetoed any legislation since then.

This report will be updated as events warrant.

CRS — The State of Campaign Finance Policy: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress

July 7, 2014 Comments off

The State of Campaign Finance Policy: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Major changes have occurred in campaign finance policy since 2002, when Congress substantially amended campaign finance law via the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United and a related lower-court decision, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, arguably represent the most fundamental changes to campaign finance law in decades. Citizens United lifted a previous ban on corporate (and union) independent expenditures advocating election or defeat of candidates. SpeechNow permitted unlimited contributions to such expenditures and facilitated the advent of super PACs. Although campaign finance policy remains the subject of intense debate and public interest, there have been few legislative or regulatory changes to respond to the 2010 court rulings. This report considers these and other developments in campaign finance policy and comments on areas of potential conflict and consensus. In another recent major change, the Supreme Court invalidated aggregate contribution limits in April 2014 (McCutcheon v. FEC).

Legislative activity to respond to the rulings has focused on the DISCLOSE Act, which passed the House during the 111th Congress, and was reintroduced during the 112th and 113th Congresses (H.R. 148). Recent alternatives, which include some elements of DISCLOSE, include 113th Congress bills such as Senators Wyden and Murkowski’s S. 791, or proposals that would require additional disclosure from certain 501(c) groups.

Understanding Political Islam

June 30, 2014 Comments off

Understanding Political Islam
Source: Cato Institution

The tragic events in Iraq, where the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) is currently mounting an offensive against the government of the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, certainly appears to be consistent with Blair’s concern—namely that “the battles of this century … could easily be fought around the questions of cultural or religious difference.” But to what extent do Blair’s claims reflect the experience of political transitions throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)?

The rise of political Islam into prominence poses important questions both for people in the MENA region and for policymakers in the West. Since 9/11, the thrust of Western foreign and security policy toward the MENA region has aimed at containing radical forms of Islam. In practice, that often meant cozying up to authoritarian regimes, as long as they were secular, since these were seen as superior to their theocratic alternatives. When the Egyptian military brought down President Mohamed Morsi in early July 2013, there was a sense of relief among many in Washington.

OECD Regional Well-Being

June 27, 2014 Comments off

OECD Regional Well-Being
Source: OECD

How does your region perform when it comes to education, environment, safety and other topics important to your well-being? This interactive site allows you to measure well-being in your region and compare it with 300 other OECD regions based on eight topics central to the quality of our lives.

In this initiative, each region is measured in eight topics – income, jobs, health, access to services, environment, education, safety, and civic engagement. A score has been calculated for each topic so that you can compare places and topics within and across countries.

A State Official’s Guide to Science-Based Decision-Making

June 26, 2014 Comments off

A State Official’s Guide to Science-Based Decision-Making
Source: Council of State Governments

Policymakers are bombarded by information in today’s ever-connected, fast-paced world. Advances in communication platforms, like social media, and information technology have brought a sea change in the public’s ability to access data at unimaginable depths and speeds. This interconnectedness can also pose challenges for state officials trying to solve already difficult issues by adding another layer of complexity to the public policymaking process. As information becomes more available and immediate, policymakers often must make decisions without the technical background necessary to fully vet all the considerations involved.

The Council of State Governments developed A State Official’s Guide to Science-based Decision-making to provide strategic guidance that can cut through the jargon and spin that can accompany technical issues. The guide includes recommendations and helpful tools for policymakers, regardless of background, to confidently assess the assumptions, conclusions and results found in state public hearing witness testimony and scientific studies. The aim of the guide is not to suggest what to think; rather, the impetus is to provide a roadmap of how to approach an issue so state thought leaders can make the most informed decision possible.

NCSL Launches Elections Administration Research Database

June 26, 2014 Comments off

NCSL Launches Elections Administration Research Database
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

What is the impact of major court rulings on voter ID laws?

How are states ensuring voter registration lists are accurate?

Which new voting system designs are being developed for the marketplace?

Finding these answers and other information about elections policy can quickly eat up the kind of time that a lawmaker, legislative staffer or elections administrator can hardly afford to spend.

But that was life before the Elections Administration Research Database, a new tool launched today by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The database brings together more than 1,900 reports that, altogether, address a wide range of elections topics. It is supported by generous funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The collection includes reports dating back to 2000 and reflects a variety of perspectives, from election administrators to nonprofit organizations to academic researchers. The reports are grouped by subject, author, publication and state and can be searched by a combination of these categories, or by date ranges or a specific article title.

Medicare Advantage Money Grab

June 24, 2014 Comments off

Medicare Advantage Money Grab
Source: Center for Public Integrity

Congress created private Medicare Advantage health plans 11 years ago to help control health care spending on the elderly. But a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that billions of tax dollars are wasted every year through manipulation of a Medicare payment tool called a “risk score.” The formula is supposed to pay health plans more for sicker patients and less for healthy people, but often it pays too much. The government has for years missed opportunities to corral tens of billions of dollars in overcharges and other billing errors tied to abuse of risk scores. Meanwhile, the growing power of the Medicare Advantage industry has muzzled many critics in Congress, and turned others into cheerleaders for the program.

Public Faith in Congress Falls Again, Hits Historic Low

June 23, 2014 Comments off

Public Faith in Congress Falls Again, Hits Historic Low
Source: Gallup

Americans’ confidence in Congress has sunk to a new low. Seven percent of Americans say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress as an American institution, down from the previous low of 10% in 2013. This confidence is starkly different from the 42% in 1973, the first year Gallup began asking the question.

CRS — Unfunded Mandates Reform Act: History, Impact, and Issues

June 23, 2014 Comments off

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act: History, Impact, and Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (UMRA) culminated years of effort by state and local government officials and business interests to control, if not eliminate, the imposition of unfunded intergovernmental and private-sector federal mandates. Advocates argued the statute was needed to forestall federal legislation and regulations that imposed obligations on state and local governments or businesses that resulted in higher costs and inefficiencies. Opponents argued that federal mandates may be necessary to achieve national objectives in areas where voluntary action by state and local governments and business failed to achieve desired results.

UMRA provides a framework for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to estimate the direct costs of mandates in legislative proposals to state and local governments and to the private sector, and for issuing agencies to estimate the direct costs of mandates in proposed regulations to regulated entities. Aside from these informational requirements, UMRA controls the imposition of mandates only through a procedural mechanism allowing Congress to decline to consider unfunded intergovernmental mandates in proposed legislation if they are estimated to cost more than specified threshold amounts. UMRA applies to any provision in legislation, statute, or regulation that would impose an enforceable duty upon state and local governments or the private sector. It does not apply to conditions of federal assistance; duties stemming from participation in voluntary federal programs; rules issued by independent regulatory agencies; rules issued without a general notice of proposed rulemaking; and rules and legislative provisions that cover individual constitutional rights, discrimination, emergency assistance, grant accounting and auditing procedures, national security, treaty obligations, and certain elements of Social Security.

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