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The Resurgence of Religion in America’s Prisons

August 28, 2014 Comments off

The Resurgence of Religion in America’s Prisons
Source: Religions

This article discusses the growing prominence of “faith-based” programs in American corrections and the historical context of penal regime change during periods of economic crisis. The article traces areas of overlap and divergence in recent discussions of penal reform in the U.S. The article suggests a new American penitentiary movement is emerging, noting central tenets of faith-based programs have salience for both conservatives and liberals: on the one hand, faith-based programs are largely paid for by church congregations and volunteers, which appeals to conservatives’ desire to shrink government and get taxpayers out of the business of community building; on the other, faith-based programs demonstrate a recommitment to having at least some level of programming in prisons, which satisfies the left’s view that community building and social capital ultimately lower recidivism. The paper documents several prominent faith-based correctional programs while articulating an agenda for research.

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Religion and American Politics from a Global Perspective

August 28, 2014 Comments off

Religion and American Politics from a Global Perspective
Source: Religions

Past findings and theory in the sociology of religion support two opposing perspectives concerning the influence of religion on American politics. Looking from within the United States, the commanding influence of religion on political rhetoric and voting patterns seems apparent. From a global perspective, the role that religion plays in American politics is less clear; in fact, one could argue that our political institutions are decidedly secular. I present support for both of these perspectives before turning to an international analysis of images of God using the Gallup World Poll. These data indicate the uniqueness of American religiosity and suggest that the ways in which religion affect politics in the United States is unusual for a post-industrial country. Namely, many Americans understand God as a political actor; because of this, American political culture mixes religious and political language with fervor, all while keeping church and state institutions separate.

Does the Gender of Offspring Affect Parental Political Orientation?

August 27, 2014 Comments off

Does the Gender of Offspring Affect Parental Political Orientation?
Source: National Bureau of Economic Research

Recently, the sex of child has been widely used as a natural experiment and shown to induce change of the allegedly stable political predisposition, however, prior results have been contradictory: in the U.K., researchers found that having daughters leads to parents favoring left-wing political parties and to holding more liberal views on family/gender roles, whereas in the U.S. scholars found that daughters were associated with more Republican (rightist) party identification and more conservative views on teen sexuality. Here, we utilize data from the General Social Survey and the European Social Survey to test the robustness of effects of offspring sex on parental political orientation while factoring out country and period differences. In analysis of 36 countries, we obtain null effects of the sex of the first child on party identification as well as on political ideology. Further, we observe no evidence of heterogeneous treatment effects. We discuss the implications of these null findings for theories of political socialization.

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Pension Reform Handbook: A Starter Guide for Reformers

August 27, 2014 Comments off

Pension Reform Handbook: A Starter Guide for Reformers
Source: Reason Foundation

Depending on what assumptions you use, current state and local government workers will earn between $4 trillion and $8 trillion in retirement benefits by the time they retire. But jurisdictions across the nation—from small special districts to large state governments—face a serious problem: in some cases, pension systems have only a fraction of the assets they need to meet their obligations. The existence of massive unfunded liabilities undermines the soundness of pension plans and threatens the fiscal stability of governments.

In almost every case, dealing with these serious problems is guaranteed to be a complex and politically contentious process. But the good news is that a number of jurisdictions have paved the way for substantive reform, and several state and local governments now stand as models from which others can learn.

This handbook aims to capture the experience of policymakers in those jurisdictions and bring together the best practices that have emerged from their reform efforts, as well as the important lessons learned. By presenting these alongside the general principles and approaches that work to reform public policy, this handbook represents a “what you need to know” starter guide for anyone planning to reform their jurisdiction’s pension system.

Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans

August 26, 2014 Comments off

Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans (PDF)
Source: Russell Sage Foundation

It is important to know what wealthy Americans seek from politics and how (if at all) their policy preferences differ from those of other citizens. There can be little doubt that the wealthy exert more political influence than the less affluent do. If they tend to get their way in some areas of public policy, and if they have policy preferences that differ significantly from those of most Americans, the results could be troubling for democratic policy making. Recent evidence indicates that “affluent” Americans in the top fifth of the income distribution are socially more liberal but economically more conservative than others. But until now there has been little systematic evidence about the truly wealthy, such as the top 1 percent.We report the results of a pilot study of the political views and activities of the top 1 percent or so of US wealth-holders.We find that they are extremely active politically and that they are much more conservative than the American public as a whole with respect to important policies concerning taxation, economic regulation, and especially social welfare programs. Variation within this wealthy group suggests that the top one-tenth of 1 percent of wealthholders (people with $40 million or more in net worth) may tend to hold still more conservative views that are even more distinct from those of the general public. We suggest that these distinctive policy preferences may help account for why certain public policies in the United States appear to deviate from what the majority of US citizens wants the government to do. If this is so, it raises serious issues for democratic theory.

CRS — Senate Unanimous Consent Agreements: Potential Effects on the Amendment Process (August 15, 2014)

August 25, 2014 Comments off

Senate Unanimous Consent Agreements: Potential Effects on the Amendment Process (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Senate frequently enters into unanimous consent agreements (also called “UC agreements”) that establish procedure on a bill that the Senate is considering or soon will consider. There are few restrictions on what these agreements can provide, and once agreed to, they can be altered only by a further unanimous consent action. In recent practice, the Senate often begins by adopting a general UC agreement, then adds elements in piecemeal fashion as debate continues. UC agreements often contain provisions affecting the floor amending process, most often in one or more of the ways detailed below.

Public-private partnerships: The reenergizing of US infrastructure

August 22, 2014 Comments off

Public-private partnerships: The reenergizing of US infrastructure
Source: IBISWorld

In August, the Highway Trust Fund, which provides federal funding for highways, roads and mass-transit systems, was expected to run out of money. Since the fund relies on a federal gas tax that is not indexed to inflation and has therefore not increased since 1993, its ability to finance infrastructure projects has eroded. Although lawmakers across party lines scrambled to extend the fund’s lifetime, disagreements over revenue sources prevented any serious development. On July 15th, 2014, just two weeks before the Department of Transportation would be forced to cut funding for major projects, the US House of Representatives passed a $10.8 billion short-term fix to extend the fund into May 2015.

Protracted political gridlock is just one of the many challenges burdening public infrastructure in the United States. Underfunding and underinvestment, crippled state and municipal budgets and delayed maintenance and repair have also contributed to the country’s glaring infrastructure deficit. Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) grades the nation’s major infrastructure industries according to factors like capacity and funding. In 2013, the average grade for these industries was a D+. By comparison, solid waste management received a B-, while aviation, dams, roads, transit, inland waterways, wastewater, hazardous waste and even drinking water all earned dismal Ds. According to the ASCE, based on current investment trends in public infrastructure, the country will develop a $1.1 trillion gap between projected infrastructure funding and expenses by 2020. To make matters worse, this deficit could widen to $4.7 trillion by 2040.

Success of public-private enterprise

In response to these challenges, state governments are increasingly experimenting with public-private partnerships (PPPs) to finance new infrastructure projects or maintain existing assets. PPPs are financing tools whereby a joint venture between public and private sector participants executes the delivery of a public-purpose project. The degree to which a private enterprise is involved varies according to the risk and responsibilities that the partner assumes. The government usually claims residual ownership rights, while the private firm finances the construction, maintenance or operation of the project, collecting revenue during a contract period. For example, in transportation, a PPP contract can range from a private contract fee service agreement, which transfers only project management into private hands, to design-build-finance-operate-maintain concessions, which transfer all activities to the private partner. The degree of private involvement is captured in the PPP spectrum, allowing for greater flexibility in adapting to specific project objectives and needs. Typically, a PPP concession begins at the state level and PPP legislation is required to define qualifying projects, create the framework for concession terms and impose rules of accountability.

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