January 22, 2012


Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson, Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2005) ("It should . . . be clear that the main target of our critique is Republican political elites, not political elites in general. It is true that a number of the trends that we discuss--the growing power of the parties' 'bases,' the rise in safe seats, the opportunities for manipulation of political rhetoric and policy design--have created opportunities for mischief that can be exploited by either party. And we should make clear that such mischief on the part of either party is equally troubling. The goal of this book is to identify dangers to democracy, not dangers to the Democratic Party." Id. at 18. "[F]or competition--whether political or economic--to work, it must be fair. Basic information must be available and accessible, and 'consumers' must have real and effective opportunities to reject 'products' on the basis of that information. The argument of this book is that America's political market no longer looks like the effectively functioning markets that economics textbooks laud. Rather, it increasingly resembles the sort of market that gave us the Enron scandal, in which corporate bigwigs with privileged information got rich at the expense of ordinary shareholders, workers, and consumers." Id. at 16. "A skeptic might ask: 'But aren't the tax cuts small bore in the big scheme of things' The answer is a resounding no. The Bush tax cuts outstrip even the Reagan cuts in total magnitude. And unlike the Reagan tax cuts they show few signs of being reversed by moderates worried about the skyrocketing deficits they have produced. In fiscal terms, the Reagan tax cuts were a lavish party by an immature thirty-something, who spent the next fifteen years working overtime to pay off the debt. The Bush tax cuts, in contrast, are the equivalent of a fifty-five-year-old blowing his nest egg on lottery tickets and them loading up his credit card to keep the fun going. And just as the true consequences of our near-retirees' gambling spree won't become transparent until the repo man arrives and his retirement check doesn't, the big effects of the tax cuts won't become clear until America's recent debt binge becomes too expensive to sustain. But when the day of reckoning comes, the tax cuts will affect almost everything government does. The biggest domestic policy change of the past quarter-century, they are as powerful as example of off-center governance as one could imagine." Id. at 69-70. Remember that the preceding paragraph was written before the 2008 financial crisis, and while the American wars--Afghanistan and Iraq--were still being fought and unpaid for. "[N]ow policy design itself has become thoroughly politicized. Features of legislation themselves are subjected to careful strategic vetting to determine which components will 'prime' voters in the appropriate ways. Armed with this information, GOP elites design laws not to respond to public opinion but to manipulate and shape it to maximize political gain. Policy complexities are exploited and magnified to increase the size of subsidies for privileged groups. Time bombs calibrated to reconfigure the future political agenda favorably are quietly slipped into law. And then, using all the tools of coordination, those hopeless complicated designs are hurried through Congress with no time for analysis or reflection--which is exactly how the designers want it." "The political use of policy design is nothing new. All elected officials try to make their policies popular and politically sustainable. What is new is the degree to which policy design has become politicalized, the amount of manipulation that takes place, the frequency with which these strategies are exploited, and the exclusiveness of the main beneficiaries. For those who say, 'This has always happened,' we have a simple response:'Yes, but not like this.' As with the use of procedural legerdemain, the increasing manipulation of voters through policy design has precedents in past efforts by Democrats as well as Republicans. But current practice far exceeds what has been done before in both ubiquity and extent." Id. at 157.).

John B. Judis, The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of Public Trust (New York: Pantheon, 2000).

Robert Meister, After Evil: A Politics of Human Rights (New York: Columbia U. Press, 2011) ("Should the Obama administration refrain from prosecuting Bush-era human rights violations now that change has come? The recent literature on 'transitology' suggests that, if the German people had somehow managed to overthrow Hitler (or, better, yet, voted him out of office), the Nuremberg trials would have been superfluous as an instrument of cultural change. A similar argument is made about the relevance of Barack Obama's election. Why prosecute now that 'change has come' and the whole world knows what happened? If human rights is primarily a 'culture,' then the fact that the U.S. already has such a culture, or has now returned to it, would become a reason not to prosecute those who believed in good faith that extralegal measures were justified after 9/11. The only reason to prosecute the guilty, according to this argument, is to prove that we can do do so--that ours is not a culture of impunity.' But, if we can, then we shouldn't--so the real culture if impunity arrives when human rights are once again believed to be secure." "I have argued in this chapter that such a view is wrong if Nuremberg was right. Former Attorney General Gonzales has claimed that he, and other Bush administration officials, should not be prosecuted because they believed in good faith that a true emergency was present and thus did not intend to undermine the rule of law as such. But the tribunal's final judgment at Nuremberg makes the existence of an emergency inadmissible as a defense--otherwise there should have been a new trial allowing it. If the defendants are not allowed to plead that there really was an emergency, what is the relevance of their believing that one existed at the time? Honorable intent would, of course, be relevant to pleas in mitigation at the time of sentencing--and could also count in favor of a pardon following conviction. But it is no less true that a lack of good-faith belief that the emergency was real would aggravate the offense of anyone convicted of human rights violations, as it might have done in the case of Nazis who were hanged for their intentional abuses of power. To reach such conclusions about any given official a trial would be needed, or at least a pretrial investigation that wold recommend prosecution or pardon based on publicly disclosed facts. I see little basis for the legal view that no U.S. official could be convicted of a human rights violation unless they were also part of a conspiracy to undermine democracy that was arguably similar to German Nazism. This is precisely the prosecution theory that the Nuremberg tribunal rejected in holding defendants criminally responsible as individuals. Even if Bush administration officials were allowed by .S. courts, based on standard domestic practice, to raise advice of counsel as a defense, this would, at most, be a legal theory that, to be tested, would probably require waiver of attorney-client privilege." "What about the lawyers who gave such advice? There is, of course, precedent under Nuremberg for trying lawyers: the 'lawyers' Trial' followed that of the 'Major War Criminals.' Those Nazi jurists did not get a free pass at Nuremberg by invoking their good-faith professional opinion that Article 49 permitted the government and its Fuhrer to exercise unlimited powers. But the post-9/11 OLC [Office of legal Counsel] did not even claim to be following orders issued under an emergency--it purported to give its independent legal opinion that Bush administration officials cold not be prosecuted for the acts about which its advice was sought. OLC attorneys would be liable for malpractice if they did not advise their clients that whether an opinion letter from the could defeat Nuremberg-based prosecutions in U.S. (ad especially non-U.S) courts was merely untested legal theory, which presupposed that there would otherwise be liability. If the purpose of giving bad (or incomplete) advice was to induce its recipients to do as they were told, then the lawyers could be charged as accessories to whatever violations of human rights were subsequently committed." "The core meaning of Nuremberg is that officials, top to bottom, can be held responsible for failure to question orders that are prima facie violations of international criminal law. Encouraging underlings to document and question illegal orders (as FBI officials actually did) is perhaps the strongest reason in favor of prosecuting those above. Those who take it as reason not to prosecute do not, ultimately, want a human rights culture that would make violations more difficult in the next emergency and future prosecutions less necessary. In such a culture people would do the right thing when it matters. Id. at 284-285. This is a very thoughtful read. Please read!).

Theda Skocpol & Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2012) ("The more pathological aspects of Tea Party activism are arguably fueled by the content of right-wing media programming, above all the putative news delivered on Fox television. Well before the Tea Party burst on the scene, scholars looked into the content of Fox broadcasts, including so-called news coverage as well as interpretative programs. They established that Fox often propagates falsehoods, in many cases apparently as a deliberate editorial policy. The result is a viewership that knows less and believes many mistaken things about public affairs." "Fox News makes viewers both more conservative and less informed. . . . Watch a day of Fox, and you will have the impression that illegal immigrants, criminals, and badly behaving people of color are overrunning America. You will also get the impression that federal officials and liberals are constantly plotting to take away the rights and ruin the family finances of regular Americans--all to aggrandize themselves and take care of 'freeloading' supporters. You will hear dire warnings about the supposedly imminent collapse of the national economy and U.S. currency (and commercials will urge you to buy gold to ward off disaster in the looming economic collapse)." Id. at 201-202. "At a Tea Party meeting in Massachusetts, people discussed the possibility that the 'SmartGrid' (an infrastructure improvement to the electricity grid, a plan approximately as controversial as road repair) was in fact a plan that would give the government control over the thermostats in people's homes. We wondered how such an outlandish conspiracy theory could have been accepted by the intelligent and well-educated people at this meeting--until we checked the Fox News transcripts. Glenn Beck had indeed raised this weird possibility on his show." Id at 202. From the bookjacket: "In this penetrating new study, Harvard University's Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson go beyond images of protesters in colonial costumes to provide a nuanced portrait of the Tea party. What they find is sometimes surprising. Drawing on grassroots interviews and visits to local meetings in several regions, they find that older, middle-class Tea Partiers mostly approve of Social Security, Medicare, and generous benefits for military veterans. Their opposition to 'big government' entails reluctance to pay taxes to help people viewed as undeserving 'freeloaders'--including immigrants, lower income earners, and the young. At the national level, Tea Party elites and funders leverage grassroots energy to further longstanding goals such as tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of business, and privatization of the very same Social Security and Medicare programs on which many grassroots Tea Partiers depend. Elites and grassroots are nevertheless united in their hatred of Barack Obama and determination to push the Republican party to the right.").

Robert Wuthnow, Red State Religion: Faith and Politics n America's Heartland (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2012) (Oh Kansas!).